Sunday, September 30

Super Hammers demolish Mourinho's men


West Ham United 3 (three) Manchester United 1

It’s off to Hackney Wick for an early start where they’re selling vegan beet burgers outside Tank — the vegan burgers in Ken’s Café were surely better. It’s a full turn-out at the London Stadium. Alison and Scott have remembered their tickets today, Nigel’s back from up north, and Michael’s visiting his theatre of dreams along with Matt, Lisa and Fraser.

West Ham start brightly with Noble setting the tone by flying into tackles. WHU score after five minutes. The inspirational Noble finds Zabaleta with a through ball, and although marginally offside, Zab crosses for Anderson to flick home with a audacious back heel. There’s a gasp of admiration from the crowd when they see the replay. The Brazilian’s the sort of Fancy Felipe we love to see at West Ham. Scoring so early, we calculate we should be on for at least nine today.

Lukaku grazes the outside of the post with a header as the Mancs look like they might be coming back into it. Then Diop is roundly applauded for a Moore-esque tackle as he calmly dispossesses the big United striker.


YARMY ARMY
West Ham respond with a corner and after picking up Diop’s header, Yarmolenko shifts the ball on to his left foot and fires in a shot that rebounds off Lindelof into the net. A little fortunate perhaps, but credit to the big Ukrainian for making it happen. Two-nil to the cockney boys.

United are a big side but out of condition, and we do this for a living. The Red Devils are ponderous in their passing, with Pogba looking frustrated and spending a lot of time moaning. United’s malaise is summed up when a corner goes straight to Noble and West Ham break at speed allowing Anderson to find Arnautovic, who fires over the bar. The black-clad Mourinho paces his technical area like a Portuguese philosophy professor who’s had too much caffeine as he’s regaled with the East End bon mot of, “F**k off Mourinho!”

At half time Fraser quips that we’d scored three at this stage against Macclesfield. Michael the Possible Whovian approves of the programme feature on “Doctor WHU” (aka club doctor Richard Weiler).

The United comeback almost arrives as Fabianski makes a sensational low save with one hand to deny Fellaini’s header. Pogba goes off after 70 minutes to much derision. But United’s changes work as Rashford brilliantly backheels a corner home despite the attentions of two defenders.

But West Ham respond three minutes later. United are claiming Rashford has been pushed by Zabaleta as the ball finds Noble. The West Ham skipper plays it straight through a statuesque United defence for Arnautovic to calmly slot home. It looks so easy that at first I assume the ref has blown for offside. But it’s quite correctly a goal and Arnie runs to the bench to hold up a Sanchez shirt in support of the midfielder who might be out for months with medial ligament problems. Arnie deserves his goal for he has been immense up front.

YOU'RE NOT SPECIAL ANYMORE!
Sub Robert Snodgrass gets a deserved cheer for some manic pressing as the Irons refuse to let up the intensity. Michael amuses the lads in front of us with his “damn your eyes!” comment after the ref refuses a free kick, and Fabianski has to make a low save from McTominay’s low effort. But United don’t come at us with anything like the intensity of the Ferguson sides and we’re almost relaxed for the final stages.

“You’re not Special anymore!" rings round the ground. Pellegrini even manages to bring young Grady Diangana on for his league debut in the final two minutes.

The whistle blows and the players stay on the sun-soaked pitch for a long time saluting the fans as Bubbles and Twist and Shout comes on the PA.

Fraser, Michael, Matt and Lisa heads off to the pub to meet Gambling Dan, who is in the money as he had a wager on West Ham to win 3-1. On Wednesday he’d just missed out after bets on the Irons winning 9-0 and 10-0.

Meanwhile I’m off to the RAF Club in Piccadilly (it’s like the Central but with more pictures of Spitfires) for my pal Mark’s 60th birthday celebrations, where’s he’s pleased to receive a signed Trevor Brooking book and signed picture of Billy Bonds. My pal Nick, a United fan, is there too and very keen on Mourinho being sacked. So a good day all round. After the first four defeats the pundits were predicting we’d be pointless after seven games. But seven points in three matches has left the season looking very different.

PLAYER RATINGS: Fabianski 8; Zabaleta 8, Diop 8, Balbuena 7, Masuaku 7; Rice 7, Noble 9, Obiang 7; Anderson 8 (Diangana n/a), Arnautovic 8 (Antonio 6), Yarmolenko 7 (Snodgrass 7). 

Friday, September 28

Four mill to the lawyer boys

A staggering £4 million has been spent by the London Legacy Development Corporation in legal disputes with West Ham. The figure emerged when the LLDC chief executive Lyn Garner was being questioned by the London Assembly's budget and performance committee. That's almost two seasons' rent squandered on fighting the LLDC's anchor tenant. West Ham might not be entirely blameless in this, but it does seem like the LLDC is arguing over every point following its poor negotiating over the original contract. 

Some of the legal fees have gone on the bizarre carpet dispute and rows over TVs and draught beer. For £4 million we could have installed a different-coloured carpet for every day of the week. While there's still no stadium naming rights deal. It's time to stop making the lawyers richer and to see some cooperation between the LLDC and West Ham.

Thursday, September 27

If you eight West Ham…


-->
West Ham United 8 (eight) Macclesfield Town 0 (Carabao Cup)

For once it really was never in doubt. There’s a brass band paying Bubbles outside H block at the stadium, which is a nice touch and the atmosphere among the 24,833 crowd is actually livelier than at some sold-out league games. I’m joined by fellow diehard Fraser, who is wearing his lucky West Ham socks.

Young Grady Diangana is making his debut and fires into the side netting in the first minute. For 20 minutes the Hammers struggle a bit to break down the league’s bottom side, with Adrian having to make a good reaction save. While our injury curse continues with Sanchez going off after a kick on the ankle. The breakthrough comes as Rice recycles a corner to chip in a good cross for Antonio to nod home.

CAN WE PLAY YOU EVERY WEEK?
A tardy Matt arrives just after Antonio’s goal, but in time to witness Perez score with a good finish from Cresswell’s cross. The lively Diangana then fires in a shot that keeper O’Hara can only parry and Robert Snodgrass proves lethal from two inches to prod the ball over the line. Snoddy looks genuinely pleased to have broken his Hammers duck and runs to the crowd, getting a good reception. “Where were you when Snoddy scored?” I text to Nigel, caught up on the Liverpool to London train.

Three-nil up against the league’s bottom side without a win, what could possibly go wrong? Bizarrely, nothing. Ryan Fredericks fires in a great shot that goes through the keeper ti make it 4-0. Macclesfield really do look a poor side and aren’t even getting stuck in or fouling us. Ogbonna scores a fifth from a corner after more poor defending. We might make it to penalties now…

THEATRE OF EIGHT
Pellegrini proves he’s not scared of blooding youngsters by bringing on midfielders Conor Coventry (at half time) and Joe Powell. Still the Hammers pepper the Macclesfield goal. Snoddy scores his second after a neat give and go. Biggest cheer of the night comes when Grady Diangana plays a one-two with Perez and fires past O’Hara before running to the Bobby Moore Stand. In the 82nd minute fellow debutant Joe Powell plays Diangana in with a fine through ball and Grady finishes with confidence.

When did we last thrash a lower league team? Normally it’s a huge struggle against the likes of Accrington (won with a last minute Payet free kick a couple of seasons ago). Even Matt, who has just seen his biggest ever win, thinks the referee has had a good game, barring his lack of added time in the second half. Can we play Macclesfield every week? My texting finger is worn put after asking Nigel where he was when Perez, Fredericks and Diangana scored their first goals. And will Fraser have to smoke a cigar for every goal?

We retreat to Stratford and try the Black Bull, which is less packed than usual. It has a decent selection of Tribute, Coast to Coast and other ales and isn’t bad. We reminisce about how quickly games go when you are enjoying them and recall the ten-goal victory against Bury, the 8-1 against Newcastle (when Alvin Martin scored a hat-trick against three different keepers) and the more recent 6-0 against Brighton. It’s West Ham’s biggest win since 1983. Though against Man United we might have to settle for seven…

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 6; Fredericks 7, Diop 6, Ogbonna 7, Cresswell 7; Sanchez n/a (Rice 7), Snodgrass 8, Obiang 6 (Coventry 6), Diangana 8; Perez 7, Antonio 7 (Powell 7).

Tuesday, September 25

Let's get Declan signed up

Some worrying reports in the Guardian and Daily Mail today about the impasse over Declan Rice's contract — although hopefully it's just media stirring. Declan's currently only on £3k a week (still not bad for a 19 year old!) with his contract in its final year and his representatives having apparently turned down a £15k a week offer. He's said to be holding out for £30k a week, which on current form he'd deserve. 

You don't want young players getting too much too soon, but he looks a level-headed lad and surely won't fade in the way Reece Oxford has done. Rice already has a near-full season of playing at centre back and was starting to look a real leader at the end of last season. While his form in midfield in the last two games has been superb. 

Gareth Southgate is clearly interested in poaching him away from Ireland and it's pretty clear the boy is one hell of a prospect. Other clubs are sniffing around and it's noticeable that Pablo Zabaleta, a manager in the making, has stated that West Ham should get his contract sorted. It would be bad business to leave it any longer as on current form his value is only going to go up. We need to get Deckers tied down as soon as possible.

Monday, September 24

Yarmy's miss costly, but good point for gritty Irons


-->
West Ham 0 Chelsea 0

Will Chelsea be up for a wet Sunday afternoon in Stratford? Come to that will West Ham? It’s a midday trip on the Overground to Hackney Wick, where there’s now a grander entrance to cope with the footie crowds, complete with some strange concrete hieroglyphics last seen in Tomb of the Cybermen.

Inside the stadium Alison and Scott have forgotten their season tickets. They’ve had to queue up at the ticket office and in scenes reminiscent of Bodyguard prove their identities. Several other Hammers fans have also forgotten their tickets, including two lads in their twenties agreeing they should probably have gone to bed after their night out rather than go straight to the match. We’re joined by Fraser, Matt, Lisa and Michael the Whovian (fresh from meeting legendary Hammers fan and actor Donald Sumpter at The Prisoner), while Nigel is up in Liverpool seeking some Momentum.

There’s no Arnie and Pellegrini’s gameplan is rather Moyes-esque, with the side letting Chelsea’s defenders have the ball and sitting back with three holding midfielders. The game is also noticeable for Chelsea’s garish yellow away kit — they look like a team of lemons. Hazard shoots at Fabianski and Giroud miscues a volley, but West Ham’s system works pretty well.

With half an hour gone the Hammers suddenly look dangerous on the break. Anderson dummies to find space and releases Antonio with a fine through ball, only for Mikhail to slice wide. Then the excellent Rice intercepts and finds Yarmolenko with a good ball out wide. He runs at goal and is blocked, with the ball falling to Antonio, who fires against Kepa’s legs. Kante heads wide before the break in a late warning of Chelsea's quality.

The second half sees Yarmolenko cut inside and fizz a left-foot shot just over, while Fabianski saves Morata’s effort with his face. Antonio tries to beat Rudiger for pace but comes a definite second, rather emphasising his recent sharpness and fitness problems. He’s hooked for Perez, who this time has warmed-up.

Bizarrely a fan behind us spends most of the game swearing at Anderson for not steaming into tackles like Julian Dicks. Robert Snodgrass eventually comes on for Felipe and the chance for West Ham to win it comes as Snoddy gets in an excellent cross and the unmarked Yarmolenko seems certain to score, only to head wide of the post. Cue collective heads in hands. A shame, as making a crucial goal might have kick-started Snoddy’s Hammers career.

STICK YOUR BLUE FLAG UP YOUR … 
Mystic Matt produces a stat about how often Chelsea have scored after the 79th minute. Can the Hammers hold on for a gritty point? The crowd help with a chorus of “Stick your blue flag…” Kante forces a decent opportunity over the bar as Chelsea dominate possession with Jorginho setting a Premier League record of 180 passes. Though after a late flight back from Greece the Blues lack a cutting edge.

Substitute Barkley produces a great bending shot that Fabianski brilliantly turns round the post. The former Swansea keeper has bossed his area well today. There’s a nice ovation for Mark Noble as he goes off for Sanchez. We have a nervous four minutes of added time, which sees Willian slice wide, but Diop and co remain resolute. Mike Dean blows his whistle and it’s a fine point against a side that had won its previous five games and scored 16 goals.

Lost by the River Lea
After the match we take a very circuitous route along the River Lea to eventually find the Olympic Village and a bar called The Neighbourhood. Inside we find Gambling Dan, who has bet on every score except 0-0. Over pints of Mosaic and Goose we muse upon the impossibility of finding the perfect pub. Maybe George Orwell could help. Michael is impressed by the splash-proof urinals but not the prices, while we fear it might be too hipster for Nigel, who also rejects craft beer and Wetherspoon’s. Strange, as we happily all went along to the Central at Upton Park. Perhaps we are spoilt for choice.

Still, we enjoy a drink in the unexpected sun. After losing the first four games the pundits were suggesting we’d lose the first seven. Four points from two games is progress.

PLAYER RATINGS: Fabianski 8; Zabaleta 7, Diop 8, Balbuena 7, Masuaku 6; Noble 7 (Sanchez 5), Rice 8, Obiang 6; Anderson 6 (Snodgrass 7), Antonio 5 (Perez 5), Yarmolenko 6.

Saturday, September 22

Have West Ham finally hit upon a centre back partnership?

One of the positives of the last two games has been that the centre back partnership has started to look much better. Even in defeat against Wolves, Balbuena and Diop both had effective games, and Diop in particular got in some great tackles. Diop was a little unlucky not to get across in time to prevent Traore's late winner after Cresswell was by-passed. After Issa's sliced clearance and own goal on his debut gifted the Gunners their second goal he's looked much better, and scored a cracking long-range effort at Wimbledon. 

The pairing will have benefited from the win at Everton. Sigurdsson lost Balbuena too easily for Everton's goal, but generally the General is making some good interceptions and tackles. I'm not convinced yet that he's better than Ogbonna or Reid, but he's clearly Pellegrini's man and is starting to improve. What's also helped immensely is having Declan Rice sweeping up in front of the pair, with Declan effectively becoming the third centre back in times of danger. 

Coming up against Morata or Giroud will be an interesting test for he pair against Chelsea. Let's hope we continue to see signs of improvement.

Sunday, September 16

Oh what fun it is to see West Ham win away!

Everton 1 West Ham 3 (three!)

Managed to catch this in the Auld Triangle after making a break-out from supervising the local Play Street day in a high-vis vest. Pellegrini made six changes and we looked much more solid with Rice, Noble and Obiang in front of the back four. Astonishingly the Irons went into the lead after 11 minutes, with Arnie breaking and squaring for Yarmolenko to stroke home. Marko is second only to Mo Salah in goals and assists in 2018. 

It got better for Yarmy as we suddenly saw why the Ukranian is worth £17 million. Pickford's poor clearance was picked up by Noble and then Yarmalenko cut inside three defenders to unleash a sumptuous left footer past the Everton keeper. Tosun missed a couple of chances for Everton and it looked like the Hammers would go in two goals up until added time when Sigurdsson outjumped Balbuena to score a rare headed goal. A terrible time to concede.

Still, we got to see David Moyes enthusing about Arnie at half-time on Sky. Everton started off with some attacking intent in the second half as most of us feared the worst. But then the Hammers struck again on the break. Arnautovic played a splendid one two with the excellent Obiang and prodded home first time to spark more choruses of Bubbles from the away fans. 

Niasse hit the bar when he should have scored but West Ham looked almost comfortable for the rest of the game. Anderson was an excellent outlet and was again beating players at will, while Rice had a solid game sweeping up in front of the defence. Noble's leadership made a difference and sub Antonio managed to hold the ball up in the corners when required. 

If we'd lost this after being two goals up we really would have looked relegation candidates. But instead everyone dug in and it's a really excellent away win. What a 65th birthday present for Manuel Pellegrini. For once we can watch Match of the Day2 without fear.

Saturday, September 15

Wishere woe and mystery leakers

Just another day at West Ham. Jack Wilshere's injury curse has arrived at the London Stadium and he's out with an ankle injury sustained in training. Meanwhile the Guardian reports that West Ham line-ups for the last 60 games have been leaked to twitter site @exwhuemployee before they were officially revealed. We might have a mole but it's surely not much of an advantage to opposition managers. They know how West Ham are going to play — badly! 

Wednesday, September 12

Stadium woes and carpet baggers

The relationship between West Ham and its landlord appears worse than ever. There's yet another undignified row between West Ham and the London Legacy Development Corporation. First the LLDC claimed that West Ham's rent does not cover the cost of staging matches, followed by the club denying this and counter-claiming that the LLDC had "misled" the public about the costs. The LLDC then demanded a retraction, with the club refusing. The root problem is surely that the LLDC regrets making a poor initial deal (running for 99 years) with West Ham — you can't really blame the club for accepting a relatively low rent.

On top of this there's the ridiculous row about the carpet colouring. West Ham has offered to pay the £380,000 cost of changing the carpet to claret, while the LLDC fears a claret carpet might put off potential naming rights sponsors (which it has singularly failed to attract despite big expenditure). The carpet just might make a psychological difference, even if it's David Sullivan's shagpile. Surely it's better to have a successful core tenant and that in turn might generate a deal for naming rights. It's time for the squabbling to stop.

Sunday, September 9

Eleven players but not a team?

Interesting piece on West Ham in today's Observer. Paul Wilson concludes that the Irons are in danger of doing an Everton of last season, where Ronald Koeman was sacked after failing to integrate a bunch of new signings into a team. 

Wilson suggests that it is "far better in many cases to stick with what you know and find a coach capable of improving the performance of a given set of players, as demonstrated by Eddie Howe, Sean Dyche and Chris Hughton." He also writes — possibly unfairly — that, "bringing in a 64-year-old from China seemed tantamount to interrupting a retirement." 

It's certainly true that integrating too many new players is proving problematic. Perhaps for the next three games Pellegrini might need to turn to some of the players who already have experience of must-not lose games at West Ham, the likes of Mark Noble, Pedro Obiang, Angelo Ogbonna, Javier Hernandez and Declan Rice. We can get out of this, but as the piece says, at the moment winless West Ham is shaping up to be the early season stor
y.

Wednesday, September 5

Manuel is here to stay

A report in today's Times claims that there is no termination clause in Manuel Pellegrini's contract and that sacking him would mean his entire four-year contract would have to be paid, a sum of around £15 million. This may or may not be true, but it's no bad thing if the board have to stick by their man. 

The problem with West Ham is the constant short-termism and search for quick fixes. Look at the contrast with Bournemouth, where Eddie Howe has remained manager, there is continuity among the paying staff and the signings are selective. Even Watford look quite stable compared to WHU. It's going to take time for Pellegrini to establish his best side and get things right so let's end any talk of sackings. Having spent £5m a season on a new manager and £100m on players the board shouldn't panic at the first sign of pressure.

Monday, September 3

Not a time to panic - yet

Well, few of us anticipated no points from four games for the Irons. There's a real danger WHU could lose the next three games against Everton, Chelsea and Man United and end up having lost the first seven games of the season — as Crystal Palace did last season, although they did stay up after changing managers and appointing Roy Hodgson. Now the Daily Mirror has published the first article suggesting manager Manuel Pellegrini's position might be under threat if this continues. 

It's not a time to panic as yet. The international break comes at a good time. A few years ago Pellegrini was signing Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling for Man City and he's had success at Villareal, Manchester City and Real Madrid. He can't suddenly be a bad manager. The new signings were always going to take time to fit together and adapt to a new league. Which is not to say that the lack of energy and skill against Wolves wasn't extremely worrying. It made many people realise that David Moyes had done an underrated job at a chaotic club last season.

The Lanzini injury looks an even bigger blow now. Jack Wilshere is playing too far back and should be the man with an eye for a pass to Arnie and Hernandez. Or perhaps we should play a couple of holding midfielders in Obiang and Sanchez or Noble, giving a base for Anderson to be the main midfield creator behind Arnie? Felipe looked tired against Wolves and was ineffectual out wide. 

There was some hope in the decent performances of Balbuena and Diop on Saturday. But Pellegrini has to make some decisions. Is Wilshere ever going to be the player he once was? Is Robert Snodgrass one of those players who looks good in the Championship but doesn't do much in the Premier League? Will Antonio ever be fully fit? Do we need the experience of Zabaleta? With so many centre backs should he try five at the back and let Masuaku go forward? And above all he has to find a way of getting the players to put in much more of a shift and raise the home crowd.