Sunday, December 30

Hammers slump at Burnley

Burnley 2 West Ham 0

Meet the new West Ham — same as the old West Ham. A trip to Lancashire proved a game too far for the injury-hit Hammers with a desperate Burnley out-fighting the Irons and achieving a deserved win with goals from Wood and McNeil. It could have been more for the home side and the only bright moment for the Hammers was an Andy Carroll header that Heaton (replacing the dropped Joe Hart) tipped on to the bar. Clearly that fine win at Southampton took a lot out of the players, while Burnley had had an extra day to recover since losing 5-1 at home to Everton.

Marko Arnautovic returned after a month out but is going to need games to regain his sharpness, while Anderson still struggles with the English fixture overload. This was a game where we missed the steadying influence of Zabaleta and Balbuena at the back, though at least we got to see a bit of Silva as a sub.

Not the end to the year we wanted and the chance to go seventh has been lost. But overall five wins out of seven is a good run. This was a very bad day at the office with the side looking jaded. Now it's time for one more big push against Brighton in three days time and then ten days break, bar the FA Cup tie with Birmingham, before the next league match. By then some injured players might have returned and some signings been made.

Saturday, December 29

Rice cracker

Great news that Declan Rice has finally signed a new West Ham contract that will keep him at the club until 2024. Pellegrini can now build a team around Declan and Felipe Anderson. It's hard to believe that the 19-year-old has only played 50 games. You can see why Gareth Southgate wants to poach Deckers for England as he already looks like he could be more effective as a holding midfielder than Dier and Henderson.Though he's still undecided on whether he's English or Irish, of course, and a visit from Roy Keane might change anyone's mind. What's clear is that if Rice keeps working hard he will have a great future. It will be interesting to see whether he ends up as a centre back or midfielder, but wherever he plays he has the potential to be a West Ham great.

Friday, December 28

Anderson double secures great win at Saints

Southampton 1 West Ham 2

We're away going wild in the country at my brother-in-law's gaff in deepest Hertfordshire for this one, forced to watch Torvill and Dean in a Sky-less zone. But what a great result. Injury-ravaged West Ham sides just don't get results at relegation threatened clubs like Southampton when they are experiencing new manager bounce. But Felipe Anderson is making all the difference.

The goal-hungry Robert Snodgrass had a couple of good efforts in the first half and Perez mishit a great chance presented by a Cresswell pull-back in the first half. But the Saints took the lead after the break as the Hammers failed to clear their lines and Antonio didn't push up to catch them offside. Fabianski made a brave save only to see Redmond scramble home a scruffy goal.

Cue the usual defeat at St Mary's? No, three minutes later a header reaches Anderson on the edge of the box is walloped home into the bottom corner by Anderson — a great effort with no backlift. 

Fabianski has to make a great save to deny Armstrong at 1-1, but it's the Hammers who get the second from a Southampton corner. Diop clears and Antonio breaks, he looks up and plays Anderson in with a great through ball. The Brazilian wallops it into the top corner and runs to the away fans. If you want a clue to how we're playing under Pellegrini then it's worth noting that Diop had also run the length of the field as the Hammers broke to score.

There's still time for Fabianski to produce another sensational low stop to deny Lemina, Perez to be denied by a last-ditch block and Anderson to twice go close to completing his hat-trick.

Rice had a great game say the fans who were there and let's credit the squad players who came in too, the likes of Antonio, Cresswell, Ogbonna, Obiang, Diangana, Carroll and Perez. But it's one man who is turning WHU into a top-half side and that's Felipe. Five wins out of six. Now let's continue the run at struggling Burnley. Irons!

Sunday, December 23

Hornets end Hammers good run

West Ham 0 Watford 2

First off it's a nostalgic rendezvous at Ken's Cafe in Green Street with Michael (in a West Ham Christmas jumper and laden down with Bernard Cribbins autobiographies from the Newham Bookshop) Matt, Lisa and Nigel. Ken's still frying strong at 83, while Carol is supervising the till with her usual redoubtable charm — though strangely no ticket is required for my order of eggs chips and beans and a strong tea. Seeing the Boleyn Ground is a sad sight — just grey blocks of flats that look like every other development in London.

The bus to Stratford takes a long time due to the Christmas shoppers and although we arrive at the London Stadium at 2.50 disaster strikes — the programmes have sold out. It's a terrible omen and we wonder of the game will actually count without a programme. Things can only get worse.

The game starts off as fairly evenly contested. The tricky Deulefou and Pereyra threaten for Watford while only a smart block robs Hernandez and Antonio stings Foster's hands with a long range effort. The game turns when Balbuena brings down Pereyra after a smart interchange of passes. Fabian injures himself in the process and Deeney wallops home the penalty before kicking over a corner flag. Scott behind us is berated for saying a few minutes previously that "Deeney hadn't scored for ages".

Matt would prefer the late James Mason to Lee Mason in charge. The ref turns down a good penalty appeal in favour of a free kick on the edge of the box and then paces out a mere seven yards for the Watford wall. The Irons almost equalise as Antonio heads down to Chicharito, whose smart volley is turned round the post by Foster.

The Hammers show their spirit in the second half, doing everything but score. Antonio heads against the post from a Snoddy corner. Noble is replaced by Carroll after 56 minutes and it leaves the Hammers short defensively. Fabianski has to make a brilliant save from Doucoure and then Deeney fires straight at the keeper. But in turn Anderson, having a quiet game, finds Chicharito who scuffs a presentable chance. The Mexican striker is then denied again by another last-ditch tackle before being subbed. 

There's a great moment when the crowd count out the paces as Lee Mason pushes the Watford wall back. The key moment comes when after good work by Diangana, Snodgrass's header is superbly saved by Foster and Antonio heads the rebound on to the bar when he should have scored. 

There's still time for Foster to make another good save from Carroll's downward header. With Three minutes left Watford break and score a second as a one-two sees Deulefou find the bottom corner as Diop is bypassed and Masuaka fails to mount a serious challenge.
World Cup and Doctor Who make the wall of Ken's

So our run of wins is over. Watford look much better than the other teams we've played recently, although the Hammers surely did enough to earn a point. Now we need points from two awkward away games over the festive period.

As we trek back to Stratford Fraser bemoans the fact that you can't take anyone from behind nowadays without getting penalised. The King Edward is playing cacophonous music so we retreat to the Refreshment Rooms to meet Gavin and Ilona. 

The only good news comes in a text from Matt, who is on a London Transport Museum vintage bus ride round the West End Christmas lights and has met a West Ham fan in the lift at Covent Garden who has given him two free programmes. The mysterious 'fan' is surely his guardian angel, appearing in the style of Clarence in It's A Wonderful Life.

Still, four wins out of five isn't bad. Merry Christmas everyone and a claret and blue New Year.

PLAYER RATINGS: Fabianski 7; Zabaleta 6, Diop 5, Balbuena 5 (Ogbonna 6), Masuaku 6; Anderson 5, Noble 6 (Carroll 6), Rice 7, Snodgrass 7; Hernandez 6 (Diangana 6), Antonio 6. 

Wednesday, December 19

Mark Noble on the dog and bone

"ULLO!" Just had a call from Mark Noble. Not quite sure about Nobes' telephone sales manner. Think of the "Ullo!" that kicks off Ian Hunter's Once Bitten Twice Shy. At first I thought it might be Doug or Dinsdale Piranha enquiring about repayment of that payday loan. But no, it's a recorded message from Nobes telling me that the London Stadium now has an increased capacity and that half-season tickets are available. Just hope he's getting paid the living wage for his new role in telesales.

Sunday, December 16

We're West Ham United we win every week!

Fulham 0 West Ham United 2

It's an absolutely sodden Fulham Palace Road as I meet my old mate Tim and his son Jamie, who have blagged some tickets in the strange 'neutral' section at Fulham that is now full of WHU fans. There's six inches of water as we step through the turnstile. At least the rear of the Putney End is covered and relatively dry as I huddle down in my Gore-Tex and fleece on a freezing and sodden evening. Still, it's nice to be in an old-fashioned ground surrounded by houses. Fulham's screen lis so small you'd think Karren Brady probably has a bigger TV in her office.

As the game kicks off the away fans enjoy themselves with a jukebox selection of "My name is Ludek Miklosko" and "Oh Christian Dailly you are the love of my life!". Fulham have an early chance when Kamara is clear but Fabianski saves well. Anderson always looks to have the beating of Odoi and the Hammers take the lead as after a fine ball from Noble the Brazilian expertly hurdles a sliding challenge and crosses low to Snodgrass. Snoddy hits a screamer into the corner and we enjoy watching the net bulge as the rejuvenated Scotsman rushes to the jubilant away section. Two in two for Robert.

Fulham respond quite well to going a goal down as Kamara has a free header saved by Fabianski and then the keeper has to gather another low effort from Mitrovic. But they can't cope with WHU on the break. Again Anderson gets free and crosses for Chicharito to head on to the unmarked Antonio. Michail does well to take the ball down and calmly slot it through Ruiz's legs. Two-nil to the cockney boys and Javier's first assist in four years. 

Fulham's defensive plight is summed up by an Anderson nutmeg causing two defenders to run into each other and knock each other out. Antonio, playing as a striker, is also causing all sorts of problems with his ability to hold the ball up and work the channels and appears to have his speed back. 

The second half sees Fulham play some nice passing football, but only really creating a couple of melees that are cleared by Diop and Balbuena. The Hammers continue to threaten on the wings with Masuaka and Anderson on the left and Snoddy on the right, though we always seem to get the final ball slightly wrong. Rice and Zabaleta keep things tight defensively and at times it's almost showboating as the lads pass it around and look a really confident side.

The West Ham fans enjoy the chilly win, as they sing "Pellegrini's claret and blue army!" and "Two more years two more years, Zabaleta!" There's a new song for Felipe Anderson and of course Jingle Bells. Anderson almost adds a third at the end, his effort producing a good save from Rico.
The players salute the fans at the final whistle and Declan Rice proves he's well hard in the cold by walking off bare-chested towards the Cottage after giving away his shirt. As we leave the ground there's a pleasing chorus of, "We're West Ham United we win every week!" and then, "We're gonna win the league!"

Four wins in a row is a remarkable transformation. Admittedly Nrewcastle, Cardiff, Palace ands Fulham are among the division's poorer sids, but we've lost these type of games before. And with the fans finally adding Pellegrini's name to the Claret and Blue Army chant it's almost feeling like a united club again. An enjoyable away day and worth the soaking.

PLAYER RATINGS: Fabianski 7; Zabaleta 7, Diop 7, Balbuena 6, Masuaku 6; Anderson 8, Rice 7, Noble 6 (Obiang 6), Snodgrass 7; Hernandez 6 (Carroll 5), Antonio 7 (Diangana n/a). 

Saturday, December 15

A Christmas Carroll?

Managed to blag a neutral ticket for the Fulham game today, so preparing to drink white wine once my butler has ordered it. Feeling the biting cold outside you wonder if it might be wise to start with Andy Carroll, as Perez is still doubtful. Playing in a suspect defence on a freezing evening you wouldn't fancy a big Geordie lump like Andy coming at you. Carroll won the Anderson free kick from which Hernandez scored last week and presented the Palace defence with a new problem. Their preoccupation with Andy also gave Anderson and Hernandez more space. Expect we'll see something of him today whatever formation Pellegrini opts for. Come on you Irons!

Wednesday, December 12

Felipe Anderson: we've got our talisman back?

There was something of Di Canio and Payet in the memorable moment where Felipe Anderson took a touch and curled the ball into the top corner against Crystal Palace. For quality and audacity it ranks up there with Di Canio's volley and Payet's free kick against Palace and solo goal against Boro. Yes, he's had bad games and has infuriated at times this season with his poor corners and running into trouble. But at his best Anderson's capable of producing moments that linger in the memory on cold winter nights. Five goals in six games is pretty good going (he wasn't a great goalscorer at Lazio) and what's impressive is the way Felipe seems to find the time and space to release other players — there was one memorable back heel that released Masuaku on Saturday. West Ham fans have always responded when they have a maverick genius in the side and we might just have found another one. 

Tuesday, December 11

The hand of pod

LBC presenter Iain Dale's podcast featuring West Ham authors Robert Banks, Brian Williams and myself (the Dailly, Breen and Repka of the soccerati world) is now up and available on the link here at Iain Dale's Book Club. In it we discuss all things West Ham, including greatest players and teams, but fail to solve the Northern Ireland backstop issue (unless we use Steve Lomas that is). Click on the link to play. Enjoy.

Monday, December 10

Come on feel the noise

Almost unnoticed, the noise levels are going up at the London Stadium. It's not the Boleyn and the athletics track is still a big problem, but the crowd is getting louder. Watching Match of the Day there's a huge chorus of Bubbles going round the stadium as Chicharito finds Anderson who curls it into the top corner. 

It certainly helps that the crowd is behind a manager who plays attacking football and that a new talisman has arrived in Anderson. There was a massive roar after Fabianski saved a penalty against Cardiff and even when Man City hammered WHU 4-0 the crowd were still noisy and behind the team. The rhythmic clapping and stamping also has quite a primeval effect and must intimidate the opposition. It's one way round the vastness of the LS bowl. 

In our third season the fans are starting to accept it's too late to go back to Upton Park. "Is this the Emirates?" asked the Palace fans. No, it isn't anymore. The London Stadium is now full of "oles" (never advisable with our defence though) and it's starting to almost have a feelgood factor. All this, and we might even get our claret carpet in the January sales at Westfield.

Saturday, December 8

Three wins in a row for Irons as Super Anderson sinks Palace

West Ham 3 Crystal Palace 2

Pre-match lunch is at the Best Cafe where Matt and Lisa are happily completing the Cardiff programme quiz, as we all struggle over which West Ham striker scored a hat-trick away to Cardiff in 2003 (it was Jermain Defoe).

They then leave early to visit the club store where they presumably plan to buy a discounted Moyes tracksuit for Fraser. Nigel arrives for a late bacon sarnie before we head off down Carpenters Road and a lucky chocolate bar for Nigel from the shop that sells cans of beer at £3 a go.

Hernandez hits the keepers' legs and Perez fires a shot across the face of the goal early on, but Palace score with their first chance from a free kick. The West Ham defence tries to play offside but Declan Rice has held back and from Tomkins' header McArthur has the simple task of poking the ball past Fabianski. The Palace fans go into their silly chant and ask, "Is this is the Emirates?"

Anderson always looks creative but it's a mediocre first half from the Hammers, with Noble giving the ball away and Zabaleta having a poor match. Not even Matt's unprecedented encouragement of Arthur Masuaku helps. It's almost two when Milivojevic hits the bar with a free kick late on.

The injured Perez (he has a bloody foot looking at his twitter pic) is replaced by Andy Carroll at half time. The Hammers come out a different side and once again score three in quick succession at the start of the second half. As a cross is headed out by a defender Snodgrass strikes a lovely half-volley into the top corner. It's a great moment for the revived Scotsman who rushes to the Bobby Moore end with feeling. There's even a chant of "Super Robert Snodgrass!" What would have been the odds on that a year and a half ago?

Palace come back as an attacking force and at 1-1 Fabianski has to make a smart save from Meyer. It gets better as Carroll wins a free kick on the edge of the area. Anderson's free kick is parried and Hernandez pokes home a high spinning ball. It's a poacher's finish and a lot of strikers would have put it over.

The third arrives with a sumptuous effort from Anderson, Bubbles is sounding around the stadium as Chicharito finds the the Brazilian alchemist, who strokes the ball like a golfer into the top corner. The atmosphere is cracking now and it's starting to feel more like home. A great Masuaku cross is nearly converted by Chicharito and it's turned into a great if nerve-wracking match. The crowd indulge in more "oles!"

But then Nigel makes the elementary mistake of asking "When was the last time we won three in a week?" with 17 minutes to go. Schlupp immediately heads in from a corner.

Andy Carroll does well keeping the Palace defence occupied and Obiang replaces Anderson in a rare piece of caution from Pellegrini. There's still time for the improved Zabaleta to get stroppy with Zaha after the winger accuses him of diving and then four added minutes. Palace look a decent side but we hold on to huge cheers and then Twist and Shout. Nigel goes home to decorate his Christmas Tree a happy man.

Three wins in seven games and 21 points. We go tenth!

PLAYER RATINGS: Fabianski 6; Zabaleta 5, Diop 6, Balbuena 5, Masauku 6; Anderson 8 (Obiang 5), Noble 6, Rice 7, Snodgrass 7; Perez 5 (Carroll 6), Hernandez 7 (Diangana 5). 

Thursday, December 6

Coping without Arnie

The news that Marko Arnautovic is out for a month with his hamstring injury is certainly a blow to the Hammers. He's been playing with a niggling leg injury for some time and you do wonder whether he should have been rested for Tuesday's game. But the options for replacing Marko are looking a lot better than they did a few weeks ago. Lucas Perez confirmed that if he's given chances he'll finish with his brace against Cardiff. Arsenal fans say he wasn't given much of a chance by Wenger and although he sometimes looks ponderous outside the box he's scored four times from limited appearances so far.

The fact that Antonio scored his first league goal of the season is another boost, as he could be an effective makeshift striker. Particularly as he's confirmed in the Evening Standard that he finally feeling fully fit again. Antonio said: "It was not until the Man City game ten days ago that I really felt sharp, fresh and the 'old me' from two years ago. Up until then I had been trying to do the things I used to before, but just couldn't." If Antonio could get back to the form and speed of two years ago it would be like a major signing.

There's also good news in the fact that Hernandez has scored three goals recently. He won't make chances out of nothing like Arnautovic, but with service he'll score. While Andy Carroll is now on the bench, and although it will take him four or five games to get back to sharpness, he offers a massive aerial threat and would surely enjoy Snodgrass' whipped in crosses. Arnie is a special player and we'll miss him — but at least Pellegrini now has several options up front.

Wednesday, December 5

Perez double sees off Cardiff

West Ham 3 Cardiff City 1

It's in to the Clyde Best Cafe to meet Matt who is enjoying a halloumi baguette and recounting seeing the WHU kids lose on penalties in proper West Ham style. We're a little worried by the enforced defensive changes for tonight's side with Antonio as emergency right back and Ogbonna and Masuaku coming in. Then it's on to the London Stadium, where we pass a unicyclist on the Broadway (middle-class fans, eh?) and in the stadium meet Nigel and CQ fresh from a mini-break in Oxford, plus Fraser, Scott and Joe.

For the first 25 minutes West Ham play some good stuff, though often try one intricate pass too many. Antonio is getting forward a lot on the right and Arnie almost lobs the keeper following a fine ball by Anderson. Ogbonna's thumping header from a Snodgrass corner is tipped over the bar by Etheridge. Arnautovic shows brilliant pace to get past Bamba and beat the keeper only for Morrison to clear off the line. 

But having held out, Cardiff start to show more going forward. While the home defence wait for an offside flag Arnautovic makes a silly push on Hoilett and concedes a stupid penalty. Having seen WHU dominate the game so far the whole stadium starts to envisage a 1-0 home defeat. Thankfully Joe Ralls takes a weak penalty that Fabianski pounces on the ball to save easily. Lukasz even gets his own chant of, "Super Fabianski!"

Arnautovic pulls a hamstring trying to beat a defender. "That's him out for the season it's the West Ham way…" muses a pensive Matt. His humour isn't improved by Arnie being replaced with Perez rather than Carroll. "We're not going to win anything with Perez, and Masuaku on the pitch!" he declares. "Make a note of that," I suggest to Nigel. 

Matt is nearly proved right as Camarasa's free kick has to be punched away by Fabianski. At half-time Pellegrini needs to tell the Hammers to calm down and get back to playing football again. Fraser says confidently that if Cardiff can't score a penalty then they won't score at all. Nigel suggests that playing at the London Stadium isn't an advantage at all as we're better away. 

The second half sees a big improvement. The breakthrough comes when Noble's chip is headed out by the Cardiff defence to Snodgrass. He dinks in a subtle ball that falls to Perez who volleys through the keeper. Cue much hilarity among our posse as Mystic Matt prepares to dine out on his misguided words. "I never doubted you Lucas," suggests the Vicar's Son. 

Five minutes later Noble finds Masuaku marauding down the left and slips a ball inside for Perez to fire home under the keeper, in another spectacular demolition of Matt's prophecy. He really deserves two assists. 

Seven minutes later Snodgrass gets a standing ovation from the East Stand when he takes a corner, a sign that the Irons fans are finally appreciating his workrate and left foot. Snoddy whips in a fine corner and Antonio gets between two defenders to glance home. That should do Michail's confidence some good. And it's the first time we've scored three goals in 12 minutes at Fortress London Stadium.

The Hammers try hard for a fourth. Etheridge has to make a make a great double save from Rice and Ogbonna while Diangana comes on to perform an exciting cameo running at a tiring defence. He twice nearly scores, the second an excellent twist and turn well-saved by the keeper again. There's even time for an appearance from a rusty-looking Andy Carroll, who gets one header in and then shoots wildly over the bar.

There's some showboating from the lads and cries of "ole!" from the crowd as the second half is seen out in unusually relaxed fashion. Cardiff gain a flattering goal in the 95th minute as Ogbonna's header goes straight up in the air and the flapping keeper is partially impeded by Gunnarrson as Murphy heads home.

We retreat to the Refreshment Rooms (past the unicyclist again) for some welcome London Stout, Meantime and Blue Moon. Cardiff look a poor Premier League side, but it's now two wins in four days. Can we make it three against Palace?

PLAYER RATINGS: Fabianski 6; Antonio 7, Diop 5, Ogbonna 6, Masuaku 6; Rice 6, Noble 6, Snodgrass 7 (Diangana 7), Anderson 7, Arnautovic 6 (Perez 8), Hernandez 5 (Carroll 5).

Tuesday, December 4

Hammers need goals from all areas

Looking at West Ham's top league scorers it's striking that after 14 games only five players have scored in the league. Arnautovic and Anderson both have five goals each, Hernandez has three, Yarmolenko two, Balbuena one and there's one own goal. So basically we're relying on Anderson, Arnautovic and Hernandez for goals. After such a great result at Newcastle tonight's game against Cardiff would be a good time for some other players to hit the target. Over the Christmas period it would be great to see Rice get his first for the Hammers and Noble and Snodgrass to weigh in with some goals. Antonio also needs to rediscover where the net is, while Balbuena and Diop could be more of a threat from set pieces. Spreading the goals around could be the key to making the top half. And dare I say it, there's always Andy Carroll coming off the bench…

Monday, December 3

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

Newcastle United 0 West Ham United 3

While the Hammers play in Geordieland, we're away in Stratford-upon-Avon looking at Shakespearian gaffs to celebrate our wedding anniversary. I text fellow Hammer Matt to hope that Pellegrini Hathaway of getting three points at Newcastle. And he does. All four of his changes (Hernandez, Snodgrass, Noble and Cresswell) make a difference and Chicharito has a lean and hungry look. While we're looking round Anne Hathaway's cottage the Hammers take the lead when Snodgrass gets a deserved assist, crossing for Chicharito to stroke home in the box past a sleeping home defence. Newcastle aren't too bad for the rest of the half, with Perez missing a free header and a brilliant Zabaleta block denying Rondon. 

But Anderson absolutely dominates the game and bamboozles poor Yedlin. Chicharito misses two good chances created by the Brazilian, but make amends by latching on to Arnie's header and dispatching past Dubravka. Anderson has an effort saved after another thrilling break and enjoys himself hugely playing little wedge passes. In added time he gets his reward, firing under the keeper. That's four in four games for Felipe and should shut up the bloke behind us who is always haranguing him for not getting stuck in. A great result at a team that had just won three in a row. All's well that ends well for West Hamlet, and as Matt texts to say, it's one of the Macbeth results of the season. Irons!