Thursday, February 28

Dodgy pen earns City narrow win

Manchester City 1 West Ham 0

In the end the Hammers, despite only 25 per cent of possession, were unlucky to go down to a disputed penalty after Bernardo Silva went down after being heavily breathed upon by Felipe Anderson. 

Pellegrini gave a surprise debut to playwright Ben Johnson, who performed well against the £60m Mahrez. Related to Ledley King and Paul Parker, Ben should certainly have some good defensive coaches. The game was deemed too much for thirty somethings Noble, Snodgrass, Zabaleta and Hernandez, while Arnautovic was off with a virus, leaving Andy Carroll up front as skipper.

It could have been the predicted pasting if Mahrez had scored early on and Silva hadn't hit the post, but it's certainly a change to write about an impressive West Ham defensive performance. The Irons could even have won it with their one chance when sub Lanzini crossed to Carroll, who got a good contact on the ball only to see Ederson pull off a fine reflex save.

There was never much doubt City would win after that penalty, as Fabianski had to make some fine saves, and ultimately this was more about keeping the Hammers' goal difference down. Still, it's an achievement to restrict City to one goal as in every other league game at home they've scored at least two. Let's hope the rotation benefits the side against Newcastle.

Wednesday, February 27

Will Man City be tired? Probably not

In theory Manchester City's players should be a bit cream-crackered after playing extra time on Sunday and then winning a penalty shoot-out against Chelsea and their unsubbable Kepa. Whereas West Ham had the advantage of playing against Fulham on Friday night. Strange how it never works out like that though. I can't recall West Ham ever taking advantage of a team that is fatigued and City will surely be full of adrenaline after winning their first trophy of the season. Still, we can but hope…

Monday, February 25

Sale of Tomkins still remains a mystery

James Tomkins was acclaimed as the man of the match during Crystal Palace's 4-1 win at Leicester and earned praise from Roy Hodgson. The sale of Tomka to Palace for £10m remains one of the most perplexing transfers of recent West Ham history. He's maybe not international class, but he's a solid PL performer who, coming from Basildon, has a feel for West Ham and was loved by the fans. Bilic sold him because he claimed he couldn't offer him guaranteed first team football. But ironically, had he stayed he would have played in virtually every game. Young prodigy Reece Oxford is now completely out of favour at the club, while Winston Reid has been out all season, Collins has left and Ogbonna hasn't developed as WHU hoped. Even with Diop and Balbuena signed, Tomkins would be a strong competitor for a place were he to still be at West Ham. It would be nice to think he might come back to the Hammers one day. As it is, he might even get a run to the FA Cup Final with Palace. 

Saturday, February 23

Hand of Chicharito helps see off cornered Fulham

West Ham 3 Fulham 1

It's into the London Stadium to find no claret carpet again. Is David Sullivan personally knitting it? Scott says that Alison has recovered from long-term injury but, rather like a West Ham player, has succumbed to a minor niggle returning from Saint Lucia, though Matt and Lisa are there, along with Fraser, who has strained his shoulder trying to write a book in 25 days, as you do. 

It's a terrible start for the Hammers as after 30 seconds Zabaleta plays a weak back pass straight into the path of Babel, who hesitates and fires it at Fabianski. West Ham don't heed the warning though and after three minutes go a goal down as Sessegnon's cross is swept home by Babel. It seems the lads are still warm weather training. A tardy Nigel arrives just after the goal. 


That goal sparks West Ham into life and even though the side struggle for rhythm, a series of Snodgrass corners start to test the Fulham defence. If signing Havard Nortdveit to play centre back is the solution to their defensive problems then they must be massive. Despite being held, Diop gets a strong header in from a Snoddy corner that goes just wide. After 29 minutes the Irons equalise. Rico (didn't he play with the Specials?) punches weakly and it's head tennis with Antonio and Ogbonna winning balls before Hernandez stoops to seemingly head it in from a yard out. 

Soon our phones tell us that it was a handball, even though it's difficult to spot on the big screen replay. "We'll take whatever luck we get," I suggest. Ethics Man Nigel thinks that as a father of two I should perhaps set a better example of moral probity. Matt quips that Ron Greenwood would have probably sacked Chicharito. 

Ten minutes later West Ham score a legitimate second. Matt is wondering why Antonio is positioned by the first defender and not in the box. We soon find out. The Fulham defence is AWOL as Diop gets a run and powers home a header. He looks pleased with that one, his first league goal. Blimey. A set piece ploy worked.

There's still time for Rico to push Hernandez out of the way and make a reflex save as Antonio gets another goalbound header in from a Snoddy corner.

In the second half Fredericks replaces the ailing Zabaleta, who has a back problem. The Hammers start to let Fulham back into the game as Crainey and co stroke the ball around nicely. But they don't get many shots in, even if West Ham rely on Fredericks to make two fine saving tackles. The Vicar's Son's patience is starting to be tested.

It takes two subs to reclaim the initiative. Arnautovic comes on and then, to a standing ovation, Manuel Lanzini replaces Anderson. The Argentine creator immediately looks fresh and has an encouraging passing interchange with Arnie, who also looks up for it. The burly Austrian forces a good save from Rico after getting a header in. The keeper then tips an Arnie thunderbolt onto the post after a good through ball from Noble.

There's always the fear that Fulham might level, but finally West Ham put the game to bed when Arnautovic cleverly stands up a dinked cross for Antonio to head down into the turf and in off the post. Wow. On 36 points we might even be safe, though we may need to win at Man City to be doubly sure. At the end Arnie walks over to salute the fans, having never been tempted by China.

We retreat via Nigel's iron bridge short-cut to the Refreshment Rooms, where we're shocked to find the place full of civilians. That's the problem with Friday night football, other people want to go out too. But at least, in a desperate bid to make the blog, over a pint of Meantime Matt gets to pass over to Nigel CDs of 10CC rarities, Robin Trower, a set of Joe Bonamassa covers and, of course, Yngwie Malmsteen. 

We go ninth! Not a completely convincing performance, but a first league goal for Diop and fine cameos from Lanzini and Arnautovic suggest better things might be on the way — though perhaps not until after we have played at Man City.

PLAYER RATINGS: Fabianski 6; Zabaleta 4 (Fredericks 7), Diop 7, Ogbonna 6, Cresswell 5; Snodgrass 7, Noble 5, Rice 7, Anderson 6 (Lanzini 6); Antonio 7, Hernandez 6 (Arnautovic 7). 

Friday, February 22

Ain't nobody like Lanzini, but where will he fit in?

Fantastic news that Manuel Lanzini has recovered from from his cruciate ligament injury and may take some part in tonight's match against Fulham. Fitting him in is a good problem to have for Manuel Pellegrini. He presumably rates Nasri having won the league with him at Man City and will play Samir or Robert Snodgrass on the right. Could Lanzini combine with Anderson on the left? In a 4-4-2- formation that would mean dropping Mark Noble and having only Declan Rice as a defensive midfielder. Though removing Nobes would deprive the side of leadership and a player who respects the shirt, while leaving us defensively weak. 

It could be that Pellegrini opts for a five-man midfield to include Lanzini, though that would leave a lone striker to be picked from Arnautovic, Hernandez and Antonio, not to mention Carroll and Perez. It would certainly be hard to drop Antonio after his recent return to form. It seems likely Lanzini will be on the bench tonight. We have to hope that he is still the same player after a big injury. But if he is, he's a tremendous option to have.

Wednesday, February 20

Repka banged up (again)

Our old friend Tomas Repka is in more trouble with the law. He's just been jailed for nine months for drink driving. This is in addition to an earlier sentence of 15 months for fraud, when bouncing Czech Tomas sold a woman a car he didn't own, as you do. This follows last year's spell of six months community service for offering online sexual services in the name of his former girlfriend. Strange, as he was such a law-abiding character on the pitch. The great Ludek Miklosko (who doesn't come from near Moscow) once told me that he and his wife didn't associate socially with fellow Czech Tomas. I think we can now understand why.

Monday, February 18

Square stands in a round hole?

The club's illustration of how the squared-off ends might look
Encouraging news from the club today that there is a proposal by WHU and the London Stadium to square off the ends of the stadium, namely the Bobby Moore and Sir Trevor Brooking Stands. This would also bring the fans four metres closer to the action. Presumably there would then be a larger gap between the front and rear stands, but apparently it also makes the stands cheaper to move if they are square. It would certainly make it feel more like a traditional football ground. 

It's been presented to a meeting of the the Official Supporters Board, and encouragingly Lyn Garner the head of the LLDC, seems to be behind the idea. If this was successful, I'd hope it might mean something similar could be done to at least one of the sides too. It could all be PR talk of course, and the Official Supporters Board is picked by the club, but at least it is a sign that the board is listening to the fans. Keep chipping away at it and we might get a proper stadium.

Sunday, February 17

The trials and travels of Ravel

Interesting interview with Ravel Morrison in Saturday's Times. Ravel has now ended up in Sweden at Ostersunds FK, having arrived there via Birmingham, Cardiff, QPR, Lazio and Atlas in Mexico. Oliver Kay writes that "a confidentiality agreement means that Morrison is restricted in what he can say about West Ham." Though Ravel does say that he enjoyed his time at WHU and that, "even Sam was good until we fell out". Morrison said he was offered a new contract and Mark Curtis, Allardyce and Kevin Nolan's agent, "tried to involve himself in the negotiations". Then he was offered a new contract for less money and declined it out of principle, and was loaned to QPR.

Whatever happened, he's very much a wasted talent having played in the same youth team as Pogba and Lingard. If anything he comes across as damaged by his upbringing, with problems with depression and even eating strange food. You do end up feeling rather sorry for him. He's had a lot of chances, let's hope he can finally make something of his career. And I guess we'll always have that goal at Spurs.

Saturday, February 16

No relegation for the burgundy and blue…

"You say West Ham. I say Milan street style," begins Jess Cartner-Morley's piece in today's Guardian Weekend magazine. She suggests that "burgundy and blue" is now "a thing" in the fashion world and is in fact, "top of fashion's Premier League". Though some call it eggplant and denim. Which just goes to prove that Matt, Nigel, Michael, Fraser and myself have long been arbiters of style in our burgundy and blue retro West Ham shirts. Anna Wintour may be in touch for a Vogue shoot any day now.

Thursday, February 14

Goodbye to Boleyn is big in Romford!

My sister spotted this West Ham display at Romford Waterstones recently. Good to see Goodbye to Boleyn prominent alongside Irons works by my pals Brian Williams and Robert Banks. Not sure if we need to stockpile West Ham books for March 29, but if so there are quite a few WHU tomes here... and having watched Les Miserables they might make very good barricades.

Wednesday, February 13

Declan declares!

It's seemingly taken longer than Brexit, but Declan Rice has finally come out in favour of playing for England over Ireland. His procrastination has made Theresa May look almost a model of alacrity. But he's surely made the right decision football-wise, even if his family roots might be Irish and he's already played friendlies for Ireland. At least he can ditch his England/Ireland half and half scarf now. The way Rice is developing he can be better than Jordan Henderson or Eric Dier as a defensive midfielder. This is much to Gareth Southgate's gain and now we have to ensure that Declan has a great England career while remaining a West Ham player. 

Tuesday, February 12

RIP Gordon Banks

Sad to hear of the death of the great Gordon Banks. As a kid I stood on the North Bank at Upton Park for the 1971-72 League Cup Semi-Final, when Banks made that famous save from the Geoff Hurst penalty that would have taken WHU to Wembley. Sadly Geoff hit it a little too close to Banks, but it was still a ferocious shot and the Stoke keeper did brilliantly to tip it over the bar. After two replays (and Bobby Moore having to go in goal) Stoke eventually made it to the final and won the League Cup. I first really became interested in football in 1970 and one of my earliest memories is of Banks' legendary save from Pele at the World Cup. And of course, Banks could have joined West Ham when ethics man Ron Greenwood famously turned down the Stoke custodian as he had already shaken on a deal for Bobby Ferguson. With four World Cup winners West Ham would have had quite a side. Gordon will be missed.

Monday, February 11

7-1 to the cockney boys?

Facebook has just informed me that three years ago I was sharing this aggregate scoreline of West Ham 7 Liverpool 1. It's fair to say that Liverpool have come on a bit since then, kept the same manager in Jurgen Klopp and are running Man City close for the title. While WHU were then trying to break into the top four and have gone backwards over the following three years. But still, happy memories and we have just got a 1-1 against Liverpool, though it might be a long time before we beat them home and away again in the Premier League with a 5-0 aggregate.

Saturday, February 9

Welcome point after Palace storming

Crystal Palace 1 West Ham 1

Listened to the second half of this on Radio London and it sounded like the Irons were getting battered as they tried to hang on for a plucky away win. Seems like we had the better of the first half though, and Mark Noble coolly dispatched his penalty after keeper Guita brought down Antonio. Snodgraas and Fredericks also got to work the keeper with Anderson excelling on the break.

In the second half Palace had a relentless stream of corners and McArthur missed a great chance when he fired wide of a gaping goal. When Zaha did equalise after 75 minutes it had an element of luck as his shot deflected off Issa Diop. Zaha would, of course, have been suspended if Palace hadn't appealed against his two-game ban for sarcastically applauding the ref.

The commentators were scathing about the body language of sub Marko Arnautovic, though to be fair he always looks lethargic before often doing something special. Obiang and Zabalata came on to shore things up and despite the nervy finale — including an excellent save by Fabianski from Zaha — in the end it was a decent away point against a solid Crystal Palace side. Irons!

Friday, February 8

Should Arnie walk straight back into the side?

There's a strong case for fielding an unchanged side against Crystal Palace tomorrow. Marko Arnautovic might be our best and most physical striker, but after a fine performance against Liverpool it would send out a message that if you play well you stay in, by fielding an unchanged side. 

Javier Hernandez worked hard and did well early on against Liverpool, firing just wide and producing a good save from Alisson, while Antonio was tireless throughout and took his goal well. A little humility would also be good for Arnie. I'm sure he will be needed at some stage to offer some physical threat to Tomkins and Sakho, but I'd play the same side for the first half at least. 

Meanwhile I'm a little worried by the immutable law of the ex at Palace. Assuming that Tomkins and Kouyate will both score against us, and that Batshuayi will also inevitably score as we failed to sign him on loan, we're going to have to score four to win!

Wednesday, February 6

Billy Bonds' claret and blue army

Good news that the club is going to rename the London Stadium's East Stand the Billy Bonds Stand. This will go alongside the Bobby Moore and Trevor Brooking stands. I guess it might be a bit much to now hope for a Christian Dailly You Are The Love Of My Life stand. Met Billy at the club store recently and he still has that air of being able to sort out midfield and defend Pat Holland. Though one thing I'm sure he'd like to see in front of his stand is the promised claret carpet, as now agreed with the LLDC. Does anyone know where it's gone? 

Tuesday, February 5

You lost the lead at West Ham…

West Ham 1 Liverpool 1

Disaster has struck Matt and Lisa — after an over-confident long romantic dinner at the Best Cafe, they have arrived to find the programmes sold out. They are collectors' items too, as for some reason Manuel Pellegrini's notes are those from the Arsenal game. Lisa thinks that as they worked against the Gunners this might be deliberate. Luckily Highway Star Nigel has asked me to get his programme in advance. "If we win by eight goals we go up to eighth," suggests an optimistic Fraser at the kick-off. There's no sign of Alison behind us, as she's presumably warming up in Liverpool's goal.

West Ham play well for the first 20 minutes against a team in a flecked grey kit that looks rather like pyjamas. Neat inter-play between Noble and Hernandez sees the Mexican striker shoot just past the post. Then Cresswell fires an effort from the edge of the box just wide again. It's clear that Anderson has the beating of emergency right-back Milner as the Irons make inroads on the left. Rice is dominating midfield and Fredericks, though sometimes giving possession away, is giving us more speed on the right and is having his best game for West Ham. Chicharito then has a powerful drive beaten away by the all-in-pink Alisson. 

Against the run of play Liverpool take the lead. Milner is clearly offside as the crowd let the lino know with a torrent of f words. Bizarrely he waves play on and Milner crosses for Mane to control adoitly, turn Diop and stroke home. Looks like it's going to be the usual 4-0 defeat. Referee Kevin is no Friend of Matt's and the away fans start to fantasise about winning the league.

But the Hammers show character to come back. Six minutes after Liverpool's goal Snodgrass and Anderson work a free kick as Felipe rolls the ball to Antonio as the Pool defenders expect a cross. Michail fires in off the post and does his Gangnam Style celebration. The whole ground is momentarily stunned that a training ground routine has for once actually worked.

The crowd volume rises and Rice sends a free header wide after being found by another Anderson free kick. It should have been 2-1 and although Declan has been immense, finishing is the one area he needs to improve on. 

In the second half Diop has a header wide from a corner, but Liverpool dominate possession without really testing Fabianski. When Salah does wriggle through in trademark style his shot is too close to Fabianski. But Anderson is always an outlet. Matip is booked after one crude challenge on the WHU talisman. Good work by Snodgrass sees Felipe weave across the area and Noble loft it over the bar. 

"Is an old injury affecting your health?" asks the ad for Spire Healthcare on the big screen, presumably aimed at Jack Wilshere. While speaking of injuries, Andy Carroll comes on to clatter around the Liverpool back four like an iron giant, to quote the Guardian's Barney Ronay. 

Late on Antonio gets through but elects to pass rather than shoot. The 59,903 fans sing Bubbles and sense an upset. For once hardly anyone leaves early. But it's almost snatched by Liverpool with the last kick as a clearly offside Origi fires tamely at Fabianski. In the end we've been unlucky not to win and despite having only 27 per cent of possession have created the better chances. Jurgen Klopp's men are now just three points clear.

This season the Hammers have given the top six teams a game at the London Stadium, taking points from Man United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool. It's just a mystery why WHU can't play like this against the mid-table sides, or even Wimbledon.

We retreat to the Refreshment Rooms to celebrate with a couple of pints of Meantime. Nigel announces that he's going on a mini-break with CQ to Vienna, though it means nothing to me. Perhaps he wants to pay homage at the birthplace of Marko Arnautovic.

Much much better from the Irons. An unexpected bonus point and it could have been three.

PLAYER RATINGS: Fabianski 7; Fredericks 7, Diop 7, Ogbonna 7, Cresswell 7; Snodgrass 7, Rice 8, Noble 7 (Obiang 6), Anderson 8 (Masuaku n/a); Antonio 8, Hernandez 7 (Carroll 6).

Sunday, February 3

Goodbye to Boleyn, hello Upton Gardens

Recently took a trip to Green Street and had a look at the site of the old Boleyn Ground. A sad moment. Upton Gardens is looking just like every other development around Stratford and Docklands, all a bit monolithic at the moment. At least there will be a Lyall House and Paynter House, but suffice to say I won't be rushing to buy a flat there…

Friday, February 1

Batman fails to arrive

Well, an underwhelming transfer window, as it was for most PL teams, who are sensibly opting not to make panic buys at inflated prices. For most of deadline day West Ham were said to be in for a loan of Chelsea's Michy Batshuayi, who eventually went to Palace. Apparently he was asking for £160k a week which WHU refused to pay — and really, the last thing we need is another short-term mercenary. Belgian international Batshuayi came with a big reputation at Chelsea having signed for £33 million rom Gotham City, but never cemented a starting place and after a promising half-season loan at Dortmund he has only scored one in 15 games for Valencia, so he would still have been an expensive gamble. 

At least not signing the Batman means that we have refused to sell Hernandez and Perez, which means that allied to Arnautovic, Carroll and Antonio the club has five strikers for the rest of the season.

What was stranger to understand was that Pellegrini did not reinforce his ailing defence. We're down to two fit centre backs, one of whom Ogbonna, is looking way off form and worryingly slow. There's no option to play five at the back unless Cresswell is shifted into the middle and Masuaku clearly can't defend in a conventional back four. Surely we could have picked up a decent defender on a loan deal? Another central midfielder might have helped too.

The only signing has been Nasri, which could be a very shrewd piece of business on a free. One positive is that at least WHU have avoided a panic buy like Jordan Hugill, who cost £8m in the last window and was never started in a match. And we've also avoided re-signing Havard Nordtveit, who has strangely enough turned up at Fulham…