Overly long writings about West Ham United FC. This is the kind of thing you might like, if you like this kind of thing.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Middlesbrough 1 - 3 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

1. One Day Like This

Well, that was quite a weekend for the human race. It's somewhat ironic that as we discovered that time travel indeed is an impossibility - as a Fascist took control of the free world with nobody coming back to stop him - West Ham turned the clock back a year and produced the sort of performance that propelled us into the upper reaches of the league last year.

And don't pretend you don't come here for that kind of seamless transition between biting political comment and fairly obvious footballing observation.


Andy Carroll now out for six weeks with crucifixion-like injuries

Tenuous links aside, this did rather feel like a return to last season as we set up with Bilic's preferred 4-2-3-1 and an honest to goodness right back, in Sam Byram. We rode our luck at times, but our fluid counter attacking ability was evident from start to finish, and we defended stoutly enough to repel Middlesbrough when the need arose. 

It is also worth noting that this win took place on the icy tundras of the frozen North, where so many previous West Ham sides have been rent asunder. In reality, Middlesbrough aren't a great team but they are difficult to beat, and certainly difficult to score against and any way you cut it, this was an excellent win. 

2. First Steps

We started this game with unusual brio and could have been ahead after a couple of minutes when Cresswell and Lanzini combined dreamily down the left, but Antonio could only flick the formers' fizzing cross wide.

It mattered not as Andy Carroll soon rose to meet a Lanzini corner with a thunderous header to make it 1-0. Custom dictates that I refer to it as a "towering header" but that doesn't really do it justice. This was a skyscraper of a header, an Empire State, a Burj Khalifa, a Shard of a header. It was fucking magnificent. If you haven't seen it, try and picture a Sherman tank cresting a Normandy hedgerow in 1944 and rolling over a Middlesbrough shirted Wehrmacht division in the process. That's what it was like.


Andy Carroll scores his first

If his goal last week was a thing of technical beauty, then this was a great example to young kids of how sheer bloody minded determination goes a long way. Nothing was going to stop him crashing Lanzini's cross in, and who can blame him having waited all season for a corner that actually cleared the first man.

In fairness to Middlesbrough, they fought back gamely and their equaliser was marvellous. Christhian Stuani is a footballing broken clock, useful only twice a season and sadly both of those times have been against us. Here he slotted home a Calum Chambers cross after a brilliant, sweeping eight man move, and deservedly drew the home side level. It should be noted that at the time he scored, our two centre backs were arguing on the halfway line about which is the best series of The Wire (which is mental because it's clearly season 2) but I digress - it was a cracking goal.

Rather than fold, however, we regained a foothold and right on half time our pissed Geordie llama was on hand to slam home the rebound after a long range Antonio shot was parried.

So far, so good, and despite injuries to Noble and Carroll, we held on for the win and even found time to break away and snatch a third. In fairness to the lads they made things interesting by trying every conceivable method of fucking it up before, eventually, Lanzini picked out Jonathan Calleri whose deflected shot sealed the points.

I've been critical of Calleri's signing, and one deflected shot doesn't amount to much, but if this goal gives him the confidence to show us what he can truly do, rather than the pale imitation of his talent that we've seen so far, then that would be a very good thing indeed.

3. High Ideals

After this game, the Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka took the unusual step of slagging off the home crowd, apparently for demanding that his team play long balls. I strongly suspect that this wasn't what was irking the home fans but I'll leave that for better qualified folks than me to determine.

What is clear is that criticising his own fans doesn't detract from the fact that we created far better chances than his team, and that 3-1 wasn't a particularly flattering scoreline. Aside from the shot map shown below, created by the excellent @11tegen11 , there was also a fairly clear penalty claim for a clumsy first half challenge on Sofiane Feghouli that should really have been given.


What is noticeable about this map is that it shows how we have started to create good chances in the opposition box again. The three goals all had decent xG ratings, the aforementioned Antonio chance was also a good one and Lanzini burst into the box early in the second half and fluffed his lines with just the keeper to beat. I'm not about to suggest that we don't miss Payet, but if we can replicate this level of performance against teams better than Palace and Middlesbrough then there is cause for cautious optimism.

None of which is to suggest that the home side didn't have their chances, as they certainly did. Randolph pulled off an excellent second half save from Stuani, and Cresswell somehow managed to casually flick a dangerous cross on to Stuani and then the bar from all of about 4 yards out. I described Cresswell as "misplacing both a pass and his cerebrum" during my column the Hull game, and to be honest I'm not sure he's found it yet. Christ only knows how this one stayed out, but stay out it did and Middlesbrough gradually faded into the night.

It was that kind of day - some heroically stoic defending, allied to some luck at last. I'll take it - we've been due some for a while.

4. The Fix

So is Sam Byram the answer at right back? I thought he played reasonably well today, and looked a bit more comfortable against the fearsome pace of Adama Traore than Cresswell. The Middlesbrough man is reportedly set to join Chelsea and it's easy to see why, as his speed and trickery caused us headaches all day. Byram had his own struggles but he did enough to hold things together, and just the increased solidity of having a natural right back injected some structure into our play.

No longer was our right side a desolate wasteland of conservative decision making and poor passing. Here, Byram held his position well and got forward in support of Feghouli on a number of occasions. He's not Cafu reborn, and I'd still buy another right back as soon as possible, but the difference between him and the willing likes of Nordtveit and Antonio is night and day.

I see a couple of problems that need to be addressed, however. One is that he gets booked constantly. He has 8 in 15 appearances for us, or put another way it's easier to book Sam Byram than a Bruce Springsteen tribute band for a presidential inauguration. If he carries on at that rate he would pick up about 20 bookings a season, which is ludicrous.

Problem two is that he struggles to stay fit, and that's why I would like to see us pick up an alternative. Staying healthy is a skill for footballers, and Byram hasn't shown much of it so far. I like the fact that he is young, and I would hope to see him improve defensively as he ages and gets exposed to, theoretically, better coaching but he has to be able to make it on to the pitch more often than he currently does.

5. The Bones Of You

Speaking of people who have their own MRI units reserved for them, Andy Carroll was superb in this game. Say what you will about his mobility or his fitness, but when Carroll is in the mood and we are playing to his strengths he is hard to resist.

There was a nice fluidity about our formation here as Antonio frequently pushed up alongside him to turn our 4-2-3-1 into more of a 4-4-2, and in the first half they combined on a number of occasions to advance the play. I've already mentioned his goals but Carroll's hold up play was also excellent, and his ability to retain possession and bring support runners into the game was crucial to us regaining the ascendancy.

It's also noticeable, however, that Carroll has a tendency to drop deep when we are under pressure. Maybe it's frustration at being isolated, maybe it's a willingness to help out when things are tough but it was on display here again. I applaud his desire to help his team but it seems slightly circular for a centre forward to drop back to relieve pressure when the reality is that without an outlet up the pitch it's hard to get back on the front foot.

Naturally, with Carroll being Carroll he was an injury doubt going into this game having suffered whiplash whilst scoring his overhead kick last week. This might actually be the single most ridiculous injury of all time, beating even the occasion that Alec Stepney dislocated his jaw yelling at his defenders, but Carroll still played until pulling up with an almost disappointingly prosaic "tight groin" in the second half.

I remain unconvinced about how successful Carroll will be against the better teams in the division, especially given the way that he meandered around for 90 minutes against Man City looking about as useful as a sundial in Scotland.

On days like today, however, when the opposition aren't so good and we can flood runners forward to support him, then Carroll remains a remarkably potent striking option. I'd still be buying a striker in this window, given that he remains unlikely to stay fit for extended periods, but these last two weeks have shown exactly why Bilic is so enamoured of his pissed Geordie threshing machine.

6. My Sad Captains

With Cheikou Kouyate off laughing for Senegal for the month, it fell to Mark Noble and Pedro Obiang to marshal our midfield. Noble is clearly our on field leader, whilst Obiang was revealed this week as the administrator of the teams WhatsApp chat, and therefore is the de facto dressing room boss as far as I'm concerned.


I ain't adding you to shit, Dimitri

Here they were asked to do double duty as they had to frequently scamper over to the wings to try and double up on the rocket fuelled Traore and whilst it wasn't pretty, they sort of managed it. In truth it was Obiang who did most of the hard yards, but Noble did his bit too, and it was noticeable that we seemed to lose some direction when he was forced off injured after a shitty challenge from Bernardo.

Edmilson Fernandes is a good young player and will eventually cement a place in this team but he sometimes gets lost in games like these, looking as out of place as decent match in the BBC's FA Cup live schedule.

What Noble brings is control and a better understanding of the role than Fernandes. What the young Swiss offers is the legs to get up and support the forwards, as he showed with his part in the third goal. What Kouyate offers is the combination of both, and the reality is that once he gets back from Gabon, he and Obiang should be given the chance to build a partnership in the middle of the park.

7. Charge

Whisper it quietly but we might actually be in form. It's hard to think that, given that we are two weeks removed from being pancaked 5-0 at home by Man City, and we haven't signed anybody in the transfer window to fix our two most pressing needs, but still I think we might actually be in form. We've won five of our last seven league games and going into the the second half of the season, most projection systems give us around a 2% chance of being relegated. Or, put another way, roughly the same percentage chance that the new Fifty Shades Darker film will be watchable.

At least part of the problem with this is that two of those wins were the abominations against Hull and Burnley, whilst we've subsequently thumped Swansea, Palace and now Middlesbrough, who make up five of the current bottom eight.

What would really get me excited would be if we could beat somebody good. We're not alone in struggling against the top six, as they've been walloping everyone all year, but the curious nature of our fixture list does throw up an intriguing second half of the season. With the odd exception we are basically playing the top half of the division at home, and the bottom half away. That is exactly how you would draw it up if you had the choice, and if we could ever return to something resembling our home form last year we would actually have a good chance to press up the league.

That is easier said than done, of course, as we've been largely abysmal at home all year but perhaps the removal of Payet, or the general acclimatisation to the new digs, or the sense of freedom of mid table mediocrity, or perhaps all three, will galvanise us into some better home performances. With the exception of a trip to the Emirates there are no remaining away games to put fear into the soul and, without wishing to get too carried away by a win at Middlesbrough, for the first time in ages I can actually see glimpses of a structure to our play that makes sense. The caveats about Carroll apply, and better teams won't let him run uncontested through their box to head in corners, but let's not get too wrapped up in logic. We're seventh in the Premier League form table after all.

8. Any Day Now

I could have written the entire H List about the signing of Jose Fonte from Southampton, as it's so interesting. With twenty days of the transfer window gone I was beginning to get concerned at the lack of stupid moves, but thankfully with a mere ten days to go we pulled it out of the bag. In came 33 year old Fonte for £8m on a two and a half year deal worth a reported 70k a week, with a potential further £1m potentially payable and the player holding an option for an extra year.


Alien ship lands on the London Stadium pitch, two miles behind Jose Fonte

So if you're keeping track at home that's £8m up front, a further £1m down the line, potentially £13m in wages, another £1.7m in employers NIC if we're going to be picky, and agents fees because there are always fucking agents fees with Sullivan. So all up then, about £24m. For a 33 year old.

Don't get me wrong when I say that Fonte is an excellent player. I mean that - he really is. If you were going to put together a side from outside the traditional big teams in the Premier League it would be either him or Reid partnering Alderweireld in the centre half berths. To have them both together is going to be sweet, for about six months. He was also part of the triumphant Portuguese side last summer at Euro 2016, a leader, an experienced Premier League player and generally there's not much about him that won't improve us.

But he's 33 years old. So even though we're now going to have him around for the next couple of years he's probably not going to be any use to us after about a year. We're not even buying the last bit of his prime before he starts to decline - we're buying the decline phase of his decline phase. It's a fucking mental purchase.

Subsequent to Fonte arriving, it was revealed that Angelo Ogbonna is going to miss the rest of the season with a knee injury, which at least explained why we'd signed a centre half when we so evidently need help elsewhere first. But even that pisses me off. In a normal club, the scenario would play out something like this:

Medic: "Angelo Ogbonna has hurt his knee and will miss the rest of the season"
Bilic: "Hasn't he been playing with a knee injury for ages? That seems fucking stupi-"
Medic: (Softly presses fingers to Bilic's lips) - "Hush now Slav. Let's go and see the chairman"
Bilic: "Why? He's the Chairman, not the Director of Fo-"
Medic: "Not how it works, Slav. You know that."
(They enter David Sullivan's office)
Bilic: "Boss we need a new centre half"
David Sullivan: "Well, that's nothing to do with me lads. Get down the corridor to see our shit hot new Director of Football so I can concentrate on tasks more commonly associated with club chairmen"
Bilic: (to the Medic) "I told you. Dickhead"
(They enter the Director of Football's office)
Bilic: "Boss, we need a new centre half"
Director of Football: (opens up an impressive database) "Here you go Slav. That's my list of all the best young players in Europe in each position. I have them ranked into categories such as "Now", "12 months", "36 months" and so on, to indicate when I estimate they could be ready for our first team. We have tactical, technical and psychological reports on each of them, and they are filtered to show which ones I think would best fit our playing style. There's video analysis of all of them too, in case you want to take a look".
Bilic: "Blimey, that's impressive. You must've had some help from a few agents or Jack Sullivan's YouTube collection to pull all that together, did you?"
Director of Football: (looks perplexed) "What? No. I used scouts and high level data analysis like every other leading professional football club in the world. What are you on about?"
Bilic: "Do you at least have their Championship Manager ratings?"
Director of Football: "I knew I should have joined Swindon"

But of course that didn't happen here. With a 2% chance of being relegated, this is the absolute perfect season in which to take a punt, either on Reece Oxford or a new young player brought in from outside. Instead, Sullivan reverted to what he does best. He rang up some agents and paid way over the odds for a player he'd heard of before, saddling us with a contract that will be an albatross a year from now.

This is what drives me mad about our current setup. Sullivan looked at the disasters of the summer and decided he wanted to get in players with Premier League experience rather than risk yet more unproven foreigners. But that is flawed thinking of the worst kind, and the sort of shit that he wouldn't get away with if anyone was holding him to account. It shifts the blame for poor decisions away from those who made the decisions and on to the process. See folks, it's not my judgement that is to blame - I was just shopping in the wrong market.

So here we are, trying to buy players from English clubs, which is universally known as the least economic way to do business imaginable. I cannot understand how the Club couldn't identify a younger centre half to buy with that money. If you want to know why other Clubs have suddenly surged ahead of us, here is your answer. We are never prepared, even though players can get whiplash, get malaria, require season ending knee surgery or go on strike at any time. In fairness, for most clubs that would be a years worth of injuries whereas for us that just the last week, but it only adds to the point - why aren't we ready for it given it happens so often?

This bullshit, this lack of intellectual clout, this failure of management, this lack of analytic, agile thinking is why we are falling further behind our rivals. You will never, ever see teams like Spurs or Liverpool making moves like this and whilst I know I'm going to be grateful for Fonte when we play Manchester City in a week, I'm also know I'm going to stare at him in bewilderment for a long time afterward. Like some statue in honour of the all encompassing stupidity of our decision making.

I don't know how to say this any more. FOOTBALL GET DIRECTOR OF FUCKING A.

9. Magnificent (She Says)

So you may have read this week that Karren Brady hosted a meeting of prominent West Ham bloggers, websites and video bloggers. I wasn't invited, quite reasonably, as I have a readership that could fit in a canoe and I really only care about three off the field issues:

a) the bullshit Plus 2 scheme;
b) the fact that certain seats at the London Stadium are closer to the Upton Park pitch than this one; and
c) that, and I don't mention this very often, we don't have a competent Director of Football.

None of these things are within Brady's gift to do anything about. She can't reverse time, change the laws of physics or fire her boss, so it would be pointless to discuss them.

So I get why I wasn't there, and although I would have enjoyed the opportunity to have heard the conversation, I also understand why the Club chose to engage with the biggest sites to reach the highest number of people possible.

As most of you know, The H List is now effectively syndicated at KUMB, and so I'm a little biased when I say that I think Graeme did a good job of going to the meeting prepared. He had a thread running on the forum for a while, which generated a lot of responses and seems to have been a framework for the discussion, although others who were actually there may disagree. The KUMB summary is here and from what I understand Brady has already begun addressing some of the points raised. Say what you will about Brady, and plenty do, but I really do struggle to see why some dislike her quite so vehemently. If this isn't an example of her engaging with fans then I don't really know what is.

Amusingly, apparently the genesis of the meeting was a discussion between Jack Sullivan and the Clubs's PR manager. The most shocking part of that being not that our owners teenage son is brokering fan engagement, but that the Club actually employ a PR manager.

One observation I would raise is that it's slightly dangerous ground to start assuming that simply because people write blogs or make videos about West Ham, that they are automatically representative of fans. The last video I saw that purported to represent me was that bullshit open letter  to the board which seemed to be premised around the Club never attempting to win anything. Cheers guys, thanks very much for that. If only we were worse.

This, of course, is the great democracy of the internet. Everybody has a say, everybody has a voice, and if it's your thing to watch one hour videos on YouTube of people discussing West Ham then that is now available to you. A couple of these videos have been produced in respect of this meeting, and you can doubtless find them if you want them. Honestly, I can't link to them here as I found them unwatchable, but if that's your thing then they're out there.

All of which brings me on to something connected to this. If those sites (and this one) aren't really the voice of the fans then who is? Well, in recent weeks a group of fans have set up an independent West Ham supporters association. I've been watching from a distance so I'm not best placed to comment but I'm led to understand that we are the last Premier League team without such an organisation. You can visit them here or here and read more about it. What appeals to me is that they're saying it will be a democratic organisation aimed at representing the fans.

That said, one issue that concerns me is that WHUISA haven't really told us what they want to do yet, or given examples of those ambitions. Purporting to "represent the aims of the fans" is fine, but it's opaque enough that it does lead to the minute possibility that you could pay your £5 subs and turn up to the next game to find a load of "No blacks, No Irish" leaflets having been handed out. Now that might actually be the only way we'll ever feasibly beat Everton again, but it's not something that any West Ham fan is going to want to be associated with.

But let's assume that the people in question aren't attempting to invoke Oswald Moseley and instead simply want to represent the ordinary fan. They have a paradoxical situation right now where they want to represent their members aims but are still trying to gain members and understand their aims,  so I can see why they might be a little light on detail.

My hope is that they have an election (some female candidates would be good), gather the thoughts of their members and take them to the Supporters Advisory Board (*), which I believe is scheduled for next week. It may not seem like it's relevant to you, but if there ever comes a time when you're banned for standing in the wrong place, or your disabled relative is left sitting in the rain waiting for a bus, or your child is left inside the ground while your malfunctioning ticket keeps you outside, then I can see that a Supporters Group with access to the Club would be a powerful ally.

I haven't paid yet - I want to know what the aims are in more specific detail - so I'm not suggesting anybody sign up or do anything other than read a bit and find out more. I don't say any of this in the spirit of creating an organisation to go to war with the Club, in fact quite the opposite. I suspect that a proper voice for fans would help the Club a great deal, and after all, that's what we all want.

The next two years, after all, could feel be the most important in the our history. We have a small window now, before Spurs and Chelsea move into stadia that are better then ours to branch out and establish ourselves as a bigger club than we currently are. As soon as the new White Hart Lane is open with it's huge stands, steep rake to the pitch, bakeries and 86 metre bars, I think it's going to be very uncomfortable for the board to explain away quite why they thought the London Stadium was good for football.

I'm not sure why Spurs think they need a bakery in a football ground, but then again they spent £30m on Moussa Sissoko so who knows why they do anything.

(*) I accept that maybe the SAB is supposed to do all this anyway, but I still have no idea what they do.

10. The Take Off And Landing Of Everything

I'm going to make you sing Salt'N'Pepa.


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

West Ham 3 - 0 Crystal Palace (And Other Ramblings)

1. Time For Heroes

Prior to this game, if someone had asked me to describe the atmosphere at the London Stadium this season, I would have said it was as though a great blanket of negativity had gradually, slowly enveloped the ground over a period of months.

Going to games has been difficult with the transport not up to scratch, the stewarding largely a nightmare, dealing with the ticket office a brief venture in haphazard psychosis and the games themselves being largely dismal affairs played out on a pitch that is miles away from most fans.

And as time has passed, it has gradually dawned on us, that blanket has slowly settled on our heads, that none of that is going to change.

We're always going to have to queue for the trains for ages, we're never going to be able to generate that same Upton Park roar, and as much as we might will it to happen, that pitch isn't getting any closer. This is it.

And amidst that backdrop there has been so much else to be negative about. The transfer disasters, the insipid football, the Board generally dismaying fans with an alacrity that Martin Cearns could only dream of, and now Dimitri Payet turning his back on us.



He didn't even get injured

I hope you don't judge me too harshly then, when I tell you that I skipped this game. I just couldn't take it. I've read this book before folks and I knew how it ended. Big Sam in town, Allardycing us to death in a lousy 2-0 defeat while Palace fans sang Payet songs into the cold January evening.

For 70 minutes I felt pretty justified in my decision, as the game was a stifling mess, bereft of the sort of touches that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named would usually bring to the stage.

But football is a wonderful, unpredictable, changeable mistress and she was no different here. Mark Noble was recalled for this game, as a kind of Cockney counterpoint to Payet and he released Michail Antonio into Payet's now vacated inside left channel. Wayne Hennessey was so distressed by this that he came charging off his line with the kind of speed you only usually see from Payet when he spies his wife is flicking through his phone, and with that rush of blood came the opening we craved. Antonio skipped past the crazy fucker and crossed to a possibly offside Sofiane Feghouli, who clearly can't be trusted with anything further out than two yards, and we were in.

The drama is draining and the negativity a constant weight on all our shoulders, but nothing beats a goal. The release was palpable from 10 miles away.

Forget the circus - a weight had been lifted.

2. The Good Old Days

Being one nil up against Sam Allardyce teams is a nice place to be. For 70 minutes his tactics worked superbly as his 5 man midfield forced us into long periods of nothingness, and everything seemed set for the inevitable late Palace winner.

But once behind, Allardyce teams look lost. Told to sit in and frustrate the opposition, it is hard for them to expand on that and throw off those shackles in pursuit of a goal. He's only had Palace for four games and it shows, as they pushed forward and we picked them off with pleasing ease. For a brief moment it was easy to forget about Payet and Zaza and the fact we have no right back, and instead imagine that it was 2015-2016 all over again. Crowd noise, an atmosphere, a genuine striker and West Ham counterattacking like Napoleon at Austerlitz.

If the Feghouli goal was a slight loosening of the pressure valve, then Andy Carroll's goal smashed it open and nailed it to the sky. Noble, Lanzini and Antonio combined once more down the Payet channel, but the latter's cross looked largely optimistic.

Not so said our pissed Geordie octopus, who backed away and fashioned a frankly incredible bicycle kick that was fit to grace any game of football. The ball flew into the roof of the Palace net with the velocity and accuracy of a Patriot missile, and six months of frustration was vented into the skies above East London. Sam Allardyce would later describe this with his customary good grace as a "goal we gifted to them". Hokey dokey Sam, have another pint of wine.

I'm gutted I missed it. Even on a shaky looking stream the place looked to be rocking, and everything I've read since only confirms it.

Good. We deserve it. In a season of unremitting gloom this was as welcome as seeing Diego Costa fall out with Antonio Conte after two days of hearing about Payet from lifelong Chelsea fans, who think football was invented in 2003 and that Mickey Hazard is something to do with Rohypnol.

3. The Man Who Would Be King

Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of Payet's Paul Ince homage has been Manuel Lanzini, who has suddenly become a playmaker destined to benefit from the opportunity to play without Payet. This is a bit barmy, as at least one benefit of a player like Payet is that he draws defenders to him and leaves space for players to Lanzini to exploit.

The Argentine's best performance in a West Ham shirt came at Chelsea last year when his ability to break from midfield was crucial, and should have seen us win comfortably. However, that day he had Kouyate all over the place alongside him, and Payet and Cresswell destroying Chelsea down the left.

This season he has been in and out of the side, with injuries and form being a problem, as well as trying to find a place to fit him into a misfiring midfield. His best turns have been playing deeper, alongside Obiang and using his dribbling to carry us forward. In other words, the glowing accolades suddenly bestowed upon him haven't exactly matched the reality of the matches.



"Hold me. I'm knackered"

Here he was given licence to roam, with Payet absent and Noble and Obiang behind him to provide ballast, and he was outstanding. His quickness of foot is wonderful, and when the time came to do something, anything, in the final third it mostly fell to him to do it.

His goal was a thing of simple, devastating beauty. The corpse of Loic Remy was raised from the dead by Allardyce for this game, and in the space of a few seconds he lost the ball in our box, and between Reid and Antonio, suddenly Lanzini was breaking free. He carried it to the edge of the box before dinking it over Hennessey - who by this stage had had quite enough of this shit - with impish brilliance. It was a perfect goal to seal a game and the perfect fuck you to Payet, Marseille, agents, Chelsea and all the other evils of the world.

After his 80 yard sprint he then carried on and jumped into the crowd to celebrate, meaning that the overall distance run on the goal was something like two miles.

I can see why fans want to latch on to Lanzini as the perfect replacement for Voldemort, but I'd urge some caution. He seems to function best when paired with others - previously Payet, and here Feghouli - and we'll need to put some equivalent talent around him to get the best out of him. I'm sure that sounds familiar, but I can't figure out why.

4. Don't Look Back Into The Sun

The off the field battle was almost as interesting here as the stuff on the pitch. Bilic has actually beaten Allardyce in both their meetings, and here he did well to adjust on the fly to the Palace tactics.

The first half was largely tedious, with a half chance for Carroll and a golden opportunity for James Tomkins that he Feghoulied wide from about 8 inches.

At half time Bilic introduced a lesser spotted right back and suddenly off we went. Michail Antonio, who had a temperature of 101 on Friday and was rewarded for his determination to play by being stuck out at wing back again, was released to play alongside Carroll and suddenly we were in business. Sam Byram might not be the answer at right back, but he's a better answer than any of other options, and the simple presence of an outlet ball was disproportionately pleasing after a season of watching a succession of square pegs jamming up that particular hole.

The truth is that if we played this game again tomorrow we might just as easily lose. I don't think we were noticeably that much better than Palace but we took our chances, and our manager showed an ability to get his team to play in more than one fashion. You might also reasonably argue that those two fashions were "bad" and "good" but that in itself might sum up the Bilic/Allardyce comparison perfectly.

Palace played okay but never looked like they could transcend that. We were crap and good in the same game. That wild fluctuation seems to be a Bilic trademark as opposed to the steadiness (or tedium, depending on your viewpoint) of Allardyce.

This is really how I view these two. Allardyce can get a team into a certain range in the league and probably not much higher unless he has a lot of time or money. Bilic seems capable of getting higher, but also carries the risk of finishing up lower too, as we are seeing this season.

In the long term it doesn't matter much as Allardyce doesn't manage us anymore, but it felt like an interesting counterpoint, and Bilic deserves credit for the way he changed things up and altered the seemingly inevitable flow of the game.

5. Heart Of The Matter

Mark Noble had an interesting day. He is a lightning rod for those who would affect wild and sweeping changes on the team, with most seeming to think that his lack of pace is career limiting, but on days like these his qualities are evident.


Just got a text in from Vernon Kay, lads

I'm not sure he should be playing ahead of the Kouyate-Obiang-Lanzini axis, but here he did what he does very well. He tackled, worked hard, chivvied and played one or two sublime passes to create the first half chance for Carroll and the through ball that released Antonio for the opener.

His pace is waning, and at this point he has all the speed of Jeremy Hunt answering his phone on a Sunday, but he still has plenty to offer the side. The willingness to get on the ball and make passes, and take responsibility in a struggling side is a significant plus. It strikes me that in a team so low on confidence that it is odd to criticise a player who is willing to do that with regularity. Noble never hides and on days like Saturday that is important, when it feels like an opening will never come, and the tension is palpable.

His role might need to change over the next couple of seasons, but in this week of all weeks it's hard to dispute that the man is committed to the cause.

Also, anyone prepared to lift up a ball boy by the bib deserves some patience.


6. What A Waster

Goodbye then Simone Zaza. We hardly knew ye, except for the fact that you once took a penalty for Italy whilst riding a unicycle, and you have tattooed knees. The issue of Zaza is curious as it seems to be simultaneously the fault of David Sullivan that he failed, due to the ludicrous pressure of being asked to prove himself in 14 games, whilst the chairman also gets credit for not wasting £20m on a player who couldn't find the net with shoal of fish.

In retrospect, the whole Zaza saga reflects poorly on the Club. We signed him late in the summer when it became clear that our ploy of telling everyone that "we've got a load of money and baby we intend to spend it" somehow didn't end up with us being offered top players at knockdown bargain prices.

Thus Zaza arrived, and I have no idea if he was ever a real target, but he played because everyone else was already injured. It was September after all.

I really have no idea how he was ever supposed to fit into our system. He never showed the mobility to play as a lone striker and his link up work was decidedly patchy. I refuse to believe that he was as crap as he looked, but I think he was also symptomatic of the panicky nature of our summer business. Along with Ayew he seemed to have been brought in for entirely the wrong reason. Ayew to keep Payet company in the canteen and help him argue for TV Monde5 to be on the dressing room telly, whilst Zaza was simply there because he was available. That's a bad sign and a poor reflection on Bilic for agreeing to it. Sadly, I suppose the natural in house replacement - Antonio - was already been deployed at right because of his own managerial fuckwittery, meaning he probably felt he had little choice.

As it is, he is off to Valencia and will probably bang one in against Barcelona soon. C'est la vie.

7. What Became Of The Likely Lads

Two weeks into the transfer window and I'm still trying to balance my opinion on us not having made any panic signings yet. Clearly I am against us doing stupid things in the transfer window - paying £15m for 35 year old Jermain Defoe would be a textbook example of that - but I also do acknowledge that we need some help. Moreso now that Payet has turned footballing quisling.

The thing about Antonio being brilliant on Saturday, and Byram being healthy is that it could easily convince Bilic et al that there is no need to bring in reinforcements. The reality is that most projections for the rest of the season give us about a 2% chance of going down, which doesn't seem that ridiculous as Hull are Hull, Sunderland are also Hull and Swansea have the defensive solidity of Donald Trump's iCloud password.

So I can see the temptation to stay put, tempered with the knowledge that if we do, Byram and Carroll will be involved in a tragic hoovering accident on February 1st and our cover for both of them is the same player.

It's a bit like seeing Katie Hopkins on television. On one hand that's a reason to perforate your own ear drums, but on the other you're also thinking that there's a chance someone might see her and take the opportunity to rob her house. That's a tough choice, and one you shouldn't even have to be thinking about in the first place. Much like buying Jermain Defoe.


Oh look. A fucking idiot

I can't really decide what I want from this transfer window. I see little value and the reality is that we're not in much danger any more. All things considered I'd rather that they didn't make any moves and kept the money for someone sensible to make some decisions in the summer. Given that will never happen, I expect to shortly see Defoe and Glen Johnson holding scarves above their head on the West Stand concourse, with the touchline twinkling in the distance behind them. 

8. Campaign Of Hate

All of which reminds me that this weeks events have rather neatly detracted away from that nascent anti board movement that was springing up. Despite me thinking they don't seem to know what they're doing, I generally can't fault the board too much. I grew up with the Cearns family, Terry Brown and the  broke Icelandic billionaires. I have seen things. I remember.

The problem has never struck me as one of penny pinching or general cheapness - although I'm more sympathetic to that view the more time I spend in the stadium - but more a lack of thought over how their money is spent. But those failures of judgement around how to run a Club pale into insignificance next to the prospects we faced before they took over. Intellectual heavyweight Scott Duxbury was hosting barbecues and planning for the Champions League whilst failing to notice that new Director of Football, Gianluca Nani, only had one phone number in his book - that of his old club, Brescia. In short, we were fucked.

We've had rank incompetence and borderline criminal negligence in the past and what we have now is different. Most paint the new West Ham as a slick, new brand focused corporate monolith with no soul and a desire to treat us as customers. You can take whatever side you want on that, but that deviousness has come in handy this week.

The more I hear about the Payet business, the more I think the Club have done pretty well. My initial response to be flabbergasted that we would banish him to the reserves whilst telling the world that he wanted to go. This seemed destined to crash his transfer fee, and put us on to the back foot.

However, at that point I didn't know he was on strike, and by doing this they've pretty much cornered him and his agent. He can't now pretend to be injured as nobody will believe him, and the Club can leave him unselected and save themselves plenty of cash by fining him for being on strike.

Tonight we learn that Payet's wife and children are already back in France, leaving him with the prospect of living apart from his family whilst not being paid and being called a mercenary arsehole by model footballers Robbie Savage and Chris Sutton. What's odd about that is that he doesn't seem to want to go for money, he just seems to want to go back to Marseille, which I think most West Ham fans would find eminently understandable.

If I was Payet I would fire my agent and replace him with someone more capable - like Natasha from The Apprentice who said “Do you know what guys, I can’t find my underwear. Just trying to work out if it will be any benefit to us whatsoever.” - and begin mending some fences. 


Dimi's new agent

I cannot for the life of me work out why he didn't just announce he was homesick and wanted to go home, but promise to stay until the summer so as not to leave us in the lurch. His manager was the inventor of that bullshit! The Club could have worked in the background with Marseille to structure a deal and he could have left a hero, not that he gives a shit but it has to be at least slightly better than what he has now. 

The word is that Marseille have today upped their initial £19m bid to £20m which I find hilarious, and just about the most David Sullivan thing ever. I'm not sure they actually have enough money to afford Payet, and if they don't then he really doesn't have much choice but to try and come back into the fold.  

I still think this saga might have some legs left. Unlike Dimitri if he tries to buy a pint in The Carpenters anytime soon, mind you. 

9. Can't Stand Me Now

One thing to consider about Payet, however. Don't be swayed by this belief that we don't need him solely on the basis of one good game. He leads the team in key passes per game this season with 4.1 per game. Next is Lanzini is 1.3 (all stats per WhoScored.com) and thereafter it's a fucking wasteland. That is a huge creative component suddenly removed from the side, and it's not an easy thing to replace. Feghouli might well be a capable replacement in the longer term but he's a very different type of player and he also can't score unless he's behind the goalkeeper so that hampers his effectiveness somewhat.

We are off to Middlesbrough on Saturday and you might remember that we required the goal of the season to score against them in the first game. I don't care if you think Carroll's goal was better than Payet's - you are wrong. Payet had to do several things brilliantly, whilst Carroll did one thing. If we're one down after an hour again, you might find yourself casting wishful glances at the left wing and wishing that a certain Frenchman wasn't being a dickhead.

10. The Saga

I'm exhausted after all that, so here you go. Here's a Libertines song in honour of those who stayed and fought on Saturday and gave us something back. Not to be melodramatic but we needed that. And don't look now but we've only lost 2 of our last 7 Premier League games.

Thanks West Ham, I cherish you, my love.



Saturday, January 14, 2017

West Ham And The Fallen Hero

Ever fallen in love with someone?
Ever fallen in love?
In love with someone, ever fallen in love
In love with someone, you shouldn't have fallen in love with?
- The Buzzcocks



Oh Dimitri. Say it ain't so. Not you. We've got a memorable song for you and everything.

At this point, the only surprising thing about Payet wanting to leave West Ham is that he didn't somehow injure Andy Carroll as he handed in the transfer request. 

The Broken Bridge

What a Stygian set of affairs. What a fuck up. What a disappointment. 

From the point that he smacked in that last minute winner for France in the opening game of Euro 2016 it has felt different. I suppose it's not hard to see why. At that moment, in the host country, in a city still reeling from terrorist atrocities, Dimitri Payet scored a wonder goal and elevated himself beyond West Ham and into the footballing stratosphere. By the time he struck, Pogba and Griezmann had already departed the stage and it was the kid from La Reunion who became a national hero. Suddenly he was being talked about as a transfer target for Real Madrid and Paris Saint Germain. We had all hitched our wagon to his star, with no notion of quite how far he would take us. 

On British TV Slaven Bilic was celebrating on an ITV table and somehow we convinced ourselves that this demonstrated a bond between them, or was symbolic of Payet being one of our own. The boy from La Reunion was now the boy from Loughton. Except in retrospect it now looks like Bilic was prostrating himself before a departing son. 

After Euro 2016 things suddenly took a turn for the strange. Payet wasn't popping up in the Club's endlessly cheery summer updates, nor was he playing in any pre-season games. His post tournament rest period went on so long that he wasn't fit to start our opening league game at Chelsea, and then was absent until the infamous Watford game on September 10th. Tellingly this was after the transfer window had closed, giving credence to the notion that he was unsettled even back then.

Naturally we started the season with all the impetus of a Jeremy Corbyn policy launch and by the end of September had lost four games in a row and five of our first six. If Payet was disaffected when the Club refused to sell him during the summer, then it's hard to imagine his mood being improved as Arthur Masuaku and Simone Zaza arrived and promptly started losing balls in the lake behind the goal at training. 

The Ruby In The Smoke

Thereafter followed his wonder goal against Middlesbrough when he scored the best individual goal I have seen since Di Canio's volley and he briefly seemed to be the energised talisman of last year. Looking back at old columns I can see that I described it thusly:

The H List - 3.10.16 - Middlesbrough

If you haven't seen this goal, stop reading and go and do it now. If you want yet more persuasion, imagine Beethoven being at a Robbie Williams concert and thinking "thank fuck I'm deaf", before walking on stage, pushing the fat prick off the side and sitting down and playing Symphony No.5 in full. That's what it was like.

The problem was that even though Payet seemed to have been reborn somewhat, the team were spiralling. The awful start had scuppered any fanciful notions of the Champions League, and with our summer signings being very Poundworld when they needed to be Waitrose it was hard to imagine any scenario in which we would be able to get Payet to stick around.

If there is one thing that football fans specialise in, however, it is widely misplaced optimism and thus there wasn't a widespread sense of fatalism. Most fans seemed distracted by the transfer failings, the stadium failings, the public communication failings and well, whatever failing we wanted to focus on. There was no shortage.


A memory of better times. October. 

Payet had been worrying me all season though, and I wrote this after the League Cup quarter final defeat at Man Utd. 


However underwhelmed he is by the team around him, he has to get on with it. I have written before that his sale was inevitable once it became clear that we were going to be a bottom half team this season, but what we cannot afford now is for Payet to go into a tailspin in pursuit of a move in January.

Please note, I'm not including this to make myself look prescient. I get stuff wrong constantly. I once described Gerard Pique as "presumably having a football career as a result of winning a competition on the back of a cereal packet" and Lassana Diarra as "being made entirely of pasta". 

The point is more that I write The H List in the immediate aftermath of each game and therefore the articles are supposed to reflect the emotional journey of being a West Ham fan. One week you're down, the next week you're down a bit further. That's how it goes. Reading back over the season so far there seems to have been plenty of games where Payet visibly looked distracted, half arsed and uninterested. By the time we got to Arsenal things seemed to have reached a nadir, although with West Ham that is always a dangerous thing to assume:


Farewell Payet then. I've said it for a few consecutive performances but he doesn't seem terribly perturbed by events unfolding around him.

By the time we got into the next transfer window, it simply seemed a matter of time:


Maybe I'm doing him a disservice, but Payet hasn't looked as sharp this year as he did last, and by the end of this game he was walking around with his hands on his hips like Robert Duvall on that beach in Apocalypse Now. I'd personally give him a rest on Friday night, as the last thing he needs now is another energy sapping defeat at our soul sapping stadium. If nothing else, none of this is helping his transfer value for the now inevitable summer departure.

Again, none of this makes me a remarkable soothsayer, it just makes me a cynic who happens to write down my opinion each game and therefore have a record of my thoughts on this particular topic. The signs have been there all season. 

I Was A Rat!

Much of my opinion on this was formed after the Bilic press conference, and my initial tendency was to side with Payet. That won't surprise many of you who have been reading recently and will know that I think the work of the Club hierarchy this season has been largely incompetent. 

Who could blame him for not wanting to play for this team? I don't want to watch them, so I get where he is coming from. The devil lies in the detail though. 

Has he said that he doesn't want to play or that he will not play? These are two subtly different things. I do not want to go to work on Monday but I will go. That is not the same thing as me refusing to go. 

After the bombshell of the Bilic presser, the story quickly became however that Payet was on strike. Looking back, Bilic does say that he is "refusing to play for the Club" and if that is indeed the case then it is inexcusably reprehensible. 

If Payet is indeed on strike then he is dead to me. I'm removing the tattoo, taking down the petition to rename the A406 as the "Payet > Ozil Highway" and renaming my youngest daughter. He can, in the common parlance of the time, do one. 

But there are two sides to every story and we have yet to hear his. It won't be long. Shortly we will doubtless see a promo interview on a French TV station talking about the unhappiness of his family, his unceasing love for the West Ham fans and how he just wants to go home. You can definitely get a decent tan in Loughton, but it ain't the Cote d'Azur, after all. 

It is not without irony that I link to this column by ExWHUEmployee at the West Ham way site. it contains far more background to the story and essentially states that Payet has been unhappy all season and is definitely on strike. I don't think releasing our transfer stories is helpful, but I can't deny that this kind of thing probably is useful for the Club given that they are now essentially in a PR war with their best player, which barely scrapes into the top ten most ridiculous things to have happened at West Ham in my lifetime. 

And what are we to make of it all?

Well, I don't blame Payet for being unhappy with the direction of the team. He is the best player and he is entitled to want the Club to surround him with good players. They have summarily failed to do that, and we all agree with him so it would be hypocrisy to say otherwise. 

The reality is that the Club would have been been better off selling him after Euro 2016, but they simply couldn't have done so. They were selling tickets to their new stadium on the basis of a Payet led team and would have been derided as small time shysters lacking ambition had they moved him on and replaced him with Robert Snodgrass. They might be about to do that now, but they've already sold their 50,000 season tickets.

I can't blame them for holding on to him. Anything else would have been met with opprobrium and immediately reminded West Ham fans everywhere of the Club's storied history of selling on any decent players as soon as they can. Sullivan and Gold were attempting to sell a vision of something different and thus their hands were tied. That decision came at a cost of millions as his transfer fee will undeniably be lower now than last summer, but it bought them some credibility with the fanbase that was crucial to filling the stadium. 

But all of these ignores a simple fact. Payet is paid £125,000 a week and was paid a £1m loyalty bonus just last year in a masterstroke of irony from his agent. He is fantastically remunerated by any standards, and to withhold his labour on these grounds is disgraceful, if utterly unsurprising behaviour. 

That said, I am afraid that I don't buy into the argument that he owes anybody loyalty. He has been well paid at West Ham and he has played well for West Ham. He is a French footballer seeking to maximise his career earnings, and was a well established player with Champions League experience and international caps before he joined us. We didn't put him on any map other than that of the English football world, and as a result this idea that we have elevated him is a bit incongruous. 

What he owes us is the simple half of his labour agreement. He signed a contract and it requires him to play football. So he should play fucking football until he signs with someone else. There are plenty of others out there who don't have the ability to play professional football and would love to like me, my daughters, my dad, Chris Smalling and 50,000 West Ham season ticket holders. He might be famously "naturally indifferent" but Payet is spitting in a lot of faces with this stance, with the greatest irony of all being that his manager came up with the template for hanging around to "save" a team and then fucking off for pastures new.


Not everyone is good enough to be a pro, Dimitri

The Subtle Knife 

Fair play to Marseille for their artful tapping up however. It remains to be seen whether they will get their man in this transfer window but they have done everything in their power. The manager, Rudi Garcia, and players are already making eyes at him via the press and doubtless there is plenty that has happened away from the public eye. 

I'd get angry but what's the point? UEFA don't give a shit and I would want us to do the same to a transfer target where it was the only way to get him. 

But it creates a painful, but unarguably fascinating, situation for the neutral. What do we do? Banishing Payet serves the purpose of calling his bluff by presumably fining him for each week that he refuses to play. If they are true to their word then that could save them about £3m in wages before a summer sale.

The issue is that with each passing week Payet gets less fit - a low base line to start with - and his fee decreases. Each week on strike renders him a bigger rebel and a bigger problem and therefore those dreams of getting £30m disappear into the dust. It is for that reason that I can actually see him playing for us again. 

Marseille's reported bid of £19m - or 69% of a Fellaini put another way - was a insult but indicative of how this thing works. Payet's agent is banking on his behaviour being so disruptive that the Club have no choice but to cut bait and offload him for a reduced fee. The tapping up club are happy as they shell out less in fees, and the agent and Payet get healthy sign on payments. It's worked for them twice before already and doubtless will work here. 

What a mess. What a Stygian mess. 

So, for once, I side with Sullivan. Send Payet to rot and tell anyone who wants to buy him the price is the price and any lowballing is an insult to the Club and the player by undervaluing him. 

Once the transfer window passes, then Payet faces six months without playing and, crucially, earning.  At some point there has to be some value to him in coming back into the fold, putting a bit more effort in and getting out of Dodge in the summer. 

Maybe that's all a bit fanciful. The better odds are surely on Marseille upping their bid to something like £25m and West Ham taking the option to let him go, but don't be surprised if we all get one last chance to boo him before June. Might make it a bit uncomfortable for him to walk past his inevitably defaced mural though...

The Tiger In The Well

The great irony of all of this is that the person who come out with the most credit is Slaven Bilic. Just a week ago he was within the crosshairs of the Board, with the Club taken the bizarre (*) decision to publish a Martin Samuel article  on the official site that essentially told the fans to stop whinging about the stadium and start laying the blame where it ought to be laid - with Bilic. 

(*) I say bizarre, but these days, perhaps not so much

With his emotional, wrought, dare I say it - passionate - press conference performance Bilic has bought himself some breathing space. Now he has his own scapegoat - "We lose Payet, but we might gain the team" he said during his elegiac address to the media. Clearly things haven't been copacetic behind the scenes for sometime but Bilic ironically has some leeway now. He can lay the blame for the disjointed performances, the lack of intensity in training and all other manner of issues at Payet's door and now he has to rebuild. A fanbase determined to brand Payet as a snake will probably afford that to him too. 

There's a lot to consider here, and ultimately there's a lot that we don't know. 

I suppose the piece that gets missed, but which is ultimately is the biggest cost is that paid by the fans. A reduced transfer fee doesn't annoy me too much as we'd only waste it anyway, and a loss of wages to a millionaire isn't a problem either. 

As a team we'll survive but probably worsen in the long run, especially as our attempt to replace him will be fraught with danger, likely be expensive and probably be a disaster.

But for the fans it's a kick in the teeth. My daughter was visibly upset when I told her, to try and forewarn against playground taunts. All those kids lost their hero this week and that's a great shame. We all remember the first time we lost a hero and it's painful. The realisation that the hero frozen on your wall is a drugs cheat, a racist, a sexual abuser or in the case of Paolo di Canio, a worryingly devout Fascist. 

Farewell then Dimitri. You gave us great joy and then you turned out to be just like the rest. We fell in love with someone we shouldn't have fallen in love with. 

What a mess.

Monday, January 09, 2017

West Ham 0 - 5 Man City (And Other Ramblings)

1. Here Comes The Night Time

One of the joys of parenting is little tasks like getting up at 4.15am every Saturday morning to drop my daughter to her ice skating lessons.

Due to that early morning appointment she couldn't come to this game, but when I began the delicate process of negotiating her wake up at 4.20am, her first question was "Did we win last night?". She is only 11 and therefore hasn't progressed on to the more relevant "How much did we lose by?" but no doubt she will reach that stage soon enough.

As I looked into her naive young eyes I couldn't help but savour the moment. The innocent years before you hit secondary school and suddenly there are lots of Spurs, Arsenal, Liverpool and Man Utd fans with displaced fathers to highlight the true horror of being a young Hammer.

Upon telling her we had lost 5-0 she pondered this for a moment before looking at me with the pure face of someone who has never heard of Oldham and asked me "Is that our worst ever cup defeat?".

And there is the rub. Because after losing 5-0 at home it doesn't seem unreasonable to ask that question, and yet this wasn't even our worst Cup defeat against Manchester City in the last three years. 



I'm sure glad those days of embarrassing cup defeats are behind us

2. We Used To Wait

This game didn't start well. Outside the ground there were queues at each set of turnstiles, which appeared to be a mix of the post work kick off ensuring everyone turned up at the same time, several new fans taking advantage of the cheaper prices, tighter security and some good old fashioned garden variety West Ham incompetence.  

By the time we got through there was barely enough time for my ears to start bleeding from the megasonic PA before we were off. Dimitri Payet was on the bench having looked totally uninterested against Man Utd on Monday, but Pep Guardiola wasn't feeling quite so relaxed as his counterpart, Bilic. City started with Aguero, Toure, De Bruyne, Sterling and the magician that is David Silva meaning that watching this one was rather more an exercise in hope than optimism. 

Curiously, we weren't too bad for half an hour. Manuel Lanzini was at the heart of all our best play as he flitted about with intent and showed the ability to transition us from one third of the pitch to another with a slip of the shoulder. Sadly, Silva decided he'd had enough of that shit and suddenly took hold of the game like Wayne Rooney grabbing his first Stella of the evening. 

Despite the vague promise of our early play, Winston Reid was our busiest player, turning in a heroic thirty minutes of blocking and tackling as the rest of our back four took the opportunity to update their iPads and generally stand around doing anything other than actual defending. 

Sadly this couldn't last indefinitely and when Pablo Zabaleta popped up in the corner of our box he dangled out a leg, felt some Italian skin and then Phil Jones'd the fuck out of it. As is required under FA rules the team with the better looking balance sheet gets the decision, so referee Michael Oliver took a quick gander, snorted at our turnover and gleefully pointed to the spot. 

Reid and Ogbonna had an almighty moan, but it made no difference and Toure barely squeezed his shot past the diving Adrian. Thereafter followed an entertaining couple of minutes as Ogbonna dramatically removed his gloves, raising the brief hope that he might challenge Zabaleta to a duel which would at least have raised the entertainment quotient, but sadly he was just being dramatic, as was Sofiane Feghouli who somehow managed to put a shot wide of an open goal moments later, thus summing up his entire West Ham career in one fell swoop. 


Zabaleta goes all Phil Jones

3. Cold Wind

The problem with West Ham circa 2016/2017 is that going a goal behind is the death knell for any hopes we may have of winning a game. We have regained just two points all season from losing positions (Middlesbrough (h) and Liverpool (a)) and have won only two games where the opposition have scored a goal (Chelsea (h) and Swansea (a)). 

Armed with that knowledge, and with no positive memories at all of the stadium in which they play, the team fell apart with impressive speed. Ten minutes later Havard Nordtveit turned into his own net under pressure from Raheem Sterling, before the wizard Silva made it three just a minute later. 

By now Toure was just shuttling up and down in a straight line like a less mobile version of Shaquille O'Neal, as various £50m players rotated around him and we essentially gave up. 

It should be noted that at this stage Silva had changed in to a top hat and tails and was waltzing around looking like the game changing maestro that we wish Payet was. His performance was brilliant and he should have got a standing ovation when he was removed but I think most of us felt that would have been a bit embarrassing as it was only against us.

Sergio Aguero, anonymous all evening, popped up to score a fourth immediately after half time to kill everyone's spirit, and then John Stones - who couldn't win an aerial duel if you gave him a fucking Messerschmitt - rose unchallenged to head in a fifth. 

Guardiola apparently doesn't like Bilic much, as he then brought on Fabian Delph which is like going down to ten men and is frankly just taking the piss. 

4. Black Mirror

Objectively I actually can't get too upset about this result. The four players who scored for Man City tonight cost them £135m (£179m if you include Sterling). Our most expensive ever signing is Andre Ayew, who was ludicrously over priced at £20.5m and would still have been the cheapest player in Man City's attack tonight. 

But the result pales against the performance. The manner of this defeat was so abject, so pathetic and so predictable that it can't help but raise concerns. After the Man Utd game it actually felt like there was something there. We had won three in a row before turning in two consecutive decent performances in defeat, and the players had seemingly pulled together in distressing circumstances. Small crumbs to be sure, but something to cling on to. It would have been impossible to say that the players hadn't played for their manager having seen them strive manfully with ten men for an hour against Mourinho's boredom boys. 

And now - well, who knows? For reasons I cannot fathom, Bilic decide to bring Payet on after 70 minutes with the score at 4-0 and with the only conceivable benefit being to cup tie him, which isn't a good reason to do anything. This soul destroying, interminable waste of a season was perfectly summed up as we brought on our global superstar to run around pointlessly to try and stop us going 5-0 down. 

I actually can't figure out what I think of Bilic anymore. We could easily have won at Spurs and Liverpool, and should have taken a point at Chelsea but by the same token could have easily lost at home to Sunderland, Burnley and Hull. There appears to be no consistent tactical plan or shape, partially driven by the absence of a right back which is his fault and therefore engenders no sympathy.

To be honest, this performance was like this Babyshambles appearance on French TV. It started pretty well, and then by the end you're just thinking to yourself "God, I hope they all survive this"



Just occasionally we flicker into life, like at Palace or Spurs, and suddenly the mind wanders back to last year and the exhilaration of seeing a West Ham side go toe to toe with everyone. Points taken off every side in the division and no backwards steps taken anywhere. I'd waited my whole life to see a West Ham side do that and it buys him huge amounts of emotional currency with me. But there's no getting away from it - this season has been a shambles. The only top half team we have beaten in the league all season is Bournemouth, who we robbed, and other than that we've laboured to victories against the dregs whilst saving our best performances for glorious rearguards against the top teams. 

I could even stomach a result or performance like this if I had faith that the Club was actually heading in the right direction. If we had a cohesive transfer plan with an obvious strategy and lots of young players obviously recruited with that in mind, then it would be easy to ask us to buy into that. A "project" if I dare utter the word, after the failures of the Scott Duxbury/Gianfranco Zola era, is what we probably need. 

Sadly, there is no such wagon that we can hitch our stars to. This aimless, directionless season has sucked so much life from the Club that optimism is as absent as that mythical stadium Wi-Fi we were promised eons ago. 

I wrote last week that I would have rested Payet, and I stand by that - he wouldn't have made any difference - but that capitulation was unacceptable. Tellingly it was that similarly risible 6-0 defeat at Eastlands which marked the moment that many fans turned their backs on Allardyce. Many more of these and Bilic will be getting a lot more time to spend with his new baby. 

5. Une Année Sans Lumière 

If you spend any time on social media, you'll have seen everyone get very excited at Dimitri Payet "liking" a Tweet from a Marseille fan suggesting he return there after this debacle. If there is one thing that being on social media has taught me it's that social media is not the world, and doesn't reflect terribly well the real universe outside. I mean, how much credence should we be giving a platform that allows men to send unsolicited pictures of their genitalia to women, and does absolutely nothing to weed out racism, anti-semitism, xenophobia or any of the other platforms on which Donald Trump won the US presidency?

As an echo chamber, Twitter is loud and useless and best ignored. But let's be honest, Payet is not long for this corner of East London. I can see the attraction of Marseille, although I keep looking at these fees from China and wonder if he wouldn't fancy Shanghai for a year or two. 

Honestly, I hate that we have got to this position but we are clueless, he has lost interest, is nearly thirty and so many players simply fall off a cliff at that age. Kaka, Ronaldinho, Robin Van Persie, Fernando Torres, Wayne Rooney - all have sparkled brightly before declining precipitously somewhere close to the big 3-0. 

In an ideal world I envision lots of one sided deals where we ship him off somewhere and get young, affordable players in return. To Arsenal for Iwobi and Ramsey. To Man Utd for Martial and Rashford (we should actually offer this - never fail to give Man Utd an opportunity to do stupid things). To PSG for Rabiot and Moura. Except those are all ridiculously lopsided and of course, I doubt we'd have the nous to ask for those players back anyway. 

Instead it will be for cash which is terrifying as it means David Sullivan will be spending it which means no plan, no strategy, just lots of money thrown at lots of players (and agents, of course). It'll be Rio all over again.

Our best case scenario is now is that he hangs on for a while, doesn't sulk and then a drunk Chinese club decides to try and one-up that £60m deal for Oscar. 

6. Wasted Hours

As all this destruction was being wrought around him, Andy Carroll stood watching impassively like our very own Colossus of Rhodes. You wouldn't want to have to outjump him but going round him doesn't seem too tricky. 

There was no pressure on the ball anywhere tonight, but in the modern game that starts from the front and Carroll simply isn't mobile enough to get around to do the necessary pressing. 

Our best periods in the last couple of years came when Sakho and Valencia were able to hound opposition back lines and force them into ceding possession in bad areas. Now there were two of them, so a direct comparison to Carroll is unfair but the reality is that Bilic seems unwilling to pair him with anyone, meaning that better sides are able to pick us apart. It also seems clear that Bilic wants to play him at any opportunity - and why not given that I suspect an old centre half like Bilic hated playing against players like Carroll - but has no clear plan for playing to his strengths. 

It seemed we might have stumbled upon such a method against Swansea but on reflection it does seem like that really was "only" Swansea after all. 

I think there is a clear role for Carroll but it has to be with a partner, or alternatively as a thirty minute battering ram at the end of games. It's one of the things that makes this transfer window so fascinating/terrifying [delete as applicable]. Are we trying to augment Carroll and make him more dangerous or are we moving away from him with a view to trying to recapture the mobile pairings that served us so well over the last twenty four months? 

Or Option C - are we writing out the names of all the players we've heard of and using a magic eight ball to decide whether to bid for them, and how much? Hence, "Robert Snodgrass - £3m".

7. Intervention


The most co-ordinated West Ham move of the evening

By far the most entertaining moment of the night came when two highly inebriated Hammers fans ran on to the pitch with seconds remaining and re-enacted Zabaleta's dive. I felt that Iron Man made a little too much contact on Spider-man if I'm honest, but it was still the most well put together move of the evening by anyone in a West Ham shirt. 

8. Black Wave/Bad Vibrations

With eight days gone of the transfer window, we've already got off to the kind of start fans have been dreaming of. In case you missed any of it:

- an article appeared on the Clubs official website written by the West Ham "Insider" revealing ill disguised bids for Moussa Dembele, Scott Hogan and Jermain Defoe. Primarily this article was a crime against grammar, looking as it did like a GCSE submission, but it was clearly produced with the blessing of somebody very senior within the Club.

- brilliantly, the following day, David Sullivan then denied in print that we were interested in Dembele (despite the fact we should be), thus creating possibly the first ever situation where a professional football club have removed tabloid newspapers from the chain altogether and are just starting and denying their own rumours.

- as our transfer plans were leaked all over the place, it became clear that two of our top targets were Defoe and Glen Johnson. You'll remember them playing in our relegated 2002/03 team. Fourteen years ago.

- a column then appeared on The Sun website written by @exwhuemployee confirming all of the various targets and deals. 

- Karren Brady then announced publicly that the "Insider" column would no longer appear, despite the fact that it can only have appeared with Board approval in the first place. 

Now whether you're a fan of our Board or not, that is an astonishing amount of mismanagement to cram into eight days. It's like Basil Fawlty is running our PR operation. 


A transfer window you say?

Let me say this - I have a full time job to which I sometimes give over 40% of my effort, a family, this blog and season two of The Man in the High Castle to get through, and I will still willingly offer up my services to manage West Ham's public communications strategy. I'll basically be doing it on the train home, and I'll still do a better job than is currently being done. 

The worst thing about all of this is that these leaks are at least partly deliberate in order that the Club can gauge how supporters feel about the potential signings. You may remember them deploying this tactic previously and deciding not to sign Joey Barton and El Hadji Diouf as a result. Here's the thing about that - it's beyond stupid. For the love of God, have some faith in your own processes and discard public opinion. 

The decisions makers at the Club need to settle on a strategy and stick to it. Ideally that strategy would involve them hiring other people to make the decisions, but that seems unlikely, so if nothing else it would be preferable if they simply went ahead and did their business in private like every other team. 

9. Ocean Of Noise

Which brings me to the thorny business of "in the know" West Ham fans. The most prevalent of these is ExWhuEmployee, who started as a Twitter user and then started The West Ham Way  website. Now I have never met Ex, never attended any of his live events and I only listened to his Podcast on Wednesday for the first time given that I knew I'd be writing this column. I've had no personal interaction with him and I doubt I ever will. 

Truthfully, I read his update columns and that's about it. I take the columns as fact as they are clearly from very reliable sources within the Club. In fact, Jack and David Sullivan have been guests on the podcasts, so I'll be honest and say that I consider the columns to be direct from the Sullivan family. Indeed, several columns have referred to "the Sullivans" really liking certain players which is somehow horrifying and yet not even remotely surprising. 

If the Club wanted to shut this leak down it wouldn't be terribly difficult, and therefore one can only assume that they are happy for the information to be public. I have yet to come up with a viable reason as to why this could ever be a good thing. 

Tangentially, I once went to a gig when I was a hip young thing to see the then up and coming band The Bluetones. It was a weird gig as they played their songs and the crowd responded at best half heartedly. I read the NME review a few days later and it described the audience as a "hands behind their back, impress me, London crowd". 

Well, here's the thing; we should put our hands behind our backs and simply say to the Board... "impress us". 

No more bullshit leaks, no more promises of £30m strikers followed up by loan signings, and no more unofficial Twitter polls on players. Just do whatever the hell you're going to do in silence and when we see the signings standing three miles from the pitch at the London Stadium with a scarf above their head in a £300 designer t-shirt that looks like a rag, then we'll give it all some thought. 

As for Ex, scrolling through my Twitter timeline last night I can see that some fans are suggesting he no longer write his columns or tweet his updates, to which he seems to be suggesting he'll simply give out his information on his podcast and write no more articles.

I'm not interested in any kind of online spat with another West Ham writer, not least because I am very well aware of the difference in reach between our two sites. The H List is read by a few hundred, most of whom I related to, as opposed to the many thousands who read the other sites. I doubt I speak for very many.

But my tuppence worth is this: if there is even a 1% chance that having our transfer affairs in public is placing us at a disadvantage then why bother? Satiating the interests of fans who demand to know the Club's every move as they are being made is not a good reason to do anything. 

So yes, personally, I would like to see all the online transfer updates stop and West Ham announce their transfer business through Sky Sports News when the deals are complete. Just like every other team does. 

10. Suburban War

I see that the board are now the subject of various online petitions and action groups. I can't deny that I can see why people are frustrated. The unprofessional nature of the transfer activity, the team is crap, the stadium is divisive and Phil Jones is still rolling around the concourse. It's not earth shattering to say that things could be better. 

But I did notice that there were Supporter Liaison Officers at the exit gates on Friday night. This was something Karren Brady had promised during the week and there they were, in one case listening dutifully as some lunatic seemed to be berating them about a lack of a right back. 

This is a good example of why I don't understand how Brady gets vilified. I get the very many charges levelled against her, but to me she seems determined to try and solve problems when they arise. I have no idea if other supporters found the SLO's to be useful or not, but as someone who has fallen foul of our ticket office frequently this year, I could see clear benefits to them being around outside the ground. 

Now Karren, about that Director of Football...