My last post was somewhat swathed in negativity about West Ham and I'd like to counteract that a little. Sadly the actual game I'm writing about didn't offer me that opportunity, so before we get on to our latest adventures in debacleland, I thought I'd share a story with you all that made me incredibly proud to be a West Ham fan.
During the last school term, the head of literacy at my daughters' school came up with a rather good plan to try and get boys more interested in reading. She wrote off to several leading professional sports clubs asking them if they could send old, unused programmes to the school as this was almost exclusively the only thing that certain young boys could be enticed to read.
A number responded with small donations of ten or so - Manchester United, Leyton Orient, Harlequins RFC and, to their credit, Spurs. From West Ham, the club with the most young fans in the school, there was nothing.
Disappointed, the Head Teacher wrote again to the Club, reiterating the request and explaining that this was a school squarely in their catchment area and full of disappointed young Hammers who were desperate to read all about Joey O'Brien's record collection.
A week later he received a telephone call from none other than David Gold, who apologised profusely for the oversight and explained that with the upcoming Stadium move having just been sprung on them, there was an awful lot going which had only been exacerbated by a number of our fans deciding to take up renovating coaches just as Manchester United arrived in town. He then passed him through to the Department of - actually I have no idea - Programmes, who explained that the school could have whatever the Club still had in stock.
And so it came to pass that loads of young West Ham fans received a bulk delivery of old programmes after a personal intervention from our Chairman. Say what you will about the way the Club is run but I thought that was fucking brilliant.
What I think we're all currently trying to figure out, is whether or not we should be panicking yet. It is, after all, three games into the season and therefore the perfect time to assess things if you're an idiot. Now, in fairness to those on Twitter who are warning that the Four Horsemen are upon us, we have played 7 competitive games this season and won just 2. That's a pretty shitty start even when you factor in our injury list, which can only really be described as "West Hamian".
However, some perspective is required. The injuries matter as they have robbed us of 3 of our 4 most important players (Payet, Lanzini and Cresswell - Kouyate is the other, in my opinion) and mean that we are seeing players without the requisite ability or confidence starting games.
But beyond that, look at the fixture list. Over the course of this season Chelsea and Man City are going to be two of the toughest away trips in the league, for everybody. We should have got a draw at Chelsea - overmatched even though we were - and here we put up a reasonably decent fist of it in the second half. In between, we bored Bournemouth into submission and thus sit with 3 points after 3 games. It could be better, but it could also be Stoke. So let's wait and see how we fare against Watford in a couple of weeks, with a few players back and an international break to fix up some of the tactical messes we've been creating. If we lose that though, we should all go apeshit.
God bless plucky little Pep Guardiola. Battling along with just the best squad in the league and £150m of new players to work with he has somehow managed to turn things around at everybody's favourite friendly oil baron's plaything. After the shame of losing at home to us last year, it never really looked like that would be repeated once Raheem Sterling put City into the lead after just 7 minutes.
Once Fernandinho had doubled that lead on 18 minutes - akin to being punched in the face by Santa Claus - it really did feel like we had got our West Ham back. I fully expected us to lose by 4 or 5 goals, but credit to the new found resilience of Bilic's side we stuttered through to half time with the score still at 2-0.
At half time Slav abandoned his experimental homage to the Ajax youth system, which dictates that forwards must be able to play at right back to learn every position on the pitch, and brought Sam Byram on. This had the dual effect of allowing our best attacking player Michail Antonio to play further up the pitch and also removed Gokhan Tore from the field of play where he had been stumbling around with all the impact of your drunken uncle Barry at a wedding.
With Antonio freed to actually do something other than chase aimlessly around after Nolito, we got back into it in the second half but a lack of real cutting edge eventually did us in and we settled for one of those "lost 3-1 but it could have been 6-0 so just think on that before you get too uppity" kind of defeats. I consider these to be even more intrinsically West Ham than Bobby Moore himself.
4. Slav Against Humanity
There is a funny board game that I discovered recently called Cards Against Humanity. You may be familiar with it, but if not let me describe it a little. Each player in the game is given ten white cards which have random statements on them. A black card is then placed in the middle of the table with an open ended sentence on it, and players then have to complete the sentence using a white card and the funniest version wins, as selected by the player whose turn it is to judge that round.
As an example, on holiday recently a card was drawn that said "Delays on the Underground today were caused by....." and the answers given were:
a) ...two midgets shitting into a bucket
b) ...sperm whales
c) ...Christopher Walken
My friend genuinely went for c) having decreed that the first two were "just stupid". I'll leave you to consider that for a moment.
Anyway, what does that have to do with West Ham? Well, I'm beginning to suspect that this method is how Slaven Bilic is deciding where to play Michail Antonio. Before each game he lines up the cards and Edin Terzic, Nikola Jurcevic and Julian Dicks all have to try and make the big guy laugh the most with their answers.
"Today Michail Antonio will play..."
a) ...right wing back
b) ...Vladimir in a production of Waiting for Godot
c) ...Christopher Walken
"Ha-ha, nice one Dicksy! A back 5 it is"
You're probably familiar with the statistics. The most headed goals in the Premier League over the last year, and second only to Dele Alli in midfield goals over the same time despite not actually playing in midfield.
He is being picked there because Bilic doesn't think Byram is up to it, and because our squad is top heavy with attacking players and he's trying to shoehorn Antonio into the side. One would think this might lead to us buying a right back and letting some of our front players go, so naturally we have bought holding midfielder Edmilson Fernandes and striker Simone Zaza for reasons I can't fathom at this point.
Michail Antonio has now deservedly been called into the England squad and I'm pretty sure it's not so he can play at right back.
5. Central To The Problem
I'm just going to say this - I think we have a problem at centre half. Winston Reid got injured last year and has not been the same since.
James Collins told everyone he was in the form of his life last year and it sort of became a narrative, but it was noticeable that he didn't play at Euro 2016 until suspension kicked in and before then he was kept out of the side by James Chester.
Angelo Ogbonna is our best pure defender but he is also Italian meaning that his customary corner marking tactic is to envelope forwards like a Portuguese Man O' War. This is being clamped down on heavily this year and seems like a penalty waiting to happen. Note how he was absolutely nowhere near Fernandinho when he headed in his goal.
With no Tomkins around, these are the prime options and it felt like Bilic didn't much fancy any of them and so just went with 5 at the back. This was supposed to lead to marauding wing backs but instead led to us sitting deeper and deeper as Man City toyed with us in the first half.
Reid is probably the best player of all three and the one who is most able to stabilise things with a return to form.
6. Not If His Throat's Knackered Though
If we're talking about Reid then we should also mention the elbow in the throat he took from Sergio Aguero. Although he's not a typical dirty player like, oh I don't know, Diego Costa it was still a red card offence and he should have walked.
That said though. Arthur Masuaku should also have been sent off for persistent fouling and was very fortunate to last the game. I'm pretty sure he wasn't dismissed solely because referee Andre Marriner thought it was all a bit one sided anyway and felt a touch sorry for us.
I particularly enjoyed the Chelsea fans on social media who launched a campaign to get Aguero banned retrospectively, arguing that if it had been Diego Costa everyone would have been going mad. The reason I found it amusing is because this incident was exactly the same as a Costa one. Everyone saw it, it should have been a red and it wasn't. He didn't get sent off - just like Diego Costa!
7. Talking Diego
It's an article about a game against Man City, so let's talk a little more about seismic dickhead Diego Costa. Or more specifically refereeing decisions of the type he was involved with in our first game. Here is a little run that West Ham endured in a crucial five game run at the end of last season:
Everton (A) W 3-2 (Everton awarded penalty for foul committed outside the box)
Chelsea (A) D 2-2 (Chelsea awarded last minute penalty for "foul" committed outside the box)
Crystal Palace (H) D 2-2 (Kouyate given red card, later rescinded, when leading 2-1)
Arsenal (H) D 3-3 (Lanzini goal incorrectly ruled offside)
Leicester (A) D 2-2 (Leicester awarded last minute penalty because FAIRYTALE)
Now, every set of fans in the country could compile a list of decisions that they feel have gone against them, but these were either flat out incorrect "line" calls or widely pilloried judgements where even the national media were sympathetic toward West Ham.
That run of decisions, amongst other things, did for our Champions League hopes. Now we are just three games into the new season and we already have seen two opposition players not being sent off when they clearly should have been. These things happen, and it's a long season but it feels like we're due a run of shockingly bad decisions that actually benefit us.
8. I'm Formulating A Theory Here Slav...
Slaven Bilic after Man City:
"We stayed in the game. I wasn't happy at half-time, I asked the guys to show character and spirit and a different mentality, which they did. Praise for the team for the second half performance."
Slaven Bilic after Astra Giurgiu:
"We didn't play good in the first half or with desire as a team. We were second best."
Slaven Bilic after Chelsea:
"When you lose a game and concede late, of course you are disappointed. Apart from the first 15 minutes until we equalised, they were much better than us. We came back into the game. We played well after 1-1, but we made the mistake in the middle of the park. We gave the ball away and conceded a cheap goal."