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, December 31, 2007

West Ham 2 - 1 Manchester United (And Other Ramblings)

1. Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space

Somewhere there is a small child who fired off a letter to Santa Claus requesting that West Ham beat Man Utd 2-1 for Christmas.

The kid specified that we should go one down against the run of play, squander a glorious chance ourselves, concede a penalty which would then be missed by Man Utd's best and simultaneously, most loathsome player, before our two centre backs should then pop up with the winning goals in the last ten minutes.

That child did a bit better than the dyslexic girl who wrote off asking if she could be Satan's Little Helper and ended up as a copy editor for the The Daily Mail.

2. Stop Making Sense

It will surprise most of you, but I actually do put a fair amount of thought into these columns. Not as much as, say, my weekly shopping list, but a decent effort none the less.

One of my ploys is to have most of the article formed in my head before I leave the game. It helps me to remember the points I want to make (Usually - "Lucas Neill = great, Luis Boa Morte = inexplicable") and ensures that the tone of the piece is hopefully more representative of the emotional journey of watching a game.

Suffice to say then, that this review was rather different in feel up to the point that Anton Ferdinand tried out this new thing he learned in prison called "jumping". I have to come clean and admit that I had been largely underwhelmed by Alan Curbishley's selection, and had been fairly vocal about it too. Following on from my last post bemoaning our lack of passion and inventiveness it was rather too much to bear to see us line up with a solitary striker in a home game against the league leaders.

The substitutions just reinforced the view that we were simply trying to keep the score to a respectable 0-1, and the overall lack of penetration was worryingly familiar.

All of which just goes to show why I am writing a blog, read only by members of my family and, weirdly, lots of Australians, whilst Alan Curbishley is a Premiership manager. Humble pie can taste nice after all, it seems.

3. The Statistics

4-5-1 might have been the figure on my brain for most of the time, but if ever a set of statistics justified a formation then here they are. We had the ball for an unprecedented 51%, which is the first time for eons that we've been the dominant side in terms of possession against one of the big boys. This is probably as much a testament to Darren Fletcher's appalling passing as it is to anything else, but I have to say that I was surprised they even had it for as much as 49%.

In the end we mustered 12 efforts on goal to the visitors 7, and even forced more corners, by a tally of 6 to 3. These numbers alone mean nothing, of course, for Ronaldo could and should have buried the game with his penalty, but there is no denying that we were the better side for most of this game.

My favourite statistic of the entire day is that John Pantsil drew as many fouls (3) in his bonkers little cameo appearance as Carlos Tevez, Ronaldo and Luis Saha did combined for the whole match. Even better is that two of those fouls led, at least indirectly, to goals. Quite why anyone would foul John Pantsil when there were alternative options available such as taking tea, or reading "Great Expectations" is a puzzle, but then I am not Patrice Evra.

4. The Opposition

Despite the best efforts of every media outlet in the West, I haven't seen each and every Man Utd game this season. I am still prepared to go out on a limb and say that this must have been their worst performance of the season. Even Sir Alex Ferguson admitted that his team were deservedly beaten, which is a surprisingly honest statement from a man who hasn't yet found a defeat he couldn't blame on the referee or the linesman or the French or Gareth Southgate's nose or Communism or..........etc.

Shorn of the likes of Scholes, Rooney, Carrick and Van Der Saar the visitors only really threatened when Giggs or Ronaldo had the ball, and to the great credit of our midfield that didn't happen very often. The goal was imbued with a touch of class and was crushingly inevitable from the moment that Tevez flicked his pass to Giggs, whilst also being almost entirely unstoppable. Ronaldo's speed for one so tall is incredible. Thankfully for us he spent much of this game sat down looking bewildered and crying, which does admittedly make him a lot easier to tackle.

For the first time ever it was possible to look at Man Utd players such as Kuscak, Brown and Fletcher and compare them to their West Ham counterparts without feeling inferior. Indeed, even though I rate Owen Hargeaves more highly than most of the country, it seems insane that he cost £20m more than Hayden Mullins.

Still, I paid £7.99 for a book the other day, when the same novel was right next to it for £1 less, simply because I preferred the cover on the more expensive one. Which is exactly the same kind of thing.

5. The Referee

Mike Dean is really not bothered about giving penalties against us. After the last minute affair at Portsmouth, he quite correctly awarded another one following a mind blowing bit of hand waving from Jonathan Spector. It marred an otherwise splendid performance by the American, but it had to be given.

Elsewhere he did well to resist the protestations of Ronaldo and routinely left the Portugese winger whinging into the night. This was in stark contrast to Howard Webb's recent handling of the Chelsea game, when he weighed up each decision carefully, considered all angles and then awarded the every decision to the Blues. Thankfully I'm not bitter about it.

6. Your Love Alone Is Not Enough

No report of this game would be complete without a mention of Carlos Tevez. His pre match welcome was emotional and heartfelt. Ferguson had openly questioned whether this would happen before the game, which was described as "mind games" by the the British sports media, and "ignorance" by people who actually understand football.

I have to say though, that I don't quite go in for the whole hearted love in around the Argentine. He remains an Upton Park legend, but as with so many who have a special place in their heart for us, and who love the fans, and who hope to be buried at the Boleyn, none of that was quite enough to get him to actually stay and play for us.

He took the money and ran, for which I do not blame him, but I'm afraid that just makes him like so many others before him.

There is little doubt though, that the emotion of the day affected him. I suspect he took one look at my cold, dead eyes and realised he'd let me down. So, in the end, it was more me than Matthew Upson that won this game. I accept your grateful thanks.

7. In The Habit

Beating Manchester United is not an everyday occurrence, although at this point that is clearly only because we don't play them every day. For Curbishley, however, this is uncharted territory. In 115 years at Charlton he never once managed it, and yet now has three consecutive victories with us.

I won't pretend to be able to explain it. I could suggest better players are the answer but I'm not sure I believe that. Maybe he is a better coach now, or maybe the atmosphere at Upton Park is more conducive to these kinds of victories than The Valley. Whatever it is, I hope he bottles it and takes it with him, for he will need it.

His slavish devotion to safety first football will eventually be his undoing, as either the owners who demand Champions League football, or the fans who demand two strikers for their £50 ticket, will drive him out. This is not to detract from this particular performance, as his decision to flood the midfield stifled Man Utd, and his substitutions, although initially appearing to be drug induced, eventually proved crucial.

Yet, it has to be said that for 70 minutes of this game we were rolling along in damage limitation mode. Dean Ashton was sat on the bench, eating biscuits and trying to laugh at John Pantsil's crazy jokes, whilst we toiled away manfully against a superior opposition. Of course, you know it's a weird day when West Ham score twice from set pieces, but I can't get away from thinking that this isn't a recipe for continued success.

Here's where I'm at though - and I realise that you won't be able to go to bed until you hear this. We've just beaten the league leaders with a midfield consisting of John Pantsil, Hayden Mullins, Mark Noble and Jonathan Spector. He must be doing something right.

8. Greensleeves

I have no idea what goes through the mind of a professional footballer when he takes a penalty. If he's English and it's a major tournament I assume that he is thinking "I'm going to miss, hmm, I wonder if I'll get back in time for the casino?", but I assume that real footballers have an innate degree of confidence, borne of actually practising the skill involved.

I wouldn't like to say then, that Ronaldo was put off by Robert Green's penalty saving reputation, but I'll definitely admit that it can't have hurt.

To give you an idea of how good his record is this year, he has not conceded a penalty in 4 attempts over 20 games, whilst last year no one missed against us at all in 38 games, with 4 successful conversions. This is at least partially explained by our curious employment of Roy Carroll.

9. Substitute, For Me For Him

Let's get this right then - Scott Parker got injured, Curbishley looked at our surfeit of midfielders, our lone striker and decided to replace him with defender John Pantsil. Five minutes later Scott Parker limped and was replaced by defender Anton Ferdinand, all as Dean Ashton sat completing The Times crossword on the bench.

As we finally stumbled across the stunningly obvious ploy of giving the ball to everyone's new hero John Pantsil and letting him run riot down the right wing, the masterplan became clear.

And so it worked. But by God, how?

10. PS, I Love You

Big shout out to Darth Lemsip AKA Joe C, for doing some much appreciated promotion of The H List on www.westhamonline.net. There was a recent thread asking for decent football sites and we got a mention. Of course that thread was sandwiched amongst cerebral companions such as "JK Rowling - Would Ya?" and "Which celebruty (sic) will die first in 2008?" but hey, we're not really in a position to be looking down our noses at anyone.

So welcome to any new readers. May God help you.

Friday, December 28, 2007

West Ham United vs Manchester United: Match Preview - 29/12/2007

1. The Return Of The King

No, not HeadHammer Shark... but Carlos Tevez.

My main motivation for attending tomorrow will be to show my appreciation to Carlito for his splendid efforts last season. By rights, he should be treated to a stellar reception. I'm sure there will be a few meatheads who insist on booing him, but genuine fans will appreciate the return of a bona fide West Ham legend.

Having witnessed the last couple of lacklustre home performances, tomorrow I shall make an (inevitably doomed) attempt to watch with a sense of detachment as a quality attacking side do their stuff - I fear it will be one of the few examples of creative potency we will see at Upton Park this season.

Hats off to you, Pope Tevez - your silky skills and cheeky simian smile brought us much pleasure.

2. Slim Or None?

Readers, I am in the same puzzled place I often find myself in when the faintest glimmer of hope twinkles on the horizon. Bereft of the cynical detachment that HeadHammer Shark exudes with his cold, dead eyes, I find my heart persistently trying to overrule my head.

Obviously, whenever I succumb to this deluded optimism, the inevitable sub-par performance only cranks up the volume of my brain:

"Idiot! When will you listen, you blithering idiot?!"

Still, indulge me...

Judging by the flat performance on Boxing Day, our failure to beat a 10-man Reading does not bode well for the visit of a full quota of Premier League Champions and there is a part of me steeling myself against the hiding we'll probably be on the receiving end of. However - illogic tells me that our impressive away day form could come into play.

United will be on the front foot for much of the game and will be under more pressure than us to get a result, particularly with such a close title race in prospect. My heart (with all it's Special Needs), keeps banging on about how this plays into our hands and, at the very least, will enable us to escape sans battering and maybe even nick a goal or two.

God, I'm gonna feel like such a fool come 5 o'clock tomorrow.

3. History

Last year we did the double over both Man United and Arsenal

(I'll write that again)

Last year we did the double over both Man United and Arsenal.

However, 2006 also saw an axe-wielding Finnish metal band win the Eurovision Song Contest and Dick Cheney accidentally shoot his "friend and lawyer" in the face with a shotgun - what can I say? It was a strange year. (All true, Shark - I'm toning down the libel).

Two 1-0 wins including that unforgettable resurrection at Old Trafford, saw us take all six points and helped steer us clear of relegation. Our home Premiership record against United is pretty good, having lost just once in the 12 fixtures to date - albeit recording only one win and seven draws.

We'd all be happy with a draw tomorrow as it would no doubt mean the 11 men on the pitch in claret and blue would've actually fronted up. I'd personally love to see a red-faced Sir Alex Ferguson fuming in his post-match interview, you can just picture it:

"Unbewievable. I can't bewieve they've taken points of us in the weague. Wonaldo's dive was a bwatent penalty... It's a bwuddy conspiwacy."

4. 'Tis The Season...

...to stuff your face.

I'm sure we've all over-indulged and put on a few pounds these last few days and I'm quite sure that Dean Ashton and Lucas Neill weren't shy in adding another ladle of gravy to their extra helping of Christmas pudding over Yuletide.

They both look heavy to me and are certainly lacking that zip in mobility you'd expect from young professional athletes. Lucas in particular has been a shadow of his last-season-self.

I remember him doing an outstanding job on Ronaldo at Old Trafford last season but I fear he could get a roasting this time out. And not the good kind of roasting - neither sage and onion stuffing nor Micah Richards would be involved.

Ashton looks 'strong' (I'm in the giving spirit, what with the time of year) and you'd still back him to hit the target should the ball drop to him. But therein lies the problem, the ball would have to drop to him as you can't see him outstripping anyone for pace... unless perhaps Sir Alex waved one of his homeland's famed deep-fried Mars Bars next to the ball.

5. In Summary

If we don't show up, we'll be annihilated. If we do show up we could nick a draw and do ourselves proud...

...which will make our capitulation to Fulham at our next league home game even more galling.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas Ramblings (And Other, Erm, Ramblings)

1. The Return

Greetings, one and all, I trust that you have been getting along fine in my absence. I understand that The Boleyn Beluga has been looking after you all in his own inimitable, yet undeniably libellous, way.

Since I lasted foisted my unwanted opinions upon you all, much has happened. The Shark clan has expanded to include another girl, we've continued to look like world beaters on the road, and wife beaters at home, and somehow managed to royally blow a Cup Quarter Final. 'Tis a curious ship we sail upon.

Quite aside from all of that, it seems that Eggert Magnusson is not long for these shores, as his unceremonious sidelining culminated with the news that Bjorgulfur Gudmundsson has bought out his erstwhile partner and will take over the day to day running of the club, simultaneously throwing another £35m at the problem. I won't go into the whole vipers nest that is our current ownership, but whatever you may think of the Icelandic consortium, it just feels better having actual businessmen running things rather than a caravan park owner.

Not that the new boys are doing it for purely altruistic purposes, but I'd like to think that they understand the link between on field success and profits. I predict moderate success all round.

2. The Away Results

Since we last dived into the wearisome world of our consistent inconsistency, our results have continued to have an alternate universe type look. Away wins at Blackburn and Middlesbrough have been offset by two truly mediocre displays at home to Everton.

Prior to all of this was a trip to Chelsea that could have seen us go home with a draw if the game had been properly officiated, or possibly a win if Nolberto Solano had neck muscles. Even if our set up away from home is a little too Boltonian for my liking, there is no arguing that we have become a very good outfit away from Upton Park.

The effort, organisation and willingness to kick anything that moved fell short at Stamford Bridge but was enough to take the points at both Ewood Park and The Riverside. The latter was a particularly pleasing result as we win as often in the North East as we do in Outer Space.

The Blackburn game exemplified our away performances perfectly. Built on the basis of an excellent goalkeeper and a very good back 4, we contained a decent Blackburn side with an unusual degree of comfort. Then, as it became clear that one goal would be enough to win the game we introduced the returning Dean Ashton.

Unfettered by the inane nuances of the game, like running or moving, our Dean simply stood on the penalty spot until one of his team mates crossed him the ball. Gorgeous George McCartney eventually obliged and Ashton bagged the winner. And didn't he look pissed off about it.

It is pointless saying this, because "if" is a perennial watchword for mid table sides, but if we could ever ally this kind of away form to any kind of home form we'd be threatening the UEFA Cup spots. As it stands, one could also take the pessimistic approach that if our away form should ever revert to normal, then we'd be in danger of getting sucked back into a relegation dogfight. So, all things considered then ......... being mundane rules!

3. The Home Results

Our home form continues to be dismal. Sure, the results are okayish, in the sense that we aren't losing an awful lot, but the level of performance has been mediocre at best. There is no disgrace in losing to a very good Everton side twice, although allowing Andy Johnson to score against you isn't the best advert for your professionalism, but it feels to me that the discontent is brewing more over our style of play, than our results.

There is plenty of argument raging on the various West Ham forums about this. There is the camp that states that Alan Curbishley has always produced average football with average results, and is doing it this year with half a team, and don't look now, but 9th place is a whole lot better than this time last year.

Alternatively, one can subscribe to the theory that Curbishley has had a humongous amount of money to spend and failing to beat, or even threaten to beat, a 10 man Reading team at home on Boxing Day is typical of the bland fare we are likely to face for the rest of his tenure.

I tend to fall somewhere in the middle. I can't say that watching us play at home is enjoyable as such. I mean, yes, I like to spend the time with my father, and I enjoy the witty urbane conversation and quality catering of the Bobby Moore Lower, but all in all it's not a great deal of fun.

Historically, I have always been proud of the fact that despite our woeful inability to retain good players, we have always adhered to an attacking style of football and, put simply, had a go. It give me an inflated sense of superiority, especially when I was drunk and talking to other fans.

However, I was equally ashamed of our complete failure to look even vaguely professional when playing away from the friendly confines of Upton Park, and so I find much to admire about the manner in which Curbishley has installed some discipline to our play on the road. The notion of us winning at places like Blackburn, Boro and Reading under Redknapp or Roeder was inconceivable.

The sad truth is that for a mid table club like us, it probably has to be one or the other. The players that made us so exhilirating to watch for a while there - Di Canio, Berkovic, Benayoun, Dailly - were the same ones who were liabilities away from home. Nowadays, the same is true in reverse. One cannot fault Parker and Mullins for being resolute and committed when needed away from home, but lacking flair when we need to break down visiting defences. If they had that ability, they wouldn't be playing for us. The depressing, but realistic, point I'm trying to make is that I'm not sure Premier League teams outside the favoured Big 4 these days can have both. And look at Portsmouth and Man City if you think I'm babbling even more than usual.

3. The Injuries

Our injury list continues to read like a Who's Who of injury prone, mercurial sorts. I have long since ceased to believe that things will come right when our first team are all finally available for selection. This is our first team, folks, and you'd better get used to it. I would suggest it unwise to be pinning your happiness on the likes of Kieron Dyer or Craig Bellamy being consistently fit and available. Or out of prison, for that matter.

The fact remains that the likes of Ljungberg, Upson, Ashton and even Ferdinand are only ever one tweak away from a month off, and as such our first team will always be in a state of flux. Now sure, I wish our medical staff would get some actual proper medical qualifications instead of trying to resolve groin injuries using the power of song, but all things being equal, we still have a pretty fragile bunch.

One area of concern is the back 4, where the loss of Gorgeous George McCartney would severely weaken us, particularly at a time when our uber-sub, Jonathan Spector, is being pressed into service as an emergency 6th choice centre half. (Wow, what a job title).

The prospect of facing our difficult January without a recognised left back fills me with the same feeling I get as Freddie Ljungberg takes a corner. I believe it is called dread.

4. The Goals

It's worth mentioning the fact that we have scored a few decent goals recently. The pair at Boro were remarkable in their own ways. Ashton scored a belter from 25 yards and then celebrated by doing an impression of a man who'd just run over his dog. Boy, would I not like to accidentally give away the end of "The 6th Sense" to Deano.

Later, Scott Parker followed that up with a delightful bit of footwork and a very neat finish, all in the last minute, to give us a first win at Middlesbrough since the days of the Raj.

Nolberto Solano's goal against Reading was nicely taken, and saw Carlton Cole pick up another assist. This description is particularly charitable, as Cole's contribution was to miscontrol the ball and promptly fall over. Still, it worked, so let's not be churlish.

5. The Cup Exit

Aside from being the epitome of mediocrity, Curbishley's Charlton sides were notable for three things. They invariably started the season well, they then finished them atrociously, and in between would never even contemplate the idea of a Cup run.

Strange then, that we should reach the Quarter Finals of the Carling Cup at the first attempt under Curbishley, and even better be drawn at home to an eminently beatable Everton side. As things transpired, they weren't that beatable after all, although Danny Gabbidon's splendid last minute impression of an over eager seal wasn't especially helpful to the cause.

It should be said that Everton were the better team across both matches. The Cup game was more even, but we still lacked that crucial piece of invention that night have been the difference between the two sides. As it was, they were basically a better, and significantly taller, version of us. Ho hum.

6. The Future

On the face of it, things are looking up. This time last year we were about to take part in, and lose, the worst game of football ever played by humans - against Manchester City - before our plucky little loss at Reading, when 6 late goals ruined everyone's New Year.

As it is now, we are comfortably inane in mid table, and to top it all of, we're looking down at tottenham.

As I mentioned above though, there is no denying that the indefinable zest has gone. Where once upon a time, matches against Manchester United used to produce 5-3 classics, I can't help but feel that tomorrow will be a dullards dream, as we succumb to a numbing 1-0 defeat, and I lose all the feeling in my toes. We'll then plod on wearily, winning a few a losing a few more until eventually it's the Summer and we can all do loads of drugs down the park to forget about it.

I'm not complaining as such, I remember last year all too well, but blimey - I think I could live with just a bit more adventure......

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Middlesbrough vs West Ham United: Match Preview - 22/12/2007

1. Chore Of Duty

Following the news that HeadHammer Shark has been colonised off the coast of Japan having been mistaken for a small island, it falls upon my well-toned deltoids to provide a brief summary of Saturday's game.

In short, we were rubbish.

Everton were slightly above average, but nothing a determined and coherent home performance wouldn't have been able to deal with. The Toffees were adept at providing support for Yakubu in numbers from midfield and passing to feet - whereas we were happy floating 30 yard balls up from the halfway line, which were easily dealt with.

Scott Parker was our best performer, displaying an obvious return to fitness as he was all over the pitch for much of the game. His was a determined, neat and tidy display but still lacking in any creative spark.

The one semi-creative element we had on the pitch was Nobby Solano - so Curbishley obviously decided to take him off for Mark Noble, meaning we had three like-for-like players on the pitch at the same time in Mullins, Noble and Parker.

West Ham have always had some sort of creative force in the attacking half of the pitch, be it Tevez, Benayoun, DiCanio, Berkovic, Brooking... It's been obvious for a while now that we are sorely lacking in this area and appear both devoid of ideas and toothless in attack, particularly at home.

On the positive side, it was pointed out to me that He-Man frequents a seat in the corner flag area on the left of the Bobby Moore Lower - so at least our rejuvenated commercial sector is forging a solid fanbase in the as yet untapped market of Eternia.

2. Aurora Boroalis

And so onto this weekend.

Far from being 'northern lights' (in answer to your question, yes - I am a literary genius), Boro must be one of the more tedious sides in the Premier League.

Another component of the fallacy that is the North East 'hotbed of football', one can't really blame the local out-of-work miners for not delving into their ration books more often for a regular trip to the Riverside.

Average attendances of just six are more a testament to the restrictive nature of Gareth Southgate's proposterous, natural impasse of a nose. Many a Teesider has fallen to their death trying to scale their manager's prohibitive proboscis in a bid to gain entry to the stadium.

Those few who make it are rarely treated to anything more than the mediocre, although they have found some form of late. At the moment we seem to be meeting all manner of teams just as they hit their stride.

3. History

Middlesbrough will be the first team that we will have played both home and away in the League this season, after our flattering 3-0 win at Upton Park back in mid-September.

Last season saw us beat them 2-0 at home (Tevez & Zamora) in what was easily the worst display by a visiting side to the Boleyn, and then lose 1-0 at the Riverside to a goal from everyone's favourite Italian slaphead who isn't Pierluigi Collina - Massimo Maccarone.

Again, you would fancy us to do better away from home this year as they would be expected to bring the game to us. I still have a problem with our distinct lack of creativity, however. I think we're all chomping at the bit to see just how good Julien Faubert is.

4. The Ungrateful 'Hotbed'

From a neutral perspective, Boro Head Honcho Steve Gibson is probably the most likeable Chairman in the league. His support and passion for a truly average outfit has been unwavering for many years now.

Just what he gets out of the relationship is puzzling. Having pumped millions into the club, moved them to a new stadium and done everything in his power to insure that more than fifteen people turn up each week, his only return seems to be the admiration of all fans bar those of his own team.

I wouldn't bother if I were you, Steve. Rumour has it there are some excellent investment opportunities coming up in newly-liberated Basra.

Apparently, Insurgents XI are effective down the far right-wing and are dynamite upfront. And unlike your army of Premiership journeymen, their players always go out with a bang.

5. Sunnyside Up

Speaking of Chairmen, our own beloved Eggy has decided to relinquish his post at West Ham to concentrate on his other business interests.

Being a lifelong supporter, I can hardly remember any interaction between the fans and the Board before Magnusson's arrival in November of last year. The only time we ever heard from them was when they wanted us to front up for hair-brained schemes like the Hammers Bonds.

Magnusson has been a breath of fresh air and I'm sure will be missed. Simple steps such as bringing Billy Bonds back from the exile imposed upon him by Brown will forever endear Eggy to Hammers fans, and his no-nonsense ripostes to outside criticisms were a welcome addition.

Hopefully he'll be back at Upton Park before too long.

We can rest assured that our loss will be the U.S.S Enterprise's gain.

6. Bjorg Again

So now the real money man emerges from the Boardroom shadows.

Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson has pledged to do everything in his power to secure a move to a brand new £250million, 60,000-seater stadium at the former Parcelforce site near West Ham Tube.

He has also promised to invest a further £30million into our coffers in the near future - although his assertion that this will be ploughed into "the financial base of the club" suggests that this money won't be freely put in the transfer kitty.

Gudmundsson has also spoken of his desire to liaise closely with the fans, as he believes "regular dialogue and feedback is crucial to our success" - words you'd never have heard from Terry Brown.

Opinions are yet to be fully formed as we have heard so little of Gudmundsson thus far, but he appears determined and certainly can not be accused of not putting his money where his mouth is.

7. The Opposition

Generally speaking, Boro are a team of Premier League journeymen with the odd once-promising-youngster-who-has-never-fulfilled-his-potential thrown in.

Midfield man Fabio Rochemback will miss Saturday's clash having received his fifth yellow card of the season and Julio Arca is facing a late fitness test after picking up a slight knock. Tuncay Sanli seems to have settled in and has scored three in three, including his splendid effort against Derby at the weekend.

Stuart Downing is still rubbish.

Gareth Southgate's pitch-straddling, Berlin Wall of a nose could provide us with our biggest obstacle to scoring. If the spirit of fairness has any part to play this weekend, Southgate's technical area will be moved to Normandy.

8. Backwards In Going Forwards

Strap yourselves in - here we go again....

Carlton Cole will be out for a while with a hip injury, Craig Bellamy needs another operation, Boa Morte is injured (allegedly involving a kilo of ketamine and a Matador outfit), Zamora is still out and Henri Camara is off to the African Cup Of Nations.

Therefore it comes as no surprise that Curbishley has recently conceded a January transfer window foray could prove necessary, having ruled out that option a few weeks ago.

Dean Ashton still doesn't look in tip-top shape, although regular starts will help him there and I have no desire to see one of our plentiful midfielders shoved upfront for a few weeks as a stop-gap solution.

The prospect of Eidur Gudjohnsen arriving from Barcelona has resurfaced recently, with Villa also interested and personally I'd love to see him come to Upton Park.

I've always thought he has a touch of class and, like Ashton, never seems to panic when in possession and surrounded by heavy-handed defenders. He could be part of the answer to our creative problems.

If the money's there, then why not? Healthy competition, 'survival of the fittest' and all that - Darwin was on to something before he trashed his canoe and fled to Panama.

9. In Summary

Despite injuries, we should be winning games like this as Middlesbrough are not the most defensively sound...

...(surprising for a team managed by the man whose nose played a central role in repelling Mongols from China in the 14th century).

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

West Ham United vs Everton - Carling Cup Quarter Final: Match Preview - 12/12/2007

1. We're Gonna Need A Bigger Boat

Consecutive preview number four and HeadHammer Shark is still nowhere to be seen (never thought I'd say that. You can usually spot him from any point in either hemisphere).

Rumour has it he is pursuing Roy Scheider across the Atlantic, having seen him board a tugboat wielding a box of powdered jelly doughnuts.

2. Seconds out... Round One

Tonight's game is the first of a double header against the blue half of Merseyside.

Given the choice of victory in just one of the next two games against Everton, I think most would opt for a win in tonight's Carling Cup quarter final and be willing to sacrifice Saturday's Premier League fixture (we could always trounce them at Goodison).

The chance of a two-leg semi-final does not come around too often and it could be a mouth-watering prospect with the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs still in the draw.

3. Home And Away

Such is the story of our season so far, I would be more confident of us nicking a result away from home than at Upton Park but the fact that this is a one-off Cup tie should be to our benefit.

The traditional League setting, with the onus being on the home side to attack, goes out the window as a draw is no good to either team. With this in mind, we should have a chance of some counter-attacking football (something we've looked not half bad at this year) as well as hopefully sustained spells of pressure.

This combined with a no doubt vocal home support should see us start as slight favourites to win, but therein lies the danger. We'll also need to match the on-song Toffees for work-rate are we to progress in this competition.

Word of warning: with our sticky-fingered scouse friends probably in town for the next few days, I wouldn't leave any treasured possessions in plain view. Your best bet is to wear a full suit of armour whilst holding a sign sporting an arrow pointing in the opposite direction, along with the slogan 'Shell Suit Sale' .

4. Ringing The Changes

David Moyes band of pilfering pick-pockets have been in fine form recently: unbeaten in their last 10, scoring 23 goals in the process and conceding just four.

Their always loyal support have revelled in this recent form, resisting the urge to cash in their Giro's in order to pack out Goodison Park every week and thereby seeing a sharp downturn in petty crime throughout the Merseyside area.

They will be missing new signing Leighton Baines with a hamstring injury and there's talk of Moyes mixing up his attacking options with Andy Johnson, James Vaughan and Gary McSheffrey all battling to partner Yakubu upfront.

West Ham will also be fielding a few changes from Sunday's game, some of those enforced by the late summer signings. Nobby Solano and Henri Camara are both cup-tied and so Freddie Ljungberg could be getting his first start for some time. Dean Ashton must also be hoping for a much-deserved place in the starting line-up.

5. Alan Attack!

If Alan Curbishley has any sense at all, he'll set us up in an attacking 4-4-2 formation this evening. Sunday's display against Blackburn further enhanced our recent solid defensive efforts with Rob Green rarely troubled bar a couple of first class saves/misses.

It's been a while since we've looked so coherent at the back and with both Mullins and Parker likely to team up again in central midfield, we should have licence to launch forward. I would also like to see Parker push up a bit more when we're in possession.

With Nobby out and Etherington a doubt, I would expect Curbs to play Boa Morte and Ljungberg on the wings with Cole and Ashton upfront. This would give Luis the chance to get some white powder on his boots as opposed to his face.

Leaving Deano on the bench again would, I suspect, begin to raise quite a few voices, let alone eyebrows.

It's true that some managers have a disliking for certain players - the way Curbishley offloaded Paul Konchesky like a hot potato with herpes at both Charlton and West Ham being just one example. So erratic have been Ashton's appearances this year that I'm fearfully beginning to think the same of his relationship with our Number 9.

'Lack of match fitness' as a reason for Ashton's omission will only last so long. To keep our best striker out of the 1st XI for any reason other than death or imprisonment would be folly.

6. Battle Of The Aussie Battlers

Tonight sees the first round of the Antipodean clash between our own Lucas 'The Water Walker' Neill and Everton's Tim 'The Pug-Faced Gimp' Cahill.

Everyone knows the history between England and Australia and I'm probably least well-placed to comment, what with my beautiful girlfriend hailing from the colonies along with her lovely family and friends (that's contractual), but I'm going to anyway...

There are a few exceptions to the general rule that we hate most Aussies - our stalwart captain Lucas 'Bringer Of Light' Neill, the legend that is Richie Benaud and of course, Sir Stefan Dennis - but Tim Cahill is a particular bugbear of mine.

Not only is he a smug Australian sportsman, but he has also played for Millwall. Combine that with his ridiculous 'boxing at the corner flag' celebration and the fact that he's a smug Australian sportsman who has also played for Millwall and... well, you get the point.

I'd love to see Hayden Mullins chop him down early doors while Lucas 'The Scourge Of Beelzebub' is curing lepers by the corner flag, bathed in a luminous glow.

7. In Summary

With any luck, the only thing anyone associated with West Ham will lose tonight will be their hub-caps.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Blackburn Rovers vs West Ham United: Match Preview - 09/12/2007

1 . Three Strikes And Out

So, this is the third preview in a row.

I thought to myself, 'HeadHammer Shark has just become a father for the second time, so he's bound to be off the radar for a while and will rightly be taking some time away from his other responsibilities'.

Then I read that Mr Kipling was having a yard sale and it all clicked into place. My patience wears thin.

2. Happy Birthday To You

This weekend marks the first year of Alan Curbishley's tenure as West Ham manager.

It's hard to fully assess his time at the helm as the first 6 months were spent desperately trying to cling to top flight football - something he achieved and for which he must be given credit.

Having been given the funds Pardew must have been hankering for, Curbs has now been able to build a squad of his liking and with that comes added responsibility should they not succeed. He has been vocal in his opinion that a top 10 finish would be a successful season, but I think we're all secretly hoping for ever so slightly more than that.

Another season finishing with us hovering uncomfortably above relegation would surely see Chairman Eggert Magnusson in an altogether more ruthless mood and a guaranteed withdrawal of the chocolate Hob-Nobs from the canteen.

3. Mettle work

Personally, I think that our next two games (away to Blackburn and at home to Everton) will provide us with a more accurate assessment of our current status than any other fixtures so far this season.

Invariably you can rely on West Ham to show up against the big teams, as Saturday's game against Chelsea proved with an energetic, feisty display. It's when we come up against the lesser sides that we seem to take our foot off the gas and coast our way to the unremarkable.

It's obvious, but if we can beat those teams who have similar ambitions, we should find ourselves with a decent chance of European football come next May.

4. Form And Function

Despite their recent good form, I've managed to uncover a few stats which should give us hope going into the weekend.

Firstly, Blackburn have only managed to keep one clean sheet in 10 League outings. Hopefully Ashton will be fit enough to start and can get involved, perhaps even over the full 90 minutes. I fancy our recently impressive midfield to contribute as well.

Blackburn have won just one of their last five games and failed to score in three of those. In marked contrast, we have avoided defeat in five of the last six.

With Bentley (their recent creative fulcrum) missing out, hopefully Robbie Savage will start and be mercilessly slaughtered by one of the many dozens of contract killers who must surely be on his tail.

5. The History

Last season's corresponding fixture was a cut and dried affair.

Having gone 1-0 down (as was becoming something of a pre-requisite), Tevez slotted home a penalty and then further cemented his status as an Upton Park legend. Carlos managed to miraculously clear Zamora's shot off the Blackburn goal line whilst in an offside position, only to then run off in celebration prompting the goal to be awarded.

The man is a mercurial football genius.

This undeniable slab of good fortune lifted us off the bottom of the table and began to kindle the dying embers of Premiership survival. We shouldn't need such outrageous luck this time around to get a result, but we will need a solid performance.

6. B&B

Benni McCarthy and David Bentley are two examples of genuine goal threats.

McCarthy was a West Ham target for some months but opted for the stinking, barren, industrial wasteland of Blackburn over the fragrant, multi-cultural utopia of Green Street. Perhaps no bad thing as he doesn't appear to be the most loyal of fellows.

Upon being told by a local crack-head that there was a 4% chance he could be reunited with Mourinho at Chelsea, Benni quashed those rumours and warmed the hearts of Rovers fans everywhere with a declaration akin to: "I'd walk out on these whippet-racing inbreds in an instant."

Apparently he drove straight home having been substituted against Newcastle last weekend - Big Sam asked if he could keep the engine running but McCarthy had a table booked at Nando's.

Bentley is in good form at the moment, as his two goals last week testify. Off-loaded as a promising youngster by Arsene Wenger for a rumoured attitude problem, he has flourished with first-team football at Blackburn and is the kind of player I wish we would've gone in for a couple of years back instead of the likes of Tyrone Mears.

Occasionally prone to petulance, he's still a good player who should give the current stale England line-up something to think about over the coming months. Luckily for us, that petulance saw him pick up his 5th yellow card of the season against Newcastle last week, meaning he misses Sunday afternoon's game.

7. Hughes Your Daddy?

Blackburn have enjoyed a good start to the season and whilst only 2 places above us, there is a 7-point gap.

We can write off our game in hand as it's away to Liverpool - we haven't won that fixture since Martin Luther King 'had a dream' and Jackie Kennedy's lovely pink ensemble was ruined by her husband's face (you can't say this blog isn't educational).

Mark Hughes has assembled an unremarkable yet combative squad together with a few players capable of making the difference when needed. They certainly appear to have been infused with their manager's former playing attitude of committed lunacy.

Having beaten Spurs away, Newcastle at home and drawn with both Arsenal and Liverpool, Sparky's team have been pulling out the kinds of results that we would hope for ourselves. Only an unsurprising 2-0 loss to Man Utd and an uncharacteristic and by all accounts undeserved 4-0 drubbing at home to Villa have blighted their UEFA Cup aspirations.

Despite his rapidly greying hair, Mark Hughes is proving to be a good young manager. Besides, the only thing at Ewood Park greyer than Mark Hughes' locks will be Boa Morte's complexion after another night on the Class A's.

I would consider a West Ham away victory this weekend to be a potentially season-defining effort.

8. PS

Shout out to Ricky Hatton this weekend - paste Mayweather's mug all over Vegas!

(I'd do it myself but, you know, I've got previews to research).

9. In Summary

Robbie Savage is a c*nt.

Don't worry, Shark - there's not a court in the land that wouldn't agree with us.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

West Ham 1 - 1 tottenham (And Other Ramblings)

1. An Apology

This review was quite considerably delayed by a minor case of pregnancy, and a major case of "WhothefuckwassupposedtobemarkingMichaelDawson?".

Having, quite reasonably, claimed all the credit for our 5-0 victory at Derby as a result of a previous contre temps with Billy Davies (by the way: whose laughing now Billy-boy?), it is only fair that I hold my hands up and accept the blame for our failure to hold on to this lead.

A prolonged 18 month mocking of Michael Dawson culminated in Mahogony Mick wandering aimlessly into our box, inadvertently being struck in the head by a Jermaine Jenas cross, and somehow equalising whilst Robert Green performed an admirable, if ill timed, impression of a bipolar swan.

I admit - it was my fault. You can't just thumb your nose at Karma like that and expect to get away with it. My only consolation is that Karma is obviously imbued with a decent sense of humour, hence the Jermain Defoe penalty miss. I might mention that again later.

2. Science

When Michael Dawson scored I naturally enough assumed that the sky was filled with fire, locusts were at my window and the World was about to end. I therefore packed my good lady wife and daughter off to the bomb shelter in anticipation of the Earth being destroyed. Regrettably, this stress proved too much for my wife who went into labour and subsequently gave birth to Miss Shark Junior Minor.

This in turn meant that I missed the deadline for writing this review, and Boleyn Beluga went ahead and published the Chelsea preview. So now we're all out of whack for the first time ever in H List history.

Logically as Michael Dawson is the worst footballer in the history of the cosmos, I guess this is the Chaos Theory in action.

3. In A Galaxy Far, Far Away..

I had a great analogy all lined up for this match. If our 2-1 win on the last day of the 05-06 season was Star Wars (fantastic at the start and end), and last years 4-3 defeat was The Empire Strikes Back (loads of bad stuff happens, but when you look at it objectively it was probably the best one) then it follows that this game should have been Return Of The Jedi (not as good as the previous two, but still brilliant, and with the right end result for the good guys).

Clearly, this reckoned without the Dawson Chaos Theory, which ruined the whole bloody thing.

So let's move on.

4. The Statistics

Interesting set of numbers for this game. Listening to the analysis of this game would lead you to believe that tottenham dominated for long periods. Well, read this and then see if you still think that : http://soccernet-akamai.espn.go.com/scoreboard?league=eng.1&date=20071125&refresh=45&cc=5739.

We had 58% of the ball, which is as big a gap as I've seen for a while, and converted that into 15 efforts on goal, as against 9 for the visitors. So far, so "what kind of dominance is that?", but perhaps most mind boggling of all, we conceded 33 (thirty three) fouls in this game, compared to an amazing 5 for tottenham.

I can't even really comprehend how a team can have the ball for just 37 minutes (42%) of the game and essentially be given a foul every single minute. Jermaine Jenas drew more fouls in this game than our entire team. Jermaine Jenas! This man is a fungus. Who the hell is fouling him? And more importantly - why?

Elsewhere, Lucas Neill and Carlton Cole each committed more fouls alone that than the whole tottenham team. I think the message here is that tottenham players fall over with very little encouragement and Mike Riley should be condemned to forever use bags with broken handles. Imagine the frustration.

5. The Opposition

With the exception of our vaguely glorious defeat against Arsenal, this was our toughest home test of the season. tottenham may be mired in a relegation battle but these are always tasty affairs.

Clearly tottenham shouldn't be in the position they are with the quality of players they have available. Keane, Berbatov, Defoe and Bent are all proven Premier League goalscorers and despite having Jermaine Jenas in their midfield they are usually an offensive threat. That wasn't really evident today as they foundered on the twin rocks of Upson and Gabbidon, and were mostly reduced to falling over unconvincingly in our box.

Elsewhere, however, their defence has regressed to a point where Luis Boa Morte could be made to look like a bona fide competent professional footballer.

I had thought it impossible that another centre back could be found in the Universe with as little ability as Michael Dawson. But God Bless 'Em if tottenham haven't found a pretty decent contender in Younes Kaboul. He was directly at fault for our goal, and was eventually removed to - and I must stress this - prevent him continuing to be roasted by our front two of Boa Morte and Carlton Cole. He is my new favourite tottenham player.

6. The Referee

Mike Riley is a hopeless referee. This is not news to anyone who has ever seen a Premier League game officiated by him. He achieved the fairly remarkable feat here of managing to annoy everyone involved in this game.

Now, any decision made by a referee in our favour (The Forces of Good) against tottenham (The Forces of Pure Evil) is intrinsically Right, even when it is not right. Therefore, despite all of the furore around the two penalties, and Robbie Keane's incredible anatomy, Mike Riley was Right, even if perhaps he wasn't right. See? No, I thought not.

Controversial as it may seem, I actually thought that he got the two major penalty decisions in this game correct. Keane was put clean through in the first half and was involved in a challenge with Robert Green. He was clearly offside, but tottenham fans aren't letting that get in the way of some really rather splendid self righteousness. Anyway, although Keane's abdomen was lightly brushed by Green's trailing leg, I have yet to see a human being who loses the use of their legs in that scenario. It was a partial dive, partial anticipation of contact, and never a penalty.

The latter incident saw Lucas Neill give a tug on Jermain Defoe's shirt and despite it being a soft award, it was probably correct. "Justice" was served by Green's marvellous save from the resulting penalty, as 35,000 West Ham fans yelled, waved and pointed in sympathy for our former idol. Welcome back Jermain. Hell of a career move that puts you behind Mido, and then Darren Bent in the pecking order.

7. Cole Patrol

The resurgence in fortune of our favourite scapegoat continues apace. In a match featuring Berbatov, Keane, Bent, Defoe, Ashton and Boa Morte he was, by a distance, the most effective striker on display. No, really.

Quite apart from his goal, which was created after some fine work by Boa Morte, Solano and, most of all, Kaboul, he turned in a splendid all round display. In a memorable barbecuing of Dawson, he won everything in the air and laid the ball off very nicely when in possession.

I'm not suggesting that Dean Ashton is going to spend the rest of his days watching Carlton Cole fire us into the Champions League, but I could go so far as to say that we may have found ourselves an actual proper Premier League striker.

Incredible as it may seem, he was ably assisted by Luis Boa Morte. He was all action, as ever, but unusually he was not all useless either. A very neat lay off lead to the goal, and he was unfortunate not to increase our lead shortly after, particularly as it required a display of actual skill from Paul Robinson.

8. Kudos

To everyone really. I am especially impressed by Nolberto Solano who would seem to be exactly the kind of neat, incisive midfielder that would really help any team unless they were managed by Sam Allardyce.

I especially have enjoyed seeing Matthew Upson turn into an actual living breathing Premier League centre half. His handling of Berbatov was commendable - his jumping in competition with Michael Dawson less so.

And yes, Robert Green rules ok..............

Chelsea vs West Ham United: Match Preview - 01/12/07

1. To The Manor Born

Before we get down to business, it's only right to send a note of congratulations to our exalted leader and his good lady wife who this week have welcomed a new addition to their sea-dwelling shiver.

Thankfully, they are not the species of shark where the young actually eat their way out of the mother - the dry-cleaning bills alone would be astronomical. This may also explain why you've read two back-to-back previews without a review of the Spurs match in-between.

I know..... Priorities, Mr Shark??

2. Coming In A Close Second...

So, you wait all season for a bunch of 1st class morons to willingly offer themselves as the target of all your pent-up frustrations, and then two come along at once.

After last week's visit of Tottenham (I'm now in love with Robert Green - Lucas Neill will have to wait), Saturday sees us travel across the capital to Stamford Bridge - the Mecca of fair weather football fans everywhere.

An altogether more taxing proposition than Spurs, they still somehow manage to be there or thereabouts come the end of the season whilst accommodating a roly-poly bucket of chip fat in central midfield.

3. Little Known Fact

Forget Hercules, Big Daddy or even disgraced drugs cheat Shadow from Gladiators - Claude Makelele has recently been proven to be the strongest man in all human history.

Even the feats of Atlas (forced to carry the entire Earth on his back), pale into insignificance when compared with Claude, who has been forced to carry Big Fat Frank these last few years.

4. The Second Coming

Now that Jose Mourinho has walked across the Bay of Biscay back to Portugal (maybe he'll levitate all the way back to Soho Square?), it has been a few weeks since his Israeli successor took the reins.

An altogether less charismatic man resembling a world-weary Mr Toad on the verge of a massive heart attack, Avram Grant seems competent enough having managed to steady the ship after a few big name players blubbed uncontrollably upon Jose's departure.

He deserves particular credit for issuing 10 of his first team with anti-gravity boots in order to combat the huge gravitational pull generated by that planet-sized buffoon in central midfield.

5. How do you spell 'statistician'?

Unfortunately for us, Chelsea go into this game as the Premier League's form side claiming 16 out of a possible 18 points, whereas we are yet to beat a top half team this season having drawn one and lost three of our four matches against those currently in the top 10.

Interestingly, both teams are on the joint longest run of 7 games since conceding more than one goal in a Premier League fixture and we've also kept clean sheets in 4 of our 6 away games this year. But there's a good chance there'll be goals this Saturday one way or the other.

Disappointingly, we have only won 1 of our last 10 London derbies, albeit a season-saving victory away to Arsenal last year.

The most interesting fact of all, however is that seismologists report Stamford Bridge has provided Europe's biggest earth tremors around their central midfield area since John Candy, Hattie Jakes and Luther Vandross rode to town in Monster Trucks.

6. A History Lesson

Last season saw us lose both home and away - 1-0 at the Bridge followed by a disappointing 4-1 loss at home, thanks to a sublime effort from Shaun Wright-Phillips after Tevez had given us an inkling.

We haven't had much joy out of Chelsea these last few seasons, not since Paulo DiCanio took them to school with a glorious brace a few years back (who could forget his left-footed thunderbolt?)

Since then we have often faced up to the challenge with some gritty performances, but have been left wanting thanks to the obvious shortcomings in quality and depth.

For this fixture at least, we will be spared the horror that is Chelsea's luminous yellow away kit - a kit I'm sure specifically designed to mask the innumerable custard stains down the front of Lampard's shirt (I think that was actually in his contract).

You could say we're due some sort of result and perhaps this season, with our newfound ability to look dangerous on the break away from home, could provide that result.

Still, it seems unfair that teams are expected to play against a side who can call upon a porkpie-powered vortex in central midfield with the ability to suck in and obliterate any and all surrounding matter.

7. The Emperor's New Blues

Roman The Shady Oligarch's summer purchases have thus far failed to set the footballing world alight: Pizarro seems nothing special, Sidwell is now a small fish in a big pond and Ben-Haim is still wandering around the Kings Road completely bewildered.

There's no disputing that Chelsea have some top players, but I think it would be inaccurate to classify them as a team of world-beaters.

There are undeniable world class performers (Cech, Drogba), but there are more overrated, above-average players (Terry, that huge pasty that rolls around midfield), topped off with a few former Kings of Europe well passed their best and happy to collect a truckload of roubles each week (Shevchenko, Ballack).

Personally I think that Man Utd and Liverpool wield the more exciting squads and Arsene Wenger could seemingly turn Jossy's Giants into title contenders. It would appear that the dominance The Blues enjoyed from 2004 - '06 could well be a thing of the past, although they do have an annoying knack of grinding out results.

I still maintain that the string of devoured corpses strewn across central midfield, covered in full-fat mayonnaise do provide the home team with an unfair advantage.

8. Pork Chop And Change

Any players lucky enough to survive the avalanche of car-sized biscuit crumbs falling from Lampard's chin, should face up to provide an intriguing midfield battle this weekend.

Sunday saw The Lesser Spotted Scott Parker come on for the last half an hour in place of Mark Noble, who appeared a little jaded after his recent hernia op. Parker looked neat and tidy without being spectacular, but could provide us with the solid foundation from which we could spring into defence for 89 minutes.

Etherington and McCartney did a decent job against Spurs but struggled at times to cope with the pace of Aaron Lennon. Joe Cole doesn't pose the same speedy threat and a bag of tricks is easier to cynically hack down than a flying zephyr. Plus, defensively he's not the best - Matty seemed a little reluctant to take on Lennon's pace down the wing on Sunday.

If we can show up fit, run our socks off and avoid being a part of Big Fat Frank's Cannibalistic Finger Buffet, we could still be in with a shout come the final 10 minutes.

9. Hmmm...

What with Parker, Mullins, Noble and Bowyer potentially filling our central midfield spots, we're crying out for a genuinely creative midfielder come the January transfer window.

10. In Summary

Harry Redknapp and Peter Storrie are crooks.

But we all knew that.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

West Ham United vs Tottenham Hotspur - Match Preview

1. The Main Event

Hannibal of Carthage vs The Roman Empire.
He-Man vs Skeletor.
Barrymore vs the Crown Prosecution Service.

All titanic struggles between good and evil, all bubbling cauldrons of emotion for those involved, each yielding the capacity to bring tears of both joy and despair (perhaps not in the case of Barrymore, but definitely the other two).

West Ham United vs The Scum.

2. All I Want For Christmas Is...

I'm sure a lot of Hammers fans would agree that were we to be offered a guaranteed double over any Premiership opponent at the start of the season, most would go for Tottenham. I'd be happy with the lower reaches of midtable this season so long as we annihilated Spurs home and away.

Tottenham Hotspur epitomise everything wrong with the deluded football fan: living on past glories, continually claiming they are a 'massive club' despite having won nothing for 16 years* and refusing to accept that they are lumped in with the rest of us outside the Big Four despite 10 years of consistent evidence.

But above all, their arrogance in thinking they're entitled to be higher than they invariably are coupled with their inexplicable delusion of being a part of football's aristocracy is what rankles most.

They need a good hiding.

* - the '99 League Cup doesn't count because (a) it's the League Cup and (b) it was against Leicester. The only thing that would restore the prestige of the League Cup would be if we were to win it.

3. Tale Of The Tape

Last season's corresponding fixtures were not well received. A tame 1-0 loss at White Hart Lane was followed by a galling 4-3 home defeat, Bobby Z's equaliser negated only in the dying seconds.

In hindsight, it was that result which turned our season around - we went on to win 7 of our next 9, thereby clinging to our Premiership status. Still, like any disgruntled Australian who finds himself in Rome dressed in metallic pants would agree, 'I will have my vengeance'.

Spurs fans would argue it was just desserts after Yossi's swivel hips denied them a Champions League spot on the final day of the previous season . However, the nationwide scenes of celebration unrivalled since Churchill declared on 8th May 1945 that 'Ich bin ein The Daddy', proved it was for the good of the game.

The fact that 'Bubbles...' was the last ever song to be sung at Arsenal's Highbury stadium is testimony to that, particularly as we have largely dominated Wenger's young pretenders ever since.

We owe Spurs the most frustrating of defeats.

4. And Was Jerusalem Builded Here?

In a word - No.

In an international aside, Israel gave an undeserving England team another chance to claim a place at Euro 2008 and we blew it after a frankly flattering 3-2 defeat to Croatia.

It's no secret; we're just not good enough, outclassed consistently against any above average opposition. I'm sure every England fan in the country save for the ones in charge, know that long balls and hopeful flick-ons are not good enough when up against decent international opposition.

I have no problem whatsoever with England going out in the qualifying stages, for I am tired... Tired of players talking up their chances of winning a major competition, tired of under-performing and over-paid prima donnas ducking responsibility for continual failure, tired of the familiar hollow feeling as England crash out once again and compound the misery of fans forced to sit through the footballing equivalent of a Maroon 5 album.

The facts speak for themselves: the England football team have failed to win anything, failed even to make a major final for 41 miserable years - an appalling return on the emotional and financial investment of the fans. During that time, every other major European country (barring perennial underachievers, Spain) have either won a major trophy or made a final. In the last 20 years Italy, France, Germany, Holland and Czech Republic have all lived up to their billing.

I'm sick of the England squad saying how we have some of 'the best players in the world', only for our inevitable failure to be blamed on injuries, a bad draw, poor refereeing decisions, the cosmos - anything but the fact that we're sub-standard. I wouldn't mind the average performances so much if the players just kept their mouths shut.

There is an upside: I think we all now stand a much better chance of enjoying Euro 2008 next summer.

5. Friend or Defoe

Over the years it has not been uncommon for a few players to make the short trip between Upton Park and White Hart Lane: Martin Peters, Clive Allen and more recently Michael Carrick spring to mind. Surprisingly, not too much venom has been spat at these transgressors as the hatred seems to target the very clubs themselves moreso than individual players.

Until of course a young man named Jermaine made the incredibly swift transition from local hero to arch villain.

The stultifyingly stupid move of handing in a transfer request less than 24 hours after we were relegated in 2002-'03 did not exactly endear him to Hammers fans. Follow that up with a move to Spurs and well, you deserve everything you get frankly.

Whilst more than happy to see him rot on the bench as he has done these last few years, there is a dark corner of my psyche that secretly hopes Defoe scores in front of the Bobby Moore Stand just so the full vitriol can be unleashed upon him. 0bviously, there's a caveat here - they can go 1-0 up courtesy of The Evil Dwarf before we get 10 quick goals in a nail-biting finish.

6. Jol Be Fine

The recent sacking of ex-Spurs manager Martin Jol was a puzzling if not entirely unexpected decision for many football fans. The big Dutchman had won over many observers of the Premier League with his no nonsense attitude, dignity under pressure and attacking football - all whilst holding down a job as chief Bouncer at Spearmint Rhinos.

It appears that propelling a mediocre team to 5th place in the League two seasons in a row is no longer enough to guarantee your job 3 months into the following season. Chairman Daniel Levy's spineless move to undermine his popular manager could backfire drastically should the new incumbent, Juande Ramos, not do the business.

Why you would invest £40million in one man's transfer targets in the summer only to offload him at the first sign of trouble?

I doubt Martin Jol will have any trouble finding a job in another top European league before long. He's already received an ambitious request from Birmingham City after The Ginger Whinger left them for Wigan. Jol tactically said it was "too soon" for a return to football, which is Dutch for "Birmingham?! F*ck off."

7. Dangermen

Dimitar Berbatov is a class act, but has shown touches of the petulance which often accompanies such talents. Recently he has looked as though he could throw his toys out the pram on a whim, but he must be credited with helping millions of children around the world to count on Sesame Street. Ah...Ah...Ahhhh.

Robbie Keane has flashes of inspiration but I don't think would stand up to a pummeling with a bat. If we can just arm Matty Upson and get 35,000 people to look the other way.

Jermaine Jenas is massively overrated, I don't care what anyone says. Anyone who calls themselves 'JJ' should be put down.... a deep disused mine and covered in a hundred-weight of stinging nettles which are then sat upon by The Human Banoffee Pie, Paul Robinson.

Steed Malbranque, as his name suggests is in actual fact a horse. Expect him to win by a large Gallic nose down the final stretch in the 3-30 at Kempton, and then be fined for why he spent the afternoon at a Middlesex race course instead of an east London football ground.

Paul Robinson is the human equivalent of bread pudding: large, stoggy, immobile and gelatinous, but without the pleasant after taste (on close inspection, he is however covered in raisins).

Nothing to worry about here, then.

8. It's Raining Goals

Had you told me last week that leading into this game, Spurs and West Ham would have scored an aggregate of 9 goals in the previous fixture, I would've said "Spurs are gonna win 12-0?!" It turns out that both sides go into this match in fine goal-scoring form, albeit against two of the League's weakest opponents.

At the other end of the pitch, West Ham are only 4 goals away from conceding 5,000 in league football. Quite an achievement. The odds of us breaking the 6,000 barrier this season are surprisingly short.

At the time of going to press the signs are that Bellamy, Ashton, Ljungberg and maybe even Scott Parker all stand a good chance of at least making the squad for Sunday... and that Ferdinand has narrowly escaped a 10-stretch.

A conviction for Anton would not have upset me. We have ample cover at centre back and James Collins is long overdue a run in the side. Yes, Ferdinand is quick - but apparently not quick-witted. He is yet to fully comprehend the universal truth that if you earn thousands of pounds a week and still insist on going to a nightclub in Ilford, there's a good chance you'll end up in prison.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Derby County 0 - 5 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

1. Billy Davies And My Part In His Downfall

The seeds for this defeat (*) were sown some years ago, and can be traced directly back to me.

It was 2004 and Papa Shark and I were wandering around the Millenium Stadium several millenia before the Play Off Final against Preston due to my father's insistence on leaving for the game nine hours in advance of kick off ("You can never be too careful" - "But Dad, I'll have to take Annual Leave for that" - "Do it").

So there we were at the gates, having a simple conversation about the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, when the Preston coach approached to the cheers of their fans. As they passed, Billy was giving it the big 'un to all and sundry, so I quickly gave him the universally acknowledged symbol for "diver", to highlight the fact that his Preston team were the biggest load of cheats ever assembled (I can be so cruel at times).

We exchanged a look, one gladiator to another, and I realised that I had struck the first psychological blow for the Hammers. This one cut deep and you could see the fear spreading out amongst the Preston team, and they duly played like a group of stoned gorillas, allowing Bobby Zamora to notch the winner and generally looking pretty damn inept.

Billy has never recovered, and I accept your humble thanks.

2. Correction

This was not a defeat - it was a complete and utter marmalising.

3. The Statistics

If you somehow saw this result and thought to yourself "Hmmm, I bet that game wasn't as one sided as it looks", well, you would be completely and utterly insane, and in fact you should probably lock away any sharp objects right now and wait for someone with marbles to come and pick you up.

Per the ESPN Gamecast (http://soccernet.espn.go.com/report?id=219681&cc=5739) we had 64% of the ball and converted it into 18 shots at goal, of which a remarkable 11 were on target, which excludes the two efforts that hit the bar. So far, so blimey, but consider that Derby managed two shots on target all day and tell me that this wasn't the footballing equivalent of the Roman Empire invading Sark.

Everyone's favourite scapegoat, Carlton Cole, popped up with two assists and Lee Bowyer continued to wind back the clock with two goals, helped greatly by the Derby midfield's splendid impression of four corpses.

I know you're dying to know the last time we managed a win of this magnitude away from home. Well, we last triumphed by 5 goals in 1962 when we won 6-1 at Manchester City, and we last scored 5 goals on our travels in 1992 during a 5-1 win at Bristol City.

From all this I have extrapolated that Derby County are fucking terrible.

4. The Opposition

Hmm, yes, not all that impressive. Hidden in the above statistics are the bare faced facts that after 70 minutes of this game we were 5-0 up and had hit the bar twice. It's easy enough to mock Derby, so I'm going to go ahead and do it, but it shouldn't be disguised that this was as impressive an away performance as has been seen in The Premiership for some time.

Derby are to be admired in one sense at least - they were promoted almost by accident, and have decided not to spend outside their means in a vain attempt to keep their top flight status. They have seen the inexorable slide of teams like Bradford and Wimbledon and decided that having a club in a few years is preferable to, you know, not.

That being true doesn't actually change the fact that their current team is patently not good enough for this level of football, and truth be told will probably struggle to beat Sunderland's record low points tally of 15 for the season. Their combination of lower league journeymen and youngsters wasn't even good enough to hang to the coat tails of what was essentially our second team. Adios fellows.

5. The Referee

You would have to be exceptionally churlish to find fault with a referee after you've won 5-0. Of course, if you've lost 5-0 I suppose that it might be somewhat different (he says - as if the concept of West Ham losing 5-0 is utterly inconceivable).

Mark Clattenburg didn't spot a handball from Lee Bowyer, who was in the process of scoring our opening goal at the time, so one might consider this fairly "crucial". Upon reflection, one dodgy goal out of 5 isn't really much to shout about, but as it was the first I can imagine a few gripes would be in order from the home fans.

Still, if I was a Derby fan I'd be focusing rather less on that than I would on the fact that Tyrone Mears appears to have gotten worse, since leaving West Ham. Yikes.

6. Cole Patrol

Cole set up his 5th and 6th goals of the year, to move even further clear as our most creative player. He worked exceptionally hard again today, and showed that the difference between Premiership reserve and Championship first teamer is still a fairly wide gulf, in the main.

He'll still get booed, no doubt, if he fails to make Michael Dawson look silly next Sunday, and by God, who hasn't lately, but I'm still showing a bit of faith in the lad. At the very least his ankles aren't made from paper mache.

7. Take A Bow

The rebirth of Lee Bowyer continues apace. Actually, that might be overstating things a little as scoring goals against Middlesbrough, Wigan and Derby does not a Premiership star make (see "Bent, Darren").

However, there is no denying that his resurgence has been a big factor in our increased profitability in our travels. Already his 4 goals are more than any one midfielder managed last year, whilst the total number of midfield goals this season (10), already exceeds the same number from last term (9).

Maybe this can be put down the fact that the useless Yossi Benyaoun has been replaced by the new Michel Platini, Jonathan Spector, but I suspect it's rather more down to the fact that all our strikers are clinically dead, so if anyone is going to score it rather has to be a midfielder.

7. I Once Saw Crystal Palace Score 4 Goals Away From Home

Anyone familiar with the legendary "I, Ludicrous" song "Preposterous Tales" will know what I mean when I say - "I once saw West Ham score direct from a free kick".

You know it's a seismic day when all of the West Ham midfield score a goal, one of which is a free kick. And to give Nolberto Solano his due, it was an absolute belter as well.

For the first time since Julian Dicks was with us, it might not be a good idea for the opposition to repeatedly concede free kicks on the edge of the box against us.

8. The Case For The Defence

And the side with the best goal difference on the road is......West Ham United. Ah, but of course.

Now scoring 8 unanswered goals against Derby and Reading will always help the cause, and it is true that we have only played one good side away from home (Portsmouth) whilst the rest of our opponents could charitably be described as "effluent" (Birmingham, Reading, Newcastle, Aston Villa, Derby).

Be that as it may, the truth is that the Premiership is full of teams who are not very good. This is by design, and cannot possibly be a surprise to anyone who regularly watches football in this country. The whole ethos of the Premier League and UEFA is that the same four teams should always qualify for the Champions League. This ensures that TV companies and sponsors are kept happy, your ticket prices are kept in excess of £50, and that your Wednesday nights shall forever be filled with games like Arsenal vs Slavia Prague, which Sky will be telling you is the pinnacle of club football on this planet.

I have digressed a little, but there is a thought in here somewhere. The point of the Premier League is that the big clubs shall prosper and everyone else should like their lot and be pleased with the odd UEFA Cup run. This mediocrity is fairly uniform and actually means that winning away from home becomes a lot easier. Removing the Champions League teams from the Premiership would actually leave a thoroughly entertaining and wide open table where teams should be capable of winning all over the place.

So, in summary, Rob Green is the best keeper in the League, and our back 4 are great. Obviously.

9. There May Be Trouble Ahead

For the first time this season we enter a period of prolonged difficulty in the fixtures. Games against tottenham and Chelsea look pretty tricky to me, particularly with our current injury list, whilst subsequent clashes with Blackburn and Everton should be a truer test of our mettle than anything we've encountered lately.

So this wasn't the best time for George McCartney to throw his lot in with the other larrikins in the physio room. Additionally, Bowyer will now be out for a couple of weeks, joining the rest of our midfield (Parker, Faubert, Mullins, Noble, Dyer, Quashie (!)) on the sick list. Mercifully the international break may give a few of our bigger names the chance to recover, and with a bit of luck, ensure that Paul Robinson is definitely fit to face us.

10. Whoah - Back Up A Minute

Jonathan Spector scored?

OK - all bets are off. Ladies and gentlemen, you can forget your Linvoy Primuses, your Robin van Persie headers, and your Craig Gardner free kicks. This is the most ridiculous goal ever scored.......

Match Preview: Derby County vs West Ham United - 10/11/2007

1. Desolate Derby

Ok, people - much in the same vein as the Bolton review, I'm struggling to fill half a side of A4 with anything even remotely interesting in regard to this least mouth-watering of fixtures. This will be quick.... and largely inconsequential.

2. Errr...

Derby was given it's city-status in 1977 and is twinned with the German city of Onasbruck.

This is a fact (Google it, I dare you) much like Dave Whelan being a convicted price-fixer and Michael Dawson being 86% plywood with a weathered finish.

Derby as a team or a place do not provide much in the way of inspiration. This is one of those games in which we would have little if any excuse in not claiming all 3 points. And not just clinging to a 1-0 scoreline with 10 minutes to go (Sunday proved we're incapable of that), we really should be putting these kind of teams to the sword, home and away if we have any realistic aspirations of finishing in the top half this season.

3.The History

In 1717 England's fist silk mill opened in Derby.

Our last head-to-heads came in the 2004-'05 Championship season when The Rams took four points of us, drawing 1-1 at their place and predictably winning 2-1 at ours. We haven't had much joy at Pride Park of late, winning only once in the last five visits and only scoring twice.

Still, rumour has it Trevor Morley might come out of retirement (after the closet) for this one and he's sure to bag a hat-full.

4. I Name Thee...

Dicky Davies. Magnus Magnusson. Herman Munster.

Choosing the right name can be a tricky thing. Even in this increasingly corporate age (how long before 'The Emirates Stadium' is overtaken by the likes of 'Pepsi Presents White Hart Lane'?), naming one's ground 'Pride Park' borders on the sickening. What have Derby fans got to be proud of?

(Apart from having a winger with the face of a boxer in Marco Gabbiadini, obviously. Now there's a good name).

5. Comic Relief

In the 1890's slum clearance began in Derby, albeit on a very modest scale.

Despite our sketchy history in this fixture of late, any travelling fans stand a good chance of entertainment this Saturday.

I was once mobile enough to travel to Pride Park with His Sharkness for a tame 0-0 affair, almost Shakespearean in it's tragedy. The game was largely if not entirely forgettable but one aspect of the day continues to stand out, for Derby's mascot, 'Rammie The Ram' ranks among our own 'Herbie The Hammer' for sheer comical genius.

Picture the scene - a halftime penalty competition for the under-8s with 'Rammie' in goal. Young lads running around full of energy, aspiration and unbridled joy, over the moon to have the opportunity to score on their beloved home turf...

...only to have their dreams systematically crushed by a full-grown man in a Ram suit who refused to be beaten.

You would've thought 'Rammie' might let one penalty attempt slip through his grasp or fumble a good effort into the back of the net, but no. Never have I seen such a display of determination and athleticism. 'Rammie' flung himself from left to right, bottom corner to top, booting tame attempts 30 yards away with utter contempt and staring down the children whilst strutting around on his goal line like a Goliath of the barnyard.

He was cheered long into the cold afternoon by the West Ham faithful that day. Great entertainment. That ruthless 6ft ball of wool still holds a place in my heart.

6. When Will I See You Again?

Did we actually sign Julian Faubert, Freddie Ljungberg and Scott Parker in the summer? Are they tricks of the light or is Jeremy Beadle going to jump out at any moment with a deflating revelation and a microphone clasped in his withered hand? I'm beginning to wonder.

The first cinema in Derby opened in 1910.

Monday, November 05, 2007

West Ham 1 - 1 Bolton Wanderers (And Other Ramblings)

1. Where Are The UN When You Need Them?

Games like this should be illegal. I'm pretty sure that having 4 minutes of injury time at the end of a match this soporifically tedious is a contravention of my human rights.

The fact that Bolton snatched an equaliser in the last 30 seconds is actually irrelevant to the above statement. This was the worst game of Premier League football that I have seen in years, with the sole factor differentiating it from a Sunday League game being that the players all had matching numbers on their shorts and shirts.

This review is going to be ultra short as a tribute to the ultra awfulness of the fare on display.

2. The Diamond In The Slurry

The one moment of actual skill demonstrated by one of the 22 "footballers" on display came from the unlikely source of George McCartney's right boot. With a first half corner ping ponging around in the box our left back produced a truly marvellous scissor kick to rocket in a moderately deserved opener.

This was also welcome as it gave me the chance to jump up and down and get warm. One has to look for silver linings.

3. The Statistics

We "dominated" the game in the sense that we were slightly less awful than Bolton. This is partly because Bolton were lacking their only decent player, Nicolas Anelka, and because we have around 212 players on the injury list.

We enjoyed 53% of the ball, converting this to 10 shots at goal. Weirdly Bolton mustered 12, despite being about as creative as a large piece of marzipan. They did hit the woodwork twice I suppose, which is reason enough to suggest that their equaliser wasn't that undeserved, although it was just about the last thing that we deserved as fans given that we'd already been forced to pay to watch the crap.

4. The Opposition

I hate Bolton. They are, by a distance, the least watchable team in the Premiership and the addition of Gary Megson as their manager doesn't help. He has always viewed passing and moving as unnecessarily high falutin' antics that simply get in the way of all the kicking and rushing that could be going on otherwise.

The above being true, they didn't deserve to lose this game, and snatched a deserved equaliser when Kevin Nolan popped up in the last minute of injury time with a neat finish. I have simply no idea where our back four were at this point.

5. Ambition? Not Round Here Mate

4-5-1 at home to Bolton? Alright, 4-4-1 with Luis Boa Morte wandering around aimlessly is space, but whatever - it smacks of playing for a 1-0 win. Now, given that we were only 9 seconds away from that very result, maybe it's being picky, but the sight of Henri Camara waiting on the bench whilst we failed dismally to create anything was fairly galling.

Now, Camara is hardly the second coming of Ferenc Puskas but he is a real live striker with intact hamstrings and the ability to run. He is also not a Portugese winger whose name means "£5 million? Jesus Christ!" in his native tongue.

Our stultifying run of form at home continues though, as we are really only set up to play away from home these days. Our lack of creativity is glaring, whilst our midfield at the final whistle was Solano, Etherington, Paintsil and Spector, which probably gives a little hint as to why we were so gloriously inept for most of the second period.

I can live with drawing at home to Bolton. It's a poor result in the context of their current form, but that's the malleable nature of football. My problem is more that it was our own crippling lack of ambition that beat us this weekend.

Well, that and some appalling defending, but hey, who's counting....

I can write no more about this. Be gone from my memory. Let us look forward to our trip to Derby with excitement and fervor.

A sentence never before written......

Saturday, November 03, 2007

West Ham vs Bolton Wanderers: 4th November, 2007 - Match Preview

1. 100 not out

HeadHammer Shark's tedious prodding and poking of the ball up 'til now have seen this blog limp to 99 unanswered posts. It is left to I, The Boleyn Beluga, to become the inaugural H List centurion courtesy of a fearsome cover drive, splitting the field through the onside to rapturous applause. A quick nod of acknowledgment to the Grandstand and it's on with the show...

2. Mutiny over a Bounty

So HeadHammer Shark has desserted (get it?) his faithful. His increasing readership (pantry) has so inflated his already bloated ego (waistline), that he now only deigns to write to his public once a week - so you're left with me for the previews henceforth. That should halve the audience.... Can you halve 5 people?

3. Plight Of The Living Dead

And so our injury woes continue. Three more additions to the disabled list came as a result of our mesmeric victory over sleeping giants Coventry City in this week's thrilling Carling Cup tie: Anton Ferdinand tweaking his hamstring followed by the departure of both Mark Noble (groin) and Hayden Mullins (knee).

These latter two injuries are the more worrisome as we are currently bountiful in centre backs but suffering from a real paucity of central midfielders .This was highlighted by the fact that two of our most consistent performers so far this season were replaced on Tuesday night by John Pantsil (is his Visa still valid?) and Jonathan Spector (can we get his revoked?)

Still, at least we remain a potent threat upfront with it only taking us 71 minutes to score with what was our first shot of the game... which deflected in.

4. Send In The Clowns

Sunday afternoon sees us 'entertain' Bolton Wanderers at Upton Park in what is sure to be another ding-dong feast of football. Bolton must surely rank among the most unlikeable teams in the Premiership, thanks largely to their tedious brand of play and abhorrent Chairman Phil Gartside.

One could argue that Bolton deserve an element of grudging respect from neutrals for their achievement in having established themselves as a Premiership outfit during the last 6 years. One could also argue that Josef Stalin exhibited a real 'have a go' attitude, combined with some admirable and selfless plans for rapid economic development... skirting over the purges and genocide.

Bolton would better serve the beautiful game by being forced to play in a kiln with their collective ashes blasted into space at halftime.

5. Managerial Merry-Go-Round

Having lost the services of Sam 'I'm one of the greatest managers in the country but have actually won nothing' Allardyce and sacked Sammy 'can we pick up Setanta if I point my face due north?' Lee, Bolton really set their sights high with the appointment of Gary 'you want relegation? I'm your man' Megson. A baffling decision for most outside and in the Reebok Stadium.

Unambitious measures masquerading as steps forward in managerial appointments then. Sound familiar?

6. The Pretenders

Having been away to Bolton during a classic 0-0 affair a few years back, I can testify unreservedly that their support is woeful. At the time they were anchored in midtable obscurity (quite an acheivement with Henrik Pedersen upfront) and being hailed as part of the new blood helping to make the Premiership such a huge success. Strange then to see at least 1/3 of their sterile stadium empty.

Apart from a few hundred loyal supporters, they have nothing - a view emphasised by a pitiful 18,000 turning out to watch Villa last week - and yet are still considered by some to be a part of this mythical 'hotbed of football', along with Middlesbrough and Wigan. A myth no doubt perpetuated by the likes of Gartside and Dave The Convicted Price-Fixer Whelan.

7. Lancashire Hot-Shot

Last year's corresponding fixture saw us claim a 3-1 victory in our penultimate game of the season courtesy of a swift Tevez brace, before the Argentinian master set up a crashing volley for Mark Noble, and all in the first half hour. Now bereft of anything half as creative as Pope Carlos, the most dangerous player on the field could well come from the Lancastrians. Unthinkable 3 or 4 years ago.

Nicolas Anelka must be the epitome of the nomadic football mercenary. As loyal as Judas Iscariot and more ruthless than a camera-wielding Frenchman in a Parisian underpass, one can't help but feel that he has failed to fulfil the glittering promise of his early career.

Leaving the tutelage of Arsene Wenger at such a young age did him no favours - just ask Luis Boa Morte (when he's not on mind-bending drugs) - and his abundant petulance contributed no end in his steady decline from the Bernabeu to Bolton. Still, he's dangerous with both feet and in the air and he'll need watching.

8. Cole-fired

Our own attacking prospects lie solely in the precarious grip of Carlton Cole. To be fair, the boy Cole has hit a bit of form recently and despite his apparent mediocrity, you rarely get the impression he can't be arsed. Just that he's rubbish.

Still, the fact that he's not currently hooked up to an IV and that he can move under his own steam all help push him to the front of our firing line. A couple of goals on Sunday could see him push on and provide some competent support for Bellamy and Ashton this season, as well as good competition for Zamora.

9. An Aside

Is it just me or does Curbs appear to be the least supportive manager in the League?

When questioned about the marvellous Robert Green's England credentials recently, instead of talking up his Number 1 and pushing for his inclusion in the squad, Curbs decided at merely declaring England "know who he is".

I know who Keith Chegwin is, doesn't mean I'm going to vote for him in the next election.

Mark Noble's fatiguing efforts of the last few weeks resulted in a recent substiution which was greeted with the encouraging "maybe he ate too much pie and mash", instead of an A+ for effort.

God help anyone who has to call upon Alan as a character witness.