Some people are so predictable. There are those who might go to New Zealand for a month and come back with a deep golden tan and many tales of derring do. Not me folks. I have plumped instead for two weeks in bed with the flu, eating one slice of toast a day. Interestingly, during that time I have managed the not inconsiderable feat of putting on weight. When I die there's going to be one hell of a scrap for my metabolism.
Anyway, even from my sickbed a million miles away, I can hear the clanging chimes of doom for the Hammers. The home defeat to Watford surely signals the end of what I laughingly refer to as our relegation "fight". Many thanks to Ralph for the match report. The dog ate his preview, unfortunately.
1. An Apology For Abject Incompetence
I don’t get it. I paid a bunch of dosh for the necessary equipment to write the preview for the Watford match (admittedly a while ago although my recently acquired new Livebox doobie doesn’t seem to work as well as it should). I type stuff all day along and have done for years without incident and then when the time comes to step up to the plate and perform to a larger audience, it all goes wrong, the screen goes blank and all my work disappears in a brilliant glare of white that passes so slowly as to make Christian Dailly look like Marlon Harewood’s car travelling down the Barking Road on Saturday evening.
Ultimately it turned out I’d chosen entirely the wrong method to type out my preview. I had executed it poorly and had no back-up plan for when it all got formatted in .pear. Of course, the problem was an underlying one with my machine and webmail and, had I known, I would not have chosen that method of execution; you could almost say, it was broken when I found it. As it turns out I could not have executed a more accurate preview.
2. Science Fact
We had more possession and more shots and all that stuff but the ultimate statistic is 0-1 x 2. That against a side employing a man who hasn’t scored in twenty-nine games as their marksman. That said, we seem to employ at least five of those so who am I to criticise?
Obviously their chap Mahon should have walked for his Championship challenge on Reo-Coker who finally seems to have decided to start playing again but he did not and frankly, so what? Are we really so terrible that we can’t beat Watford unless they have a man sent-off? Yes, we are and that is about all you can say.
3. Neill? He Can Barely Stand
Another thirty minutes on the clock and now another month off. Why will my firm not pay me thousands a week to do that? They would even save money in the process through the spurt in productivity caused by my absence. Is there another reason beyond wage structure that Liverpool did not pursue their interest in Neill with the same verve that we did? Quite possibly. I am starting to wonder how much scouting Curbishley and his mate Lurch Day actually do. Apparently he still seems to be "having a look" at our squad and he barely seemed to know anything about them when he joined. For a club that he and his nearest and dearest seem to be so desperately passionate about that seems a bit peculiar.
That is the behaviour I normally associate with Chelsea fans who own season tickets in the expensive seats. Next time you meet one, see if you can get him to name his favourite Chelsea side and see how many names apart from Zola and "that chap Brabhook – the one that pegged it" they can name from before Ranieri was in charge. Anyway, I digress but you have to wonder how much time he spent in Lancashire and the Midlands (including Tottenham) watching his new charges.
I am starting to suspect that he has picked these guys with same amount of skill that most people pick their fantasy league teams. Upson: used to be at Arsenal, cleaner sheets than the Persil Nun Display Team. Lucas Neill: something about penalties in the World Cup – probably excellent. Boa Morte and Quashie: saw them once against Charlton and I think one of them may have scored and look, Quashie’s down here as a defender so that’s extra goals potential and now I just need a cheapo defender to use up my budget with… ah, Calum. Mascherano? How many points did he get last season? No thanks.
I guess Neill needs a run of injury free football before it is fair to judge him but at least we have our home grown Anton back now. Oh, hang on…
4. From Cornrow To Zero
Known for their ball skills but not their intelligence or attention span, Ferdinand the Younger once again highlighted the family trait with his new interpretation on the drag back idea. Unfortunately such pioneering new forms, as in any artistic medium, are rarely appreciated first time out and thus Henderson fell to the floor his face screwed up in disgust at Ferdinand’s vulgarity and Alan Wiley did what any self-respecting critic had to do and found against the accused.
It looked like the sort of offence that would have been similarly regarded at Twickenham and you have to wonder just what, if anything, our man was thinking.
5. Meanwhile Up The Other End
Marlon Harewood. Why on Earth was a man clearly on the verge of disappearing into a black hole of ineptitude allowed to take that penalty? Against Liverpool the other week as the game wore on he looked more and more timid and the minute the penalty was awarded it was clear we were going to miss had one of the regulars taken it. There were more miss vibes around the place than at an Ann Summers convention.
Surely that was the perfect moment to let the lively Tevez notch his first goal? The guy seem to have done everything but score and surely this was the moment but once again, as you would expect with a team full of players who seem more interested in fighting for their place under the protective tortoise shell than retaining their league status with the club they are at, innovation and clear thinking proved even rarer than three points away from home. It was like putting an alcoholic in front of an off-licence with a blank chequebook in its cruelty.
Gillian McKeith would not have visited this on one of her subjects and Harewood’s cupped hand to the ear "celebration" was put back on ice until the next time (inevitably the winner in a 1-0 win at Old Trafford after we’re already down on the last day of the season).
More and more this resembles the last relegation season. The "lift-off" never arrives and we go on losing games meekly, beating the odd giant at home whilst failing to use our best players properly (admittedly Ashton is not really going to achieve much with one leg even if he would still have made a better job of the penalty than Harewood… and that sitter from six yards out by Zamora... and... sod it, it is too depressing). At least Tevez is getting a game whereas Di Canio was barely getting a sniff under Roeder I suppose.
That said, that time round I distinctly remember some consistently rousing performances from Joe Cole that earned him Hammer Of The Year but could this be the year when nobody wins it? At the moment I think I’ll be voting for Mark Noble just for his consistency, goals to games ratio and victory ratio. I cannot think of anyone else who has done anything consistently above and beyond to warrant it. Every week we reach a new seemingly cathartic nadir but then the next week always brings that extra depth of weak surrender and depression.
An away trip to Charlton now just looks like another opportunity to disgrace ourselves. I think if West Ham were our parents, when we lost at Reading we heard them doing it whilst we had a friend to stay, this week we caught our Dad sniffing our Mum’s underwear on the sly and next week we could well be about to see the footballing equivalent of our Mother performing what the redtops would term "sordid acts" with next door’s spaniel on grainy video to pay for her crack habit. After this, relegation almost seems like sweet relief.
6. Managing Expectations
There was an excellent article in the Observer Sport Monthly about the "new breed" of scientific managers and how they have taken their lead from American sport. Pardew was among them as was Saturday’s victorious Aidy Boothroyd. The point made was that these guys came unstuck in the Premier League because principles that work in America and in the Championship where competition is much closer and there is a lot more scoring do not work in the Premier League where the quality is much more diverse and you cannot legislate for Gerrard notching one from forty yards in injury time or Kuyt sticking it in the back of your onion bag from somewhere deep in E6 right after you’ve finished your half-time tea and, oh, I dunno, say Daniel bleeding Agger also finding your top corner with a right-foot originated leather exocet launched from somewhere next to your striker. You know, those things just don’t happen with any familiarity, right?
So, what does work in the Premier League? Well, clearly Curbishley managed pretty well with his brand of nonplussed shoulder shrugging (notice he does not even bury his face in his hands any more when we concede) at the Valley but clearly he should be upping his game with us. If you take a look at the top three or four managers in the league, Mourinho, Ferguson, Wenger and I guess Benitez then they all possess that megalomaniacal streak, the control freakery to run their club from the players’ lunches to the colour of the carpets in the changing rooms, tactical innovation and, as everyone always points out about disgustingly successful people, attention to detale.
What encouragement then to see our man in the bench jacket playing, in recent games, a drink sodden gambler alongside a coke fiend whilst trying to figure out who plays where and seemingly having tiffs with the few members of the squad he appears to have managed to learn the names of in his first few weeks. Not to mention the complete tactical wonderment of Nigel Quashie starting every week come hell or high water (usually it is the former) whilst Mark Noble is put on the fast track to clinical depression in the stiffs or in Suffolk so that he can fit in with the rest of the squad and, to top it off, a complete inability to change any of that around when the wheels come off. Obviously I’ll be the first to two-facedly herald Curbs if he keeps us up but at this rate, that seems a distant dream.
Token Michael Dawson Slaughtering
Even we didn’t try and sign him in January.