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

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Friendlies (And Other Ramblings)

1. The Return

So, the new improved H List returns! Of course, it's not really new or improved but it is definitely returning. The Leyton Orient game wasn't exactly a marquee fixture but it had the rather nice feature of being on my way home so I decided to pop along, and I will begin the ramblings there.

My friend Lennaert accompanied me, despite being an Ajax fan and amused me no end with the comment that Dean Ashton looked like a "fat Lee Trundle".

2. The Statistics

I have absolutely no idea about the statistical breakdown of this game. I can confirm that both teams scored once and that Kyel Reid can't use his right foot, but anything more in depth eludes me.

A bright start saw us take the lead mid way through the opening period when Dean Ashton, knackered from all that running, decided that it would be infinitely more preferable to simply whack one in from 25 yards instead. Shortly after this, Leyton Orient responded with a belter of a goal themselves, courtesy of new signing Adam Boyd, whilst our defence were absent, off reading the last few chapters of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows.

Attempts to infer anything of note from friendly games are pointless. Yes, Dean Ashton didn't die, Anton Ferdinand wasn't arrested and Carlton Cole didn't contract lumbago, but I am struggling to draw too much else from this fixture.

Orient played some nice football and might do quite well this year. Of course, given that I don't actually know what division they're in perhaps I should refrain from making too many pre season predictions ("John Paintsil will be a star for us" is haunting me as I type that sentence).

3. Ashton Watch

Let me start by saying that Ashton looked well. When I say "well" I of course mean, "not hospitalised".

He actually looks terrible. An ill advised blond dye job on his balding pate makes him look about 45, as does his somewhat extensive girth. His movement was fairly limited but still superior to that of Carlton Cole, and his touch has certainly not deserted him.

The goal was a terrific strike, lessened slightly by the fact that the Orient defence chose the "Wehrmact Ardennes" style method of containment ("Encircle him at a distance of a thousand yards!").

He later had a golden opportunity to net the winner when Matthew Etherington broke down the left, lost control of his neurological functions, and for reasons best known to his psychiatrist blasted the ball at Ashton's head with an open goal beckoning. The resulting header landed somewhere in Hackney, and Ashton suffered whiplash. Welcome back, Dean.

4. Suffering At The Cole Face

For all his physical stature and apparent potential, Carlton Cole looks a rapidly declining force to me. (Cue dozens of H List readers mouthing "Declining from what exactly?"). His lack of instinct was badly shown up by some intelligent flicks from Ashton, whilst his finishing ability was just plain bad.

There was a moment of particularly fine dual ineptitude in the first half. Gorgeous George McCartney sauntered down the left and whipped in an inch perfect cross for young Carlton, at that point standing several inches from the goal line. Evidently somewhat surprised at this, he contrived to throw his leg at the ball and, impossibly, sent it backwards, causing mild consternation to physicists everywhere.

Fortunately, the ball fell to Kyel Reid who calmly shifted it to his favoured left foot and nervelessly placed it over the roof of the stand.

Aaaaaaaand on we go.

5. The Next Night

Following the draw at Orient ("Boo, Hiss, Curbs Out") we took the journey to Milton Keynes to face the mighty MK Dons at their new stadium.

Fresh from an outstanding half time display of tricks and flicks at Orient, Hogan Ephraim netted our first before the lesser spotted Matthew Upson notched the second. Sadly, it wasn't to be as the plucky little Hammers succumbed to a 3-2 defeat ("BOO, HISS, CURBS OUT"), helpless in the face of the MK Dons late second half onslaught.

Again, I read nothing in to this. Pre season friendlies are like rounds of golf. Pointless, but you do get a nice bit of exercise out of them.

This particular game did see Freddie Ljungberg make his debut for us, however.

My Arsenal supporting friends tell me that his legs have gone and he no longer scores any goals. To me that just makes him a prototypical West Ham midfielder, but they seemed to be saying it like it was a bad thing. I'm choosing to look on the positive side - free CK underpants for all the lads, and if Olof Mellberg gets a bit trappy when we play Villa, you know Freddie doesn't mind having a crack at him.

I have a mild concern that Arsene Wenger does have a decent track record of jettisoning his top players when they are already on the decline. In this case though, we probably don't need Ljungberg to be as good as he was for Arsenal, although it would be nice, but merely better than Yossi Benayoun. Given that the Israeli was quite possibly on a Kibbutz for the first 80% of last year (he certainly wasn't anywhere near our right wing), I'm confident that Ljungberg can manage that much at least.

6. I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside

This weekend saw us take on Southend, and gave an interesting insight into how Curbishley might view his team going into next season. Ashton was conspicuous by his absence, although to be fair, he's reasonably conspicuous when he's not absent as well. Instead, Bobby Zamora started up front with Bellamy, and both Lucas Neill and Mark Noble returned to the side.

By all accounts we played pretty well. Zamora began the scoring and later both Bellamy and Ljungberg opened their West Ham accounts. Coincidentally, this marked the first time since the UK went metric that both West Ham strikers scored with a header, and one of our midfielders got into the box without suffering an unstoppable nosebleed. Hurrah for sports science.

My childhood friend Kevin Maher then bagged a consolation for The Shrimpers. A shameless bit of name dropping of which my godfather Bill Gates would no doubt disapprove.

7. Out In The Country

Our magical mystery tour of glamour venues continued apace as we took a trip to Norwich this evening. Another strong side saw Upson and Collins paired in the interesting centre half battle, and Ashton returning to partner Zamora up front.

Apparently, Ashton took some stick off the home fans but responded well to score our second after Jonathan Spector got lost and found himself in the opposition box to score the first. I have to confess that I have little concept of what abuse from Norwich fans must sound like. I mean, seriously, we've all seen the Delia clip so we know that they're a lovely family club with a slightly embarrassing Aunt on the board. How bad is it going to be getting booed by that lot?

(I did like the fact that Zamora celebrated his goal for him by using his hands to cup Ashton's ears to the crowd. It's almost like they work on that in training. They're now so well drilled that in case any of them forget to do it, another team member will do it for them. Splendid).

7. Luis Watch

The press are reporting that Luis Boa Morte had a stormer tonight. I have checked and Norwich did play someone at right back so I'm beginning to doubt the veracity of that story.

It's not that I want the guy to fail, or even that I think Etherington is a better alternative, but they were both so poor last year that a repeat performance will have a hugely negative impact on our season. Our midfield last season contributed very little by way of goals, mustering just 9 in total. By contrast Lampard managed 11 on his own to highlight the worrying lack of threat from deep.

Presumably Ljungberg is here to combat that, but no doubt Boa Morte will need to rediscover the goalscoring form of his Fulham days before I am prepared to remove him from my amoeba list.

8. Of Note

We finished with 4 former Norwich men having played for us tonight. Although not ideal, I prefer this to Curbishley's vision of us having 11 ex Charlton "stars" on the field.

Norwich fans apparently refer to a corner of their ground as "The Viper Pit".

I think vipers should sue.


Leyton Orient 1 - 1 West Ham
MK Dons 3 - 2 West Ham
Southend 1 - 3 West Ham
Norwich 1 - 2 West Ham

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