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

Friday, August 31, 2007

Reading vs West Ham: 1st September 2007 (Match Preview And Other Ramblings)

1. Have We Met Before?

If you're a West Ham fan then it's probably reasonable to suppose that the only decent experience you have ever had of Reading is leaving the place. For a team we have only ever played 4 times away from home it's somewhat incredible that they have managed to inflict quite so much pain on us.

I mean, we haven't won at Liverpool since the Plantagenet Dynasty but even then I can muster up a flicker of optimism for our visits.

On the other hand, whenever we venture down the M4 I'm just hoping that we can keep it respectable.

For the love of God - John Oster plays for them.

2. The History

Needless to say then, our statistics against Reading make for grim reading. Not "grim" like a Victorian thriller, but "grim" like a autopsy report. We have only played Reading six times and have lost four games. Not just ordinary defeats by the way, but truly Bad News Bears type massacres.

Last year we turned in a plucky little display at the Madjeski stadium losing a six goal thriller on New Years Day. Closer examination reveals that we were 4 down within 35 minutes and 5 down after 53 minutes. Sit back and consider just how Sunderlandic that really is. Attendance at this game should come with a health warning.

Prior visits yielded truly abysmal 3-1 and 2-0 defeats, although compared to last years showing they look like halfway decent performances.

A little tip, painting your eyes with Satinwood Dulux will ensure that you cannot see the carnage, but may have some side effects. Like blindness.

3. The Opposition

Reading must be pretty fed up by now as being described as "the new West Ham" given that they have shown no signs at all of descending into the realms of Shakespearean farce. There is much to respect about Reading as a club. Steve Coppell has done a marvellous job with the sows ear he inherited from Pardew, and has instilled a collective work rate that is a wonder to behold.

Again, I state that John Oster plays for them.

(Not that beating us last year required work rate, so much as "the ability to breathe unaided").

Players such as Kevin Doyle, Shane Long and Stephen Hunt have been plucked from obscurity in the Irish leagues and look every inch Premiership players, whilst Brynjar Gunnarsson looks every inch a Bond villain.

They've got to sort out those supporters though. There's only so much happy clappy joy joy stuff a man can take.

4. Well That Was A Let Down

My dedication to you all, and my incessant tardiness means that I'm writing this after the close of the transfer deadline so by now I am able to tell you who we will be adding to our injury list on Monday. Nolberto Solano and Henri Camara will be joining, which really should be illegal when the club have made an official statement to say that they are in negotiations for Adriano. That's a heroin like come down.

If I was Nobby Solano coming to fill in on our right wing I think I'd be feeling a bit like Indiana Jones in "The Last Crusade", walking up to take the final tests and seeing the decapitated bodies of his predecessors lying strewn on the floor around him.

Henri Camara was quite the surprise seeing as no media outlets picked up on it at all, and he's rubbish. It smacks of a panic buy to be picking up Wigan reserves on deadline night, particularly given that if we really needed an inconsistent, occasionally brilliant forward we could have just held on to Marlon Harewood.

I can't be the only one feeling a little deflated at the apparent lack of foresight in our transfer planning though. It rather smacks of the same old West Ham to be linked with Bent, Adriano, Gudjohnsen, Anelka and Johnson, only to end up with Henri Camara as your wonderful new striking option.

We've also been comprehensively outspent by Fulham. Fulham I tell you.

Mind you, given who they've spent it on I am able to temper my jealousy somewhat.

5. The Ashton Effect

Games started by Dean Ashton: 14

Number of those games to end in defeats: 2* (Man Utd (a), Chelsea (a))

* I will never count the FA Cup Final as a defeat.

I'm still not convinced that throwing an unfit player into the mix is the immediate answer to our problems but I'm just pointing out that he's got a bit of previous.

6. The Zamora Effect

Bobby Zamora has never scored for us against Reading. Hang on, that's not an effect. That could very well be a cause though.....

Monday, August 27, 2007

West Ham 1 - 1 Wigan Athletic (And Other Ramblings)

West Ham (Bowyer 81) 1 - 1 Wigan (Scharner 78)

Attendance - 33,793

1. Well, That Wasn't Fun

In the end, this was probably a fair result. Fair in the sense that we were fairly poor, Wigan were fairly poor, the weather was set fair and I'm fairly sure that this was the worst Premiership game of the weekend.

Which is quite a statement when you consider that Aston Villa played Fulham in some sort of World Championship of Mediocrity.

OK, now let's be reasonable. This wasn't quite as egregious a display as the Man City game (although to be honest it would have required a mass outbreak of syphilis for it to have been worse than that) but this still wasn't exactly sparkling.

One can praise Wigan, one can criticise our midfield, one can even call Dave Whelan a gutless wonder but none of these things will change the bare fact that we have accrued just 4 points from a start to the season that really should have yielded more.

2. I Ain't Saying You're Dull But...

There was a curious sequence of events after about half an hour of this game:

The ball was blasted high and wide into the Wigan section of the stand. It was picked up by a policeman (who outnumbered the Wigan fans significantly). The policeman then attempted to throw the ball back on to the pitch but only succeeded in hitting a fellow officer and knocking his helmet off.

This was by some distance the most entertaining moment of the first half.

3. The Statistics

Our possession count was as high as 62% according to Match of the Day, which is probably a pretty accurate reflection of our territorial dominance, if not truly indicative of who was creating the better chances.

Our shot count was up at 16, but with just a Middlesbroughian 4 on target. Mark Noble, in particular, was guilty of wastefulness as he had 6 attempts, of which just one drew a save. He also reverted back to the West Ham default position of blasting any and all free kicks aimlessly into the stratosphere.

Elsewhere, Bobby Zamora committed three fouls to take the lead in the Premiership foul race with his 14th (!) of the season so far. At this point I'm wondering if we shouldn't just change his name to "Bobby Zamora : 2006/07 Version". On the face of it that seems like a ridiculous suggestion but then Bobby has been putting in some fairly ridiculous performances lately

4. The Opposition

Wigan began this game with some truly weird positional decisions. Jason Koumas, their best player, was marooned out on the left side of midfield, whilst behind him they opted for Kevin Kilbane as the titular left back.

I say that because, as a full back, Kevin Kilbane makes a darn good crash test dummy.

They began the game with just one up front, displaying a limited set of ambitions and with the dial firmly turned to "boredom". Some Wigan fans might argue that they actually started with a pair of strikers, but my retort to this would be that when the men in question are Antoine Sibierski and Emile Heskey then there is actually a pretty strong argument that you are in fact playing no strikers at all, so let's move on.

All in all Wigan turned in a decent enough away performance. They were well organised and when Koumas and Melchiot had possession they looked a reasonable enough side. Once they took the lead it seemed as though the game was up, although I have to confess that I didn't believe the Universe would allow a defence containing Titus Bramble and Kilbane to keep a clean sheet.

I mean, sure, strange things are happening around the globe at the moment, but there is such a thing as natural law.

5. The Referee

There was really only one decision to be made in this game, which was whether or not to award a penalty for Anders Granqvist's attempt at a reverse suplex on Mark Noble. It looked fairly clear cut to me but then I'm biased.

Either way, convicted price fixer Dave Whelan is a coward.

6. Kudos

I might be high on opium but there are some things that I really need to say in this section.

Luis Boa Morte was, like, really quite good when he came on, man. In fact, he made more of an impression than Ashton, and it was he who set up Lee Bowyer for the equaliser with a perfectly weighted pass rather than his customary perfectly weighted falling on his arse.

Bowyer too deserves credit for his first goal in West Ham colours. It involved a lung bursting run (impressive), a neat finish (impressive) and outwitting Kevin Kilbane (2 out of 3 ain't bad). He celebrated by getting really, really angry. I am not surprised by this.

Curbishley probably deserves some praise too, given that it was the substitutes who made the biggest impact on the game. That said, his decision to swap Dyer in to the middle to accommodate Bowyer reduced the former to the role of bemused onlooker.

7. The No Show

So convicted price fixer Dave Whelan didn't make it to the game. I could refer to this as cowardice or insouciance, embarrassment or ego but either way I doubt he cares too much. He made a great deal of noise up until the Tevez affair no longer affected him, at which point he gave up and left Sheffield United to it. What a man.

Interestingly he also didn't bother to attend the AGM of the Premier League after the end of the season. Which is curious given that he was so intent on launching that campaign for fairness in football.

And let me tell you right here and now, anyone alleging that Dave Whelan clubs baby seals to death with frozen Swiss Rolls, solely so that he can lob them at passing schoolchildren from his nuclear powered chariot is just flat out lying.

8. The Return Of The King

Lucas Neill was back to skipper the side this week, and although he made a good early impression by being Not Jonathan Spector, he made less of an impression by not tackling Koumas very often.

Now let's not be churlish here. He is still an otherworldly being and is clearly of celestial lineage, but it probably wouldn't hurt for him to get some more matches under his belt as there was no question he looked a bit rusty.

He remains my favourite Australian (not a difficult task it has to be said - just don't be Hugh Jackman).

8. The Midweek Blues - Bristol Rovers 1 - 2 West Ham

More observant readers will have noticed that I didn't manage a preview for the Bristol Rovers cup tie. This is primarily because upon my return from an extended business trip, Mrs Shark greeted me at the door with a pair of secateurs and the immortal line "Hey honey, it sure is swell to see you again. Can you sort out our garden - I think a family of Komodo Dragons have moved into the undergrowth by our daughters playhouse"

All in all, our trip to the Recreation Ground went about as well as these early Cup games usually do. We managed to upset the form book and actually win the game, but this was overshadowed by a horrific injury to Kieron Dyer. Our pre season decision to evict those Gypsies and prosecute those Druids looks evermore foolish as the curse of our new signings continues.

A pretty nasty tackle from something called a "Joe Jacobson" did the trick as he caught an off balance Dyer on the shin and fractured both leg bones. It appears to be a complicated and severe injury that is likely to keep him out for the rest of the season.

It has to be said that at times I don't really blame Curbishley for looking like a man on Death Row.

9. Hells Bells!

On a brighter note Craig Bellamy got off the mark in style. His first goal was a belting 25 yard drive, although fear not, I'm sure we'll beat that out of him soon enough. His second owed more to some truly atrocious defending than it did to good football, but he took the chance well enough and managed not to get arrested in the process.

Elsewhere Bobby Zamora continues to look short of confidence and there is little doubt that he could do with a goal. I would persevere with him still, simply because Ashton doesn't look fit enough, and Carlton Cole is, well, Carlton Cole. As our next game is away at Reading I'd be tempted to play him for the simple reason that it's away from Upton Park. He looked far better at Birmingham when he didn't have the entire stadium howling for Ashton at every opportunity.
10. The Secret Diary Of Adriano Mole

Aug 28 (am) - Received interesting offer from West Ham. Am mulling it over.

Aug 28 (pm) - Look up West Ham. They are in England apparently.

Aug 29 (am) - Compare relative merits of Milan and Collier Row.

Aug 29 (pm) - Sack my agent

I'll talk more about this in the Reading preview but I'm officially sceptical. Let's leave it at that for the moment......

Saturday, August 25, 2007

West Ham vs Wigan Athletic: 25th August 2007 (Match Preview And Other Ramblings)

1. Apologies

This preview had to be abandoned due to jet lag. Sincere apologies to my worldwide legion of fans (both of you) but I promise to return with a top quality update for the match itself, containing much abuse of Dave Whelan.

2. In Brief

We win at their place. They win at our place. Marlon Harewood always scores. Ah.

3. A Point Of Interest

Wigan successfully converted more penalties in their last game than we did in our last Premiership season.

4. "I Wrote A Song For You......And It Was Called 'Yellow'"

Convicted Price Fixer Dave Whelan cannot attend today's game due to a number of reasons. His liver has apparently taken on several properties commonly associated with the lily, and his stomach has turned a nasty shade of yellow. The varmint.

Doctors are calling this "Cowardis Extremis".

It's either this or he's a bit skint having had to pay a large fine due to the fact that the Wigan rugby league club, of which he is owner, deliberately breached the league salary cap.

Remember Dave's "Campaign For Fairness"? Doctors are calling this "Hypocrisia Breathtakinium".

Still, at least he stood shoulder to shoulder with Sheffield United like he promised......

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Birmingham City 0 - 1 West Ham (And Other Reasons To Love Mark Noble)

Birmingham City 0 - 1 West Ham (Noble - 70 (Pen))

Attendance - 24,961

1. How To Make A Comfortable Victory Thoroughly Uncomfortable

Hey! Where are my fingernails?

2. Easy Redefinded

I don't quite know where to begin in analysing this victory. Now let's not forget - it was a victory and for that we should all be deliriously happy. I don't think I shall begin with that first half which was a truly marvellous advertisement for golf.

The second period saw us sweeping forward in waves and battering the home side. Mark Noble and Matthew Etherington in particular were outstanding as we continually penned the home side back until they finally buckled.

It should be noted that we required an almost heroic level of hopelessness in order to still be deadlocked by the time that Noble finally opened the scoring on 70 minutes. If I didn't know better I'd suggest that our front players were involved in some sort of competition to see who could manage the most ridiculous miss. Zamora and Bellamy both made sterling attempts but Kieron Dyer comfortably won with his last minute butchering of a gilt edged opportunity. More on that later as it really deserves further analysis.

On the plus side, we outplayed a Premiership team without Ljungberg, Neill, Ashton and Parker.
3. The Statistics

For this game at least the statistics do a pretty good job of reflecting the balance of power. ESPN's Gamecast (http://soccernet-akamai.espn.go.com/match?id=219074&cc=5739) shows us having a 53% slice of the possession and a 15 to 7 advantage in terms of shots at goal. Under no circumstances should this be considered as anything other than a battering. With the exception of a late first half effort that was smartly saved by Green, I can't recall the home side threatening us in any way other than via Gary O'Connor's elbows.

Of our 15 shots we mustered just 5 on target, which is the type of conversion ratio that gets missionaries fired. Bobby Zamora managed 3 attempts himself, of which none were on target at all, reinforcing my belief that the genius of Carlos Tevez wasn't just restricted to getting the best out of himself.

4. The Opposition

I'm wary of getting too medieval on Birmingham's ass, given that one swallow does not make a summer. That said, they were appalling. Devoid (devoid, I say) of creativity and reliant solely upon our worrying propensity for conceding needless fouls. Indeed we managed to make no less than 15 fouls during this game which would have been impressive but for the fact that City managed to give up 16.

That sure is some brainless tackling.

It is a pet peeve of mine that when we play teams such as Birmingham, whose sole ploy for attacking our goal is to win free kicks in areas where they can hit our box, that we continue to commit horrendously stupid fouls.

For God's sake - when Gary O'Connor has the ball miles from our goal - LEAVE HIM ALONE. Let him try and shoot - no, encourage him to try and shoot. He's Gary O'Connor! He aspires to uselesness! There is a word for defending like this and that word is Pfft.

4a. The Opposition Manager

I never normally do this but I seriously despise Steve Bruce. He pulled a typically beautiful piece of Brucist philosophy by conducting his entire post match interview with a lemon in his mouth. He began by claiming that he didn't blame Bellamy for the penalty and then spent the rest of the time making snide comments about the incident.

All of which ignores the rather pertinent fact that a foul comitted anywhere within the 22 yard box is a penalty irrespective of the location of the ball, the intent of the defender, slumping global markets or unpredictable weather patterns. In addition, Bruce also managed to forget the first half foul on Dyer that was denied, presumably because at some point Kieron had made inappropriate advances to the referees daughter.

Steve, may all your Christmases be shite.

5. The Referee

Mark Halsey was a busy fellow, allowing a shocking tackle from Mehdi Nafti to pass unpunished after barely a minute, booking Hayden Mullins for some shirt pulling two minutes later and then awarding a foul every other challenge for the rest of the game.

Missed the foul on Dyer in the first half and made up for it by giving us one later after Bellamy ran fully thirty yards to induce the most pointless challenge ever from City keeper Colin Doyle. Or at least it was until Jonathan Spector then tried to tackle Gary McSheffrey using only his backside.

6. He Wasn't That Dyer

Kieron Dyer had a mixed sort of debut. For the first 5 minutes he stood on our right wing looking cold before he came inside a bit and, well, looked a bit colder. He was unceremoniously hauled to the floor by Stephen Kelly after 16 minutes which should have led to a penalty but didn't. He then spent the rest of the half fitting right in by constantly giving the ball away.

His second half perfomance was much better and his pace and movement added a splendid new dimension to our attacking. According to the rather tremendous stats filter at the end of this report in The Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/main.jhtml?xml=/sport/2007/08/19/sfgbir119.xml), he didn't receive a pass from anyone other than Spector in the game. I must say, he was fairly isolated as we tended to go through our left hand side, but even this seems ridiculous to me.

He had a glorious late chance to seal the game but had obviously read the West Ham handbook (Rule 13a: Thou shalt never make a game safe by accruing anything more than a one goal lead) and made a complete hash of it. To papraphrase a previous H Listism, this doesn't make him a bad player, it just makes him a West Ham player.

If he stays fit he'll be fine. If he doesn't nobody is going to be very shocked.

7. Department Of The Obvious

Mark Noble was our man of the match. In the same way that Luke Skywalker was "quite key" in bringing down the Galactic Empire. Quite apart from his coolly taken penalty he was easliy our best player, hitting the post with a free kick and generally making his more senior colleagues look a bit work shy.

I want....hmm what's the word I'm looking for? Yes, that's it - more.

8. They Did What?

Two curious moments in the first half. We took not one, but two, consecutive good free kicks. Firstly Noble hit the post from nary 30 yards, and then he and Zamora pulled off a very well worked routine that nearly snuck Bellamy in at the near post.

Noble's effort wasn't actually "good" in the sense that it was struck straight at the wall but they rather nambily jumped out of the way and allowed it through to hit the woodwork. Still, it's a West Ham free kick so the standards are fairly low.

After this brief foray into competence we quickly returned to uselesness but hey, it was nice while it lasted.

9. Kudos

Some particular praise should be reserved for Matt Upson who endured a moderate booing and played pretty well in the meantime. No praise should be reserved for Jonathan Spector who did a passable impression of a kebab.

Craig Bellamy showed exactly why we were interested in him. He runs constantly, doesn't finish as well as he should and argues for every decision. What's not to like? (Apart from the finishing and the whinging).

10. Of Note

Succesful West Ham penalties (06/07) - 1
Succesful West Ham penalties (07/08) - 1

I'm just saying.

11. A Clarification

I had a question last week about the lack of slaughtering for Michael Dawson. In short, I've given that up. I'm sure that even Trojan Donkeys have feelings and in fairness, he's not even playing at the moment. Broken hoof, probably.....

Friday, August 17, 2007

Birmingham City vs West Ham : 18th August 2007 (Match Preview And Other Ramblings)

1. Things Are Looking Dyer

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the sports section, Alan Curbishley spends £6m on Kieron Dyer. The price is still the same as the originally proposed deal that fell through when Newcastle chairman Mike Ashley upped the price at the last minute. Quite what universe Ashley is operating in escapes me. How is £6m not enough to buy an oft injured trouble maker like Dyer?

Anyway, the new arrival goes into the squad for the trip to Birmingham where he will compete for a place with Lee Bowyer. Hopefully not literally.

2. London Calling

Not content with uniting Bellamy, Bowyer, Dyer and Ferdinand as the Premiership version of The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, Curbishley has decided that this simply isn't enough disruption in one team and apparently now plans to add renowned good egg, Nicolas Anelka to the mix.

Whilst the talent of all of these players is undeniable, it is no secret why they have either moved from one club to another or, in Dyer's case, seen their careers stultify at an unsuccessful club.

The law of averages suggested that Anelka would end up here eventually given his propensity for one year stays, but it's a surprise that Curbishley would try and shoehorn so much potential dissension into the ranks.

Given that we were supposed to have had a summer clearout of the club's troublemakers is anyone else wondering exactly what Nigel Reo Coker and Marlon Harewood were doing last year? Short of selling drugs to Junior Hammers I can't quite imagine what it is that they were up to that could see them be viewed as worse than the players listed above.

Just to jog the memory, Bowyer and Dyer ended up in court for having a fist fight in the middle of St James's Park - during a Premiership game.

Perhaps all of this is indicative of the challenge facing Magnusson and Curbishley. Their statement of intent about being regulars in the Champions League is not quite so easily achieved as simply spending a boatload of cash (see United, Newcastle) and attracting the right players to do this.

At this juncture we appear to be trying to buy those players who are either not quite good enough for the top 4 teams (Parker, Upson) or those who have had issues in staying at one of those bigger clubs (Bellamy, Ljungberg). It's a passable scheme but one that does lay us open to having a team full of lunatics.

3. The Opposition

For the second consecutive year our first away game sees us at a newly promoted team. After an impressive opening day draw at Chelsea, City then managed only a 2-2 draw at home to Sunderland. With no wins thus far, they will be looking to open their account against us and St Andrews should prove a difficult trip.

Our recent history is decent enough as we managed a 2-1 win during Birmingham's relegation season. Zamora and Harewood helped us come from behind after we managed the not inconsiderable feat of allowing Emile Heskey to open the scoring. Later in the year we bashed them up real nice to the tune of a 3-0 victory at Upton Park.

Our previous visit was a sombre one, as a 2-2 draw sealed our own relegation. Paolo di Canio did score with a header though to highlight what a curious day it was.

Nowadays, Birmingham are relegation favourites themselves, although early indications are that they aren't as poor as previous newly promoted sides. In Mikael Forsell they have a proven Premiership player and new boy Olivier Kapo looks like a potentially good investment. I can't say that I care greatly about their prospects but I certainly buy into the idea that they contribute more to the league than say, Bolton or Wigan.

4. The History

We haven't lost our first away trip since Newcastle marmalised us 4-0 on the opening day of the 02/03 relegation season. Our horrendous away form of last year however, cannot continue if we expect to achieve any kind of stability this time around. Our travels last season yielded just 4 wins, of which 3 came in the last 9 games of the year, which I don't count as someone at the club had clearly sold their soul to the devil during that time.

It wouldn't be entirely unreasonable for us to stop conceding the first goal though, which has become a worrying trend under Curbishley. In only 7 of 22 games under him have we gone in front, and as such we tend to give ourselves large mountain shaped molehills to climb.

Come back Lucas, all is forgiven (not that you did anything wrong).

5. Striker Light

With Bobby Zamora performing against Man City like a chimpanzee on mind bending drugs, it's not inconceivable that Curbishley may choose to start with Dean Ashton tomorrow. I'm not sure that I would be in agreement with that plan, irrespective of Zamora's hallucinogenic attempts to stay onside.

Ashton hardly set the world alight last week (as opposed to Zamora who would have set his own face alight if someone gave him a candle), and looked rather short of fitness, even against Richard Dunne. Unless he accidentally disembowels Mark Noble whilst warming up I can't see that Zamora could be any worse than last week, and he will have fond memories of his last trip to St Andrews when he scored a wonder goal.

Ashton should temporarily remain as a late replacement battering ram substitute until he is able to outmanoeuvre cement bags, and one would hope that the addition of goalscoring midfielders Ljungberg and Dyer will allow us to cope in the meantime.

6. A Personal Insult

I almost forgot! I hate Steve Bruce! Not only is he a champion whinger but he also took far too much pleasure in our relegation.

Despite all of this I must confess that I have a sneaking admiration for a man whose nose points in two different directions at once.

7. The Return Of - "Oh My God Get Over It You Losers"

Sheffield United are suing us again. Their "No Win/No Fee" lawyers have determined that they have a splendid case despite the fact that, well, they really don't.

Quite what they thi - "OK, these are Head Hammer Shark's fingers here. His brain is asking us to keep typing some stuff about this monotonous load of claptrap but we're putting a stop to it. We know you'll all thank us. And 'Hey Doofus', stop clicking your cracking your knuckles, you'll give us arthritis'".

8. The Return Of The Oft Injured

Our ex Bluenose Matthew Upson returns to St Andrews. I have no idea of the kind of reception he'll receive, but if he was as good for them as he has been for us then it might involve Molotov Cocktails.

Mind you, instead of booing him they should probably be worshipping him as some sort of god given that they got £6m for him.....

Sunday, August 12, 2007

West Ham 0 - 2 Manchester City (And Other Ramblings)

West Ham 0 - 2 Man City (Bianchi - 18, Geovanni - 87)

Attendance - 34,921

1. Paradise Lost

Well, there goes the unbeaten season.

2. Great Expectations

Even from Kolkata this looked terrible. I mean, how bad is it to be totally outplayed by a Sven Goran Eriksson side? Ecuador didn't manage that in the World Cup and they were aspiring to be mediocre.

I have rarely seen us look so insipid, which is quite a statement given that I've had a season ticket since I was 12. We conceded possession with such frequency that by the end I was beginning to suspect that new City chairman Thaksin Shinawatra had been up to his old tricks and carried out some human rights abuse on our midfield. Allegedly.

Perhaps even more worrying was that we looked flat in every aspect of the game. The players didn't look particularly sharp, there was little or no flair evident in our play and as mentioned above, anytime that we looked as though we might be able to build a period of sustained pressure we simply coughed up the ball with a misplaced pass. That's just so last season man.

3. War And Peace

Surveying the cyber world, it would seem that Hammers fans are divided over yesterday's "performance". If I had to decide between the two prevailing opinions of - "It's the end of the world!" or "It's only the first game of the year", then I'd probably err towards the latter.

This probably doesn't surprise you, knowing that I'm a fairly relaxed, but impressively purposeful, chap. However, last time I checked, the number of points available for a victory doesn't change dependent upon the time of year that you win. And given that we survived last season courtesy of a last day win, then I won't quite go so far as to be flippant about a defeat like this.

4. Mathematical Principles Of Natural Philosophy

Given that we were so unimpressive in possession, it would seem curious that we had 52% of the ball yesterday. Less surprisingly City outshot us by a grand total of 16 to 9. Closer inspection reveals that this isn't quite the sign of dominance that it might seem, as new City winger Martin Petrov had no less than 7 of those himself.

If City are ever outshot again it will be a minor miracle, given that Petrov appears to view it as a sign of weakness to pass to a team mate when within a two mile radius of the opposition goal.

Elsewhere, Bobby Zamora managed to commit no less than 6 fouls on his own, all whilst winning less aerial battles than the Luxembourg Air Force.

Matthew Upson had more shots than Craig Bellamy. A. Hem.

4. A Tale Of Two Cities

I'm not quite prepared to jump on the "City are fantastic" bandwagon, despite their evident superiority. After the opening goal, City made essentially no attempt to score a second until Curbishley took the rather curious decision to defend our left side using merely the Warsaw Pact instead of an actual full back.

As with pretty much any other team managed by Eriksson, once they took the lead City simply sat back and were content to hang on to their lead. I'm not complaining as such, if we can't break down a defence containing Richard Dunne then we have no grounds for moaning, but all the same, this doesn't strike me as a recipe for prolonged success.

The interchangeable cast of Eriksson's foreign new boys certainly acquitted themselves well enough though, given that none of them had met before. Unlike our midfield who simply played like strangers.

5. The Critique Of Judgement

It's quite hard to be objective about the performance of Peter Walton in this game. Objectively, he was terrible. Subjectively his was far from the worst performance out there so why bother to highlight it?

I would suggest that City fans found it equally as frustrating to see the game broken up by so many decisions that were plainly incorrect. Our cause wasn't helped by the fact that Bobby Zamora appears to equate "tackling" with "jumping on a defenders back".

6. The Divine Comedy

There was a lovely bit of play in the first half when Matthew Upson fed a splendid ball out wide to Luis Boa Morte, who in turn casually slipped a couple of challenges, before hitting Bobby Zamora with an inch perfect pas-

Actually, hang on a minute. That never happened. In fact, as I recall, Boa Morte was dispossessed (I'm not sure he ever does anything else but get dispossessed), leading to Elano running unhindered through our granite legged defence to set up the first goal. Of gravest concern was Upson's very passable impersonation of a statue during all of this. Quite what James Collins made of it all is beyond me, given his outstanding form at the tail end of last year.

I expect he makes quite a bit of it, actually.

7. The Art Of War

Events late in the second half of this game conspired to have me questioning Alan Curbishley's sanity. Before I begin chastising him too fully, let me first admit that I was impressed by his boldness in search of an equaliser.

He showed a willingness to think laterally that surprised me, although it was the application of that ambition that left me despairing.

His decision to substitute the woeful pairing of Bowyer and Boa Morte at half time was encouraging. There was an inherent risk that an injury to one of our defenders (read: Upson) would have forced him to bring on Gabbidon and burn the option of using Dean Ashton, but in the circumstances I was content with the thought process.

The move actually paid immediate dividends as Etherington began to drive through the City right side and Mullins stabilised our floundering midfield. Indeed, we almost carved out an equaliser when Ljungberg narrowly failed to convert a cross from the former.

Inexplicably, after our first period of sustained pressure Curbishley then took off McCartney, pushed Etherington to a quasi left back role, and brought Ashton on up front.

What was most curious about this was that it obviously and immediately negated our most potent attacking threat whilst simultaneously crowding the attacking third of the pitch. As it turned out, Ashton received little by way of service and Etherington was unsurprisingly exposed for the second City goal.

My own preference would have been to remove Zamora, who by this point was doing a very passable impression of a bag of peat, and try and pair Ashton with Bellamy.

8. Les Miserables

All of which chopping and changing meant that not one of our four midfield positions were occupied by the same player for the entire 90 minutes.

Hurry back Scott Parker, your midfield needs you.

9. The Odyssey

So it's a long season, and panic at this point is probably not justified but I reckon a slab of mild hysteria would be okay though.

A win at Birmingham and a bit of perspective will be restored. Sadly, that feels like something that I wrote just about every week last season.

Previously Curbishley was always noted for his ability to get Charlton flying at the start of the season, and falling away dismally by the culmination. Worryingly he seems to be operating in reverse here as this performance was essentially a repeat of everything we saw from November to March last season. His buys have been solid, but stolid, and the loss of our flair duo Tevez and Benayoun, has left a gaping hole.

Is the only option out there really Kieron Dyer though? Really? Really?

10. Vanity Fair

Good to see Craig Bellamy proving my theory that Goblin physiology is markedly different to humans by wearing a long sleeve shirt on the hottest day of the year.

A goal or two wouldn't go amiss though Griphook.........

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

West Ham vs Manchester City : 11th August 2007 (Match Preview And Other Ramblings)

1. I Prefer Normal Juries To Injuries

Not to state the obvious ("Since when?" yell pairs of H List readers) but I much preferred it when our players were simply getting arrested rather than getting injured at a rate of knots.

2. Let's Begin

And so after a gap of what seems like minutes, we are no longer staring down the barrel of relegation and are instead beginning a new season, buoyed by the arrival of some proven Premier League players.

The summer has come and gone, as has Carlos Tevez, and despite the veritable maelstrom that is our dressing room there is cautious room for optimism. For a start it would be essentially impossible for a team to have as bad a year as we did last year without being Sunderland.

3. The History

Attentive readers ("Hi Dad!") will know that last years fixture against Manchester City was voted by me as the worst of the season. In fact, I'm tempted to declare it the worst game of football ever played anywhere in the cosmos.

If you doubt the veracity of my claims then consider that the UN sent troops to Upton Park at half time on humanitarian grounds. Anyway, we slumped to an atrocious 1-0 defeat and another Christmas passed in a blaze of uselessness. This victory was City's first ever Premiership win at Upton Park. The word you're looking for is "Pfft".

Both teams have subsequently undergone major changes with City following our lead in being acquired by a foreign owner, in this instance former Thai Prime Minister, Thaksin Sinawatra who was ousted from power in a military coup (always encouraging). He has also been described as a "humans rights abuser of the worst kind" by a leading Human Rights group.

Naturally then he passed the Premier League's "Fit and Proper Persons" test, proving unequivocally that the only requirement for that particular examination is that the individual must have a face.

4. The Opposition

Manchester City has seen some tumultuous changes over the summer. Stuart Pearce has gone, replaced by Sven Goran Eriksson, who promptly blew the best part of £40m on lots and lots and lots of foreign players. Your familiarity with any of these buys will probably be entirely dependent upon your knowledge of Eastern European footballers but I can safely say the only one I had ever heard of was Martin Petrov, the Bulgarian winger.

Intriguingly, not one of Sven's purchases has been English, in a summer when a number of young English international players have moved clubs (Parker, Nugent, Bent, Hargreaves, Sidwell, Richardson, Baines). That could be a reflection of the ridiculous price of English players these days - £16.5m for Bent, £16m for Hargreaves, actual money for Richardson - but it could also show that not too many young Englishmen feel that playing for the Swede is likely to further their careers.

Either way, prepare not to recognise too many of City's players on Saturday.

5. The New Boys

The summer has seen an influx of players who, all things considered, would have been very welcome last year. The likes of Ljungberg, Bellamy, Parker and Faubert are unquestionably upgrades over their predecessors, although one would have to say that Faubert and Parker are also very much unquestionably injured at the moment.

The departure of Benayoun does leave us without a recognised set piece specialist, however. Alarmingly, Ljungberg took on this duty during the weekend win over Roma and took one corner so bad that it landed in a different time zone.

He did redeem himself with a better effort next time round, as it landed directly on McCartney's head for the equaliser (admittedly the only way it could have been any worse would have been if he had somehow contrived to kill himself in the process).

I shall reserve judgement given that this will be a crucial area for us as we suddenly look like we might be a threat from set pieces, with Ashton and Upson both back and out of their wheelchairs.

6. Blonde Is Beautiful

Just to clarify the heading to this paragraph - blonde hair looks good on certain people - Mrs Shark, Emily Procter, that bloke from Buffy The Vampire Slayer etc... but it really doesn't look good on Dean Ashton. In fact it's a sign of how glad I am to see the return of our burly (or, as they say in T'North - "fat") striker, that I haven't prepared a cutting edge satirical banner on the subject.

Anyway, irrespective of his tonsorial travails, with Ashton go our hopes this year. His 45 minute cameo against Roma was a thing to behold, as he did more than Bobby Zamora within the first 5 minutes of his entrance. His afternoon culminated in a fine winning goal, skipping past the French international Philippe Mexes and rifling a low shot home.

It is worth bearing in mind that Ashton made a very decent Roma backline look vulnerable upon his entrance. I give far more weight to this than if he had done it against, say, Sunderland who are, well, whatever the opposite of decent is ("Birminghamian"?).

7. Call Off The Game

Lucas Neill is injured. I'm not sure if I've mentioned it before, but I love him.

8. A Confession

Apologies for the brevity of this preview but I am actually writing this from the sweltering heat of Kolkata, India. And by sweltering I mean "How in the name of Holy Moses do they even go outside in this?"

Anyway, my firm have sent me overseas and did it somewhat inconsiderately to coincide with the begin of the football season.

Naturally, given that I'm thousands of miles from home in possible the most alien culture I've ever been in since I last visited Wolverhampton, I can watch the game live tomorrow.

So if you're going to the game tomorrow let me give you the same advice I would give to anyone attempting to cross a road in India - "Shut your eyes and pray for the best".........