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, September 28, 2007

West Ham vs Arsenal : 29 September 2007 (Match Preview And Other Ramblings)

1. Let's Show Some Fighting Spirit

Whatever happens tomorrow, I wouldn't mind seeing our manager have another pop at Arsene Wenger on the touchline. I'm aware it's not the same manager, but an Alan is an Alan is an Alan.

2. It's Tough In The Middle

So this is our first true test of the new season. Arsenal have begun their campaign marvellously, playing beautiful football, scoring lots of goals, beating tottenham and whinging a lot. So essentially, nothing new there.

We, on the other hand, have veered from nonsensically useless to quite good depending on whether we are playing at home or away.

Essentially, if we have genuine ambitions to be a moderate, mid table side again then we probably want to be drawing games like this.

Yeah man, the power of positive thinking.

3. The History

Unusually our recent record against Arsenal is excellent. We have lost just one of our last 6 games with the Gunners, which is probably God's way of making up for the fact that as a boy my two best friends were both Arsenal fans.

Last year saw a pair of semi-fortuitous 1-0 victories, with Marlon Harewood's last minute goal sealing the points at Upton Park, and a combination of Bobby Zamora, Robert Green and a magical forcefield around our goal helped gain the points at The Emirates.

Interestingly, we now hold the proud record of being the last team to win at Highbury, and the first to triumph at The Emirates. A nice achievement to be sure, but nowhere near as bonkers as the fact that the last time we won at Anfield they were compiling The Domesday Book.

Anyway, Arsenal are decidedly due a win.

4. The Opposition

It would be difficult to imagine a scenario in which a team could sell Thierry Henry for a mere £500k more than Darren Bent was sold for, and yet still improve. Nevertheless, that is exactly what Arsene Wenger has managed, as his remodelled side sit proudly atop the Premiership, doubtlessly sipping cappuccinos and tutting wildly at the uncouth English clubs below them.

Much of the resurgence appears to be centred around Cesc Fabregas, who has matured from a good footballer who whined a lot, to a very good footballer who still whines a lot. I can't deny the innate footballing talent but the petulance wears on me a bit.

Needless to say, there are no ex West Ham players with the visitors, but we have no less than 4 former Gooners on our books - Upson, Boa Morte, Ljungberg and Wright. The first and last of that quartet being decent examples of young Englishmen who lost their way under Wenger's tutelage.

At some point I'm hoping that Theo Walcott will be promoted from the canteen to the playing staff.

5. Hit The South

Dean Ashton has scored 9 goals for West Ham in his much curtailed stint with us. Until his excellent midweek winner against Plymouth he had not scored for us against any team more southerly than Birmingham.

Geographical quirk or not, score against some Londoners, Dean - you'll be a legend.

6. Attack!

Despite the enormity of the task, it should be said that we match up reasonably well with Arsenal. The only area of the pitch where we could claim an advantage would be in goal where Rob Green has the edge over Manuel Almunia, particularly now that the Spaniard has dyed his hair peroxide blonde.

Yet, these days Curbishley essentially has us set up to play like the away side, sitting deep and breaking with speed. This has worked well against teams prepared to attack us, and one would certainly expect Arsenal to be in that camp. Certainly Curbishley will want to pair his first choice strikers, Ashton and Bellamy, if only because William Gallas (a fine defender) is going to be replaced by Phillipe Senderos (another fine mess you've got us into).

7. Wear A Parker, It's Cold Out

If Bellamy and his broken groin don't make it, then Scott Parker may well be in line for his first League game of the year. This might not seem like an obvious choice, but I could see Parker being asked to sit on Fabregas for a while as we try and stop Arsenal playing.

I don't mean that literally, although I'm also not ruling it out. Once has to have an open mind in this game....

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Newcastle United 3 - 1 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

1. Department Of The Obvious

I don't know about you, but I think our title challenge is over.

2. A Rant

On one hand it is incredibly churlish to get upset at losing to Newcastle. We never win there, in fact not that many people ever win there, and we've all still got our health.

But, Sweet Jesus, but, how did we not do better than this? Let's just take a look at the opposition: their best goalkeeper (Given) is inexplicably on the bench, their best defender is non-existent, their best midfielder (Barton) is injured and their best striker (Owen) has hamstrings made of chinese noodles. These aren't exactly the most fearsome foes around.

Now I'm not suggesting for a minute that we deserved to win this game, but I am saying that performances like this are exactly why West Ham will not be breaking into the upper echelons of English football any time soon. Here was a team ripe for the taking and we simply didn't have the ability to put them away.

Maybe it's the players, maybe it's the manager, maybe it's the juxtaposition of Mars and Venus but I'd have to guess that it is something more intangible than that.

Whatever it is, at some point, if we are to progress as a club then not losing games like this would be a fine place to start.

3. The Statistics

On the face of it, losing this game 3-1 would seem to be an impossibility. Newcastle managed 4 shots on target and scored with three of them. This is either good finishing or appalling defending, and considering that each goal was scored from within our 6 yard box I'd have to argue that it was the latter.

On the attacking front we mustered 15 shots to the home sides 12, of which 8 were on goal. For an away side that's actually a pretty decent showing, but yet another frustrating example of how our own shortcomings contributed to the defeat.

Despite all of that we only had the ball for 43% of the time, and truthfully didn't look all that flash while we did. Hey, it happens, we go away from home and don't play all that well. I can deal with that, but seriously - allowing Charles N'Zogbia to score? That's just silly. Stop it.

4. The Opposition

Say what you like about the Geordies but they know how to punish abysmal defending. Incredibly we actually fashioned a chance of sorts for Lee Bowyer in the 90 seconds before we conceded, but sadly, Lucas Neill decided that 1 minute into the game was the perfect time for him to embark on a pitch long mazy dribble past the entire Newcastle team. Tragically, if unsurprisingly, he got about 5 feet, was dispossessed, and from the resulting cross Mark Viduka nipped in front of Ferdinand for the opener.

Quite what that sa -

Interruption (*)

Hang on, back up a minute "Mark Viduka nipped in front of Ferdinand"? I'm afraid that Mark Viduka does not "nip" anywhere. Yes, he may well waddle or trundle or maybe even coagulate, but he sure as hell doesn't nip anywhere.

Being outmanoeuvred by him is proof that you pretty much have less mobility than an inanimate object. Nice going Anton.

(*) This interruption was brought to you by The Grammar Police

4. The Opposition (cont)

So anyway. They don't look any different than before. Michael Owen puts a nice full stop on things but he's not much help if he's dead.

Alan Smith is a curious mix of carbon dioxide, water, anger and Ryvita's.

5. The Referee

I have yet to see a game refereed by Mike Riley that didn't leave me puzzled. I have no idea what Riley sees when he's out there but it sure as hell isn't the same as me. In general there weren't very many controversial moments in this one but he did annoy me by allowing Nicky Butt to maul Mark Noble and then awarding the free kick to Newcastle.

Note to Mike Riley: Shoving people in the face is not allowed. Even for ex-Manchester United players.

And while we're on that topic, I would have liked to have seen Alan Smith booked for his late attempted 35 yard strike on goal. I mean, I'm all for guys trying to better themselves but come on - you're Alan Smith! Some self awareness, please.

6. Important Note

Does anyone know if Newcastle always come out for the second half to "Just When You're Thinkin' Things Over" by The Charlatans?

They have excellent taste if they do is all I'm saying.

7. Cole Patrol

Carlton Cole took it in the neck again. I can't deny that I'm finding all of this a little surprising. Sure, Cole is rather more lumbering donkey than thoroughbred and his Chelsea history doesn't help him a great deal (the Aston Villa bit offends me more, but I'm mercurial), but he is our player none the less.

More than that even, he has now directly assisted for 4 goals this year. Given that we have only scored 9 league goals, I'm thinking that this would make him a relatively vital part of the team at present.

I'm on record (Do you like that? Yes, there's a record, and by Jove I'm on it) as saying that booing isn't really my cup of tea but I accept that others feel differently. I'm just not sold on this particular hate figure.

OK, yes, there are gaping holes in his skill set, but he's our 5th choice striker - how much do you really expect from the guy?

It's either him or Luis Boa Morte. Ahem.

8. Great Strike

Kudos to Dean Ashton for a marvellously well taken goal. Can I whisper that it was a nice flick on by Carlton Cole? No.

Okey doke.

9. Not So Great Strike

Just how well did Viduka strike his second goal? After three television replays it was still unclear as to which foot Viduka had used to score. Indeed this might very well be the first recorded instance of a man scoring whilst kneeling down to pray.

10. What's Upson?

Here's a little conversation I had with myself on Sunday:

HeadHammerShark: "Alright Shark, you're looking well, been working out?"
HeadHammerShark: "Nope"
HeadHammerShark: "Excellent, what do you think of Matthew Upson then?"
HeadHammerShark: "Well, I like the general concept of Matthew Upson, but I struggle somewhat with the actual product"
HeadHammerShark: "Really? How so?"
HeadHammerShark: "He's big and strong, has nice hair and an impressive beard. What's not to like on the surface of things? But then you dig deeper and you realise that there is no pace, poor distribution and I just begin to wonder what he has that James Collins doesn't"
HeadHammerShark: "God, you're a clever bloke, I'd never thought of it like that"
HeadHammerShark: "And modest"
HeadHammerShark: "Yeah, OK, and modest"
HeadHammerShark: "And handsome"
Mrs Shark: (suspiciously) "Who are you talking to?"

I do have to ask the question - why was Ferdinand (small, pace of a cougar) marking Viduka (burly, pace of Ry Cooder)? And conversely why was Owen (small, pace of a cougar) being marked by Upson (burly, pace of a dead Ry Cooder)?

This combination could not be classified as a success after all.


Some of you may have noticed that just before the preview for this game went out, the site received it's 10,000th hit. Leaving out visits from my family and friends, this means that there are at least 12 other loyal readers out there somewhere.

Using the scarily intrusive power of the Internet I have been able to determine that the said visitor logged on using Comcast Cable and lives somewhere in middle America. They didn't arrive via a Google search so they might actually have the site bookmarked. Whoever you are, I salute and thank you. If you'd like to introduce yourself please leave a comment telling us your name, how long you've been with the firm and perhaps one amusing thing that the rest of us wouldn't know about you.

Most websites would offer a monetary reward, but I have none. If you would like me to mock a Premier League player for you, that could be arranged, however.

(Clue: Michael Dawson always goes down well on that front.............)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Newcastle United vs West Ham: 23rd September 2007 (Match Preview And Other Ramblings)

1. They're Dead Passionate, Like

A trip to the land of the barcode then. In what has been a fairly gentle start to the season, this is perhaps the first true test of the new, improved West Ham particularly as it is away from home where we have looked our most impressive.

Of course, the prospect of facing any team managed by Sam Allardyce is usually as enticing as getting Polio, but for some reason it doesn't seem quite so bad this time round, what with us being Not Rubbish on our travels, for a change.

Still, the cauldron that is St James's Park, home of "The most passionate fans in the world" (Copyright: Any Lazy Journalist), is a different kettle of fish to Birmingham and Reading (Except in 1990/91 when their average gate was 16,835 - but that was before Euro 96 so it doesn't count because football hadn't been invented then).

2. The History

Our short term history on the Tyne isn't so appalling as one might expect. Last year saw us take a deserved early 2-0 lead before a combination of egregiously inept finishing and a Uriah Rennie lobotomy saw us blow it and gain only a point.

That said, we haven't won there since 1998 when Ian Wright inspired a 3-0 victory and Stuart Pearce was sent off for garroting Trevor Sinclair. It really doesn't feel like it, but we don't beat Newcastle very often.

3. The Opposition

Up until we bought all of their players I would have said that Newcastle were the very definition of a club that was less than the sum of their parts. Quite how you can spend the GDP of Zambia on a football team and still be this consistently bad is beyond me.

Now that we have all of the players who made them so useless, I imagine that we too can look forward to the stultification of all our hopes and dreams. Marvellous.

Between them Michael Owen, Obafemi Martins and Albert Luque cost around £35m and have so far made a combined 56 League starts between them. The former two are still at the club and very well might go on to score bucketloads I suppose, but it does highlight the Geordie propensity to take good players and turn them into crustaceans.

New arrivals this year include Alan Smith, about whom nothing good has ever been said.

4. I Wonder About The Boy Wonder

I usually pay about as much attention to other teams transfer dealings as I do to Hansard, but I must confessed to being hugely disappointed when Michael Owen joined Newcastle.

Firstly, I hate to see English players conceding defeat when trying to make it overseas, but perhaps even worse was the apparent decision he made to turn his back on a fight to win a place at Madrid in exchange for the constant mediocrity, but far heftier pay packet at Newcastle.

I don't know why we have a tendency to imbue footballers with a sense of altruism that we ourselves don't possess, but it certainly doesn't seem like there can be a lot of difference between £80,000 and £100,000 a week, where as there would seem to be a hell of a difference between English mid table tedium and Spanish aristocracy.

I guess I'm just saying that the guy used to win European Player of the Year awards, and now he's exchanging passes with Shola Ameobi.

It's a hard knock life.

5. An Addendum

Another reason to dislike the return of Owen is that he has scored 10 goals in 10 games against us. That's like, an average of one a game (You're probably wondering, yes I am an accountant).

My suggested method of dealing with this is poisoning.

6. The Need For Speed

Last week saw the truly glacial pairing of James Collins and Matthew Upson at the heart of our defence. Now that kind of thing might work against Middlesbrough when they are playing two yukka trees up front, but Owen and Martins will surely burst right through that particular wall of resistance.

As unfortunate as Collins was to lose his place after a stellar end of season run of form, he would seem the more likely to make way. I can't say that I have seen anything about Upson to suggest that he is the better of the two but Curbishley clearly does, so one would expect the Welshman to step aside for the returning Ferdinand.

Lucas Neill has no speed at all. It won't matter.

7. Medical Matters

Don't worry about the large trail of bandages around our training ground, as our crack medical team are on the case. Even as we speak they are placing leeches on Craig Bellamy's troublesome groin, and sacrificing a goat in order to clear up Scott Parker's aching knees.

8. The Return

Tomorrow will see large swathes of underachievers return to St James's Park. Bellamy will doubtless be afforded the red carpet treatment that tends to follow him everywhere, whilst Parker and Bowyer didn't really cover themselves in glory during their varying tenures on Tyneside.

The one who will be most warmly received is likely to be Nolberto Solano, who at this point remains a theoretical concept as far as I'm concerned .

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

West Ham 3 - 0 Middlesbrough (And Other Ramblings)

1. I Am So Excited At Writing About Middlesbrough....

Apropos of nothing very much at all: Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans. Should you ever decide you would like to try and make friends with or, heaven forbid, marry one of the buggers, then here's some advice - don't be English.

Thanks then to the various English sporting teams who have contrived to lose 117 consecutive encounters with representatives from those nations.

I'm just saying. Right then, let's get on with it.

2. Our Friends In The North

Not that I think Boro fans are a higher species or anything, but there is something admirable about coming to a game where your chances of winning are ludicrously remote. Lest we not forget, they have scored just once here this Millennium.

I suspect that Liverpool fans might take a similarly sympathetic view of us.

Still, they played better than last year (impossible not to), and achieved a worse result.

3. The Statistics

This was a curious game in every sense. Middlesbrough achieved an atrocious result whilst performing less atrociously than usual. They were still rubbish but, none the less, 3-0 flattered us somewhat.

The possession count favoured us with a 57% majority, although we converted this to less shots on target (7) than Boro (12). It's worth bearing in mind, however, that half of those shots were taken by Mido, Jeremie Aliadiere and Tuncay, which is about as unholy a triumvirate as you will find anywhere.

Lucas Neill also somehow managed to get himself caught offside. Jet lag is a funny thing.

4. The Opposition

Regular readers of this column will know that Boro are one of my least favourite teams. There is nothing redeeming about their style of play, and I'm afraid that the default position for watching them is "Tedium".

All of the above withstanding, they weren't as risible as usual this time out. The early part of the first half saw us in the ascendancy, and Dean Ashton was correctly ruled offside before netting a neat goal. Thereafter things evened up somewhat and Aliadiere hit the post when he really should have done better. Both he and Bellamy then went off injured, with Tuncay and Carlton Cole proving to be impact substitutes in every sense.

Tuncay in particular was incessant in his uselessness, missing no less than 3 clear one on one chances. I'm afraid that hitting the woodwork is not unlucky if you do it in a situation when a mannequin would manage better.

5. The Role Of Cole

If you had asked me to describe Carlton Cole just two short weeks ago, I would have said that he was a player unrivalled in his ability to make nothing out of something.

Since then we have scored 6 goals, of which Cole has provided the assist for 3. Any way you cut it, that is a hell of the contribution. (True - one of those assists required Luke Young to misplace his cerebrum, but let us not be churlish).

Odd then, that Cole received some stick at the beginning of this game. I must confess I don't really go in for booing players anyway - the physical act of yelling the word "Boo" at another grown man doesn't strike me as something I should be doing - but I'm fairly ambivalent about everyone else doing it.

Cole has unquestionably failed to deliver in his time with us, but he is what he is. A lumbering, slow centre forward who will occasionally deliver Premiership standard performances. I can live with that provided that he is our fourth choice striker. Sure, our forwards are currently dropping like it's Ypres 1916 but hey-ho, such is life with a transfer window.

6. Into The Ether (Again)

Post match analysis of this game has seen Matthew Etherington receive some support in the media for a place in the next England squad.

Now before we progress that any further let me assert for the record that Etherington is nowhere near good enough to be playing for England. However, neither are (conservatively) half of the current squad so his consideration isn't entirely frivolous.

The reason for this is probably because his opposite number on Saturday, Stewart Downing, is the current incumbent of the back up left winger spot, or the "Oh Christ, Joe Cole's injured" position, as it's better known. Now Downing is a terrible player, but he is a Steve McClaren protege and unlikely to be replaced by Etherington, particularly when this could just be a flash in the pan anyway.

Besides, and we've covered this, no good can come of our players being involved with England.

7. Some History

Winning back to back league games by scores of 3-0 is fairly rare for us. We last managed it in 1947 by my reckoning, with victories over Newport and Swansea. It's always nice when your club records date back to the time of the ration book.

And the last time we scored 3 in back to back games? May 2007. Move along.

8. Death By Transfer

It's truly spiffing this lark of paying several million pounds for new players to then sit in our treatment room for months. After an impressive beginning Craig Bellamy is now going to be out for an unspecified amount of time with "West Ham Groin". Craig we hardly knew ye.

Per our website, Scott Parker has "(1 week)" next to his name. I don't know if this is when he is expected back or how long he has to live.

Somewhere Rob Jenkins (the former West Ham physio who tried to treat Stewart Robson's damaged groin by having him wear a hot potato down his shorts) is looking on fondly.

9. The Link Between Oscar Wilde And Gary Lineker

After a summer spent avoiding newspapers filled with poorly researched, half baked theories on Tevez-gate, I am reminded of a suitable Lord Henry Wotton quote.

"There is only one thing worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about".

We have just won back to back Premier League games 3-0 against respectable mid table opposition, and the Match of The Day analysis has been as follows:

"And congratulations to West Ham" (Reading)

"And the Hammers must be happy as they move up to fifth" (Boro)

Now, moaning about MoTD coverage is really spitting into the hurricane. All broadcasters in this country are obsessed with the self styled "Big 4" and the rest of us must simply grin and bear it and feast on the scraps. Of course, had Lee Bowyer's goal been scored by Steven Gerrard, the reaction would have been orgiastic in the MoTD studios, but c'est la vie. It probably didn't help that Bowyer celebrated by getting so angry that his scapula exploded either.

All things being equal, however, did we as a nation really deserve fifteen minutes of analysis on Liverpool and Chelsea, when they both played in dull as ditch water goalless draws?

Someone think of the children.

10. When Sideways Is Upwards

So Eggert Magnusson is no longer the front man of the new Upton Park revolution.

Depending on who you believe, he has been shunted aside after a disastrous summer in the transfer market, or promoted to concentrate on strategic planning. People who know more about business than I (think of a human - there you go, they qualify) have suggested that this is not an uncommon move for City firms to make, but in the footballing world it has been perceived as a sidelining.

If it means that we might buy players from somewhere other than Newcastle I can probably live with it.....

Thursday, September 13, 2007

West Ham vs Middlesbrough: 15th September 2007 (Match Preview And Other Ramblings)

1. The Boys Are Back In Town

Everybody, unlock your daughters! Middlesbrough are coming! Somnambulents - get yer asses down the Boleyn, I have a cure!

Sweet Lord above - if there is a more dull prospect in the cosmos than watching Middlesbrough play, then it would have to involve painting, or creosoting, or at the very least James Blunt.

2. The History

The nearest the Boro came to any silverware last year was their prestigious H List "Worst Opposition Team" award. This was a fairly undisputed decision based upon a turgid 2-0 defeat towards the end of the season. Bobby Zamora and Carlos Tevez did the honours, with neither likely to do the same this time around, although one could make a strong case that Tevez is still the more probable of the two.

It would be safe to say that Middlesbrough have a truly dire record at Upton Park, with just one win here since 1990. Karmically that was a bad one, given that the winner was scored by Brian Deane, but even during their small window of decency in the late 90's we held the Indian sign over the visitors.

In true West Ham fashion we have repaid this debt many times over by transforming into amoeba on any and all journeys to the North East in the meantime.

3. The Opposition

If it is true that teams take on the personality of their manager then Middlesbrough would be a prime example. Gareth Southgate is a nice enough chap, I'm sure, but he has the personality of a wardrobe, and none of the flair.

Reading a few online previews from Boro fans they seem to feel that the team have turned a corner from the chronic mundanity of the Steve McClaren era, and now are essentially the second coming of Brazil circa 1970. Even allowing for the natural bias of football fans that kind of delusion generally requires magic mushrooms somewhere down the line.

Your front two are Mido and Jeremie Aliadiere! These men are fungi!

I can accept that the likes of Gary O'Neil and Julio Arca are underrated, whilst Jonathan Woodgate is a truly exceptional if truly injured player, but come on - Middlesbrough are putrid.

4. You Look Familiar

There is a chance that Scott Parker may make a belated debut tomorrow, having come through a midweek friendly against Colchester without needing the assistance of Dr Greg House. I'd be surprised if he went straight back into the team given the very decent form of Noble and Mullins but it would be nice to see our bench options swelling.

Freddie Ljungberg appears to have realised that he is the goalscoring midfielder on my fantasy team, and has hence emigrated for the last 4 weeks. I suppose he might return, but I don't think Packitupsonyourfathersonnightwork FC are going to recover from our slow start to the year.

Curse you mindless summer optimism.

5. I've Been Away

Alan Curbishley is a bit upset that our glittering cast of international superstars will have to play on a Saturday after their various globetrotting exploits.

Craig Bellamy inspired Wales to a fairly unbelievable 5-2 win in Slovakia, with what John Toshack described as the best individual performance he had seen in some time. Truth be told, I can't imagine there has been a great deal of competition in the Welsh team. Danny Gabbidon and James Collins also played and didn't blow anything up. Kudos.

George McCartney went to Iceland and didn't have all that enjoyable a time as Northern Ireland lost 2-1 courtesy of a last minute own goal from Keith Gillespie (pay attention at the back, that might be relevant later).

On the flight back to the UK he then ended up in a brawl with the aforementioned Gillespie. The latter does play for Sheffield United so perhaps George is a bit fed up of Kevin McCabe's idiocy too.

Mark Noble continued his fine early season form with a goal for England Under 21's in Bulgaria and Jonathan Spector probably played somewhere for the US.

I should really mention Nolberto Solano who played for Peru, but until I see him standing uncomfortably at the training ground with our Curb's arm round his shoulder in a slightly cringeworthy way, then I'm not going to consider him a Hammer.

6. (Otherworldy)

Luis Boa Morte does not play international football. Instead he ventures off to distant parts of the galaxy and finds new worlds, terra forms them, and then plays keepie uppies using those planets with the Lord God himself.


7. I've Been Away - Even Further

To top that, Lucas Neill trumped everyone in respect of airmiles as he flew back to Australia for a 1-0 friendly defeat against Argentina.

It's hard to imagine that a round trip like that would leave anyone in decent physical condition, although his pure Lucasneillitude should see him through. It won't hurt that he is likely to be in direct opposition to Stewart Downing who isn't exactly a fully functioning biped.

8. Mido The Weirdo

In his time in England, Mido has played exactly twice against us, and scored exactly twice. He managed one League goal all season last year, which was the winner against us in October. That just hurts my eyebrows.

His move to Middlesbrough has begun well, with two goals in his first two games, although it took a fair bit of cheek to claim his first one, which really should have been saved by Tony Warner were it not for his curious decision to wear two large foam "Number 1" gloves.

He's rubbish. If he scores I'm going to pre complete all of Matthew Upson's crosswords before he receives his morning newspaper.....

Monday, September 03, 2007

Reading 0 - 3 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

1. I Knew That Was Going To Happen

As Kevin McCabe has doubtlessly never said - "There's nowt so esoteric as folk".

I cannot even begin to comprehend how a team can play so abjectly when faced with a moderately well organised Wigan side, and then transform into 1950's Honved at the sight of a decent, if no longer surprising, Reading outfit.

My preview for this game wasn't exactly chipper, even by H List standards, but I think there were very few Hammers out there who fancied us for this one.

Playing at a venue with a tendency to turn our players into blancmange, and again missing several new signings it was even easier than usual to be pessimistic about our chances. Inspired, however, by a fantastic performance from Craig Bellamy we chewed up Reading, rolled them around inside our mouth, got some stuck in our braces and spat them out.

And Matthew Etherington scored. Twice!

*Goes for a lie down*

2. An Admission Of Guilt

It is certainly true that on various occasions during the life of this blog I have perhaps been a little bit unkind to Craig Bellamy.

Craig, let's put our petty squabbling behind us and just forget about who may or may not have called the other one a goblin. You just continue playing like a demi-god and I'll keep my literary barbs aimed in other directions.

3. The Statistics

For a three goal drubbing the statistics of this game are somewhat skewed. By that I mean we battered the home side whilst having just 46% of the possession. This in itself isn't an unnecessarily unfair reflection as Reading did have a decent amount of the ball, but were simply anaemic in using it.

In all we had 14 attempts on goal, abandoning our usual blunderbuss approach and getting a hitherto unprecedented 10 (Ten I say!) on target. Reading, by contrast, mustered just three goal bound efforts and found Robert Green in a decidedly "Thou Shalt Not Pass" kind of mood.

4. The Opposition

It's not hard to imagine that Reading might be heading for something of a fall this year. Steve Sidwell has gone off to the Chelsea bench and Nicky Shorey seems destined to join our injury list in January. With no notable improvement in their squad over the summer, and a glaring lack of joie de vivre about their play, it does rather feel that they have stood still in comparison to the rest of the league.

Come the end of the year it is still likely that this result will be seen as a startling one, but in general it's easy to see Reading falling away somewhat this season.

Evidence for the prosecution, Exhibit A:

During the second half Reading's back 4 did a very passable impression of a large expanse of empty grass.

5. The Referee

Howard Webb. Usually performs inconsistently. Did OK. Gave Reading a penalty which was perfectly correct. Okey Dokey.

6. Into The Ether

During a conversation with a friend recently I discovered that the classic novel "The Catcher In The Rye" is about suicide. I have to confess I missed this, thinking as I did that it was about truancy. For you see, rather like the Arctic Ocean I am wide but I am not very deep.

So, when Matthew Etherington attributes his improved play this year to his lack of gambling I rather shrug my shoulders. I'm not disputing that it may be true, but I'm also not going to get all that excited about a player admitting that the reason he was execrable during one of our worst ever seasons was because he was more interested in the 3.10 at Goodwood than he was in practising his free kicks.

As far as I'm concerned Etherington owes us a season and to be fair, he is delivering so far, albeit in a ridiculously small sample size.

I would even go far as to state that a good season for Etherington will equal a good season for West Ham, if only because it will likely mean Less Luis Boa Morte.

Kudos as well on not turning into a newt when faced with a one on one with the keeper. This is a pleasing new development.

7. Away Day Blues?

Are we money away from home or what? We have now won 4 consecutive away games without conceding a goal (Reading, Birmingham, Man Utd, Wigan) and 6 of the last 7 (Arsenal, Blackburn). Our solitary defeat was at Sheffield United, which didn't really affect me in the slightest, and the last man to score against us on our travels was Jon Fucking Stead.

I believe I may have commented on this in the past.

This is a reflection of the way in which Curbishley now has us playing. We simply make up for our lack of ingenuity by running everywhere extremely fast. It was noticeable during this game that we broke with a speed and purpose that Reading were completely incapable of dealing with.

Let's face it, if Carlton Cole comes on and looks dangerous then something somewhere is working.

At home we remain dullards. Life is a many splintered thing.

8. I See Your Ludicrous Miss And I Raise You This Mind Boggling Squander!

In my Birmingham report I referred to the ongoing competition between our players to see who could muster the most ridiculous miss of the game. Kieron Dyer won that particular battle by cleverly impersonating Darius Vassell when the moment arose and royally botching the chance.

This time around it was Lee Bowyer emerging triumphant after a wonderful pass from Bellamy set him free. As he bore down on goal our Lee switched it on to his less favoured left foot and calmly hit an innocent spectator in the crowd.

Ever the chirpy man manager, Curbishley later said : "I could have throttled him", which at the very least shows a decent understanding of how most football fans view Lee Bowyer.

9. That Old Chesnut

Whilst we're on the topic of West Ham away nuances, I was amazed to see that not only did we take the lead in this game but we actually added to it. This is not really the done thing so we did try and redress the balance by conceding a 75th minute penalty, as Robert Green moved so slowly off his line that he managed to allow the glacial Dave Kitson to beat him to the ball.

This was ideal West Ham timing as it would have allowed the supporters a full 15 minutes in which to wear away the lining of our livers as we clung on to our slender lead. Rather heroically Green then redeemed himself by saving both the resultant spot kick from Doyle, and my stomach lining.

This shocked the Reading back four to such an extent that they all spontaneously combusted, allowing Cole and Etherington to combine for our last minute third. Yowzah.

10. Kudos

Our second goal was a thing of beauty. Mullins to Etherington to Bellamy to Etherington to the roof of the net. Sure, the Reading defence at this point consisted mostly of weak legal arguments but I don't care. That was a very nice passage of play.

A word also for our defence who are, whisper it, looking solid. I'm not going any further with that as the last time I praised our back four they allowed Jon Fucking Stead to score against them......