Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Forget the World Cup Final - this was a great advert for rugby.
2. In The Interests Of Fairness
Let it be said that in the annals of richly deserved 3-1 victories, well, there is no record of this game.
Shameful as it is to admit - we were pretty fortunate to win this match, despite the relative comfort indicated by the scoreline. Indeed, had Luis Boa Morte not reverted to type in the last minute and fluffed a one on one with the keeper, we would have been celebrating the most unjust 4-1 thrashing in history.
Now don't get me wrong, Sunderland are still to free flowing football what Australians are to humility, but irrespective of that, they played reasonably well despite the fact that their style is unpalatable to any football fan with eyes.
3. The Statistics
This game was something of a statistical curiosity. I really don't recall the visitors having lots of gilt edged chances, but I do I recall them having a lot of territory, particularly in the second half. Despite my near flawless memory, none of the statistics back this up. Sunderland outshot us 16 to 12, whilst we had 52% of the ball.
A more accurate split of the possession might well have been : West Ham 14%, Sunderland 12%, East London Airspace 74%.
Kenwyne Jones had 7 shots alone, and performed in a fashion that I can only describe as outstanding. This pains me to write, especially as in the preview for this game I made a special point of mocking his £6 million price tag. I'm still mocking it, of course, but after Sunday I am little more willing to accept that Kenwyne Jones is, at the very least, not a bacterial spore.
4. The Opposition
There is a great quote about ice hockey that could be adapted for our situation here. "I went to a fight once, and a game of ice hockey broke out".
One could equally say "I went to a social gathering of West Ham and Sunderland players, and a game of football broke out".
I think we can all agree that my quote is funnier. Or at least more topical.
Anyway, Sunderland briefly spent a part of this game resembling a professional football team. Both sides were fairly abject in the first period, with only Carlton Cole's nicely taken opener to split the sides. At half time Alan Curbishley decided to get the lads together for an in depth discussion about whether or not Mr Bennett in Heroes is a good or bad guy, whilst Roy Keane did a bit of tactical thinking and decided to throw on some strikers in the hope of disturbing our rock solid defence.
Unsurprisingly, Keane's efforts bore more fruit, as a succession of corners and set pieces down our left flank led to Kenwyne Jones rising like a phoenix on LSD to thump in the equaliser. All the while Matthew Upson was performing experiments on Chinese Fighting Monkeys. Or at least I assume he was, as he assuredly was not doing any actual defending.
It wasn't pretty but it was effective and I suppose that one should compliment Keane for identifying an avenue of success and exploiting it. However, when you spend one half of a Premiership game trying to win throw ins by the corner flag so that you can get your freak of a full back to hurl the ball 35 yards into the box, I'm not going to go so far as to call you good. So there.
5. The Referee
Didn't blow up any buildings! Hurrah. Nothing to see here.
6. If You Didn't Have Bad Luck....
Sunderland fans have been bemoaning their tough luck after Nolberto Solano's somewhat fortuitous debut goal. Of course, when I say "somewhat" I mean "completely".
If you didn't see the incident in question, it involved a decent break from Luis Boa Morte, some truly atrocious defending from Nyron Nosworthy and Nolberto Solano seizing on the loose ball, doing some quick geometry and carefully knocking his shot off the base of the post at precisely the right spot to ensure that it rebounded back, hit the prone Craig Gordon and rolled into the net.
If I was being honest, I'd say it was lucky. If I was being deliberately obtuse I'd say that the ball was going to bounce back to Solano anyway.
Nice start for Solano, either way.
7. Substitute, My Coke For A Gin
Alan Curbishley was widely lauded for the impact of his substitutions. Solano "scored", whilst Boa Morte provided the assist for goals 2 and 3. The latter, in particular, was way less inept than usual, and combined very well with the outstanding George McCartney.
But, and you knew there was a but on the way, I don't quite follow the reasoning that simply because it worked, that it was therefore perfectly timed. Couldn't one equally state that because it worked, that therefore they should have been introduced earlier? I'm being churlish of course, but Curbishley's use of substitutes has long been a source of puzzlement to me.
As an aside, I didn't really agree with the reaction of the crowd to the withdrawal of the clearly knackered Mark Noble. When asked about it later Curbishley simply said "I saw he had pie and mash for lunch, perhaps he had too much" which is quite conceivably the weirdest answer ever given to a question about tactics.
8. Head Upson!
If Matthew Upson cannot cope with Kenwyne Jones, then can someone explain to me exactly what it is that he can cope with? Being a £7m player should not ensure automatic selection, even for a side whose pre season team photo was taken at A&E to save on travel costs.
Surely this is exactly the kind of match which we bought Upson for? At home, to a bruising long ball outfit, who rely on set pieces to create goal threats? I can accept that he's not quick or good enough anymore to cope with Robin van Persie, or Didier Drogba, or Miss Shark Jr, but if he's losing out to Championship players then that should be a concern.
James Collins was unceremoniously dumped in the summer in favour of Upson, and although he was injured for this match (but of course), he can count himself unfortunate to be considered behind Upson at this point. Indeed, on this showing, even the long forgotten Calum Davenport would have been a distinct improvement.
Nice beard though. Tonsorially, I can't fault him.
9. Hell's Bells
For a man who just had his groin sewn up, Craig Bellamy played extremely well culminating in a fine late goal, his first at Upton Park.
Curiously he doesn't get called a goblin on these pages so much as he used to.
Token Michael Dawson Slaughtering : The Return
It's been a slow burner but my campaign to get the ineptitude of Big Ol' Useless Mike to a wider audience appears to have worked.
Not only was he roundly criticised for playing like an inebriated wildebeest in tottenham's 3-1 defeat at Newcastle, but Martin Jol even joined in the slagging, realising that he was about to get the sack so he may as well lay the boot in to a chief offender before he left.
Of course, it's entirely possible that they sacked him after reviewing the accounts and realising that Jol had actually paid out £4m for the fungus......
Saturday, October 20, 2007
You may have noticed that The H List has been absent for a couple of weeks. You also may not I suppose, but then again you're probably only reading this blog because you searched on google for "transfer list".
Anyway, Mrs Shark is 8 months pregnant, work's a bit hectic, the Cleveland Indians are in the ALCS and I'd rather write about the life and works of the cretin Robbie Williams than a 1-0 defeat at Aston Villa.
So, the stars are back in alignment and Sunderland are coming to town and with that kind of glamour, I could hardly stay away*.
*This is not true - Sunderland are an abysmal football team, and as a result this will be a short preview, but I am trying to win the North East readership**.
** This is not true either.
2. Whilst You Were Gone
Straying briefly from West Ham for a moment, that was one hell of an international break. Steve MacLaren's decision to persevere with Paul Robinson ensured that he will at least have some company on future international weekends, as neither of them will be involved.
I particularly enjoyed the masterstroke of replacing Joe Cole (an excellent professional footballer) with Stewart Downing (a newt). I cannot have been alone in yelling at the television - "Man - you do know they're going to SACK you if we lose?".
Elsewhere, Wales lost to Cyprus and Scotland lost to Georgia. You'll all be needing to adopt a team for Euro 2008. (Except for my Austrian readers, although they have rather amusingly started a petition to have the Austrian host team removed from the tournament because they are so bad).
3. The Opposition
Sunderland remain a sterling advert for why the Championship is nowhere near as good as the Premiership. They regularly look a million dollars in getting promoted and equally regularly look a like a two bob outfit when they get here.
Their relegation season of 2002/03 was a doozy as they accumulated a mighty 19 points, leaving them a mere 17 points adrift of the second worst team in the division. This was actually a rip roaring success compared to the 2005/06 year when they mustered a whole 15 points, as pretty much everyone in the league did the double over them.
You will be surprised to learn that we did not.
So, in short, Sunderland are crap. Now people in glass houses should definitely not lob paving slabs, but yeah they are crap.
3. The History
We have lost at home to The Mackems as recently as 2004/05, although this was during one of their brief forays into competence down in The Championship. Generally we have enjoyed decent results against the visitors at Upton Park.
Since those heady days, Roy Keane has arrived with his swarthy good looks, piercing blue eyes and unintelligible Cork accent. He's done an unquestionably good job given the position that they were in when he took over, but I don't quite go along with the media love in around him though. He's proven nothing yet at the highest level, and has contrived to spend £32m on a slurry load of tripe - £6m on Kenwyne Jones for the Love of Allah - even as his chairman Niall Quinn was criticising our own transfer activity.
(Not that I disagree with criticising our transfer policy, but blimey - show some self awareness, you just spent £5m on Michael Chopra).
4. And This Week's Injury Is...
Not content with just allowing something called "Craig Gardner" to score against us at Villa, we also managed to make it a doubly ridiculous day by losing both Dean Ashton and Henri Camara to injuries.
This resulted in Carlton Cole spearheading our attack, despite forgetting his boots and having to play in flippers. I like Carlton, I really do. Sure he has questionable morals, no discernible cortical activity and the touch of an elephant but something intangible makes me feel sorry for him. At the very least, he is Not Luis Boa Morte.
On the striking front, Craig Bellamy may well return tomorrow, despite having surgery mere days ago. I can foresee no problem with this at all, given our crack medical team.
Elsewhere, Freddie Ljungberg got injured in the warm up against Northern Ireland and is doubtful. This is as surprising to me as the colour of my own eyes. Scott Parker and Kieron Dyer have gone in to business together producing wine, and may well come back for the start of the 2009/10 season.
5. Ashes To Ashes
The loss of Ashton is a dagger to our chances this year. Our paucity of decent attackers, and stunning lack of creativity, sans Tevez and Benayoun, means that we cannot afford to be without our talismanic striker for too long.
I care not that he is unavailable for England, other than that it might affect him personally I suppose, but not being exposed to the insanity that is Steve MacLaren's tactical quagmire is a positive. We need him to hurry back, however, as the prospect of entering the winter with Cole and Camara up front fills me with dread.
6. Dull And Duller
This game has all the hallmarks of an exercise in mind numbing boredom. Sunderland are a functional side, who will most likely try and frustrate us into submission. We are a functional side, who will most likely try and frustrate them into submission.
I have literally no idea why Sky would decide this was worthy of global transmission.....
Thursday, October 04, 2007
God, the prospect of this game is so dull that I can barely bring myself to write about it. It's the only 3 o'clock kick off in the Premier League - does that count as interesting? Because the prospect of writing about John Carew and Gabriel Agbonlahor is, well, zzzzzzzzzz.
2. The History
After a period of prolonged equality and constant draws, last season saw us gain a rather fortuitous point at home, and then lose an interminable game at Villa Park.
Whenever I think of our games against Villa I struggle to come up with any truly stand out affairs. We mustered a marvellous 4-0 victory after our return to the top flight with Marlon Harewood grabbing a hat trick. This so aggrieved David O'Leary that he became even more of a smug muppet and got himself sacked.
If there is a constant to these fixtures, it is that there invariably tends to be very little between the two sides. They're boring, and sadly we have a tendency towards tedium ourselves when the mood takes us.
The answer, my friends, is drugs. And hard ones at that.
3. The Opposition
Well, they've got Nigel Reo-Coker and Marlon Harewood which should at the very least inspire some ridiculous dancing in the centre circle. I have great respect for Martin O'Neill, who has a proven track record of taking mediocre clubs and making them better, before leaving and watching them deteriorate again.
His first season at Villa Park saw him spend £9.5m on Ashley Young, and latterly £11m on Reo-Coker and Harewood. And yet they say we are flashing ridiculous cash.
Of the two, I'm more enamoured of Harewood as he seems like a big friendly teddy bear, with absolutely no idea of how to mark up at a corner. Reo-Coker doesn't engender quite the same feelings, as he was never truly embraced by the Upton Park fans, most of whom found the ear cupping a bit rich.
Elsewhere, Villa have lots of solid players doing a passable job in a mediocre kind of way. My word, they're dull.
Much of the talk this week has been more around England than of club affairs and today duly saw Steve Maclaren recall Dean Ashton to his squad after a year out and 3 passable performances. On a personal level, it's nice for Ashton but I think we can all agree that absolutely no good can come of West Ham players turning out for England.
They either come back crippled or tapped up.
Fortunately, he is one of six strikers (Alan Smith is not a striker, he is simply inept in more advanced positions than other players) and is therefore perhaps unlikely to figure. In particular, the thought of him playing on a plastic pitch in Russia fills me with dread. Like he isn't fragile enough, we now have to send him to the coldest place in the Universe on the least safe surface ever.
One name not in the squad is Robert Green, who fails again despite having arguably being the best English keeper in the Premiership for some time now. I personally would choose David James as the Number 1, who has been extremely consistent for a long period but The Sun wouldn't allow it, so we'll get the ongoing antics of Paul Robinson. Either way, Green should be in there.
Quite how Robinson still gets in the tottenham team, let alone the national squad is beyond me. In particular, I dislike his tendency to come out for England games on a unicycle, squirting the mascots with water from a fake flower and juggling with skittles. It's just not what I expect from the national team keeper.
6. The Department Of Injuries
As is customary, all of our new signings are injured, with Bellamy and Zamora having had operations since our last game. Parker is exhausted after his 45 minutes against Arsenal and will need a month to recuperate. All of which leaves Richard Wright and Freddie Ljungberg as our only fit summer signings. Which is a nice return on £25m, 7 games into a season.
Villa was also the end of the beginning of Matt Upson's West Ham career last year, as he injured himself at the coin toss.
Our "medical" team are busy waving scented candles over all the affected players as we speak.
Gosh, I'd love to write more, I really would, but there's really not a whole lot left to say. It will be dull, and I'm sorry about that. With just the two games tomorrow at least our Match of the Day coverage should be better than the usual bare minimum.
(On that point, I did enjoy the Sky Sports half time analysis of our game at Newcastle, which consisted of 15 minutes of footage showing the Man Utd and Chelsea teams arriving at Old Trafford).
Any way - look on the bright side, we'll only have to play them twice. Unless God has a very cruel sense of humour........
Monday, October 01, 2007
Curse you Freddie Ljungberg, and your svelte physique. If only you had a bigger arse we'd have drawn this game!
2. Atmospheric Pressure
Best atmosphere of the season so far? You bet. Of course when your previous games have been against Man City, Wigan and Boro then the bar isn't set particularly high, but either way there was a satisfying hum about the place on Saturday.
The Arsenal fans seemed to enjoy themselves, celebrating this win like it was significant, bless 'em, which is probably an example of how difficult they have found it to win here recently. The Gooners also didn't sit down all game, quite possibly because they don't approve of seats without cushions, or log fires, or in built DVD players or whatever the hell it is they have down at The Emirates.
They also sang "You've Only Got One Song". I am going to be the bigger man and assume that they were being ironic.
3. The Statistics
Erm, yeah, okay, it might have seemed like we did pretty well in this game and I'd have to say that we actually did play pretty well, but truthfully there is no statistical evidence for that conclusion.
The visitors had 17 (seventeen) shots at goal, with 12 on target and a tremendously unproductive 14 corner kicks. By contrast, we managed just 4 strikes on target and 3 corners, despite the fact that at times we did play some nice football.
We also conceded a headed goal to Robin van Persie, a feat so rare, that the British Museum have enquired about exhibiting it next to the Elgin Marbles.
4. The Opposition
Let it be known that Arsenal don't like it up 'em. Now I simply don't agree with taking tactical advice from Captain Mainwaring, but there is an element of truth to that particular cliche. Our, ahem, physical approach to things did ensure that Arsenal never really got going, although that same commitment to getting in their faces also meant that our own attacking ambitions were stymied somewhat.
My favourite Gooner, Kolo Toure, was outstanding again, making a mockery of the notion that John Terry is the best defender in the Premiership. It's interesting that Dean Ashton was lauded for his performance when I thought the three most impressive players on the pitch were the Arsenal defence. I do not include Philippe Senderos in this group as he is essentially a shop floor mannequin with wheels.
Whilst the visitors enjoyed a greater share of the play in the first period, they did allow us back into the game after the break. Wenger's curious decision to revert to a 4-5-1 system for the last twenty minutes ceded us the late advantage, and subsequently Ashton really should have scored from a free header whilst Senderos was off wandering around the East End somewhere.
5. The Opposition Tailor
Manuel Almunia sported a goalkeeping jersey that could best be desribed as "prison chic", given that it appears to have been modelled on Lex Luthor's costume in "Superman II".
It did not go well with blonde peroxide hair.
6. The Referee
It must be a nightmare officiating Arsenal. They are always going to have the majority of the ball, and will move it about in such a way that they invite lots of challenges from the opposition. In addition, should you have to make any decision at all you will be required to run it through Mathieu Flamini and Cesc Fabregas before you do so. Alan Wiley had to deal with all of this on Saturday and didn't do too badly.
The two worst tackles of the day came from Noble and Flamini, and both earned yellow cards. Senderos didn't get one for a late scythe on Ashton, but I rather felt that the entire stadium knowingly nodded and said "Ah, but it's Senderos - that's not dirty, it's just the best he can do".
Freddie Ljungberg had a late "equaliser" ruled out on the grounds of a phantom offside call. It's tough to blame the referee for this when he's only going off the guidance of his linesman. Truthfully, ours wasn't even the most stupid offside decision of the weekend as Wigan recieved a doozy against Liverpool. Unsurprisingly both instances saw the "Big 4" team profit at the expense of the smaller club.
And the balance of the Universe is restored.
7. Neill Down
I'm worried people. My love affair with Lucas Neill is flickering and dying in the wind. I'm thinking of having an affair with George McCartney, who at the very least has punched Keith Gillespie recently.
Neill's start to the season hasn't been particularly effective, and I can't decide whether he is knackered as a result of playing some games for Australia in Japan, or Indonesia or the Moon or wherever that dumbass Kirin Cup thing was, or if he is simply not match fit and needs more games.
If only we had some sort of person at the club who was responsible for the fitness of our players and could make that decision? Maybe Batman, or a scientist of some sort?
(Somewhere in the distance our "medical" team are yelling "Curse you Science, we're going with magic beans!").
Anyway, being outjumped by Robin van Persie suggests to me that you have no working muscles in your legs. This is not something I view as a positive for our Captain.
8. The Power Of Positive Thinking
Nice to hear Curbishley's uber-positive response to our goal being disallowed. It went something along the lines of "Oh well, we probably wouldn't have held on to the point anyway".
There are times that even manic depressives must look at Curbishley and wonder.
9. Note To Self
Not a great weekend to have a fantasy team with a defence comprised of: The Portsmouth goalkeeper, an Aston Villa full back, a tottenham centre half and not one, but two Reading defenders.
A mere 26 goals conceded there, then.
10. Where Have You Been All My Life?
Has anyone else found that since Saturday they cannot walk past any kind of woodwork without some Arsenal fans crawling out for a chat?
I'm just saying - did they really need this result to mock us? Like last season didn't have enough mockability.....