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

Thursday, November 29, 2007

West Ham 1 - 1 tottenham (And Other Ramblings)

1. An Apology

This review was quite considerably delayed by a minor case of pregnancy, and a major case of "WhothefuckwassupposedtobemarkingMichaelDawson?".

Having, quite reasonably, claimed all the credit for our 5-0 victory at Derby as a result of a previous contre temps with Billy Davies (by the way: whose laughing now Billy-boy?), it is only fair that I hold my hands up and accept the blame for our failure to hold on to this lead.

A prolonged 18 month mocking of Michael Dawson culminated in Mahogony Mick wandering aimlessly into our box, inadvertently being struck in the head by a Jermaine Jenas cross, and somehow equalising whilst Robert Green performed an admirable, if ill timed, impression of a bipolar swan.

I admit - it was my fault. You can't just thumb your nose at Karma like that and expect to get away with it. My only consolation is that Karma is obviously imbued with a decent sense of humour, hence the Jermain Defoe penalty miss. I might mention that again later.

2. Science

When Michael Dawson scored I naturally enough assumed that the sky was filled with fire, locusts were at my window and the World was about to end. I therefore packed my good lady wife and daughter off to the bomb shelter in anticipation of the Earth being destroyed. Regrettably, this stress proved too much for my wife who went into labour and subsequently gave birth to Miss Shark Junior Minor.

This in turn meant that I missed the deadline for writing this review, and Boleyn Beluga went ahead and published the Chelsea preview. So now we're all out of whack for the first time ever in H List history.

Logically as Michael Dawson is the worst footballer in the history of the cosmos, I guess this is the Chaos Theory in action.

3. In A Galaxy Far, Far Away..

I had a great analogy all lined up for this match. If our 2-1 win on the last day of the 05-06 season was Star Wars (fantastic at the start and end), and last years 4-3 defeat was The Empire Strikes Back (loads of bad stuff happens, but when you look at it objectively it was probably the best one) then it follows that this game should have been Return Of The Jedi (not as good as the previous two, but still brilliant, and with the right end result for the good guys).

Clearly, this reckoned without the Dawson Chaos Theory, which ruined the whole bloody thing.

So let's move on.

4. The Statistics

Interesting set of numbers for this game. Listening to the analysis of this game would lead you to believe that tottenham dominated for long periods. Well, read this and then see if you still think that : http://soccernet-akamai.espn.go.com/scoreboard?league=eng.1&date=20071125&refresh=45&cc=5739.

We had 58% of the ball, which is as big a gap as I've seen for a while, and converted that into 15 efforts on goal, as against 9 for the visitors. So far, so "what kind of dominance is that?", but perhaps most mind boggling of all, we conceded 33 (thirty three) fouls in this game, compared to an amazing 5 for tottenham.

I can't even really comprehend how a team can have the ball for just 37 minutes (42%) of the game and essentially be given a foul every single minute. Jermaine Jenas drew more fouls in this game than our entire team. Jermaine Jenas! This man is a fungus. Who the hell is fouling him? And more importantly - why?

Elsewhere, Lucas Neill and Carlton Cole each committed more fouls alone that than the whole tottenham team. I think the message here is that tottenham players fall over with very little encouragement and Mike Riley should be condemned to forever use bags with broken handles. Imagine the frustration.

5. The Opposition

With the exception of our vaguely glorious defeat against Arsenal, this was our toughest home test of the season. tottenham may be mired in a relegation battle but these are always tasty affairs.

Clearly tottenham shouldn't be in the position they are with the quality of players they have available. Keane, Berbatov, Defoe and Bent are all proven Premier League goalscorers and despite having Jermaine Jenas in their midfield they are usually an offensive threat. That wasn't really evident today as they foundered on the twin rocks of Upson and Gabbidon, and were mostly reduced to falling over unconvincingly in our box.

Elsewhere, however, their defence has regressed to a point where Luis Boa Morte could be made to look like a bona fide competent professional footballer.

I had thought it impossible that another centre back could be found in the Universe with as little ability as Michael Dawson. But God Bless 'Em if tottenham haven't found a pretty decent contender in Younes Kaboul. He was directly at fault for our goal, and was eventually removed to - and I must stress this - prevent him continuing to be roasted by our front two of Boa Morte and Carlton Cole. He is my new favourite tottenham player.

6. The Referee

Mike Riley is a hopeless referee. This is not news to anyone who has ever seen a Premier League game officiated by him. He achieved the fairly remarkable feat here of managing to annoy everyone involved in this game.

Now, any decision made by a referee in our favour (The Forces of Good) against tottenham (The Forces of Pure Evil) is intrinsically Right, even when it is not right. Therefore, despite all of the furore around the two penalties, and Robbie Keane's incredible anatomy, Mike Riley was Right, even if perhaps he wasn't right. See? No, I thought not.

Controversial as it may seem, I actually thought that he got the two major penalty decisions in this game correct. Keane was put clean through in the first half and was involved in a challenge with Robert Green. He was clearly offside, but tottenham fans aren't letting that get in the way of some really rather splendid self righteousness. Anyway, although Keane's abdomen was lightly brushed by Green's trailing leg, I have yet to see a human being who loses the use of their legs in that scenario. It was a partial dive, partial anticipation of contact, and never a penalty.

The latter incident saw Lucas Neill give a tug on Jermain Defoe's shirt and despite it being a soft award, it was probably correct. "Justice" was served by Green's marvellous save from the resulting penalty, as 35,000 West Ham fans yelled, waved and pointed in sympathy for our former idol. Welcome back Jermain. Hell of a career move that puts you behind Mido, and then Darren Bent in the pecking order.

7. Cole Patrol

The resurgence in fortune of our favourite scapegoat continues apace. In a match featuring Berbatov, Keane, Bent, Defoe, Ashton and Boa Morte he was, by a distance, the most effective striker on display. No, really.

Quite apart from his goal, which was created after some fine work by Boa Morte, Solano and, most of all, Kaboul, he turned in a splendid all round display. In a memorable barbecuing of Dawson, he won everything in the air and laid the ball off very nicely when in possession.

I'm not suggesting that Dean Ashton is going to spend the rest of his days watching Carlton Cole fire us into the Champions League, but I could go so far as to say that we may have found ourselves an actual proper Premier League striker.

Incredible as it may seem, he was ably assisted by Luis Boa Morte. He was all action, as ever, but unusually he was not all useless either. A very neat lay off lead to the goal, and he was unfortunate not to increase our lead shortly after, particularly as it required a display of actual skill from Paul Robinson.

8. Kudos

To everyone really. I am especially impressed by Nolberto Solano who would seem to be exactly the kind of neat, incisive midfielder that would really help any team unless they were managed by Sam Allardyce.

I especially have enjoyed seeing Matthew Upson turn into an actual living breathing Premier League centre half. His handling of Berbatov was commendable - his jumping in competition with Michael Dawson less so.

And yes, Robert Green rules ok..............

Chelsea vs West Ham United: Match Preview - 01/12/07

1. To The Manor Born

Before we get down to business, it's only right to send a note of congratulations to our exalted leader and his good lady wife who this week have welcomed a new addition to their sea-dwelling shiver.

Thankfully, they are not the species of shark where the young actually eat their way out of the mother - the dry-cleaning bills alone would be astronomical. This may also explain why you've read two back-to-back previews without a review of the Spurs match in-between.

I know..... Priorities, Mr Shark??

2. Coming In A Close Second...

So, you wait all season for a bunch of 1st class morons to willingly offer themselves as the target of all your pent-up frustrations, and then two come along at once.

After last week's visit of Tottenham (I'm now in love with Robert Green - Lucas Neill will have to wait), Saturday sees us travel across the capital to Stamford Bridge - the Mecca of fair weather football fans everywhere.

An altogether more taxing proposition than Spurs, they still somehow manage to be there or thereabouts come the end of the season whilst accommodating a roly-poly bucket of chip fat in central midfield.

3. Little Known Fact

Forget Hercules, Big Daddy or even disgraced drugs cheat Shadow from Gladiators - Claude Makelele has recently been proven to be the strongest man in all human history.

Even the feats of Atlas (forced to carry the entire Earth on his back), pale into insignificance when compared with Claude, who has been forced to carry Big Fat Frank these last few years.

4. The Second Coming

Now that Jose Mourinho has walked across the Bay of Biscay back to Portugal (maybe he'll levitate all the way back to Soho Square?), it has been a few weeks since his Israeli successor took the reins.

An altogether less charismatic man resembling a world-weary Mr Toad on the verge of a massive heart attack, Avram Grant seems competent enough having managed to steady the ship after a few big name players blubbed uncontrollably upon Jose's departure.

He deserves particular credit for issuing 10 of his first team with anti-gravity boots in order to combat the huge gravitational pull generated by that planet-sized buffoon in central midfield.

5. How do you spell 'statistician'?

Unfortunately for us, Chelsea go into this game as the Premier League's form side claiming 16 out of a possible 18 points, whereas we are yet to beat a top half team this season having drawn one and lost three of our four matches against those currently in the top 10.

Interestingly, both teams are on the joint longest run of 7 games since conceding more than one goal in a Premier League fixture and we've also kept clean sheets in 4 of our 6 away games this year. But there's a good chance there'll be goals this Saturday one way or the other.

Disappointingly, we have only won 1 of our last 10 London derbies, albeit a season-saving victory away to Arsenal last year.

The most interesting fact of all, however is that seismologists report Stamford Bridge has provided Europe's biggest earth tremors around their central midfield area since John Candy, Hattie Jakes and Luther Vandross rode to town in Monster Trucks.

6. A History Lesson

Last season saw us lose both home and away - 1-0 at the Bridge followed by a disappointing 4-1 loss at home, thanks to a sublime effort from Shaun Wright-Phillips after Tevez had given us an inkling.

We haven't had much joy out of Chelsea these last few seasons, not since Paulo DiCanio took them to school with a glorious brace a few years back (who could forget his left-footed thunderbolt?)

Since then we have often faced up to the challenge with some gritty performances, but have been left wanting thanks to the obvious shortcomings in quality and depth.

For this fixture at least, we will be spared the horror that is Chelsea's luminous yellow away kit - a kit I'm sure specifically designed to mask the innumerable custard stains down the front of Lampard's shirt (I think that was actually in his contract).

You could say we're due some sort of result and perhaps this season, with our newfound ability to look dangerous on the break away from home, could provide that result.

Still, it seems unfair that teams are expected to play against a side who can call upon a porkpie-powered vortex in central midfield with the ability to suck in and obliterate any and all surrounding matter.

7. The Emperor's New Blues

Roman The Shady Oligarch's summer purchases have thus far failed to set the footballing world alight: Pizarro seems nothing special, Sidwell is now a small fish in a big pond and Ben-Haim is still wandering around the Kings Road completely bewildered.

There's no disputing that Chelsea have some top players, but I think it would be inaccurate to classify them as a team of world-beaters.

There are undeniable world class performers (Cech, Drogba), but there are more overrated, above-average players (Terry, that huge pasty that rolls around midfield), topped off with a few former Kings of Europe well passed their best and happy to collect a truckload of roubles each week (Shevchenko, Ballack).

Personally I think that Man Utd and Liverpool wield the more exciting squads and Arsene Wenger could seemingly turn Jossy's Giants into title contenders. It would appear that the dominance The Blues enjoyed from 2004 - '06 could well be a thing of the past, although they do have an annoying knack of grinding out results.

I still maintain that the string of devoured corpses strewn across central midfield, covered in full-fat mayonnaise do provide the home team with an unfair advantage.

8. Pork Chop And Change

Any players lucky enough to survive the avalanche of car-sized biscuit crumbs falling from Lampard's chin, should face up to provide an intriguing midfield battle this weekend.

Sunday saw The Lesser Spotted Scott Parker come on for the last half an hour in place of Mark Noble, who appeared a little jaded after his recent hernia op. Parker looked neat and tidy without being spectacular, but could provide us with the solid foundation from which we could spring into defence for 89 minutes.

Etherington and McCartney did a decent job against Spurs but struggled at times to cope with the pace of Aaron Lennon. Joe Cole doesn't pose the same speedy threat and a bag of tricks is easier to cynically hack down than a flying zephyr. Plus, defensively he's not the best - Matty seemed a little reluctant to take on Lennon's pace down the wing on Sunday.

If we can show up fit, run our socks off and avoid being a part of Big Fat Frank's Cannibalistic Finger Buffet, we could still be in with a shout come the final 10 minutes.

9. Hmmm...

What with Parker, Mullins, Noble and Bowyer potentially filling our central midfield spots, we're crying out for a genuinely creative midfielder come the January transfer window.

10. In Summary

Harry Redknapp and Peter Storrie are crooks.

But we all knew that.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

West Ham United vs Tottenham Hotspur - Match Preview

1. The Main Event

Hannibal of Carthage vs The Roman Empire.
He-Man vs Skeletor.
Barrymore vs the Crown Prosecution Service.

All titanic struggles between good and evil, all bubbling cauldrons of emotion for those involved, each yielding the capacity to bring tears of both joy and despair (perhaps not in the case of Barrymore, but definitely the other two).

West Ham United vs The Scum.

2. All I Want For Christmas Is...

I'm sure a lot of Hammers fans would agree that were we to be offered a guaranteed double over any Premiership opponent at the start of the season, most would go for Tottenham. I'd be happy with the lower reaches of midtable this season so long as we annihilated Spurs home and away.

Tottenham Hotspur epitomise everything wrong with the deluded football fan: living on past glories, continually claiming they are a 'massive club' despite having won nothing for 16 years* and refusing to accept that they are lumped in with the rest of us outside the Big Four despite 10 years of consistent evidence.

But above all, their arrogance in thinking they're entitled to be higher than they invariably are coupled with their inexplicable delusion of being a part of football's aristocracy is what rankles most.

They need a good hiding.

* - the '99 League Cup doesn't count because (a) it's the League Cup and (b) it was against Leicester. The only thing that would restore the prestige of the League Cup would be if we were to win it.

3. Tale Of The Tape

Last season's corresponding fixtures were not well received. A tame 1-0 loss at White Hart Lane was followed by a galling 4-3 home defeat, Bobby Z's equaliser negated only in the dying seconds.

In hindsight, it was that result which turned our season around - we went on to win 7 of our next 9, thereby clinging to our Premiership status. Still, like any disgruntled Australian who finds himself in Rome dressed in metallic pants would agree, 'I will have my vengeance'.

Spurs fans would argue it was just desserts after Yossi's swivel hips denied them a Champions League spot on the final day of the previous season . However, the nationwide scenes of celebration unrivalled since Churchill declared on 8th May 1945 that 'Ich bin ein The Daddy', proved it was for the good of the game.

The fact that 'Bubbles...' was the last ever song to be sung at Arsenal's Highbury stadium is testimony to that, particularly as we have largely dominated Wenger's young pretenders ever since.

We owe Spurs the most frustrating of defeats.

4. And Was Jerusalem Builded Here?

In a word - No.

In an international aside, Israel gave an undeserving England team another chance to claim a place at Euro 2008 and we blew it after a frankly flattering 3-2 defeat to Croatia.

It's no secret; we're just not good enough, outclassed consistently against any above average opposition. I'm sure every England fan in the country save for the ones in charge, know that long balls and hopeful flick-ons are not good enough when up against decent international opposition.

I have no problem whatsoever with England going out in the qualifying stages, for I am tired... Tired of players talking up their chances of winning a major competition, tired of under-performing and over-paid prima donnas ducking responsibility for continual failure, tired of the familiar hollow feeling as England crash out once again and compound the misery of fans forced to sit through the footballing equivalent of a Maroon 5 album.

The facts speak for themselves: the England football team have failed to win anything, failed even to make a major final for 41 miserable years - an appalling return on the emotional and financial investment of the fans. During that time, every other major European country (barring perennial underachievers, Spain) have either won a major trophy or made a final. In the last 20 years Italy, France, Germany, Holland and Czech Republic have all lived up to their billing.

I'm sick of the England squad saying how we have some of 'the best players in the world', only for our inevitable failure to be blamed on injuries, a bad draw, poor refereeing decisions, the cosmos - anything but the fact that we're sub-standard. I wouldn't mind the average performances so much if the players just kept their mouths shut.

There is an upside: I think we all now stand a much better chance of enjoying Euro 2008 next summer.

5. Friend or Defoe

Over the years it has not been uncommon for a few players to make the short trip between Upton Park and White Hart Lane: Martin Peters, Clive Allen and more recently Michael Carrick spring to mind. Surprisingly, not too much venom has been spat at these transgressors as the hatred seems to target the very clubs themselves moreso than individual players.

Until of course a young man named Jermaine made the incredibly swift transition from local hero to arch villain.

The stultifyingly stupid move of handing in a transfer request less than 24 hours after we were relegated in 2002-'03 did not exactly endear him to Hammers fans. Follow that up with a move to Spurs and well, you deserve everything you get frankly.

Whilst more than happy to see him rot on the bench as he has done these last few years, there is a dark corner of my psyche that secretly hopes Defoe scores in front of the Bobby Moore Stand just so the full vitriol can be unleashed upon him. 0bviously, there's a caveat here - they can go 1-0 up courtesy of The Evil Dwarf before we get 10 quick goals in a nail-biting finish.

6. Jol Be Fine

The recent sacking of ex-Spurs manager Martin Jol was a puzzling if not entirely unexpected decision for many football fans. The big Dutchman had won over many observers of the Premier League with his no nonsense attitude, dignity under pressure and attacking football - all whilst holding down a job as chief Bouncer at Spearmint Rhinos.

It appears that propelling a mediocre team to 5th place in the League two seasons in a row is no longer enough to guarantee your job 3 months into the following season. Chairman Daniel Levy's spineless move to undermine his popular manager could backfire drastically should the new incumbent, Juande Ramos, not do the business.

Why you would invest £40million in one man's transfer targets in the summer only to offload him at the first sign of trouble?

I doubt Martin Jol will have any trouble finding a job in another top European league before long. He's already received an ambitious request from Birmingham City after The Ginger Whinger left them for Wigan. Jol tactically said it was "too soon" for a return to football, which is Dutch for "Birmingham?! F*ck off."

7. Dangermen

Dimitar Berbatov is a class act, but has shown touches of the petulance which often accompanies such talents. Recently he has looked as though he could throw his toys out the pram on a whim, but he must be credited with helping millions of children around the world to count on Sesame Street. Ah...Ah...Ahhhh.

Robbie Keane has flashes of inspiration but I don't think would stand up to a pummeling with a bat. If we can just arm Matty Upson and get 35,000 people to look the other way.

Jermaine Jenas is massively overrated, I don't care what anyone says. Anyone who calls themselves 'JJ' should be put down.... a deep disused mine and covered in a hundred-weight of stinging nettles which are then sat upon by The Human Banoffee Pie, Paul Robinson.

Steed Malbranque, as his name suggests is in actual fact a horse. Expect him to win by a large Gallic nose down the final stretch in the 3-30 at Kempton, and then be fined for why he spent the afternoon at a Middlesex race course instead of an east London football ground.

Paul Robinson is the human equivalent of bread pudding: large, stoggy, immobile and gelatinous, but without the pleasant after taste (on close inspection, he is however covered in raisins).

Nothing to worry about here, then.

8. It's Raining Goals

Had you told me last week that leading into this game, Spurs and West Ham would have scored an aggregate of 9 goals in the previous fixture, I would've said "Spurs are gonna win 12-0?!" It turns out that both sides go into this match in fine goal-scoring form, albeit against two of the League's weakest opponents.

At the other end of the pitch, West Ham are only 4 goals away from conceding 5,000 in league football. Quite an achievement. The odds of us breaking the 6,000 barrier this season are surprisingly short.

At the time of going to press the signs are that Bellamy, Ashton, Ljungberg and maybe even Scott Parker all stand a good chance of at least making the squad for Sunday... and that Ferdinand has narrowly escaped a 10-stretch.

A conviction for Anton would not have upset me. We have ample cover at centre back and James Collins is long overdue a run in the side. Yes, Ferdinand is quick - but apparently not quick-witted. He is yet to fully comprehend the universal truth that if you earn thousands of pounds a week and still insist on going to a nightclub in Ilford, there's a good chance you'll end up in prison.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Derby County 0 - 5 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

1. Billy Davies And My Part In His Downfall

The seeds for this defeat (*) were sown some years ago, and can be traced directly back to me.

It was 2004 and Papa Shark and I were wandering around the Millenium Stadium several millenia before the Play Off Final against Preston due to my father's insistence on leaving for the game nine hours in advance of kick off ("You can never be too careful" - "But Dad, I'll have to take Annual Leave for that" - "Do it").

So there we were at the gates, having a simple conversation about the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, when the Preston coach approached to the cheers of their fans. As they passed, Billy was giving it the big 'un to all and sundry, so I quickly gave him the universally acknowledged symbol for "diver", to highlight the fact that his Preston team were the biggest load of cheats ever assembled (I can be so cruel at times).

We exchanged a look, one gladiator to another, and I realised that I had struck the first psychological blow for the Hammers. This one cut deep and you could see the fear spreading out amongst the Preston team, and they duly played like a group of stoned gorillas, allowing Bobby Zamora to notch the winner and generally looking pretty damn inept.

Billy has never recovered, and I accept your humble thanks.

2. Correction

This was not a defeat - it was a complete and utter marmalising.

3. The Statistics

If you somehow saw this result and thought to yourself "Hmmm, I bet that game wasn't as one sided as it looks", well, you would be completely and utterly insane, and in fact you should probably lock away any sharp objects right now and wait for someone with marbles to come and pick you up.

Per the ESPN Gamecast (http://soccernet.espn.go.com/report?id=219681&cc=5739) we had 64% of the ball and converted it into 18 shots at goal, of which a remarkable 11 were on target, which excludes the two efforts that hit the bar. So far, so blimey, but consider that Derby managed two shots on target all day and tell me that this wasn't the footballing equivalent of the Roman Empire invading Sark.

Everyone's favourite scapegoat, Carlton Cole, popped up with two assists and Lee Bowyer continued to wind back the clock with two goals, helped greatly by the Derby midfield's splendid impression of four corpses.

I know you're dying to know the last time we managed a win of this magnitude away from home. Well, we last triumphed by 5 goals in 1962 when we won 6-1 at Manchester City, and we last scored 5 goals on our travels in 1992 during a 5-1 win at Bristol City.

From all this I have extrapolated that Derby County are fucking terrible.

4. The Opposition

Hmm, yes, not all that impressive. Hidden in the above statistics are the bare faced facts that after 70 minutes of this game we were 5-0 up and had hit the bar twice. It's easy enough to mock Derby, so I'm going to go ahead and do it, but it shouldn't be disguised that this was as impressive an away performance as has been seen in The Premiership for some time.

Derby are to be admired in one sense at least - they were promoted almost by accident, and have decided not to spend outside their means in a vain attempt to keep their top flight status. They have seen the inexorable slide of teams like Bradford and Wimbledon and decided that having a club in a few years is preferable to, you know, not.

That being true doesn't actually change the fact that their current team is patently not good enough for this level of football, and truth be told will probably struggle to beat Sunderland's record low points tally of 15 for the season. Their combination of lower league journeymen and youngsters wasn't even good enough to hang to the coat tails of what was essentially our second team. Adios fellows.

5. The Referee

You would have to be exceptionally churlish to find fault with a referee after you've won 5-0. Of course, if you've lost 5-0 I suppose that it might be somewhat different (he says - as if the concept of West Ham losing 5-0 is utterly inconceivable).

Mark Clattenburg didn't spot a handball from Lee Bowyer, who was in the process of scoring our opening goal at the time, so one might consider this fairly "crucial". Upon reflection, one dodgy goal out of 5 isn't really much to shout about, but as it was the first I can imagine a few gripes would be in order from the home fans.

Still, if I was a Derby fan I'd be focusing rather less on that than I would on the fact that Tyrone Mears appears to have gotten worse, since leaving West Ham. Yikes.

6. Cole Patrol

Cole set up his 5th and 6th goals of the year, to move even further clear as our most creative player. He worked exceptionally hard again today, and showed that the difference between Premiership reserve and Championship first teamer is still a fairly wide gulf, in the main.

He'll still get booed, no doubt, if he fails to make Michael Dawson look silly next Sunday, and by God, who hasn't lately, but I'm still showing a bit of faith in the lad. At the very least his ankles aren't made from paper mache.

7. Take A Bow

The rebirth of Lee Bowyer continues apace. Actually, that might be overstating things a little as scoring goals against Middlesbrough, Wigan and Derby does not a Premiership star make (see "Bent, Darren").

However, there is no denying that his resurgence has been a big factor in our increased profitability in our travels. Already his 4 goals are more than any one midfielder managed last year, whilst the total number of midfield goals this season (10), already exceeds the same number from last term (9).

Maybe this can be put down the fact that the useless Yossi Benyaoun has been replaced by the new Michel Platini, Jonathan Spector, but I suspect it's rather more down to the fact that all our strikers are clinically dead, so if anyone is going to score it rather has to be a midfielder.

7. I Once Saw Crystal Palace Score 4 Goals Away From Home

Anyone familiar with the legendary "I, Ludicrous" song "Preposterous Tales" will know what I mean when I say - "I once saw West Ham score direct from a free kick".

You know it's a seismic day when all of the West Ham midfield score a goal, one of which is a free kick. And to give Nolberto Solano his due, it was an absolute belter as well.

For the first time since Julian Dicks was with us, it might not be a good idea for the opposition to repeatedly concede free kicks on the edge of the box against us.

8. The Case For The Defence

And the side with the best goal difference on the road is......West Ham United. Ah, but of course.

Now scoring 8 unanswered goals against Derby and Reading will always help the cause, and it is true that we have only played one good side away from home (Portsmouth) whilst the rest of our opponents could charitably be described as "effluent" (Birmingham, Reading, Newcastle, Aston Villa, Derby).

Be that as it may, the truth is that the Premiership is full of teams who are not very good. This is by design, and cannot possibly be a surprise to anyone who regularly watches football in this country. The whole ethos of the Premier League and UEFA is that the same four teams should always qualify for the Champions League. This ensures that TV companies and sponsors are kept happy, your ticket prices are kept in excess of £50, and that your Wednesday nights shall forever be filled with games like Arsenal vs Slavia Prague, which Sky will be telling you is the pinnacle of club football on this planet.

I have digressed a little, but there is a thought in here somewhere. The point of the Premier League is that the big clubs shall prosper and everyone else should like their lot and be pleased with the odd UEFA Cup run. This mediocrity is fairly uniform and actually means that winning away from home becomes a lot easier. Removing the Champions League teams from the Premiership would actually leave a thoroughly entertaining and wide open table where teams should be capable of winning all over the place.

So, in summary, Rob Green is the best keeper in the League, and our back 4 are great. Obviously.

9. There May Be Trouble Ahead

For the first time this season we enter a period of prolonged difficulty in the fixtures. Games against tottenham and Chelsea look pretty tricky to me, particularly with our current injury list, whilst subsequent clashes with Blackburn and Everton should be a truer test of our mettle than anything we've encountered lately.

So this wasn't the best time for George McCartney to throw his lot in with the other larrikins in the physio room. Additionally, Bowyer will now be out for a couple of weeks, joining the rest of our midfield (Parker, Faubert, Mullins, Noble, Dyer, Quashie (!)) on the sick list. Mercifully the international break may give a few of our bigger names the chance to recover, and with a bit of luck, ensure that Paul Robinson is definitely fit to face us.

10. Whoah - Back Up A Minute

Jonathan Spector scored?

OK - all bets are off. Ladies and gentlemen, you can forget your Linvoy Primuses, your Robin van Persie headers, and your Craig Gardner free kicks. This is the most ridiculous goal ever scored.......

Match Preview: Derby County vs West Ham United - 10/11/2007

1. Desolate Derby

Ok, people - much in the same vein as the Bolton review, I'm struggling to fill half a side of A4 with anything even remotely interesting in regard to this least mouth-watering of fixtures. This will be quick.... and largely inconsequential.

2. Errr...

Derby was given it's city-status in 1977 and is twinned with the German city of Onasbruck.

This is a fact (Google it, I dare you) much like Dave Whelan being a convicted price-fixer and Michael Dawson being 86% plywood with a weathered finish.

Derby as a team or a place do not provide much in the way of inspiration. This is one of those games in which we would have little if any excuse in not claiming all 3 points. And not just clinging to a 1-0 scoreline with 10 minutes to go (Sunday proved we're incapable of that), we really should be putting these kind of teams to the sword, home and away if we have any realistic aspirations of finishing in the top half this season.

3.The History

In 1717 England's fist silk mill opened in Derby.

Our last head-to-heads came in the 2004-'05 Championship season when The Rams took four points of us, drawing 1-1 at their place and predictably winning 2-1 at ours. We haven't had much joy at Pride Park of late, winning only once in the last five visits and only scoring twice.

Still, rumour has it Trevor Morley might come out of retirement (after the closet) for this one and he's sure to bag a hat-full.

4. I Name Thee...

Dicky Davies. Magnus Magnusson. Herman Munster.

Choosing the right name can be a tricky thing. Even in this increasingly corporate age (how long before 'The Emirates Stadium' is overtaken by the likes of 'Pepsi Presents White Hart Lane'?), naming one's ground 'Pride Park' borders on the sickening. What have Derby fans got to be proud of?

(Apart from having a winger with the face of a boxer in Marco Gabbiadini, obviously. Now there's a good name).

5. Comic Relief

In the 1890's slum clearance began in Derby, albeit on a very modest scale.

Despite our sketchy history in this fixture of late, any travelling fans stand a good chance of entertainment this Saturday.

I was once mobile enough to travel to Pride Park with His Sharkness for a tame 0-0 affair, almost Shakespearean in it's tragedy. The game was largely if not entirely forgettable but one aspect of the day continues to stand out, for Derby's mascot, 'Rammie The Ram' ranks among our own 'Herbie The Hammer' for sheer comical genius.

Picture the scene - a halftime penalty competition for the under-8s with 'Rammie' in goal. Young lads running around full of energy, aspiration and unbridled joy, over the moon to have the opportunity to score on their beloved home turf...

...only to have their dreams systematically crushed by a full-grown man in a Ram suit who refused to be beaten.

You would've thought 'Rammie' might let one penalty attempt slip through his grasp or fumble a good effort into the back of the net, but no. Never have I seen such a display of determination and athleticism. 'Rammie' flung himself from left to right, bottom corner to top, booting tame attempts 30 yards away with utter contempt and staring down the children whilst strutting around on his goal line like a Goliath of the barnyard.

He was cheered long into the cold afternoon by the West Ham faithful that day. Great entertainment. That ruthless 6ft ball of wool still holds a place in my heart.

6. When Will I See You Again?

Did we actually sign Julian Faubert, Freddie Ljungberg and Scott Parker in the summer? Are they tricks of the light or is Jeremy Beadle going to jump out at any moment with a deflating revelation and a microphone clasped in his withered hand? I'm beginning to wonder.

The first cinema in Derby opened in 1910.

Monday, November 05, 2007

West Ham 1 - 1 Bolton Wanderers (And Other Ramblings)

1. Where Are The UN When You Need Them?

Games like this should be illegal. I'm pretty sure that having 4 minutes of injury time at the end of a match this soporifically tedious is a contravention of my human rights.

The fact that Bolton snatched an equaliser in the last 30 seconds is actually irrelevant to the above statement. This was the worst game of Premier League football that I have seen in years, with the sole factor differentiating it from a Sunday League game being that the players all had matching numbers on their shorts and shirts.

This review is going to be ultra short as a tribute to the ultra awfulness of the fare on display.

2. The Diamond In The Slurry

The one moment of actual skill demonstrated by one of the 22 "footballers" on display came from the unlikely source of George McCartney's right boot. With a first half corner ping ponging around in the box our left back produced a truly marvellous scissor kick to rocket in a moderately deserved opener.

This was also welcome as it gave me the chance to jump up and down and get warm. One has to look for silver linings.

3. The Statistics

We "dominated" the game in the sense that we were slightly less awful than Bolton. This is partly because Bolton were lacking their only decent player, Nicolas Anelka, and because we have around 212 players on the injury list.

We enjoyed 53% of the ball, converting this to 10 shots at goal. Weirdly Bolton mustered 12, despite being about as creative as a large piece of marzipan. They did hit the woodwork twice I suppose, which is reason enough to suggest that their equaliser wasn't that undeserved, although it was just about the last thing that we deserved as fans given that we'd already been forced to pay to watch the crap.

4. The Opposition

I hate Bolton. They are, by a distance, the least watchable team in the Premiership and the addition of Gary Megson as their manager doesn't help. He has always viewed passing and moving as unnecessarily high falutin' antics that simply get in the way of all the kicking and rushing that could be going on otherwise.

The above being true, they didn't deserve to lose this game, and snatched a deserved equaliser when Kevin Nolan popped up in the last minute of injury time with a neat finish. I have simply no idea where our back four were at this point.

5. Ambition? Not Round Here Mate

4-5-1 at home to Bolton? Alright, 4-4-1 with Luis Boa Morte wandering around aimlessly is space, but whatever - it smacks of playing for a 1-0 win. Now, given that we were only 9 seconds away from that very result, maybe it's being picky, but the sight of Henri Camara waiting on the bench whilst we failed dismally to create anything was fairly galling.

Now, Camara is hardly the second coming of Ferenc Puskas but he is a real live striker with intact hamstrings and the ability to run. He is also not a Portugese winger whose name means "£5 million? Jesus Christ!" in his native tongue.

Our stultifying run of form at home continues though, as we are really only set up to play away from home these days. Our lack of creativity is glaring, whilst our midfield at the final whistle was Solano, Etherington, Paintsil and Spector, which probably gives a little hint as to why we were so gloriously inept for most of the second period.

I can live with drawing at home to Bolton. It's a poor result in the context of their current form, but that's the malleable nature of football. My problem is more that it was our own crippling lack of ambition that beat us this weekend.

Well, that and some appalling defending, but hey, who's counting....

I can write no more about this. Be gone from my memory. Let us look forward to our trip to Derby with excitement and fervor.

A sentence never before written......

Saturday, November 03, 2007

West Ham vs Bolton Wanderers: 4th November, 2007 - Match Preview

1. 100 not out

HeadHammer Shark's tedious prodding and poking of the ball up 'til now have seen this blog limp to 99 unanswered posts. It is left to I, The Boleyn Beluga, to become the inaugural H List centurion courtesy of a fearsome cover drive, splitting the field through the onside to rapturous applause. A quick nod of acknowledgment to the Grandstand and it's on with the show...

2. Mutiny over a Bounty

So HeadHammer Shark has desserted (get it?) his faithful. His increasing readership (pantry) has so inflated his already bloated ego (waistline), that he now only deigns to write to his public once a week - so you're left with me for the previews henceforth. That should halve the audience.... Can you halve 5 people?

3. Plight Of The Living Dead

And so our injury woes continue. Three more additions to the disabled list came as a result of our mesmeric victory over sleeping giants Coventry City in this week's thrilling Carling Cup tie: Anton Ferdinand tweaking his hamstring followed by the departure of both Mark Noble (groin) and Hayden Mullins (knee).

These latter two injuries are the more worrisome as we are currently bountiful in centre backs but suffering from a real paucity of central midfielders .This was highlighted by the fact that two of our most consistent performers so far this season were replaced on Tuesday night by John Pantsil (is his Visa still valid?) and Jonathan Spector (can we get his revoked?)

Still, at least we remain a potent threat upfront with it only taking us 71 minutes to score with what was our first shot of the game... which deflected in.

4. Send In The Clowns

Sunday afternoon sees us 'entertain' Bolton Wanderers at Upton Park in what is sure to be another ding-dong feast of football. Bolton must surely rank among the most unlikeable teams in the Premiership, thanks largely to their tedious brand of play and abhorrent Chairman Phil Gartside.

One could argue that Bolton deserve an element of grudging respect from neutrals for their achievement in having established themselves as a Premiership outfit during the last 6 years. One could also argue that Josef Stalin exhibited a real 'have a go' attitude, combined with some admirable and selfless plans for rapid economic development... skirting over the purges and genocide.

Bolton would better serve the beautiful game by being forced to play in a kiln with their collective ashes blasted into space at halftime.

5. Managerial Merry-Go-Round

Having lost the services of Sam 'I'm one of the greatest managers in the country but have actually won nothing' Allardyce and sacked Sammy 'can we pick up Setanta if I point my face due north?' Lee, Bolton really set their sights high with the appointment of Gary 'you want relegation? I'm your man' Megson. A baffling decision for most outside and in the Reebok Stadium.

Unambitious measures masquerading as steps forward in managerial appointments then. Sound familiar?

6. The Pretenders

Having been away to Bolton during a classic 0-0 affair a few years back, I can testify unreservedly that their support is woeful. At the time they were anchored in midtable obscurity (quite an acheivement with Henrik Pedersen upfront) and being hailed as part of the new blood helping to make the Premiership such a huge success. Strange then to see at least 1/3 of their sterile stadium empty.

Apart from a few hundred loyal supporters, they have nothing - a view emphasised by a pitiful 18,000 turning out to watch Villa last week - and yet are still considered by some to be a part of this mythical 'hotbed of football', along with Middlesbrough and Wigan. A myth no doubt perpetuated by the likes of Gartside and Dave The Convicted Price-Fixer Whelan.

7. Lancashire Hot-Shot

Last year's corresponding fixture saw us claim a 3-1 victory in our penultimate game of the season courtesy of a swift Tevez brace, before the Argentinian master set up a crashing volley for Mark Noble, and all in the first half hour. Now bereft of anything half as creative as Pope Carlos, the most dangerous player on the field could well come from the Lancastrians. Unthinkable 3 or 4 years ago.

Nicolas Anelka must be the epitome of the nomadic football mercenary. As loyal as Judas Iscariot and more ruthless than a camera-wielding Frenchman in a Parisian underpass, one can't help but feel that he has failed to fulfil the glittering promise of his early career.

Leaving the tutelage of Arsene Wenger at such a young age did him no favours - just ask Luis Boa Morte (when he's not on mind-bending drugs) - and his abundant petulance contributed no end in his steady decline from the Bernabeu to Bolton. Still, he's dangerous with both feet and in the air and he'll need watching.

8. Cole-fired

Our own attacking prospects lie solely in the precarious grip of Carlton Cole. To be fair, the boy Cole has hit a bit of form recently and despite his apparent mediocrity, you rarely get the impression he can't be arsed. Just that he's rubbish.

Still, the fact that he's not currently hooked up to an IV and that he can move under his own steam all help push him to the front of our firing line. A couple of goals on Sunday could see him push on and provide some competent support for Bellamy and Ashton this season, as well as good competition for Zamora.

9. An Aside

Is it just me or does Curbs appear to be the least supportive manager in the League?

When questioned about the marvellous Robert Green's England credentials recently, instead of talking up his Number 1 and pushing for his inclusion in the squad, Curbs decided at merely declaring England "know who he is".

I know who Keith Chegwin is, doesn't mean I'm going to vote for him in the next election.

Mark Noble's fatiguing efforts of the last few weeks resulted in a recent substiution which was greeted with the encouraging "maybe he ate too much pie and mash", instead of an A+ for effort.

God help anyone who has to call upon Alan as a character witness.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Portsmouth 0 - 0 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

1. Why Psychotropic Drugs And The England Job Don't Go Together

Oh yes. If I was in charge of the nation's football team and was in desperate need of an away win in Russia to keep my job, I'd definitely play The Human Pudding : Paul Robinson in goal, ahead of David James and Robert Green.

2. File It Under - "Learning Experiences"

Trips to the coast can often reveal things you didn't know. Like the fact that the sea isn't all that refreshing, and piers are really not exciting.

But this little Southern jaunt was even more revelatory. They now have roofs in Portsmouth, which is a nice development, Craig Bellamy is an angry little man, Mike Dean is still a homer, and if the fate of the world ever rested on whether Nolberto Solano could head a football, then we'd all be going the way of dinosaurs, dodo's and Leeds United.

3. The Statistics

As befits a fairly even 0-0 draw, all the statistics suggest that this game should have been a stalemate. We had 49% of the ball which we converted into 12 shots at goal. Sadly as Solano had no less than 6 of them you won't be surprised to hear that our total on target was just 3.

The home side were not much better, mustering 3 efforts on target from a total of 11 attempts, although they did force 11 corner kicks to our 5.

Considering that Portsmouth's last home game saw them concede 4 times and still win by 3 goals, the chances of this game being scoreless were as remote as a Posh Spice brain cell, and yet here it is. Life sure can be strange sometimes. (See "Neville, Phil - England Career")

4. The Opposition

Whether you fall in to the Love or Hate category for Harry Redknapp, there can be no denying that he has done an admirable job at Portsmouth. His budget isn't exactly shoestring as owner Alexandre Gaydamak is hardly struggling for roubles but there is no denying that some of his less heralded signings such as James, Sol Campbell and Nico Kranjcar have proved very successful, allowing for a few higher profile failures such as David Nugent.

Where his Portsmouth sides differ from his West Ham teams are in the defensive areas where one can see Tony Adams has doubtlessly made a huge difference. His Fratton Park teams are well organised and attack with pace, two things that could rarely be said about us in the Redknapp era, although I could argue that there is less verve and attacking flair on show these days.

I have no explanation for the success of Benjani though. The man befuddles me. It is entirely possible that I have never seen a worse footballer. And remember people, I have seen Michael Dawson play several times.

5. The Referee

I would like to give you my opinions on Mike Dean's refereeing skills but sadly most of the decisions made in this match were made by the Portsmouth crowd. It will not surprise anyone to know that they were a touch one sided.

Blaming a referee for a poor result (not that this was a poor result but I'm talking generically) is not a sensible idea. It is nothing to do with Mike Dean that Nolberto Solano apparently has no neck muscles, or that Danny Gabbidon has wandering hands. All of the above being true doesn't mean that he wasn't woefully inconsistent throughout. In the interests of fairness, I should also point out that he spread his incompetence equally between the two sides, awarding us twice as many free kicks as the home team - but sadly it might have the ones that he didn't give that hurt us the most.

The penalty decision was a sickener but I cannot see that there can be much argument - Gabbidon should probably have learned by now that waving his hands around inside the box rarely meets with approval from officials. The only question was whether it was in or out of the box and we'd have all been screaming for a penalty if it was Campbell having the brain seizure and not Gabbidon.

My real issue with Dean was his unorthodox method for making his decisions. Let's have a look at his train of thought early in the first half:

(Hermann Hreidarsson takes out a 10 blade scalpel and expertly severs Craig Bellamys left ankle. West Ham appeal for a foul)

Mike Dean: "Ooh, that looked nasty"
Mike Dean's Inner Psyche: "It sure did Mike, he's lost his bloody foot there"
Mike Dean: "I should probably award a foul at least"
Mike Dean's Inner Psyche: "Hmm, I know where you're coming from but the home fans won't like it"
Mike Dean: "What should I do then?"
Mike Dean's Inner Psyche: "You know what to do"
Mike Dean"OK" (takes out Magic 8 Ball, shakes it vigorously, thinking "Should I give Bellamy a foul?" Magic 8 Ball says "YOU MUST BE KIDDING!")
Mike Dean (aloud): "No foul Bellamy, you Taff whinger!" (throws bloody stump back to Bellamy to rapturous applause from the Portsmouth fans, which he receives with a theatrical low bow).

Do you see my problem?

6. The Problem With Being A Right Winger

Well, the problem is that we didn't have one. Craig Bellamy spent far too much of the first half entangled in spat with Hreidarsson and was withdrawn at half time. Even though he was injured, the feeling persisted that Curbishley would have had to remove him anyway to to prevent him being sent off.

I know he's now our irritating twerp and all that, but it's not going to be any use to us if it results in referees turning against him 2 minutes into games.

Meanwhile our actual right winger was wandering around the middle of the park demonstrating exactly how not to head a football.

7. Cole Patrol

Carlton Cole played this entire game up front on his own, against two very good centre backs in Sol Campbell and Sylvain Distain, and did especially well. He was directly responsible for the two golden opportunities spurned by Solano on his Adventures At The Back Post, and looked like an all round decent Premiership centre forward.

He's not The Messiah, he's not even Paulo Wanchope, but he's better than most people let on, and whilst he remains the only striker at the club not suffering from The Plague he deserves a bit more support than he's getting.

I'm not sure if I've mentioned it in this report so far, but we would have won this game 2-0 if Nolberto Solano could keep his eyes open and nod his head, simultaneously. And both goals would have been set up by Cole.

I'm just saying.

8. Twist And Shout

If you get the chance, go on to YouTube and watch Benjani's penalty miss. Not to detract from the excellence of Green's save but take a close look at the technique used.

Benjani ends up face down on the floor, facing away from goal.

I'm not even sure this is humanly possible. Of course, I'm not even sure that Benjani is human so maybe it makes sense.

Marvellous Redknapp quote though:

"I gave him a bollocking. He won't be taking another one that's for sure. He took the ball off Niko Kranjcar, who I would've been happy to see take it. Benji's been on a good run. But I gave him a bollocking. And I would've still given him a bollocking if he'd scored. Still, he worked his socks off. And, well, I do love him. And now I feel bad. I said to him in the dressing room, "Benji, you've been a silly boy," and he just sat there. No I feel really bad. He probably won't eat his fish and chips now, will he?"

9. Kudos

Green, obviously, Cole, Mullins and McCartney who was ace again. I think I'll give some love to Solano as well, because at least his head didn't fall completely from his shoulders during his many and varied attempts to head us a winner.

10. A Change Would Do You Good

Keen readers (Hi Dad!) will have noticed that The H List has decreased in frequency, and if I'm honest - quality - recently. There are a lot of reasons I could give you but the truth is that I am working on a plan to steal $30m from a Las Vegas casino and I'm trying to find a Chinese acrobat to help me. Sadly, this only gives me time to do the match reports.

With that in mind a mystery guest writer will be taking over the previews. It's not Russell Brand (our boy is camper if anything), but he knows his onions and will make sure that The H List gets back to more regular posts.

Fittingly his first post will be the 100th in H List history.

Hang on a minute - that's not fitting at all. I've done all the bloody work.

(This is how it started with Lennon and McCartney you know. In 30 years there will be a mad amputee comparing herself to Jesus on the TV and you'll look back to this moment with a nod of recognition.......)