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

Monday, December 31, 2007

West Ham 2 - 1 Manchester United (And Other Ramblings)

1. Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space

Somewhere there is a small child who fired off a letter to Santa Claus requesting that West Ham beat Man Utd 2-1 for Christmas.

The kid specified that we should go one down against the run of play, squander a glorious chance ourselves, concede a penalty which would then be missed by Man Utd's best and simultaneously, most loathsome player, before our two centre backs should then pop up with the winning goals in the last ten minutes.

That child did a bit better than the dyslexic girl who wrote off asking if she could be Satan's Little Helper and ended up as a copy editor for the The Daily Mail.

2. Stop Making Sense

It will surprise most of you, but I actually do put a fair amount of thought into these columns. Not as much as, say, my weekly shopping list, but a decent effort none the less.

One of my ploys is to have most of the article formed in my head before I leave the game. It helps me to remember the points I want to make (Usually - "Lucas Neill = great, Luis Boa Morte = inexplicable") and ensures that the tone of the piece is hopefully more representative of the emotional journey of watching a game.

Suffice to say then, that this review was rather different in feel up to the point that Anton Ferdinand tried out this new thing he learned in prison called "jumping". I have to come clean and admit that I had been largely underwhelmed by Alan Curbishley's selection, and had been fairly vocal about it too. Following on from my last post bemoaning our lack of passion and inventiveness it was rather too much to bear to see us line up with a solitary striker in a home game against the league leaders.

The substitutions just reinforced the view that we were simply trying to keep the score to a respectable 0-1, and the overall lack of penetration was worryingly familiar.

All of which just goes to show why I am writing a blog, read only by members of my family and, weirdly, lots of Australians, whilst Alan Curbishley is a Premiership manager. Humble pie can taste nice after all, it seems.

3. The Statistics

4-5-1 might have been the figure on my brain for most of the time, but if ever a set of statistics justified a formation then here they are. We had the ball for an unprecedented 51%, which is the first time for eons that we've been the dominant side in terms of possession against one of the big boys. This is probably as much a testament to Darren Fletcher's appalling passing as it is to anything else, but I have to say that I was surprised they even had it for as much as 49%.

In the end we mustered 12 efforts on goal to the visitors 7, and even forced more corners, by a tally of 6 to 3. These numbers alone mean nothing, of course, for Ronaldo could and should have buried the game with his penalty, but there is no denying that we were the better side for most of this game.

My favourite statistic of the entire day is that John Pantsil drew as many fouls (3) in his bonkers little cameo appearance as Carlos Tevez, Ronaldo and Luis Saha did combined for the whole match. Even better is that two of those fouls led, at least indirectly, to goals. Quite why anyone would foul John Pantsil when there were alternative options available such as taking tea, or reading "Great Expectations" is a puzzle, but then I am not Patrice Evra.

4. The Opposition

Despite the best efforts of every media outlet in the West, I haven't seen each and every Man Utd game this season. I am still prepared to go out on a limb and say that this must have been their worst performance of the season. Even Sir Alex Ferguson admitted that his team were deservedly beaten, which is a surprisingly honest statement from a man who hasn't yet found a defeat he couldn't blame on the referee or the linesman or the French or Gareth Southgate's nose or Communism or..........etc.

Shorn of the likes of Scholes, Rooney, Carrick and Van Der Saar the visitors only really threatened when Giggs or Ronaldo had the ball, and to the great credit of our midfield that didn't happen very often. The goal was imbued with a touch of class and was crushingly inevitable from the moment that Tevez flicked his pass to Giggs, whilst also being almost entirely unstoppable. Ronaldo's speed for one so tall is incredible. Thankfully for us he spent much of this game sat down looking bewildered and crying, which does admittedly make him a lot easier to tackle.

For the first time ever it was possible to look at Man Utd players such as Kuscak, Brown and Fletcher and compare them to their West Ham counterparts without feeling inferior. Indeed, even though I rate Owen Hargeaves more highly than most of the country, it seems insane that he cost £20m more than Hayden Mullins.

Still, I paid £7.99 for a book the other day, when the same novel was right next to it for £1 less, simply because I preferred the cover on the more expensive one. Which is exactly the same kind of thing.

5. The Referee

Mike Dean is really not bothered about giving penalties against us. After the last minute affair at Portsmouth, he quite correctly awarded another one following a mind blowing bit of hand waving from Jonathan Spector. It marred an otherwise splendid performance by the American, but it had to be given.

Elsewhere he did well to resist the protestations of Ronaldo and routinely left the Portugese winger whinging into the night. This was in stark contrast to Howard Webb's recent handling of the Chelsea game, when he weighed up each decision carefully, considered all angles and then awarded the every decision to the Blues. Thankfully I'm not bitter about it.

6. Your Love Alone Is Not Enough

No report of this game would be complete without a mention of Carlos Tevez. His pre match welcome was emotional and heartfelt. Ferguson had openly questioned whether this would happen before the game, which was described as "mind games" by the the British sports media, and "ignorance" by people who actually understand football.

I have to say though, that I don't quite go in for the whole hearted love in around the Argentine. He remains an Upton Park legend, but as with so many who have a special place in their heart for us, and who love the fans, and who hope to be buried at the Boleyn, none of that was quite enough to get him to actually stay and play for us.

He took the money and ran, for which I do not blame him, but I'm afraid that just makes him like so many others before him.

There is little doubt though, that the emotion of the day affected him. I suspect he took one look at my cold, dead eyes and realised he'd let me down. So, in the end, it was more me than Matthew Upson that won this game. I accept your grateful thanks.

7. In The Habit

Beating Manchester United is not an everyday occurrence, although at this point that is clearly only because we don't play them every day. For Curbishley, however, this is uncharted territory. In 115 years at Charlton he never once managed it, and yet now has three consecutive victories with us.

I won't pretend to be able to explain it. I could suggest better players are the answer but I'm not sure I believe that. Maybe he is a better coach now, or maybe the atmosphere at Upton Park is more conducive to these kinds of victories than The Valley. Whatever it is, I hope he bottles it and takes it with him, for he will need it.

His slavish devotion to safety first football will eventually be his undoing, as either the owners who demand Champions League football, or the fans who demand two strikers for their £50 ticket, will drive him out. This is not to detract from this particular performance, as his decision to flood the midfield stifled Man Utd, and his substitutions, although initially appearing to be drug induced, eventually proved crucial.

Yet, it has to be said that for 70 minutes of this game we were rolling along in damage limitation mode. Dean Ashton was sat on the bench, eating biscuits and trying to laugh at John Pantsil's crazy jokes, whilst we toiled away manfully against a superior opposition. Of course, you know it's a weird day when West Ham score twice from set pieces, but I can't get away from thinking that this isn't a recipe for continued success.

Here's where I'm at though - and I realise that you won't be able to go to bed until you hear this. We've just beaten the league leaders with a midfield consisting of John Pantsil, Hayden Mullins, Mark Noble and Jonathan Spector. He must be doing something right.

8. Greensleeves

I have no idea what goes through the mind of a professional footballer when he takes a penalty. If he's English and it's a major tournament I assume that he is thinking "I'm going to miss, hmm, I wonder if I'll get back in time for the casino?", but I assume that real footballers have an innate degree of confidence, borne of actually practising the skill involved.

I wouldn't like to say then, that Ronaldo was put off by Robert Green's penalty saving reputation, but I'll definitely admit that it can't have hurt.

To give you an idea of how good his record is this year, he has not conceded a penalty in 4 attempts over 20 games, whilst last year no one missed against us at all in 38 games, with 4 successful conversions. This is at least partially explained by our curious employment of Roy Carroll.

9. Substitute, For Me For Him

Let's get this right then - Scott Parker got injured, Curbishley looked at our surfeit of midfielders, our lone striker and decided to replace him with defender John Pantsil. Five minutes later Scott Parker limped and was replaced by defender Anton Ferdinand, all as Dean Ashton sat completing The Times crossword on the bench.

As we finally stumbled across the stunningly obvious ploy of giving the ball to everyone's new hero John Pantsil and letting him run riot down the right wing, the masterplan became clear.

And so it worked. But by God, how?

10. PS, I Love You

Big shout out to Darth Lemsip AKA Joe C, for doing some much appreciated promotion of The H List on www.westhamonline.net. There was a recent thread asking for decent football sites and we got a mention. Of course that thread was sandwiched amongst cerebral companions such as "JK Rowling - Would Ya?" and "Which celebruty (sic) will die first in 2008?" but hey, we're not really in a position to be looking down our noses at anyone.

So welcome to any new readers. May God help you.

Friday, December 28, 2007

West Ham United vs Manchester United: Match Preview - 29/12/2007

1. The Return Of The King

No, not HeadHammer Shark... but Carlos Tevez.

My main motivation for attending tomorrow will be to show my appreciation to Carlito for his splendid efforts last season. By rights, he should be treated to a stellar reception. I'm sure there will be a few meatheads who insist on booing him, but genuine fans will appreciate the return of a bona fide West Ham legend.

Having witnessed the last couple of lacklustre home performances, tomorrow I shall make an (inevitably doomed) attempt to watch with a sense of detachment as a quality attacking side do their stuff - I fear it will be one of the few examples of creative potency we will see at Upton Park this season.

Hats off to you, Pope Tevez - your silky skills and cheeky simian smile brought us much pleasure.

2. Slim Or None?

Readers, I am in the same puzzled place I often find myself in when the faintest glimmer of hope twinkles on the horizon. Bereft of the cynical detachment that HeadHammer Shark exudes with his cold, dead eyes, I find my heart persistently trying to overrule my head.

Obviously, whenever I succumb to this deluded optimism, the inevitable sub-par performance only cranks up the volume of my brain:

"Idiot! When will you listen, you blithering idiot?!"

Still, indulge me...

Judging by the flat performance on Boxing Day, our failure to beat a 10-man Reading does not bode well for the visit of a full quota of Premier League Champions and there is a part of me steeling myself against the hiding we'll probably be on the receiving end of. However - illogic tells me that our impressive away day form could come into play.

United will be on the front foot for much of the game and will be under more pressure than us to get a result, particularly with such a close title race in prospect. My heart (with all it's Special Needs), keeps banging on about how this plays into our hands and, at the very least, will enable us to escape sans battering and maybe even nick a goal or two.

God, I'm gonna feel like such a fool come 5 o'clock tomorrow.

3. History

Last year we did the double over both Man United and Arsenal

(I'll write that again)

Last year we did the double over both Man United and Arsenal.

However, 2006 also saw an axe-wielding Finnish metal band win the Eurovision Song Contest and Dick Cheney accidentally shoot his "friend and lawyer" in the face with a shotgun - what can I say? It was a strange year. (All true, Shark - I'm toning down the libel).

Two 1-0 wins including that unforgettable resurrection at Old Trafford, saw us take all six points and helped steer us clear of relegation. Our home Premiership record against United is pretty good, having lost just once in the 12 fixtures to date - albeit recording only one win and seven draws.

We'd all be happy with a draw tomorrow as it would no doubt mean the 11 men on the pitch in claret and blue would've actually fronted up. I'd personally love to see a red-faced Sir Alex Ferguson fuming in his post-match interview, you can just picture it:

"Unbewievable. I can't bewieve they've taken points of us in the weague. Wonaldo's dive was a bwatent penalty... It's a bwuddy conspiwacy."

4. 'Tis The Season...

...to stuff your face.

I'm sure we've all over-indulged and put on a few pounds these last few days and I'm quite sure that Dean Ashton and Lucas Neill weren't shy in adding another ladle of gravy to their extra helping of Christmas pudding over Yuletide.

They both look heavy to me and are certainly lacking that zip in mobility you'd expect from young professional athletes. Lucas in particular has been a shadow of his last-season-self.

I remember him doing an outstanding job on Ronaldo at Old Trafford last season but I fear he could get a roasting this time out. And not the good kind of roasting - neither sage and onion stuffing nor Micah Richards would be involved.

Ashton looks 'strong' (I'm in the giving spirit, what with the time of year) and you'd still back him to hit the target should the ball drop to him. But therein lies the problem, the ball would have to drop to him as you can't see him outstripping anyone for pace... unless perhaps Sir Alex waved one of his homeland's famed deep-fried Mars Bars next to the ball.

5. In Summary

If we don't show up, we'll be annihilated. If we do show up we could nick a draw and do ourselves proud...

...which will make our capitulation to Fulham at our next league home game even more galling.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas Ramblings (And Other, Erm, Ramblings)

1. The Return

Greetings, one and all, I trust that you have been getting along fine in my absence. I understand that The Boleyn Beluga has been looking after you all in his own inimitable, yet undeniably libellous, way.

Since I lasted foisted my unwanted opinions upon you all, much has happened. The Shark clan has expanded to include another girl, we've continued to look like world beaters on the road, and wife beaters at home, and somehow managed to royally blow a Cup Quarter Final. 'Tis a curious ship we sail upon.

Quite aside from all of that, it seems that Eggert Magnusson is not long for these shores, as his unceremonious sidelining culminated with the news that Bjorgulfur Gudmundsson has bought out his erstwhile partner and will take over the day to day running of the club, simultaneously throwing another £35m at the problem. I won't go into the whole vipers nest that is our current ownership, but whatever you may think of the Icelandic consortium, it just feels better having actual businessmen running things rather than a caravan park owner.

Not that the new boys are doing it for purely altruistic purposes, but I'd like to think that they understand the link between on field success and profits. I predict moderate success all round.

2. The Away Results

Since we last dived into the wearisome world of our consistent inconsistency, our results have continued to have an alternate universe type look. Away wins at Blackburn and Middlesbrough have been offset by two truly mediocre displays at home to Everton.

Prior to all of this was a trip to Chelsea that could have seen us go home with a draw if the game had been properly officiated, or possibly a win if Nolberto Solano had neck muscles. Even if our set up away from home is a little too Boltonian for my liking, there is no arguing that we have become a very good outfit away from Upton Park.

The effort, organisation and willingness to kick anything that moved fell short at Stamford Bridge but was enough to take the points at both Ewood Park and The Riverside. The latter was a particularly pleasing result as we win as often in the North East as we do in Outer Space.

The Blackburn game exemplified our away performances perfectly. Built on the basis of an excellent goalkeeper and a very good back 4, we contained a decent Blackburn side with an unusual degree of comfort. Then, as it became clear that one goal would be enough to win the game we introduced the returning Dean Ashton.

Unfettered by the inane nuances of the game, like running or moving, our Dean simply stood on the penalty spot until one of his team mates crossed him the ball. Gorgeous George McCartney eventually obliged and Ashton bagged the winner. And didn't he look pissed off about it.

It is pointless saying this, because "if" is a perennial watchword for mid table sides, but if we could ever ally this kind of away form to any kind of home form we'd be threatening the UEFA Cup spots. As it stands, one could also take the pessimistic approach that if our away form should ever revert to normal, then we'd be in danger of getting sucked back into a relegation dogfight. So, all things considered then ......... being mundane rules!

3. The Home Results

Our home form continues to be dismal. Sure, the results are okayish, in the sense that we aren't losing an awful lot, but the level of performance has been mediocre at best. There is no disgrace in losing to a very good Everton side twice, although allowing Andy Johnson to score against you isn't the best advert for your professionalism, but it feels to me that the discontent is brewing more over our style of play, than our results.

There is plenty of argument raging on the various West Ham forums about this. There is the camp that states that Alan Curbishley has always produced average football with average results, and is doing it this year with half a team, and don't look now, but 9th place is a whole lot better than this time last year.

Alternatively, one can subscribe to the theory that Curbishley has had a humongous amount of money to spend and failing to beat, or even threaten to beat, a 10 man Reading team at home on Boxing Day is typical of the bland fare we are likely to face for the rest of his tenure.

I tend to fall somewhere in the middle. I can't say that watching us play at home is enjoyable as such. I mean, yes, I like to spend the time with my father, and I enjoy the witty urbane conversation and quality catering of the Bobby Moore Lower, but all in all it's not a great deal of fun.

Historically, I have always been proud of the fact that despite our woeful inability to retain good players, we have always adhered to an attacking style of football and, put simply, had a go. It give me an inflated sense of superiority, especially when I was drunk and talking to other fans.

However, I was equally ashamed of our complete failure to look even vaguely professional when playing away from the friendly confines of Upton Park, and so I find much to admire about the manner in which Curbishley has installed some discipline to our play on the road. The notion of us winning at places like Blackburn, Boro and Reading under Redknapp or Roeder was inconceivable.

The sad truth is that for a mid table club like us, it probably has to be one or the other. The players that made us so exhilirating to watch for a while there - Di Canio, Berkovic, Benayoun, Dailly - were the same ones who were liabilities away from home. Nowadays, the same is true in reverse. One cannot fault Parker and Mullins for being resolute and committed when needed away from home, but lacking flair when we need to break down visiting defences. If they had that ability, they wouldn't be playing for us. The depressing, but realistic, point I'm trying to make is that I'm not sure Premier League teams outside the favoured Big 4 these days can have both. And look at Portsmouth and Man City if you think I'm babbling even more than usual.

3. The Injuries

Our injury list continues to read like a Who's Who of injury prone, mercurial sorts. I have long since ceased to believe that things will come right when our first team are all finally available for selection. This is our first team, folks, and you'd better get used to it. I would suggest it unwise to be pinning your happiness on the likes of Kieron Dyer or Craig Bellamy being consistently fit and available. Or out of prison, for that matter.

The fact remains that the likes of Ljungberg, Upson, Ashton and even Ferdinand are only ever one tweak away from a month off, and as such our first team will always be in a state of flux. Now sure, I wish our medical staff would get some actual proper medical qualifications instead of trying to resolve groin injuries using the power of song, but all things being equal, we still have a pretty fragile bunch.

One area of concern is the back 4, where the loss of Gorgeous George McCartney would severely weaken us, particularly at a time when our uber-sub, Jonathan Spector, is being pressed into service as an emergency 6th choice centre half. (Wow, what a job title).

The prospect of facing our difficult January without a recognised left back fills me with the same feeling I get as Freddie Ljungberg takes a corner. I believe it is called dread.

4. The Goals

It's worth mentioning the fact that we have scored a few decent goals recently. The pair at Boro were remarkable in their own ways. Ashton scored a belter from 25 yards and then celebrated by doing an impression of a man who'd just run over his dog. Boy, would I not like to accidentally give away the end of "The 6th Sense" to Deano.

Later, Scott Parker followed that up with a delightful bit of footwork and a very neat finish, all in the last minute, to give us a first win at Middlesbrough since the days of the Raj.

Nolberto Solano's goal against Reading was nicely taken, and saw Carlton Cole pick up another assist. This description is particularly charitable, as Cole's contribution was to miscontrol the ball and promptly fall over. Still, it worked, so let's not be churlish.

5. The Cup Exit

Aside from being the epitome of mediocrity, Curbishley's Charlton sides were notable for three things. They invariably started the season well, they then finished them atrociously, and in between would never even contemplate the idea of a Cup run.

Strange then, that we should reach the Quarter Finals of the Carling Cup at the first attempt under Curbishley, and even better be drawn at home to an eminently beatable Everton side. As things transpired, they weren't that beatable after all, although Danny Gabbidon's splendid last minute impression of an over eager seal wasn't especially helpful to the cause.

It should be said that Everton were the better team across both matches. The Cup game was more even, but we still lacked that crucial piece of invention that night have been the difference between the two sides. As it was, they were basically a better, and significantly taller, version of us. Ho hum.

6. The Future

On the face of it, things are looking up. This time last year we were about to take part in, and lose, the worst game of football ever played by humans - against Manchester City - before our plucky little loss at Reading, when 6 late goals ruined everyone's New Year.

As it is now, we are comfortably inane in mid table, and to top it all of, we're looking down at tottenham.

As I mentioned above though, there is no denying that the indefinable zest has gone. Where once upon a time, matches against Manchester United used to produce 5-3 classics, I can't help but feel that tomorrow will be a dullards dream, as we succumb to a numbing 1-0 defeat, and I lose all the feeling in my toes. We'll then plod on wearily, winning a few a losing a few more until eventually it's the Summer and we can all do loads of drugs down the park to forget about it.

I'm not complaining as such, I remember last year all too well, but blimey - I think I could live with just a bit more adventure......

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Middlesbrough vs West Ham United: Match Preview - 22/12/2007

1. Chore Of Duty

Following the news that HeadHammer Shark has been colonised off the coast of Japan having been mistaken for a small island, it falls upon my well-toned deltoids to provide a brief summary of Saturday's game.

In short, we were rubbish.

Everton were slightly above average, but nothing a determined and coherent home performance wouldn't have been able to deal with. The Toffees were adept at providing support for Yakubu in numbers from midfield and passing to feet - whereas we were happy floating 30 yard balls up from the halfway line, which were easily dealt with.

Scott Parker was our best performer, displaying an obvious return to fitness as he was all over the pitch for much of the game. His was a determined, neat and tidy display but still lacking in any creative spark.

The one semi-creative element we had on the pitch was Nobby Solano - so Curbishley obviously decided to take him off for Mark Noble, meaning we had three like-for-like players on the pitch at the same time in Mullins, Noble and Parker.

West Ham have always had some sort of creative force in the attacking half of the pitch, be it Tevez, Benayoun, DiCanio, Berkovic, Brooking... It's been obvious for a while now that we are sorely lacking in this area and appear both devoid of ideas and toothless in attack, particularly at home.

On the positive side, it was pointed out to me that He-Man frequents a seat in the corner flag area on the left of the Bobby Moore Lower - so at least our rejuvenated commercial sector is forging a solid fanbase in the as yet untapped market of Eternia.

2. Aurora Boroalis

And so onto this weekend.

Far from being 'northern lights' (in answer to your question, yes - I am a literary genius), Boro must be one of the more tedious sides in the Premier League.

Another component of the fallacy that is the North East 'hotbed of football', one can't really blame the local out-of-work miners for not delving into their ration books more often for a regular trip to the Riverside.

Average attendances of just six are more a testament to the restrictive nature of Gareth Southgate's proposterous, natural impasse of a nose. Many a Teesider has fallen to their death trying to scale their manager's prohibitive proboscis in a bid to gain entry to the stadium.

Those few who make it are rarely treated to anything more than the mediocre, although they have found some form of late. At the moment we seem to be meeting all manner of teams just as they hit their stride.

3. History

Middlesbrough will be the first team that we will have played both home and away in the League this season, after our flattering 3-0 win at Upton Park back in mid-September.

Last season saw us beat them 2-0 at home (Tevez & Zamora) in what was easily the worst display by a visiting side to the Boleyn, and then lose 1-0 at the Riverside to a goal from everyone's favourite Italian slaphead who isn't Pierluigi Collina - Massimo Maccarone.

Again, you would fancy us to do better away from home this year as they would be expected to bring the game to us. I still have a problem with our distinct lack of creativity, however. I think we're all chomping at the bit to see just how good Julien Faubert is.

4. The Ungrateful 'Hotbed'

From a neutral perspective, Boro Head Honcho Steve Gibson is probably the most likeable Chairman in the league. His support and passion for a truly average outfit has been unwavering for many years now.

Just what he gets out of the relationship is puzzling. Having pumped millions into the club, moved them to a new stadium and done everything in his power to insure that more than fifteen people turn up each week, his only return seems to be the admiration of all fans bar those of his own team.

I wouldn't bother if I were you, Steve. Rumour has it there are some excellent investment opportunities coming up in newly-liberated Basra.

Apparently, Insurgents XI are effective down the far right-wing and are dynamite upfront. And unlike your army of Premiership journeymen, their players always go out with a bang.

5. Sunnyside Up

Speaking of Chairmen, our own beloved Eggy has decided to relinquish his post at West Ham to concentrate on his other business interests.

Being a lifelong supporter, I can hardly remember any interaction between the fans and the Board before Magnusson's arrival in November of last year. The only time we ever heard from them was when they wanted us to front up for hair-brained schemes like the Hammers Bonds.

Magnusson has been a breath of fresh air and I'm sure will be missed. Simple steps such as bringing Billy Bonds back from the exile imposed upon him by Brown will forever endear Eggy to Hammers fans, and his no-nonsense ripostes to outside criticisms were a welcome addition.

Hopefully he'll be back at Upton Park before too long.

We can rest assured that our loss will be the U.S.S Enterprise's gain.

6. Bjorg Again

So now the real money man emerges from the Boardroom shadows.

Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson has pledged to do everything in his power to secure a move to a brand new £250million, 60,000-seater stadium at the former Parcelforce site near West Ham Tube.

He has also promised to invest a further £30million into our coffers in the near future - although his assertion that this will be ploughed into "the financial base of the club" suggests that this money won't be freely put in the transfer kitty.

Gudmundsson has also spoken of his desire to liaise closely with the fans, as he believes "regular dialogue and feedback is crucial to our success" - words you'd never have heard from Terry Brown.

Opinions are yet to be fully formed as we have heard so little of Gudmundsson thus far, but he appears determined and certainly can not be accused of not putting his money where his mouth is.

7. The Opposition

Generally speaking, Boro are a team of Premier League journeymen with the odd once-promising-youngster-who-has-never-fulfilled-his-potential thrown in.

Midfield man Fabio Rochemback will miss Saturday's clash having received his fifth yellow card of the season and Julio Arca is facing a late fitness test after picking up a slight knock. Tuncay Sanli seems to have settled in and has scored three in three, including his splendid effort against Derby at the weekend.

Stuart Downing is still rubbish.

Gareth Southgate's pitch-straddling, Berlin Wall of a nose could provide us with our biggest obstacle to scoring. If the spirit of fairness has any part to play this weekend, Southgate's technical area will be moved to Normandy.

8. Backwards In Going Forwards

Strap yourselves in - here we go again....

Carlton Cole will be out for a while with a hip injury, Craig Bellamy needs another operation, Boa Morte is injured (allegedly involving a kilo of ketamine and a Matador outfit), Zamora is still out and Henri Camara is off to the African Cup Of Nations.

Therefore it comes as no surprise that Curbishley has recently conceded a January transfer window foray could prove necessary, having ruled out that option a few weeks ago.

Dean Ashton still doesn't look in tip-top shape, although regular starts will help him there and I have no desire to see one of our plentiful midfielders shoved upfront for a few weeks as a stop-gap solution.

The prospect of Eidur Gudjohnsen arriving from Barcelona has resurfaced recently, with Villa also interested and personally I'd love to see him come to Upton Park.

I've always thought he has a touch of class and, like Ashton, never seems to panic when in possession and surrounded by heavy-handed defenders. He could be part of the answer to our creative problems.

If the money's there, then why not? Healthy competition, 'survival of the fittest' and all that - Darwin was on to something before he trashed his canoe and fled to Panama.

9. In Summary

Despite injuries, we should be winning games like this as Middlesbrough are not the most defensively sound...

...(surprising for a team managed by the man whose nose played a central role in repelling Mongols from China in the 14th century).

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

West Ham United vs Everton - Carling Cup Quarter Final: Match Preview - 12/12/2007

1. We're Gonna Need A Bigger Boat

Consecutive preview number four and HeadHammer Shark is still nowhere to be seen (never thought I'd say that. You can usually spot him from any point in either hemisphere).

Rumour has it he is pursuing Roy Scheider across the Atlantic, having seen him board a tugboat wielding a box of powdered jelly doughnuts.

2. Seconds out... Round One

Tonight's game is the first of a double header against the blue half of Merseyside.

Given the choice of victory in just one of the next two games against Everton, I think most would opt for a win in tonight's Carling Cup quarter final and be willing to sacrifice Saturday's Premier League fixture (we could always trounce them at Goodison).

The chance of a two-leg semi-final does not come around too often and it could be a mouth-watering prospect with the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs still in the draw.

3. Home And Away

Such is the story of our season so far, I would be more confident of us nicking a result away from home than at Upton Park but the fact that this is a one-off Cup tie should be to our benefit.

The traditional League setting, with the onus being on the home side to attack, goes out the window as a draw is no good to either team. With this in mind, we should have a chance of some counter-attacking football (something we've looked not half bad at this year) as well as hopefully sustained spells of pressure.

This combined with a no doubt vocal home support should see us start as slight favourites to win, but therein lies the danger. We'll also need to match the on-song Toffees for work-rate are we to progress in this competition.

Word of warning: with our sticky-fingered scouse friends probably in town for the next few days, I wouldn't leave any treasured possessions in plain view. Your best bet is to wear a full suit of armour whilst holding a sign sporting an arrow pointing in the opposite direction, along with the slogan 'Shell Suit Sale' .

4. Ringing The Changes

David Moyes band of pilfering pick-pockets have been in fine form recently: unbeaten in their last 10, scoring 23 goals in the process and conceding just four.

Their always loyal support have revelled in this recent form, resisting the urge to cash in their Giro's in order to pack out Goodison Park every week and thereby seeing a sharp downturn in petty crime throughout the Merseyside area.

They will be missing new signing Leighton Baines with a hamstring injury and there's talk of Moyes mixing up his attacking options with Andy Johnson, James Vaughan and Gary McSheffrey all battling to partner Yakubu upfront.

West Ham will also be fielding a few changes from Sunday's game, some of those enforced by the late summer signings. Nobby Solano and Henri Camara are both cup-tied and so Freddie Ljungberg could be getting his first start for some time. Dean Ashton must also be hoping for a much-deserved place in the starting line-up.

5. Alan Attack!

If Alan Curbishley has any sense at all, he'll set us up in an attacking 4-4-2 formation this evening. Sunday's display against Blackburn further enhanced our recent solid defensive efforts with Rob Green rarely troubled bar a couple of first class saves/misses.

It's been a while since we've looked so coherent at the back and with both Mullins and Parker likely to team up again in central midfield, we should have licence to launch forward. I would also like to see Parker push up a bit more when we're in possession.

With Nobby out and Etherington a doubt, I would expect Curbs to play Boa Morte and Ljungberg on the wings with Cole and Ashton upfront. This would give Luis the chance to get some white powder on his boots as opposed to his face.

Leaving Deano on the bench again would, I suspect, begin to raise quite a few voices, let alone eyebrows.

It's true that some managers have a disliking for certain players - the way Curbishley offloaded Paul Konchesky like a hot potato with herpes at both Charlton and West Ham being just one example. So erratic have been Ashton's appearances this year that I'm fearfully beginning to think the same of his relationship with our Number 9.

'Lack of match fitness' as a reason for Ashton's omission will only last so long. To keep our best striker out of the 1st XI for any reason other than death or imprisonment would be folly.

6. Battle Of The Aussie Battlers

Tonight sees the first round of the Antipodean clash between our own Lucas 'The Water Walker' Neill and Everton's Tim 'The Pug-Faced Gimp' Cahill.

Everyone knows the history between England and Australia and I'm probably least well-placed to comment, what with my beautiful girlfriend hailing from the colonies along with her lovely family and friends (that's contractual), but I'm going to anyway...

There are a few exceptions to the general rule that we hate most Aussies - our stalwart captain Lucas 'Bringer Of Light' Neill, the legend that is Richie Benaud and of course, Sir Stefan Dennis - but Tim Cahill is a particular bugbear of mine.

Not only is he a smug Australian sportsman, but he has also played for Millwall. Combine that with his ridiculous 'boxing at the corner flag' celebration and the fact that he's a smug Australian sportsman who has also played for Millwall and... well, you get the point.

I'd love to see Hayden Mullins chop him down early doors while Lucas 'The Scourge Of Beelzebub' is curing lepers by the corner flag, bathed in a luminous glow.

7. In Summary

With any luck, the only thing anyone associated with West Ham will lose tonight will be their hub-caps.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Blackburn Rovers vs West Ham United: Match Preview - 09/12/2007

1 . Three Strikes And Out

So, this is the third preview in a row.

I thought to myself, 'HeadHammer Shark has just become a father for the second time, so he's bound to be off the radar for a while and will rightly be taking some time away from his other responsibilities'.

Then I read that Mr Kipling was having a yard sale and it all clicked into place. My patience wears thin.

2. Happy Birthday To You

This weekend marks the first year of Alan Curbishley's tenure as West Ham manager.

It's hard to fully assess his time at the helm as the first 6 months were spent desperately trying to cling to top flight football - something he achieved and for which he must be given credit.

Having been given the funds Pardew must have been hankering for, Curbs has now been able to build a squad of his liking and with that comes added responsibility should they not succeed. He has been vocal in his opinion that a top 10 finish would be a successful season, but I think we're all secretly hoping for ever so slightly more than that.

Another season finishing with us hovering uncomfortably above relegation would surely see Chairman Eggert Magnusson in an altogether more ruthless mood and a guaranteed withdrawal of the chocolate Hob-Nobs from the canteen.

3. Mettle work

Personally, I think that our next two games (away to Blackburn and at home to Everton) will provide us with a more accurate assessment of our current status than any other fixtures so far this season.

Invariably you can rely on West Ham to show up against the big teams, as Saturday's game against Chelsea proved with an energetic, feisty display. It's when we come up against the lesser sides that we seem to take our foot off the gas and coast our way to the unremarkable.

It's obvious, but if we can beat those teams who have similar ambitions, we should find ourselves with a decent chance of European football come next May.

4. Form And Function

Despite their recent good form, I've managed to uncover a few stats which should give us hope going into the weekend.

Firstly, Blackburn have only managed to keep one clean sheet in 10 League outings. Hopefully Ashton will be fit enough to start and can get involved, perhaps even over the full 90 minutes. I fancy our recently impressive midfield to contribute as well.

Blackburn have won just one of their last five games and failed to score in three of those. In marked contrast, we have avoided defeat in five of the last six.

With Bentley (their recent creative fulcrum) missing out, hopefully Robbie Savage will start and be mercilessly slaughtered by one of the many dozens of contract killers who must surely be on his tail.

5. The History

Last season's corresponding fixture was a cut and dried affair.

Having gone 1-0 down (as was becoming something of a pre-requisite), Tevez slotted home a penalty and then further cemented his status as an Upton Park legend. Carlos managed to miraculously clear Zamora's shot off the Blackburn goal line whilst in an offside position, only to then run off in celebration prompting the goal to be awarded.

The man is a mercurial football genius.

This undeniable slab of good fortune lifted us off the bottom of the table and began to kindle the dying embers of Premiership survival. We shouldn't need such outrageous luck this time around to get a result, but we will need a solid performance.

6. B&B

Benni McCarthy and David Bentley are two examples of genuine goal threats.

McCarthy was a West Ham target for some months but opted for the stinking, barren, industrial wasteland of Blackburn over the fragrant, multi-cultural utopia of Green Street. Perhaps no bad thing as he doesn't appear to be the most loyal of fellows.

Upon being told by a local crack-head that there was a 4% chance he could be reunited with Mourinho at Chelsea, Benni quashed those rumours and warmed the hearts of Rovers fans everywhere with a declaration akin to: "I'd walk out on these whippet-racing inbreds in an instant."

Apparently he drove straight home having been substituted against Newcastle last weekend - Big Sam asked if he could keep the engine running but McCarthy had a table booked at Nando's.

Bentley is in good form at the moment, as his two goals last week testify. Off-loaded as a promising youngster by Arsene Wenger for a rumoured attitude problem, he has flourished with first-team football at Blackburn and is the kind of player I wish we would've gone in for a couple of years back instead of the likes of Tyrone Mears.

Occasionally prone to petulance, he's still a good player who should give the current stale England line-up something to think about over the coming months. Luckily for us, that petulance saw him pick up his 5th yellow card of the season against Newcastle last week, meaning he misses Sunday afternoon's game.

7. Hughes Your Daddy?

Blackburn have enjoyed a good start to the season and whilst only 2 places above us, there is a 7-point gap.

We can write off our game in hand as it's away to Liverpool - we haven't won that fixture since Martin Luther King 'had a dream' and Jackie Kennedy's lovely pink ensemble was ruined by her husband's face (you can't say this blog isn't educational).

Mark Hughes has assembled an unremarkable yet combative squad together with a few players capable of making the difference when needed. They certainly appear to have been infused with their manager's former playing attitude of committed lunacy.

Having beaten Spurs away, Newcastle at home and drawn with both Arsenal and Liverpool, Sparky's team have been pulling out the kinds of results that we would hope for ourselves. Only an unsurprising 2-0 loss to Man Utd and an uncharacteristic and by all accounts undeserved 4-0 drubbing at home to Villa have blighted their UEFA Cup aspirations.

Despite his rapidly greying hair, Mark Hughes is proving to be a good young manager. Besides, the only thing at Ewood Park greyer than Mark Hughes' locks will be Boa Morte's complexion after another night on the Class A's.

I would consider a West Ham away victory this weekend to be a potentially season-defining effort.

8. PS

Shout out to Ricky Hatton this weekend - paste Mayweather's mug all over Vegas!

(I'd do it myself but, you know, I've got previews to research).

9. In Summary

Robbie Savage is a c*nt.

Don't worry, Shark - there's not a court in the land that wouldn't agree with us.