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, 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......

1 comment:

  1. Dull 1-0 loss at home again then ...