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, February 07, 2008

West Ham United vs Birmingham City: Match Preview - 09/02/2008

1. Always The Bridesmaid

Birmingham City have continually been forced to play second fiddle to their local rivals Aston Villa, the more celebrated of the Midlands teams - but this life in the shadows is not just confined to the football field.

Since the World Wars, Birmingham itself has come to be known as the UK's 'second city' ahead of more deserving claims from the likes of Manchester, Edinburgh, Liverpool, East Grinstead and Romford.

During the course of this week's meticulous research, I uncovered some staggering facts. Did you know that our guests this Saturday are twinned with such metropolitan luminaries as Milan, Chicago and Johannesburg?

More fittingly, the city also shares its name with a crater on the Moon - although deciding which of the two is a barren wasteland completely devoid of any atmosphere whatsoever, is a tough one.

2. History

With Birmingham newly promoted, there was no corresponding fixture last season. The last time the two teams met at Upton Park was in February 2006 and resulted in a 3-0 home victory for Alan Pardew's newly promoted side.

Birmingham went down that year but managed to bounce straight back up thanks largely to the absence of media glare, efficiently reflected by Steve Bruce's angular hooter.

Our Premiership record against The Blues is good having won three, drawn one and lost one of our five meetings. We only played them three times throughout the whole of the 1990's and have enjoyed the upper hand since.

Without a win since Boxing Day, Birmingham have struggled of late and took only one point from their last two 'six-pointers' against fellow relegation candidates Sunderland and Derby County. They need to start picking up points fast as they play nine top half teams in their remaining thirteen fixtures.

The fact that they are in the midst of a relegation tussle worries me. We are the type of team that could all too easily provide them with the winning catalyst they need (see Wigan last week). Their incentive to win is greater than ours and it doesn't take much for West Ham to rest on their laurels.

3. The Ravages Of Time

Allegations have been made recently about my naivety regarding West Ham's prospects this season. Regular readers will know that wild and unfounded accusations have no place on this blog (Jeremy Clarkson pays badgers for sex), but I shall tackle them anyway.

The last twenty years tell us that when we play teams we should convincingly beat, we invariably lose. Saturday's result did nothing to dispel this truth - but I imagine a little youthful exuberance can sometimes be refreshing for you, readers.

You see, I am significantly younger than HeadHammer Shark, so you'll forgive me if I try to inject a little cheer into our regularly hopeless plight as Hammers fans and dispel all this doom and gloom from an old-timer who regards the absence of elbow patches as "decadent folly".

I'm not going to bang on about this (anymore), suffice to say that HeadHammer Shark is an old man, out of touch with his people whilst simultaneously coercing votes out of them.

He is the Robert Mugabe of cyberspace.

4. Internazionale

Wednesday night saw Matthew Upson play a full 90 minutes at the heart of England's defence. It's been a long time since we saw a current West Ham player as an England centre-back and Upson can have done himself no harm for future selection after putting in a solid display.

A naturally left and right footed pairing in Upson and Ferdinand looked promising and, Ferdinand aside, I refuse to believe that there's another centre back in the country with a better claim than Upson. John Terry is regularly shown up when he faces world class players and he shouldn't be an automatic choice, let alone captain. Willingly putting your head in front of an opposition boot does not a great centre-back make.

England's performance was initially nervy but ultimately successful, with a few debutants underlining their claims for regular international selection - notably Blackburn's David Bentley.

Personally, I found it quite refreshing to see England knocking the ball around on the deck and taking their time, despite a brief spell of derision from some home fans exhibiting the memories of goldfish. The absence of a few big names, more recently picked on past glories as opposed to actual form, was also a welcome addition.

In the second half, England looked a competent international side for the first time in ages and the lack of panicky long balls was pleasing. Tweaks are still needed (Micah Richards and Wayne Bridge at full-back, Jermaine Jenas exiled), but we can feel confident that Capello is his own boss and will not pick players on reputation alone.

Fabio's methods will no doubt come in for some flack eventually, but where has Premiership-style football played at 100mph got us in the last 10 years?

5. Love Is In The Air

I got an email from those industrious folk at West Ham's commercial sector the other day, lauding the merchandise available in a special Valentines Day promotion.

Any male readers out there wrestling with ideas for their better halves may currently be in a pickle. But fear not, struggling to come up with the perfect gift to let your lady know just how much she means to you is no longer an issue.

Just imagine the beaming look on her face as the gift is unwrapped, eyes welling up when she discovers not a bootleg...

... but an official West Ham United Cereal Bowl.

6. Travelling Circus

It has been announced this week that all 20 Premier League teams have voted to explore the possibilityof playing some Premiership fixtures overseas as early as the 2010-'11 season.

The current proposition is that the season be extended by 10 games (one full weekend programme) with these matches being staged at five different venues around the world and with potential hosts bidding for them.

As it stands, the extra fixtures could be determined by a draw with the top five teams being seeded in order to avoid each other.

It all sounds like a bit of a ruthless money-spinning exercise to me. Can you imagine the frustration of narrowly claiming a UEFA Cup spot after 38 games, only to be drawn against Man United in the 39th and having to fork out for a trip to bloody Nairobi to inevitably see us lose out on European football?

Whether all this is sanctioned won't be known for another year, but I can't see how it will benefit the teams involved and only seems like a shallow attempt to strengthen the 'brand' of the Premiership as opposed to the actual competition. Whilst of course lining someone's pockets.

7. The Opposition

Joint top-scorer Olivier Kapo is suspended for this game, but his striking counterpart Cameron Jerome looks set to start after his run out for England U-21s in midweek. James McFadden should play having made the trip from Everton during the transfer window and City also welcome back Jaidi and Nafti from the African Cup of Nations.

Alex McLeish finds his team in trouble having made a stirring start to his career as Birmingham manager (we all cheered that last minute thunderbolt from Sebastian Larsson to win 3-2 at Spurs).

The Blues are now at their lowest League position since the last week of August and McLeish will be hoping that his numerous dips into the transfer market during the window will steady the ship.

8. Missing In Action

We'll be looking for our fourth home win on the spin come Saturday and remain unbeaten at Upton Park since mid-December. Just who will be called upon to get that win remains as open to speculation as at any other time this season.

A hastily-arranged friendly against QPR on Monday gave the chance for some of our injured masses to get a few minutes under their belt. Julien Faubert played the full 90 minutes, so one would hope he will feature prominently at the weekend.

Nobby Solano played for 45 minutes whereas Craig Bellamy and Bobby Z both got an hour, Bellamy managing to climb off his hoverboard and evade his arch-nemesis Spiderman long enough to grab a goal. Zamora also scored in a 2-1 win.

9. John Paintsil Update

Our main man has been busy this week. He played all the way to the African Cup Of Nations semi-final, caught a falling baby outside of a German apartment block and re-doubled his efforts against the resurgent Taliban.

Despite all this, he still found time to make considerable gains in the US Presidential Primaries.

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