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

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Everton 1 - 1 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

1. To Be Fair To The Lads

I don't know whether any of you had the dubious pleasure of watching this game via the wonderful medium of Setanta Sports, but it went a little something like this:

"Hi everyone, welcome to EVERTON! They're going for 4th place you know, in direct competition with LIVERPOOL! And they're both from the same city - LIVERPOOL! And next week they're playing each other - God, I wish we were showing that game. Oh well, at least we've got EVERTON this week and they've got YAKUBU and he's great. Boy, he reminds me of a guy I used to go to school with. Anyway, they're playing.....erm, Christ who are they playing Steve? Do we really have to mention them? Oh alright, they're playing........LIVERPOOL! Oh no hang on, that's next week. I really do wish we were showing that game. Oh well. I think they're playing another team who look like they're wearing white."

And after the game:

"EVERTON should have won that, eh! That 2nd Yakubu goal was onside. Someone write to their MP man, that shouldn't be allowed. Yeah, I guess that West Ham hit the woodwork twice, but I don't really like London. That congestion charge thing is not something I agree with at all. I don't think EVERTON are going to get in the Champions League now.....oh the humanity, the horror, the horror......." (muffled sobs)

2. The Portugese Man Of Peace

I like to try and plan my articles and have them follow a certain path. This helps greatly with allowing me to simply recycle old tat and pass it off as new, and in theory should help me cut down the time it takes to write these. Of course as we are in the week after Easter I'm being slowed down considerably by the need to stop every three minutes for an Egg. But I digress.

The reason why I am breaking with tradition is for one very special man. Step forward Luis Boa Morte, who tonight put in quite possibly the worst display I have ever seen in a West Ham shirt, outside of Charlie Hunnam in Green Street. To that end I am going to challenge you, dear reader, to thoroughly analyse Boa Morte the next time that he plays for us.

During that time I would like you to see if, at any time, Boa Morte has the ball under control. This may seem hyperbolic, but during this game I lost count of the times that he almost had the ball under control before giving it away, at least up until the point my retina's exploded in sheer frustration. Indeed, it would not be an exaggeration to say that Luis Boa Morte did literally nothing of any value in this game apart from departing to allow Freddie Sears to come on.

I can no longer exist in a world where Boa Morte consistently plays for West Ham. Like the prospect of Robbie Williams releasing any more albums, or Josh Hartnett being in any more film adaptations of James Ellroy novels - it's just plain wrong.

Alan, please stop it. It's hurting my spleen.

3. The Statistics

Perhaps unsurprisingly the numbers for this game all suggest a very even affair. Possession was shared at 50%, along with 4 corners apiece, 3 offsides each and ten fouls from each team.

Everton shaded the shots on goal count by 7 to 4, although even that feels a little high and discounts our two efforts that rattled the woodwork.

Encouragingly Dean Ashton had 6 attempts all on his own, although less encouragingly managed to get just two on target. One of those efforts was a first half strike from barely 6 yards that he somehow put wide with the Everton back four all crowding round Phil Neville to help him with a particularly tricky Times cryptic crossword.

In short, this was the archetypal game of two halves. We were poor in the first period, although we did have some decent chances of our own, before coming out in the second half and deservedly getting our equaliser with 20 minutes to go. That we didn't go on to win says more about our ability to kill a game than it does about Everton's stoical defending.

4. The Opposition

In the week before Christmas when Everton effectively ended our season with a double over us at Upton Park, I felt then that whilst functional, they were one of the more impressive teams I had seen. Sadly for them, the long season has taken it's toll and the team we faced here were a pale shadow of the load of Masai warriors we saw previously.

With Andy Johnson absent through injury - thus proving that one can get injured pretending to be injured - and with Tim Cahill withdrawn 11 minutes into the game, and 12 minutes after being added to my Fantasy League team, they were fairly devoid of attacking ideas.

Their goal was textbook route one, with Howard clearing long for Anichebe to flick on to Yakubu who in turn bullied James Tompkins out of the way and walloped home. He was helped slightly by Tompkins misplacing his cerebrum and foolishly getting caught on the wrong side, but in fairness to the youngster that is a geometrically impressive feat given that Yakubu is perfectly cylindrical and therefore only actually has one side anyway.

Thereafter saw much weeping and gnashing of teeth after Yakubu had his second goal incorrectly disallowed, at which point the wind seemed to disappear completely from the Everton sails, and it certainly felt that our equaliser was a long time coming.

Apropos of nothing at all but the fact that Phil Neville has played over 60 times for England just highlights everything that is wrong with this country.

5. The Referee

Mark Halsey was roundly castigated by the media for failing to allow the Yakubu goal. This is largely because most people in the English media have no knowledge of football.

The referee didn't make the decision - his assistant did. Certainly he probably saw that the ball came off Anichebe and not Parker, meaning therefore if the assistant had his flag up he was perfectly correct to disallow the goal. The fact that his assistant had also misplaced his cerebrum didn't help but so far as Halsey goes, he was fairly blameless.

He also didn't award a foul against Dean Ashton at every single opportunity, as demanded by the somewhat riled Goodison crowd. I have no idea if they were offended by Deano's fetching blonde highlights, or simply his rugged good looks, but either way they were not happy.

6. The Time Is Now

Given the fact that our season has reached a catatonic plateau, the saving grace remains the appearances of youngsters Freddie Sears and James Tompkins. The latter made his debut here, and despite a few rocky moments emerged relatively unscathed. He almost had a dream start when he headed a corner against the bar after just 4 minutes. Of course, scoring from a set piece against Everton would be like trampling an elephant to death, so it was not surprising to see it stay out.

Elsewhere, he showed a pleasing composure in possession and displayed an outstanding Premier League mullet. He'll fit right in.

Sears was belatedly introduced after Curbishley lost patience with Boa Morte standing around looking perplexed by the complexities of Southland Tales, and introduced Freddie Sears on the not unreasonable assumption that a sentient being would be more useful. Almost immediately we began to show more purpose, culminating in a thumping goal from Ashton and a series of squandered opportunities that would have made the candidates on The Apprentice blush.

As the game got even more stretched we had the repeated sight of Sears running unimpeded through on goal, culminating in an agonising shot against the post with just seconds remaining. Sadly, he also decided to pay his respects to Andy Johnson with a convincing homage late in the day involving Phil Neville and a theatrical dive in the box.

Freddie, just a note. Scoring late goals - good. Diving - bad.

7. This Just In

Prolonged exposure to Freddie Sears can make Phil Jagielka sit on the floor and cry. Like a baby.

8. It Goes Ashton And On And On

Dean Ashton's equaliser deserves a paragraph all of it's own, not least because it involved an excellent piece of play by Lucas Neill to get things started. It was his deep cross that invited Ashton to soar above the truly awful Jagielka to thump home our leveller.

Given that previously this year he has been displaying all the aerial prowess of an ostrich it was certainly a pleasant surprise to see him so dominant.

His first half miss was probably a sign that he hasn't quite fully recovered his finishing touch, or an indication that he has morphed into Emile Heskey, but either way he is clearly not the player he was two years ago, but he is a hell of a lot further along than he was two months ago. And that is a cause for some celebration amidst the boredom.

9. Hey, I Forgot

In my rush to get through this weeks article, I appear to have forgotten to give you an update on Luis Boa Morte's footwear for this game. Having had a week off Luis took the daring, if ultimately misguided, decision to play this game wearing a complete scuba diving outfit. This included goggles, flippers and a full tank of oxygen.

Needless to say he was still quicker than Yakubu, but for some reason, substantially less effective.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Sunderland vs West Ham United: Match Preview - 29/03/2008

1. A Brief Encounter

Another reduced preview this week. As brief as Lou Macari's tenure as West Ham boss.

2. A Long Time Ago, In A Football Ground Far, Far Away...

Back in 2001, a couple of weeks after Paolo DiCanio had left Fabien Barthez doing his favourite Heinrich Himmler impression, HeadHammer Shark and I ventured up to Sunderland for the 4th round FA Cup tie against a team who were then 2nd in the Premiership.

The game featured on Sky and was consequently a midday kick-off, meaning we had to be at Upton Park at 3am for the departing coaches. I remember running along the alley behind the East Stand wondering where the coach was leaving from, nimbly evading the hobos and knife-wielding, smack-addicted foxes.

A mere eight hours later we were at the ground. The game was patchy but we enjoyed the lions share of the chances and deservedly took the lead, thanks to Freddie Kanoute breaking clear and slotting home one of his many opportunities that day.

The considerable and vocal away support went mental and I very nearly fell from the very top to the very bottom of our allocated stand after jumping up and down on my seat. It was a decent game but a fantastic day.

It brought home to me how 16 hours of travelling can all be worth it for 2 minutes of delirium and a victory, whereas had we lost, it would've been one of the worst and most wasted days of my life.

What I'm trying to get at is that away days are a real Russian Roulette with a chasm between the contrasting emotions, all determined by 90 minutes of football. I sincerely hope that the travelling hoardes aren't left cursing all the way back down the M1 come Saturday night.

3. History

Earlier this season we beat Sunderland at home 3-1 in what is only the second time this campaign we have managed to score more than twice at Upton Park. The scoreline was flattering and the match most notable for the fact that Craig Bellamy was actually on the pitch.

The game was largely even with the scores tied at 1-1 in the 78th minute, until Scotland's Number 1 Craig Gordon scored an own goal and Craig Bellamy nicked an injury time third.

Being newly promoted, there was no corresponding fixture last year and the last time we played Sunderland at the oxymoronic Stadium of Light (for it is a cavern of darkness and evil) was October 2005.

The result was 1-1 with Yossi Benayoun on the scoresheet. The changes made to our squad since are probably best reflected in that Shaun Newton was then our primary drug mule as opposed to crack fiend Luis Boa Morte.

Generally, our record is fair to middling. Over the last ten years we have won eight, drawn three and lost five and our record away from home is a more or less even split of wins, draws and losses over the same period. Although in our last four visits we have won twice and drawn once.

It could be a dangerous time to meet The Black Cats as they are putting on a bit of a run in a bid to claw their way well clear of the relegation zone. Their impressive win away to Villa last week is testament to their current resolve, but we haven't looked too shabby ourselves in the last couple of weeks and our second half display at Everton was heartening.

4. Injuries

The fact that this section has been a regular addition to nigh on every match preview this year tells it's own story.

Apparently Bobby Zamora is back in contention having been forced to sit out last week with the laughable excuse of having "blisters". Carlton Cole is back in the frame, but recent salvation Freddie Sears has been struggling with a slight groin strain since Everton and so a late decision will be made regarding his involvement.

Faubert is doubtful as he is apparently not being risked before reaching full fitness and god only knows what's happened to Lee Bowyer and Matty Etherington.

Matthew Upson is still not a certainty having not fully recovered from an injury he picked up against Liverpool and in his absence I'd like to see James Tomkins given another game. Ok, so Yakubu's goal on Saturday evening came from his error, but if grave defensive errors automatically led to West Ham players being dropped, Upton Park would be a barren wasteland.

Tomkins looked solid in the second half at Everton and scored twice for England U-19's in their 3-1 win over Russia in midweek. Another good game on Saturday would do him no harm and help provide genuine competition/cover for our two ever-present centrebacks this year (in the absence of Gabbidon and Collins). In any case, he has to be a better centreback option than Jonathan Spector.

5. International Bright Young Thing

James Tomkins match-winning display against Russia this week was the highlight of a number of Hammers on international duty.

Lucas Neill guided the lamentably nicknamed 'Socceroos' to a goalless draw against China - Tibetan Monks forced to watch his positional play before all willingly renouncing their faith - and Freddie Ljungberg played an hour for Sweden in their 1-0 loss to Brazil at The Emirates.

Rob Green warmed the bench in Paris as David James did his best to detach Nicolas Anelka's torso from his legs, whereas Gorgeous George McCartney missed Northern Ireland's win over Georgia completely.

Most notable however was Alan Curbishley's visit to Craven Cottage to watch Pope Pantsil guide Nigeria to a glorious 2-1 defeat against Mexico. Having blessed the congregated thousands and levitated for a full fifteen minutes, High Priest Pantsil went on to selflessly offer up the Nigerian goal to the King Of Hosts, only for those dastardly Mexicans to score twice.

There was a filthy rumour proffered yesterday which said that Martin O'Neill could be interested in snatching our religious leader away to Villa Park come the summer.

This would be a disaster. We can not allow this to happen.

The seas would rise, great civilizations fall, the forests burn, plagues of locusts descend upon east London and Big Fun make a comeback.

Whilst our coffers would swell to bursting point having sold the first ever £400 billion player, that would be scant consolation for a devastating and total loss of faith.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Everton vs West Ham United: Match Preview - 22/03/2008

1. Easter Comes Early

Firstly, Happy Easter to you, reader - and to the many thousands who have logged onto this website in error.

As the nights get shorter, so do my H List entries. Due to us all enjoying a four-day weekend this week, today's post will be a little less than usual so that it can be a preview that is actually read prior to the game.

Corners have been cut, the planning ill-conceived and any potentially disastrous consequences flagrantly disregarded in a bid to meet a deadline.

A bit like the war in Iraq.

2. Behind Enemy Lines

Following on from last week's introductory Rocky theme, on Sunday I took on the guise of John Rambo and was dropped deep in enemy territory at Craven Cottage for Fulham's match against this weekend's opponents.

The weather was awful and I was forced to smear on an extra layer of insulating goose fat along with the camouflage war-paint. Red bandana in place, M-16 Assault rifle locked and loaded, I blended in seamlessly - as visible as Luis Boa Morte's ability.

I must say that having seen The Toffees cruise to a comfortable victory at Upton Park earlier this season, they put in a distinctly underwhelming performance against a team fighting for survival.

Andy Johnson's early substitution due to terminal baldness forced David Moyes to reshuffle his team into a 4-5-1 formation. Yakubu became the sole attacker and Jolean Lescott increasingly pushed forward to join him as the game wore on. Robbed of the opportunity to lambaste Johnson, I settled into my foxhole to assess Everton.

They definitely missed Tim Cahill and apart from Arteta, their midfield was bereft of any real spark or quality. Pienaar was ineffective down the right, kept quiet with regular attention and Lee Carsley is simply a thug prone to the odd waist-high challenge.

As for their captain, the only weapon in Phil Neville's armoury is that he is the Medusa of the Premiership, ugly enough to stun opponents into paralysis with a mere glance. That man is the very definition of the word 'gormless'. Don't look him in the eyes!

At halftime there was time to blast my way down to Al-Fayed's underground sweatshops to free some Cambodian children from their bamboo cages and back into more regulated working conditions, plus a quick sausage roll.

What is all the fuss about Jolean Lescott? As far as I can see he is entrenched in the middle of the road. A distinctly average attacker and below par defender, he is betwixt and between any discernable use and god only knows how he wangled his way into the England squad.

Despite his obvious shortcomings, he seems convinced that he is the next Roberto Carlos - getting forward at any opportunity, but without the awareness, pace, range of passing, power or technique.

All in all, it was hard to see how they caused us so many problems a few months ago and confirmed my belief that all those teams outside the top four are beatable with a half decent performance.

3. History

Last season we were on the wrong end of a 2-0 scoreline at Goodison Park in the same fixture. At the time, we were just one point above the relegation zone and Everton were once again challenging for a place in that impenetrable top four.

It was a game in which we were unlucky not to come away with anything and David Moyes was gracious enough to say as much in his post-match interview. Despite our plucky performance, it spelt the beginning of the end for Alan Pardew and a week later he was out of a job, following successive defeats to Wigan and Bolton.

We have already lost to Everton twice this season and in the space of a week, thanks to our Premiership and League Cup double whammy back in December. In neither game were we consummately outclassed as we have been in recent weeks, but a 4-1 aggregate scoreline tells it's own story.

Generally speaking, our record isn't great. Everton were our bogey-team for quite some time and not much has been done in the recent past to reverse that trend - we have managed just two wins against them in the last ten years.

4. Welcome To The Nani State

It was announced this week that West Ham have appointed their first ever Technical Director in the form of Italian, Gianluca Nani.

His brief is to strengthen both the development of current players from Academy to first team and our pulling power in the transfer market, whilst simultaneously fazing out the techniques currently used to formulate tactics (which largely involve painting with potato shapes).

Nani has enjoyed some success at this sort of role previously with Brescia, the uncovering and development of current Italian striker Luca Toni being a notable example. With Toni already being a rumoured transfer target this summer, it will be interesting to see how that relationship develops.

Curbishley has shown little skill or desire to sign unknown talent from Europe's lesser leagues (Faubert apart), preferring to pay high transfer fees and wages for established Premiership regulars instead of seeking out and refining young talent with high potential.

Curbs was involved in Nani's selection and appointment from the start, which serves to underline the faith the Board have in our manager over the long term. If Nani is able to uncover young footballing gems and attract them to the club before their value (and/or ambition) spirals out of our grasp, his appointment will be a welcome progression.

5. Nightmare On Green Street

As you all know, the latest product to come off the Academy assembly line did his first team aspirations no harm by scoring the winner against Blackburn on Saturday.

Freddie Sears' explosion onto the Premiership scene will leave Curbishley with a few options upfront, having endured months of injuries. However, this weekend will signify the end of a suspension and the return of the nightmare that is Luis Boa Morte into first team contention.

In light of Saturday's result, I will be interested to see whether Luis walks straight back into the First XI at Goodison Park. To date, he seems the only player impervious to standard criteria such as actual competence on the field and the requirement to use one's limbs for mobility instead of a pogo stick.

The fifteen or so minutes that we got to see Ashton and Sears in tandem, they looked like they could evolve into an effective and diverse striking partnership. Ashton's power and first touch combined with Sears' fleet of foot could give us all a welcome lift as we trudge down the home straight of this season.

But to be fair, Boa Morte has consistently proven himself the better player in terms of Curbishley's selection criteria by having the fastest reaction times at Hungry Hungry Hippos.

You can't help but feel that LBM's inclusion would be a backwards step and that the winning team of the weekend have earned the right to have another crack at Everton. Let Luis merely have some crack at Everton and everyone would be happy.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

West Ham 2 - 1 Blackburn Rovers (And Other Ramblings)

1. Carlsberg Don't Do Debuts

Wow, I'll bet it feels good to be Freddie Sears right now. Except for the obvious issue he might have with Alan Curbishley selecting Henri Camara ahead of him all year, but that's probably been offset rather nicely by his rather splendid debut.

I can only imagine what it must be like to come on at Upton Park for your first game as an 18 year old, and notch the winner. In fact, that's pretty much all I spent the first 17 years of my life imagining, so it's fair to say I'm somewhat envious.

So I guess it would also be reasonable to say that West Ham fans feel more positive about Freddie Sears than we do about, oh I don't know, let's pick a name at random, er................ Luis Boa Morte.

2. No Country For Old Men

I can't deny that it was something of a relief just to score a goal in this game, given our recent travails. It's tough to imagine that were going to lose 4-0 at home to Blackburn, but given that we managed to concede three goals to Newcastle I can't say we should be looking down our noses at anybody.

Of course, given our pitiful decline in recent weeks, I might go so far as to say that the rest of this season is really just about preparing for next term. To that end the introduction of Sears was welcome, even before he went all Michael Owen on their asses, and hopefully he will be followed soon enough by Jack Collison and James Tompkins.

It strikes me that by this point we are well aware of what Carlton Cole can do (not a lot, but he tries hard), or Jonathan Spector (not much either but he has nice hair) or Luis Boa Morte (Christ knows, 12 press ups maybe). With all of that in mind, and absolutely nothing left to play for it would be worthwhile to see what we have in our latest crop of youngsters.

I would also very much like to see midfielder Junior Stanislas get a run out, if only so that we can finally hone in on the lucrative untapped West Indian-Polish market.

3. The Statistics

As one might expect, the statistics for this game suggested a fairly even affair. This is simply because it was, perhaps unsurprisingly given the relative proximity of the teams in the Premier League. We mustered 6 shots on target to 5 from the visitors, with Blackburn shading the possession at 51%.

Dean Ashton had no less than 6 efforts at goal, including a splendidly taken goal, which one might dare to hope signals a return to form for the big man. Now admittedly, he was being marked by Christophe Samba who is arguably the only man this side of Johnny Vegas who could make Dean Ashton look svelte, but either way it was an encouraging display.

Elsewhere, we were caught offside just twice, which is a decent indicator that Bobby Zamora is not yet completely back in the swing of things. Or that someone has finally decided to tattoo the rules of the game on to the inside of his eyelids.

4. The Opposition

I have no idea why we are so dominant over Blackburn. I can think of three players - Santa Cruz, Bentley and Pedersen - who would wander straight into our side, and I am sure that Rovers fans could argue eloquently for a few others. All of this is irrelevant of course, as we have not so much the Indian Eye over Blackburn as the entire Asian Continent and most of Africa too.

Today was very strong evidence that there is very little to choose between the teams. Rovers scored a tremendous opener on the counter attack, with a fine finish from Roque Santa Cruz whilst our back 4 did a creditable impression of 4 men doing anything other than professional defending.

Pedersen should have given the visitors a late win, when presented with a very decent opportunity, but he instead ballooned his shot over Tower Bridge somewhere. This in itself wasn't his most telling contribution, as Freddie Sears would later come on and make him look rather ponderous in blitzing past him on the way to his late winner. I sincerely hope that he won't be the last defender to be getting a good look at the soles of Sears boots.

5. The Referee

Martin Atkinson took charge once more, and for my money didn't do a great deal wrong. Truthfully you'd have had to have been Mike Riley to make any kind of controversy out of this fixture. Two sides playing with absolutely no genuine ambitions of progressing much further in the League this year, and nary a tackle in anger.

Ho hum, nobody died. Let's move on.

6. Kudos

On a day such as this, when the entire stadium was salivating at the prospect of a new wunderkind, it would be easy to overlook a few of the better performances. Lucas Neill may have been consistently below par this year, but in recent weeks he has shown signs of life, or at the very least NotbeingascrapasTyroneMears.

Robert Green again proved his worth with a fine late save from Jason Roberts. Certainly Roberts isn't much of a finisher, in fact he's not much of anything really, but it was a tremendous stop nonetheless.

Best of all was the aforementioned return to form of Dean Ashton. Not only did he score a marvellously well taken goal, but he also had a big part to play in the winning goal as he held up a lovely Neill pass and flicked it into the path of the onrushing Sears who briefly impersonated Carlton Cole and whacked it straight at Friedel before recovering to head the winner. Bonzer!

7. Attack, Attack, Attack!

Special kudos to Alan Curbishley who shelved his previous slavish addiction to Italian offensive tactics, as he blew everybody's mind by finishing this game with no less than 3 strikers. I would never have considered that Curbishley had the guts to play 4-3-3, especially in a game that we weren't losing, but in fairness he showed a hitherto unseen attacking tilt in the second half.

It certainly felt as though he had realised that this was no time to be Boltonian given recent events, and credit to him.

There is still absolutely no excuse for ever picking Luis Boa Morte again - let us hope that Curbishley has noticed the following......

Less Luis - Less Losing

You know it makes sense.

Friday, March 14, 2008

West Ham United vs Blackburn Rovers: Match Preview - 15/03/2008

1. Once More Unto The Breach, Dear Friends

You know in Rocky films when Stallone is standing there in the ring, with his hands down, getting ruthlessly pummeled and displaying atrocious technique? He hits the canvas for the thirteenth time and part of you thinks "Stay down! Stay down!"

- that's something like where I am at the moment with our current season.

Of course, Sly always clambers to his feet to land a telling blow at the expense of his rapidly declining motor skills, but can we do the same at home on Saturday?

2. Our Opponents

Blackburn have had a steady season and have cemented their claims as genuine UEFA Cup-spot contenders. In Mark Hughes, they also have one of the more impressive young managers to have come on the scene in the last few years.

They have lost just once since Christmas, which was away to Arsenal and whilst never setting the world alight, Rovers have gone about their job consistently. Unlike ourselves, they regularly compete with those teams in and around them and invariably beat those they should.

David Bentley appears to be the only genuine difference in quality between the two teams, who are largely comparable. One gets the impression that their success stems from Hughes demanding that extra 10% from average players and that they enjoy playing for him.

3. History

Our record against Blackburn Rovers is very good. They have not managed to take a single point from Upton Park since a 2-1 victory back in 1994, the season before they went on to claim the Championship. We have won eight and drawn one of the last nine meetings between the two clubs in all competitions.

Last season we claimed a nervy 2-1 win over Rovers, courtesy of goals from Hayden Mullins and Teddy Sheringham to put us two-up, before David Bentley equalised late on.

History and statistics (those most useless of reference points this season), tell us that Saturday should be an exciting game. Blackburn have scored more goals against us than against any other club, whereas we have won more games against Rovers than against anyone else. Cue the tame 0-0 draw.

During my painstaking research I was surprised to learn that, despite our much-lauded defence this year, we have only managed to keep clean sheets in two home games this season - against Middlesbrough and Liverpool.

Typically, I was at our last loss back in '94 and witnessed West Ham's former defender Ian Pearce score the winner, when he used to play upfront with Shearer. This is of course before his knees took on the tensile strength of popcorn and he was forced to morph his career to one of an immobile centre back.

I also remember 'Mad Dog' Martin Allen spanking in a glorious free-kick from fully 30 yards, before running off in celebration like a startled hare with rabies. It wasn't until I saw the replay from behind the goal that I realised the ball took a deflected trajectory akin to a small section of Steve Bruce's nose.

No, of course it didn't. That would be utterly ridiculous.

4. Kicked To The Curb

This week Alan Curbishley was given the dreaded 'vote of confidence' from the Club's Board of Directors after some speculation in the media about his tenure. He also came out with an impassioned response to recent criticism from the terraces as well as conspiracy theories on media "agendas".

One of Alan's complaints was that people fail to acknowledge that he too goes through the same pain and frustration as us fans when the team put in such dour performances as they have of late.

What Curbs fails to acknowledge is that he is paid a king's ransom to sit and watch those stoned llamas lolloping around, whereas we have no recourse for compensation and have to fork out between £35 and £50 per game to be dragged through the same emotional minefield.

His latest outburst put me in mind of the differences between our current manager and his predecessor, Alan Pardew. One of the things I liked most about Pards was his straight-talking in post-match interviews. Only this week he came out with the following after Charlton lost to Preston North End on Monday night:

"I feel for the fans today, paying good money and watching a load of crap."

Curbs would do well to realise that such brutal honesty would go a long way to appeasing some of us. It would at least give us all a flicker of hope that these lacklustre, unimaginative performances aren't given by design.

5. Premiership Plunder

There has been much hoopla this week that English teams make up four of the eight quarter finalists in the Champions League, but the dominance of the Premiership is not reflected in a wealth of homegrown talent.

Of the 44 names on the teamsheets of Premiership sides in the last round, there were just 10 Englishmen: Carragher, Gerrard, Terry, A Cole, Lampard, J Cole, Brown, Ferdinand, Carrick and Rooney.

What our large representation in the last eight reflects is merely the wealth of the domestic league and hence the ability to tempt top class internationals with extortionate wages.

I don't consider our heavy influence in the latter stages of the world's top club competition to be a matter of pride, merely a confirmation of its existence as an elitist practice to maintain the widening gulf between rich and poor.

A widening gap akin to that which lies between Lenny Henry's drain on the the earth's resources and his validity as a life form, except that this gap is laden with chocolate coins. If you can imagine such a thing.

6. InjuriesInjuriesInjuriesInjuriesInjuriesInjuries

Scott Parker bust be a good bet to start on Saturday as he got through 75 minutes in the-game-that-shall-not-speak-its-name, last Sunday. Bobby Zamora also played that dark day and Curbs could continue with his zany 4-4-2 experiment this week, accommodating both Zamora and Ashton.

Although we're at home, so probably not.

Julien Faubert is back in training but not in contention, so it will likely be between just Nobby and Freddie to fight it out for the right wing spot.

Apparently Bowyer is also back in full training and Upson stands a chance of returning, having missed Sunday's grotesque freak show as he was hiding under a rock in abject shame.

Still, on the bright side....

....Luis Boa Morte is suspended!!!

7. Rejoice!

Did you read that? Luis Boa Morte is not eligible for this weekend. He will definitely not be playing! Or even on the bench!!

Oh, happy day...

8. Steve Bruce Update

Deary me, things are going from bad to worse for Steve and his Angular Hooter (TM).

It appears as if the treacherous mountain range he calls a nose (littered with the corpses of expert mountain climbers out of their depth), has ripped the very fabric of the space-time continuum.

Only last week Steve referred to Wigan's match at Manchester City thusly:

"We had a very tricky game at Maine Road."

Now, considering that Man City haven't played at Maine Road for five years, the only possible explanation is that Steve is permanently staring through a time portal, which is continually whirring at the end his Polio-ravaged Twiglet of a nose.

Physicists everywhere are elated, although they freely admit that it would take an army of physicists a thousand years to quantify the innumerable angles jarring from a nose which has more lumps and bumps than a packet of Nik-Naks.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

tottenham 4 - 0 West Ham (And Other Things That Will Cost Alan Curbishley His Job)

1. What A Wonderful Life

Let me tell you of a few things that I like about my existence. I enjoy the music of Neil Young, I like Yorkshire Puddings, I am amused by the way that my two year old daughter yells "Bye guys!" when she leaves a room, I derive great pleasure from seeing a good adaptation from page to screen and I absolutely love a big sporting weekend.

Imagine, therefore, my delight at the prospect of watching England playing rugby against Scotland, seeing us play Test cricket against New Zealand - the country of my in-laws - and lastly, watching West Ham play our biggest local derby of the season, all in the space of two days.

Even better for me is if the rugby team then play insipidly and cluelessly, if the cricket team are negative and without ambition, and if West Ham perform with all the heart and desire of a piece of cheese.

Man, did I ever have a fantastic weekend.

2. To Vent Or Not To Vent?

I am wary of writing this report so soon after the event. Emotions are running high, frustrations are boiling over and the holes are still fresh in my Luis Boa Morte shaped dartboard. However, it would seem to me that if you are reading this site then you are not necessarily looking for reasoned, considered opinion. So I figured, why not? Except for the obvious emotional trauma of writing the bloody thing.

Blogs should, I suppose, reflect the visceral, ever changing emotional landscape of being a football fan. At times it is fairly hard to reflect the pain of actually paying genuine legal tender to watch this crap, but then there are only so many ways the English language will allow you to say - "lack of ambition is not an endearing trait".

I guess what I am trying to suggest here is that I might look back on this particular review as being somewhat more reactionary than usual. I can live with that of course given that I don't actually have to answer to anyone except the good Lord and the various law courts that The Boleyn Beluga is trying to gt us in front of.

3. The Statistics

As ever these days the only numbers that really matter are that we shipped 4 goals, and this time against a team 8 points below in the league. We somehow also failed to score against a defence brazenly including Michael Dawson and Paul Robinson without even a hint of irony.

We managed only 40% possession, which can't be entirely blamed upon the sending off of Boa Morte given that he had turned up for this game wearing a pair of skis and a suit of armour.

We mustered just 4 shots on target all game, with most of our chances actually arriving in the first 5 minutes. Typically, our one good chance came courtesy of some Robinson blundering, and was wasted with even more typical aplomb by a combination of our players. Thereafter, we capitulated like the proverbial house of cards and quicker than you could say "Oh my God - Curbishley has finally turned us into Charlton" we had served up a 2 goal lead and laid down the crucial early work required for an embarrassing capitulation.

Even more impressively our +8 goal difference of one week ago is now -4. I am P.R.O.U.D of my boys.

4. The Opposition

Losing 4-0 t0 anyone is shameful, but doing so against tottenham is what we in the trade like to call "a killer". Now most Hammers are struggling with this one due to the pure fact that it is tottenham, and all the personal abuse that is going to come with it. I, on the other hand, severed all contact with tottenham fans years ago, so I just feel embarrassed because, well, they are not really a very good team these days.

Their last league result was losing 4-1 to Birmingham. Ye Gods, this is the very definition of mid table mediocrity, very nicely backed up by a shockingly leaky defence. I accept that they have progressed substantially under Juande Ramos, and that their league position is a direct result of some appalling early season form, but they are not the second coming of Brazil 1970 either.

The fact that Dimitar Berbatov is an superb player does not make his team world beaters, because his excellence is counter balanced by the stunning ineptness of the likes of Dawson, Robinson and Bent. Sadly, with our lot playing like they had all taken Mogadon with their pre match electrolytes that point was totally and utterly moot.

Although 4-0 was flattering to the home team, there is no question that we were deservedly and shamefully beaten, by a better side.

5. The Referee

As I was writing my review of our delightfully irrepressible away performance at Liverpool, I had the overwhelming urge to suggest that our record of not having a player (correctly) sent off this year would end at White Hart Lane. In recent years we have routinely had a player dismissed in this fixture, including Samassi Abou, Steve Lomas, Ian Pearce and John Moncur if memory serves me rightly. But I didn't so I can't even gloat about that.

Therefore, it always seemed likely that Chris Foy would be brandishing a red card today, and so it proved when Boa Morte rightly got his marching orders for a beautifully timed chest high tackle on Aaron Lennon. I think we might explore that little passage of play elsewhere.

Elsewhere, there wasn't much wrong with Foy's performance. The free kick for Berbatov's first goal was soft, but that doesn't excuse Anton Ferdinand's sudden reversion to amoebic levels of defending from the resultant cross, and in general we were so abysmal that I could have refereed this game and we still would have lost.

6. The Inexplicable World Of Luis Boa Morte

Imagine for a moment that you are Luis Boa Morte. No one has yet discovered that you have kidnapped Alan Curbishley's first born child , and as a result you are "playing" on the wing for West Ham against tottenham.

Your usually reliable defensive colleagues have suffered a severe case of Roederian Disease and are currently riding round on unicycles in bright red wigs throwing custard pies at each other. As a result you are 2-0 down after ten minutes.

You are beginning to feel a tad frustrated and make several reckless challenges resulting in a booking, although it should be pointed that things aren't being helped by the fact you forgot to bring your boots again, and are being forced to play the whole game with two wooden tennis rackets sellotaped to your feet instead.

With half time approaching, the ball bounces out to Aaron Lennon on the edge of our box and Luis thinks -

- actually I have no idea what Luis Boa Morte was thinking at that precise moment. Maybe he was thinking that it's a long way to Tipperary, or possibly that he'd left the iron on at home, but he certainly wasn't thinking as he should have been, which was "Aaron Lennon is approximately 112 times faster than me but has no crossing ability. LET HIM HAVE THE BALL".

One ludicrously mistimed tackle later and we are down to ten men, and well on our way to a 3rd consecutive performance so bad that it split the very fabric of the Universe and caused unseasonal storms all over the country.

I remain utterly perplexed by Boa Morte. At this juncture I would describe him as the worst pound for pound player I have ever seen at West Ham. Now, I have to place that in context because this is heavily influenced by the fact that we paid £5m for him. I would not suggest that he is as bad a player as, say, Andrew Melville, but the latter only cost us a few blank DVD's so I don't feel so aggrieved about him.

The Portuguese has an atrocious technique, no pace, no goalscoring acumen and a poor temperament. So in short, he should never play for us again. Now, be still my jerking knee.

7. The Case For The Defence

After a season of hitherto unheard of defence solidity, we have returned to form with quite the bang in the last few days. With Matthew Upson finally succumbing to our injury bug, things always looked fairly bleak going into this game. Jonathan Spector seems like a nice chap, and I'm willing to bet that he gives plenty of money to charity every year, but a Premier League centre back he most certainly is not.

The fact that Anton Ferdinand suddenly decided to do a 90 minute impression of a depressed sea lion alongside him was another slight spanner in the works. You know things are bad when Darren Bent scores against you, particularly as this is illegal in 33 of the 46 counties of England.

I have been fairly silent on the subject of Lucas Neill for a while now but even he cannot be exempt from criticism. He looks overweight, overpaid and over here to be brutally honest. In fact, since his FA Cup dissection at the hands of Martin Petrov it would be fair to say that he has been doing a very reasonable impression of a water skier (Lucas Neill) being pulled along by an especially out of control speedboat (opposition winger).

George McCartney escapes my wrath as he is our only decent left footed player and I don't want to upset him.

8. Kudos

Blimey, it's hard to write this section this week. Scott Parker should be commended for getting through 90 minutes without his thorax exploding or throwing up his own ankles. I felt that Dean Ashton showed more life in this game than in the rest of the year put together, but I appreciate it's a delicate subject on here and I think we all acknowledge that a H List divided against itself cannot survive.

I suppose I might also congratulate Luis Boa Morte on removing himself from selection for our next game.

You can have your barrel back now, I think I am done scraping it.

9. Alan Attack

I suppose I saved this part for last, purely because it's the most difficult to write. Mocking Luis Boa Morte, Michael Dawson or Darren Bent is fairly passe these days but the thorny subject of Alan Curbishley is a far more sensitive issue.

Let me first preface all of this by stating the following: I would rather finish 14th playing attacking football, than 10th playing in our current style.

I do not claim to speak for all West Ham fans, nor do I suggest that my thought process is even logical but I say it none the less. I pay good money to watch West Ham and the sad fact is that I have yet to truly enjoy a single home game this year. I certainly loved the last few minutes of the home games against Man Utd and Liverpool but the dross served up beforehand was about as tedious as it gets.

I am well aware of the fact that we are significantly better placed than this time last year, and for that Curbishley must be congratulated. Our season of consolidation has been successfully navigated and we will surely be playing Premier League football again next year. But the problem is that I can never see us progressing further than mid table mediocrity under Curbishley.

Of course, there are many people who would point out that finishing 12th every year is no disgrace, and that we have delusions of grandeur if we are expecting anything else. After all, who are we to expect European football over similarly sized clubs such as tottenham, Everton, Villa or Newcastle?

For me, however, it is not so much the destination but the journey that matters most. I accepted long ago that we will never break into the Members Only club that is the upper echelons of English football, and that even an FA Cup run is likely to be a once in a lifetime experience. Therefore, I judge our success in terms of how entertained I feel at the end of the season. And on that front Curbishley's West Ham are little short of a disgrace.

These last three performances have actually been atypical of our form this year. We are a team designed to cling on to a lead, and have not yet lost a League game where we scored first all season. However, if we concede early as in this past week, then we are clueless. With our Plan A removed then we are reduced to defending grimly and hoping to keep it tight, whilst praying for the late set piece that might save the day. Well, if that is the future then count me out.

Supporters will point to a crippling injury list that has severely curtailed whatever plan it is that Curbishley has been working to this season, but I would say that if you buy the likes of Dyer, Bellamy and Parker then you are simply reaping what you sow.

He has been handed the largest transfer budget ever given to a West Ham manager and as far as I can tell, there is very little to show for it other than a significant increase in our medical insurance premiums. Tellingly, our most consistent players this season - Green, McCartney and Mullins - are all Pardew signings.

So my suggestion is this. Let's get to the summer, give Alan a nice send off, pay up his contract and wave him goodbye with our heartfelt thanks for saving us last year. It's harsh, of course, but then this is a harsh business. We are not here to be nice, nor to give people a chance at the expense of all else. The pattern we are seeing now was repeated ad nauseum at Charlton as his teams there faded away as soon as relegation was averted.

If we continue in this vein for the rest of the season it is quite possible that his position will be untenable in any case, as the Upton Park crowd is far less likely to accept a descent into oblivion than their counterparts at Charlton.

So there you go - my tuppence worth. I'd be interested to know just how out of touch I am with the rest of my fellow Hammers. You see, I think Freddie Ljungberg has been excellent for us this year - so how much can I really know?

Friday, March 07, 2008

tottenham hotspur vs West Ham United: Match Preview - 09/02/2008

1. Through The Looking Glass

The benefit of having two contributors to The H List (yes, there is one. Just one, mind) is that readers can adopt two slightly different perspectives on the season thus far.

Whereas HeadHammer Shark delivers a considered approach, painting the bigger picture with his ability to keep things in perspective by drawing on experience; mine is a much more alarmist, bile-spitting slice of extremism.

I am the al-Qaeda to his Greenpeace.

2. U.O.Us

Having been left with that all too familiar feeling of deflated dejection after our last two drubbings, the prospect of a similarly comprehensive defeat away to tottenham could have us all reaching for the razor blades.

I would propose that the players owe us a victory at White Hart Lane to make up for conceding eight goals in two games. In the unlikely event they manage to pull it off, it would round off a bitter week with some sweet-tasting resolution.

Spurs also leaked four at the weekend against a Birmingham side battling against relegation. Unlike us, they did not have their full strength team out.

'Neither did we', you say? Let's face it, this is as full strength as we're ever going to be since eczema, mumps and chesty coughs ravaged our treatment room, bamboozling the druids in charge.

I would have taken four points from this trying period had you offered them to me last Saturday morning, but taking three off of Spurs is the next best thing.

3. Broken Record

Put your thinking caps on, step outside the box and hazard a guess at who came up with this little beauty:

"(a factor in our recent defeats) is also the personnel that have been available. The club is sitting tenth, there are a few other clubs that would like to be sitting there."

Am I missing something? Have we got a Kaka or a Messi waiting in the wings ready to turn our season around?

Curbishley's tired old rhetoric almost has one thinking we have some hidden creative gem ready to be unleashed, and that their hitherto absence is the sole reason we have been clutching at straws in the final third these last six months.

I'm starting to draw up a list of those I would like to see replace Curbs, just a few people who could do a more competent job with the resources available.

Thus far I've come up with Slaven Bilic, Kofi Annan on crack (he has to be on crack), Pigeon Street pet shop-owner Mr Macadoo and Helen Daniels from Neighbours - but only after her debilitating stroke.

4. The Opposition

This blog is no place for the comprehensive analysis of tottenham.

Jermaine Jenas remains overrated and looks like a lanky version of E.T that has had his elongated head compacted in a vice to form a punchable cube.

Paul Robinson has returned to goalkeeping duties having been kept out by Cerny for a few weeks. Cerny himself hasn't been seen for some time, adding to speculation that Robinson has regained his appetite for football(ers).

Robbie Keane is still yet to be tested by a sound pummeling with a bat, as was suggested in the last tottenham preview. I think Curbs is missing a trick here - simply get John Pantsil to don his invisibility cloak and the job's a good'un.

Spurs have surprisingly managed to accommodate a couple of the living dead as a centre back pairing in Jonathan Woodgate and Ledley King, both of whom are only seconds away from a career-ending injury at any moment.

Their new defensive axis has of course meant that Michael Dawson has been forced to retreat back into the mahogany woodland from whence he came, housing many a birds nest and scrubland dormouse.

5. The Grim World Of Statistics

We haven't managed to take three points from White Hart Lane since 1999. That's almost a decade. The last time we did came courtesy of strikes by Marc Keller and Ian Wright - who had by then signed up for Redknapp's Jolly Boys Pension Fund for over-the-hill former Premiership stars.

The last time we played this lot was on the back of a 5-0 win over Derby. This time round it has taken us the last nine games to accumulate as many goals prior to kick-off.

This is also Alan Curbishley's 50th game at the helm.

Banging your head against a wall uses 150 calories an hour. While this exercise is similar to going to a home fixture this year, it has the added benefit of sufficiently blurring your vision so you can convince yourself that West Ham are playing two up front.

Whilst the rivalry between the two clubs is still fierce, in the grander scheme of things this is a nothing game - two sides stranded in midtable with nothing to play for for the remainder of the domestic season.

I have no doubt that a win against The Scum would lighten my mood considerably, but that would swiftly be tempered once Curbishley reverts to his favoured 7-3-0 formation at home to Blackburn next week.

6. Artistic Accomplishment

Yesterday (6th March) was Michelangelo's birthday. By the age of 24 Michelangelo had already completed his mesmeric statue 'Pieta', depicting The Virgin Mary cradling a dying Christ which is still on show in St Peter's Basilica.

Lucas Neill is 29 and only seems capable of impersonating statues as opposition midfielders trundle past him unhindered. Now, why it may seem churlish of me to compare our captain's accomplishments to those of arguably the greatest artist of the Renaissance, I'm going to do it anyway.

I'm 28 and so have a year on Lucas. There's still time for me to either captain my country or to sculpt a modern version of Michelangelo's 'David', modeled on our defensive Goliath, Matthew Upson.

But only if he re-grows his beard. Those are my terms.

7. Yap Yap Yap...

One of the many things wrong with democracy is that tottenham fans are entitled to free speech.

Unfortunately, the filtered dregs of the human gene pool are scattered liberally across London and I'm sure that many of you, like me, are used to scraping the odd Spurs fan off your shoe at work or socially.

Just yesterday I was subject to one of them boasting about his team's "silverware" this season - I can only presume he was referring to the teapot covered in bacofoil that is the League Cup.

I was forced to respond to this mutated piece of plankton with the only response open to me: that we maintain an 8-point gap over them in the League.

This is soon likely to be five and Spurs now have a game in hand, so it could potentially be cut to just two. I'm not sure I could bare not having even the most meagre of statistics to cling to in order to shut them up should (once) they overtake our drab band of coasters.

Ah yes: we are the only domestic team in the history of football to have won the World Cup - the irrefutable H-Bomb of comebacks.

8. Stick Two Upfront, You Dozy C*nt

Our back five, the bedrock of our spectacularly unspectacular season thus far, are wavering seriously. Upson could be a doubt this week and one wonders just how bad Lucas Neill has to play in order to be dropped.

At Anfield our captain once again looked utterly bewildered at finding himself in shorts, socks and boots, standing on one of those big rectangular flat surfaces covered in green hair, with people screaming at him for letting men dressed in red saunter past.

If Upson is out this Sunday, I'd like to see Gabbidon given a run out at centre back instead of Curbishley's answer to all life's quandaries, Jonathan Spector and I'd put Spector in at right back in place of Neill.

Our American friend is often solid, if not spectacular. Another ace up his sleeve relative to Lucas is that he is more mobile than a pissed Stephen Hawking, having the pace to get back and make amends for any errors.

What we've all been screaming, screaming, screaming at Curbishley to do however, is the most basic of things: play two strikers... simultaneously.

4-5-1 at home is as toothless as Wilfred Bramble. Away from home you could conceivably make an argument for it, but in order to do so you'd need to have attacking midfielders consistently supporting the front man (which we don't) and have a front man capable of being both nimble and prodigious (which we don't).

With our back-line in it's current state, attack is surely our best form of defence.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Liverpool 4 - 0 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)


I'd like to think I am not without humility, but I would also like to think both of my readers visit this blog in the hope of being mildly amused by the contents. Given the events of Wednesday night I am finding it hard to mine much comedy gold from proceedings - although our defending would certainly fit the bill - and therefore would like to present you with a an alternative source of amusement.

Nope, not a Peter Crouch overhead kick, but http://www.framleyexaminer.com/.

Hey! Wait, come back!

*Note to self - post link to funnier website at the end of the article*

1. So, This Is What Pride Doesn't Feel Like

Another day, another gloriously plucky defeat. Boy doesn't it feel good to hand over your hard earned cash to follow this gunslinging, carefree, merry band of cavaliers about the country?

I am perfectly attuned to the emotions that accompany our trips to Merseyside. Brief, misplaced hope quickly followed by the crushing inevitability of our incompetent defending, and watching the rest of the game through your fingers. My own threshold for embarrassment was tested to the limit by this particular capitulation, however.

All the players and staff should be ashamed of themselves, and not just for managing the previously impossible task of making Dirk Kuyt look competent.

2. Ambition, Thy Name Is Curbishley

Everyone knows our history at Anfield. We don't win there. There is no debate around this point. In fact, at this juncture I think it might actually be club policy to play like a group of strangers and shame us all.

But here is the rub - what on earth were we expecting from this game? Our approach was Boltonian in the extreme, with the customary one man up front looking a lost, lonely soul as our midfield stood on the edge of our box many miles away.

Let's face it, we played for a draw last night and when we conceded after just 8 minutes then that was the end of that. We appear to have attempted to get back into the game using only the power of the song, which is admirable if somewhat misplaced when Liverpool decided to use the power of Fernando Torres instead.

The rest of us simply reverted to the power of Smirnoff.

3. The Statistics

God, who cares. Anytime you let in four goals (which for us is anytime we play), then statistics are really only going to back up your titular crappiness.

In case you're interested, or Fernando Torres' mother, then here are some more details. We had the ball for a spectacularly inept 39% of the time, which is absolutely appalling. We mustered 2 shots on goal all night, of which one was taken by Luis Boa Morte and therefore does not count. By contrast the home side had 20 shots, despite playing well below par, and carrying the aforementioned Kuyt up front.

We were even outcornered 16 to 3, which really just goes to show that we were there in spirit only. And to think that I didn't believe there was any conceivable way in which we could have been worse than the previous game.

4. The Opposition

Our recent fortuitous 1-0 home win over Liverpool came against the backdrop of civil unrest on Merseyside. Truthfully, I could not care less about this, although it is an interesting insight into what can happen when foreign owners cross swords with a displeased fanbase. All of that aside, the Liverpool team that played at Upton Park were the worst Reds side I had seen in 20 years of watching West Ham lose to them.

Last night hasn't really changed my mind in any way. Torres looks every inch a £23m player, and Steven Gerrard remains my favourite non Hammer in the league (Cardiff notwithstanding, the bastard), but the rest of them look like a fairly turgid collection.

There is an interesting comparison between the two clubs in the sense that both teams have abandoned the footballing principles that had traditionally been their calling card. Whilst we struggle to cope with Curbishley's safety first nonsense, Rafael Benitez is feted on Merseyside for delivering consistent Champions League success playing in a very similar fashion, albeit in a more testing environment.

The moral of the story is that irrespective of how principled we might like to be as fans, our tolerance for less entertaining football is entirely linked to the success that it brings. Clubs such as Liverpool, Chelsea and Bolton have all experienced relative prosperity playing less expansive games and yet their fans have been all too willing to put up with this if the ends justified the means. Elsewhere, the likes of Newcastle and increasingly, ourselves, have turned on the managers who have elected to play the dreadful dross, as it is bringing no more achievement than previously.

There is another element to this of course, which is that Liverpool are key players in a European system designed completely to ensure that they (and the rest of their G14 cronies) always have a significant advantage over the rest of the league. Despite having no earthly chance of winning the Premier League barring acts of God, Spiderman or Amy Winehouse, they are guaranteed a £20m windfall every year by qualifying for the Champions League as our 4th best placed club. We are not supposed to beat teams such as this because if we did it would upset the carefully constructed applecart. And by God, we're keeping our end of the bargain.

5. The Referee

Given that we didn't really do anything pesky like tackle or run, last night, then Steve Bennett didn't have to trouble himself greatly. Anfield was baying for Carlton Cole to be sent off at one point for a typically clumsy aerial challenge, but Bennett sensibly recognised our strikers innate Coleishness and just booked him, and quite possibly asked him if he was ever planning on scoring again.

6. Don't Give Him The Chants?

If you're a West Ham fan then the only worthwhile parts of the second half were the many and varied chants of displeasure aimed at Curbishley and the players.

"It's just like watching Charlton", "Boring, Boring West Ham" and "Too Fucking Negative!" all got worthy airings, as the travelling fans tired of watching us Not Attack for the 23rd consecutive game.

There are some fans unhappy at such a public airing of grievances, but given that I don't have the opportunity to pop my head round the door at Chadwell Heath and inform Alan in person that his style of football is making me want to gouge out my own eyes, then I don't have a problem with it. And if the players get wind of it then, all the better.

Everyone at the club needs to understand that if this performance is repeated on Sunday at tottenham, then bad things are going to happen. Not biblical, but possibly some loud tutting and crossing of arms, followed by some eye rolling and uttering of "Honestly", certainly some profanity and maybe even some finger pointing. You heard it here first.

7. The Life Of Luis

One half of the H List readership, my father, threatened to stop reading unless I started being a bit ruder about Luis Boa Morte. Now truthfully, it would be hard to say that he was any worse here than he usually is, or that he was any worse than our back 4, but you gotta give the fans what they want.

I shall remain eternally puzzled by the existence of Boa Morte. He is the only man I have ever seen who plays football as though he is wearing ice hockey skates smeared in butter, with the laces tied together and simultaneously blindfolded. On his best day.

It's not a personal vendetta, but I cannot for the life of me see that we gain anything from having Boa Morte on the pitch. I can't say that I was unhappy with his ability to get Lampard sent off, but even that sprang from his own clumsiness.

The fact that he is the 5th of our 5 ineffective midfielders is just the final insult. I do not want to see this man on the pitch on Sunday unless he is somehow contriving to get Dimitar Berbatov sent off.

In case you don't already know we have a kid who has scored 25 goals this year in 24 U18 and reserve games. His name is Freddie Sears, and I personally like people with the name Freddie, so I'm going to say that he is a favourite of mine despite the fact I know nothing about him.

At this point, with the season disappearing into the night like smoke, would we be too disappointed to see a promising youngster get a game over Luis Boa Morte? Actually would we be disappointed to see an unpromising youngster get a game over Boa Morte?.....

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

A Shameless Rant

In a break from tradition, this preview will take the form of a brief one man protest. A protest against banality, against a shuddering lack of adventure, against the absence of even the faintest prospect of incisive football.

One of the many things I have learnt from HeadHammer Shark (along with how to conceal 15 muffins about your person at any given moment), is the saying:

"All it takes for Evil to triumph, is for good men to do nothing."

Replace "good" with "pitiful" and you have a fair assessment of Saturday's game.

Why should I be expected to pay £50 to watch 20 minutes of inept embarrassment followed by 70 minutes of clueless, half-hearted meandering?

I was not expecting us to win, but I was equally not expecting us to capitulate so disasterously, resembling such a bunch of clueless amateurs.

How can we allow the left-back of a team consisting of 10-men to score against us on the break?

Just where do certain players get off continually asking the fans to get behind them? Get behind what exactly? Yet another hopeless, 20 yard, easily defended, floated pass from a full-back towards the edge of the area?

Give us something, anything worth our support and you'll get it.

If Alan Curbishley says one more time how we are ravaged with injuries, at how amazingly well this group of players have done and, most infuriatingly, how "people forget that" - I swear I'm gonna swing for him.

Shut Up, Alan.

I would hate for us all to be thought of as unrealistic, as a southern version of Newcastle United with delusions of grandeur and all too short memories, but I don't think any of us are making outrageous demands.

I would happily, willingly sacrifice two or three league positions if it just meant we would have a go for the remainder of the season. If this tiresome brand of football is what it takes to soldify a top half place, I don't want one.

But therein lies the rub.

Our current brand of football is patently not good enough to get us any further than where we are at the moment. We lack the attacking adventure of any of those above us, the necessary offensive risk-taking built upon the solid defensive base we have forged this year.

It seems obvious that with such an improved defensive record, we can afford to throw caution to the wind in attack a little more than usual (pre-Curbishley usual).

Instead, Curbs seems to have opted for the strategy of not doing anything whatsoever to jeopardise our 'goals against' stats (two strikers? Forget it) and bank on perhaps, maybe, if things go our way, nicking a goal at the other end.

At the moment, there is not one remaining home fixture I can see us winning, or perhaps even scoring in - discounting Derby County, and that's only an outside chance.

I know that you were anticipating a preview of our trip to Liverpool, but I just can not bring myself to talk-up our chances on the back of Saturday's no-show. Frankly, they don't deserve my time.

I know that many of us have invested a lot in West Ham United this season and in a variety of ways, not least financially.

Currently, it feels as if our dividend is a big, fat zero.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

West Ham 0 - 4 Chelsea (And Other Ramblings)

1. Well, That Was Fun

The only thing that has been missing from this maddeningly inconsistent season has been a real hammering. You may consider that omission rectified.

It would be un-WestHamian in the extreme for us not to suffer at least one shameful defeat a season, so there was something inevitable about this whole debacle from the moment that Nicolas Anelka had a goal wrongly ruled out after just one minutes play.

Prior to this point, our biggest defeat of the season had been 3-1 against Newcastle - a result I still consider to be waaaaay more embarrassing than this - but this was an absolute shellacking. As far as robust defences go, ours today was on a par with the time King Canute sat on the beach and ordered the waves to stop rolling in.

It's nonsense like this that cost us a bloody empire.

2. Joy To Odious

Outside of the US cabinet, it is tough to imagine where one might find a more disagreeable group of people than the current Chelsea squad. It almost as though they require their players to be utter tools before they will even contemplate signing them.

Of course if you are going to have John Terry as your captain, and employ Peter Kenyon in any capacity at all, then it's really not going to be a surprise when you are despised in all four corners of the globe.

Watching Chelsea play is a curiously joyless experience. Sure, they are filled with fine players and their third goal today, by Michael Ballack, was sublime, but it is all rather functional and clinical. The joie de vivre of Arsenal or Manchester United is absent, and whilst they are undeniably good at what they do, they will never win any hearts or minds with this particular set of employees. A bit like Starbucks, I suppose.

3. The Statistics

Games like this are a perfect illustration of why statistics are only useful when framed in some sort of context. We dominated possession of this game to the tune of 58%. This is, of course, utterly pointless when all you are doing is simply passing the ball from one centre back to the other and hoping that the referee is going to end the game soon.

The visitors were far more incisive, converting their lesser possession into 7 attempts on target, versus 6 for us. Needless to say they were ever so slightly better than us at converting them.

The truly splendid statistic from this game is that we once more played 4-5-1 at home. After the previous successes against Man Utd and Liverpool I suppose that it would have been odd to abandon the formation, but there is a prevailing feeling that this particular result has been a long time coming.

There is a rumour circulating that Alan Curbishley has been quoted as saying "Except for the goals it was a fairly even game". Which is akin to the French saying "We did alright in the war except for all those pesky invasions". I can't find the quote but I sincerely hope we are setting the bar a little higher than that. You know, like maybe trying to win the fucking game occasionally.

4. The Opposition

I've touched on the content of Chelsea's squad above, but it has to be said that they gave us a sporting chance by leaving their two best players - Drogba and Essien - on the bench. They are filled to the brim with excellent players operating in a restricted, methodical but unquestionably productive system. If that sounds like damning them with faint praise then that is probably true, but it is no reflection on their dominant performance today.

The opening twenty minute salvo was as impressive a display as we have seen at Upton Park all year. Cole and Ballack scored excellent goals, and we barely threatened the opposition penalty area. If it wasn't for Lampards thoroughly entertaining red card then this game could have ended up as a ludicrous battering.

Chelsea's ability to win games is built upon their formidable defence, with Petr Cech an imposing last line, even if you are able to get past the flying elbows of Chelsea's centre halves. Elsewhere, Joe Cole was sublime, showing us exactly what could have been had we employed a professional football manager rather than Glenn Roeder, back in 2001.

It was also lovely to see Ashley Cole get the fourth goal, as that just capped off the list of quality human beings that we allowed to score against us rather nicely. Yet another Chelsea player making me proud to be English.

4a. The Opposition Captain

I am considering running for public office solely so that I may propose a law change banning anyone from favourably comparing John Terry with Bobby Moore. Sure, they both hail from Barking and they also both have legs but there endeth the similarities.

Terry is a fine Premier League defender, there is no argument about that. He is committed, good in the air, makes spectacular clearances off the line, points and shouts a lot and hasn't yet met a referee that didn't require his help in making every single decision during the game.

The problem is that being good in the air is of no use when you meet opposition teams who simply expose your lack of mobility by playing the ball around you, and your ability to clear the ball off the line is rendered moot if the reason you are having to do it is because of your own mistake to begin with.

Against teams like us, who have no ambition and no guile, then John Terry is well able to look competent. This does not make a good defender.

And the fact that he is somehow the captain of my country just highlights the Stone Age that our national football association has been operating in for the last two years.

5. The Referee

If you believe the press, and let's face it, there is no Godly reason to - then you'd think that Peter Walton had a terrible game. As it goes, I felt he only got one major decision wrong which was not punishing Claude Makelele for his gentle ankle high attempt at re-arranging Julien Faubert's bone structure.

The sending off dominated the headlines, of course, but given that he was only acting on the advice of the assistant referee then Walton really had no choice. Had Lampard not reacted so Lampardly to Boa Morte having the temerity to fall on him then there would not have been an incident to consider and of course, had the likes of Terry and Carvalho not rushed to get involved in what was only a very minor incident then there would barely have been a decision to be made at all. And by the way, it's a sad day when an opposition player getting sent off is the highlight of the game.

Elsewhere, the penalty was so clear cut that they probably should have got two.

6. Let's Be Frank

The Lampard story gained another chapter on Saturday, as he scored from a poorly struck penalty and then was sent off. In all honesty, at this point I just find the whole situation a little sad. He comes from a West Ham family, and it should be a disappointment to all West Ham fans that he had to leave the club to progress this far. It is especially galling that Chelsea turned out to be the place where his career really took off given their non existent record for developing young players of their own.

Certainly he has made several ill judged and stupid comments about the club, but then again he is a footballer and not a normal intelligent human being.

I am not saying that I didn't laugh and holler like everyone else on Saturday, particularly as the sending off looked harsh to me, but I certainly prefer the receptions that Joe Cole gets.

Of course, Lampard doesn't help himself much either. He celebrated his goal with a world record 9 badge kisses, and some aggravating fist pumps. My personal complaint is that I don't have a great deal of respect for a man who celebrates his goals by kissing his wedding ring and pointing to the sky in honour of his daughter, when he has twice been exposed by the News of the World for cheating on them.

So, Frank Lampard - world class badge kisser, fine footballer and low class man. Can't we all just get along?

7. A Little About Us

Now I think about it, maybe I should write a word or two about us. Absolutely dire.

There you go.

8. Attack! Attack! Attack!

I can't stand any more of this. I do not pay my money to watch us cling grimly on for dear life. We are sat firmly in mid table, with no chance of going down, nor of getting into Europe, so why not have a go? What's the worst that could happen - a shocking 4-0 defeat? Imagine!

Given that we are nursing Dean Ashton back from injury, shouldn't we now be starting him in games like this to try and find out exactly what level of performance he is capable of recapturing? Carlton Cole has battled manfully all year, but he cannot finish for toffee, fudge, chocolate or any other kind of dessert. With the return of Bobby Zamora, one can only hope that we can revert to something approaching an attacking formation.

Seriously, we are currently making Bolton look like the epitome of adventure.