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, 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.

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