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

Friday, May 09, 2008

West Ham United vs Aston Villa: Match Preview - 11/05/2008

1. Hello, Goodbye

So, here we are. We made it. Premiership status assured, a minimum of 7 points better off than last year, although with an inescapable feeling of deflation after the big spending and promise of last summer.

We're on the home stretch, the final furlong, the long walk from death row to the gas chamber we're we'll find sweet relief.... for a few weeks before the summer will stoke the embers of our enthusiasm once more only for them to be doused by Curbishley's lack of imagination.

2. Don't Let Me Down

Newcastle apart, our last half dozen games have had more than a whiff of end-of-season-itis about them. The team has been coasting with very few performances worthy of mention.

This distinct lack of effort has been mirrored by HeadHammer Shark and I and one would hope that the threat of our continued absence alone would be enough to spark the players into life for our remaining home fixture.

Whilst the players undoubtedly have one and a half eyes on their Dubai holiday villas, we all know that results going against us this weekend could mean that tottenham claim tenth spot at the death. A home game at Shite Hart Lane against a meandering Liverpool is a tough one to call, particularly given Benitez's penchant for rotation.

One would hope that the superb Fernando Torres will do the business, Berbatov has one eye on his move to Old Trafford and Peter 'The Rampaging Super Spider' Crouch has a point to prove after being effectively put in the shop window this week.

The loss of 10th place seems more than a little unfair considering we have held onto it since 1927 and a good result from the boys could make the difference between people leaving the ground in high spirits, reminiscing whimsically about this season, or cursing Curbishley's lack of tactical nous and killer instinct.

3. The Opposition

Aston Villa will be dangerous as, unlike us, they still have something to play for. Being only three points behind Everton and a guaranteed UEFA Cup spot, to give themselves a chance they need to win and win big as the goal difference between the two sides is identical.

With Everton at home to Newcastle, Martin O'Neill knows that his side need to win well to give themselves any chance and you can bet he'll have his players motivated. Curbishley's motivational pep-talk is likely to be a little more suspect and will probably revolve around the promise of a fun day out at Thorpe Park.

Having shown some dynamite form in April with 15 goals in three games, Villa have stuttered a little thanks to a 2-2 draw at Goodison and a surprising 2-0 defeat at home to Wigan last weekend - don't discount the effect of the whirring vortex emanating from Steve Bruce's Angular Hooter (TM).

Villa play tight in midfield with Petrov, Barry and Reo-Coker (Boooooo!! - just warming up), playing very narrow across the middle and Ashley Young given a free role. One would surmise from this that the key to playing well against them is to get your full-backs forward at any opportunity, but with McCartney looking tired of late and Neill as mobile as John Candy (after he died), the chances of this tactic being implemented effectively look slim. A lot slimmer than Lucas Neill.

One can only hope that King John Paintsil is given his third full 90 minutes in a row. Yes, I can see him getting mercilessly bamboozled by Young, but he'll also run his heart out and get down the flank before sending a cross into the Bobby Moore Upper and receiving a hearty round of applause from the Hammers faithful.

4. Get Back!

Defensively of late we haven't looked at our best. The first two goals conceded against Man United were weak and to concede two in five minutes against Newcastle when you have them on the ropes is just downright irresponsible.

It is true that a couple of these goals were the fault of James Tomkins, but the kid is only 19 and I think he has looked generally very impressive in his outings this season. Tomkins and Upson in unison at the back is a tidy prospect.

Villa undoubtedly have goals in them and it would be nice to have Upson back to marshal John Carew, as I can see the big Norwegian giving any other of our centre backs a torrid time.

Gorgeous George has looked jaded in recent weeks, which is perhaps not surprising as he has been our only ever-present outfield player this term. At times this year Lucas Neill has looked utterly mystified as to his whereabouts and even Rob Green has made the occasional blunder, most notably against tottenham at home - although he has undoubtedly won us more than a few points.

One hopes that Curbishley's motivational promise of a multipack of Tangy Toms to the winners will provide the team with sufficient gusto to perform in the remaining 90 minutes of the season.

5. Back in the USSR

The first all-English (not the players, obviously) Champions League Final will take place in Moscow a week on Wednesday between Chelsea and Manchester United.

It's safe to say that we'd all love to see United stuff The Blues and I'd be particularly happy to see Paul Scholes pick up a winners medal.

It would be just reward for one of the finest players this country has produced in the last 20 years, particularly as he was so criminally overlooked on the international scene thanks to the nation's doomed obsession with accommodating both Gerrard and Fat Frank successfully in England's midfield.

Let's hope United claim their third European Cup and Vladimir Putin gets a bit trigger happy with the old polonium-210 in Chelsea's dressing room.

6. Nowhere Man

Alan Curbishley has been strangely aloof over the last few weeks. Ever since his bolshy and borderline aggressive outburst after the Derby game when his substitution proved decisive, Curbs has been noticeable only by his absence.

It was left to Mervyn Day to give the post-match press conference at Old Trafford and there hasn't even been word from the manager on the official website.

No doubt we'll hear from Curbs tomorrow about how well we've done this year "with the problems we've had" which, by the way, is officially the most annoying mantra of 2008 - even moreso than the pre-match line-up announcement of "Number 34, Luis Boa Morte!"

Although I suppose there is always a chance that Curbs has been huddled in a darkened corner somewhere suffering from extreme Vertigo when he looks at his team sitting 10th in the League.

7. The Long And Winding Road

I remember standing outside The Lord Wakefield pub back in August '07, genuinely excited about our prospects for this season and thinking that we had a real chance to excite, entertain and progress after the relegation near-miss of the year before.

This enthusiasm lasted all of 45 minutes as Man City strolled to a 2-0 win on opening day and Lee Bowyer put in his worst performance since he was in the witness box accused of GBH with intent.

Since then we have crawled our way steadily up the League with the footballing equivalent of extra strength sedatives and been mired in midtable for what seems like an eternity.

It certainly has been a curious year, particularly when you consider that a win on Sunday will leave us on 51 points and that Harry Redknapp's greatest ever tally was only 53.

The general air of discontent among the fans surely points to the journey as opposed to the destination. I think we'd all prefer 40 points but with a few thrills and spills along the way.

8. Can't Buy Me Love

There is an interesting article on the BBC website today, detailing the new financial restrictions being placed on Alan Curbishley:


It appears that Curbs has been charged with dramatically reducing both the playing squad and wage bill and there being no promise of big bucks to spend this summer.

Rumours of Freddie Ljungberg and Lucas Neill being jettisoned at the end of this season persist and they would be no big loss, although I think Freddie has had his moments this year.

In light of such potential non-activity in the transfer market, I can't help but feel that Curbishley has completely wasted the biggest cash injection this club has ever seen. A further example of his lack of imagination when buying players was gratingly underlined this week by the news that tottenham are likely to sign creative Croatian midfielder Luka Modric this summer.

It seems as if our hopes rest on new Director of Football, Gianluca Nani, unearthing some gems for next year.

I for one would be happy to see any and all money available this summer spent on one top draw playmaker, rather than see it split up in order to fund three or four utility men just itching to get on our overcrowded treatment table.

9. Day Tripper

Amidst the terminal apathy surrounding the last few weeks of our season, light relief has come in the most unlikely of forms.

When Luis Boa Morte isn't bang on the Class A's, he's.....

Well, that's a ridiculous start to a sentence as his football this year has categorically proven that the man has a serious problem with hallucinogens.

However, ever since his own bewildering brand of football could have no serious impact on our dead-end season, my regular Upton Park travelling buddy and I have taken to simply sitting back and enjoying the perplexingly haphazard nature of his play.

I imagine it is much like witnessing the end of the world. If you noticed a mile-wide meteor hurtling towards your neighbourhood, you'd sit back and enjoy the show rather than get trampled underfoot in the ensuing panic to leave town.

The fact that Luis himself has absolutely no idea what the outcome will be once the ball arrives at his feet simply adds to the excitement, whilst we try to predict the multitudinous possible consequences. I can recommend it.

When LBM picks up the ball on Sunday (he's obviously Curbs' first name on the teamsheet), wipe the sleep from your eyes and marvel at the chaos theory in action.

Rumour has it he'll be wearing NASA prototype boots with dangerous and untested levels of both spring and buoyancy - buoyancy as you simply can't rule our LBM managing to end up in the Thames after one of his mazy and uncontrollable runs.

A boot with a new Rubber Sole, if you will.

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