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, August 29, 2008

West Ham United vs Blackburn Rovers: Match Preview - 30/08/2008

1. Short And Sour

I won’t take up much of your time this week, merely to say that our anticipation of Saturday’s match can be summed up in just one word:


One of the more astute H List previews you will ever read.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Manchester City 3 - 0 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

1. Slight Return

Sweet Jesus, I go away for a while and when I get back this is what they serve up?

2. Early Substitution

This section initially contained a very long, very rambling rant. However, it ruined what little 'flow' there is to the article so I moved it down to the bottom.

Thus, this section is little more than a colossal waste of space. Which considering that this is a West Ham blog, seems remarkably apt.

3. The Statistics

Holy Hell, if this wasn't the worst away performance I've ever seen then it must be pretty close. Now I'm aware that this is a huge statement given the fact that our record on the road is roughly equivalent to that of the Australian cycling team, but I am serious here. Have any of you ever seen a more insipid, abject, disgraceful and asinine excuse for an away performance than this? Seriously, post a comment if you have - let's all have a good wallow.

Sure, the Beluga and I suffered through the 6-0 defeat at Man Utd, I was at Notts County for the 3-0 loss that inspired a mass sit down on the terraces and I haven't forgotten that we once contrived to lose 5-0 to Sheffield Wednesday (!) on my birthday, but come on - this was dire.

Forget the sending off, as we weren't in the game even before that. We managed a whole 3 shots at goal during the game, all of which were in the last 3 minutes and none of which were worth bothering about. Our 45% possession seems flattering, as my recollection of this game, despite desperately trying to drink myself into a stupor, is that we spent an awful lot of it looking hopeless.

Manchester City had 16 shots on goal. Sixteen! Manchester. City.

Ye Gods, Elano outshot us 4-3 on his own. Needless to say, he did a better job of it given that he actually managed to, you know, get them on target and score.

4. The Opposition

It would be hard to mock Manchester City given that they absolutely creamed us here, but as the alternative is to write further analysis of our performance I guess I might as well give it a go.

City do not look overly impressive to me. Yes they were miles better than us and should have won by 5 or 6, but given that we were in the process of producing the worst performance in the history of Association Football that is hardly surprising. Daniel Sturridge capped a mediocre performance with a fine goal, which he then celebrated by dancing like a twat. The Sky pundits were drooling over his performance which would suggest to me that my assessment is correct, and he has no future in the game.

Vincent Kompany made his debut and looked pretty decent, although it helps a lot if the midfield facing you is undergoing a tremendous exercise in invisibility.

At some point Manchester City will face a proper Premier League team and get battered. Oh no, wait, that already happened.

We're going down.

5. The Referee

Ususally, anytime people want to criticise Howard Webb, I can see my way to joining in. However, if you think that he was incorrect to send off Mark Noble on Sunday then there is a reasonable chance that you are Mark Noble's mother.

Not that we were looking especially competent before Noble channelled the spirit of John Moncur, but all hope was lost as soon as he crunched Stephen Johnson's ankle with a "tackle" that Alan Smith would have winced at.

There isn't really a lot else to say about Webb, in truth. We spent a lot of time chasing after a mediocre team, without a lot of tackling or blocking or wastefully energetic things like that. He had his pants on the right way round. Well alright then.

6. The Link Between Scott Parker And The Capulets

It is an oft posited theory that should you leave monkeys in a room with a typewriter for long enough, they will eventually produce Shakespeare (in written word - not the actual man himself).

Clearly subscribing to this notion is Alan Curbishley, who continues to pick a central midfield duo of Noble and Scott Parker on the grounds that someday one of them will produce a defence splitting pass. Look, I know it's hardly revolutionary to point out that our midfield is guileless and pedestrian but I'd have to consider it a fairly pertinent point when a player as wholeheartedly average as Stephen Ireland plays them off the pitch.

Sure, I like the high fives, I like the tough tackling, and I certainly can handle the running about, but I'll be damned if every now and again I also quite like it when someone in our team orchestrates an attacking move of some description. I am a simple man and I don't ask for much. Could we do something other than play for a 0-0 draw against a team who will definitely, certainly, assuredly finish in the middle part of the table? Seriously - it's Man City - they're like a Greek tragedy! They play Darius Vassell up front and keep a straight face! Have a go a beating them fer cryin' out loud.

7. Things To Make Me Wince

I was genuinely all set to heap some praise on Lucas Neill there for a while. Clearly he has all the speed of a ponderous law change but I actually thought he did okay for a bit there in the first half. Then he got turned inside out for two goals and I began to question myself a little.

Of course, he's not a left back, but there is beginning to be a question as to whether he's a right back either. That said, I'm not entirely convinced as to the £5m worth of Behrami either. Nice hair, not so nice defensive positioning.

Luis Boa Morte appeared. He didn't set fire to anything. I consider myself reasonably contented.

8. An Explanation

So having tried to dissect this abomination of a performance, I shall endeavour to explain away the summer. I am sure that none of you noticed, but the H List disappeared off into the ether for a while. I promised to post the second half of the end of year ratings, but I am afraid that work trips, holidays and, most of all, ennui simply got the better of me. They are written and I will put them up here when I can bear to spend 5 minutes thinking about last season again.

Yes, for the first time in my life I seriously considered whether I would renew my season ticket in July. The global recession doesn't help, but far more worrying is that we are having to face up to the fact that being a West Ham fan is simply, well ........... dull. Folks, I'm afraid that this is what it has been like to support Aston Villa or Fulham for the last few years.

We can paint a rosy picture and tell ourselves that we play good football, and we have injuries, and things will all get better when our billionaire owner finds his wallet but you and I and the rest of the world know that this is all nonsense. We have a crap squad. Consider that we went down with a team containing James, Cole, Carrick, Di Canio, Kanoute, Sinclair and Defoe and ask yourself how many of those players would waltz straight into this current side. Things are dire, and I see nothing on the horizon that suggests they will improve any time soon.

From discussions with other fans it seems I am not alone in feeling this way. As a West Ham fan I am readily acquainted with the fact that we will never, ever, ever, ever win anything, so when I attend games I am looking for something else to stir the emotions. Most supporters seem to be prepared to overlook the dross we were served up last year simply because we finished above tottenham. Well that's great, but they then went out and spent £30m sorting out their squad so perhaps we need to move on from celebrating that particular "achievement".

Worse still was the summers adventure in transfer activity. Whilst the world watched on in awe as Holland, Spain and Russia played the kind of football to make you drool, we sat with our hands stuffed in our pockets and took comfort in the imminent return from injury of Kieron Dyer and Craig Bellamy. All of which is alarmingly reminiscent of 2002, when Glenn Roeder guided us to a suprising 7th place, didn't strengthen the squad and entered the following season with just 3 strikers in advance of a horrific relegation season.

Then, as now, I cannot believe that it was the manager who decided not to spend money, but the board. Sadly, it has become apparent that club is not in a great shape financially and we are once again in our familiar selling mode. In truth, it's hardly surprising. I believe I am right in saying that Gudmunsson has a lot of his assets tied up in Landsbanski, which would explain some belt tightening, in addition to the fact that the first time he gave money to Curbishley, he immediately spent £5m of it on Luis Boa Morte. So I wouldn't give him anything either.

So, where does all of the above leave us? Well, Mrs Shark maintains that I am an unrepentant pessimist, and never have faith in anyone. So it probably won't surprise you to know that I think we will go down this year. I cannot possibly see how we will score enough goals to stay up once Ashton gets injured. And I sure as hell don't think we will be playing any good football while we do it.

Don't be fooled kids, the Club will be more than happy if we finish 14th this season. Be still my beating heart, I think I hear Ron Greenwood spinning in his grave......

Friday, August 22, 2008

Manchester City vs West Ham United: Match Preview - 24/08/2008

1. Tanked Up

Firstly, this week we have been linked with a loan move for Chilean striker Sebastian Pinto, a man known as ‘The Tank’ in South America.

Having only recently been bought by Brazilian side Santos, Pinto has joined West Ham on trial with a view to a season-long loan having already managed to annoy his new manager sufficiently to be released after just a few short weeks.

Pinto has made just one international appearance for Chile, which was only a friendly and it remains to be seen whether he can make an impact here.

It seems a curious addition in light of our lack of midfield creativity – an issue regularly underlined on these pages (it’s almost as if Curbishley doesn’t read them).

2. The Opposition

We faced Manchester City a total of four times last season, our customary league fixtures supplemented by two FA Cup ties.

Two wins and two losses were achieved from two poor performances at Upton Park and a couple of better displays at the City Of Manchester Stadium, although we were unlucky not to have come away with more in our away League fixture – Lucas Neill even played well, for goodness sake.

Last weekend Man City were soundly beaten 4-2 by Aston Villa on opening day, a team with whom they hope to compete in vying for that illustrious 5th place. That may have come as a surprise to their fans as hopes have been raised higher still from last season since the arrival of a man who many see as the brightest young manager in English football.

Elano remains their primary playmaker with Petrov a menace on the left wing and Richard Dunne and Micah Richards formed a well-balanced centre back pairing last year. Michael Johnson is a promising young central midfielder, but no more so than Mark Noble and overall the two sides are fairly evenly matched.

Hopefully, coming into the game on the back of a win will give us the edge against a side that have made an anti-climactic and shaky start.

3. Moody Blues

This summer has seen some tumultuous happenings in the blue half of Manchester: continued controversy surrounds their Thai owner Thaksin Sunawatra, Sven Goran Ericsson’s undeserved dismissal paved the way for the arrival of Mark Hughes as manager and shockwaves from the criminal sale of John Pantsil coursed through the city.

More recently Shakhtar Donetsk have filed a complaint with UEFA regarding last years transfer of Elano. Donetsk claim to be owed £475,000 in compensation as a result of Elano’s development since his arrival at Man City, an apparently common clause in football transfers. City have refused to pay and the case is ongoing.

Before Sunawatra’s £800million fortune was frozen as part of a continuing fraud investigation in Thailand, Man City outlaid a not inconsiderate sum on a couple of transfer targets.

The most eye-catching arrival was that of Brazilian striker Jo from CSKA Moscow for £19million who, in the finest West Ham tradition, promptly got himself injured pre-season. Mark Hughes also happened to stumble across Tal Ben Haim staggering around the Kings Road, utterly baffled. He paid Chelsea £5million to take the disorientated Ben Haim off their hands.

Surprisingly, Geovanni was released having failed to make Hughes’ squad despite being a more than decent player, as his fine goal for Hull City on opening day illustrated.

There was also the laughable attempt to sign Ronaldinho from Barcelona. The mercurial Brazilian obviously opted for AC Milan, apparently not tempted by the millions offered by an owner as crooked as his own teeth.

4. Czech-mate

Just as the nation was riding high after a fantastic and committed performance by Team GB at the Beijing Olympics, there were the England team eager to douse our sporting enthusiasm with another irksome display on Wednesday night.

The Czechs did what so many other teams have done so regularly in recent years - made England look ordinary and technically sub-par, the only entertainment on offer to the home fans coming from David James’ new haircut.

The most immediate disappointment was that Steven Gerrard, easily our finest player, was yet again compromised by being stuck out on the left wing in order to accommodate an aircraft-carrier in central midfield.

Wayne Rooney was rarely, if ever forward and central simultaneously and Beckham’s delivery from set-pieces predictably provided our only threat. We are the Bolton Wanderers of international football.

Dean Ashton was unlucky to miss out having picked up an injury on Saturday, albeit thankfully just cramp-related. He had a good chance of international selection having scored twice infront of Fabio Capello against Wigan, including a lovely first goal, but he is available for this weekend.

The new slimline Ashton has already looked a real threat this year and I get the feeling that his fitness and sustained form will have a positive bearing on the fortunes of both club and country.

Oh, and John Terry being made captain over Rio Ferdinand is the funniest thing I’ve seen since he fluffed that penalty in the Champions League Final, and how funny was that?!

5. Away Day

Apart from Sunday being our first away game of the season, it also marks my inaugural visit to the Dublin Hammers Club.

Not only does this grant me the opportunity to further expand the indifferent readership of The H List, but also to meet some likeminded individuals and watch the game with those more accustomed to the moderate highs and demoralising lows of being a West Ham fan.

I shall endeavour to do you all proud with my insightful commentary, littered with every profanity you could imagine. Any current Dubliners already heading down there, I’ll be the one in a startling Ghanaian headdress, worn in fond tribute to our shamelessly dethroned King Pantsil.

6. An Aside

Despite having seen it a thousand times, I’ve just this second noticed that in the latest Pepsi advert (Ronaldinho on the beach, Messi dodging cabs, Henry in a tux), the entrance of Frank Lampard sees him stuffing his face with noodles. Brilliant. And no doubt contractual.

7. Antonement

Same old story, I’m afraid: professional footballer pledges allegiance, turns down bumper pay offer and looks for better deal at an average club.

If recent reports are to be believed, Anton Ferdinand is on the verge of leaving West Ham having rejected a ‘double your money’ offer from the Board just weeks after publicly declaring he had no desire to leave.

Speculation linking Ferdinand with tottenham has all but disappeared and it seems that Sunderland are now favourites to land the 23-year old centre back. Why he would choose to join The Black Cats is beyond me, it’s a decision akin to trading £10 and a sniffly cold for £20 and full-blown AIDS.

Sunderland have spent big for the second summer in succession, ‘investing’ their parachute money in a bid to stave off relegation but risking big trouble if they go down. I’d love to see them relegated and watch Keane bolt for the door faster than it takes an Asian immigration department to deny Gary Glitter a Visa.

Ferdinand’s potential departure does not sadden me, though. Anton is the last of the tainted core of players who stomped around in such a strop towards the end of Alan Pardew’s tenure. No-one would say that our club is any poorer for having got rid of Reo-Coker or Marlon Harewood (I readily accept that to bunch Harewood together with Coker does him a great disservice) and Ferdinand’s exit would at the very least allow us to draw a line under that whole MTV Cribs dancing incident from which it was so difficult for us all to raise our heads.

Central defence is one area in which we are not lacking. Matthew Upson is rightly top dog and the not-too-distant return of James Collins (fingers crossed) is a tidy prospect.

Collins is still only 25 and has plenty to offer if only he can stay fit, while former ‘Hammer Of The Year’ Danny Gabbidon is also no mug. Yes, the exit of Anton would leave us with a largely immobile back four, but I’d take that plus some commitment over a spritely, snotty-nosed prima donna who can’t dance.

Besides, have you seen Calum Davenport do the Charleston? Awesome.

Friday, August 15, 2008

West Ham United vs Wigan Athletic: Match Preview - 16/08/2008

1. They’re Under Starters Orders…

Here we go again!

Firstly, allow me to publicly register my outrage at the sale of King John Pantsil to Fulham – a decision so bereft of imagination and foresight that it could only have come from Alan Curbishley.

The loss of image rights alone has deprived us all of the proposed line of official Pantsil silken smoking jackets with complimentary snuff box.

I am still understandably raw and emotional at the prospect of never again seeing John Pantsil careering across the pitch from right to left before delivering a perfectly timed waist-high challenge on Reo-Coker without getting himself booked. A genius.

So then…

Greetings everyone and I hope you have all enjoyed a welcome break from the banality of last season and return refreshed, ready to forsake any faith and see ones hopes and dreams systematically crushed by Christmas.

An above average if unspectacular pre-season, complete with the customary smattering of injuries, has led us all to Saturday’s opener at home to Wigan Athletic – a game with all the inevitability of a condemned man’s slow march to the gallows.

There has been no activity in the transfer market to set the pulse racing, whilst we have all sat idly by and seen many a comparable team strengthen. Still, I personally am looking forward to seeing whether Curbs can break last year’s record of squeezing his favourite saying “with the injuries we’ve had” into as many sentences as possible.

2. Comings And Goings

The major signing of the summer has been Valon Behrami, the Swiss international signed from Lazio for £5 million who plays as a versatile midfielder-cum-fullback.

Behrami was an unspectacular presence at Euro 2008 but one of the more impressive players in a tame display against Villareal during the inaugural Bobby Moore Cup last week. He seems capable of slotting in where needed and one hopes that he can perform sufficiently well to command a place in the starting line-up, particularly by making forward runs into the box.

(Curbishley seems adamant that Scott Parker is our attacking midfielder, but the truth is he does little on the rare occasions he finds himself in advanced positions.)

Other additions include Czech goalkeeper Jan Lastuvka from Shakhtar Dontesk and Icelandic U-18 international defender Orn Eyjolfsson, as well as Balint Bajner from Liberty Oradea – big names all.

To make way for the newcomers and to ease the wage bill, Nobby Solano was puzzlingly released and Fulham laid claim to both Bobby Zamora and marauding hero King Pantsil for a combined £6.3 million. Perennial underachiever Richard Wright has also been sent back from whence he came.

I read a typically misleading tabloid rumour that we are tailing Fenerbache captain Stephen Appiah. Having also been linked with him last year one hopes there may be some truth to the story as Ghanaian Appiah would be a classy addition to our midfield.

Of course I read the very next day that Portsmouth were on the verge of poaching him from under our nose but even if we do acquire him, although a welcome addition, he is not the sort of player to address our chronic lack of creativity.

3. Swede And Sour

Tight economic times have meant that redundancies are becoming an increasingly regular occurrence in the workplace and it seems that even professional footballers are not immune. Fortunately for Freddie Ljungberg, he received a £6 million payoff.

Ljungberg’s departure confirms that his headline grabbing acquisition has backfired spectacularly. A £3 million transfer fee and £85,000 a week wages for a 30-year old past his best was always a questionable business decision and the resultant parting of ways are a direct result of the Board’s commitment to cutting the wage bill.

Two goals in just 25 appearances is a modest return at best, despite Ljungberg turning in steadily more impressive performances towards the back end of last season.

The undoubted commercial motive behind his signing (Ljungberg must have fronted every new-fangled Hammers product in the last 12 months, save John Pantsil’s cravat and monocle combination pack) is now exposed as the short-sighted policy it was and has all but been negated by Ljungberg’s exorbitant release fee.

Hopefully the money men learn from this expensive lesson and resist the temptation to pay over the odds for what amounts to little more than headlines, good and bad. Either way, the Board appear a lot less wasteful in the absence of Eggert Magnusson.

4. No Moore Number 6

Fifty years since Bobby Moore made his debut for West Ham United, the Board has made the commendable decision to retire his famous Number 6 shirt in honour of all the great man did for the club.

This step is all the more unusual as the retiring of a squad number is an unprecedented practice in English football. A common theme for retired greats in America (Wayne Gretsky of the NHL, Michael Jordan for Chicago Bulls), this action has only marginally found its way into Europe via a very select few from Serie A – Diego Maradona for Napoli, Franco Baresi for AC Milan and Roberto Baggio for Juventus.

The West Ham number 6 seems the most appropriate place for this kind of honour to debut on these shores, although one hopes that it does not become too regular an occurrence among English teams as there are very few genuine candidates (George Best, Bobby Charlton, Mike Small) and the retiring of tottenham’s number 3 in honour of Justin Edinburgh would nullify the whole point.

Retiring tottenham as a club in preservation of the sanctity of football, now that would get some backing.

5. The Opposition

It’s Wigan Athletic and I hate them.

The most interesting thing about their visit will be to see whether Wigan Chairman Dave Whelan has the balls to turn up this time having failed to do so last season after his insidious part in the Tevez-Mascherano furore.

The prospect of shouting at him was the sole reason I went last year, although even rarer than the sight of a convicted price-fixer was that of watching Wigan equalise with an overhead kick.

Wigan have made a few distinctly unimaginative signings this summer, the recruitment of Oliver Kapo from Birmingham City and Lee Cattermole from Middlesbrough being the most high profile. Yes, the most high profile.

To be fair to Steve Bruce, he was forced to spend most of the summer with a host of Oxbridge students as plotting the many angles of his furrowed nose has recently been incorporated into their Geometry Masters syllabus.

I really can’t bring myself to do any more research or speculate further on Wigan as they are the very antithesis of a proper football club.

6. When Irons Eyes Are Smiling

Some of you readers will know that I have recently upped sticks and moved to Dublin - a decision not influenced by Curbishley’s ‘attacking football’, but certainly vindicated by the criminal sale of King Pantsil.

Having arrived on the Emerald Isle it was fascinating to learn which English teams garner the most support. Manchester United and Liverpool have long enjoyed a strong following here, although one suspects that has a lot to do with their dominance of the game in the 80’s and 90’s.

Chelsea shirts have been spotted with alarming regularity but I’m sure that is a trend of only the last four or five years and perpetrated by those hungry for reflected glory, blissfully unaware of the ceaseless shadow cast across the UK by Lampard’s cold meat platter. Even impressionable children wearing Chelsea blue have been met with my steely-eyed glare and a firm shaking of the fist.

Sunderland have a sizeable following here too, obviously directly linked to the Keane-Quinn axis (the former revered as a god) and Aston Villa surprisingly command a small percentage of fans.

It was reassuring however to see a few West Ham shirts around and more than a few on sale in a host of sportswear shops. While obviously not one of the most supported clubs across the globe, we always appear to have a sprinkling of fans in every country and a noticeable increase compared to those clubs who like to think of themselves as bigger (tottenham, Newcastle take note).

Rest assured I have also located a Dublin Hammers Club for myself and any visitors, which I will be signing up for, regularly frequenting and enlightening them to the horrors of Fat Frank’s now infamous Porkpie Purges of 2003.

7. The Big Four Divided By Two

It’s safe to say that this season’s Premier League, like any other, will be won by one of Man U, Chelsea, Arsenal or Liverpool. However it is looking increasingly likely that the list of potential winners can be cut yet further.

The odds speak for themselves – you can barely get odds of 2-1 on either Man Utd or Chelsea whereas Arsenal are 6-1 and Liverpool out at 8-1. tottenham appear to be the bookies favourites outside the usual suspects, but still command a price of 55-1 whereas Everton, last year’s 5th place, are 440-1 for the title.

(If you’ve got a lot more money than sense, we’re 950-1 and Hull City? 10,000-1)

Despite the Premier League’s protestations that we have the healthiest league in the world, the truth is more like they directly equate health with wealth and that the upper echelons are becoming an evermore elite band. The fact is that the Premiership is now the least competitive of the major European leagues.

While it’s obvious to everyone that Hull City have as much chance of winning the Premiership as Phil Neville has of sealing a L’Oreal endorsement (and their prohibitive odds rightly reflect this), the weakest teams in Serie A and La Liga are a relatively safe 1000-1 and the Bundesliga just 500-1.

Competing for the right to finish 5th may only hold the interest of many international Premier League followers for so long and watching one of two teams win the league every year would become as entertaining as an evening with Steve Coppell.

While it would never happen, implementing practices from America such as a salary cap or their promising-youngsters trading system (not to mention their foot-long chilli cheese dogs) would surely move us all a little closer to the edge of our seats.

8. The Need For Greed

Recession? What recession?

Anyone with shares in Ginsters will have seen their dividends rocket over the last couple of days in light of the news that Fat Frank has recently signed a 5-year deal worth an estimated £140,000-per week.

Lampard insists that his desire was always to remain at Stamford Bridge and that he’s glad the whole matter has now been resolved after “compromise on both sides.” Chelsea’s reluctance to offer a morbidly obese 30-year old a five year contract is understandable and well documented, so one can assume that the length of the deal has been their submission.

Does this mean Fat Frank was forced to temper his wage demands to a mere £140 grand? Would he have walked (or waddled) had he been offered five years on £125,000?

Player’s insistence (particularly Lampard’s) that they love their clubs and protestations of loyalty become increasingly hollow each year. This has been further underlined to me since moving to Ireland.

The two largest domestic sports over here are Gaelic Football and Hurling – Gaelic being a high-paced mix of football and rugby and Hurling a higher-paced game (officially the fastest field sport) set along similar lines with the noticeable difference that each player is armed with a big stick.

Both games are played to packed houses and by genuinely hard men who have no inclination to roll around on the floor in agony unless a limb has been detached, and even then only until the necessary Savlon and Elastoplast have been applied. What I found most inspiring however is that they are both amateur sports.

Players are permitted to sign endorsement deals for sports equipment, energy drinks and the like, but they all hold regular jobs. The rules stipulate that a player cannot play for any county other than their birthplace, so essentially they are playing purely for pride in the shirt (a motivation mirrored by many an Olympian at the moment) – something to which many a footballer attests, but very few fulfil once the dollar signs light up elsewhere.

9. For Whom The Bell Tolls

Everyone knows it’s crunch time for our exalted manager. Having undoubtedly done a fantastic job in preserving our Premiership status in the first few months of his residence, Alan Curbishley then went on to spend over £40 million on assembling a squad he thought would take us to the next level.

The story since then has been one of marginal advancement tainted by bland mediocrity. Curbs has long lamented an inability to field his first choice players with any consistency whilst underlining that we finished seven places above our previous years efforts.

There are those who agree that he has yet to be given a fair crack of the whip in light of our lengthy injury list, but these few are outnumbered by those who point to his acquisition of players with poor fitness records and the grave paucity of attacking intent in our style of play.

Curbishley’s record in management thus far has been a litany of plucky teams who admirably battle their way out of relegation danger before stagnating in the back half of the season without any genuine year-on-year progression.

Our man is currently favourite to be the first manager jettisoned by his employers and it’s hard to escape the feeling that, were we to suffer a string of bad results between now and Christmas, the Board would ring the changes.

I would be genuinely interested to see what Curbishley regards as his best XI, although it remains to be seen whether he could ever field them in light of wearisome recent injuries to Craig Bellamy (Small Pox) and Kieron Dyer (Tennis Elbow).

There can be few other managers under as much pressure as Curbs before the first whistle of the season has even been blown, plus the poor fellow has to plan a viable escape route from the inexorable vortex that is Steve Bruce’s Angular Hooter ™ (you knew it was coming!)

I have no doubt that many would be happy to see Curbishley shown the door sooner rather than later, but there is no sign that we would be able to attract the requisite calibre of manager to take us forward in the style we would wish.

‘Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.’