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, October 30, 2008

Man Utd 2 - 0 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

1. Back To The Future

So confident am I in the insipid nature of our performance later tonight that I have begun writing this match report during my lunch hour, on the day of the match in question.

We will be pretty, but totally ineffective, and if we concede early there is a reasonable chance of a landslide. There is nothing so certain in life as death, taxes and lame West Ham away performances against strong opposition.

I shall leave this paragraph in, to either highlight my incredible prescience or my kilometre wide streak of pessimism.

2. And Now

Well, that was strange. Is it possible to lose creditably when you pose absolutely no attacking threat to the opposition?

Bizzarely we actually got better after going behind, although this was largely a function of Newton’s Third Law of “Well They Couldn’t Be Any Worse” and Manchester United setting up deckchairs and parasols all over the pitch and taking a well earned 70 minute sabbatical.

It would be nice though, if West Ham could just once approach this particular fixture with some verve and belief, and actually give it a bit of a go. After all, losing at Old Trafford is no disgrace but the manner of the defeat is pretty important to those who shell out significant amounts to be there.

It’s worth remembering that Roma have lost 7-1 at Old Trafford (Hey, us too!), and Newcastle went down 6-0 (Hey, we managed that as well) and a decent Blackburn succumbed 4-1 (Hey, guess what!), so we’re hardly alone.

3. The Statistics

Ho hum, we had the ball from 43% and summoned up 2 whole shots on target. The home side however managed a rather more impressive 22 strikes at goal and 9 on target.

Our lone corner was butchered like a Christmas turkey and the only conceivable chances we created fell to Boa Morte and di Michele who knew exactly what to do with them. Which was nothing much.

Herita Ilunga was caught offside. My head hurts.

4. The Opposition

I can’t believe any of you will be astonished if I let you in on the secret that Man Utd are quite good. In fact, they won this game playing at a canter with a noticeably second string look about them which doesn’t bode well for better teams than us (which is most of ‘em).

Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice and reassured everyone he was staying at Manchester United for “as long or as short a time as is required for me to stay or join Madrid in this great moment at a wonderful club like Manchester United where I started my career. Can I have some more money?”*

The best piece of play all night was Dimitar Berbatov’s sublime turn to create Ronaldo’s second goal, which made James Collins look pretty silly. Truthfully it would have beaten most defenders, and I would prefer he did it to us in a Man Utd shirt than a tottenham one. Now, I’d actually rather that he didn’t do it all, but £30m players are more likely to produce this kind of thing than, say, Diego Tristan, so sometimes you simply have to tip your cap and get on with it.

Wayne Rooney deserves a mention too, for achieving the impossible and cutting his hair in such a way as to make him uglier.

*This quote is unlikely to be real.

5. The Referee

Referees at Old Trafford don’t blah blah blah give much to the opposition blah blah blah gave us nothing blah blah blah could have had a penalty blah blah blah.

It’s not Peter Walton’s fault that we have the fighting spirit of Mahatma Gandhi.

6. The Strange Case Of Craig Bellamy

It’s not my recollection that Craig Bellamy is a prolific scorer, but we appear to have taken this to extremes by playing him in some very deep positions. And I’m talking scuba diving deep here.

Now this might be a natural tendency, or a by product of having a midfield with no creative bones in their bodies but it certainly makes for frustrating viewing to see our most potent attacking threat playing as a pseudo midfielder.

On a night when we were shorn of the only two men who could lead the line for us, in Cole and Ashton, it was left to Bellamy to try and make something of our current attacking formation. Increasingly starved of service he dropped deeper and deeper in pursuit of the ball until Rio Ferdinand was able to simply set up a hammock on the half way line and wait for some action to come his way.

Flanked by the exasperating duo of Etherington and di Michele meant we had some promising positions squandered, and possession was coughed up frequently at inopportune times.

I am not against a 4-3-3 system per se, but I am rapidly becoming opposed to these players being deployed that way. It just seems as though you need a mobile, creative midfield and thrusting, energetic full backs to make it work. We are not endowed with the former, especially, and are currently wasting Bellamy’s talents by trying to shoehorn him into this system.

Nice try, I appreciate the sentiment and all that but can we not revert to something a bit more solid for a while? And maybe try some actual defending while we’re at it.

7. The Impossible Corner

Regular readers will know that I like to give credit to players who manage improbable feats. A big thumbs up, then, to Bellamy and di Michele who managed to squander our lone corner of the game by taking it in such a way that Bellamy (the corner taker) was flagged offside before the ball got into the box.

Because we are a team who can afford to squander attacking opportunities at Old Trafford.

A place awaits in The H List Hall of Shame for that particular feat.

8. No More Heroes

I am slightly disappointed that Matthew Etherington did not do better against his marker, 6 year old Raphael (pictured).

9. The Problem With Zola Power

Another day, another dreary defeat and another smiling post match interview from Gianfranco Zola. I don’t want to be petty about this as civility is not a bad thing, but I’m wondering at his ability to read the riot act where necessary.

I guess I’m just not feeling the frustration seeping through the camera into my living room. I want to see a manager who looks as though he’s so hacked off with these results that he’s considering sacrificing the next living thing he sees to the Sun God Ra in an attempt to turn things around.

10. Luis Boa Morte Footwear Update

Our best chance fell to Luis Boa Morte who ran unmolested through the heart of the Man Utd defence on to a nicely weighted pass from Bellamy but succeeded in doing absolutely nothing of consequence with it.

Naturally I examined his footwear but began to suspect that it wasn't the boots causing the problems.

10. Collison Course

Jack Collison is clearly carried around in a glass case saying "Use only in case of 2-0 deficit at big club" as he came on here for the second half much as he did at Arsenal on debut - with the match already lost. He actually impressed with his neat passing and outstanding gel application and has presumably caught the eye of Zola, Clarke et al.

I don't know that he is the answer to our midfield woes, but he's an answer to them and one who should not neccesarily sit behind the likes of Bowyer and Parker simply because he's inexperienced. There is a nice range to his passing, and a quickness of foot that the likes of Mullins can't match, although it should be said that Man Utd were not bothering themselves with menial tasks such as tackling or running during his appearance.

11. And Finally

No preview for Middlesbrough as The Boleyn Beluga is defending a libel case from his last appearance in print. I shall vent a little here then about the vagaries of our recent trips to the North East which generally yield absolutely nothing of value.

Last year Scott Parker's last minute goal snatch a fairly undeserved win, but it's hard to see a repeat based on the current squad status. Valon Behrami seems set to miss out having been stretchered off at Old Trafford, and was last seen with our crack medical squad applying leeches to the affected area.

Cole is still suspended meaning we are likely to see a combination of Bellamy and di Michele flapping about ineffectively against Boro's enormous defenders.

I feel..............less than optimistic.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Manchester United vs West Ham United: Match Preview - 29/10/2008

1. In Sickness And In Health

At the time of this fixture last season, a good friend of mine displayed her outrageously ill-conceived social planning skills by getting married. I was therefore unable to watch the whole game, but did manage to catch the first 30 minutes in the hotel bar, during which time I thought it possible to gauge the final outcome.

Employing all my prophetic powers, I rightly predicted a defeat as we were 3-0 down by the time I left, conceding our first after just three minutes.

Notable only for Dean Ashton’s wondrous overhead kick, a listless display from ourselves got the thumping it deserved from the Champions-elect. Even when reduced to 10-men, United were comfortably able to score another – Michael Carrick ambling through our midfield to crack in a 25-yard effort and make it 4-1.

Historically, Old Trafford has not proved a happy hunting ground for West Ham, our Tevez-inspired final day escape notwithstanding. In our last 11 visits we have won just twice, losing the other nine and conceding a startling 32 goals during those defeats.

There is nothing to suggest that we won’t be on the end of another loss, except for myself, but I also once suggested that trifle, scones and toasted crumpets should be blended together to form an uber-dessert.

2. Injuries and Absentees

Ex-West Ham midfielder Michael Carrick is set to make a return this evening having played just 70 minutes of the season so far. Carrick’s timely interventions and measured distribution will be a welcome addition to the United midfield in the absence of Owen Hargreaves.

Their only other absentee is the mercurial Paul Scholes who remains sidelined with knee ligament damage.

Mark Noble is out for a month with a calf injury, Lucas Neill is laid up with a virus (or a hot chocolate and boxset of Desperate Housewives) and Carlton Cole is suspended.

Neill’s absence will allow James Collins to make his second appearance in a row – good news as far as I’m concerned as I thought he was excellent against Arsenal and is an altogether more accomplished centreback than Neill.

Noble for Mullins or Bowyer is more or less like for like, but Cole’s absence will be the most apparent. The absence of a target man to aim for with the many desperate clearances sure to be launched from our half this evening will only invite the next wave of pressure. I can’t see a towering Rio Ferdinand having much trouble out-jumping Bellamy.

3. Opposition

Man United have had an unremarkable start to the season by their own high standards, having drawn three and lost one of their opening eight games.

If one is to go by the accepted logic that every season’s eventual champions can suffer a single spell of poor form along the way, it is conceivable that United can ill-afford any more unexpected setbacks if they are to retain their title.

A 1-1 draw with Newcastle on opening day has been followed by defeat at Anfield and further stalemates at Chelsea and more recently, Everton. Even were they to win their game in hand, United would remain outside the top four, a point behind Arsenal, two behind Chelsea and five behind Liverpool.

Darren Fletcher has been one of United’s more consistent performers this season and has profited from the number of central midfield injuries. He’s scored a few goals, busied himself in the middle of the park and will push Carrick for that central midfield role.

Ronaldo is yet to click into gear, instead concerning himself with hourly media updates as to his desire to stay in Manchester, or lack thereof. He does have a knack of scoring against us though, so expect him to get four before halftime.

Man U always seem to finish the season strongly and so won’t be too worried about League position pre-November, but they would certainly prefer more points in the bag before the prospect of tricky away ties to Arsenal, Villa and rejuvenated neighbours Man City, all of which come before December.

Luckily for them, they can look forward to the fillip of a resounding home victory against West Ham this evening.

4. Name Your Price

As with most things, football can be directly related to Star Wars. This may seem a rather strained analogy at best, but give it some thought.

Jamie Carragher is the Wedge Antilles of the Premiership - solid, dependable, often plays second fiddle to his best-friend-cast-as-saviour, but certainly pulls his weight.

Peter Kenyon is quite obviously football’s Bib Fortuna – sinister underling of an inter-galactic gangster who cruises the planet in his over-sized yacht and has a penchant for dancing girls.

Drawing this thesis to its most logical conclusion, it is now plain for all to see that Harry Redknapp is the footballing equivalent of Boba Fett – a ruthless mercenary with no hint of moral fibre who will quite literally do anything for money.

Redknapp’s move from the south coast to tottenham has been the story of the week and Harry has been quick to reveal his childhood leanings towards Spurs (he has previously done exactly the same in regard to both ourselves and Arsenal). Redknapp spoke of how a chance to manage “a big, big club” was too good to turn down. Presumably he hopes to do well at Spurs so that a big club comes in for him.

Redknapp will take charge tonight in the north London derby, having dashed back from Portsmouth where he graciously returned to receive the freedom of a city he walked out on days previously.

Pompey fans aside (who have already put up with Harry leaving them for arch-rivals Southampton, only to return 12-months later), the players he leaves behind must feel the most aggrieved, many of whom cited Redknapp as the main reason for signing and received assurances from him that he was there long term.

Pompey fans should not be surprised at Redknapp’s departure given his previous, but what is surprising is that someone is still yet to blend trifle, scones and toasted crumpets into a luxurious uber-dessert.

5. Cole-Fired

I was surprised the club did not contest Cole’s sending off on Sunday. It was a foolish challenge so late in the game, but an equally foolish decision from the ref. The fact that a straight red carries a three match ban as opposed to the single game incurred for two yellows, would be reason enough for an appeal you would think, but apparently not.

Although his aerial presence will be missed, his shooting boots will not. For all his physical work and hit-and-miss link up play, our most punctual striker rarely tests the opposition ‘keeper and that is a concern.

Unless Bellamy hits the heights, it’s puzzling to see where our goals will come from. We might get five from midfield all season, di Michele was nowhere on Sunday and it seems as though Freddie Sears will be a bit-part player this year thanks to his paper round commitments.

Diego Tristan is either in contention for Middlesbrough or has been cryogenically frozen in order to combat the evils of Simon Phoenix and shock the principled natives with his rambunctious behaviour in a post-apocalyptic world years from now. One of these likelihoods is true and the other the plot to Demolition Man, but I forget which.

The absence of a 20-goals-a-season man who can breathe unaided has been a dilemma at Upton Park for a few years now and an issue that remains continually unaddressed.

Cole’s forced omission until Portsmouth in mid-November will allow us to see what other options and combinations are available and should see Diego Tristan thawed out for some first team action. Whether the desired potency will be uncovered remains to be seen.

6. Ashton To Ashes

Dean Ashton’s Official website bares the deflating news that he is now unlikely to return before the end of the season. In less than three years with the club, Ashton will now have cumulatively missed nearly two full seasons through injury, and this at the tender age of 24.

Ashton is in danger of becoming a ‘sicknote’, for all his undeniable talent. He remains our most gifted striker and one of the few remaining centre forwards in the traditional mould, but his frequent visits to the treatment table are becoming increasingly worrisome.

It is all the more frustrating as no sooner do we have Bellamy back after a year of absence, than Ashton rules himself out for six months. Together and with a few games played in tandem, they have all the ingredients of a prolific strike partnership, but one that we may never see.

I have the uneasy feeling that years from now Ashton’s career will be viewed as one of injury-hit wasted potential, mirrored with a sharp upturn in profits for McVities.

7. Forza Hammers

Much like Sunday, not many of us are expecting a result tonight, but will be more interested in the manner in which we play.

I thought we did well for the majority of the game against Arsenal and was pleased to see us sticking to Zola’s policies rather than hoofing long balls forward whenever in possession.

A little more composure on the ball instead of attempted instantaneous one-touch football would yield further improvement. Arsenal showed that a quick turn and a little look-up will more often equate to retained possession, rather than a hurried first time pass to where you think a player is or anticipate he will be.

It’s painfully obvious that Faubert is a midfielder out of position and I don’t blame him for Sunday. I would expect to see Behrami in at right back tonight and although the same ‘out of position’ assessment could be made of him, I was surprised to learn recently that he has made more challenges and won more free-kicks than any other West Ham player this season.

Ordinarily we need Faubert to deliver from midfield and Etherington to do the same from the opposite flank, but crosses into the box tonight would go largely wasted what with our distinct lack of height sans Cole.

Presuming Zola sticks with 4-3-3, the pace of Bellamy, a bit more strength from di Michele and maybe the threat of some surging Etherington touchline play, well supported by three central midfielders, could provide us with a few chances over the course of 90 minutes.

Lots of running and chasing will be involved and so the bench will need to play it’s part, so Luis, if you’re reading, please leave the clogs at home.

Overall, I’d rather see Zola (left) stick to his guns and lose than go against his instincts and still lose. I like to believe his assertions that the results will come in time as long as we believe in our style, which is an undoubted improvement on that of the Curbishley era.

A couple of defeats to two of the best teams in Europe, suffered whilst trying to play football in the right way and without being on the wrong end of a hiding, could instill some of the character needed to turn this new system into a winning one.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

West Ham 0 - 2 Arsenal (And Other Ramblings)

1. We Were Believers Once, And Young

We're not so different, Martin Luther King and I. We both had a dream , you see. His involved buses I think, whilst mine revolved around a world where West Ham could beat Arsenal.

In my 29 years on this plane, we have played Arsenal more times than I care to remember and beaten them so rarely that it is possible to memorise the victories in a Henry VIII style rhyme ("Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Leroy, Bobby, Offside!").

I despise playing them, because no matter what happens, we will always play pluckily but without luck. Whether it's Trevor Morley being brought down when clean through by David Seaman, or Trevor Sinclair hitting a post, or Kanoute having a goal disallowed when clearly over the line, or Julian missing a penalty while concussed, or Emmanuel Petit managing a last minute winner involving a handball and an enormous deflection, or Bergkamp elbowing Lee Bowyer in the face, or Julien Faubert channelling Titus Bramble on Sunday - it doesn't matter, we will find a way to lose. (Aaand breathe out - note to self : punctuation is your friend).

Only Pardew era West Ham managed to overcome this, and right now that seems a long time ago.

And before any Gooners leave a post saying this comment made you splutter up your oysters, let me confirm that I'm not saying Arsenal were fortunate to win on Sunday, but simply that they seem to get an unholy amount of luck in the games they play against us.

Which, in my head at least, is a slightly different thing, although I'll accept that this may very well be a Sarah Palin style mauling of the English language.

2. Everything Is Illuminated

Manuel Almunia's hair should be illegal. My corneas have only just stopped bleeding.

3. The Statistics

Per The ESPN GameCast we were second best in a lot of areas on Sunday. Certainly this won't be a surprise to anyone with a functioning set of retinas (i.e: those who didn't stare directly at Almunia's hair) but it does underpin that we are very much the apprentices in this particular match up.

The indisputable turning point was the introduction of Emmanuel Adebayor in the 68th minute as he marched on to the pitch and immediately began running the show. He mustered no less than 6 shots himself during this period, more than any other player managed all day, and was the "creator" of the fatal first goal.

As for us we had the ball for just 42% of the time and managed 4 efforts on target to the visitors 6. This is a polite way of saying that they were better than us. Of course it's not the fact that Arsenal are better than us that disturbs me, it's when Bolton can say the same thing that I get alarmed.

4. The Opposition Striker

I'm not saying that Emmanuel Adebayor is big, but here he is celebrating his last minute goal with the other Arsenal players.

5. The Opposition

Myopic manager aside, there is much to admire about Arsenal. They are clearly the team we aspire to be, perhaps without the croutons, and they play football in a way which is aesthetically pleasing for any fan.

That said, there is the other side of the coin : the whinging, the diving, the unhealthy hatred I have for Cesc Fabregas and the cloying sense of entitlement that runs right through their side and supporters. In fact, if there is a more punchable person than Robin van Persie outside of the Big Brother house, then I demand to know who it is so I can whack them right now with a skirting board.

What was noticeable was the superior technique on display for keeping hold of the ball. We deployed with the touted 4-3-3 system that warps my brain, and spent much of the second half coughing up the ball under pressure. The determination to pass our way out of trouble is admirable, but there will be plenty of days ahead when we will face superior teams who are able to do it much more adroitly than we can.

This does not include Hull though, for fucks sake.

6. The Referee

In a fit of pomposity last week I wrote the following : "It's always a waste of time to blame referees for anything, because I refuse to accept that over 90 minutes a football team cannot do enough on their own to win a game".

Admirable stuff for sure, but tested somewhat by Phil Dowd's performance. I still don't think that we lost because of the referee, but it could be said that he wasn't a huge help.

The wide variety of handball shouts were a bit desperate, but the constant blowing for fouls, lack of advantages and the nonsensical sending off all grated. I don't really know how you referee that game and give out 5 yellow and one red card.

7. Green Fingers

After a rocky couple of weeks featuring a Bobby Mimms impersonation at home to Bolton, and a sudden bout of inertia at Hull, it was a welcome return to form for Robert Green. Indeed he was so good that his performance drew the admiration of Arsene Wenger, which is akin to getting a good annual appraisal from Darth Vader.

The save from Walcott in particular, was outstanding, and there was a sense of dominance missing from his recent performances. The cynical part of me always views Green's performances against the Gunners as being 90% job interview, and Wengers comments haven't eased my mind at all.

I could mention the fact that Adebayor's goal came whilst Green went a wanderin' late on, but I choose to view this as an accurate homage to David James, rather than the desperate act of a madman.

8. Formation Blues

I cannot quite comprehend a tactical system that includes Julien Faubert and Hayden Mullins as our tandem down the right hand side. Furthermore, it vexes me how exactly Mullins has ended up as the attacking half of that duo, whilst Faubert is left to slip on his curly green wig, hop on the unicycle and get down to some good old fashioned clowning in lieu of actual defensive work.

The own goal was easily avoidable in hindsight, but I have sympathy for any defender facing his own goal, with an attacker immediately behind him and a dangerous cross to deal with. Throw in the custard pie he was balancing at the time and it's easy to see how it happened.

My biggest gripe with Faubert is not the square peg/round holeism of his defending but more the utter lack of incisiveness he is providing from right back in an attacking sense. I mean, I know we gave up a little defensively to get him into the side, but weren't we supposed to be gaining something at the same time?

I'm not anti-Faubert - far from it, if we spend €9m on a player I'm very much pro that guy showing me he's worth it, but right now I'm looking at a winger being shoe horned into the back 4 and giving the ball away at an alarming rate.

9. Missing

Mark Noble was absent from today's game

At this point I am willing to consider that he has been eaten by Lucas Neill.

10. Kudos

Welcome back James Collins, who looked for all the world like he was fully fit, which seems utterly impossible when one considers that he will have been treated at the Boleyn Royal Infirmary - motto: "Circumcurso pru aveho " or "Run It Off" in English.

He and Upson looked mighty impressive there, and my boy Lucas will have a job to regain his place, although the bright red nose and large shoes of our current right back might indicate the route back.

A word too for Bowyer, Mullins and Parker who battled manfully against the all conquering evilness of the Arsenal midfield and did well for an hour or so before the forces of evil came swarming through the barricades.

Herita Ilunga remains my favourite Congolese blogging left back in the world. My advice for the return game at The Emirates would be to shoot Theo Walcott early doors.

11. Cole Patrol

Undeniably the worst part of the day was the late red card dished out to Carlton Cole. Weird decision or not, I demand that Cole has a CAT scan or a test of his occipital lobe or something to tell me if there is any kind of brain functionality whatsoever going on here.

It's the 94th minute, you've lost the game and the referee has already shown you that he won't be applying any common sense to his decision making. Why are you making this tackle? Are you in the midst of a brain aneurysm? Is there no blood flow to your cranium?

Ay carumba. Whilst Ashton is being treated by the Florence Nightingale Society medical team, we now have no striker capable of playing the central striker role bar Cole, and with his suspension looming we now face the prospect of starting Sears or Tristan or possibly a reality show winner at Old Trafford on Wednesday. Be still my beating heart.....

Friday, October 24, 2008

West Ham United vs Arsenal: Match Preview - 26/10/2008

1. History

Straight down to business and last season’s corresponding fixture saw us lose 1-0 courtesy of a Robin Van Persie header. It was a game in which Arsenal were largely in control without ever dominating, thanks to some decent football from ourselves.

From our perspective, Freddie Ljungberg fully justified his £85,000 weekly wage and £6million pay-off by having a goal wrongly disallowed for offside and Dean Ashton should have done better with a late header.

Generally, our recent record against Arsenal has been surprisingly even – in the last four seasons we have won 3, lost 3 and drawn 2. We can’t expect this equilibrium to last forever, though. Nothing lasts forever, especially not the pre-season bravado of tottenham fans.

The season so far has been a little baffling to say the least, notwithstanding the off field hi-jinks. I have continually checked the current league standings, convinced that I must have made some oversight in that we appear to be outright 8th having lost half of our games.

This is more symptomatic of the fact that outside the top 3, no-one has made a particularly blistering start, as opposed to a fair reflection of our steadfastness.

2. Arsenal’s Arsenal

The attacking threat and midfield fluidity of Arsenal is well documented and largely without parallel in the Premiership. Their assembly of talented youngsters is also well established and enough to make Hammers fans yearn for Academy protégés of old.

(Although it’s worth noting that Arsenal’s young guns are more often than not poached from other clubs as opposed to brought through their own youth system - Arsene Wenger is the cradle-snatcher extraordinaire of the modern game. But he's not a paedo. Repeat - Arsene Wenger is not a paedo.)

Recent displays have seen near-flawless performances from midfield up, but there remains a lack of stubborn resolve in defence to perhaps remain serious title-challengers come April. The Gunners have already suffered surprise defeats to Fulham and Hull City and drawn away to Sunderland, but remain only 4-points off top spot thanks to a lack of total dominance elsewhere in the league.

These blips have been interspersed with some savage attacking displays including wins by 6-0, 4-0, 4-0 and most recently 5-2 away to Fenerbache in the Champions League. With Wenger’s boys now 2-points clear in their Champions League group and cruising, their attention will turn to making up lost ground in the Premiership and we can not expect any players to be rested with one eye on Europe.

Eduardo da Silva is rumoured to only be a matter of weeks away from returning after his horrific leg-break in February (left) to further bolster their attacking options.

Now let’s see – February to November, that’s a 9-month turnaround from the Arsenal medical team. Kieron Dyer broke his leg in August 2007, 14-months ago and is still being made to sit in a darkened room while our “medical team” dance around him in bearskins and Haitian headdress, singing ‘you can make me whole again’.

3. Lost In Translation?

Frank Zola came out with a peculiarly paradoxical quote this week regarding the re-emergence of Craig Bellamy:

"You can't ask too much from him after such a long time out, but we really rely on him a lot.”

Bellamy’s return to contention must surely see him start. And start upfront. None of this ‘last half an hour playing as an advanced midfielder who drops deep to collect the ball’ nonsense. If he has energy enough to lead a couple of Hobbits on a merry dance up Mount Doom, then he has the physical capacity to put in an hour of running for West Ham.

In the opposite hot seat, Arsene Wenger (left, roaming the technical area, not beckoning kids into his car) has this week criticised fans and the media for their stifled support of his young team:

“I do not feel that either from the media or our supporters that this team gets the support it deserves”.

Wenger moaning about the media is an almost hourly occurrence, but his criticism of Arsenal fans is rare. Even grandiose, internationally-respected think tank The Arsenal Supporters Trust are in agreement, taking time away from their Hedge Fund analysis to issue the following statement:

“We share Arsene Wenger's view that the matchday atmosphere at the Emirates sometimes needs galvanising.”

All those years at the Highbury Library have surely tempered the expectancy of crowd participation at Arsenal home games, the passing Tube trains must sound like an onrushing tsunami to the natives.

4. Yawn

I was going to write a piece about how the FA have written to the Court of Arbitration for Sport stating that they do not recognise the body as a final right of appeal in Tevezgate and the implications of that, but I really can’t be arsed.

Can’t we all just behave like adults and settle this torrid affair with a game of paper, scissors, stone? Best out of three and if we lose we beat up Sheffield United and nick their lunch money.

5. Captain’s Cap In Hand

Lucas Neill (pictured right upon being told by a foolish work expeience trainee at Gregg's Bakery to "queue up like everyone else") has detected the whiff of contract expiry in the air, above the overwhelming stench of baked goods. Our captain has therefore deigned us with the following diplomacy:

“My contract runs out next summer and I am open to them giving me a few more years at the club.”

Very kind of you, Lucas.

“If it doesn't work out, so be it, but I'd love a long-term commitment."

We’ll do our best for you, you tubby oaf.

This tactless attempt at courtship is rife with veiled language, roughly translated as ‘If the money’s right and it’s a minimum of 4-years, I’ll stay. If not, I’ll see out my current deal and look for a huge signing-on fee elsewhere.’

Well, after a distinctly average few years at Upton Park bar his first six months, I can’t see many clubs queuing up with bags of cash. Like we did. I fear that we, Lucas, are your Golden Goose and one that you have ravaged so brutally that we now limp around the barnyard with all the allure of a syphilis-despoiled, penniless Mallard riddled with H5N1.

Neill would do well to use actions rather than demands to attract a renewed financial commitment from the Board. A little understatement and honest to goodness hard work would do him some good, something like Hayden Mullins came out with this week in response to rumours of a departure from Upton Park:

"I'm just knocking on the door and if I get my chance I've got to put in a performance. I don't really want to go and knock on the manager's door and ask why I'm not playing. It's just a case of waiting for my chance.”

Despite Hayden’s confused door-knocking policy, the sentiment is there and he has the right attitude. If not the charm of say, a Lee Bowyer who would simply kidnap Zola’s first-born until his demands were met.

6. Sink Or Swim

Sunday’s game, like any other week, could provide a rousing display or a deflating experience. Recent history and Arsenal's recent form lead us to a few conclusions.

Everyone knows that if you try and play against Arsenal, they will more often than not take you apart. The way to get a result against them is to sit back, nullify and frustrate whilst hoping to nick a goal from somewhere – a’ la Sunderland.

Our problem is whether the home support will stand for a cautious display at the weekend, despite the sound reasoning that against this team it will provide our best hope of a result.

In midweek, Arsenal achieved the impressive feat of an emphatic victory away to Fenerbache, a team who had gone unbeaten at home in Europe for 15 games. This was largely possible because Fenerbache had a go at the Gunners, who were content to bide their time and hit the Turks incisively on the break. Not that they took their time too much, having gone 2-0 up after 10 minutes.

A fleeting hope I was all set to grasp to was the absence of Kolo Toure and William Gallas from the Arsenal defence, both of whom were unfit in midweek. Of course, they have recently been declared available for Sunday and so the encouraging prospect of facing a centre back pairing of the defensively suspect Song and the ageing Mikael Silvestre has disappeared faster than last year's X-Factor winner.

I’m curious to see what Zola’s tactics will be, whether he’ll stick with his favoured 4-3-3 and risk a hiding, or tailor the formation to the opponents, keep things tight and try to prevent his third defeat on the spin.

As for ourselves, would we rather go out all guns blazing and risk a potential cricket score, or suffer a negative Curbs-esque encounter and steal a point? The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

It goes without saying that I’d love to see us pull off an unlikely victory on Sunday, but if a more likely defeat is coming our away, I wouldn’t be upset to see Arsenal keep the pressure on in the title race. After a few years out of the running, it would be good to see another team taking Man Utd and Chelsea to task and no-one could moan too much were Arsenal’s brand of football to win them the League.

Besides, wishing Arsenal well in the grand scheme of things is no blasphemy when you consider that history dictates at least one team from north London should remain in England’s top flight.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Hull City 1 - 0 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

1. I'm Confused

We're really becoming quite a contradiction in terms, and it's now somewhat confusing to be a West Ham fan these days. Let's consider : we are 4th in the League in goals scored and yet don't look like we will ever score again : only Man City have scored more times at home than we have but our Goal Difference is 0 : we are owned by a billionaire who apparently doesn't have any money : we're 8th and tottenham have 2 points yet everyone says that we're both in crisis.

I'm not going to lie here folks, but I don't know whether to start jerking my knee or not.

2. Before We Begin

We're through the looking glass here people. We had a comment on the blog last week from a friend of none other than H List favourite, Herita Ilunga. Imagine our surprise when we were asked to post a link to Herita's blog with the promise of a reciprocal agreement.

Being the excitable sort I did so, and lo and behold, we now appear as a link on Herita's own blog. Now he writes in French so he could be slaughtering us, but such is my ridiculous adulation of West Ham players that this would be perfectly fine with me.

I think it's probably a fair guess that Herita himself isn't avidly waiting for the H List's biannual updates, but either way here is the link to the website for The H List Player of the Year 2008/09 (not that I wish to appear biased but unless Scott Parker makes a guest appearance at my daughters 3rd birthday party it's basically all over now).

Man, this is more fun than writing about trips to Hull, let me assure you.

3. The Statistics

It's hard to be too churlish about a game when we had 60% of the possession, which I think means that Hull basically had the ball at set pieces and nothing else. However, the truly representative fact about Sunday is that we managed just one shot on target all game, which was Carlton Cole's execrable first half effort. One shot on target! Against Hull! I'm going to set fire to my own teeth.

We have now lost games this year to West Brom, Watford, Bolton and Hull. When I'm done with my teeth I'm moving on to my feet.

4. The Opposition

I imagine that it would be pretty hard for even the most ardent Hull fan to argue that they deserved to win this match, but then I am not an ardent Hull fan so who knows what they think. It should be said that Hull were really only ever going to score from a set piece, and lo and behold our back four gently removed their collective cerebrums in the 51st minute, and produced some zonal marking that only their mothers could love.

As with pretty much every other team we have played recently, I admire the ability to wring each last drop of effort from 11 journeymen (don't get me started on Geovanni - the man who was so good he managed 2 starts for Man City last year), but Jesus, I'm pretty much done with watching us lose to a group of earnest triers.

All of that being true, and angry blogging aside, it's hard not to think that Hull's success is pretty good for the League, if only because it greatly increases the chances of tottenham going down. So it's not all bad.

5. The Referee

It's always a waste of time to blame referees for anything, because I refuse to accept that over 90 minutes a football team cannot do enough on their own to win a game. Now that's fairly high and mighty, but I admit to frustration about Chris Foy's decision not to award a penalty for the trip on Mark Noble. The midfielder didn't help himself by dropping like the price of my house, but it was still a foul.

Elsewhere, there was some fairly agricultural tackling from the home side but in fairness they are still Hull City when all is said and done so it's to be expected.

I don't actually understand why Ilunga's goal was disallowed, but the laws of football these days are so mental that I can't be bothered to look it up.

6. Cole Patrol

Carlton Cole lead the line manfully again, but contrived to miss two great chances in doing so. The worst was the second half effort which began with a lovely turn and finished with a shot that hit the bar from all of 12 millimetres. I'm enamoured of his work rate and willingness to get involved but I would be appreciative of a finishing ability that could be described as better than the current level of "sub-Kuytian".

It worries me immensely that our striking options these days consist of Cole, the lesser spotted Craig Bellamy, the even lesser spotted Dean Ashton, the oft spotted but rarely feared David di Michele, the rotting corpse of Diego Tristan and Freddie Sears, who may well be enjoying a "bring your child to work" year.

7. Speaking Of My Favourite Goblin

Craig Bellamy can't hide his admiration for our all conquering back four.

Just the 4 seasons since a clean sheet now.

I have immolated my teeth and feet, and am now seriously pondering the notion of removing my appendix with a fork.

Still, at least he didn't hit anyone with a golf club.

8. The Art Of War

Gianfranco Zola is a lovely fellow. We're all agreed that he never forgets his mothers birthday, dresses nicely even when he's just lounging around at home, and hardly ever sends out junk emails pretending that he is a prince in his home country and if you just give him your bank details he will send you £2m.

But the problem is that every now and again I think I'm going to need to see him go a bit madder than he did after this defeat. You see, I never cared that he was a Chelsea player, as it didn't seem inconceivable to me that a man could take a job with previous rivals and be passionate and motivated in the process. In fact, I am positive that Zola cares deeply about the role, otherwise why would he bother to move his family to Walthamstow from Southern Italy? That's a pretty big life step he's taking right there.

But bad luck aside, when your team has just lost to Hull and it might be apropos to suggest to the world that you're not very happy about that. I know he's only 5 games into his tenure, but those have now included some nonsensical defeats and as indisputably West Hamian as that may be, we're all hoping for a change on that point.

It may be perverse, but now that I'm older, fatter, wiser, fatter, more relaxed and fatter than I was, I have come to realise that West Ham losing no longer tears quite as big a hole in my soul as it used to in my youth. That's fine, but I really need to know there is a manager out there who is still utterly inconsolable when we lose 1-0 to a poxy corner routine.

It's churlish, petty and stupid, but I'm ready for Zola to yell at someone now.

9. Kudos

To Herita Ilunga, naturally, for another excellent display of left backism. A word too, for Lucas Neill whose play as a centre half has been better than when he was a full back, in the same way that Nelson Mandela is a greater international statesman than Kerry Katona.

Craig Bellamy remains extremely fast. When we stop using him as some sort of deep lying midfielder, we may even see him be useful.

10. Not So Much Kudos

To Herita Ilunga again. Sadly his first half missed header will live with me for a while as it essentially disproved the theories of Evolution and Relativity, the Heisenberg Principle and the basic acceptance of physical law.

Mark Noble and Robert Green contrived to allow Andy Turner's header to creep in, despite the fact that they were both positioned specifically to prevent this happening (I'd like to think this is always true for Green, but the Bolton game has thrown me somewhat).

Men on the posts at corners = good.
Men tied to the post at corners with no ability to move = bad.

10. Luis Boa Morte Footwear Update

Luis sadly didn't make it on this week. See if you can guess why from this shot of him warming up...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Hull City vs West Ham United: Match Preview - 19/10/2008

A New Dawn

Welcome to this week’s H List Preview. As you’ve hopefully noticed, a few changes have been made to the layout.

My superior and I decided to give it a lick of paint and add a couple of new features as it was beginning to look as tired as Lucas Neill after an informal stroll up a gentle slope.

To any newcomers – if you think this presentation looks amateurish, you should’ve been here last week.

1. Hull 4, London 0

And so on with business.

Hull City have emerged as the surprise package of this season’s promoted sides, having already pulled off noteworthy victories and impressively sitting outright 3rd after seven games.

Apart from ourselves, they are the only team to have taken three points from The Emirates and completed an impressive north London smash and grab with victory over tottenham last time out. A crucial opening day victory at home to Fulham sees them boast a 100% record against teams from the capital and they will be hoping to make that four out of four against us on Sunday.

Traditionally a rugby league superpower, Hull City have made a great start in their bid to cement a place in football’s top flight, having called upon local lads Nick Barmby and Dean Windass to win them promotion via the play-offs last year.

In the 2003/’04 season, Hull were in League 2 and have achieved the impressive feat of winning three promotions in five years to reach the Premiership – the third fastest ascent through the divisions in history.

Thanks to their early season exploits, they have come to be regarded as the team that most neutrals would like to see stay up from this year’s new crop and have certainly given themselves every chance of survival with their early form.

Despite all this positivity coming from the Yorkshire city, it will no doubt still be obvious to all of you on your way to the KC Stadium this Sunday (and I know a few), why Robinson Crusoe elected to leave Hull and live on a desert island for 28 years.

2. Tonight We’re Gonna Party Like It’s 1929

As the long-talked of ‘credit crunch’ bares it’s teeth and the first few drops of recession begin to breach the sea wall, the first nation to be cast adrift amid this sizeable financial storm is Iceland. Well, obviously.

No sooner had a big money buyer come in for West Ham allowing us all to dream of the quality players and domestic honours that were surely just a few years away, than right on time the biggest financial tidal wave for over 75 years comes thundering directly to our doorstep, crashing through the front door and completely ruining that spandex Batman outfit you were saving for Halloween.

Iceland has been forced to nationalise its three major banks in order to stave off national bankruptcy, one of which being Landsbanki where West Ham owner Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson was Chairman and hefty shareholder.

The Icelandic government promptly sacked BG (right) and he is said to have personally lost around £300million thanks to the fall of the former financial giant. As is to be expected, as soon as news of the turmoil broke, every newspaper in the land was rife with reports of BG’s intent to sell up and our resultant fall into administration.

Unsurprisingly, West Ham’s ever-efficient press office were quick to release statements saying how Gudmundsson has no intention of selling and how his overall stock portfolio remains healthy, but that hasn’t stopped the spread of further rumours around the club’s ownership and financial affairs.

Indian multi-billionaire and 6th richest man in the world, Anil Ambani (pictured left upon hearing the news that Lucas Neill was in the area and hadn't eaten for 15 minutes) has been touted as a potential buyer. Depending on what you read, some say the deal could go through in a matter of weeks, others that Ambani will try and pick us up on the cheap in January in light of the economic climate.

Should he takeover, with an estimated fortune of over £20billion and even in spite of our marked ability to run a commercial business with all the discretion of a branch of Hooters (but without their business acumen), surely we could climb the ladder a rung or two?

Anyway, this is all idle rumour and is yet to take on any real credence. Apart from ourselves, Ambani is also allegedly interested in tottenham, Everton, Liverpool and Newcastle, plus BG continues to emphasise his willingness to sell off other parts of his business empire before he relinquishes control at Upton Park.

Still, it would be nice to have an owner twice as rich as Abramovich, buy Chelsea, forcibly disband them and continually fine John Terry all his wages unless he manages to successfully recite a full chapter of The Hungry Hungry Caterpillar within a month.

3. Stick Or Trist

This week saw the arrival of Diego Tristan on a permanent deal having successfully completed a two-week trial at West Ham.

His unveiling came with all the usual spiel about how he hopes to do well for the club, repay the faith of the manager, turned down many other lucrative offers, and one hopes that the twilight of Tristan’s career heralds a committed approach from a player who has sparked misgivings in previous managers regarding fitness and attitude.

No question that on his day he is a formidable striker with great technique and in the continued absence of Custard Cream Dean, our frontline could do with some added depth.

The average age of our main attacking options (di Michele, Cole, Bellamy & Tristan) now stands at just under 30, although the addition of Freddie Sears would see that fall to 12. Ill be interested to see the emergence of Zola’s first choice pairing in the coming weeks as there are similar styles on offer – from speedy little scamps (Bellamy & Sears) to technically sound but ageing continentals (di Michele & Tristan).

Carlton Cole’s good fortune is that he provides the singular target man option and is therefore always likely to feature at some stage. Unless of course he’s engaged in a high speed pursuit down Barking Road.

4. The Opposition

Manager Phil Brown has put his side on a firm footing in the early part of this season and done so with a combination of resilient defending spiked with the occasional touch of quality. His efforts rightfully earned him the Manager of the Month award for September and this is all the more surprising coming from a man who served as Sam Allardyce’s apprentice at both Bolton and Blackpool.

His two most astute signings over the summer were those of former Boro and Villa midfielder George Boateng and Brazilian flair player Geovanni. I’m still surprised how Geovanni slipped through so many nets to find himself at Hull after a single season with Man City. At just 28 and with a pedigree of Benfica and Barcelona behind him, he was a real catch on a free transfer and remains the kind of player we could do with in our midfield. An opportunity missed.

Hull City is also home to Andy Dawson (above left), elder brother of H List favourite ‘Mahogany’ Mike (above right). Like Michael Dawson, Andy started out at Nottingham Forest before making the lateral move to Scunthorpe while his younger sibling was sufficiently planed and varnished to get him through the door at White Hart Lane.

Andy Dawson has gone onto become a solid defender and a regular in the Hull City back four – an achievement all the more remarkable when one considers all the rogue splinters he had to contend with throughout his upbringing.

A perplexing 5-0 thrashing at home to Wigan earlier this season has done Hull City a world of good and where some teams are winded by such an experience, they have rallied. This heavy defeat did have as much to do with Steve Bruce’s rhinal command of gravity as Hull’s poor display, however.

Hull have got where they are this season through a stout team spirit and high work rate and will definitely get bodies behind the ball for the ten or so minutes we are in possession. Whilst proving hard to break down, we may stand more of a chance away from home as their lofty position in the table and recent form will put the onus firmly on them to take the game to us.

5. The King Is Dead, Long Live The King?

Not only did the abdication of King Pantsil leave a huge void in all our lives, it also created a vacancy at Upton Park for the position of ‘cult hero’. While it is still early days to coronate another, from what I have seen so far this season, the frontrunner has to be new boy Herita Ilunga.

He has that ‘marauding lunatic’ quality to his play that endeared us so much to our former sovereign, plus he also poses a consistent attacking threat for a full-back, often putting our midfielders to shame and consigning the surprise departure of George McCartney to history’s New Den (dump).

A big appetite is one of the main criteria for any cult hero (makes you wonder why Lampard never made it) and Ilunga displayed his hunger for first team action by playing on with a severed hand against Bolton.

Of course, the West Ham Number 3 shirt will long be associated with one of the foremost cult heroes in the club’s history, but continued committed performances from Ilunga could see him gain entry to that exclusive club where certain players can do little wrong in the fan’s eyes.

For me, I just love the fact that he’s from the Congo. Surely it won’t be long before some bright spark out there on the terraces pens an Ilunga-based song to the tune of those classic ‘Um-Bongo’ adverts?

You know this makes sense

6. Back From The Dead

This week’s spate of international fixtures have seen some strange goings on, not least that Craig Bellamy (right) played all but ten minutes of Wales’ two fixtures against Lichtenstein and Germany. Bellamy didn’t score despite a host of chances (he missed a penalty, in fact), but he did get booked, so looks to be back to his old self.

In the latter fixture, James Collins also played the full 90 minutes, not only coming through unscathed in a competetive match against high quality opposition, but also shining in his centreback role and taking praise from both his captain and manager.

With Kieron Dyer allegedly now able to breathe unaided, it could be not much longer until we have something like an if not full, then at least partial complement of squad players to choose from.

England also managed to win away from home for the second time in as many months and I became embroiled in a passionate debate about the relative midfield merits of Steven Gerrard and Fat Frank.

This particular argument has gone on and on as to whether they can play together. It’s obvious to me that Gerrard is far and away the superior player, England’s major talent and arguably the best box-to-box midfielder in the world. It’s a no-brainer.

But one of my fellow debatees made the point that Lampard is genuinely world class in his postioning during attacks and his ability to arrive in the box at the right time. However, he soon relented when I pointed out that Fat Frank’s apparently well-timed late runs are infact his best efforts to spearhead a counter attack, until he is forced to continually pause for breath or pick up the innumerable Curly Wurlys that keep falling from his pockets.

7. Look Both Ways Before Crossing

At the moment we are arguably at our first crossroads of the season. It’s still early days and I’m sure we’re all contented with our League position thus far, however, defeats away to West Brom and Watford coupled with a frustrating loss at home to Bolton bring with them a familiar air.

Gianfranco Zola and Steve Clarke are still in their honeymoon period, but I think more than a few of us are eager to find out whether they can stamp their authority on the club and succesfully combat our age old predicament of fragility on the road. It would be nice to see a few solid West Ham performances on our travels this season.

Having had a few weeks with the playing squad, the new management team should have had time enough to form a clear idea of their preferred starting line-up, formation and tactics and to address the familiar results of the last few weeks.

Can Zola and his team consistently ingrain their ethos and practices onto Curbishley’s motley crew? Or is every assembly of West Ham players, regardless of personnel, destined to produce unlikely victories and tepid defeats in equal measure?

Monday, October 06, 2008

West Ham 1 - 3 Bolton Wanderers (And Other Ramblings)

1. A Many Splintered Thing

So, I ended up missing this game, possibly because Kevin Davies elbowed me in the head, or possibly because I had the flu. In my twenty or so years suffering at the hands of West Ham, I have only been sick for two games. This was the second, and the first was the 2006 FA Cup Final. You can try and discuss it with me if you like, but you'll probably lose a limb so why bother.

2. Impossibilities

Just how hard is it to concede three goals at home to Bolton? Well it's not exactly "splitting the atom" hard - in fact, it's harder. It's more like "splitting the atom with a pair of tweezers and a pool cue".

In terms that we can all understand, I would say that it is roughly as hard as allowing Linvoy Primus to score against you. Twice. In the same half. Or even allowing Jon Fucking Stead to score against you. Ever.

So it's not without precedent, but it's still a feat of some difficulty.

To illustrate, it has been 25 away games since Bolton last managed it at Wigan in April of 2007, to which I say "Pffft - even we managed that". Furthermore, Wanderers have managed 3 away goals just twice at all in 53 road trips stretching back to 2005. West Hamically, they even contrived to lose one of those matches, despite scoring three goals and Kevin Davies elbowing everybody in the head.

But, I hear you ask, just how hard it is to lose at home to Bolton at all? Well, they managed just two away league wins all last year, at Reading and Middlesbrough, who shared the common distinction of being utterly crap.

Not a great day at the office, then.

3. The Statistics

There is something startlingly telling about the statistics for this game. We had the ball for 65% of the time, which is a hugely dominant share, but converted that into a paltry 4 shots on goal. By contrast, the visitors had 6 efforts on target, which Robert Green converted into 3 goals courtesy of a near flawless Paul Robinson impersonation.

What struck me about this was the rather obvious comparison between our policy of passing the ball around in prolonged, attractive spells that yielded absolutely nothing, whilst Bolton simply got the ball and smacked it as high and hard as possible in the general direction of whichever Easter Island statue was loitering with intent in our box.

This was evidenced by the farcical first goal that arose largely as a result of Kevin Davies's magic elbow, Green's grease covered oven gloves and a long aimless punt from the full back.

You can take Sam Allardyce out of Bolton.........

4. The Opposition

I have to be careful here. I really do make a conscious effort to be as even handed as possible in my reports, but I simply cannot contain myself about Bolton. I hate them. I really do. I hate playing them and I hate watching other people play them. Clearly some of this is down to the fact that we never beat them but, let's be honest, if that was my main criteria then I would only have time for Blackburn Rovers.

Now let's be clear and not kid ourselves that Bolton were anything other than better than us on Sunday. Being defensive and dull doesn't mean that you aren't worthy winners, as unpalatable as it might be to lose to such a barefaced show of aggressive functionality. There can be no denying the effectiveness of the style, such as it is, and even more so when one considers that Johan Elmander is actually quite good, but performing fairly ineptly at present.

I can admire the way that they make the best of what they've got and in particular the cunning use of Kevin Davies's right elbow as a major attacking weapon.

So, in summary. I don't like them and they don't care. The only qualitatively good Bolton team I have ever seen was the John McGinley/Andy Walker side who were really quite excellent in the 90's, but then again so were Oasis.

The real question here is perhaps why Sky are so insistent on showing this particular fixture to the rest of the world, considering that I support one of the teams involved and it usually makes me want to cave my skull in.

In the interests of fairness and balance, you could visit this excellent Bolton blog, http://mannyroad.wordpress.com/ because I appreciate good writing, blogging and the ability to post links without revealing the entire text. This latter attribute is because I am a Luddite.

5. The Referee

I actually felt that referee Mike Dean was a little off the pace today, possibly as a result of being elbowed in the face by Kevin Davies. There were some curious decisions throughout the match, although Dean tends to be a curious referee so maybe it's not that big of a deal.

Herita Ilunga's left hand appeared to explode part way through the first half, which is a slightly unusual injury for a footballer. I have no conclusive proof that this was a result of foul play by Bolton, but in the interests of wild hyperbole I am going to say that it was.

6. We've Got Our West Ham Back

Is this it then? I had been sceptical about the truth of the revolution based upon the abject flimsiness of the opposition so far and this didn't do a whole lot to strengthen my belief.

Sure, there was a lovely passage of play that led to Carlton Cole hitting the post, and our retention of the ball was much improved from recent seasons but if we can't translate that into anything approximating attacking football then I have to question if it actually constitutes improvement over the Curbishley era?

Look, I know we're only four games in, and that I was the loudest advocate for removing Curbishley, but my point remains that for all the likely aesthetic improvement of watching Zola's West Ham I sincerely doubt that we'll actually be any more successful now.

Despite being the lugubrious sort I'm perfectly alright with that, but I don't think performances like these will be conducive to long term job security for Zola. Hey, it's one game in a season and against a horrible, big, elbowing Northern team at that. We rarely win these games and I am quite relaxed about that fact.

But tougher challenges lie ahead, and I quail slightly at the sound of my manager announcing to the world that "tactics don't matter much" in his pre match interview.

Gianfranco Zola meet Steve Maclaren. Steve, this is Gianfranco. Sit down and I'll get you both a coffee. You have much to discuss.

7. At This Point, A Suggestion

I estimate our chances of beating Bolton are roughly 114% greater if Kevin Davies is not playing. Therefore, why do we not just spend the £12 it would cost to buy him? In his last 6 games against us he has now has 6 goals. This from a "striker" who has only scored 39 times in his league career for Bolton. There are nuclear warheads out there that are less dangerous to us than this guy.

So yes, I certainly could have lived without Green going on handling safari during the first half but I don't think it really would have mattered as Davies still would have scored somehow. It's just inevitable.

I give up, I bow down to the majesty of Kevin Davies and his magic elbows. We should get us one of them.

8. Green Fingers

For some time I have been wondering quite what Robert Green had to do to get some love from the England management. Well whatever it is would have to be the polar opposite of this display.

I'm not going to expend a lot of energy thinking about this performance - it was terrible. C'est la vie, these things happen.

One point of concern would be the last goal, which was walloped in from about 40 yards by Matthew Taylor. A tremendous strike for certain, but at this juncture I think we have all established that Taylor's sole attribute is the ability to shoot from several nautical miles out. I can't imagine exactly what was surprising about that goal.

9. The Flourishing Left

Last week I commented that our left side was looking as healthy as it had done for a while. A facetious type could simply attribute this to the lack of Boa Morte, but clearly it's a little more than that.

Matthew Etherington has perked up in recent weeks, but the aforementioned Ilunga has been great since his arrival from Toulouse. To describe him as our sole attacking threat in the first half would be inaccurate as it would overstate the number of attacking threats that we had in the first half, but he was as close as we got.

His strong running repeatedly got him into good positions and any semblance of decent movement from our front men would have helped immeasurably. As it was, he was left to wonder exactly how Carlton Cole was failing to roast Andy O'Brien.

Let me tell you Herita, you were far from alone.

10. The Invisible Men

Allegedly David di Michele played in this game. He was allegedly replaced by Craig Bellamy.

It is entirely possible that neither of these two things happened.

Friday, October 03, 2008

West Ham United vs Bolton Wanderers: Match Preview - 05/10/2008

1. You Bet Your Ass I Wish To Proceed

The differences between the H List styles of HeadHammer Shark and myself were recently brought to my attention. An obese friend of mine said that while this blog’s creator has a thoughtful approach, mine is more blood and thunder. As my friend succinctly stated between fistfuls of porkpie, “he’s the thoughtful drama to your action movie”.

In light of this, all headlines in today’s edition shall be quotes from great action films, including the above. See if you can guess them all. There will be a prize for the winner.

2. Shhh! Quiet! Mustn’t Wake Them!

It must be the absence of headlines, sackings or arrests, but these last seven days have seemed very quiet in comparison to the tumultuous happenings of recent weeks. Nary a word has left the Upton Park PR Department

Hang on, it seems I have tempted fate like a rogue can of Top Deck at an AA meeting – whilst writing this section I’ve just come across one of the more bizarre entries on WHUFC.com


It’s all a little embarrassing and reads as if every use of the word ‘are’ should be in insistent italics. Whilst we are obviously more concerned with on-field goings on, it gets tiresome watching your club run by suits whose primary concern is bad PR. Who really needs an update on shirt sponsor negotiations? The fact that The Bobby Moore Fund is apparently not in the running is as much as we need to know.

This release reads like something Scott Duxbury’s scribbled together whilst sitting outside the Headmaster’s office, coming across as an impassioned plea that ‘OK, so it looks like we don’t know what we’re doing, but everything’s all right really!’

But what do I know – it’s that post-modern approach that won George W Bush two terms in The White House. Thankfully, we’re not all ultra-patriotic neo-con Republicans.

(Apologies to any Republican-voting readers. Actually, forget it. Obama’s an established Hammers fan – I’ve seen him quaffing sausage rolls in the Bobby Moore Lower.)

3. Bunch Of Slack Jawed Faggots Around Here

During the course of my “research”, I braved the barren wasteland and listless plains of Bolton’s official website. Hoping to acquire some understanding into the expectations of their visit to the Boleyn, I was met with a telling insight into this bare void of a football club.

The banner headline on the home page, the forbidden fruit with which they entice you in, reads thusly:

‘Head Groundsman Richard Norton Takes Us On A 20-Minute Tour Of The Reebok Playing Surface.’

Enthralling. Just the 20-minutes? I’m surprised the website hasn’t crumbled under the sheer volume of hits.

Now I’m sure Richard is a lovely fella, faithful to the Mrs, strictly adherent to the Highway Code, but I’d struggle to stay awake with Keira Knightly taking me on a tour of the weekend’s Premiership Passchendaele (abundant craters, grown men staggering around in a complete daze watched over by traumatised weeping young boys).

This sums up Bolton better than I ever could have hoped to highlight with statistics or insightful commentary and it gets better, their website is a goldmine. A quote from disagreeable Chairman Phil Gartside from an article entitled ‘Making Progress’:

“On the subject of match atmosphere, we’ve tried the new idea of a singing stand and it didn’t really get going.”

A dedicated singing stand.

Here is one of the main reasons why Bolton should be banished from the Premier League. One could conceivably sympathise with the fans given the comatose brand of ‘football’ they are made to watch each week, but we haven’t been blessed in that department recently and had to sit through Plymouth Argyle in the Carling Cup last year, naturally finding song as the only entertainment available.

Plus, these are Bolton fans and I don’t know about you, but I thought they were all conspicuous by their absence in both the Nuremberg trials and the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.

4. He’s Like A Piece Of Iron

With Ashton being newly crippled, it has emerged that Diego Tristan has been at the club on trial this week after news that Digestive Dunkin’ Dean may well be out ‘til the New Year.

Having left Italian side Livorno in the summer, Tristan is on the lookout for a move to the Premiership and the 32-year old Spaniard has been training with West Ham this week hoping to clinch a deal come the weekend. Whilst on the wrong side of 30, di Michele has shown how that need not be a prohibitive factor for a player on loan.

A former Deportivo La Coruna forward, Tristan was once one of the more formidable strikers in Europe, courted by football’s royalty and regularly breaching Champions League defences in the early part of the decade.

His form of late can be accurately described as less prolific, managing only a single goal in his last 34 starts for Mallorca (13) and Livorno (21). Tristan also has a reputation for not being the most ardent model of professional fitness, so he should fit right in.

He was released by both Deportivo and Mallorca over concerns regarding physical condition and form, but with Zola’s main gripe with the current squad being fitness levels, we shouldn’t worry that Lucas Neill will have any competition in the scramble for his post-training cupcakes.

Meanwhile, Stephen Appiah looks to have priced himself out of the market with wage demands of £60,000-per week. Whilst this was the sort of money we were giving away free with every official Advent Calendar a couple of years ago, the Board will be more reluctant to splash out such figures now. Although at 27, Appiah is arguably worth that sort of money for what should be his best years.

5. Well Ya Know, For Me, The Action Is The Juice

Last season’s corresponding fixture was the most frustratingly predictable affair since Britney’s second marriage lasted all of six months and she went mental.

Having gone 1-0 up thanks to George McCartney’s acrobatic volley, our failure to consolidate always left the door open for Bolton to score and sure enough, come the 94th minute, along came Kevin Nolan’s equaliser.

Our propensity to not only concede agonising late goals, but to see them coming a good half hour before they happen may just be a part of our genetic make-up as opposed to something in the control of any one man, or group of eleven men.

What’s needed against teams like Bolton is not only to score early, but to score more than once, make them venture outside their own 18-yard box enabling us to exploit their abundant shortcomings.

They are bound to come to Upton Park, sit back and try to nick goal. If they score first, they’ll never leave their half so I think it’s imperative for us to take the lead and preferably within the first 20-minutes.

Bolton’s sole strength remains their threat from set-pieces, something at which we are not particularly adept at defending. Whilst playing Faubert at right-back has not back-fired as yet and given us more threat going forward, with Bolton’s physical presence, this would be a good game to blood genuine defender Wally Lopez in the back four.

Lopez would then have a chance to find his first team feet against lesser opposition over the next two games before the challenge of Arsenal at home in three weeks, when one would hope Faubert is nowhere near our defence.

Either that or a more established centre-half would be available by then (James Collins featured for 70mins in a reserve game alongside Lopez in midweek, Tomkins is back in training) to join Upson in rolling Lucas Neill back out to his customary right-back position.

A win against Bolton and a victorious trip to Hull City(?) next week would see us off to a flyer and lay a great foundation for a successful season, but we all know that these are exactly the kind of games where we tend to come unstuck.

6. I Always Tell The Truth, Even When I Lie.

Yep, Dave Whelan.

I was hoping to leave the whole Tevezgate thing this week as HeadHammer Shark seems to have it all covered, then my arch nemesis pipes up again (I’m sure he must purposely time these outbursts for The H List Previews):

“I spoke to Kevin McCabe only this week to congratulate him on his success and I want him to get any amount of money he feels they've lost… We're not having clubs telling us lies, I'm sorry it can't be done and they can't brush it under the carpet, which I think has been the policy… If it's points deducted, if it's a fine or whatever they've got to do, they must let democracy rule here."


The Daily Telegraph, August 2003:

“JJB Sports, the country's biggest retailer of replica shirts, were among 10 businesses fined a total of £18.6 million yesterday for price fixing. Founder Dave Whelan attacked what he called a "politically motivated" decision and said he would be appealing against the fine.”

Office of Fair Trading (OFT), October 2004:

“Of the 10 parties that were found to have engaged in price-fixing agreements on replica football kit, only JJB and Allsports appealed against the finding. The Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT) has upheld the OFT's decision that they broke competition law.”

The Independent, October 2004:

“In making their judgement, CAT revealed that the JJB chairman David Whelan was at a meeting at the house of the Allsports chief executive David Hughes in June 2000 to agree a price for Manchester United kits. The meeting was also attended by Mike Ashley of Sports Soccer, who later acted as the whistleblower triggering the OFT investigation.”

Telling lies? Democracy? Shut it, Whelan.

It’s also interesting to note the history between Whelan and Mike Ashley in light of The Convicted Price Fixer’s recent criticism of the Newcastle owner. That he purports to be a champion of justice and defender of the wronged reads as hollow as Dean Ashton’s biscuit tin.

7. I Want Him DEAD, I Want His Family DEAD, I Want His House Burnt To The GROUND

They must be breeding these repellent, blabber-mouthed Chairmen up North. Bolton supremo Phil Gartside has now decided to jump on the bandwagon seeing as his team are up against us this weekend:

"There is an argument to say we can claim three points from West Ham. We went down there and lost 3-1, Tevez scored two and it cost us £700,000 because that was one place in the league. If Sheffield United are successful and get a claim, then why shouldn't we?”

Fair point, Phil. Why don’t we pay, say half a million to every team we beat that season?

And herein lies the genesis of a parasitic pollutant spawned by the séance held at the ‘Independent’ FA Tribunal. When will the madness end?

8. Gonna Have Me Some Fun!

So another preview comes and goes with hardly 30% of the content devoted to our actual team. Whose fault is that, you ask? Not mine. Still, I hope to have kept you partially interested with the headline competition, the answers to which are:

1 - Die Hard
2 - Lord Of The Rings (ok, not out and out action, but I was struggling)
3 – Predator
4 – Rocky IV
5 – Heat
6 – Scarface
7 – The Untouchables
8 – Predator.

The winner gets to leave a complimentary post in the comments section.