1. Every Cloud...
" I feel I have some things I want to accomplish at West Ham, and I was happy that the club gave me the opportunity to do that."
Not my words, the words of Jonathan Spector having recently signed a 3-year extension to his contract.
In the full transcript of this interview, our most versatile of utility men goes onto explain that among the many things he wishes to accomplish are playing in goal, getting the Zola's tea just right and fixing that leaky tap in the dressing room.
Sunderland are this week’s opponents in what promises to be an enticing thrill ride of balletic football drama.
Last season’s corresponding fixture ended in a 2-1 defeat thanks to Andy Reid’s 96th minute winner. We had gone 1-0 up courtesy of Freddie Ljungberg only for rejected West Ham trialist Kenwyne Jones to equalise soon after.
While Sunderland were the better side in the second half, we were forced to play the final ten minutes with ten men after Freddie Ljungberg was withdrawn suffering a hamstring injury and with all substitutes having already been made.
The injury to King Pantsil was the real coup de grâce, the great man taken off with concussion having successfully obliterated 12 breezeblocks with his scalp on the touchline in an initially successful Haka-esque display of intimidating power.
Our recent record at Sunderland is a more or less even split of wins, losses and draws, although we haven’t won there since a 2-0 victory in The Championship in December 2004.
3. The Opposition
The main threat this weekend is the developing partnership of Sunderland strikers Kenwyne Jones and Djibril Cisse. Of the four goals scored in Sunderland’s last three games, Cisse and Jones can claim two a piece.
Cisse has hit the ground running since his arrival from Marseille scoring 5 goals in 12 appearances and Kenwyne Jones has shown no permanent effect from the knee- ligament injury sustained in England’s PR- friendly friendly with Trinidad & Tobago in the summer (notable only for Dean Ashton’s full England debut).
The two players seem to benefit from one another’s presence, Cisse thankful for Jones bearing the brunt of the physical frontman role and Jones grateful for a strike partner with marginally more attacking nous than a drunken gorilla on pogo stilts.
Kieran Richardson is certainly one to have benefited from joining The Black Cats, enjoying the regular first team football he was denied at Old Trafford. Similarly, Steed Malbranque has profited from his move up north, although he has complained that since his arrival from tottenham, and despite his rigourous approach to personal hygiene, that “the dirt won’t come off”.
Less successful Keane imports include Northern Ireland wonder-striker-cum-Premiership-nowhere-man David Healy, argumentative mercenary Pascal Chimbonda and those abhorrent dregs of the gene pool which have the misfortune to constitute El-Hadji Diouf.
Healy in particular has flattered to deceive since his arrival in the Premiership, to Sunderland via Fulham. His international scoring record is exceptional, having bagged 35 goals in his 69 appearances for Northern Ireland. He has however scored just five times in his 35 Premiership outings and made only one showing for Sunderland.
As any great striker would do when going through a considerable drought, Healy has recently released a DVD of his greatest goals and will no doubt be sending a copy to Roy Keane for Christmas.
4. Friend Or Foe?
Sunday’s game brings with it our first encounter with Anton Ferdinand and George McCartney since their tumultuous departures earlier this season. It was of course the sale of these two players that prompted the resignation of Alan Curbishley and his consequent decision to sue us for £1million for breach of contract (join the queue, Alan).
Reported to have gone for a combined fee of around £12.5million, neither player has been missed as much as was anticipated in the immediate aftermath of their sale.
The resurrection of a few of our previously incapacitated centrebacks has reduced Ferdinand’s leaving to a mere redress of the balance sheets and in truth, Anton was never taken to heart by the fans like his older brother.
McCartney’s exit was the bigger surprise and its potential consequences the cause of greater apprehension, however the deadline day loan signing of H List favourite Herita Ilunga has gone a long way to alleviating that anxiety.
Gorgeous George has been absent from the Sunderland squad since picking up a foot injury during Sunderland’s 5-0 drubbing at the hands of Chelsea, but Ferdinand has staked his claim to the starting XI and already looks like one of Keane’s more astute signings.
Anton takes flight from ‘Faces’ whilst being pursued by some of the local clientele.
5. Keane To Impress
The undoubted main draw at Sunderland for many an onlooker is manager Roy Keane. Depending on your standpoint, Keane is either a legendary player and promising manager or an arrogant, belligerent know-it-all who walked out on his country in their hour of need. On this issue I am often betwixt and between.
Undoubtedly Keane is one of the finest players to have graced the Premiership during his time at Manchester United and his enthralling tussles with Patrick Vieira on and off the pitch (notice big man Gary Neville giving Vieira the eyes once Keane’s fought his battle for him), remain some of the lasting images from the League since its inception.
I do admire his straight talking, a recent example coming when he protested at some of Sky Sports punditry:
"I wouldn't trust them to walk my dog. There are ex-players and ex-referees being given air-time who I wouldn't listen to in a pub.” (Are you listening, Jamie Redknapp?)
As a player he was the most indispensible member of the best team in the land for nearly ten years, but this elevated status perhaps inevitably began to affect his thinking.
Controversial Roy Keane gives his view on the practice of microwaving kittens.
Keane traditionally stalled on his contracts at Old Trafford, safe in he knowledge that his paymasters wanted him more than he needed them. His delay in finalising a new deal at Sunderland has caused some ire among the natives and Keane could soon realise that he is not half as indispensible as a manager as he was a player.
Allowing for his bouts of egotism and despite his obvious talents, I can’t get passed one thing.
Keane’s decision to walk out on Ireland’s World Cup campaign in 2002 lost him a previously immutable place in many people’s hearts. A dressing room spat with then manager Mick McCarthy caused Keane to abandon his team at a time when he was their captain, heartbeat, still a formidable force in international football and arguably the finest central midfielder in the world.
Ireland went on to meet Spain in the quarter-finals and were unlucky to go out on penalties. There are many an Irish supporter who wonder what might have been and how far their country could have gone in a tournament already full of surprises had Keane kept his council and his mouth shut and knuckled down for a couple of weeks.
The incident remains a large stain on Keane’s career and one which any fair-minded person would come to regret, although Roy Keane’s nature may prevent him from doing so. But I wouldn’t say that to his face.
66% of the goals scored by the home nations in this week’s international friendlies came from West Ham players – when was the last time you could say that?
7. Stop The Rot
Both teams have a similar motivation to do well this weekend. Sunderland will be playing on the back of victory against Blackburn and keen to string together consecutive wins for the first time this season. With their next couple of games both at home against ourselves and Bolton, they will see this as a good opportunity to consolidate a position in the top half.
After investing a massive £80million in two years, it won’t belong before Roy Keane is expected to deliver on his huge outlay and the Board, having backed Keane to the hilt in the transfer market, are unlikely to be satisfied with just another season’s survival.
From our point of view, Sunday represents a great opportunity to build on last week’s success at avoiding abject failure. Another clean sheet would go down a treat and a victory the Stadium of Light could be regarded as vital in hindsight, particularly when you consider that our remaining fixtures between now and Christmas read Liverpool (a), tottenham (h), Chelsea (a) and Villa (h).
Bellamy is back among the goals with a fine effort in midweek and now goal-machine Matthew Upson has lit the touchpaper, Carlton Cole can concern himself helping Freddie Sears with his homework.
Jack Collison must continue in midfield and Scott Parker should be rewarded for reportedly dislocating Theo Walcott’s shoulder during England training with a starting berth.
Goals, people. For all our attractive, attacking play of recent weeks, we are sorely lacking in the ultimate currency of football. We need a few of our overpaid representatives to start splashing the cash.
8. Two Short Planks
The majority of footballers are idiots. This is certainly true of English players who, unlike their Continental counterparts, can rarely string a grammatically sound sentence together.
This perhaps comes as no surprise given that most of them have forsaken any dedicated schooling since the age of 10, but it is that they appear so willing (or rather, unwitting) to emphasise their stupidity that I enjoy.
Therefore, let us fittingly leave the final word to Anton Ferdinand, commenting here on his tactics for completing a 24-hour sponsored silence:
“I think if I didn’t have my girlfriend to talk to then I would have struggled.”