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, November 14, 2008

West Ham United vs Portsmouth: Match Preview - 15/11/2008

1. Boo!

Adopting more aggressive guerrilla tactics, I have included people on the distribution list this week who have never expressed the slightest interest in this blog or were totally unaware of its existence.

Welcome one and all, and if you wish this weekly harassment to cease, I’ll see you in court.

2. Officer!!

Like most people born and raised in and around east London, I have been mugged on more than one occasion. None of these traumatic, formative experiences however can compete with the sense of loss and injustice felt upon leaving Upton Park last Saturday.

Not even the time when an unscrupulous urchin on the Romford Road snared my beloved Optimus Prime. I’m still reeling from that and it was six months ago now.

3. History

The next in the recent long line of opportunities to bounce back is presented by Portsmouth who travel to Upton Park this Saturday on the back of a donkey, having been mugged by a similar bandit to the one that relieved me of the king of the Autobots.

Traditionally, we haven’t done well against Portsmouth. We have in fact failed to take a single point off them at Upton Park in the Premier League and haven’t beaten them since a Championship meeting in 1993. Startlingly, it’s 50 years since we beat them in a top-flight game, although the vast majority of that half-century consists of a time where we never met.

Last season’s corresponding fixture was a truly lamentable 1-0 defeat courtesy of a Nico Kranjcar strike on the hour. Thankfully, The Firm and I had decided to take the afternoon off that day and spent it in the pub, sans lunch.

Accordingly, come kick-off, I was in no state to remember anything, not even where I was sitting, my main concern being how best to plot my route to the front of the queue for halftime pasties.

4. Team News

Thankfully, Matthew Upson is back in contention having been stretchered off at the weekend with what looked like a serious injury, but was merely a dead-leg.

James Tomkins is also fit, providing more centre back options and Carlton Cole returns from the three-match suspension incurred against Arsenal.

Utility man Valon Behrami also returns after a calf injury sustained against Man United and will be pushing for a place in midfield, although if anyone ousts the impressive Jack Collison from the starting line-up, I’m sure a lot of us will dejectedly shake our heads.

Sightings have also been made of Kieron Dyer taking part in full-training this week. It is still too early for his inclusion in the squad as the backroom staff are yet to overcome the problem of sufficiently insulating the mass of gummi bears being used to hold his hips in place.

5. Managerial Musical Chairs

The obvious parallel to be drawn between the two clubs in recent weeks is the arrival of an inexperienced manager to replace former West Ham players.

Following Harry Redknapp’s sudden departure, Portsmouth were quick to announce that the club’s previous Number 2 would take over as manager and with that, Tony Adams (right) made his first foray into Premiership management.

Portsmouth have made the public admission that they are short of funds and it is believed that Adams’ offer to work for sugar cubes is what sealed his appointment.

Adams’ managerial career began at Wycombe Wanderers where he was unable to prevent their slide from League 1 to League 2. He resigned after 12-months in the job, citing personal reasons (something to do with a paucity of sugar cubes).

Unlike most budding English managers, Adams then spent the best part of a year on the Continent in a coaching role, firstly with Dutch side Feyenoord and then Utrecht. It is from the Low Countries that Adams adopted his managerial ethos in the main, to implement traditional Dutch practices and technique.

6. Shuccsheshful Number Two, For Shure

Big Tony’s first move as manager was to bring in John Metgod as his Number 2, a decision applauded by the footballing cognoscenti.

Metgod is known to be an advocate of ‘Total Football’ and keen to implement his own brand of that philosophy, made famous by the Dutch national sides of the 1970s.

Metgod enjoyed a fruitful playing career, appearing for the likes of Real Madrid, Nottingham Forest (when they were still contenders) and to a lesser extent, tottenham. He is perhaps best known in this country for this free-kick, a 40-yard thunderbolt against, well, obviously…

You can’t really blame Phil Parkes for that one, he was obviously forced to avert his eyes at the alarming nature of our silken, sky blue hot-pants.

7. Brittle Backbone Disease

Welcome to a new kind of frustration. It is no longer our lot in life to sit through a dreary 90-minutes of tedium and escape with a point where three were attainable, it is now customary to marvel at our new sense of adventure and appetite before escaping with no points where three were attainable.

I left the match last week with the feeling that, despite our dominance, despite our attractive football and with things apparently so tight in the League this year, it wouldn’t surprise me if we found ourselves in the midst of a relegation scrap six months from now.

‘Everything in moderation’ is a phrase often used to promote healthy balance, but surely this does not apply to defending? As things stand, this policy could well be an improvement as we all too easily slump from defending in moderation, to resignation to outright capitulation.

Robert Green has reverted from his continually solid performances of last season to a more hit and miss affair. We all know he has the distribution of an agoraphobic postman, but a more dominant marshalling of his area would not go amiss. I’d like to see him shout his head off at some of the inept displays in front of him from time to time.

The lack of an authoritarian leader at the back is a contributory factor and there is no-one doing for us what Tony Adams did for Arsenal or Rio Ferdinand now does for United. Lucas Neill shoots his mouth off now and again but without leading by example, it will inevitably go unheeded. Plus it’s hard to understand what he’s on about when he has a mouth full of cheesecake.

8. The Opposition

Portsmouth look like most other teams constructed by Harry Redknapp – a mishmash of average foreigners spiked with a gem or two, former England stars on the wain and a smattering of youth who you feel will never quite achieve their potential.

David James has enjoyed a true Indian summer to his career and is in the form of his life at 38. Question marks over his England credentials have disappeared in recent years and you would have to go to HeadHammer Shark (left) to find a man of a similar age in such fine physical condition.

Lassana Diarra is a key player, bringing steel to their midfield and a shield to their ageing defence. Diarra made it known upon signing for Pompey that he viewed the move as a stepping stone to better things, which I’m not sure shows admirable honesty from a footballer in the modern game or a callous disregard for his current employers and their fans.

Glen Johnson is another of Redknapp’s protégés who seem to answer his call like The Artful Dodger to Harry’s Fagan. Johnson has made a good start to this season, looking increasingly like the blueprint for a modern wing-back – up and down the wing all day, defending when needed and posing an attacking threat of his own, having already scored this season and given opposition defenders something to think about.

Peter Crouch and Jermaine Defoe constitute Redknapp’s final roll of the Pompey dice, the evil dwarf arriving on the last day of last January’s transfer window and Crouch bestriding the length of the country in the summer like some sort of rampaging super-spider.

Physically, Pompey’s two strikers could not be any more different and both are effective frontmen in their own way – Defoe swift, nimble and a sharp-shooter, Crouch gangly, languid, eight legs, laser vision and 55 feet tall.

David Nugent is Portsmouth’s Florin Raducioiu.

Judging by last Saturday’s defensive catastrophe, it’s hard to see us resisting our apparent obligation to concede, particularly if Crouch and Defoe get permission from the League to wear their spangly new away strip, revealed below.

(Incidentally, it’s now 24 games since we last kept a clean sheet. The next worst Premiership performer on this criterion? West Brom with a paltry five matches. Amateurs.)

9. Zzzzzz…

It is good to see that Adams has lost none of his propensity to bore, thanks to his near-fundamentalist conviction to be rigidly inoffensive since his days as a Pizza Hut-terrorising boozehound.

After a mercifully brief stint as a comatose pundit on Football Focus, Adams’ relentless efforts to appear unassuming remain undiluted and he remains the PR version of extra-strength sedatives since his Damascun rebirth.

When asked to comment on the Premier League’s recent Respect campaign, Adams (right) came up with his usual platitudes peppered with football clichés:

“I think you should respect everybody in life whether it’s the referee, the supporter or anybody. I try to respect myself and respect others, to be honest. I’m not sure about the campaign. Whatever it’s doing, it’s doing, but they are the kind of values I have in life.”

Thanks for clearing that up, Tony. I did wonder.

10. Little Big Man

A few interesting quotes emerged this week from the manager, hinting that he may finally have laid down the law in light of recent results:

“We had a chat and confrontation and I think that was a positive thing, and now on the pitch we will see whether it gives us positive results or not.”

Zola’s idea of a confrontation could well be his refusal to hold the door open for all his players, but a more aggressive approach from him may be what’s needed. Another interesting one from Zola this week was in regard to his previous playing mentor, Diego Maradona:

"Sometimes you are very good at something, but getting others to do it is not the same thing.”

This quote was given in response to a query on how well Zola thinks the great Maradona will do in his new role as Argentina manager, but to listening West Ham fans there were hints of an admission that perhaps his vision of attractive, attacking and winning football may not be as easy to implement as he first thought.

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