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

Sunday, December 21, 2008

West Ham 0 - 1 Aston Villa (And Other Ramblings)

1. Home Comforts

It would, I feel, be an invigorating sensation to attend a West Ham game and believe that we were going to win. It would be an even greater notion to leave one of our home games without wanting to lop off a limb.

Say whatever you want about the recent performances but this has been a murderous run of fixtures.

2. What To Say?

I have little or no idea where to begin writing this report. I'm not sure that I have ever experienced as dispiriting a run of results as these last few, even allowing for the high (ish) quality nature of the opposition.

Is Zola the reincarnation of Glenn Roeder? Is Carlton Cole the worst finisher in the cosmos? Did we really allow Jamie O'Hara to score against us? Valid questions all, but I suppose we should begin any real analysis with the facts.

We are hovering above the relegation places, with Manchester City all set to unleash the power of the Arabian dollar in January. We have mustered a solitary win in our last 12 games, scoring a Roederian 3 times in the process. At home things are even worse with no win since September, and a risible 2 goals scored in the process.

All the while Scott Duxbury and his merry band of idiots wait, poised to begin selling off even more of the family silver as soon as the tills are open in January.

Even in the disastrous relagation season of 2002/03, the board weren't idiotic enough to sell any valuable players in January, and indeed we picked up Rufus Brevett, Les Ferdinand and Lee Bowyer to varying degrees of success. This time around, all signs point towards us disposing of our better players to rescue our penurious owner, and replacing them with some Italian guys that Zola met when he was helping with the Italian Under 21's. This is a foolproof plan because Italian strikers always do well in England, but strangely the fans aren't sold. It would seem that if we have to have non scoring strikers, then we want them to be OUR non scoring strikers.

2a. Mentioning No Names

"And for my next trick I'm going to put it over that stand"

3. The Statistics

With all of the above vented, it doesn't help when you reflect solely on this game and realise how much we dominated a reasonably decent Villa side. Per the ESPN gamecast we had no less than 64% of the ball, which we turned into 20 shots at goal, with a not terrible 8 on target. Contrast that with the visitors 11 efforts, of which just 2 were on target.

It should tell you something about our current luck, that both of those on target efforts were saved, and we still lost 1-0.

Any search for the reason for tonights listlessness in front of goal can probably be explained when one considers that of those 20 goal attempts no less than half were made by Carlton Cole and Calum Davenport. I mean, Jesus, that just hurts my spleen.

4. The Opposition

My intial thought is that if this Villa team can get to third in the league then anyone can. The fabled Agbonlahor/Young partnership looked pretty average to me, and apart from a couple of dicey moments in the first half (largely brought on by Scott Parker seemingly having a stroke of some description after twenty minutes), there was little by way of attacking threat.

That said, they had enough to hold us out for 78 minutes, whereupon they scored The Shittiest Goal. Ever. Anytime the opposition looked embarrased to celebrate a goal then you've probably been a tad unfortunate.

I have a huge amount of time for Martin O'Neill, and in making Aston Villa interesting he has achieved something of a feat of nature. But I do not see this team living in the Champions League anytime soon. Not that there is any shame in that - the Premier League is designed to make sure that the likes of Aston Villa, and heaven forbid West Ham, do not break up the cosy entente cordiale at the the top - but realistic expectations for now probably revolve around UEFA Cup progress.

And let's face it, he can't be that bad a manager when his back 4 contains 1 (one!) professional footballer. I do not know why Cuellar, Davies and Young are in the team but I'm guessing it must involve incrimating lithographs.

5. The Referee

After last weeks shenanigans at Stamford Bridge, when Mike Riley officiated the match wearing a Chelsea pyjama set and carrying an autograph book, it was nice to have an anonymous referee.

Mark Halsey's only real impact was to book Craig Bellamy for dissent, meaning that his inevitable suspension will coincide exactly with the first winnable match we will have in two months (28 December at home to Stoke).

Even then, I can't be too critical. After all let's face it, the prospect of Bellamy mouthing off doesn't strike me as the most outlandish thing I have ever heard.

6. The Way We Now Block Crosses. Apparently

"Herita Ilunga gets set to face up to another right wing cross"

7. The Case For The Defence

Interesting developments over the last few weeks as our once porous defence has suddenly tightened up considerably. Note that we have now played all of the traditional big 4, conceding just 5 goals in the process, whilst at the same time we have played West Brom, Blackburn, Manchester City and tottenham (the bottom 4 minus us) and have conceded no less than 9 times in the process.

I am beginning to wonder if the problem isn't as simple as this one point. Football at it's most basic is a question of scoring as many goals as you can, and stopping the opposition scoring at all. The best teams are able to do both, and the worst teams are invariably incapable of either.

As I see our steadfastly mediocre group flounder ever downwards, I am beginning to believe that they are simply not very good, and therefore are capable of playing only one way. We can either chuck all our eggs in one basket and attack with mindless optimism (see, United, Newcastle (h)), or we can sit back and cling on grimly in the hope that Cole or Bellamy might nick us a goal (see, any game played since October).

If I had to sum it up in the simplest possible terms, we seem to be rather like a computer team who can only be programmed to "Attack" or "Defend" and not much in between.

The thought of us as a virtual team existing only in pixellated form would also go quite a distance towards explaining the "career" of Luis Boa Morte.

8. Anybody Else...

...missing Nolberto Solano? Me too.

9. Cole Patrol

I'm not going to jump on the bandwagon and start unloading my vitriol on to Carlton Cole. For a start, there is no room left, but secondly I'm not sure I get the point of slagging off Cole for not scoring. He's never scored goals with any regularity.

People forget that Cole was signed to be our fourth choice striker behind Ashton, Harewood, Zamora and then latterly, Tevez. And it might surprise you to know that the other four have scored a combined 4 goals between them this year to Cole's 3, but I digress.

You see, he isn't scoring because that's just not what he does. Sure, I understand that you think strikers should score goals, and I don't think it's the most absurd notion ever, but here is a man who scores 1 goal for every 6.8 games he plays in. The ghost of Vic Watson he is not.

Let's face it, when you watch a film with Josh Hartnett, you accept that he cannot act. When you listen to the music of Robbie Williams, you accept that he is swinging two cats around in a bag in lieu of singing. And when you see Kerry Katona doing anything you accept that there is a reasonable chance her head will explode with the mental strain. I don't like it, but I accept Carlton Cole's uselessness as being represented by the fact that he cost us less than £2 million pounds. (*)

(*) I wouldn't give him a 5 year contract though. I am patient, not a fucking moron.

10. Whither The Wide Boys

I find our lack of width disturbing. We have basically decided to play without any attacking intent down the flanks, despite having a non scoring striker whose supposed strength is winning aerial balls. You could argue that this is driven by the fact that we have no wingers, and that our form players are actually the two being shoved out wide, in Behrami and Collison, but that ignores the fact that we are not scoring goals, nor do we ever look like we will.

This is also, perhaps, where the revisionism around Curbishley needs to be tempered. let us not forget that it was he who signed the painfully inadequate Boa Morte and Faubert, and the inadequately painless Kieron Dyer. It was he too who moved on Benayoun when we were crying out for a bit of occasional flair. Sadly this leaves us with Matthew Etherington, who continues to stagger around like your Grandad, waving a betting slip, a lighter and a can of Strongbow and dreaming of the day his luck is going to turn.

Still, Dyer and Ashton will be fit soon.

11. Luis Boa Morte Footwear Update

I have come to the conclusion that Luis Boa Morte does not have any feet. This came to me in the nano second after he missed our best chance at Anfield.....

12. Merry Christmas Everyone!

Cheer up. it could be worse. You could be captured on film looking like this:

"Someone asks John Terry to work out in his head how much money he saved by parking in that disabled bay. Cue: aneurysm"

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