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, February 29, 2008

West Ham United vs Chelsea: Match Preview - 01/03/2008

1. Lessons Learned

During my brief tenure as Preview Meister, I have learned that some H-Lists are harder to write than others and that it can be a struggle to write about teams like Derby or Fulham with any conviction. Conversely, with fixtures like Chelsea, previews write themselves.

Thanks to Frank Lampard, I am blessed with a rich bounty (and a Twix and four Snickers) of material...

2. Fever Pitch

So, here we are - awaiting the return of arguably West Ham's most reviled exile, although Judas Ince still firmly registers.

There's no doubt that Lampard has gone on to bigger, bigger and bigger things since he left (XXXXXXL fat pants, credit accounts with Krispy Kreme Donuts), but he can always rely upon us to give him a reality check should he get too big for his boots.

How he can not be too big for any boots is a wonder. They must resemble margarine-smeared oil tankers.

3. History

Last season saw us succumb to a 4-1 home defeat after Pope Tevez had banged in an impressive riposte to Shaun Wright Phillips' opener. Wright-Philips struck again almost instantly with a lovely effort (the readers choice for Best Opposition Goal of last year's The H List Awards) to knock the wind from our sails before Kalou and Drogba sealed the win for Chelsea.

We have lost to Chelsea in our last five Premier League meetings, our last victory being at home in 2003 thanks to a DiCanio strike. Joe Cole played for us that day with his namesake Carlton coming on as a substitute for the opposition.

Oddly enough, our overall record against The Blues in all competitions is perfectly balanced, having won 36, lost36 and drawn 16.

More recent events have given us cause for optimism. We were unlucky not to have come away from Stamford Bridge with anything less than a draw earlier this season after a combative performance was undone by a questionable Joe Cole winner.

This was one of those few occasions when despite the result, we all felt proud of the team for taking the game to the opposition. Only Joe Cole's offside goal and the fact that the man with the laser-guided weapons system failed to fire at Drogba took the sheen off an entertaining away day.

We have done well at home against The Big Four this year, taking six points from a possible nine and conceding only two goals in all three encounters. Chelsea always seem to be the team that we struggle to nick points off, however.

Not that they are superior to their fellow title-contenders, just that against them our players not only have to raise their game, but simultaneously bear the ceaseless threat of being basted in sweet chilli sauce by The Blues salivating Number 8.

4. Steadying The Ship

Avram Grant has proved doubters wrong by maintaining the on-pitch consistency of his predecessor - a feat even more impressive considering he spends hours every morning clearing the mountain of anthrax-filled hate mail from the doors of Toad Hall.

Spookily, his early record of results was identical to that of Mourinho's and he has managed to wipe all the tears from the Kings Road Crèche after some initial tantrums. The fact that all the players know they won't get paid anywhere near as well at any other club probably helped.

His most impressive achievement however, despite international condemnation, has been to tactfully negotiate the safe passage of those brave Japanese whalers who have delivered shipment upon uninterrupted shipment of whale blubber to Lampard's landfill of a mouth.

5. Blue Moon

Fat Frank's more recent goal celebration (when he points to the moon) is reportedly due to the name of his firstborn daughter, Luna. More considered thinking tells us this isn't the case.

The potentially devastating effect that Lampard's corpulence could have on the Earth's ocean tides is well documented. Were it not for the restoration of this delicate equilibrium between Moon and Gut via the goal celebration, the seas would rise exponentially.

This wouldn't affect Frank himself as he would constitute the sole surviving continent, but distorted fish migration patterns would affect his mid-mid-morning butty, which he enjoys between brunch and lunch, just after elevensies but prior to his midday 'butter bricks'.

6. Injuries

Last Saturday saw a few faces emerge from the blackhole of our treatment room. Nobby Solano came on for the last half an hour, skillfully slamming home the winner with his Peruvian elbow having done his utmost to kick Antti Niemi's head off.

Nobby was a second half replacement for Julien Faubert, who managed a full hour before being substituted. Dean Ashton was noticeable by his presence on the bench and it seems that nothing can shake Curbishley's belief that Boa Morte is something more than a conceptual theory, as Luis walked straight back into the starting XI.

I am in agreement with HeadHammer Shark's belief (detailed in the Birmingham review, below - just the three weeks late) that Ashton needs a little more time and support. As the old adage goes, 'form is temporary, class permanent' and Deano certainly showed us his class pre-injury.

Whether he sticks with us to the other side of this prolongued dip in form remains to be seen. I increasingly get the feeling that it won't take the biggest of clubs to come in for him in order to pry our most gifted striker away.

There are still absentees, but we may be treated to a few other familiar faces pointlessly strolling up and down the touchline in the vain hope that Curbishley will omit Boa Morte for any reason other than death.

And even then he'll probably get 15 minutes.

And put in one of his more lively performances.

Chelsea have nothing to report on the injury front, although Fat Frank has recently had to endure a spell on the sidelines due to a "thigh strain". Those in the know are fully aware that he was attacked by wolves who mistook the back of his fat neck for a packet of hotdogs.

7. You What?

Lampard has spoken out this week in protest at how today's young footballers are overpaid and underworked:

"Everything is easy. They don't have to clean boots any more, they drive BMWs, they get a very easy life. Sometimes they walk past you in the corridor and don't give you a second look."

I know. Staggering, isn't it.

I'm sorry, Frank - but have you considered that these poor lads are unable to fall at your knees in adoration as they pass you in over-sized corridors, because they are mashed up against the wall? Unbeknown to you, a couple of them are probably still imprisoned in the folds of your fat back.

Lectures on overpaid prima donnas hold little weight from someone paid £100,000 a week. Criticising people for 'earning' an inordinate amount of money is a bit rich coming from a man who spent thousands on a cereal bowl so big, it came with it's own lifeguard.

8. Steve Bruce Update

It appears that Steve Bruce's Angular Hooter (TM) is affecting his vision more than first feared. The cumulative effect of light bouncing off his panel-beaten nose at every conceivable angle has rendered his vision next to useless.

Evidence of this was given by the man himself last Saturday. After Eduardo's horrific injury at the weekend, Bruce came out with the following:

"I've seen the tackle. Some would say it's not even a yellow card."


9. The Battle For Middle Earth

Oh, how I long to hear the unbridled noise of an erupting Upton Park, not truly heard since our 2-1 win over Man United. It is a sound only surpassed by the deafening roar of sizzling livestock from Fat Frank's mobile hotplate (a coal-fired helipad to you and me).

Midfield is where this game will be won or lost. If previous encounters against the Big Four are anything to go by, Curbishley will pack the centre of the park with a 4-5-1 formation in an attempt to stifle any Chelsea creativity before it gets a chance to flourish.

Chances are this won't be a high-scoring affair as it is between the two clubs whose Premier League games have yielded the lowest numbers of goals - it is also frustrating that we will belooking for our first back-to-back victories in 21 Premier League outings.

Carlton Cole will no doubt be called upon to play the lone striker role over Dean Ashton. Cole has played this part admirably on more than one occasion this season and should be extra keen to make an impact against his former club.

At the other end, the prospect of Drogba and Anelka in tandem is downright scary and so denying them quality service is imperative.

I can see Solano and Faubert being interchangeable with one playing for the first hour, to be replaced by the other for the last 30 minutes. It would be nice to see them both on the pitch together as they are the most creative players we have by some distance, but this would perhaps undermine the solidity needed to keep any marauding Blues in check.

Mullins, Noble and Ljungberg will probably feature along with A N Other - perhaps Bowyer to chop some heads, or Etherington in an attempt to keep the opposition full-backs in check.

Chelsea are abundant in midfield talent with Wright Phillips, Joe Cole, Herr Ballack, Claude Makelele, Florent Malouda and John Obi Mikel to call upon. They also have the largest blancmange in human history to act as an impenetrable if wobbly shield infront of the back four.

While we can't match Chelsea for talent, we can get about them and ruffle a few feathers. It won't be pretty, but I think we'd all take an ugly 2-1 win and a victory for the working man against London's footballing aristocracy. Beating them for work-rate is key.

Often accused of having a poor work-rate himself, Lampard is hindered by the fact that he rocks himself to sleep whenever he tries to get up off the floor.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Fulham 0 - 1 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

1. An Admission - This Article Is Brought To You Via The Magic Of Football First

Before I begin this column, there is a truth that must come out. I did not go to this game, and instead followed events via TalkSPORT, an experience which is not dissimilar to listening to a pair of schizophrenics on acid.

I digress. You see, if I have to pay £45 to watch Clint Dempsey try and play football, then I'm expecting a few sweeteners in the deal, like maybe some lapdances, or a new Toyota Hilux or free private education for both my daughters.

2. Three Chords And The Truth

Let's be up front about this. No summary of this game can begin anywhere other than in the 87th minute, primarily as this was the first time that anyone did anything interesting. The incident in question saw Nolberto Solano burst through on to a "through ball" from Luis Boa Morte (more on that later), clatter Antti Niemi in the neck and elbow the loose ball in to the net, albeit accidentally.

Now, no sensible observer could claim that it was a fair goal, so naturally the Match of the Day analysts saw no problem with it. This is utter nonsense. If that goal had been given against West Ham I'd have been lobbying my MP for an Early Day Motion. There have been lots of ridiculous statements in the press along the lines of "These things happen when you're down the bottom" as though that is somehow justification for obscenely bad officiating.

Of course, I wouldn't want anyone thinking that I actually give a monkey's about Fulham but it would be farcical to try and claim that this was anything other than a robbery.

3. The Statistics

There are a curious set of numbers for this game. Fulham had no less than 14 (!) shots on target, despite the fact that they did not muster a worthwhile chance until the 85th minute. It must be pointed out that there is something to be said for ignoring statistics occasionally, on account of how they only reveal the uselessness of statistics.

We had the ball for a hefty 57% of the time, which we translated into 6 shots on target, half of which were from Carlton Cole and thus went straight at Niemi. These seem like odd figures to me, because a superficial evaluation would lead you to think that the home side were the better team, when in fact they were almost seminally appalling.

All of the above doesn't discount the fact that there can't be any argument that this game was 100% tedious.

4. The Opposition

Ah, Fulham. Mohammed Al Fayed's marvellous marriage of affluence and effluent. Never has so much been spent on so little. It's not Roy Hodgson's fault of course, given that Lawrie Sanchez took £20m in the summer and blew it (and boy did he blow it) on the entire Northern Ireland team.

Apart from the inestimable Jimmy Bullard it's hard to pick a player from this team who is anything other than an average Premier Leaguer at best. It is fairly telling that Brian McBride remains their only potent attacking threat, despite being as mobile as Ayers Rock, whilst Diomansy Kamara is the best non goalscoring, non passing, no vision Senegalese striker in the League this side of El Hadji Diouf.

They will grace the Championship. And soon.

5. The Referee

Quite apart from missing Nolberto Solano's neck high tackle on Niemi, Howard Webb had a questionable game. He did well enough in patches until eventually succumbing and awarding Fulham some fairly ludicrous free kicks, purely because the home fans were feeling somewhat displeased with life at the time. If you are being intimidated into making incorrect decisions by Fulham fans then I'm thinking "career change" should be high on your list of priorities.

He also sent off Leon Adreason for some late dissent which was probably fair enough on both sides, and he didn't send off Paul Stalteri despite him scoring that winner for tottenham last year, which would have been spectacularly unfair but would have made me very happy.

The strange decision to allow Solano's goal was a mistake and a bad one, but somewhat understandable considering the participants. Niemi is hardly the second coming of Bert Trautmann, whilst our bruising Peruvian winger isn't exactly Tommy Lawton reincarnated. Truth be told, Solano showed greater desire and Niemi should have been tougher. These things happen and if Fulham feel that aggrieved about it they could always score a goal or two themselves.

6. Alright, Then

Apparently as a child, Clint Dempsey based his game on that of Diego Maradona.

{I am speechless. You'll have to insert your own joke here}

7. Cole Patrol

Our erstwhile frontman continues to have an oximoronic season for the ages. His approach play remains excellent, or at least better than anyone else we currently have, but his composure in front of goal tends to rival that of a Daily Mail reader at an Immigration conference. Three times he had great chances on Saturday and each occasion saw Niemi barely tested.

I am not as down on Cole as the rest of the Universe. I think he is a willing trier, unlike Ashton who is several spare tyres, and I actually think is more skilful than he is given credit for. Of course, he is not given any credit at all by most Hammers fans so that isn't hard.

I could certainly live with him scoring a few more goals, or indeed not pausing when clean through on goal to complete a devilishly tricky Sudoku puzzle, thus allowing Paul Konchesky to run 70 metres and block his eventual shot. But then I am a hard taskmaster.

8. It Goes Ashton And On And On

As Cole's star rises, so does Dean Ashton's wane. He is now a clear second choice to Cole, and no amount of blonde hair dye can disguise that balding pate either. Inside of Dean Ashton lurks a splendid centre forward, along with several plates of biscuits judging from the size of him, and it is the most frustrating element of our season that we have yet to see him emerge.

I retain hope that he can recapture the lost magic, but there is a feeling that persists that he cannot work with Curbishley. The latters infatuation with 4-5-1 will never suit the immobile Ashton, and a pairing with Cole doesn't seem like the answer. Truthfully his progression probably relies upon the safe return of Craig Bellamy, which doesn't augur well considering the Welshman was last seen hobbling off to hospital yelling "The knee bone is not connected to the scapula, you fool!" at our physio.

9. The Luis Boa Morte Experiment

Boa Morte returned to the lineup again, proving that Matthew Etherington must be clinically dead, and quite possibly that the Portugese is holding Alan Curbishley's family somewhere.

To be fair to him, no one could ever question Boa Morte's effort. He spends most of the game chasing after lost causes, usually as a direct result of his concrete boots and abysmal first touch. One such instance occurred in the build up to our goal, when he chested down Lucas Neill's cross so deftly that it bounced a full 15 yards away, equidistant between Solano and Niemi and extremely distant from Boa Morte.

Of course, I could write an entire article making smart remarks about Luis Boa Morte but I shall not. He does his best, and given the Big Time Charlies who derailed our season last year, it is perhaps not the worst thing in the world to have some more limited but committed types.

10. Highlights

I am not sure if I have been clear enough about the truly dismal fare that was served up on Saturday. It was somewhat unfortunate that with this being the anniversary of Bobby Moore's death, two of his former teams produced a game so awful that it would have kept him rapidly revolving in his grave for the whole 90 minutes.

Doubtless you are therefore eager to get the highlights. Here they are - just ignore the Japanese analysis for the first few seconds - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aj7f3B1VCYM. Enjoy... (thanks to my friend Daryn for the link)....

Friday, February 22, 2008

Fulham vs West Ham United: Match Preview - 23/02/2008

1. The Magnificent Dozen (Less One)

If there is any justice in this world (which there isn't - the enduring popularity of The Brit Awards is testimony to that), I would be declared Supreme Ruler Of The Boleyn Ground. My first act as your new leader would be to ensure a mandatory uniform be necessary to gain entry to Upton Park.

And it would be thus:


2. Wome Wasn't Built In A Day

When Woy Hodgson took over at Fulham, I for one was quite surpwised at the selection and thought it an inspired choice.

He is one of the few Englishmen who have genuine managewial cwedentials wanging fwom top level Euwopean football with Inter Milan to major internationals, having lead Switzerland to World Cup USA '94 - a tournament for which England failed to qualify.

However, it seems as though Woy has inhewited a stacked deck at Cwaven Cottage and will need a couple of years or more to establish Fulham as a solid Pwemiership outfit.

Should he fail, he faces having his Hawwods store card wevoked and be the latest addition to the ever-gwoing list of people accused of conspiwing to murder Dodi Fayed.

3. The History

Last season's corresponding fixture ended in a 0-0 draw, but our record at Craven Cottage is very good. We remain unbeaten there in the Premiership and have claimed 10 out of a possible 12 points since 2002. In fact, we haven't lost away to Fulham since the 1974/'75 season.

While historically things look good, the same old problems persist. Our matches this year have produced fewer goals than any other club in the league - surely a consequence of Curbishley's stifled style of play.

We do possess the fourth best defensive away record, but our lack of bite upfront would explain why we have won just one of our last five games - and that came courtesy of an injury time penalty.

One ray of hope is that our good defensive away record is in stark contrast to Fulham's home one. Derby aside, they have conceded more goals at home than anyone other team this season.

This game marks the end of an 'easy' period which should have seen us make some ground on those above. Our next four fixtures are Chelsea (h), Liverpool (a), The Scum (a) and Blackburn (h) - although knowing us, we'll pick up twelve points there.

Of course we won't.

4. Captain Marvel

It is fitting that Sunday sees the 15th anniversary of the death of Bobby Moore, a day after the two clubs he played for go head-to-head.

While his three seasons at Fulham are a mere footnote to his career after sixteen glorious years at Upton Park, Moore is still fondly remembered at Craven Cottage and demanded the respect of football fans the world over.

Lucas Neill has spoken this week of how he still gets a "tingle" when he thinks of his name on a list that boasts England's only World Cup-winning captain, but that's obviously where any comparisons end. Matty Upson has also spoken of his pride at wearing the famous West Ham Number 6 shirt.

Neill has confessed that earlier in the season he was guilty of trying too hard to be a captain as opposed to just a good player and leading by example, but he's shown no signs of turning that corner just yet.

Bobby Moore, widely regarded as the greatest defender to have ever played the game, should rightly be remembered at this weekend's match. In retirement he was criminally overlooked in comparison to the likes of Bobby Charlton and Geoff Hurst.

West Ham aside, it is only the recent Goliath of a statue outside the new Wembley Stadium that bares fitting tribute to the embodiment of what a footballer should be.

Oh to have him on the teamsheet now.

5. Hail To The Thief

Firstly, Mohammed Al Fayed is a famously litigious man and so I salute him in all his endeavours, all of which are cracking good value. However, as a bogus pseudo-journalist of sorts, I am forced to speak of a story brought to my attention recently by a blaspheming unbeliever.

Not so long ago there was an 'exclusive' promotion in Harrods whereby discerning customers could treat themselves to a single glass of Dom Perignon 1975 for a measly £250. For one glass. That's £250 for one glass.

Of course, the promotion came with all the usual corporate spiel, but it was plain to see this for what it was (said the soon-to-be-penniless dissenter) - a scam akin to paying £7 million for Seth Johnson.

As outrageous as this seemed, the offer should have come as no surprise from a man who charges a whopping £45 for a bog-standard ticket to see what is essentially a glorified Championship team. Apparently, some chimney-sweeps have turned their noses up at the fee.

They know not the value of 90-minutes in the company of a man happy to close one of the largest and most popular shops in the Western world in order to pander to a bleach-skinned pop star turned paedo.

6. He We Are Now, Entertain Us

When I'm not acclaiming the wonders of the world's finest department store or denouncing that Nazi, the Duke Of Edinburgh, I enjoy a good read, an innovative tune or a slice of cinematic splendour.

On those rarest of occasions - with the planets in necessary alignment, ITV broadcasting anything worth watching bar football - I am also partial to the increasingly rare sight of an entertaining home fixture at Upton Park.

Not necessarily a win, just some entertainment.

A few short years ago, this wasn't such a far-fetched concept. This season however, you can count the number of exciting home games on the fingers of a man who juggles live grenades for a living. Some performances have been so dour, it's surprising suicide rates among Hammers fans haven't matched those of Bridgend teenagers.

Come on, lads - how about a bit of caution-to-the-wind football? Our Premiership status is assured and Europe is a pipedream - why not some kamikaze, Keegan-esque football for the last few games to cheer the home support?

For formation ideas, I refer you to the soon-to-be mandatory home uniform detailed above.

7. Tom, Dick And Lucas

During my youth, I misspent my time in a variety of ways. Very occasionally I was not protesting outside the Home Office at their excessively stringent Visa requirements for the many down-trodden Egyptian billionaire migrants in the UK.

During the quiet times, I was force-fed many classic films from the 1960's - one of which was the POW tale, 'The Great Escape'.

When it's not being desecrated by the tiresome England Supporters band, this film surely ranks among the greats. One scene in particular has popped into my mind more than once when watching our captain this year.

Sir Dickie Attenborough and his right-hand man Gordon Jackson have done all the hard work in preparing their men for escape and the perils of fleeing through enemy territory. Everything was taken care of, right down to those sneaky Nazis and their ingenious language trip-up techniques.

Things are going swimmingly as Dickie and Gordon, posing as Frenchmen, board a bus for neutral Switzerland, only to come a cropper when Jackson replies in English to a Nazi gesture of "Good luck".

Consider the following fictitious post-match interview with Herr Neill:

"Another tedious goalless draw here at Upton Park, Lucas."
"Cheers, mate."
"Yet more staggering positional play and desperate strong-arm tactics from yourself."
"Thanks, mate."
"Still, you must be chuffed at having fooled your paymasters that you are a professional right-back?"
"Sure am, mate."

*Cue stricken look of panic as Lucas realises the game is up*

Well, Lucas - the game has been up for some time now. What on earth has happened to our roguish, more-than-competent defender of last season??

8. Injury List... Blah Blah Blah

Craig Bellamy is out for six weeks and may well have to be put down. Curbishley has decided that Bobby Zamora and Julien Faubert will need at least another 45 reserve team games before he risks releasing them from their bubblewrap cocoons.

Curbs has been gracious enough to allow Scott Parker back into full training as of Monday and said that he may even get a game or two before retirement. Meanwhile, rumours abound that we will bid for Eidur Gudjohnsen in the summer - just so that our over-cautious manager can saw his legs off and imprison him in our Hotel California of a treatment room.

I'm getting sick and tired of hearing Curbishley say this player is 'still a few weeks away' and that player has 'only had half an hour in the reserves'. His record as manager thus far is the epitome of average - won 18, lost 18, drawn 10.

At least when we were scrapping around the lower end of the league, one might feel a jolt of adrenaline now and then.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

West Ham 1 - 1 Birmingham City (And Other Ramblings)

1. Proof That Shameless Begging Doesn't Work

The voting for the http://www.soccerlens.com/ awards have now finished, and we have performed about as well as the Ronnie the Rhino Party did at the last general election. As West Ham fans we are more than capable of coping with the emotion of humiliation tinged with abject failure, so you needn't worry about our ability to get on with things.

We'd like to thank the 12 of you who voted for us, though. (3%! My God - Ross Perot got more than that. My head is currently hanging in shame).

2. An Admission Of Guilt

This game took place a very very long time ago. I can barely remember it to be truthful. This is not a bad thing. In fact, if anything, I remember way too much about it. It may well be the case that an awful lot of this review is made up. I feel this will improve things.

3. Where Do We Go From Here?

Let's be honest about this. Last year was an appalling, fantastic, dire but ultimately thrilling ride. None of us ever wanted to go through it all again, and we dreamed of days like this, when we could draw 1-1 with Birmingham in a game so dull it would cause God himself to cry, and it wouldn't matter one iota.

Well, here it is. Be careful what you wish for.

On a weekend when the Premiership clubs proved exactly how much they care about you and the sanctity of the English game by proposing to play games in Beijing, here was an example of everything that is wrong about top flight football in this country. Two teams almost totally devoid of flair, battling valiantly but serving up a game of football that could almost entice a man to turn to golf.

You know things are bad when you find yourself wondering when Bobby Zamora is going to be fit.

4. I've Got The Blues

If they send dross like this over to Miami then we might end up alienating the entire Continent quicker than you can say "Communism Rocks!".

Both myself and Beluga have been relentlessly highlighting the near catatonic state of our attacking play, and there was no visible improvement today. Faced with a determined, but very limited, Birmingham team we huffed and puffed, and ultimately blew ourselves out long before this torture was mercifully ended.

Trying to watch us at home this season has been a long and painful task. Our season has been littered with results like this, and even though we don't lose very often at home, we also don't win that much either, and we do it providing the sort of entertainment a man can usually only get at the orthodontist.

5. The Opposition

It is not exactly my place to be pointing fingers at teams like Birmingham and tutting. Sure, playing for a draw and doing it with all the excitement of the latest Amy Winehouse story is hardly a recipe for getting the rest of the world to love you, but desperate times and all that. Alex McLeish has done a splendid job since taking over and has his team playing to the best of their extremely limited abilities, evidenced by some excellent results at tottenham and Arsenal before this.

However, if Abraham Lincoln was to have commented on this game he would have described it thus: "People who like this kind of thing, will find this the kind of thing they like".

Now not a lot of people know that Big Abe was quite in to his footy as a kid until he took his GCSE's and his mum told him to concentrate on either the whole slavery thing or writing about the Beautiful Game. But basically, what he was saying was "If you like dull, turgid, lifeless games of football then you'll love this". (As the rest of the footballing world looks squarely at Middlesbrough fans).

6. The Referee

Referee Mark Clattenburg only really had two significant decisions in this game and didn't over impress anyone in making them. He firstly gave James McFadden a fairly soft penalty after a criminally poor piece of defending by Lucas Neill. Our demi God full back allowed McFadden to roll him before he stuck out his hands, probably in shame, and gave the Scot a tug on his shirt which apparently caused him to lose all use of his legs.

With the match dwindling to a merciful end, Clattenburg then somehow chose to extend the agony by sending off Lee Bowyer. I can understand the decision - it was a strange tackle and maybe looked worse than it was, although I was more surprised that Hayden Mullins went unpunished for his equally late challenge just moments before.

Of course, Clattenburg later rescinded the card, which at least shows that he has functioning eyeballs.

7. Swede Dreams

Curiously, this game started somewhat brightly. After just 7 minutes, Freddie Ljungberg showed the world that if the ball is bouncing around 4 yards from goal with the opposition defence off on a hiking trip in the Andes, then he has no peer in global football.

Quite aside from that, Ljungberg was excellent. His return to form has coincided with his muscles beginning to function like those of ordinary human being, and it is probably not too garish a suggestion that this is his best run of form for a couple of years. I have upgraded my valuation of him from "a large bag of spanners" to "actual legal tender".

Of course, he will never be the force he was at Arsenal. For a start his pace has declined to the point that could be best described as "Ashtonian", whilst the fall off in his goalscoring is the really telling aspect. All of the above being true, one cannot overlook the fact that he is now having his darting runs picked out by Hayden Mullins rather than Tomas Rosicky.

8. My Kingdom For A Horse

The most disappointed man in the ground on Saturday must have been Dean Ashton. With Fabio Capello in attendance, presumably to check out the great swathes of Englishmen on display, Ashton spent 90 minutes doing a very passable impression of a less talented man than Darren Bent.

It is all very well moaning about the lack of salary (that'll be just the £25,000 a week), or the lack of first team opportunities but if you are going to spend 90 minutes being outplayed by Liam Ridgewell then there are mirrors somewhere out there which can provide you with the opportunity for the required good, long look.

I would urge time and a bit of nurturing for Ashton. He seems to be the next in line for the Upton Park boo boys which strikes me as extraordinary when Luis Boa Morte is still on the payroll, but logic has never sat comfortably in the Bobby Moore Lower. Here is a guy returning from a career threatening injury into team devoid of attacking flair, playing a 4-5-1 system that may as well have been designed to stop him being effective, such is his inability to fit in.

It has been a long and painful road to get to this juncture. I cannot see things easing until next year....

Thursday, February 07, 2008

West Ham United vs Birmingham City: Match Preview - 09/02/2008

1. Always The Bridesmaid

Birmingham City have continually been forced to play second fiddle to their local rivals Aston Villa, the more celebrated of the Midlands teams - but this life in the shadows is not just confined to the football field.

Since the World Wars, Birmingham itself has come to be known as the UK's 'second city' ahead of more deserving claims from the likes of Manchester, Edinburgh, Liverpool, East Grinstead and Romford.

During the course of this week's meticulous research, I uncovered some staggering facts. Did you know that our guests this Saturday are twinned with such metropolitan luminaries as Milan, Chicago and Johannesburg?

More fittingly, the city also shares its name with a crater on the Moon - although deciding which of the two is a barren wasteland completely devoid of any atmosphere whatsoever, is a tough one.

2. History

With Birmingham newly promoted, there was no corresponding fixture last season. The last time the two teams met at Upton Park was in February 2006 and resulted in a 3-0 home victory for Alan Pardew's newly promoted side.

Birmingham went down that year but managed to bounce straight back up thanks largely to the absence of media glare, efficiently reflected by Steve Bruce's angular hooter.

Our Premiership record against The Blues is good having won three, drawn one and lost one of our five meetings. We only played them three times throughout the whole of the 1990's and have enjoyed the upper hand since.

Without a win since Boxing Day, Birmingham have struggled of late and took only one point from their last two 'six-pointers' against fellow relegation candidates Sunderland and Derby County. They need to start picking up points fast as they play nine top half teams in their remaining thirteen fixtures.

The fact that they are in the midst of a relegation tussle worries me. We are the type of team that could all too easily provide them with the winning catalyst they need (see Wigan last week). Their incentive to win is greater than ours and it doesn't take much for West Ham to rest on their laurels.

3. The Ravages Of Time

Allegations have been made recently about my naivety regarding West Ham's prospects this season. Regular readers will know that wild and unfounded accusations have no place on this blog (Jeremy Clarkson pays badgers for sex), but I shall tackle them anyway.

The last twenty years tell us that when we play teams we should convincingly beat, we invariably lose. Saturday's result did nothing to dispel this truth - but I imagine a little youthful exuberance can sometimes be refreshing for you, readers.

You see, I am significantly younger than HeadHammer Shark, so you'll forgive me if I try to inject a little cheer into our regularly hopeless plight as Hammers fans and dispel all this doom and gloom from an old-timer who regards the absence of elbow patches as "decadent folly".

I'm not going to bang on about this (anymore), suffice to say that HeadHammer Shark is an old man, out of touch with his people whilst simultaneously coercing votes out of them.

He is the Robert Mugabe of cyberspace.

4. Internazionale

Wednesday night saw Matthew Upson play a full 90 minutes at the heart of England's defence. It's been a long time since we saw a current West Ham player as an England centre-back and Upson can have done himself no harm for future selection after putting in a solid display.

A naturally left and right footed pairing in Upson and Ferdinand looked promising and, Ferdinand aside, I refuse to believe that there's another centre back in the country with a better claim than Upson. John Terry is regularly shown up when he faces world class players and he shouldn't be an automatic choice, let alone captain. Willingly putting your head in front of an opposition boot does not a great centre-back make.

England's performance was initially nervy but ultimately successful, with a few debutants underlining their claims for regular international selection - notably Blackburn's David Bentley.

Personally, I found it quite refreshing to see England knocking the ball around on the deck and taking their time, despite a brief spell of derision from some home fans exhibiting the memories of goldfish. The absence of a few big names, more recently picked on past glories as opposed to actual form, was also a welcome addition.

In the second half, England looked a competent international side for the first time in ages and the lack of panicky long balls was pleasing. Tweaks are still needed (Micah Richards and Wayne Bridge at full-back, Jermaine Jenas exiled), but we can feel confident that Capello is his own boss and will not pick players on reputation alone.

Fabio's methods will no doubt come in for some flack eventually, but where has Premiership-style football played at 100mph got us in the last 10 years?

5. Love Is In The Air

I got an email from those industrious folk at West Ham's commercial sector the other day, lauding the merchandise available in a special Valentines Day promotion.

Any male readers out there wrestling with ideas for their better halves may currently be in a pickle. But fear not, struggling to come up with the perfect gift to let your lady know just how much she means to you is no longer an issue.

Just imagine the beaming look on her face as the gift is unwrapped, eyes welling up when she discovers not a bootleg...

... but an official West Ham United Cereal Bowl.

6. Travelling Circus

It has been announced this week that all 20 Premier League teams have voted to explore the possibilityof playing some Premiership fixtures overseas as early as the 2010-'11 season.

The current proposition is that the season be extended by 10 games (one full weekend programme) with these matches being staged at five different venues around the world and with potential hosts bidding for them.

As it stands, the extra fixtures could be determined by a draw with the top five teams being seeded in order to avoid each other.

It all sounds like a bit of a ruthless money-spinning exercise to me. Can you imagine the frustration of narrowly claiming a UEFA Cup spot after 38 games, only to be drawn against Man United in the 39th and having to fork out for a trip to bloody Nairobi to inevitably see us lose out on European football?

Whether all this is sanctioned won't be known for another year, but I can't see how it will benefit the teams involved and only seems like a shallow attempt to strengthen the 'brand' of the Premiership as opposed to the actual competition. Whilst of course lining someone's pockets.

7. The Opposition

Joint top-scorer Olivier Kapo is suspended for this game, but his striking counterpart Cameron Jerome looks set to start after his run out for England U-21s in midweek. James McFadden should play having made the trip from Everton during the transfer window and City also welcome back Jaidi and Nafti from the African Cup of Nations.

Alex McLeish finds his team in trouble having made a stirring start to his career as Birmingham manager (we all cheered that last minute thunderbolt from Sebastian Larsson to win 3-2 at Spurs).

The Blues are now at their lowest League position since the last week of August and McLeish will be hoping that his numerous dips into the transfer market during the window will steady the ship.

8. Missing In Action

We'll be looking for our fourth home win on the spin come Saturday and remain unbeaten at Upton Park since mid-December. Just who will be called upon to get that win remains as open to speculation as at any other time this season.

A hastily-arranged friendly against QPR on Monday gave the chance for some of our injured masses to get a few minutes under their belt. Julien Faubert played the full 90 minutes, so one would hope he will feature prominently at the weekend.

Nobby Solano played for 45 minutes whereas Craig Bellamy and Bobby Z both got an hour, Bellamy managing to climb off his hoverboard and evade his arch-nemesis Spiderman long enough to grab a goal. Zamora also scored in a 2-1 win.

9. John Paintsil Update

Our main man has been busy this week. He played all the way to the African Cup Of Nations semi-final, caught a falling baby outside of a German apartment block and re-doubled his efforts against the resurgent Taliban.

Despite all this, he still found time to make considerable gains in the US Presidential Primaries.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Wigan 1 - 0 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

1. Has It Really Come To This?

Really? I mean, come on. Good Lord, I'd like to think I'm a decent enough human being - I rarely, if ever, fire lizards at hobo's, I hardly ever give tourists deliberately incorrect information and I sure as hell do not listen to the music of Robbie Williams.

Ergo - I don't think I deserve to be welcomed back to H List duties where my team is defeated because we could not mark Kevin Kilbane.

I know I've been away, and I'm sorry but this is cruel and unusual punishment.

2. The Pitched Battle

Alan Curbishley described this pitch as an "embarrassment" which is a bit rich for a man who spent £5m on Luis Boa Morte, but he did have a point. Perhaps it is fitting for us to play on a pitch resembling Ypres, as this is the era currently being honoured by our crack medical team, but all told it cannot have been easy to play on this swamp.

All of the above being true doesn't excuse a performance as abject as this, however. Wigan were required to play on the same quagmire, and did a considerably better job of it. Which is fairly shameful.

3. The Statistics

We managed to keep the ball for 55% of the time, but were almost totally useless in what we did with it. I need not remind anyone that we were playing Wigan, and that we mustered a single attempt on goal. Gone red? Me too.

Our only truly decent chance fell to the returning Craig Bellamy who ballooned it somewhere into West Lancashire. Otherwise it was dreary stuff as the home team were less inept than us and deservedly took the points.

The day that Kevin Kilbane and Michael Brown have more shots on target than your entire team is the day to hold up your hands and admit - "Yep, we're all stoned off our nut".

4. The Opposition

I'm not sure that being better than us on this particular day is necessarily a glowing reference. None the less, a team can only beat the dross that is put in front of them and just because your opposition is insipid shouldn't detract from a decent performance.

This win lifted the Latics out of the relegation zone, and as decent a showing as this was it can't disguise some obvious shortcomings. Let's be honest, if you decide to spend £5m on Marlon King then you may as well walk round with "Desperate" on your t-shirt.

I'm not sure if I've ever mentioned this before but they are also owned by Convicted Price Fixer Dave Whelan.

5. The Referee

M Atkinson of Yorkshire. I have no idea why it is commonplace in English football to tell everyone where officials come from. To me that just encourages retaliatory attacks, but what do I know - I can't even find out M Atkinson's first name.

I think it's Martin, but whatever, he didn't do anything to offend me as much as Dean Ashton did on Saturday.

6. Wherefore Art Thou?

Our curious see sawing between 4-5-1 and 4-4-2 continues apace. After our tremendous midweek win over Liverpool was hewn on the back of Carlton Cole's turn as a lone frontman, it was surprising to see Curbishley restore Ashton to the line up and try and batter Wigan with two big strikers.

The problem with this plan is that our policy of flooding the midfield and breaking in numbers has seen off many better teams than Wigan this year, and the stunning fact is that Ashton is currently not even fit to lace Cole's boots. He is but a pale, if significantly larger, shadow of his pre injury self.

The problem is that Ashton is simply not built to play as a lone striker, given his crippling lack of mobility and curious diffidence for the physical side of the game. His real ability is his lovely touch, and gift for bringing others into the game, which work far better when he has a strike partner within a country mile of him.

The fact that he apparently has the raging hump over his meagre, meagre I say, £23,000 weekly pay packet doesn't seem to be helping a great deal. Of course, the fact that I am currently paid less than Luis Boa Morte annoys me so I can only imagine what it must do to the rest of the squad.

7. The Green Effect

Robert Green was left motionless for the Wigan goal, probably out of shock that there is still someone out there willing to pay Kevin Kilbane to play football, but that shouldn't detract away from his outstanding recent form.

Sadly, this wasn't deemed good enough for new England boss Fabio Capello who chose his opposite number, the unremarkable Chris Kirkland, along with the curiously over rated Scott Carson, in his first squad. As with anything there are two ways to view this latest snub. One could assume that it is a positive thing for us given that all West Ham players return from England duty with obliterated legs, or alternatively we could be seriously worried as Green is likely to get fed up and head for pastures new.

I don't know Robert Green (imagine) and I have no idea whether he views this all as intolerably cruel, but it does seem strange that he has been overlooked for so long.

Elsewhere, Capello has at least done one thing right, as he passed my "Alan Smith Test", by not picking the least effective English centre forward in the Western World. Now, picking Curtis Davies seems a bit odd but I'll just go ahead and assume that he was actually just trying to request some Curtis Mayfield for the team bus.

8. Head Upson

In contrast to Green, Matthew Upson was recalled to the squad after someone somewhere realised that picking Michael Dawson for the national team was getting us mocked by our Continental colleagues.

He celebrated by not doing a particularly special job of marking Marlon King, but in the grand scheme of things this was his first down performance for a while and he was hardly alone.

It has to be said that his resurgence has been astounding in every sense, and should he get on at any stage tomorrow it will only serve to reinforce what a tremendous signing he is proving to be.

Which is like, totally wow man.

9. The Consumate West Ham Week

This might actually be our first defeat of the season that has actually caused me to be genuinely annoyed. Certainly, losing at Newcastle is hardly something to be proud of, ditto for Villa and Man City. But it can't be denied that we have done a fairly decent job of taking points from the dregs of the League.

Our great away form has been the bedrock of our season and as a result, losing at Wigan was a shock. However, after years of abject nonsense away from Upton Park I am well able to cope with the odd defeat such as this, but it's probably a decent indication of why exactly we won't be troubling the top six anytime soon.

Sadly you get the odd naive young colt such as The Boleyn Beluga who sees a home win over Liverpool, sees a 3 game run against Wigan, Birmingham and Fulham, and decides that he's going to start booking his Euro Rail tickets for next year's inevitable Champions League assault. Now, hope is the natural enemy of the West Ham fan, and I'd like to see some of this ambition reined back in - it will end in tears. We are going to finish tenth. Get used to it.

10. Yet More Shameless Begging

Last time you heard from me I was trying to get you all to vote for The H List in a couple of awards. One of them featured the worlds most convoluted voting process ever, so much so that I ripped my spleen out half way through trying, simply to improve my mood.

However, unbeknownst to myself or Beluga, someone somewhere nominated us in the Soccerlens awards. We are in the categories of:

"Best EPL Blog" (English Premier League you heathens. We're all speaking American now. Color has no "u" anymore folks) - http://soccerlens.com/the-best-epl-blog-soccerlens-2007-awards/5639/

"Best Blog You've Never Heard Of" - http://soccerlens.com/the-best-blog-youve-never-heard-of-soccerlens-2007-awards/5636/

I can promise you that voting in these awards will not cause you to lose the will to live.

I suppose that we could rely on the natural wit and dazzling prose of The H List to carry us through, but if we did that we'd never win. So all I ask then is a concerted voting effort from all our loyal readers and a token gesture from our disloyal ones. Nothing major, maybe just a few rallies, a TV campaign and some newspaper ads. Perhaps one of our American readers could get on stage at a Super Tuesday event with The H List daubed on their chest.

So, as you can see - nothing too big.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Wigan Athletic vs West Ham United: Match Preview - 02/02/2008

1. City Of The Damned

In preparation for this post I have been forced to do some research on the nuclear-testing-site-in-waiting that is Wigan, lest these previews degenerate into mindless abuse (I'd love them to, but that tyrant HeadHammer Shark (remember him?) forbids it).

Having scoured the internet for about 10 minutes, I found two notes of interest - baked beans originate from Wigan, as does Sir Ian McKellen. That's yer lot.

I was also forced to log-on to the Wigan FC website where I was disgusted to see a translucent image of Dave Whelan lurking in the background of every page, like some sort of nefarious price-fixing spectre - no doubt included at his own behest.

I am sickened to the very core by this soulless charade of a football club.

2. Excellent News

Before we get started, a word on yesterday's transfer window deadline. We made no signings, which comes as little surprise whereas Wigan have signed 32-year old Norwegian defender, Erik Hagen - the kind of man who wouldn't look out of place on the door at a private members club for Nazis.

What thoroughly cheered me this morning was the news that Jermaine Defoe has signed for Portsmouth. This of course means that we all get another chance to welcome him back to Upton Park and sing our new favourite song, when he visits with Pompey on 5th April.

3. The Devil's Duopoly

Hitler and Himmler. Fred and Rose West. Hoddle and Waddle singing 'Diamond Lights'.

History is littered with malevolent couples that have brought devastation and suffering to humanity. I would wager a bet that, years from now, the world will remember the new Wigan pairing of Dave Whelan and Steve Bruce as among the most sinful.

It's hard to imagine a more distasteful Chairman-Manager axis without referring directly to human rights abuses - and one could argue that Wigan's brand of football is exactly that.

The Price Fixer and The Ginger Whinger only serve to compound Wigan's deserved reputation as the worst football club in the Premiership. From the self-righteous Board, to the uninspired team, to their pathetic fanbase, they exhibit as much passion and verve as a sexually repressed Englishman ironing his socks.

Unfortunately, you can be sure of seeing a lot more of Steve Bruce in the future. The recent return of Ski Sunday to the BBC of course means that his zig-zagging, slalom course of a nose will feature heavily in the TV schedules.

4. The History

Last year's corresponding fixture was possibly our most assured and complete performance of the season. In what was a must-win game, we dominated from start to finish and produced some devastating counter-attacking football to win 3-0. This game was however more remarkable for one astounding statistic.

Luis Boa Morte scored.

(Once you've wiped the tears from your eyes brought on by the smelling salts, I'll continue with some more sobering analysis)

Whilst it's true that Luis scored on this occasion, it was his first goal for the club and he hasn't managed another. Boa Morte has been with us for over a year now, making 37 appearances with 13 as sub.

A return of one goal in 37 for an attacking midfielder who occasionally plays upfront, is woeful. How he missed those two six-yard sitters against Liverpool in midweek, I'll never know. Jeremy Beadle could've banged those in from his deathbed.

Our general record against Wigan is the epitome of average - in our last eight we've won three, lost three and drawn two, though we remain undefeated at that insipid shell of a football ground, the JJB Stadium. The Latics have managed a few decent results in the last few weeks with wins over Blackburn and Newcastle and managed to hold Liverpool to a draw at Anfield.

But they're Wigan and I hate them. We really have to back ourselves to win this one and show a bit of ruthlessness if we are to capitalise on Wednesday's invaluable three points.

5. If The Capello Fits

Italian Mafia Don, Fabio Capello announced his first England squad yesterday with much interest surrounding his choices.

There had been talk of a few West Ham players garnering England ambitions and the clean slate heralded by Capello lead to fresh optimism. However, Matthew Upson was the only player to make the 30-man selection and it remains to be seen whether he will still be around come Saturday, when Capello is set to cut a further seven names.

The notable omission, not just from West Ham fans, would be the continued absence of Robert Green. Just how Green can regularly be overlooked for Scott Carson is a mystery to most, and now it seems as if Wigan's beanpole Chris Kirkland has leap-frogged our Number 1.

The selection of Jermaine Jenas is startling. Italians are famed the world over for their sense of style, and yet our new footballing overlord has chosen to select someone who's baffling hair makes him look like a disheveled, lost and bewildered Arthur Fonzarelli.

6. Putting People's Noses Out Of Joint

Steve Bruce is the Nicolas Anelka of the managerial world, professing passion and love of whoever is employing him at the time, but always ready to walk out on them for a better offer at the drop of a hat.

He started out his managerial career at Sheffield United in 1998, moving to Huddersfield Town just a year later after some trademark whinging about 'broken promises' led to his resignation. Sacked by Huddersfield after 12 months, he moved to Wigan and pledged his allegiance for a full seven weeks before jumping ship and heading to Crystal Palace.

Bruce soon quashed any doubts over his loyalty by remaining with Palace for four whole months, by which time he risked the wrath of the swashbuckling Simon Jordan and decided to leave for Birmingham. More recently, Bruce's move to Wigan cost his new employers £3million in compensation to Birmingham City.

Some have accused Wigan of paying through the nose for an average-at-best manager. But considering that this is Steve Bruce's nose we're talking about, of much greater concern must be the safety of the deal brokers who are still lost in there somewhere among the catacombs, cul-de-sacs and blind corners of Bruce's angular hooter.

7. The Injury List

I really can't bring myself to make any guesses as to who will start or be on the bench this weekend as it's all I ever seem to do. Perhaps if Curbishley elected to not wrap returning 'athletes' in cotton wool and bubble wrap for months on end, we might have more of an idea.

It's easier to guess who won't be there - Collins is out for the rest of the season and Parker is a long-term lay off. Solano is doubtful and I've forgotten what Kieron Dyer looks like.

8. The Bigger Picture

Things are looking pretty rosy for us at the moment and I suppose much of the credit for that must go to Alan Curbishley, even if a lot of us would like to see a bit more attacking dynamism on the pitch.

Our 10th spot League position is solid and, inspiringly, there are more points between us and 11th-placed tottenham (8) than us and Champions League Football (7). We also have the benefit of having a game in hand over all but one of the teams above us and all of those below.

With our remaining fixtures being an equal mix of big guns, goal fodder and comparable teams, and with us having more away games left than home, it is not inconceivable for us to harbour realistic hopes of European football next season.

We still have to play Blackburn (h), Everton (a), Portsmouth (h) and Villa (h) who all find themselves in a similar position. So, whilst we are out of both Cup competitions, there could still be something to play for come the last few weeks of the season if we can combine consistency with the smooth amalgamation of returning first team players.

9. In Summary

I can see tomorrow's game going one of two ways:

Either we put in an accomplished performance and despatch the opposition in a manner which gives us all hope that we have genuinely kicked-on from last year, or it will resemble the footballing equivalent of a car crash.

No bad thing for Steve Bruce, as his crumpled car bonnet of a nose may then go unnoticed.