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, November 20, 2008

Sunderland vs West Ham United: Match Preview - 23/11/2008

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.

2. History

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better side in the second half, we were forced to play the final ten minutes with ten men after Freddie Ljungberg was withdrawn suffering a hamstring injury and with all substitutes having already been made.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.

6. Internazionale

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.”

West Ham 0 - 0 Portsmouth (And Other Ramblings)

1. And Now For Something Completely Different

This weeks H List will be presented in Limerick form. This is largely because the events of this match were so incredibly tedious, and I do not wish my descendants to look back upon my writings on Ye Olde Worlde Wide Webbe and think that I wasted my time chronicling such inanities.

2. Things I Learned This Week

Jermain Defoe is dangerous still
But Carlton Cole is rot
Rob Green will save most anything
But Scott Carson will ... not

3. Right Back Atcha

Glen Johnson might steal toilet seats

But he attacks with verve unfettered
Lucas Neill clearly likes to eat
But on the left he played much better

4. The Floundering Left

Herita Ilunga has a blog
And for this I much commend him
I think I'd like him even more

If I knew he did defending

5. Upson Downs

Our centre halves are extremely large
They didn't let big Crouchy go
If only I could say the same
Of their job on wee Defoe

6. Swiss Role

The Swiss Behrami is the new crowd fave
I've not seen one run so much
The combination of psychotic commitment
And a fucking crap first touch

7. Centre Stage

The other midfielders passed it lovely
Sometimes forward, sometimes back
This led to some lovely triangles
And very few attacks

8. Elsewhere

Freddie Sears is 8 years old
And badly needs a goal
If Matthew Etherington was right footed
He'd clearly be on the dole

9. Cole Patrol

Carlton Cole is a willing trier
But the lad was clearly rusty
On the whole I find him a curious choice
For us to place our trust in

10. Hells Bells

Craig Bellamy is the new angry ant
On the field he thinks he's the boss
I might tend to agree with this
If he'd only learn to cross

11. I'm Board

So our manager is still a nice guy
But our owners are broke, disturbingly
And suddenly the vocal few are asking
"Was it that bad under ... Curbishley?"

In answer to that question visit http://thehlist.blogspot.com/2008/04/bolton-wanderers-1-0-west-ham-and-other.html

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.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

West Ham 1 - 3 Everton (And Other Robberies)

1. Before We Begin

So let me get this right. Sheffield United can get compensation from us because their players are shit, but I can't sue anyone over this?

2. The Horrible Truth

On one level, I expect nothing less than this. In fact the exquisite torture of being a West Ham fan was almost perfectly encapsulated in this 90 minutes. The glorious promise, the brief flirtation with excellence, the tragic capitulation and the inevitable victory for science over aesthetics.

I know that every person in the Universe think theirs is the most solitary journey, and the only genuine example of the truly heart rending experience of being a football fan, but if you'll permit me a moment of weakness - I'm beginning to wonder who else has to suffer in quite the way that we do.

I'm being melodramatic for sure, but come on - Luis Saha? Twice? In two minutes? I thought he was dead fer cryin' out loud.

3. The Statistics

Oh, what a sorry tale this is. We had the ball for 58% of the time, which is pretty whopping in this day and age, but mustered a mere 5 shots on goal. By contrast Everton had 6 attempts on target, although they all came after the 77th minute, and mostly during the worst three minutes of my life since Kerry Katona last released a record.

Joleon Lescott had more shots on goal than any of our players, which really hurts my pancreas.

There was only one offside in this whole game, which may say quite a lot about the intelligence of the strikers on display, or may suggest that the linesman were drunk.

4. The Opposition

Total crap for 83 minutes. Total football for 3 minutes. Total crap for 4 minutes.


5. The Referee

I am always slightly wary of Mark Halsey as he seems like he enjoys notoriety which doesn't tend to be a good thing for my liver. That said, he wasn't too bad here, although the decision to award a free kick against Matthew Etherington which led indirectly to Everton's equaliser was a bit of a shocker. I mean, without an AK-47 I have no idea exactly how Etherington could possibly encumber another human being, but there you go.

He then booked Etherington which I guess would probably hark back that notoriety thing again.

6. The Case For The Defence

Here's how well we were marking up for the first Everton goal. Joleon Lescott was stood on our penalty spot and had he felt the desire, he could have stuck his arms out at a 90 degree angle, sellotaped two pole vaults to his wrist and turned in a circle without hitting a West Ham defender (An action which, curiously, I would not have objected to).

Now, I guess it's possible that our back four looked at Lescott and collectively thought, "Well he is pretty crap and he has strange hair so let's not mark him", but I have to object to this line of thinking.

Firstly, Lescott isn't very good but he scored no less than 10 times last season. Secondly, how is a man with a forehead this large not going to be good at heading a ball?

Everton defender Joleon Lescott (above) is asked to explain his 6 (six) England caps.

So another clean sheet disappears into the ether and we are left to ponder that this is the worst West Ham defence in 43 years. Just consider for a moment the players who have graced our turf in that time and wonder how the current mob - internationals all - can be worse than them.

I always hark back to Paul "Diego" Hilton when I think of our bad defence. Here was a guy who played at centre back for Bury against West Ham in a match that we won 10-0. He impressed so much in conceding those ten goals that we bought him. And, yet, he's statistically better than our current lot.

7. The Green Man

To halt a slide such as this, you really need your goalkeeper to cement himself behind a large brick wall and refuse to be beaten. Robert Green hasn't been playing badly by any stretch, but he is unquestionably slightly short of last years form and we suddenly need an urgent upturn from the keeper .

Being beaten by Louis Saha in any way is a bit embarrassing, having him to it to you twice with the wrong foot is bordering on humiliating and when the last one is from outside the box then perhaps it's time for a drink.

Hey, nitpicking over the third goal of three doesn't really have value, but it's a bit symptomatic of the recent malaise.

England coach Fabio Capello (l) and Sir Trevor Brooking (r) discuss Robert Green's chances of making the next England squad.

8. Collison Course

Enough with the gloom! This boy looks the business doesn't here?

Quite apart from the pearler of a goal, it would be fair to say that Collison is looking like our most exciting prospect for a fair while, and certainly above both Sears and Noble at the same stage based on what I have seen.

Perhaps it's because he is older than the former two when they made their debuts, but Collison simply seems to belong a little more. His movement of the ball is excellent and he has more than a touch of Michael Carrick in his gait, his passing and the obligatory fashionable barnet. It's much too early to get all of a lather, of course, but some of the early signs are promising.

I actually felt that it was a curious decision to drop the previous weeks successful central partnership of Mullins and Collison to accommodate the returning Bowyer and Parker. That said, it's hard to argue with the outcome, which was us playing Everton off the pitch for 84 minutes, and Parker certainly did enough to justify his inclusion above the unfortunate Mullins.

I would have been perfectly happy with Parker being removed with 15 minutes to go when his legs had clearly gone. Substitutions are emerging as an early Achilles heel for Zola, I would say.

9. Zola Power?

So is it time to panic? We're sliding inexorably, tottenham are rising as fast as their incredible luck will carry them, and our owner has less money than me.

Well, a win against Portsmouth and some doubts will be banished, but there has been an alarming descent into the midst of a group of not very good teams.

Truthfully though, we have played very well through this recent run. Man Utd apart, we have been competitive in all the matches and should have won both our recent games but for some finishing straight out of the Dirk Kuyt Homage Squad.

I applaud the endeavour, I love the ambition and I even can live with the continued presence of Luis Boa Morte while he works this hard, but facts are facts and Middlesbrough are above for us a reason folks. Perhaps we had tried to jump too far in one go, and the reins need to be pulled a little before we allow our desire for entertainment to swallow us whole.

I'm not overly worried just yet, as I view our current position as simply being a more true reflection of our current talent and resources than anything, but the lack of goals is a concern that looks unlikely to disappear.

Still, it's hard to imagine that the crack scientists currently reconstructing Kieron Dyer from various film props won't be done by Christmas.

10. Luis Boa Morte Footwear Update

Not the greatest day for Luis, as he was (harshly) booed from the field. I feel that his decision to eschew traditional football boots and try the arrangement being modelled below was, well, foolish.....

Friday, November 07, 2008

West Ham United vs Everton: Match Preview - 08/11/2008

1. Hammer In High Court Victory Shocker

After a week’s absence, I return fresh from my High Court libel triumph, vindicated. It is now perfectly legal for us all to refer to Lucas Neill as a “tubby oaf”, but only in print. You couldn’t say it to his face, but you could text him.

2. Gud Time To Sell?

Obviously we’re all over the papers again with news of our calamitous financial situation. It has been reported that, after much denial over recent weeks, Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson is finally prepared to consider the prospect of selling West Ham.

Vice-Chairman Asgeir Fridgeirsson admitted yesterday: "He is evaluating all of his business interests, including West Ham. West Ham is a well-run club with no debt and is one of Mr Gudmundsson's most important investments."

This turnaround comes on the back of news that Gudmundsson’s main Icelandic company, Samson Holdings, is in big trouble and has filed for bankruptcy. Combined with the nationalisation of Landsbanki and the collapse of XL, this has forced Gudmundsson to consider all his options.

The fact that the news has been released to the media suggests that it is more than a last resort. It is unlikely however that a potential buyer will come forward prior to next week’s High Court ruling, which will determine whether West Ham can continue with their appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport over Tevezgate and any ruling not in our favour will obviously have an affect on the club’s value.

In other cheery news, it has also emerged that the club were intending to have The Bobby Moore Fund as our shirt sponsor for the remainder of this season, but were denied permission by the FA - those guardians of the national game and scrupulous protectors from the corrupting effect of corporate influence on football.

In that spirit, our new sponsor for the next 18-months is likely to be Far East betting company SBO Bet. Why have a deserving cancer charity on your shirt when you can have kids running around unwittingly promoting the benefits of gambling?

3. Young Blood

It’s obvious to most of us that Jack Collison’s recent performances have done enough to warrant his outright inclusion in the starting XI, and not as a makeweight for so-called better players.

Regardless of the question mark over Scott Parker’s fitness and with Lee Bowyer looking increasingly like a fringe player, Collison should rightly make his Upton Park debut against The Toffees.

Impressive when he came on against Man United and our best midfielder against Boro, Collison has an energy and vigour about him, a desire to pick up the ball and consistently surge forward which is rarely present in the rest of our neat-and-tidy-turning-ten-yard-pass midfield.

Freddie Sears can also expect more match time what with Carlton Cole’s enforced absence and Custard Cream Dean’s experimentation with biscuit crumb pizzas bases.

Sears will bring all of his youthful exuberance and tireless running, but he’s more than a little lightweight when it comes to shoulder-to-shoulder tussles with 6ft-plus defenders like Joseph Yobo.

4. The Opposition

Everton have found some form of late with two victories in a week following their 1-1 draw with Man United, but they did struggle for creativity against Fulham, claiming a 1-0 win via an 87th minute Louis Saha header against his former club.

After a shaky start to this campaign, Everton don’t seem the coherent, well-drilled unit of last season but will be hoping that recent results and the confidence they bring will provide a catalyst for improvement. With largely the same squad as last year plus a couple of additions, the potential to turn things around is certainly there.

Manager David Moyes came in for criticism during the summer for his failure to strengthen the squad and build upon their consistency. He was himself critical of the club’s inability to get their business done sooner so that the entire squad could enjoy a full pre-season.

Moyes eventually moved for Saha and broke Everton’s transfer record by forking out 15million for midfielder Marouane Fellaini from Standard Liege – a lot of money for a largely unproven 20-year old, but one touted as one of Europe’s brightest prospects.

Fellaini has slowly begun to adapt to the Premiership and could prove Everton’s most creative outlet on Saturday. He has the added benefit of the gallons of Soul Glo dripping from his afro, causing anyone in hot pursuit to slide around like a giraffe on rollerblades.

Despite this eventual transfer activity, Everton will have slipped down the pecking order for the ‘best of the rest’ title in light of Man City’s new financial clout and Aston Villa’s substantial spending – although in fairness, despite Everton’s recent clinging to the coattails of The Big Four, this position is always in flux.

Big Neville Southall, the best goalkeeper I ever saw above 50 stone, has said recently that his appetite of expectancy has been lowered from last year and that he would be happy with the top half of the table. I couldn’t quite make out whether he was talking about football or a wedding buffet.

Tim Cahill remains one of my most hated footballers.

5. Star Spangled Manor

It has been a truly momentous week. We have witnessed historic happenings and the climactic, final triumph over one of modern society’s most grievous injustices.

After generations of struggle, with seemingly insurmountable social obstacles, after the will of the people had been previously overlooked to protect corporate America, finally, finally, a West Ham fan is in The White House.

Anyone who saw Barack Obama’s victory speech cannot dispute his considerable oratory skills. He is eminently watchable and able to stir hope within those he does not even govern. It is therefore a comfort to know that he would be only too happy to walk out of a critical G7 Summit were the boys to be 2-0 down at halftime and in need of a pep talk.

Having the leader of the Free World in our ranks provides near-limitless opportunity - the invite’s already in the post. Man City? We’re now backed by the Federal Bank and have more money than you can sheikh a stick at.

The scenes of trans-continental jubilation throughout the world were stirring, as people shed tears and danced in the street upon hearing the news that there is now a real chance of us perhaps claiming a UEFA Cup spot.

Obama can’t move into the West (Ham) Wing soon enough. I would like to have seen Dimitar Berbatov ghost past James Collins the other week with an Apache Helicopter Gunship up his arse.

It is surely only a matter of weeks before the skies over White Hart Lane turn black with Stealth Bombers. The US should have no trouble getting that proposal past the UN.

6. Onward Tristan Soldiers

Diego Tristan warmed the bench against Middlesbrough and played his first 45-minutes in a West Ham shirt during a midweek reserves defeat against tottenham. He is in contention for this weekend and is likely to figure at some stage.

While Rich Tea sales continue to shore up the global economy with Dean Ashton’s absence, Tristan provides a viable comparative option for Zola: good first touch, strong, good footballing brain, difficult to move without the aid of a crane.

Tristan could prove the burly complement to Bellamy’s fleet of foot should Zola not opt to stick with the twin zephyrs of Bellamy and Sears, who combined threateningly in the first 45-minutes at The Riverside.

Much like Ashton, you would bet on Tristan hitting the target were the ball to fall to him in a dangerous area, but, also like Ashton, the ball would have to fall to him or he would have to be picked out with a pass.

He’s not going to chase down a through ball any quicker than Jamie Redknapp could string together a coherent piece of analytical, insightful punditry on Sky Sports without sounding like a self-important, dim-witted twat.

7. Numbers Game

Our 4-4-2 formation against Boro demonstrated that Zola is not overly precious about instilling his adopted 4-3-3 at any cost. He has said that considering the personnel available to him and the opposition in front, he is happy to change the system accordingly.

It’s obvious that 4-3-3 is the way he likes his team play, but the dominant first half performance against Middlesbrough would have given Frankie some food for thought, as we are yet to play with such command using his preferred system.

8. Congested Confluence

Having taken just a single point from our last five games, we have consigned ourselves to the over-crowded mire.

Where one month ago there was tangible space between ourselves and even mid-table, we now sit 11th, a full seven points off Hull in 6th and just two points from the relegation zone. A mere four points separates 7th from 19th.

All our good/fortuitous work of the early season has been undone in the last four weeks and now we’re right in amongst it. We can scarcely afford to continue with our recent run of results, neither can we be satisfied with attractive performances which yield nothing.

Little Francis Zola seems unshakable in his belief that the performances will turn the tide and that it’s all just a matter of time. There’s no doubt that we have all enjoyed the verve and ambition he has brought to our play.

But, as Jade Goody well knows, a little ugliness can go a long way. No successful team is a one-trick pony and if the personnel aren’t available to bring Zola’s aesthetic dream to life, some steel and a more aggressive, forthright approach from both players and management when required could help to propel us clear of the masses.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Middlesbrough 1 - 1 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

1. Say It Again Sam

"They say the next big thing is here, that the revolution's near. But to me it seems quite clear that it's all just a little bit of history repeating" -
Shirley Bassey and the Propellerheads from "History Repeating"

"It was a testing match for us and I'm pleased with the way we played. When you play away in the Premier League it's always tough and we were playing against a team with a lot of confidence. We played really, really well" - Gianfranco Zola, repeating history.

2. Actually

Well, that is a bit harsh given that what Zola is saying there is borderline true. I don't know that we deserved the additional "really" in the last sentence, but we were arguably better than the last couple of games.

I see no point in rehashing old ground, but I can reiterate my support for the current style of play we are employing. We knock it around nicely and for this game at least, added a bit of cut to our thrust. We'll finish in a stunningly inevitable lower mid table position, but if the journey has some verve to it, then I suspect that a majority of fans will feel satisfied.

I don't subscribe to the theory that to abandon the current method for "safe" football (i.e: 4-5-1, elbows, 2 defensive midfielders and Allardyce) will automatically see us shoot up the table, nor do I believe that our current slide can be attributed to this more attacking approach.

Put simply, sometimes you play teams who are better than you, and sometimes West Ham fail to mark up at corners and will lose to Hull. 'Twas ever thus and hand wringing angst aside, I don't think it's symptomatic of a major malaise.

All of that being said, I am really, really ready for Zola to show some annoyance, if only to prove to us that he can.

3. The Statistics

Perhaps unsurprisingly the numbers for this game show a fairly even contest, with our share of the possession amounting to 51%, but both teams managing an identical 14 total shots and 5 on target.

The real story here is that Mido, a man with no functioning muscles in the lower half of his body, scored for the third time in four games against us. During four years in England the guy has scored a whopping 20 goals in total, of which 15% have come against us. Taking that to a logical ending, if we didn't exist Mido would be 15% less good, which as best I can tell would make him a single celled organism.

Perhaps the most galling element of that goal was that it came courtesy of an 83rd minute free kick conceded by James Collins, who decided to tackle the Egyptian in mid air using a lasso and some sort of modified choke hold. Mido dusted himself off, whacked it straight through our wall, straight through Robert Green's torso and got himself another goal.

If it wasn't for the fact that Hayden Mullins managed an equally Faustian goal, I think I might have tried to gouge out my eyes with a candlestick.

4. The Opposition

It should be noted that Middlesbrough are the reigning H List "Worst Opposition Team", and indeed if they win again this year we'll just give them the trophy.

That said, there has been some glacial movement towards decency under Gareth Southgate, although I have to caveat that heavily by pointing out that Stewart Downing is still their "best" player.

I have always been slightly fascinated by Middlesbrough, and the way in which they continue to exist without any sort of tangible impact on the Universe. They have a prolific youth academy that has yet to produce a recent player of any note (Stewart Downing? David Wheater? These men are chaff), and they spend significant sums of money on players who were mystifyingly expensive (Alfonso Alves springs to mind).

Their footballing style is perfectly inoffensive, but they really lack any kind of flair or incisiveness in their current squad. And yes, we do have something of a pot/kettle incident on our hands.

5. The Referee

Andre Marriner really didn't have a huge amount to do in this game, which got me thinking that you don't meet people called Andre all that often in everyday life.

He did disallow a Justin Hoyte effort in the second half for offside, which was fairly well received by me and not so much by Justin Hoyte. It was tight but the replay suggested some daylight between the last defender, and given that the referees assistant made the call it's hard to blame Marriner.

Blimey, Lucas Neill likes a booking though.

6. Collison Course

It doesn't get much more galling than conceding a late equaliser to an amoeba, but it gets just a little bit worse when you consider that we had not one but two golden opportunities to win the game even after their equaliser.

The first fell to Lee Bowyer who latched on to a Julien Faubert cross and forced a rather good save from Ross Turnbull. The resulting rebound fell to Jack Collison who was about 8 inches from the goal line and managed to strike the ball at the only conceivable angle which could not have resulted in a goal. I'm sure home fans would say it was a marvellous double save whilst I might say it was some fairly execrable finishing. Either way, it was a shame for Collison who was excellent alongside Mullins and gave another glimpse of a brighter future for the centre of our team.

It would not be fair to finish this paragraph without acknowledging that Ross Turnbull is quite good considering he is 9 years old.

7. I'm Mullin' It Over

How typical of Hayden Mullins and West Ham in general that he could score a goal that was at once both terrible and great.

He received an unusually reasonable pass from Boa Morte and swung a mighty left boot at it which had all the unerring accuracy of a Sarah Palin geography answer. In doing so he inadvertently flicked the ball up with his standing right foot, spun round and sweetly volleyed it in off the underside of the bar to the sound of suddenly silenced Teeside guffaws.

If a million human beings attempted to do this again, I estimate that 2 would be successful in replicating the move.

In other news, Freddie Sears has attempted to claim the goal on the grounds that he was in the vicinity of Hayden Mullins at the time, in a manner best described as "Frank Lampardly".

8. Sears Towers

Talking of our diminutive front man, it was refreshing to see him starting and looking less like the work experience kid and more like a proper Premier League striker. His partnership with Bellamy had much to commend it, although they were greatly assisted by the statuesque nature of Boro's centre backs.

I don't forsee a Bellamy/Sears combination leading us to the promised land of the Champions League, or even the 4th Round of the FA Cup, but it's nice to know that even without the bigger boys we can still muster a reasonable threat going forward.

The sight of Diego Tristan on the bench at least proves he is not dead.

9. Luis Boa Morte Footwear Update

I'm not sure but I think he may actually have been wearing football boots for this game, such was his increased level of decency (i.e: he killed no local wildlife with a wayward shot). Now I doubt very much that these boots were his, or the right size or even on the correct feet, but let us not stand in the way of progress people...