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

Monday, December 29, 2008

West Ham 2 - 1 Stoke City (And Other Ramblings)

1. The Good Will Out

At last! A triumph for the forces of good. If ever a team deserved to be beaten by a crappy, last minute, accidental, possibly offside goal then Stoke were it.

In my many years of watching West Ham flatter to deceive, I have seen things you people couldn't imagine. I have seen Bolton, I have seen Preston, I have seen every team ever managed by Neil Warnock and this mob were the worst of the lot.

Relegation is simply not enough for a side as egregious as this shower of shit.

2. Tradition Takes A Hike

In many ways, it is incredible that we won this game. Not because Stoke were better then us, in fact I'm not even sure they were playing the same sport as us, but because we never win games like this one.

A big brawny side, desperate to make things awkward and difficult for our lightweight lads, will typically always beat us (See "Wanderers, Bolton : 2000 - 2008"), especially coming two days after a great away win that had given rise to some cautious optimism in the stands.

Credit then to the players and management for coming through a stiff test, and grinding out a win against a team who had clearly targeted this fixture for their first away victory of the year, and were determined to get it no matter how many of their own kind they had to slap on the way.

3. The Statistics

Per the ever reliable ESPN Gamecast, we fairly crucified Stoke, although unfortunately not literally. We had the ball for 66% of the time, which as far as I can tell means that Thomas Sorensen had it for the remaining 34%.

All of this was transformed into 22 attempts on goal. Somewhat sadly we managed just a lowly 5 on target. If you want to get some idea as to exactly how we could be so crap then look no further than Carlton Cole who had no fewer than 9 (nine!) goal efforts mustering a solitary one on target, albeit one that went in. Add this to Scott Parkers 4 efforts all ending up in the stand and I have a suggestion at this point.

The visitors had just one goal effort from inside the box, which they naturally scored from. Our marking at this juncture resembled nothing so much as the movement of random electrons in a Hadron Collider.

4. The Opposition

To paraphrase John Lennon, "If you're a Stoke player then football is just the stuff that happens whilst you dream of set pieces".

To tell the truth, Stoke are less of a football team and more a legion of marauding Orcs. They are quite possibly unique in the sense that they have absolutely no interest in engaging the opposition in any kind of footballing contest, but instead simply try to manipulate the play to create set pieces. On one level I suppose this is to be admired. Manager Tony Pulis has presumably looked at the players available to him and decided that the only way he can stay in the league is to remove any requirement for his players to demonstrate footballing technique.

That said, to label Stoke as one dimensional would be to dramatically overstate matters. Does the ability to hurl the ball for 30 metres, and be simultaneously very tall, really constitute an attacking dimension? No. It does not. For this is not football.

This. Is. Not. Football.

I'm well aware that the current West Ham team do not represent the second coming of Ajax '95, but this crap is beyond the pail. We pay a lot of money to watch Premiership football and we deserve better than to be forced to spend half of the game watching Stoke waste time.

They are the bastard lovechild of Allardyce, Warnock, Bassett and every other two bit manager who decided that entertaining fans was no longer a priority in the brave new world of the Premiership. Their relegation should be cheered from here to Newcastle.

4a. The Opposition Manager

Great passage of play in the very first minute. Stoke won a corner deep in our half and sent all of their Orcs forward into our box. With Rory Delap lining up a long throw, he inexplicably changed his mind and took a short one to Danny Higginbotham.

Sadly, he found the task of controlling the ball without simultaneously punching someone to be too difficult and he lost possession to none other than Luis Boa Morte.

For a brief moment it looked as though Tony Pulis's head was going to explode.

5. The Referee

I have never heard of Michael Jones, who refereed this game. Possibly because he is a postman who happened to be wandering by when the real referee rang in sick. He was maddeningly inconsistent with his decision making, but to be fair this affected both teams equally so the net effect was probably nil.

Where he was badly exposed was in his failure to do anything about the 86 minute exercise in timewasting that the visitors undertook after their early goal. Maddeningly, the moment that we equalised he ran 35 yards to tell Carlton Cole to stop celebrating, but promptly fell over, which was presumably God's way of telling him to shut the hell up.

Also decided not to give a penalty for a head high tackle on Scott Parker, presumably using the old "No Decapitation = No Foul" rule.

6. Stoke's Corner Routines

In some ways, I suppose it's no wonder that James Collins lost his man.

7. The Fight

I suppose I cannot go much further without commenting on the real story of this game. Stoke skipper Andy Griffin joined the very select band of Premiership defenders to have been mugged off by Carlton Cole, who promptly curled a really rather excellent shot into the far corner of the Stoke net.

At this point, Ricardo Fuller helpfully pointed out that Griffin was now a fully paid up member of "The Carlton Club", who meet regularly in London to discuss exactly how their careers have come to this. Other members include the Newcastle "defenders", Younes Kaboul and Life President Michael Dawson.

Griffin was a bit unhappy about this and called Fuller a "cur", who in turn bit his thumb at Griffin. Thereafter followed an exchange of other witty Shakespearean banter that ended with Fuller taking out his gloves and whacking Griffin in the face. This apparently is a grievous insult if you are an Orc and led to a lot of shouting as the other Orcs ran over. Whilst all this was happening, Freddie Sears was able to steal the One Ring and destroy it in Mount Doom. I think.

As Fuller trudged off you could see that Tony Pulis was absolutely busting to run up to him and shout "Oi, if you're going to get sent off for fighting you should at least knock one of their players out", but instead had to settle for an after match quote of "We'll settle this in house as a football club", which is just as well for Ricardo because if they had decided to settle it in house as a Mafia gang then he'd presumably be picking up his teeth with a broken arm.

8. Cole Patrol

This should have been Carlton's finest hour. Here he was, faced with defenders who were less talented than him, and in a match where having a poor first touch hardly made you a rarity. Instead, it was fairly excruciating up until his fine goal, as chance after chance was squandered with all the gay abandon of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

I have given up being vexed by Cole. He is what he is, a low rent Emile Heskey, and we will just have to live with it.

9. Go Diego Go

Nice moment for Diego Tristan as he finally achieved his lifelong ambition of scoring the winner for West Ham against Stoke and celebrated by weeping into the arms of David di Michele whilst shouting - "My glittering career, have you seen it anywhere?".

Despite the fact that he has now scored for us, I have still yet to see him touch the ball enough times to make any kind of judgement about his talents. I won't complain about a player who can score a goal off the bench, but I also won't get too excited about it considering that the actual act of scoring the goal came as a surprise to him.

10. Zola Power

A brief word then for Gianfranco, who has masterminded back to back wins, and successfully navigated the first "must win" game of the season. In truth, we now embark upon a defining run of fixtures as we face Newcastle, Fulham and Hull City in a run of games that will determine whether we finish 10th or 14th this season.

Much will depend on the issue of who will be sold in January, with early favourites seeming to be Davenport and Bellamy. Elsewhere, Julien Faubert has threatened to return to France which, to borrow an old joke, would mean we were going to war without our accordion.

I don't trust our board, but I have to imagine that someone somewhere understands that relegation does not add a great deal to the value of a club, and as such I guess only a few fringe players will depart with the real asset stripping likely to be in the Summer. Ho hum, 'twas ever thus.

11. Luis Boa Morte Footwear Update

Good old Luis managed to get himself booked inside of 25 minutes for three very hefty tackles. "Boa Morte should have been sent off inside of twenty minutes" said Tony Pulis after the game, admiringly.

Perhaps he was also enamoured of the full size clown shoes that Luis was sporting as he stumbled about the place kicking anything that moved and noticeably failing to score when clean through on goal....

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Portsmouth 1 - 4 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

1. Merry Christmas

Well, alright then.

2. Luck Be A Hammer Tonight

Is it possible to win 4-1 away from home and be lucky? Well, even allowing for the natural pessimism of the West Ham fan, I guess you would have to say yes. Now, I'm not saying that we didn't deserve to win, or that Zola is the resurrection and the light, or that we haven't suffered a few of these ourselves, but I am saying that this game didn't really seem like a 4-1 type of affair.

Now let me be clear, I don't care if we won this game by using voodoo - we won and that is all that matters, but before anyone gets too carried away it's probably right to acknowledge that we had a few moments of fortune.

I mean, come on, Carlton Cole scored and Jermain Defoe missed a penalty. I spent most of the second half looking for swarms of locusts.

3. The Statistics

As far as the ESPN Gamecast shows, we didn't really have much of a foothold in this game. Our possession amounted to just 42%, and we allowed no fewer than 23 efforts by Portsmouth, although we replied with 16 ourselves. Interestingly, each team managed just 7 on target efforts, which effectively means that the front pairing of Crouch and Defoe were less clinical than Cole and Bellamy. Which bodes tremendously for the prospects of our international team.

In truth, our skill was in restricting the home side to long range efforts, or shots straight at the inspired Robert Green.

By the time the second half ended, we were breaking at will and using the twin superpowers of Luis Boa Morte and Diego Tristan to run riot down the left wing.

Elsewhere, we made the splendidly wise decision not to allow Calum Davenport to have the vast majority of our goal atempts, and instead shifted that responsibility further forward to Craig Bellamy who responded by doubling his seasons goal tally. Which is always an encouraging statistic from your leading goalscorer. On Boxing Day.

Other facts to capture the interest:

- This was the first time we had come from a goal down to win a game all year
- At the point that Jack Collison equalised with his second goal of the season, he had scored 50% of all our goals since November 8th
The most accurate shooter in the squad is Lucas Neill (72% on target). For reference our twin strikers Bellamy and Cole are at 30%
- Mido, who is a fungus, would be our joint top scorer if he played for us.
- Dean Ashton, who is dead, was our second top scorer before this game. He has had 3 shots on goal this season.

I think I might be unravelling the great mystery of why we don't win many games.

4. The Opposition

Far be it for me to show weakness or empathy, but a part of me felt slightly sorry for Portsmouth. As far as I could tell, this seemed to be a clash of two appalling defences, with Robert Green excelling once more. As with Ronaldo's missed penalty last year one couldn't help but suspect that it was Greens presence as much as anything that forced Defoe to skew his shot wide, although using a striking technique borrowed from Diana Ross didn't seem to help either.

The obvious difference between this side and the team who played so recently at Upton Park was the absence of ex Hammer Glen Johnson, without whom Craig Bellamy simply ran riot down the Portsmouth left. 3 of the 4 goals came via this route, with the other coming courtesy of some Wacky Races style adventures in the home back 4 as we broke from a corner.

Much like ourselves, Portsmouth seem likely to lose players in January, with Redknapp apparently determined to return and tap up a few. Survival should not be impossible with the squad they have, and the existence of West Brom and Sunderland, but it would be fair to say that they are in the dogfight now.

5. The Referee

Steve Bennett seems to referee games using a magic 8 ball to arrive at most of his decisions, but he had some unusually random thoughts even for him today. The penalty awarded for Peter Crouch's theatrical first half tumble was as soft as they come, although perhaps Bennett shares our sadistic enjoyment at watching Jermain Defoe miss penalties.

Elsewhere Scott Parker cleverly got himself booked so he could miss our inevitable home Cup defeat to Barnsley. An approach that I fancy might be taken by about 15,000 other Hammers.

6. The January Sales

With the transfer window just around the corner and Harry Redknapp rubbing his hands with glee at the prospect of spending the ENIC millions, it remains to be seen exactly how many of this team will ever play for us again. The obvious candidate to leave is Bellamy who already has been the subject of one failed tottenham bid.

Others on the likely departure list are Upson, Parker and Green which would leave the spine of the team looking decidely "Championship".

Already there are those who are trying to justify the sale of Bellamy, by pointing out that he doesn't score enough goals and whomever we buy to replace him will doubtless score more, which rather misses the spectacular point that we won't be buying anyone to replace him.

If I had my choice I would sell none of them, because the team as it is barely looks capable of staying up, but then again I am not an Icelandic international financier who is suddenly scrabbling around the back of the sofa for the money to pay off his debts.

Therefore, if we assume that one has to go then my logic would be to sell the player whose replacement is closest to him in terms of skill. For example, selling Green would be nonsense as we only have the untried Lastuvka to come in, whilst selling Bellamy would expose either Sears or Tristan to regular playing time which seems unwise for a team who cannot score.

Therefore, to my mind the obvious choice would be either Upson, who could be replaced by Davenport, or Parker who would presumably see Mullins step in.

To reiterate, this is not my grand plan for Premiership domination - selling any of the curent first XI is ludicrous, but we live in the real world and I would merely advocate a more scientific approach to any sale rather than simply saying "Get rid of Bellamy as he has only scored 2 goals...".

7. Cole Patrol

More good stuff from Carlton today. Not "good" by any typical definition, but he did score from 3 yards after the ball rebounded straight to him in front of an open goal. So that was "good".

I actually thought that of our two strikers, he was the least wasteful as Bellamy spurned at least 3 other very decent chances to score, before popping up with the late double that sunk Pompey.

I especially enjoyed his first goal as it reminded me in every way possible of our relegation season when we too employed a "rush goalie" type defensive system.

8. Luis Boa Morte Footwear Update

God bless him if our Luis didn't come out for his late substitute appearance sporting a pair of brand new Christmas winklepickers.

It worked too, as he set up Bellamy's second with a nice run and cross from the left, whilst also simultaneously proving beyond doubt that miracles do happen at Christmas.

9. Picture This

"To be honest I don't know what happened. This is how many goals we usually score away from home"

Sunday, December 21, 2008

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

1. Home Comforts

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

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

2. What To Say?

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

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

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

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

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

2a. Mentioning No Names

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

3. The Statistics

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

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

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

4. The Opposition

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

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

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

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

5. The Referee

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

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

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

6. The Way We Now Block Crosses. Apparently

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

7. The Case For The Defence

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

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

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

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

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

8. Anybody Else...

...missing Nolberto Solano? Me too.

9. Cole Patrol

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

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

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

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

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

10. Whither The Wide Boys

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

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

Still, Dyer and Ashton will be fit soon.

11. Luis Boa Morte Footwear Update

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

12. Merry Christmas Everyone!

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

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

Thursday, December 18, 2008

West Ham United vs Aston Villa: Match Preview - 20/12/2008

1. Duelling Duality

And so West Ham’s traditionally contrary approach to football continues apace.

Having failed to beat an average tottenham side at home on Monday night, we then go and take a deserved point off title-contenders Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and spurn a glorious chance to claim all three at the death.

It’s this long-established club trait that habitually confounds us all: to rekindle the damp embers of hope, just as we are prepared to resign ourselves to consistent failure and top-flight oblivion.

While results like this do no harm to our Premiership credentials, they do little for our blood pressure.

2. Opposition

Saturday evening provides us with our next opportunity to fritter away the chance of building on an impressive result, as young pretenders Aston Villa arrive in east London.

Villa have established themselves as the team most capable of breaking into the top four this season, much to the annoyance of Daniel Levy and his deluded minions.

Martin O’Neill’s undoubted management skills combined with the maturation of recent youthful purchases and consistent squad additions in recent years have lead to the advent of a competitive and competent squad.

Experience has been blended successfully with youth and players approaching their peak, leading to many plaudits this season, not least from the England manager.

Fabio Capello recently proclaimed that "the Aston Villa players are my future", citing Ashley Young, Gareth Barry, Gabriel Agbonlahor and James Milner. Young and Agbonlahor have both deservedly been included in recent squads and Gareth Barry is the only player to have featured in all ten of Capello’s games in charge.

The astute purchase of goalkeeper Brad Friedel in the summer combined with the in-form Martin Laursen have given Villa a capable backline, shielded by the experienced Stilian Petrov. Barry’s dream of Champions League football may yet be realised at Villa Park and the recent additions of Steve Sidwell and James Milner have improved the depth of Villa’s midfield.

These last two signings are all the more significant in that they have reduced Nigel Reo-Coker to the periphery where he can dance like a twat on the sidelines, doing ‘the running man’ in pursuit of his fast-fading hopes of an international career.

It’s Aston Villa’s attacking potency that has caught the eye recently, however. Martin O’Neill might be forgiven a moment of premature senility when recently comparing Ashley Young to Lionel Messi, but Young has certainly proven to be a great signing (another fine one we missed out on) and is increasingly looking an international player.

Both he and Agbonlahor have pace to burn and that will prove our greatest threat at the weekend, particularly if we press forward too zealously and leave space in behind - I can’t see Lucas Neill catching a cold, let alone Ashley Young. Again, it will be Zola’s ability to surreptitiously sellotape sausages onto the back of Young’s shirt that will prove key.

Marlon Harewood looks eerily contented with a place on the Villa bench.

3. Flawed To Big Four

Thanks to Arsenal’s stuttering season, Aston Villa now find themselves in 4th spot and have already beaten the Gunners at The Emirates. Wenger’s band of espresso-sipping aristocrats visit Villa Park on Boxing Day (or ‘St Stephens Day’ for those Irish readers) in a match prematurely being tagged as ‘winner takes all’.

O’Neill will see that as a great opportunity to put further daylight between his own team and 5th place heading into the New Year. Combine this with his decision to rest many of the first team for Wednesday night’s comprehensive UEFA Cup defeat to Hamburg (thereby sacrificing qualification as group winners) and there will be a great determination to take three points from The Boleyn on Saturday evening, sustaining his side’s recent momentum.

Wenger and O'Neill give their verdict on how far Kieron Dyer will get onto the pitch on his comeback before incurring a season-ending injury.

4. January Sale

As the window approaches, an icy wind of unwanted change continues to blow through Upton Park as rumours persist about the prospect of high profile departures.

Whilst warming our defensive cockles on Sunday, Matthew Upson’s imperious form against Chelsea also served to further highlight his value to several competitors and Herita Ilunga’s ball skills have caught the attention of many an NBA team.

The real issue here though is not the sale of assets, but that of the club as a whole. Press reports regarding the monetary health of Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson and the club have died down of late, bar the obligatory generalities – ‘financial strain’, ‘troubled club’, ‘piss-stained bin men’ etc.

It is universally acknowledged that BG’s piggy bank has suffered a not inconsiderable bout of bulimia in recent months and there is little hope on the horizon.

The sale of established first team players will almost certainly condemn us to the Championship next year and make us an even less enticing investment for would-be buyers, before having even factored in those penny-pinching under-performers up in Sheffield.

I can see the sense in selling up now while we are still a going concern with a decent squad, regularly high attendances and with our Premiership status still in our own hands.

5. Prophet Before Profit

Such is the far-reaching influence of this blog that no sooner have I finished writing the above than West Ham vice chairman, Asgeir Fridgeirsson, announces that the club have become receptive to enquiries.

“We have been reviewing the assets and as part of the process, we’ve signed a non-disclosure form with several parties.”

This jargon means that the Board has sent data on its debt levels, income, expenditures and salary ratios to the potential bidders, who are not allowed to reveal this info to anyone else.

It has been suggested that this is merely an exercise for Gudmundsson to gauge the value of the club in the current market in order in re-jig his assets accordingly, but there has to be more to it than that.

My knowledge of big business tells me that press releases are often one or two steps behind the proposed reality and from our standpoint, the sooner matters are concluded for the good of the club, the better. This same business acumen also tells me that Tesco currently have a 2 for 1 offer on Jammie Dodgers, so I’d get down there if I were you.

6. History

Villa’s visit last year was the final game of the season, an inconsequential affair and consequently an open and entertaining match.

On a glorious summer afternoon, Nobby Solano put us one up with the last goal to be scored direct from a free-kick by a West Ham player for the next thousand years. Villa drew level courtesy of Ashley Young before claiming the lead via Gareth Barry.

The prospect of the end of the season and a loosening of not only Dean Ashton’s dietary regime but also his fat pants, promptly spurred our striker into action and he levelled with a fine finish from outside the box with minutes remaining.

Despite all this, it was a game most memorable for King Pantsil - his illegal and relentless kicking of Nigel Reo-Coker for the entire match a commendable approach which went completely unnoticed by the ref. KP then went on a deserved solo lap of the pitch at the final whistle.

Generally speaking, honours have been fairly even between the two teams in recent years with an inordinate amount of draws – twelve out of the last eighteen games. Villa have had the better of the last few years, beating us on both our last two visits to Villa Park whereas we have not registered a victory against them since a 2-1 away win in early 2006.

'Your Latin courtship of the media is utterly bewitching. Kiss me, Jose...'

7. The Battle For Middle Earth

Despite Curbishley publicly bemoaning the fact that Zola has been afforded the opportunity to field consistent sides, our midfield has rarely been the same in consecutive games.

I thought that Zola’s selection against Chelsea (Behrami, Parker, Noble, Collison) provided us with a nice balance and was the most useful midfield unit seen so far this year.

Parker picked up the ‘man-of-the-match’ award for his effective disruptiveness, and his inability to get forward (which involves running in straight lines) was complimented well by Noble, who provided Bellamy with his goal-scoring chance.

Valon Behrami seems capable of running all day, his high work-rate warranting a regular start and endearing him to the fans, and this blog has often touted the merits of fielding Jack Collison.

There was nothing in the young Welshman’s performance on Sunday to dissuade us and I'm pleased to see him sign a new five year deal. He should regularly start matches before he gets too old and jaded to run headlong at defenders, spurning the simple pass.

There is no-one on the fringes who should oust any of these four. Matty Etherington has flattered to deceive after a strong start and Julien Faubert is proving the biggest waste of money since I bought a particularly expensive pair of bright orange Travel Fox trainers back in the mid-90’s, which in hindsight resembled orthopaedic shoes for visually-impaired drunks.

8. Congestion Charge

I can’t remember a season where the table has looked so tight so close to Christmas. There are only 20 points separating Liverpool in top spot from Sunderland in the relegation zone and there is not a gap of more than three points between any two consecutive teams from 3rd to 18th .

A contributory factor is the inability to string together consistent results at home, which can perhaps be attributed to many sides becoming more willing to adopt a Boltonian approach on the road.

Liverpool, Chelsea, Man Utd and Arsenal have all been guilty of dropping points they would normally be expected to claim and overall this trend is reflected in the negligible difference between large swathes of the table.

This has enabled several sides to endure a poor run without losing touch of the pack (ourselves included) and will allow teams to push up the league on the back of a few wins. It has also spawned the looming proviso that this year’s relegation battle may be more cluttered than ever.

If that is to be the case then every game really will matter and we can ill-afford to throw points away against teams we should be beating, as we have done thus far. The safety net of unexpected draws away to the big boys is full of holes.

Yes, I know all nets are full of holes, but these holes are getting bigger by the minute, the net fibres receding quicker than my hairline in order to illustrate this strained analogy.

9. Christmas Cheer

In the absence of any light-hearted relief last week, Paul Ince was sacked on Tuesday!

10. Escape to Victory?

Thanks in part to HeadHammer Shark’s contagious lethargy and my plans to drink my own bodyweight in gravy this Christmas, this shall be the final preview of 2008. In light of this, allow me to bid you all good tidings and all the associated seasonal merriment.

By way of half-arsed compensation, I have painstakingly prepared the following:

Aston Villa aside, our remaining fixtures of the calendar year are a trip to Portsmouth on Boxing Day and the visit of Stoke on the 28th.

The Portsmouth game is one I reckon we can win. Their drubbing at the hands of Newcastle on Sunday gives us hope, as does the fact that their holding midfielder, Lassana Diarra, is off to Real Madrid in January and will be loathe to risking injury.

Stoke City at home is one of those games with ‘humiliating frustration’ written all over it. I was planning on going, but am pleased to say that I will now be in northern France - coincidentally allowing me to retrieve the balls from Boa Morte’s efforts ‘on goal’.

(Only joking, Luis – I’m still rooting for you to score… Go for it, you crack-fuelled maniac!!)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Chelsea vs West Ham United: Match Preview - 14/12/2008

1. Dictionary Corner

Futility (n) - uselessness as a consequence of having no practical result.

Make of that what you will.

2. Post-Mortem

Monday night’s lamentable affair at home to tottenham can be summed up thusly:

Two shit teams, we sat back.

There was nothing on offer in the way of quality. Why we played Parker and Mullins at home against a defensively suspect side is beyond me. Collison is the only midfielder this season who has regularly launched forward with purpose and yet he has found himself marginalised since his home debut against Everton.

The day Faubert puts in a cross that beats the first man is the day Frank Lampard declines a bowl of clarified butter.

I am still wounded by the gutless nature of our display against tottenham and the fact that a win on Monday would have meant 9th place, clear daylight between us and the bottom three and the opportunity to really go for it against Chelsea with little expectation or anxiety.

But I suppose we wouldn’t be proper West Ham fans without the stunted enthusiasm and Valium dependence.

3. Obviously

4. History

Last year we lost 1-0 at Stamford Bridge having put in a bellicose performance only to fall to Joe Cole’s late winner, a well taken goal which survived a decent offside shout.

Cole’s ultra-enthusiastic celebration lost him a place in more than a few of the more temperate West Ham hearts, a place still frequented by ex-players such as Carrick, Rio, Tevez and Pike.

Our recent record against Chelsea has been nothing but negative in terms of results and we have conceded 17 goals in our last six encounters. Not since we did the double over them in the 2002-’03 season (wallop) have we had a point out of them.

There’s not much good news here, so we’ll move on.

5. Transfer window

As the New Year draws ever closer, so headlines pertaining to the fire-sale of West Ham talent appear with increasing regularity.

If it’s not Craig Bellamy for £6million, it’s Upson and Green for a combined 16. Or Davenport, Bowyer, Quashie, Boa Morte, Mullins, Faubert, Cole, Ashton or Gabbidon – two for a tenner.

It is not only apparent but also right that a few names will be jettisoned this January to lighten not only the considerable financial burden on the club but also the deadwood of the squad.

The answer must be to get rid of more than a few peripheral players to lesser sides whilst simultaneously resisting the larger offers sure to come in for our better players - most probably from Redknapp funded by his 30 pieces of silver.

If we sell Green and Upson in January, we may as well all pack up and go home now.

6. Fading Fortress

This season saw the end of Chelsea’s formidable home record with losses to both Liverpool and Arsenal ending their unbeaten run of 86 games.

Big Phil Scolari’s arrival at Stamford Bridge has coincided with a new inability to grind out results. Whilst this has made for a closer Championship race, it has its roots in the absence of some key players, most notably Didier Drogba.

Despite the arrival of Portuguese playmaker Deco from Barcelona after an impressive Euro 2008, Chelsea have struggled to conjure the requisite incisiveness to open up teams who are content to sit back at the Bridge. They are not helped by having Anelka upfront and starved of space.

‘Le Sulk’ provides Chelsea with a potent attacking outlet away from home, at his best sitting on the shoulder of the last defender and exploiting the space behind on the counter. His talents are largely nullified at home and against teams where more brute force is required.

Drogba is the man to win games for Chelsea when they are up against obdurate teams, as most of their opposition will be at Stamford Bridge. His strength, link-up play and ability to play with his back to goal should provide Chelsea with the necessary tactical flexibility to ensure that the blips of the last few months do not become more commonplace.

After a lengthy absence, and with all the predictability of a Jerry Bruckheimer production, Drogba is of course available for selection this weekend, free of injury and suspension.

7. Opposition

Chelsea’s spending this summer failed to match their levels of expenditure in previous years, largely thanks to the gazumping of Robinho by Manchester City.

Even having missed out on their primary target, The Blues were still able to swell their ranks with the acquisition of Portuguese right-back Jose Boswinga from Porto and Deco from Barcelona for a combined £23.2million.

Their squad was decreased overall following the release of Steve Sidwell, Hernan Crespo and Claude Makelele, among others. Even the bewildered Tal Ben Haim was pointed towards Manchester and told to keep walking.

Despite suffering their fair share of injuries this season, Chelsea’s available squad is still formidable and the return of Drogba, Joe Cole, Michael Essien and Ray ‘Butch’ Wilkins will further bolster their reserves in the second half of a season in which they remain well placed to claim both Premiership and Champions League.

8. Callous Captain

If the following reports are to be believed then HeadHammer Shark will no doubt be petitioning for divorce from his fictitious if zealously-desired marriage to our club captain.

It has been reported this week that Lucas Neill, having finally been granted a meeting to discuss an extension to his current deal, demanded a pay rise, taking his wages above that of their already preposterous level.

If this is true, I am flabbergasted. Not only at the gall of the man in light of both the financial state of the club and the economy in general, but also how he has drawn the conclusion that his form and leadership over the past two years warrants anything more than a Chinese burn.

I can only hope that this is another example of imaginative journalism targeted at West Ham and not an accurate reflection of our captain’s mindset in the current climate.

Perhaps we should arrange a 'Neill vs Lampard Chow-Down Face-Off' on Sunday. Lampard would no doubt ingest Neill in a matter of seconds, but our portly captain is sufficiently voracious to take a limb on his way down. From our perspective, a win-win.

9. Christmas Hampered

It’s finally happened. After many months of cooperation with HeadHammer Shark on these pages, his terminal pessimism has tainted my usual cheery/naive disposition.

Sunday’s game sees us approach the traditional end of year run which can so often shape a season. After Chelsea away we have the arduous prospect of Villa at home who, judging by the tottenham match and Villa’s win at Goodison Park, could well rip us to pieces.

After that we have Stoke City at home on the 28th (a match we should win but could so easily lose) and it’s a short respite before a trip to St James’s Park in January for a game versus the side against whom Zola’s regime began so promisingly three months ago.

It’s not inconceivable that we could find ourselves waist deep in the relegation quagmire come mid-January unless we begin scoring.

No such thing as Christmas cheer this week.

10. I Think I’m Coming Down With Something

As we all know, there are lots of airborne germs around at this time of year, but in recent weeks I appear to have contracted something I was quite unprepared for: a growing admiration of Luis Boa Morte.

Perhaps it’s his insistence on playing in Cuban heels or the natural affiliation felt by the British for plucky triers who aren’t particularly accomplished, I don’t know.

Whatever the cause, this is a phenomenon that has been increasing by the week. During our halftime analysis conference on Monday, I was moved to telling HeadHammer Shark of my certainty that LBM would come on and get the winner, but now we'll never know.

I think this all began towards the back end of last season once I had decided to not get so riled at Boa Morte’s ineptness and to instead enjoy the chaotic nature of his approach to the game. Yes, he has missed literally thousands of gilt-edged chances, but I have never had the sense that he doesn’t give it his all.

My newfound support of him is only bolstered by the many simpletons who boo before he has even completed his touchline warm-up, let alone touched the ball, and some of his unpopularity stems from his status as Curbs first overpriced signing with all that money he spunked.

At the very least, Boa Morte is responsible for getting Fat Frank undeservedly sent off last year and also for forcing nearly his whole hand into John Terry’s mouth. For that alone he should be applauded.

I personally can’t wait ‘til he scores (meaning he has until January) and hope that he goes ballistic, then runs straight up to the pubescent gobshite sitting in front of my brother and his mates thinking he's ICF, and smashes his teeth in.

11. One For The Road

Friday, December 05, 2008

West Ham United vs tottenham hotspur: Match Preview - 08/12/2008

1. The H List Humbles Heavyweight

There are people out there (infidels) who draw a direct correlation between the absence of H List articles and the on-field success of our team, coincidentally evidenced in the last few weeks.


As it happens, this most recent hiatus has been due to behind the scenes wranglings with Sunderland who are a bit miffed that we doubtless contributed to the resignation of their manager.

Roy Keane has cited our Sunderland preview as one of the direct reasons for his recent departure:

“I have never encountered such incisive, sardonic ramblings. Their ability to deconstruct the very fabric of the game, and indeed my character, is spooky. I’m going to have to re-evaluate everything” – he may have said.

2. The Opposition

Urgh… Sorry, I just had to swallow a little bit of sick in my mouth then.

tottenham cross town this week replete with their superiority complex, reptilian chairman and misguided belief that they constitute a ‘big club’.

I could essentially copy and paste this same section from last year, or any of the previous few: huge outlay of cash, ill-founded expectancy of top four finish, cataclysmic start, new manager, rally to midtable obscurity, claim that next season will be the one.

Spurs have again made a huge investment in an array of attacking options, all of which fail to mask the defensive fragility which will always scupper any hopes of finishing in the top few places.

They have enjoyed a few results under Redknapp (ungh… there’s that sick again) but also had more than their share of good fortune and look no less likely to concede than they ever did under Ramos.

3. Big Four Or Poorhouse?

As sure as eggs is eggs, as sure as Christmas comes but once a year, as sure as Barack Obama sits in the Bobby Moore Lower quaffing sausage rolls, so every year we are all subjected to the laughable if fervently held belief from tottenham fans that this is the year they will break the dominance of the Big Four.

Only Newcastle can rival Spurs in the delusion stakes. This season, as last and the many before that, tottenham were convinced that their huge summer spending would see them dissolve the monopoly at the top of the league. This despite the fact they sold their three best strikers in the space of six months.

Juande Ramos was the man with the plan and a man they had very publicly courted, much to the chagrin of former manager Martin Jol (currently doing a fine job with Hamburger SV in the Bundesliga). Ramos was jettisoned with equal haste after tottenham’s worst start to a League campaign since 1912, drawing more than one parallel with the ill-fated Titanic.

Prior to his sacking, Ramos was given vast amounts to spend and brought in the likes of Croatian Luka Modric, David Bentley and Russia’s Roman Pavlyuchenko - rumoured to be the biggest boozehound in Eastern Europe, which is saying something.

Having spent largely on players of an attacking nature, bar a Scottish defender (which is something of an oxymoron), Spurs were quickly found to have a brittle core and promptly sat rooted to the bottom of the table for much of the first 3-months of the season.

Despite this, despite the fact Man Utd took their most talented performer since Gazza in his pomp, despite Michael Dawson’s dry rot-afflicted wooden frame being in dire need of another coat of Ronseal, rest assured that come July we will all be forced to hear the myriad reasons why next season will be the one when Spurs make it big.

Michael Dawson pops out for a pint of milk

4. Case For The Defence

You wait eight months for a clean sheet and then three come along at once.

Recent shut-outs at home to Portsmouth and away to Sunderland and Liverpool have provided our defenders with a much needed tonic and a platform on which to build.

Matthew Upson has looked very solid at the back, particularly since his integral display for England in Berlin. James Collins is getting a consistent run in the side and thereby the chance to prove that he is the kind of sturdy defender many of us thought he could be.

Robert Green has been in tremendous form over recent weeks, pulling off a number of world class saves, most notably against Yossi Benayoun at Anfield and surely cementing a place in the England squad - although the next friendly is not scheduled until the end of March.

tottenham are among a few clubs currently in the market for a ‘keeper and with Alan McKnight now retired, Green will be at the top of a few shopping lists in January. One must hope that Zola’s repeated assurances that “none of our best players will be sold" rings true.

Unrequited love can be tragic and Herita Ilunga’s reported outburst last week that we are “a second-rate club” whom he wishes to use as a “stepping stone” to bigger things was like a dagger to the heart.

For the time being I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and cling to Zola’s belief that his answers were misinterpreted, but if Ilunga isn’t careful he could well see the link to his official blog removed from these pages, or at least moved down a few notches.

If I were Zola, I’d smear some mayonnaise on the back of Ilunga’s shirt so that Lucas Neill’s unheralded and feverish attention scares our left back into staying.

5. History

A very painful drubbing at White Hart Lane last season was preceded by a 1-1 draw at Upton Park, a draw that felt like a victory for reasons exclusive to football.

Having taken the lead through Carlton Cole, we managed the near impossible feat of allowing an immobile wooden trunk with a deep-seated complex root system to score, as Michael Dawson headed in from a corner.

Frustrating as this was, it set up a near-perfect conclusion as Jermaine Defoe came on to win a penalty in the last minute, only to see Robert Green deny him. It felt almost as good to see Defoe miss as to witness a last minute Hammers winner.

The stadium reverberated to the sound of a particular chant whose lyrics are too blue even for these pages, but the sentiment was spot on.

Recent encounters between the two sides have provided memorable moments for right or wrong reasons. Shipping four goals, Defoe’s penalty miss, Anton Ferdinand’s last minute equaliser or Yossi Benayoun’s late winner to deny tottenham Champions League football (which they’ll probably get next year anyway).

Hopefully Monday night will provide more good memories as opposed to the sight of Luis Boa Morte trudging towards the tunnel having been sent off. Or indeed trudging from the tunnel towards the pitch.

To be fair to Luis, he did have 8inch stilettos on and I’m not one for booing him for the sake of it. He has put in the effort this season, which is more admirable when done amidst several dozen vocal idiots booing before he even gets a touch of the ball. His mistakes are lambasted considerably more than anyone else, but that miss against Liverpool – Jesus!

6. Speculative Nature

Unfortunately, we now have something undeniably in common with tottenham. The recent confirmation of the open secret that SBOBet are to be unveiled tonight as our new sponsor means that both clubs now exhibit the emblems of online betting agencies across their chests.

The new deal sees SBOBet confirmed as our sponsor until the end of the 2009/’10 season in an agreement which incorporates The Bobby Moore Fund, whereby the latter will appear on the shirts of all Academy teams as well as children’s replica kits.

While a few of the more diminutive adults may try to squeeze into a 12-year old’s shirt, the rest of us will be granted the opportunity to return our old XL-emblazoned tops and have the new sponsor “applied” free of charge.

If you ask me, the new look is rubbish and if I find out that some bright spark was actually paid to “design” this affront, I shall have no option but to write a very strongly worded letter to the Daily Mail. I am now more, not less enthused to wear my shirt promoting a now deceased travel firm.

Much more appealing would have been this version, drawn up by a contributor to Knees Up Mother Brown who unlike the masterminds behind the reality, obviously has some talent and imagination.

Considering that few new kits are likely to be sold thanks to the club’s ‘Tony Hart on skag’ effort, I can’t help but feel that West Ham missed a trick here by failing to issue the current shirts in the interim minus any sponsor. They surely would have made a killing on that one.

Still, I don’t suppose we can expect fiscal prudence from an organization who remain happy to pay Nigel Quashie a wage as a professional footballer.

7. Heart Of Darkness

As if Spurs don’t have enough problems with Michael Dawson enduring a very real threat from Dutch Elm disease, they now have a man at the helm with all the scruples of a Robert Mugabe figure who’s just sold his kids on Christmas Eve to feed his mistress’s crack habit. If you can imagine such a thing.

A shameless mercenary at best, tottenham manager at worst, Harry Redknapp has once again proven his ability to walk out on a club for whom he professes his love as soon as a better offer (bigger paycheque) comes along.

Worryingly, ‘Arry has yet to field a losing side at Upton Park when in the opposition dugout having bested us on the handful of occasions he has returned since his acrimonious departure in 2001.

Not content with his new Faustian pact, Harry Redknapp has also seen fit to invade our TV screens along with his fatuous son and banal daughter-in-law (plus some other bloke) in advertisements for the Nintendo Wii.

The only thing missing from this nauseating ‘at home with the Redknapps’ commercial is the Fraud Squad bursting through the front door with flash-bang grenades.

8. Positive Panacea

Goals goals goals. We need some.

Despite reports in the media, we had enough chances to nick a win at Anfield last week and have an increasing need for someone, anyone, to start converting a few of these nicely set-up opportunities we are creating.

There’s a chance that once Bellamy gets one, he could go on a run. There’s more of a chance of Carlton Cole going on the run from the Police than getting one.

A few efforts notwithstanding, goals from midfield have largely appeared little more than an abstract theory this season.

Set pieces? Moving on….

If we can maintain our newfound steadfastness at the back and garnish it with a goal or two, we could really make some strides in the division as things are still largely close knit, even after our calamitous recent run.

It’s a sure thing that the crowd tonight will be well up for it for at least the first half an hour and that, combined with a repeat performance of the work-rate against Liverpool, gives us every chance of victory. Although I’d be a lot more confident if we had a striker on show in the midst of a goal-scoring streak.

Lee Chapman anyone?