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

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Bolton 2 - 1 West Ham (And A Cup Exit To Shiver The Spine)


1. Let's Accentuate The Positive

The good things about this game: We scored!

The bad things about this game: Everything else.

2. West Ham Kryptonite

Kevin Davies and Roy Hodgson looking as uncomfortable as two humans can possibly be after Davies joins Blackburn for £7m. No really - £7m.

Rather like the police captain from Casablanca I am shocked, SHOCKED I tell you, that Kevin Cyril Davies scored against us once more. This takes his tally to 7 in his last 7 games against us. I will continue to suggest that we buy him, simply so he can never be on the opposing side for the rest of his career. I estimate this would cost £2m (slightly up from my last suggestion of £12), or approximately 0.4 Boa Morte's.

Consider this - we all exist in a world where Kevin Davies would score 38 goals a season if he only played against West Ham.

3. The Statistics

If you're looking for crumbs of comfort from the game in which we allowed Bolton to complete the double over us, then this might be the only place you'll get some solace. Before you get there though, consider that in the post Allardycian era Wanderers had "doubled" only one team (relegated Reading) before we arrived, gift wrapped, shivering in the frozen North and displaying all the killer instinct of a bunny rabbit.

We actually had 62% of the ball per ESPN, and mustered 20 shots at goal, with 8 on target. By contrast the home side had just 11 attempts, with only 4 testing Robert Green. Tellingly, 7 of these shots were taken in the first 25 minutes, highlighting the two distinct phases of this match - the early part, where we defended like we had a nice sideline going with a Malaysian betting syndicate, and the remaining 70 minutes where we played quite well but with no cutting edge.

David di Michele and Carlton Cole had as many shots between them as the entire Bolton team, but they simply don't have the all encompassing power of Kevin Davies' elbows.

4. The Opposition

Exactly how sarcastic can I be about a team who beat us so regularly? Seriously, 5-2 over the course of the season. And 3 of the goals scored by Kevin Davies. Ay Carumba.

Credit where it's due, I respect the work ethic of a group that is so stunningly average in composition, and I certainly respect the ability of Matthew Taylor to score tremendous goals, and to do erm, well, absolutely nothing else.

But, I mean come on, here is a football team that plays ostensibly using their elbows and sharpened studs. Gary Megson referred to his sides second goal as "well worked" when, as far as I can tell the main pass was made by Johan Elmander with his back turned to the play, and more in hope than expectation. Either way, I don't rate their technical skills all that much, but they work hard and they battle for each other and it wouldn't hurt us to add a little of that to the mix.

5. The Referee

I must protest. The elbows of Kevin Davies are not a legitimate tackling aide in the game of Association Football. Steve Tanner appears to disagree with me.

6. A Noble Quest

At 2 down in the first half we had a great chance to get back into the match when Mark Noble was sent through on goal with nary a defender in sight.

As he appeared to hit a patch of quicksand, he decided to forget the notion of scoring and instead attempted a pass to Jack Collison, who was several yards offside at that point, and also marked by a defender. If it is possible to peer into the mind of another human and see exactly how much confidence they have, then I believe that Noble is running on empty. In the current system, with no wingers and no flair players, Noble is all important, and right now he seems to be labouring badly.

I swear it's the lack of high fives.

7. Welcome Back

Whilst all around him were playing like drains, Scott Parker took a firm hold on this game and nearly single handedly dragged us back into it. It was his goal, nicely created by Jonathan Spector after a granite like first touch from Carlton Cole, that signalled our revival, and he was absolutely clattered in the build up to David di Michele's late miss and probably should have had a penalty.

For a couple of years I've been wondering exactly why we paid £6.5m for Parker, and this game gave a nice glimpse as to what we may have been thinking. Perhaps he is fitter these days, perhaps he has a better understanding of what is required of him, perhaps he's had his legs sorted so that he no longer wheels around incessantly, but there is little doubt that he has been our best player for quite a while now.

8. A Brief Interlude

I won't attempt to describe David di Michele's goal attempts in too much depth, as I'm not sure that the English language has the requisite words.

Suffice to say that if you missed his first half exercise in squanderosity, then believe me when I say that it was less an attempt on goal and more a full scale challenge to the laws of physics.


I can't write a review of this game. 4,000 West Ham fans went North in pursuit of life, love and happiness and instead came back shell shocked as Middlesbrough (Middlesbrough!) outplayed us to pick up their first win over a Premiership team in 15 games.

One observation about both this game and the Bolton match that seems to be relevant is that once our initial approach wears off we don't appear to have a back up plan. Both games were similar in that we found ourselves 2-0 down before I'd even had a chance to slag off Stewart Downing, and yet a closer assessment tells us something quite interesting.

In both games the opposition scored a tremendous free kick, and then followed up by capitalising on some truly egregious defending to score a second. The first type of goal is a fact of life at this level, and at times you have to shrug your shoulders and get on with things.

The second goals, however, were an example of how teams such as these score - get the ball forward and put pressure on the opposition back four. The crucial part of this is that it doesn't require an awful lot to go right other than a long punt and a bit of pressure. Sure, against better teams it will fail more often than not, but then it's not really unfair to suggest that Bolton and Boro fail more often than not against better teams.

Contrasting with that is our new approach, whereby we are attempting quick, short passing from anywhere on the pitch. I'm not upset at this, by the way, but my point is that a lot more people have to do something right for it to work. Therefore, on collective off days, like the one at Boro, we can look utterly impotent.

None of this is to suggest that we don't score crappy goals ourselves, or that we are the second coming of the Magical Magyars, but without a Di Canio or a Joe Cole type, it does mean that we require a collective piece of inspiration rather than individual...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Some (More) Shameless Begging

So, we have been nominated for a couple of awards (because we asked you all to nominate us) and God willing we may even match the whopping 3% of the vote that we mustered for the 2008 Soccerlens awards.

Should you feel that way inclined you may vote for us in the "Best Blog" or "Best Writer" categories. Both myself and The Boleyn Beluga are nominated which will doubtlessly cause you hours of agonising, but I'm sure you'll get over it.

Unlike the 2008 Bloggers Choice Awards (we came 196th), this does not require a 3 hour vetting process to be able to vote. Simply click HERE and then HERE.

I honestly think if all 12 of our readers vote we can definitely crack the top 100...

Monday, February 16, 2009

West Ham 1 - 1 Middlesbrough (And Other Ramblings)

1. The Magic Of The Cup

Hey, English football is the best in the world!*

*Unless you have to play Middlesbrough four times a season. Which is simply cruel and unusual punishment, and probably against the Geneva convention.

2. The Boy Done Good(ish)

How good was this match? Well, if I were to tell you that Stewart Downing was the best player on the pitch by some considerable distance, it should give you some insight as to the technical ability on display. Consider that Downing's skill set extends to having a left foot and being able to breathe without a ventilator, and it becomes easier to visualise just how awful everyone else was on Saturday.

Perhaps at the end of the season we will look back on this game and pinpoint Ilunga's goal as a turning point, but with a tricky replay quickly followed by a prospective quarter final at Everton you would have to say that this was a great opportunity blown.

3. The Statistics

The longer this game went on, the more it felt like a truly typical West Ham cup game. As in, we were screwing it up royally. It felt like we should be winning and yet everything bar the possession statistics showed this to be a pretty even contest, with both teams having 14 shots, of which 8 were on target.

On another day Afonso Alves might have scored a hat trick, although that other day would have to be one whereby Afonso Alves sold his soul in exchange for some footballing talent. (At this point I would ordinarily comment that paying £12m for a guy who had only previously scored goals in Holland was a monumentally stupid idea, but I slagged off Edwin van der Sar last week and got called a racist so I won't go there for fear of being hauled to Nuremberg). Of Boro's 14 efforts he had precisely half, and none of them were even half precise.

Even more distressing was the fact that per the ESPN Gamecast we had some 60% of the ball, but were distinctly unable to do much with it bar a 5 minute period before half time that culminated with Jack Collison paying homage to Alves and blazing the ball over from all of 3 yards out.

And while we're not on the subject, allowing Stewart Downing to score against them has literally been an impossible task for every other fucking team who have played against Middlesbrough this year.

4. The Opposition

Regular readers of this column will know that Middlesbrough are regular winners of our annual "Worst Opposition Team" award, and indeed very comfortable winners at that. Now this season may be a bit more difficult to predict as they would pretty much need to set fire to the stadium to wrestle the title away from current hot favourites Stoke City, but I have every faith in their enduring shittiness.

However, in the end they actually played reasonably well in this fixture and on another more Faustian day, Alves may have won the game for them.

Gareth Southgate's tactics were pretty sensible, as he flooded the midfield, played narrowly and dared us to use the forgotten wings of Upton Park. In turn, Downing was drifting around and causing us lots of problems, assisted ably by the lack of impact from our Behramiless midfield.

I'm not going to compare us to Arsenal for a minute, but it's interesting that this is more or less the same tactic that we used to subdue them at The Emirates. Now, clearly we aren't in their league (figuratively) but if we continue our recent renaissance I suppose we might see a few more teams adopt this kind of approach at our place. Alternatively, we could make a vow never to be this execrable again, thereby ensuring that my eyes remain ungouged for the rest of this season.

5. The Referee

As nothing even remotely interesting happened in this game I suppose one should expect the referee to be decent. That said, I thought Peter Walton was consistent and allowed the game to flow nicely.

Congratulations Peter and have a lovely week.

6. The Case For The Defence

Neill, Collins and Upson spring into action as Stewart Downing stoops to head his goal.

I'm struggling to think of ways that we could have defended their goal any worse. Perhaps Matthew Upson could have contracted yellow fever as the cross came in, possibly Lucas Neill could have dislocated his brain attempting to clear the ball - I dunno, but it was pretty bad.

I don't think I'll attempt to describe James Collins' attempted clearance as it just hurts my fingers.

7. I Don't Want To Say I Told You So. But I Told You So

And so the worst happened. Carlton Cole, our new talisman, got himself injured and left us with the unholy trinity of Di Michele, Tristan and Sears labouring away up front.

An hour of watching these three not running rings around large plasticine statue David Wheater hasn't convinced me that our future is safe in their hands. Sure, the Club might be trumpeting the fact that Dean Ashton's corpse has been exhumed and will be ready for action again next year but this cannot possibly be enough to plug the hole in the long term, and obviously not in the short term.

I'm liking the look of Savio, but he doesn't appear to be any more of a replacement for Cole than I am.

We'll struggle through, no doubt, but I could do without Di Michele channelling Mike Newell again any time soon.

8. Simile Adventures

Is it just me or is allowing Stewart Downing to score a goal against you a bit like letting your washing machine beat you at chess?

9. Luis Boa Morte Footwear Update...

...is cancelled this week because Gianfranco Zola made me feel bad. For the first time, our little bundle of goodness expressed dissatisfaction about something. This time it was the ground wide booing of Boa Morte as he left the field with an injury.

Now don't splutter your coffee everywhere, but he does have a point. I've said a few times that the notion of physically yelling out the word "Boo" at another man doesn't really seem like a sensible way to articulate anything but I suppose we have to accept that a paying customer has the right to do it. But as with the abuse of Christian Dailly a few years ago I just don't understand what it is supposed to achieve.

Sure, Boa Morte was a waste of money, but blame Curbishley for the nonsensical fee. Yes, he often appears to play games whilst wearing skis, but also acknowledge the effort he puts in.

The most common answer as to why people boo seems to be "It makes them play better..". Well, go back over the past two years and watch Boa Morte's performances and then tell me that's still true.

Of course, if you want to boo Michael Dawson, well that would be quite alright...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

West Ham United vs Middlesbrough: Match Preview - FA Cup 5th Round - 14/02/2009

1. Beaten But Unbowed

Sunday’s defeat to Man United, while not increasing our points tally, did provide us with another competent performance and no qualms about the efforts of the team, nor approach of the management.

While Rob Green had little to do, United’s quality shone through in the end and if you’re going to go down to the champions, better to succumb to their best available team and to a goal from the distinguished Scholes-Giggs axis.

We lacked the requisite cutting edge upfront to unlock a classy defence, but thankfully for us, this weekend we face permeable defenders such as Chris Riggott and Emanuel Pogatetz.

2. Opposition

This Saturday we take on the lamentable Middlesbrough in the 5th round of the FA Cup. A home tie against this paltry bunch provides us with a great opportunity to progress to the Quarter-Finals and from there, who knows?

At the start of the season, ‘Boro boss Gareth Southgate assured fans that he would implement a more attacking style in a bid to entertain the dozen or so die-hards who bother to turn up at The Riverside each week.

This policy is obviously an abject failure and the brevity of its application before being ousted in favour of survival-at-all-(aesthetic)costs, a damning indictment on this pox of a team. Middlesbrough remain as tedious as ever and are long overdue a visit to The Championship.

While one can applaud Southgate’s intentions, the quality to realise his dream has been lacking from Teeside for some time. Not since Juninho has there been a genuinely exciting player at The Riverside, and how long ago was that?

(In answer, initially in 1995 and again in 2002.)

‘Boro are on a nightmarish run of late, having won just two of their last 15 matches in all competitions, and both of those coming in the FA Cup against lower league opposition (Barrow and Wolves).

A stunted if sensible budget is one hurdle to the acquisition of real quality, as is the tricky task of selling Middlesbrough as both a club and somewhere to live, but Gareth Southgate’s comical hindrance of a nose to (a) conversation, (b) self-composure and (c) the canteen, must also prove a stumbling block.

Middlesbrough improved against Man City last week and to presume victory is to set ourselves up for a fall. They'll view this game as a great opportunity to kick-start the battle to avoid relegation, but we've got to fancy our chances.

Elsewhere, Stewart Downing is hugely overrated, having accrued one performance of note in his career to date during a recent outing for England in Germany. There hasn’t been a bigger left-sided disappointment since Josef Stalin.

3. History

We did of course beat Middlesbrough in the semi final in 2006, en route to the Millennium Stadium after Marlon Harewood battered in a 2nd half winner, so you can read good omens into that should you wish.

I watched that game on a giant screen in a Sydney casino in the small hours, surrounded by huge stacks of chips - potato chips, obviously.

It is interesting to note that Middlesbrough have gone out of the Cup to the eventual runners-up in each of the last four years, which I can’t decide is a good or a bad thing.

4. True Story

I googled 'Gareth Southgate's nose' and this came up:

You've gotta love the internet.

5. Roman Had His Phil

The week’s big headlines constituted the sacking of Big Phil Scolari from Chelsea, making it three managers in a year for the west London club.

As the news was announced, immediate efforts were made to unsettle our own management team as Gianfranco Zola and Steve Clarke were installed as favourites to take over at Stamford Bridge.

More plausible targets Frank Rijkaard and Guus Hiddink later emerged on the back pages and Hiddink has now taken over until the end of this season whilst maintaining control of the Russian national side.

In their ruthless pursuit of success, Chelsea have turned their manager’s seat into something of a poisoned chalice. Jose Mourinho’s taste for a hefty pay-off prevented him leaving sooner, but the writing was on the wall once Avram Grant was appointed as Director of Football and Andrei Shevchenko arrived at the behest of the owner and not the manager.

Avram Grant was only ever a stop-gap and found it hard to divide his time effectively between Stamford Bridge and Toad Hall, but the shedding of Scolari, a proven winner, is a surprise to many. Any portrayal of Scolari as unfit for the job or somehow out of his depth is laughable.

This move has acted to expose Chelsea for what they really are – a billionaire’s plaything and no more. Intermittent success has come at the expense of soul and credibility and any manager eyeing a move to the Bridge knows that all their decisions are subject to approval from the very top.

Ask Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, Carlo Ancelotti, Barry Fry or ‘Jossy’ Blair of the Glipton Giants, and they will all tell you that continuity is key in management.

Roman Ambramovich’s impatience for success cuts through reason like a Siberian gale, stripping away the fa├žade that Chelsea are a competently run football club. And I love it.

6. Cup Contenders

At the risk of putting the kibosh on Saturday afternoon, I sense a great opportunity this season for a memorable Cup run.

Having already gracefully pirouetted potential banana skins Barnsley at home and Hartlepool United away, ‘Boro provide our first debatably top-flight test.

With Man United sure to put the FA Cup behind the Premiership and Champions League on their list of priorities and Chelsea’s proclivity for self-harm increasing by the day, the remaining contenders are all beatable in a one-off encounter.

Once you reach the Quarter-Finals, anything is possible and with this year’s semis being (contentiously) held at Wembley, a day out at the national stadium is a realistic prospect for us all.

7. Internazionale

Wednesday night saw England travel to Spain for an international friendly, losing 2-0 to the European Champions.

A goal in either half proved England’s undoing, a game notable for Carlton Cole’s international debut as he came on in the second half.

Cole came closest for England, having an effort cleared off the line, and Robert Green and Matthew Upson both made 2nd half appearances in a raft of halftime changes by Fabio Capello.

Essentially this game served as a timely reminder that England are some way from the upper reaches of international football, as the diminutive but technically superior Spaniards toyed with us for much of the match.

This fixture also saw David Beckham equal Bobby Moore’s record for international caps won by an outfield player, with 108.

Before anyone rides the wave of celebrity to an illogical conclusion, the inflexible, cold statistics tell us that Bobby Moore started and finished all 108 of his England appearances, whereas Beckham has started 99 and completed just 54 full matches.

Anyone who tells you that Beckham now holds a rightful place alongside Moore in football’s pantheon is the type of person who gets their political insight from Heat Magazine.

8. Squad Formation

Zola seems to have settled on his favoured starting line-up, naming the same 11 players for our last four games.

Rob Green is showing he is the ‘keeper we’ve been harping on about for so long and Collins and Upson have formed what could be considered the best centre-back pairing in the league behind Ferdinand and Vidic.

They make an effective unit – Green solid and reliable (bar Bolton), Upson an astute defender, competent on the deck and Collins willing to hurl himself at most anything. Both central defenders are dominant in the air and the only thing lacking from them is their share of goals.

Scott Parker has been our best player in recent weeks and is showing the consistency that seemed so elusive in his first year at the club. Behrami’s work-rate demands a place in the side.

Young-guns Jack Collison and Mark Noble have taken the opportunity to cement their first team credentials, although Mark Noble needs to push on if he is to fulfil his early promise.

Upfront, Carlton Cole makes a passable impression that he is at least partially aware of his surroundings and David Di Michele has learnt how to put in the graft and make himself available. Both have provided a decent return on goals scored this season and one hopes that the mantle which now rests largely on their shoulders does not prove too heavy.

9. Sub-Standard

Savio has had a panoramic introduction to Premiership life, starting as he did with our domination of Hull City, then coming on at the Emirates and at home to Man Utd.

While making a competent if unspectacular start and with it being too early to make any informed judgement on our £9million investment, the young attacker still has to adjust to the pace of the Premier League.

That he was tracked and dispossessed by Dimitar Berbatov on Sunday speaks for itself. This is English top-flight football, not Italian 2nd division – no time to pause for a cappuccino and change of government here.

10. Ashton's Ankle Odyssey

Yet another operation on Dean Ashton's ankle is reported to have gone well, with the striker touted as making a return some time in the 23rd century.

West Ham's medical team are doing everything they can to aid Dean's recovery and the big striker has swelled the ranks of experts, appointing his own personal fitness guru.

Monday, February 09, 2009

West Ham 0 - 1 Manchester United (And Other Ramblings)

1. Getting Tickled To Death By A Scorpion

If you had said to me that the chance for us to gain any points from this game would be dependent upon Ryan Giggs' ability to hit a right foot shot past Robert Green from the edge of our box - well, I probably would have taken those odds.

The man has now scored for the 17th consecutive Premier League season which makes me feel old and I'm only 30. Which is pretty young. A-hem.

All the above being true, Ryan Giggs last scored with his right foot when we had a Conservative government. And now my spleen hurts.

2. Department Of Silver Linings

I am much more interested in Premiership points than silver linings, but one tends to try and seek out the latter when the former are elusive.

It is a decent measure of our progress, that there were prevalent feelings of dissatisfaction around the Boleyn at this result. A draw wouldn't have been a terribly unfair outcome, but in the end a narrow, fortuitous victory for the visitors was probably about right.

Truthfully, I was actually a little disappointed with our performance, as we lacked the attacking threat required to trouble a defence as good as this one. Much like our trip to The Emirates, we were defensively impressive, but we lack the cutting edge required to slice open very well organised sides. Di Michele is fine against the likes of Hull and Stoke, but here against Vidic and Rio he looked like a little boy trying to keep up with his big brothers.

Cole was hard working and could have scored in the first half, but it's hard not to be concerned about this being the possible end of his purple patch. Still, Dyer and Ashton are - *thud* (head slams against desk - loses will to type any more).

3. The Statistics

Per the ever trusty ESPN GameCast this was a closely contested match, albeit one where the visitors had a clear edge. According to them we had 47% of the ball, whilst United had 54%, which is impressive both literally and mathematically.

Strangely both sides mustered just three attempts on goal despite having no fewer than 34 goal efforts between them. Somewhat worryingly, our most potent attacking threat was Lucas Neill who displayed surprisingly attacking intent considering that he was supposed to be marking Cristiano Ronaldo at the time. However, such was the excellent double up job done by Behrami and Neill that he wasn't actually required to do all that much defending, and by the end I think you could actually spot a tear trickling down the Portugeezers face.

Elsewhere Dimitar Berbatov had one shot at goal. Man, he is one lazy bastard.

4. This Interruption Is Sponsored By The Department Of Incredulity

So I'm writing this as I watch England's midnight adventures in Seville. When I see this...

Phil Jagielka. Starting for England? Seriously, was there a radio phone competition that I missed? Could I have entered and got myself an England cap? Holy Moly - and people were moaning about Carlton Cole getting a game.

5. The Opposition

It's really not all that earth shattering, but Manchester United are quite good. Even without Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov's cognitive functions they still managed to win this game at a bit of a canter, relying on their awesome defence to prevent anything very much exciting happening in the last third of the pitch.

Nemanja Vidic seems likely to win the Player of the Year award (Fergie has decreed it, so it will definitely happen), which would really be a testimony to his ability to commit hundreds of fouls without punishment. I'm not saying he's not a worthy recipient, but blimey, he does like a body check or seven.

Elsewhere, Carlos Tevez looks like he needs to come home which, considering he is from the slums of Buenos Aires, means Chigwell - obviously.

6. The Referee

Gave them everything. His only blemish was not awarding a penalty to Ronaldo in the closing minutes, quite possibly because it wasn't the box, or maybe even because Ronaldo fell over like he was in anaphylactic shock.

This is not to say that the refereeing had a tangible effect on the outcome of this game, because I refuse to accept that the only difference between us and Manchester United is interpretation of the laws, but I think it a lot easier to win titles when the vast majority of decisions go your way.

There is a counter argument here that says better teams will always get more free kicks because their players are more likely to be fouled due to their superior skill and greater possession. But you won't find that kind of logic on this blog my friend so let's just skip right along.

7. Department Of Incredulity Redux

Phil Jagielka just gave the ball away, before corkscrewing himself in to the ground as David Villa took the mickey out of him for Spain's opening goal.

The only way the lad could be more out of his depth would be if he were wrapped in lead and dumped off Blackfriars Bridge into the Thames.

8. Cole Patrol

I do have a slight bone to pick with Carlton about this match. He had our best, and arguably only, chance when he ran through on to a Noble through ball, and for reasons that escape me decided to try and chip Edwin van der Sar from a fairly acute angle.

Now van der Sar always struck me as a bit of an arrogant schmuck but there is no denying that he is extremely tall. And I mean "bangs his head on chandeliers" tall. The guy is way over six foot, and pretty decent too.

So why would you try and chip him? I appreciate the confidence that Cole has now, and I like the hard work he has clearly done to turn things around, but that wasn't the wisest choice he'll ever make.

9. A Noble View

I am perplexed at the demise of Mark Noble. Two seasons ago he was instrumental in keeping us up, as he displayed the best form of his life alongside Reo-Coker and Tevez. Now, in an advanced position ahead of the continuously excellent Scott Parker he is beginning to look like a lost child.

He is doubtless a very neat and tidy technical player, and his commitment can never be faulted but whilst our midfield has been garnering widespread acclaim, there can be little argument that Noble hasn't been at his best. I'm not sure if it's the positional switch, or impending fatherhood (his girlfriend will be in the "nesting" stage now which is heavy on both the back and the wallet).

There has also been a proportional drop in the number of high fives being thrown around, which probably explains a lot.

Still, it's a bit of a mystery that the player who most closely resembles Zola as a player is the one who appears to be benefitting least from his coaching, whilst the player who is like Zola in the same way that I am like a watering can (Carlton Cole) simply cannot stop improving. Ho hum.

10. Luis Boa Morte Footwear Update

Sadly Luis was kept off the pitch on Sunday, probably by virtue of the Trades Description Act, so instead here is a picture of Lucas Neill in the middle of a sandwich.

Gone on, admit it. There is quite a large part of you wondering just what in the holy hell is going on in this photograph...

Thursday, February 05, 2009

West Ham United vs Manchester United: Match Preview - 08/02/2009

1. Opposition

Let’s face it, Manchester United are formidable and likely to be the best team we face this year. They are the most well-equipped outfit in the league and seemingly nailed-on for the title.

Manager Sir Alex Ferguson continues to strengthen and we are continually taunted as former-Hammers contribute meaningfully, with Rio Ferdinand established as captain and Michael Carrick outstanding in recent weeks.

The acquisition of Dimitar Berbatov from tottenham in the summer has proven to be another good piece of business, with the new Number 9 among the goals and showing why he is in that exclusive £30million bracket.

Earlier this season Berbatov made James Collins look as redundant as Sol Campbell's girlfriend in setting up United’s second goal during their 2-0 win at Old Trafford, and it would be good to see our in-form Welshman give the lithe Bulgarian a clump early doors.

I could go on about United’s wealth of resources, the resurgence of forever-young Ryan Giggs, Ronaldo’s 14-goals this season, the impenetrable Ferdinand-Vidic axis, the shrewd football of Paul Scholes, the emerging defensive Fabio twins, their ridiculous subs bench, the fact that Rooney, Ronaldo, Berbatov and Tevez have already scored 10 more goals between them this season than our entire squad, and on and on and on… but I don’t want you to get too down before kick-off.

Go on, cheer yourselves up with this:

2.January Sale

Calum Davenport got his move to Sunderland on loan until the end of the season, and the predicted ‘2-for-1’ offers on all West Ham staff never came to fruition.

As the curtain comes down on this particular window, I think we can be generally satisfied with the business conducted. The Board and management have successfully rebuffed offers for the players we want to keep whilst trimming the squad and wage bill as was necessary.

As most of the departures were Curbishley signings, they were likely all big earners and the exit of a few enabled us to substitute quantity for quality (Craig Bellamy notwithstanding, but we can get back to hating him now) with a couple of new arrivals.

tottenham continued their revolving door policy by re-signing Robbie Keane after his disastrous six months at Liverpool and Andrei Arshavin’s proposed move to Arsenal finally went through about 10 minutes ago, meaning both players will be eligible for Sunday’s north London derby, the appetiser to our match.

Wigan are sure to put Charles Insomnia to sleep with their brand of football and Manchester City further depleted Newcastle’s squad by taking Shay Given off their hands whilst sending disappointing Brazilian striker Jo on loan to Everton.

Long-time Mark Hughes target Roque Santa Cruz remained at Blackburn, unable to move whilst entranced by Sam Allardyce’s flabby jowls.

At least now we can rest in the knowledge that the remaining squad members want to play for us and won't be angling for a move any time soon.

3. Sur-Real Madrid

Undoubtedly the most bizarre piece of business in January was the loan signing of Julien Faubert by Spanish aristocrats, Real Madrid.

The strangest thing about this deal is not even that Real decided to relieve us of Faubert’s inability to cross the ball (which in itself is astounding), but that they were willing to pay us £1.5million for the privilege.

The ‘galacticos’ experiment which brought so many luminaries to the Bernabeu at the turn of the century must now seem as distant to Real fans as the stars themselves. Julien may well be better suited to the slower pace of La Liga and go on to prove himself a competent international, but it's a hell of a drop from Figo to Faubert.

Juande Ramos’ exposure to tottenham’s chronically unrealistic expectations has obviously had an effect on his cerebral capacity.

4. History

Last year’s corresponding fixture was arguably the highlight of the season.

Firstly, it saw the return to Upton Park of Pope Carlos Tevez. The little Argentine rightfully receiving a fantastic reception and appearing so taken aback by his welcome that it threw him off his game.

Secondly, we got to see some great football from United in the first half, culminating in Cristiano Ronaldo’s opening headed goal, an incisive and high speed counter attack with all the hallmarks of Manchester United at their free-flowing best.

Early in the second half, things began to turn in our favour as Ronaldo conspired to thrash his penalty wide of the post, spurning the chance to put the game beyond us. From then on, West Ham came increasingly to the fore, particularly with the introduction of King John Paintsil, who gave us a marauding quality fuelled by his enthusiastic abandon.

This was Paintsil’s finest moment in a West Ham shirt bar kicking Reo-Coker all over the pitch on the last day of last season, as his rabid gusto won us both the free-kick and corner from which Anton Ferdinand equalised and Matthew Upson got the winner.

Traditionally, we tend to do quite well against Man U at Upton Park and often make a good fist of it, despite us having dropped more Premiership points to United than any other team.

As we are currently the two form teams in the league and with both sides traditionally having an emphasis on attack, this game has the ingredients of an entertaining afternoon.

5. Master And Apprentice

Sunday will see our own young pretender, Gianfranco Zola, pit himself against the game’s elder statesman in Sir Alex Ferguson.

Ferguson is the one constant at the top of the Premier League since its inception, continually challenging for honours while others suffer a malaise (Wenger), get sacked (Mourinho) or go mental (Keegan).

Zola’s style and tactics have borne fruit these last few weeks and Steve Clarke’s contribution is there for all to see in much-improved defensive cohesion.

However, substitutions are one area where I have found our popular little Italian monkey a little underwhelming thus far. While his preparation and tactics are generally good, I am yet to see him make an inventive or inspired substitution in his four months at the helm.

While it’s obvious that Franco doesn’t have the resources of Ferguson, the one thing lacking from his management so far would be the ability to change the game from the bench.

One would’ve thought that the sheer chaos unfurled from Boa Morte’s curious choice of footwear would have an effect, but the Portuguese pill-popper is disappointingly yet to respond to my media campaign.

6. Case For The Defence

Traditionally, Man Utd are all about scoring goals, but more recently it has been their defensive efforts which have caught the eye.

A new Premiership record of 12 consecutive clean sheets has enabled them to grind out eight 1-0 wins this season.

Despite all these ominous statistics and United’s form, I still fancy us to score on Sunday. A ridiculous declaration given our attacking impotence against Arsenal, but if Katie ‘Jordan’ Price can become a best-selling novelist, then I’m willing to believe that anything is possible.

As for ourselves, whereas we were disappointing in our use of the ball at The Emirates, defensively we were sound. For all their possession, Arsenal fashioned only a couple of genuine chances and were routinely denied possession when they got down the business end of the pitch.

Collins and Upson were exceptional in their steadfastness whereas Parker and Behrami’s continual harassment of the opposition was excellent. It will take a similar effort on Sunday to compete with the Champions, but hopefully with a bit more attacking continuity thrown in.

7. Picture Book

Lucas Neill thinks, 'I hope he scores on Sunday so I can have a nibble on those shoulders. Note to self: remember the Tartare Sauce.'

8. The Govan-er

Unfortunately we are unlikely to see a re-enactment of 'Pardew vs Wenger' on the sidelines this weekend. Alex Ferguson should keep his fiery touchline temper in check as everyone’s favourite Sardinian simian is just too damn nice to argue with.

The Scot does seem to enjoy a red-faced barney with Wenger, Moyes, Hughes, linesmen, the 4th official, The Hague, Britain’s confused economic policy or anyone within barking distance.

I am particularly put in mind of the time he took umbrage with the BBC over allegations that his son was a cheating, nepotistic, untrustworthy lay-about with his pockets stuffed full of other people’s cash funnelled through his father’s office.

I haven’t seen anyone that angry since Pat Butcher woke to find Dean Ashton up to his elbows in her Garibaldis.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

It's That Time Of Year

Yes folks, it's the New Year so we'll be asking you to vote for us in some online awards that we have no possible chance of winning. First up then - the Football Fans Census.

You can nominate us in the Best Blog and Best Writer(s) section. We're as likely to win as Julien Faubert is to sign for Real Madrid....Still. Can't. Believe. That.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Arsenal 0 - 0 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

1. When Is A Battering Not A Battering?

As I was sledding to work this morning, sporting an uber fashionable black suit/brown hiking boots combination, I was pondering that question.

One might say that if Saturday's game was a boxing match then it would have ended up as a murder investigation. Except, actually, it wouldn't.

If it is at all possible for a side to be comfortable in a game where they mustered only two attempts at goal, then I suppose that this was probably it. Now, I'm not saying we were the better side, or we deserved to win, or that Arsenal fans make noise, but whenever Arsene Wenger doesn't have a king sized whinge after a home draw, then you know something odd has happened.

2. Just Because It Made Me Laugh

"Body language for dummies. Aren't they a lovely couple."

3. The Statistics

Well, we've touched on this a little already but it doesn't make great aesthetic reading if you're a Hammer. Certainly the home side were marginally better in terms of creating chances, mustering an impressive twenty two(!) to our ever so slightly less impressive two. Tellingly, however, only 3 of those Arsenal efforts troubled Robert Green, which either signifies that our defence is pretty decent or that Nicklas Bendtner should consider a career change.

Elsewhere, Kolo Toure had twice as many shots as our entire team and we managed only 37% possession, which is roughly what you expect the ball boys to have. In years gone by we would have lost this game 8-0.

4. The Opposition

No matter what Arsene Wenger might tell you, there is little chance of this Arsenal team contending for the League. Admittedly they had a number of influential players missing from their lineup, but the omission of van Persie from this fixture was Wenger tacitly acknowledging that his priorities now lie elsewhere.

I was impressed by a couple of their lesser lights, especially Abou Diaby, who in a former life might very well have been described on these pages as "being made entirely of pasta", or maybe that was Lassana Diarra but either way I'm a fine judge of a player.

To my (sort of) neutral eye, I would say that Arsenal are full of lots of very good players but none who could arguably be described as the best in the Premiership at their position. Fabregas is (*grits teeth*) excellent, but I think I'd prefer Gerrard, Adebayor is formidable but he doesn't inspire fear like Torres or Thierry Henry in his pomp. They're missing a bit of the old swagger, and whilst I'm not lamenting that fact, I suppose I have to grudgingly admit that I'd rather watch Arsenal play than either Liverpool or Chelsea.

5. The Referee

This game contained nothing so coarse as tackling, so Steve Bennett didn't have huge amounts to do. The fouls were even at 13 each, which owed quite a lot to Savio coming on and getting kicked about a bit, which will happen to 12 year olds in this league.

Seriously, this game was too pedestrian for any kind of incident.

6. Our Attacking Prowess

As we only had two goal attempts, they can have their own section. The first was a header from James Collins, who really should score more goals than the zero that he currently contributes, which was cleared off the line in a thoroughly undramatic fashion.

Later, Carlton Cole turned and hit a twenty yard shot that Manuel Almunia could have saved whilst unconscious.

On second thoughts that wasn't worthy of a section at all.

7. The Curious Case Of Julien Faubert

Julien Faubert has moved to Real Madrid. Seriously, Mrs Shark just picked me up off the floor and repositioned me in front of my laptop (she's expecting another child, but exercise is good for heavily pregnant women).

I'm going to say it again. Julien. Faubert. Has. Joined. Real. Madrid.

I think Alfredo di Stefano has captured my mood fairly well. He's on the right, in case you're unsure.

7. Broken Window

As February 1 mercifully arrived with a swathe of "Sky Sports News understands..." type headlines plucked from thin air. The Club and others have been congratulating themselves for getting through the window relatively unscathed, and within the confines of the new "Football Project".

Except that I'm not seeing anything that's overly different about this January than anything we've done in the past. We sold a leading player, and replaced him with a cheaper, unproven alternative. Profit was made and not reinvested. I have little visibility or understanding of the clubs financial position, and therefore perhaps the moves made this January will save the club from administration or further asset stripping further down the line.

The bottom line is this though. We have raked in £40m in fees since the summer and only £15m has gone out on new arrivals. Doubtless, there has had to be some accounting for the Freddie Ljungberg benevolent fund, and an allowance made for the possible settlement with the fairness obsessed Sheffield United, but still there appears to have been a decent chunk of money brought in to the club. As a supporter, this doesn't interest me in the slightest as the club will never use that money to freeze the price of my season ticket or install any flashy new amenities like toilets that don't flood, so why do I care about their profit. I only care that we are still a Carlton Cole injury away from a very bad situation.

8. Have You Seen My Ghost?

Elsewhere, any adult male at the club who could play in a midfield role was packaged up and moved on, safe in the knowledge that Jonathan Spector is now recovered from injury and can cover all 11 positions and remove the need for substitutes, reserve teams, youth academies or civil servants.

It's nice to have him back.

9. Luis Boa Morte Footwear Update

Dear old Luis came on for a late run around, and didn't set off any unexploded WW2 bombs in the process. He displayed all the skills we have come to expect of him, which is to say none at all, and all the effort too, which was quite a lot.

I sincerely believe he would have been better off had he not been wearing these though...