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

Thursday, May 21, 2009

West Ham vs Middlesbrough: Match Preview - 24/05/2009

1. Opposition

Middlesbrough have lived a charmed life over the last few years and are overdue a spell in the lower leagues.

Gareth Southgate’s controversial appointment as manager in lieu of formal UEFA accreditation has backfired and the twelve people who regularly attend the Riverside have recently roused sufficient consciousness to vent their disapproval.

Southgate vowed a more attacking approach this season, but those aspirations have floundered on the twin rocks of ineptitude and investing both your hopes and £12million in Alfonso Alves.

Turkish hitman Tuncay Sanli has been the only Boro player to fire the imagination this season and will be the target of several Premiership clubs should Boro go down.

Stewart Downing sustained a serious injury against Villa that will keep him on the sidelines for some months, potentially jeopardise a move away from The Riverside. Gutted.

2. Death Throes

It is fairly unusual for so much to be left undecided going into the season’s final fixture and while European qualification is now beyond us, we still have a part to play.

Any of the North East triumvirate of tedium could still be relegated along with doomed West Brom, and Hull City remain in danger.

All candidates face tricky fixtures on final day (with the arguable exception of Middlesbrough) and some have missed the boat in terms of actively shaping their own destiny.

Hull and Sunderland are the only two sides whose fate remains in their own hands, although Hull have a tough fixture at home to Champions Manchester United and Sunderland host Chelsea.

Newcastle visit Villa Park and depressingly, it wouldn’t surprise me were they to emerge as this year’s unlikely escapees, despite the odds being largely stacked against them.

An away win alone is not enough to secure survival for Boro and they are dependent on both Newcastle and Hull losing as well as redressing a current minus 4 goal difference relative to Hull City.

3. Picture Book

Gareth Southgate unveils Australia's new bushfire early warning system.

4. History

Fortune has presented us with the opportunity of condemning Middlesbrough to relegation and a minimum sentence of one year’s hard labour in The Championship.

In recent seasons, Boro have regularly embodied the most lacklustre outfit to visit Upton Park and we can strike the coup de grâce to their 11-year Premier League occupancy if we take anything out of this game.

Historically, Boro's trips to east London have worked well for us as we have claimed eight wins and two draws from the previous eleven encounters at Upton Park.

You wouldn’t know it this season however. We’ve already played Boro three times claiming a point away in the League before a disappointing 1-1 draw at home in the FA Cup and a worse 2-0 away defeat in the replay.

Getting back to the positive, we haven’t been beaten on the final day of the season since 2001 – cosmically, the last team to do so was Middlesbrough.

5. Eurovision

Recent results against Merseyside’s finest have put the kibosh on our hopes of an appearance in the inaugural Europa Leage.While we’re out of the race, it remains close with Fulham in pole position after excellent results against Villa and Newcastle.

Fulham are deserving of a place in the new competition, if only to see ex-Hammers Paul Konchesky, Bobby Z and King John Paintsil display their varying degrees of perplexing dexterity on the European stage.

Their participation would also be just reward for manager Woy Hodgson who, after a relegation escape last year to rival our own of the previous season, gets my vote for Manager of the Year.

6. Positive Propulsion

The concealed blessing contained within our failure to secure Europa League qualification is that the management team can focus solely on next season’s domestic campaign.

A few big name players will be offered improved contracts in the summer and it will be interesting to see who ties their flags to Zola’s mast and who jumps ship for monetary gain dressed up as the chance to play in Europe. I’m looking at you, Lucas Neill.

In terms of new additions, we are obviously in need of a consistently reliable striker who is not liable to set himself on fire at any given moment.

David DiMichele has had his all-too-fleeting moments, but at 32 will not improve upon his current form.

Diego Tristan’s charred remains are unlikely to act as a consistently potent goal threat, but can act as a wonderfully nutrient-rich compost for the malnourished turf of the Boleyn over the summer months.

Dean Ashton’s return is likely to be just another frustrating glimpse of what could be, before he turns his ankle tripping over our diminutive manager in October and misses the remainder of the season.

A creative element in midfield would also improve us. The signing of Savio along with Zola’s commitment to youth intimates that an experienced midfielder in a creative mould would serve us better than another bag of potential.

Kieron Dyer could well be that player. But I’m willing to bet that he’s equally likely to be the first person in the UK to die of swine flu.

7. Picture Book

LN: 'You earned loads of money and had a great time in Athens right, Ian?'

IT: 'Get away from me until you can grow a proper beard.'

8. The Bigger Picture

So what can we take from this season? Satisfaction? Optimism for a future under the tutelage of Zola and Clarke? An entrenched aversion to ceaseless Court cases?

Back in August 2008, I think most West Ham fans would have sacrificed a top half finish via Curbishley’s brand of anti-football if the alternative were entertainment.

One sacking and one global economic meltdown later and we have been left with both, although wearily this is likely to be another season remembered for off the field indiscretions.

The turmoil swirling around the club has been tempered since January and for that the management team and evil genius Scott Duxbury can take credit.

In October, with Zola having lost four of his first five games in charge, things looked bleak, but the cheery Italian has turned things around. For the first time in quite some time, we appear to have a squad who really want to play for their manager.

An unerring sense of déjà vu accompanies the summer break as for the third year in a row, the prospect of a new season heralds promising change – but not because of lavish and imprudent spending or the exhumation of Manor Park cemetery for ‘rehabilitated’ summer signings.

Either mild progression or genuine consolidation would do me. The difference being that this will gladly not come at the expense of the club’s traditional aesthetics.

Monday, May 18, 2009

West Ham 0 - 3 Liverpool (And Other Ramblings)

1. I'm Not There

I have been absent for slightly longer than normal. It's no big deal, it just turns out that 3 children take quite a lot of looking after, and contrary to my previous belief - kids above the age of 3 don't just raise themselves.

Anyway, I'm not writing a summary for this game because - well, would you?

After all, it turns out that Steven Gerrard is really quite good and David di Michele really isn't...

Here endeth the lesson.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Everton vs West Ham United: Match Preview - 16/05/2009

1. Opposition

Love them or hate them, Everton have done a fine job in securing European football for another season and David Moyes has again proven what a good manager he is.

A third consecutive top six finish plus an FA Cup Final appearance is assured. Combine this with long-term injuries to key-players such as Mikel Arteta and Yakubu, and this constitutes a great campaign for any team outside the top 4.

Bearing in mind their shaky start to the season and the criticism Moyes sustained for not strengthening extensively in the summer, The Toffees can be happy with their lot.

Everton are a aside I can admire and one I think with which West Ham have an affinity – a community-founded team with a tradition of good football and loyal, genuine fans, often cast in the shadow of more illustrious neighbours.

If only Tim Cahill didn’t play for them, I think we would all get along really well. What is it with Cahill? At least our Australian has the good grace to be less annoying than Tim Cahill.

2. Onward Tristan Soldiers

As has been the case before this season, we are currently struggling to find the back of the net relative to the amount of chances created.

Diego Tristan is currently campaigning for an extension to his contract. The previously extinct striker has got a couple of goals of late, but was largely if not entirely absent against Liverpool.

Di Michele spurned our best chance of the weekend by embarrassingly falling to the ground like a pissed ballerina, and together our two forwards made a toothless pair.

Carlton Cole is back in the matchday squad having missed the last eight games after hobbling off injured in England’s 4-0 win over Slovakia back in March. Cole will doubtless feature and there is even a chance he could start as he has undergone a full week’s training.

A genuine physical presence upfront would provide a welcome break from Di Michele’s well-meaning forays and Tristan’s ethereal zombie meanderings.

3. History

By and large, we don’t do well at Goodison Park. Or against Everton generally. Or, as Saturday’s 3-0 loss and an embarrassing FA Cup 3rd round defeat to Tranmere ten years ago illustrate, against any team from the Merseyside area.

In the history of the Premier League, we have only won at Goodison twice, having lost eight times. We’ve been on the wrong end of 6-0 and 5-0 drubbings and escaped with just three draws.

Last season was one of those draws, ending as it did 1-1 and yet producing one of the better away performances of Alan Curbishley’s spell in charge.

James Tomkins hit the bar four minutes into his first team debut before being turned inside out for Yakubu’s opening goal, substitute Freddie Sears terrorised Phil Jagielka, hitting the post in injury time, and Dean Ashton scored a lovely equalising header.

That remains one of my favourite goals from our very own peroxide blonde biscuit barrel, along with this one and how long ago does that seem?

4. Be Still My Twitching Knee

I recently happened to chance upon a copy of The Daily Mail in a canteen, discarded by the tea-lady once it had lost its absorbency.

Buried deep among the balanced reporting of how immigrants are planning on using confused WW2 veterans as a delivery system for a giant cancer bomb they are planning to detonate in your children’s schools, I happened upon an article detailing the results of a recent poll commissioned by Disney.

It was based upon the public’s perception of Britain’s most talented family. The Attenborough’s came top, followed by the McCartneys. Nothing amiss there, you would think.

Nestling at number 9 were the Redknapps. Now hate him or loathe him, but Harry is good at what he does. So far as I am aware he constitutes one member of said family.

Jamie Redknapp is an unequivocal twat.

Sometimes I fear for this country, I really do.

5. Priorities

Saturday’s loss and Fulham’s good form do not bode well for hopes of European qualification, but this could prove no bad thing in the long-term.

I think we would all gladly sacrifice a few jaunts to the Continent if it were to come at the expense of soundly based progress on the domestic front.

The two schools of thought are that either (a) European football will make our current crop of players better for the experience or, (b) could prove a damaging distraction from our meat and potatoes League standing and overstretch an ill-equipped squad.

A happy compromise could be qualification for the Europa League followed by a swift exit after a couple of rounds. Preferably with away fixtures somewhere hot.

That way, the squad gets experience before focusing on the League and we get a couple of Jolly Boys Outings.

6. The Last Line

Up until Steven Gerrard foiled Lucas Neill’s laboured attempt to play him offside in little over a minute, our recent defensive performances had been solid.

Prior to Liverpool’s win, we had conceded just four goals in our previous nine games, going back to the beginning of March.

James Tomkins is providing genuine competition for places and Danny Gabbidon has nearly timed his return from injury perfectly to coincide with the end of the season,

Everton can boast an equally resilient back line however, having recently set a new club record of 16 clean sheets for the season, breaking the prior best of 15 set in the mid-90’s.

No mean feat when you consider that the previous holders also had the irrefutable advantage of Neville Southall in goal, a man whose individual supply of half-time chocolate oranges kept Terry’s in business right through the 80’s.

Friday, May 08, 2009

West Ham United vs Liverpool: Match Preview - 09/04/2009

1. Opposition

This weekend the hallowed plains of Upton Park shall play host to Liverpool, erstwhile kings of English football, but for so long reduced to also-rans.

This season Liverpool have managed to construct a sturdier title challenge, altogether more robust than in recent years where they have petered out by January.

It would take Manchester United to drop 6-points in their remaining four games for Liverpool to win the title this year, but they have provided the champions with their closest challenge in the league.

While things looked promising a few weeks back following Liverpool’s 4-1 demolition of United at Old Trafford, Man U have since found form and characteristic slip-ups against lesser opposition in the middle part of the season would appear to have cost Liverpool once more.

But for all their progress under Rafa Benitez, they remain over-reliant on their two talismans, Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres.

Both players make a strong case for being considered the best in the world in their respective positions, but you can’t say the same with any conviction of any other Liverpool player in regard to the Premier League, let alone the world.

They do have their share of good players and their qualities as a side are self-evident, Jamie Carragher and Xavi Alonso supplementing Gerrard and Torres.

Javier Mascherano is integral to their upsurge and is in line to make his first return to Upton Park since being kept out of our side by the mighty Hayden Mullins, having missed out with injury last time Liverpool were in town.

So it seems that depth of real quality has once again let Liverpool down - not that we are in any position to comment whatsoever as we currently have all the depth of a teaspoon.

2. Relegation Roll-Call

We are fast approaching the time of year when the axe of relegation falls onto the scrawny necks of underperforming clubs, severing the vacuous heads of managerial inadequacy from the ailing body of sub-standard playing staff.

Being well clear of the trouble ourselves, we are able to adopt the pompous and accusatory position usually reserved for Simon Cowell or Mark Lawrenson.

It’s difficult to choose from the contenders, although Newcastle are a given. As are Middlesbrough.

Newcastle have nobody to blame but themselves and the calamitous way in which a couple of seasons in the sun in the mid-90’s has governed the ‘revolving-door’ running of the club ever since.

Middlesbrough are lamentable in every sense bar their Chairman, Steve Gibson. I even think Gareth Southgate is a nice enough bloke, but it looks as if the Fates will have their vengeful way in recompense for the summer of ‘96. That Pizza Hut advert was unforgivable.

West Brom look doomed, but conversely it is they who I would like to see pull off a miracle turn around. Unlikely, as it would take something even more miraculous than our own escape two seasons ago or that of Fulham last year.

In a perfect world I’m torn between the prospect of Sunderland joining Boro and Newcastle in a triple-whammy for the North East ‘hotbed of football’, or the spectacular fall from grace of Hull City.

Hull were most people’s second team a few short months ago, but their disastrous run of picking up just 8 points from their last 20 games puts them in the thick of it.

The law of averages dictated that after such a momentous start, this chronic bad spell was always coming and erratic manager Phil Brown seems utterly powerless to prevent the slide.

With Brown’s increasing cult of personality, perma-tan, ridiculous radio-mic sellotaped to his face and misguided purchase of Jimmy Bullard (whose knee is so obviously being held together with sorbet and damp cornflakes), I confess to having more sympathy with the plight of Phil Spector than that of Hull City.

Either way, there are big games this weekend as Hull host Stoke City and Middlesbrough visit Newcastle.

3. History

In this same fixture last season we picked up our first home win against Liverpool in six attempts, courtesy of a last minute Mark Noble penalty.

It was a deserved victory and one born of a high work-rate throughout the team, something we’ll need again on Saturday.

We have generally been Liverpool’s bitch for many years, not having won at Anfield since 1963 (?!) and last year’s 3-points constituting our only home win against them since the turn of the century.

With the title Man United’s to lose, Liverpool are not yet lacking in motivation as they would still go top were they to win on Saturday. With the prospect of European football enticingly within our reach, both teams have something to play for at this late stage of the season, which could make for an exciting encounter.

4. Eurovision

Will we, won’t we?

The prospect of European football next season is coming evermore tantalisingly into focus.

The various mini-leagues that constitute the Premiership are becoming ever tighter, and none more so than our own particular battle for European qualification.

Saturday’s noteworthy win at Stoke City (only the 4th time they have lost at home all season) was a must if we are to claim what seemed so unlikely back in October.

Middlesbrough’s condemnation to the Championship prior to the final day would do us a favour as our two other remaining fixtures (today’s game and Everton away) are far from bankers.

But, none of those in contention have particularly easy run-ins:

Man City – Man Utd (a), tottenham (h), Bolton (h)

Fulham – Villa (h), Newcastle (a), Everton (a)

tottenham – Everton (a), Man City (h), Liverpool (a)

A demoralised Boro and the seven fans they are sure to bring to the Boleyn would provide a nice fillip should we come unstuck against Merseyside’s finest.

Zola seems to think four points will do it, but I’m not so sure. With Everton having one eye on the FA Cup Final, a point on Saturday followed by a couple of end-of season wins would see us alright.

5. Beauty And The Beast

How joyous it was to watch the hulking Chelsea juggernaut despatched from the Champions League by a balletic Barcelona this week.

Cries of ‘conspiracy’ ring hollow, for as perhaps one of Chelsea’s four penalty shouts was nailed on, so Eric Abidal’s dismissal in the second half for Barcelona was unduly harsh.

Man United vs Barcelona is the final everyone outside of Stamford Bridge and The Emirates wanted to see, and one hopes that it can be contested fairly between the 22 players on the pitch, bereft of any outside influence.

Not least from myself as on Wednesday night whilst watching the game at home, I dropped a chocolate biscuit and Didier Drogba fell over.

Falling only just short of last year’s final for blissful catastrophe, it was good to see the Chelsea players, particularly cry-baby Drogba, take their defeat with all the graceful class of….

….well, I have been searching high and low for a biting and offensive metaphor here, but can do no better than ‘a bunch of Chelsea players’.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Stoke City 0 - 1 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

1. May The Fourth Be With You

This, ladies and gentleman, was a victory for the forces of good and all that is right and holy in the Universe. Stoke are "good" for the Premiership in the same way that Coke is "good" for your teeth.

2. Shocked? I Nearly Bought My Own Drink

"West Ham score direct from a free kick. Just out of shot, Hell is freezing over"

3. The Statistics

Per the ever trusty ESPN Gamecast, Stoke had the ball for just 40% of the time, whilst we had a curious 61% share. This is remarkable not only because it's a huge number but also one that defies the basic laws of mathematics.

Now I don't know how these kinds of statistics are identified, but I'd have to hazard a guess that Stoke never have much by way of possession, purely because whenever they get the ball they launch it into the opposition box from a great height. Most of the time that results in them giving the ball away, and therefore the opposition are always likely to have a greater share of possession.

The pure numbers would show that this game was somewhat even in the sense that Stoke had more goal attempts (12 to 8) but with less on target (2 to our 3). They also had 7 corners whilst we didn't even manage one, but to counter that we had the aforementioned superiority of possession. None of these statistics illustrate particularly well that these two teams were light years removed from each other in terms of quality.

Elsewhere, Diego Tristan had all of our on target goal attempts, which seems remarkable as up until this game I didn't think his legs worked.

4. The Opposition

After our 2-1 home victory against Stoke in December I wrote this . It was posted here and perhaps unsurprisingly was not overly popular with Stoke fans. Now look - I don't much care about that, but I would like to think that despite the obviously biased starting position, I can occasionally make observations that fans on both sides of the aisle can agree with.

To that end I am going to re posit my initial thoughts about Stoke, as detailed in that first column back in December:

This. Is. (Still). Not. Football.

Getting the ball and whacking it into the corner in the hope of forcing a throw in is not football. It's rugby. It's fucking rugby.

Now, I'm all for teams maximising their resources, and being adaptable and using the tools at their disposal, but Stoke have moved far beyond those simple platitudes. This is egregiously offensive stuff. As a paying fan you are simply being told that your enjoyment is secondary to Stoke staying in the division. Now I'm not here to criticise a team for doing whatever they can to survive, but I simply asking if it has to be quite this cynical? I mean, these guys make Bolton look like an Arsene Wenger side, such is the unreconstructed nature of their play.

I don't doubt that Stoke fans will be aggrieved at this, and in some ways I don't blame them, but I couldn't watch this shit every week. We had a brief dalliance with this type of thing with Curbishley and it felt like half the fanbase were ready to turn in their season tickets in protest. The fact that Stoke fans appear to totally disagree with me, is perhaps a reflection that modern day fans will accept pretty much any kind of football so long as it gets them to the Premier League.

One can only hope that second season syndrome hits them hard, as we have quite enough of this crap in the league already.

5. The Referee

If Peter Walton was expecting a tasty game here today he was fairly mistaken. Certainly Stoke weren't shy of using their elbows to do pretty much anything, but by and large it was blood and thunder stuff without an underlying menace.

I thought Boa Morte was somewhat fortunate to get away with a late tackle on Rory Delap but Walton probably thought - "Hey it's Rory Delap - I'd kick the little shit too." As it was, Delap had a little kick back at Boa Morte's backside, which caused the Portuguese to roll around clutching his thigh, at which point Walton just booked them both for being utter tools.

He did also disallow two goals, one for each side, that weren't immediately obviously foul in their inception. Ricardo Fuller jumped into Rob Green for a cross, and I suppose that had a bit of foul play about it, but the di Michele goal appears to have been chalked off merely on the grounds that the referee assumed Tristan and di Michele couldn't possibly do anything good so why not.

Hard to argue with the logic.

6. Goooaaaaaallll!

We don't score much from free kicks. I can recall a couple from Nobby Solano, and a couple from Tevez, but before that I think you'd need to go back to the Tudor era for a West Ham goal scored direct from a set play.

So as Diego Tristan hovered over the ball, with his shaven head bowed, and his corpse rotting into the ground, I didn't expect a great deal. Instead, he strolled up and curled it right into the top corner. It was his third goal for us, and probably the first one that he's actually known anything about.

He has now scored twice against Stoke City this season, which is a sentence that ranks right up there amongst the strangest I have ever written.

7. Kudos

In a match where the sole opposition threat was only ever going to come from aerial raids, it was imperative that our keeper was up to the task. To that end I'd like to commend Rob Green, who was largely untroubled in keeping a clean sheet.

He decided that rather than cowering on his line, he would come charging out for every cross, throw in, chip packet and tsetse fly that arrived in the box. All in all a nice job.

Elsewhere, Lucas Neill was tremendous as he revelled in the chance to kick Matty Etherington up in the air with impunity, whilst single handedly driving us forward at times in the second half. It's fairly hard to say that his recent surge in form isn't related to his contract being up at the end of the season but either way it's been a welcome sight.

8. Positional Nonsense

I still don't understand why Junior Stanislas is playing on the left and Luis Boa Morte is playing on the right. In fact it makes my eyes bleed. Could we please stop it ...