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.

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