1. As I Walk Through The Valley Of The Shadow Of Death...
This is going to be horrific. A Tuesday night visit to Bolton in the cold and rain, to see two purveyors of dross thrashing it out in what is clearly already a relegation encounter.
It’s likely to be as pretty as Andrew Lloyd Webber and you’re liable to need a shot of adrenaline directly into the heart to keep you awake, but for all its foul stench, the importance of this game is beyond dispute.
Bolton Wanderers are the Antichrist. They are rivalled only by Rasputin, Machiavelli and ex-player El-Hadj Diouf as to how low they will stoop to gain an advantage.
Be that as it may, they will be on something of a high having held moneybags Man City to a 3-3 draw at the weekend. Thrice leading, it was only Pope Tevez who restored the aesthetic equilibrium by twice drawing Man City level.
This was an important result, coming as it did on the back of defeats to relegation rivals Wolves and Blackburn, as well as losses to Villa and Chelsea, punctuated only by a draw against Fulham.
Bolton’s sometimes effective, yet never attractive style is embodied by the giant elbow that is Kevin ‘The Giant Elbow’ Davies. For all his elbows, or more accurately because of them, Davies often causes problems for the more delicate defenders, and equally often scores against us.
His lumbering approach belies his scoring record and he must always look forward to playing West Ham as he invariably cites this fixture whenever his contract is up for renewal.
Goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen and midfielder Matthew Taylor are the only other players of note. The fact that nonentity Gavin McCann misses this game through injury is neither of significance nor of interest to anyone outside Gavin McCann, Mrs McCann and their drab, inoffensive, negligible brood of nothingness.
3. Hubble Bubble Toil And Trouble
Bolton’s deficiencies are often negated by their willingness to chase, harry and elbow, and that is bound to be their strategy tonight.
Classy opposition are often able to bide their time, patiently retain possession and probe away until an opportunity presents itself. We are not classy opposition and will therefore need to match Bolton for both physicality and work-rate.
Rob Green has called for ‘grit’ in a bid to turn things around, and part of me would rather see a 2-1 win and a couple of Bolton players in hospital than a graceful 3-0 waltz to victory.
This is one of few chances to accrue any points before the New Year, with Chelsea and tottenham in prospect (Portsmouth the meat in that unsavoury sandwich), so by any means must we claim an unmemorable triumph.
Not since that bloke left Indiana Jones hanging by a vine in the opening sequence of ‘Raiders Of The Lost Ark’, has the pallor of shame hung so visibly across a noble endeavour.
Our record against Bolton is so revolting, so filthy, so immoral that I am forced to type this section on the other side of a Perspex screen, to protect the laptop from the torrent of puke bursting from my mouth.
Make sure you’re near a sink:
We have beaten Bolton just three times in our last fifteen attempts.
Worse still, away from home we have taken a solitary point from a possible thirty.
That’s one draw and nine losses in ten visits.
Our last encounter at the Reebok Stadium was in the Carling Cup earlier this season, where Herita Ilunga’s opener was but a precursor to an extra-time 3-1 defeat. I’m not sure what’s more shameful, the final score or the fact that the home support mustered an attendance of just 8,050.
Yes, the prospect of playing West Ham may not be the biggest crowd-puller, but I’ve seen more people queuing for the checkouts in Lidl.
And yes, there may be little nobility in stealing a precious memento from the home of an indigenous, unsophisticated people in order to satisfy the whims of a more enlightened race, but that is just one of the many parallels between Indiana Jones and tonight’s game.
5. I Want A Good, Clean Fight
Over the last eighteen months transfer windows have been something to avoid as a West Ham fan. Rather than an opportunity to strengthen, they have more closely resembled the grisly final moments of a one-sided boxing match.
We get clubbed with a ferocious right-cross in the closing stages of every bout, the legs go, the eyes glaze over and all those in the corner of the vanquished pray, ‘keep your guard up, grab him, hold on, stay out of trouble ‘til the bell...’
As ever, the best we can hope for is the most corrupt of split decisions, just the one detached retina and no lasting cerebral damage.
6. Transfer Rumours
Our potential losses are of far greater concern than any token recruits.
Remember the time not too long ago when we were being linked with players, instead of resembling a one-stop-shop for any team in trouble?
A rumour that emerged this week has been particularly troubling. The potential loss of Scott Parker (some say to Liverpool in anticipation of ex-Hammer, Javier Mascherano, heading for Barcelona), would surely be the coup de grâce.
7. Tipping Point
If we go down this year and fail to gain promotion within 12-months, we may not see the top tier of English football for some time, a’ la Southampton, Leeds or Leicester.
Even a 12-month resurrection may be fanciful, as relegation is likely to herald the much-prophesised ‘fire-sale’, which has mercifully yet to materialise.
I get the feeling that a variety of factors are combining to forge a perfect storm of conditions, which could see our club founder upon the twin rocks of financial mismanagement and over extension.
I do hope I’m wrong. The next two months will shed significant light on our future.
But, hey, what do I know? Last week I said how I can’t see Parker sharing a midfield with either Kovac or Noble, and on Saturday Zola played all three.
8. Farewell Dean Ashton
Everyone now knows that Dean Ashton has been forced to retire through injury at the age of just 26.
The most effective English centre-forward to play for West Ham since Tony Cottee will now sadly be crammed into the exhaustive Upton Park file, entitled ‘What Might Have Been’.
I’m sure we’ve all put ourselves through the anguish of hypothesising where we could be now with a front line of Cole and Ashton.
Not that he’ll ever read it, but this blog would like to put on public record its gratitude for the fine service of Dean Ashton, and how in his retirement, we wish him all the Custard Creams in Christendom.