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, January 29, 2009

West Ham 2 - 0 Hull City (And Other Ramblings)

1. Lucky To Get Nil

By half time alone, we'd scored once, hit the post twice, missed a penalty and invented the word "squanderosity". I'd say we edged it.

Hull were absolutely, criminally terrible though.

2. Atmospheric Pressure

In the aftermath of a performance like this it can be easy to go overboard with praise, but I have to say that even to a natural cynic, this was the best West Ham home display for some considerable time.

There was a tangible buzz in the stadium, Jeremy Nicholas was back on the mic, voice cracking with emotion and the visiting supporters were impressively boisterous. I believe in my childhood days on the North Bank, people used to call that an "atmosphere".

For a while it seemed that we were destined to waste all opportunities presented to us, but once di Michele deservedly got his opener we were firmly in control, so much so that we could even afford to bring on our 12 year old new signing from Brescia right at the end.

Last time I can recall a similar type of feeling around the ground? Bradford at home, the game after Roeder had been sacked and Sir Trevor was briefly back at the helm.

I think the similarity might be that both games represented a potential change in the direction of the club, giving the feeling that for the first time in a while we could look upwards without shame.

3. The Statistics

Although ESPN have the possession statistics as fairly even, and with just a slight edge to us at 51%, we mustered no fewer than 28 (twenty eight! as per the old biddeprinter) efforts at goal.

This means that we essentially had a shot every three minutes, of which Carlton Cole had a truly squanderiffic 9. He managed just 3 on target and seemed to be on the verge of self harm in his post match interview, even though he had equalled a record set by Tony Cottee as he scored his 5th League goal in as many games. Nice - good attitude.

The visitors had 16 attempts although I'd have to assume that this incorporates a very generous description of what a goal attempt actually constitutes. Apart from a late Jimmy Bullard drive that Green smartly palmed aside, they mustered very little, and returned home thankful not to have suffered a second consecutive 6 goal defeat at the Boleyn.

4. The Opposition

"The limelight around here is terrible" thinks Phil Brown, even as a killer cameraman lurks behind him.

Apart from the commendable Jimmy Bullard, who was sporting a haircut and physique that wouldn't have looked out of place on a runway model, there was absolutely nothing good about Hull tonight. The magic, it seems has gone.

Brown's assertion that "The front men were the difference" is absurd, and indicative of a lack of awareness about their plight. Hard work and energy will get you so far in the Premier League (hey, ask Danielle Lloyd), and their early results were stunning, but they are begin to get the thousand yard stare in their eyes and it might only be the enduring shittiness of West Brom, Stoke and Boro that save them.

They also appear to have employed the "West Ham circa 2002" method for marking at corners. This involves 9 outfield players attempting to replicate the various orbits of the planets, whilst never, at any point, you know, marking anyone.

Taking advantage of this elliptical set up was James Collins, who had a free header in the first half that was so easy he could have drawn up a sofa and knocked it in with his pipe. Sadly he instead chose to do a splendidly accurate impression of Darren Bent, and put it wide.

Sandra Redknapp in.

5. Cole Patrol

Ever seen Carlton Cole play better than that?

You're lying.

What a performance from the big lumbering Heskeyite, as he tore shreds out of a Hull defence that would have had to be inert to be any slower.

He started off with a miss, but was soon combining well with the excellent di Michele, culminating in him diving/being pushed over for our penalty (I guess your opinion on that is likely to correlate with which side of the Humber you live on).

He then missed a one on one, scored a goal (despite being in a coma at the time), had a few good runs, missed a one on one, set up a chance for Faubert, and finished up by missing a last one on one in the dying seconds, just for old times sake.

I can't believe that he's being touted for England, but I'm coming round to the point of view that there might be stupider ideas in the cosmos. Like Jimmy Bullard joining Hull.

6. Behrami Army

I'm being won over. I really am. I was sceptical at first because I don't rush in like you lot. Not after that last time with Kepa Blanco.

Instead, I've sat back and watched as Behrami has slowly become an integral part of the team. It helps, of course, that he makes Haile Gebreselassie look like a wheezing asthmatic, but his technical excellence is beginning to show itself now as well.

It was probably the last minute at Chelsea that first really caught the eye, as he set Cole up for the chance that should have won the game, but since then he has been an integral part of our flourishing midfield.

So, yes, count me in. I like the blonde highlights, I like the running about, I dig the big pearly smile. I am in the Behrami Army.

7. Luis Boa Morte Footwear Update

I swear that Luis warmed up for this game in a pair of white running shoes. I was watching intently, because obviously it would have meant that this section was effectively writing itself. Alas, he came on, missed a golden opportunity and had to put up with a bit more booing.

I actually quite liked the bit when new signing Savio got his first touch, did a couple of Dale Gordon lite step overs and then just turned round and gave a one yard pass to Boa Morte. It screamed "I'm worth £9m but you are the senior player - so you tread on it and fall over". Which he did.

Probably because he was wearing these:

Arsenal vs West Ham United: Match Preview - 31/01/2009

1. Opposition

Arsenal this weekend and both teams go into the match on the back of significant unbeaten runs. The Gunners have managed five wins and four draws in their last nine league games while we have lost just once in our last seven Premiership outings.

Despite Arsene Wenger’s assurances of his side’s competitiveness, they have been somewhat left behind by the League leaders and will have to combine great form with good fortune if they are to claim this season’s championship.

Their problem this year is that their property portfolios have crashed and they have a brittle and combustible defensive unit - defence so often being the hallmark of great Arsenal sides.

Ironically, two players you could identify as the answer to their problems would be Lassana Diarra and Matthew Upson – both ousted by Wenger after brief tenures with The Gunners.

Their soft underbelly and the lack of a leader who knows how to pick his battles have conspired to cast Arsenal adrift of Man United, and even five points outside the Big Four.

Wenger remains convinced that his young charges can still mount a challenge, even going so far as to espouse that any one of the top six could win the league.

This predominantly smacks of mind games, but it is true that Arsenal are not totally out of it yet, although they can’t afford any more shock defeats and must find the winning consistency that has eluded them for much of this season.

They are undoubtedly blessed with talent, physically very fit and have found a new knack for snatching points from the jaws of defeat (12 goals in the last 10 minutes of matches this season), but it is true to say that they are not firing on all cylinders at present.

They will obviously miss their talisman and HeadHammer Shark’s favourite player, Cesc Fabregas, and if we can maintain our recent good form then I think we have a decent chance of taking something from this tricky fixture.

2. January Sale

Our opponents on Saturday have been involved in the most protracted transfer saga of the window. Andrei Arshavin’s move to north London from UEFA Cup-holders Zenit-St. Petersburg has been playing out publicly for weeks.

Wenger claims not to be interested in the protracted goings on and refuses to break the wage structure for anyone. I however will remain sceptical until kick-off as, despite the Russian League being in pre-season, you can bet the deal will go though at 2-45pm and Arshavin will make a wondrous debut.

Failing that Eduardo will doubtless make a goal-scoring return from injury while Kieron Dyer watches from his sofa. It wouldn’t surprise me if David Rocastle clambered out of the cold earth to arrive at the near post with a glancing header.

Elsewhere, Manchester City are said to be on the verge of prising Shay Given from Newcastle, Robbie Keane is about as popular on Merseyside as a job application form and Woy Hodgson has confused tottenham’s Tom Huddlestone for a professional footballer as he looks for a Jimmy Bullard replacement.

3. Picture Book

William Gallas spots his wife in the stands with Scott Duxbury

4. Our New Czech Mate?

The only rumour with any credence to be linked with us this week is the proposed arrival of Spartak Moscow midfielder Radoslav Kovac. The Czech international reportedly told Russian newspaper Sovietsky Sport:

"Everything was sorted out on Wednesday afternoon… A flight to London is booked and I'm flying there on Thursday.”

He has played at centreback for the Czech Republic and performed a defensive midfield role for Spartak Moscow. Kovac is reportedly moving on loan ‘til the end of the season with an option to buy in the summer.

If he does arrive, I just hope he’s as menacing and mental as Tomas Repka.

At 29, he must be seen as a replacement for the departed Hayden Mullins and cover for brittle-boned Scott Parker. The prospect of Gianfranco Zola as a manager is said to have been a deciding factor in his decision, as it was with Savio.

Our little Italian is proving to be quite a draw when attracting players to the club, such is the esteem in which he is held by the footballing world. He obviously has a knack for making players feel special, as that has been borne out in recent results and performances.

You couldn’t really say the same of the wonderful Joe Kinnear, who came out with this tactful piece of motivational speaking on Wednesday night:

“I tried to sell Geremi yesterday because I thought it would raise £4million, but that deal fell through so I had to play him tonight.”

5. History

Earlier this season we were undone 2-0 at Upton Park, but remained largely competitive until the introduction of Emmanuel Adebayour.

Julien Faubert was unlucky to turn the ball into our own net for Arsenal’s first and their second came on the break after we had committed men forward looking for an equaliser.

Adebayour changed the game and Theo Walcott was a menace on the wings, with pace that made Lucas Neill look like he was running in a swimming pool.

Last time at The Emirates saw us go down by the same scoreline and not giving ourselves any real chance after conceding in the second minute, briefly rallying only to concede again after 18.

6. No Place Like Home

The Emirates is no longer considered the fortress of a couple of year’s back.

The former citadel was of course initially breached by dedicated Marxist Bobby Zamora, valiantly penetrating the defences with a lance of a strike back in 2007 to puncture the pomposity of the ruling classes, and so ably assisted by the flawless rearguard action of Rob Green, defender of the proletariat.

This season the dented confidence of the home team has seen them succumb to Aston Villa and Hull City, whereas Liverpool, tottenham and Fenerbache have all claimed draws.

7. Pieces Of The Pie

Mark Noble left the field injured late on Wednesday night and it got me thinking about Zola’s midfield options, particularly in light of recent arrivals.

Were Noble to miss out on Saturday, I would personally like to see Jack Collison put in the middle with Scott Parker, the tireless Valon Behrami on the right and new boy Savio on the left.

No doubt Julien Faubert would get the nod over Savio, who will be gradually introduced over coming weeks, but I reckon my proposed midfield looks quite dynamic.

8. Zizou Mark II

Probably much to Samir Nasri’s annoyance, this guy is being touted in France as the latest heir to Zinedine Zidane’s vacant throne - and you can see why. Wallop.

9. Cole-Fired

Red-hot-goal-machine Carlton Cole now stands on six goals from his last seven games and has been touted in the tabloids as a prospect for the upcoming England squad.

He has clearly benefitted from consistently starting matches and his dependable work-rate is beginning to pay dividends. Even though he seems to have been around forever, he’s still only 25 and therefore still likely to improve.

Taking all this into consideration and despite recent statistics providing a healthy argument, whenever Cole finds himself with a goal-scoring opportunity I am never confident that he will put it away.

There’s a decent chance he’ll hit the target, but there's an equal chance he'll cause a car crash outside the ground.

Watching Carlton upfront is like watching the antithesis of a Rocky film. In the ring, Rocky consistently finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, but you know he’s always going to deliver the coup de grĂ¢ce.

Cole remains something of an enigma to the fans, and probably himself – capable of lovely touches, fine goals, scoring with both feet, good in the air, a good target man. And yet also prone to bouts of the Paulo Wanchope’s where he doesn’t quite seem to have either the ball or his limbs under control.

10. Stand By Your Man

Luis Boa Morte once again did his best to undermine my positive publicity campaign on his behalf by missing another absolute sitter against Hull.

Still, I’m gonna stick with him, if only because I heard he’s got some really good skag coming in this weekend.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

West Ham United vs Hull City: Match Preview - 28/01/2009

1. History

Our last meeting was the pallid 1-0 defeat at the KC Stadium back in October, coming as the Zola reign was still stuttering into life. Any professional worth his salt would be keen to set the record straight after such an embarrassment.

Hull’s last visit to Upton Park came in the old Division 2 back in 1990, a game notable for it’s 7-1 scoreline (a Hammers victory, if you were wondering), but moreso for it being the occasion of Steve Potts’ only goal for West Ham in his 463 appearances – a 30-yard screamer which gave the ‘keeper no chance.

2. January Sale

Hull City have been one of the more active teams in this transfer window, bidding to cement their Premiership status with an emboldened squad for the second half of the season.

Their most eye-catching acquisition is that of Jimmy Bullard from Fulham for £5million. Approaching 31, this will likely be Bullard’s last big money move and final chance to earn a big contract.

Woy Hodgson has said that Fulham were unable to match either Bullard’s wage demands (something the player himself has denied) or length of contract given his age, but Hull were only too keen to do so.

That they can appease Bullard’s wage demands but baulked at Boa Morte’s, gives another taste of Eggy Magnusson’s bizarre compulsion to throw money at the mediocre in the hope that added finance will proportionally increase average ability.

You can throw as much money as you like at the ‘Hollyoaks’ or 'My Family' scriptwriters, but that won’t make them produce an episode of ‘The Sopranos’ or ‘The Wire’ (which by the way, I have recently discovered is fantastic).

Other Hull appointments this month include on-loan Manchester United striker Manucho and the permanent signing of the remarkably average Kevin ‘Zinedine’ Kilbane from Wigan.

tottenham continue to pilfer the transfer market with all the charm of a drunken Aussie, having made another bid for Sunderland’s Kenwyne Jones this week despite being told in no uncertain terms that he is not for sale.

They have in the meantime nabbed goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini from Chelsea and made their second about-turn of the window by re-signing Pascal Chimbonda – a man so mercenary he makes B.A Baracus look like a community-minded Womble.

Villa nabbed Emile Heskey from under the noses of Liverpool and the big, placid lump duly scored on his debut last night, while Arsenal continue to be stymied in their efforts to bring Russian striker Andrei Arshavin to The Emirates.

Arshavin is of course destined to make his goal-scoring debut against us on Saturday.

3. Make Hayden While The Sun Shines

Monday came with the rather surprising news that we had accepted an offer from Portsmouth for Hayden Mullins. The offer did not come in until Sunday morning and the deal was confirmed just over 24 hours later.

I was a little taken aback by this as, while Hayden has not been a first team regular, I always considered him a valuable squad player and much of an unsung hero during his 5-years at the club.

There is sense in off-loading the likes of Davenport (our wealth of centrebacks), Etherington (crippling arrears with Paddy Power.com) and Boa Morte (reluctance to share his big bag of hallucinogens), but Mullins could always provide competent cover across the midfield.

Scott Parker is not going to play every game and his chances of picking up a niggling injury are as slim as Frank Lampard’s genetically-impaired offspring, so the decision to sell so readily our only specialised substitute central midfielder is a little perplexing.

Mullins has been a loyal servant in his time at West Ham and you can’t blame him for moving on for regular football, but we are left weaker without him. An effort to push through want-away Julien Faubert’s proposed move to Lyon would have been a better way to cut costs.

Freddie Sears couldn't understand why Hayden had to leave.

4. Opposition

Hull City have done remarkably well in the first half of this season, managing to maintain their top-half status right through to the latter half of January.

Despite any grand designs, their priority must still be survival, as a bad run and the congested bottom half sees them only six points from relegation.

Hull have been going through a substantial blip over the last few months, losing their previous points buffer, but not at the expense of League positioning. Since beating ourselves and West Brom in October, they have won just once, drawn four and lost eight.

They would hope to have done enough to stay up this year, but will need to stop the rot before too long – and what better team to do that against than West Ham United, the traditional Samaritans of the Premier League.

Bullard looks to be the centrepiece around whom Phil Brown will base his line-up. He will look for goals from the midfielder as well as assists, particularly as Wigan’s Marlon King has curiously cut short his season-long loan move to Hull in favour of a near identical loan move to Middlesbrough.

One untimely omission from their team this evening will be experienced midfielder George Boateng, who remains a long-term absentee.

5. CEO Dux The Trend

Scott Duxbury has again spoken in public about his personal crusade never to do business with Spurs again:

“…We need to be aware of our fans' expectations, we need to be aware of who our local rivals are… It's nothing about Tottenham but why on earth should we sell any player that would strengthen their team?… I won't sell any of our players to our local rivals.”

We all obviously welcome the rhetoric, but I wonder whether the same sentiment would be extended to Chelsea, who may be further across town but are certainly considered local rivals. Duxbury may have dug himself a hole here.

There remains something about our CEO that causes me to view him and anything he says with an air of suspicion. Maybe its because we have been scalded before by Executive-types at our club, or perhaps it’s that he looks like evil incarnate.

Either way, and against my better judgement, he is slowly beginning to charm his way into my affections and better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.

Scott Duxbury witnesses a horrific road traffic accident.

6. No Cupset

As it turned out, plucky battlers Hartlepool United posed little real threat in Saturday’s FA Cup 4th round tie. While they were never really put to the sword, our victory was composed and satisfyingly comfortable given our recent history of poor Cup performances away to lesser sides.

Hartlepool chose the admirable if misguided tactic of trying to outplay a Premiership team rather than the conventional approach of attempting to follow Olivia Newton-John’s advice and ‘get physical’, ruffling a few feathers.

In the recent draw for the next round, it was actually Hull City who landed the plum tie we all wanted – away to Sheffield United - and a visit to Bramall Lane should give them time to get their own house in order after those intellectual giants from Millwall smashed it up at the weekend.

By saying this I am obviously jinxing any and all progress beyond the 5th round, but I think we may have the makings of a good Cup side this season. Two comfortable victories against lower League opposition is a sound base to build upon and I would fancy us to have a decent shout against any Premier League side in a one-off match, particularly Middlesbrough.

When we now inevitably go out to Boro at home in the next round, can you all please address your anthrax-filled hate mail and letter bombs to:

Mr. H. Redknapp
Bungs Department
White Hart Lane
London, N17.

7. Balance Of Payments

After much paper-talk, 19-year old Ugandan-born German Savio Nsereko has signed for the club on a four-and-a-half year deal. Current trends demand that the fee be ‘undisclosed’, but rumours circulate from between £9million straight up to an initial £5million potentially rising to twice that amount.

Our new Number 10 could even make his debut tonight, so long as he receives international clearance in time. You would hope that Gianluca Nani’s links with Brescia have enabled us to acquire a rough diamond and that Nani’s eye for talent has come good again. The next Andrea Pirlo would suit me fine.

It has also been confirmed that new deals are to be offered to Scott Parker, Matthew Upson and Rob Green once this transfer window has closed. These should (if accepted) help stave off any unwelcome attention for at least a half hour or so before tottenham come in with a straight swap deal involving Darren Bent and the powdered remains of Danny Blanchflower.

While it’s good to see efforts being made to keep hold of the spine of the team, a few more solid squad performers through the door prior to February at the expense of more peripheral figures would help ease any apprehension going into the remaining three and a bit months of the season.

We're sailing a little close to the wind and are only a few unfortunate injuries away from another relegation scrap.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Hartlepool United 0 - 2 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

1. The Magic Of The Cup

Beautiful. Away to a lower league team, in the North, in the cold, Carlton Cole sticking his foot in all over the place and some of our fans dressed as Smurfs.

Not to mention Hartlepool fielding the ugliest centre half since Steve Bruce was cracking our screens.

2. Kill Your Television

Isn't it marvellous to have ITV back showing live football again? A carefully considered 12.40 kick off allowing our fans the pleasure of a dawn start ("Some of these West Ham fans have been on the road since 5am!" said stunned sounding professional dickhead Peter Drury, as though somehow this fact was not linked to the actions of his employer), a presentation that simply screamed "we're only here for an upset", and the aforementioned Drury/Beglin commentary ("So far the Eastenders are flourishing at the Vic") that made me want to hack off my ears.

The only elements missing were Myleene Klass and some mention of Barcelona '99, and I could have just loaded the shotgun.

3. The Statistics

As one might imagine, we were largely in control of this game despite the valiant efforts of the home team. We enjoyed the lions share of possession at 58%, although interestingly we translated that into only 4 efforts on target compared with 3 for the home side.

This might say more about our unadventurous/professional {delete as applicable} second half display than any specifically poor finishing. Suffice to say I was pretty happy with the way we closed this game off at 2-0. I'd like to say that this has been a weakness of ours previously, but truth be told we don't spend an awful lot of time with two goal leads.

Elsewhere, Carlton Cole managed 5 fouls all on his own, whilst the other ten Hammers mustered a pathetic 5 combined. You can't beat these lower league clubs without kicking their goalkeepers in a bit.

4. The Opposition

As with a lot of lower league clubs these days, Hartlepool probably suffered a little by having too good of a pitch and attempting to play a bit too much football. In conditions that didn't really resemble a swamp or a bog, we were able to get the ball down and pass it a little. To their credit, the home side did the same, and for much of the first half it was just two teams cancelling each other out.

Our first was slightly against the run of play, but very neatly taken by Behrami, who managed to slot it away with a hell of a lot more ease than the 2 yard effort he smacked off the bar at Sunderland earlier this year.

Two minutes later, the aforementioned beauty king Michael Nelson decided that this was time to wave his hands in the air like he just didn't care, and in the process punched a through ball out of the path of di Michele. It was marginally outside the box, but referee Lee Mason didn't get any help from his assistant and awarded a penalty. This was described by Drury as "a travesty of justice" but curiously not as "incredibly brainless" at the same time.

Without wishing to be patronising, Hartlepool gave it a good go, and played a hell of a lot more decent football than Stoke managed against us.

5. The Referee

As mentioned above, Lee Mason hardly ingratiated himself to the home fans, by awarding us a dubious penalty and not sending off Carlton Cole for a number of robust challenges on 'Pool keeper Arran Lee-Barrett.

I thought Cole was a little unlucky to be booked for the first half scuffle over a tackle on Lee-Barrett. He was clearly manoeuvred out of the way at the last second by the rotund Ritchie Humphreys, meaning that he looked like he was lunging at the keeper when in actual fact I thought he was pretty much just falling over.

His second half studs up effort was less aesthetic but I'm not sure he even saw the keeper at that point. By now he was well and truly a pantomime villain for the home fans, who don't have a history of being particularly tolerant. Perhaps it was just as well he hit the post with his second half attempt.

6. The Price Is Right

I must admit to being disappointed at the departure of Hayden Mullins from the club. Reports are mixed on the price, with £1m and £3m being bandied about, so if we split the difference and call it £2m, then I would have concerns about the merit of the sale.

Despite the obvious decency involved in allowing a fringe player to leave to get first team football, it still should be pointed out the Mullins is a frequent contributor for us, even in a greatly reduced capacity these days. The sale of Etherington and the loans of Bowyer, Quashie and Reid didn't register much with me, but we can't ignore the fact that we are now 5 players down with no replacements in. Trimming a squad is fine, but we are beginning to leave ourselves in a strange situation whereby we'll have no replacements for the first team. I cannot possibly see how selling Mullins and having Spector as our replacement central midfielder is a good idea, unless we have a replacement lined up.

We are still 5 days from the close of the window so I shall not jump the gun, but I'd like to see a little action on the "incoming" front.

7. The Boy's Our Savio?

On that point, at long last we've finally tapped into the Ugandan-German via Brescia gravy train of young players, as rumours abound that we have signed up 19 year old wunderkind Savio Nsereko for £9m.

Now this is an impressive commitment in a young player, and I cannot fault the board for finally being on the buying side of a deal involving a promising youngster. My immediate concern is that 19 year old foreigners rarely adapt immediately to the Premiership, and if he follows a timetable similar to someone like Theo Walcott then it might be some time before we see the kid flourish. Again, I can live with that, and it seems to fit with the notion that the club have of following the Arsenal model for developing young players, but I wonder about the sense in not replacing Bellamy with a more experienced player.

Let us not forget that Heskey and Bullard have just moved for a combined £8.5m. Each is the wrong side of 30 and presumably are commanding increased wages, but nonetheless in the tightness of this Premiership survival race, it seems slightly crazy not to be doing more to address our striking situation. And anyone suggesting that we have Dyer and Ashton coming back soon can just go and sit on the naughty step.

Look, I've never seen the kid play, I wish him all the best and I shall do nothing but cheer him on, but the point remains that we are not safe and right now I can't quite believe that a 19 year old who has never played above Serie B is a direct replacement for Craig Bellamy.

I read with interest today that West Ham have raised some £39.3m through player sales since the end of last season with only the purchases of Behrami and Nsereko to dent that fund. I am rather hoping that there is enough in the pot to pick up a couple of helpful squad types out there.

8. Like London Buses

Having waited all season for a penalty we get two in a week. But seriously, how ugly is that centre back?

9. Juventus Deny Interest In Hammer Carlton Cole

This is an actual headline from the london paper tonight. Some headlines are beyond parody.

Tomorrow: "Bayern Munich deny interest in purchasing Libya", "Osasuna deny being stapled to Portugal by Villareal", "Arsenal deny inventing electric trumpet", "tottenham deny Redknapp denied anything whilst denying his interest in all Premiership footballers breathing or otherwise"... and so on.

Jesus Christ, I wish I could make a living out of working for Sky Sports News...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hartlepool United vs West Ham United: FA Cup 4th Round - Match Preview - 24/01/2009

1. Factoid Famine

As is often the case, the night before I am due to publish a preview, Headhammer Shark nabs many of the topics I had broached, uncouthly barging ahead to gobble up all the week's tasty talking points. It puts me in mind of queuing outside the school tuck shop.

2. Face The Strange

I experienced a peculiar feeling this week. A strange sensation hitherto unknown, like the first time I saw Jet on Gladiators.

The Board of West Ham actually conducted a piece of transfer business which I consider both shrewd and satisfying. No less remarkable as this came in the form of a sale.

Craig Bellamy’s £14million transfer to Manchester City gathered pace last weekend after the unprincipled goblin stormed out of training on Friday having been refused permission to enter into negotiations with tottenham.

Having spoken of his debt to West Ham just prior to Christmas for supporting him through a year of injury, the monkey-faced mercenary wasted no time in angling for a move come the first opportunity.

So far as I can see, the Board made every right move: letting it be known in the preceding weeks that we had no need to sell, offering Bellamy a new contract in an effort to keep him, wasting no time in offloading the little troll when it became clear he wanted away, holding out for a good price and most importantly, steadfastly refusing to do business with Spurs.

A good piece of business all round as we have more or less doubled our money, scratched the club’s highest earner from the wage bill and renewed our moral opposition to poisonous elves, gnomes and sprites.

Scott Duxbury raised himself in my expectations with this transfer (not hard to do, as were he any lower he’d resemble a Peter Kenyon/Pol Pot amalgam) and this action, coupled with the recently disclosed Football Project have bolstered my flagging confidence in the aspirations of The Board.

It appears as if this transfer went through in accordance with the policies outlined in The Football Project, a document to be commended for its outlook and one that, if adhered to, should help us fulfil our potential in the most prudent way, as opposed to Eggy’s ‘buy now, pay later’ approach.

3. Opposition

Hartlepool United currently sit comfortably in the midtable regions of League One. They have already dispatched one “Premiership” team in this year’s FA Cup, having beaten Stoke 2-0 at home in the 3rd round. In the previous two rounds they also accounted for Fleetwood Town and Brighton, via a replay.

Hartlepool also knocked another “top-flight” side out of cup competition this season when they beat West Brom 3-1 at home back in August of last year, in the Carling Cup.

Despite these upsets, you’d hope that we will provide Hartlepool with a sterner test and a taste of genuine Premiership opposition when compared to the two sides currently propping up the Premier League.

Regardless, this tie is a banana skin and no mistake.

All recent form can be discounted as this could be the biggest game that many of Hartlepool’s players ever experience. They will fight tooth and nail for the full 90 minutes and any Premiership playboys in attendance will receive a rude awakening.

4. Uncanny

5. January Sale

Bellamy’s departure has lead to a recession of the speculative tempest that has swirled around Upton Park leading up to and during this transfer window.

Unlike the doom-mongers in the press would have us believe, January has come as something of a respite for West Ham, enabling us to dispel many of the rumours about our impending financial collapse by resisting the vast majority of offers for key players.

Reports of a firesale have proven wholly unfounded and on the contrary, Zola has been given the income from the Bellamy sale to reinvest back into the squad, the little Italian’s first opportunity to augment the playing staff to his liking.

The early frontrunner appears to be Savio Nsereko, the Ugandan-born 19-year old attacking midfielder/forward eligible for Germany. Nsereko raised eyebrows in last year’s U-19 European Championship, winning ‘player of the tournament’ and currently plays for Brescia, Gianluca Nani’s former club.

Links with Nani have facilitated our early interest, although it is believed that Nsereko’s agent is keen for him to cement his place in the Serie B side, where he has impressed after a slow start, postponing any potential move until the summer.

More recently, Nsereko has 'done a Bellamy' and missed training, fuelling speculation that he is on the verge of a move away from Italy.

An attacking midfielder is the order of the day and has been for some time. Goal-machine Cole, DiMichele, Sears, Tristan and the Rich Tea-ravaged Dean Ashton should be able to provide sufficient cover upfront, whereas goal-scoring midfielders are in short supply, with Kieron Dyer’s leg scheduled to explode any day now.

Across the land there has been little activity outside of Manchester. Jermaine Pennant has gone on loan to Portsmouth, while Liverpool continue to stall on adding Emile Heskey to their flagging frontline, riskily depending on the defective Torres-Keane axis to bring them the title.

Despite tottenham pissing off most every club (Middlesbrough, Sunderland, Portsmouth, West Ham, Aston Villa) with their unscrupulous transfer tactics, William Palacios looks set to leave one manager with an unfathomable nose for another with an equally warped moral compass, by moving from Wigan to Spurs.

6. History

Makes my job easier as this will be the first time we have ever faced Hartlepool United.

7. Monkey Magic

Hartlepool United FC. The most comically gifted team in the League.

Unlike The Da Vinci Code, all of what follows is 100% true.

Firstly, their nickname is ‘The Monkey Hangers’. Brilliant. This is of course in reference to the famous story of how the good townsfolk of Hartlepool executed not only sound judgement but also a monkey, when a French galley ship was wrecked of the North East coast during the Napoleonic wars.

Local fisherman inspected the wreckage and found the ship’s pet monkey dressed in military attire. Prudently suspicious, the fisherman actually questioned the monkey before holding a beachside trial and finally decided that the monkey was a French spy, consequently hanging it on an improvised gallows.

Secondly, and perhaps even better, is the fact that Hartlepool’s mascot (the beautifully named ‘H’Angus The Monkey’) was elected Mayor of Hartlepool as an independent under the campaign slogan “free bananas for schoolchildren”.

Zola will surely be looking over his shoulder on Saturday for any Hartlepudlians with lengths of rope.

8. Our Cup Runneth Over?

The early stages of the FA Cup traditionally throw up a mixture of heavyweight clashes (Liverpool vs Everton) and David & Goliath encounters (Hartlepool vs West Ham).

Broadcasters ITV have obviously smelled blood where we’re concerned and so Saturday’s match is scheduled for live broadcast.

Its near impossible to deduce how these ties will pan out. Obviously on paper this should prove a stroll, but home advantage, a dodgy pitch and the home team’s avid desire to claim a ‘giant-killing’ are all influential factors, as Barnsley and Cardiff City proved last season.

A tidy Cup run would give us all a lift and combined with a continued run of League form, could help to turn this into a memorable season for reasons other than court cases and a Hammers fan’s rightful ascension to The White House.

West Ham 3 - 1 Fulham (And Other Ramblings)

1. Chairman Moan

Lifted directly from The Observer "Said and Done" column.

"Man of the week: Dave Whelan - says Man City are "ruining the heart and soul of football" by inflating prices and artificially skewing the market. "Money has gone through the window because some Arabian fellas or oil-rich sheikh has come in and said, 'Pay £90m for that player.' It is totally barmy and we all know that. The game will suffer in the end."

2003: Whelan's JJB Sports fined £6.7m by the OFT over claims they exploited fans by using inflated price-fixing of replica shirts to artificially skew the market. "This ruling," said Whelan, "makes me wonder what's happened to justice in this land."

Not lifted directly from The Observer

"Of course I'm interested in him, you don't get too many chairman prepared to screw over the fans like that. We're in discussions but I don't want to say too much as he's with another club. We do seem to have a mole leaking all our transfer targets to the press though" said Harry Redknapp. Live on Sky Sports News. Probably.

2. Hells Bells

Also lifted directly from The Observer "Said and Done" column

"Craig Bellamy, December 2008: "It's that time of year again - there's always a lot of speculation about people going in the transfer window. But I'm very happy at West Ham - I'm never going to go in and ask for a move."

• 16 January: Goes in, asks for a move. "

"All I know is that someone just told me the boy wants to come and play here" said Harry Redknapp. Live on Sky Sports News. Actually. And most definitely not tapping up our player.

3. The Opposition

I went in to this game with a tangible sense of foreboding. Fulham were unbeaten in 9 games, Bellamy was making Paul Ince look like an amateur, and Upton Park had the feel of a particularly solemn wake.

Mercifully, Fulham have a back 4 featuring full backs who weren't good enough for us, and therefore contributed three egregious errors to help us on our way.

I suspect that this performance was out of character given their recent success, but it would have to be noted that Fulham were woeful in this game. Aside from Konchesky's 30 yard Faustian pact I cannot remember a single effort threatening our goal. Even Andy Johnson, who is never slow to fall over when the opportunity presents, was unable to win a penalty, such was their lack of penetration.

Elsewhere, I was impressed by Brede Hangeland who is big like a Bond villain, and sadly familiar with Bobby Zamora, who worked hard but displayed Kuytian levels of awareness when presented with a couple of half chances.

I have little doubt that they will stay up, and one could cogently argue that Roy Hodgson deserves the Manager of the Year award for the turnaround he has manufactured at Craven Cottage. Unlike Phil Brown at Hull, they seem to be on the up, and he has not spent as hugely or as wastefully as his predecessor, Lawrie Sanchez.

"I'm interested in every single one of their players. Of course I am. This squad I've got here is rubbish, totally inept. They only spent £60m in the summer. You wouldn't even get Kaka's left arm for that. But obviously it's up to Fulham if they sell. It's nothing to do with me" said Harry Redknapp. Live on Sky Sports News. Probably.

4. The Statistics

Perhaps unsurprisingly we were on top in many ways in the ESPN Gamecast. This shows that we had 15 shots at goal to the visitors 11, but crucially Fulham mustered only 2 efforts on target against our 5. This shows an unusually clinical approach from us, and a strangely imperious defensive effort.

Oddly, our most attacking threat was once again Mark Noble, who continued to lead the way with 5 shots on goal. Di Michele also had 5, leaving Carlton Cole to look like a slacker with 3. This may mean nothing or it may be quite the revelation, but Noble has now been our most frequent shooter for two consecutive weeks. The biggest criticism of the Curbishley era was the failure to provide goalscoring midfielders, and it could be said that Zola has now hit upon a tight, narrow midfield system that is allowing Noble to join up with the strikers more often.

I'm not sure I think that Noble is playing brilliantly, but Collison and Behrami certainly are in great form, and my feeling is that it is their contributions as much as anything that are letting Noble advance so freely.

"Of course I'm interested in the ESPN Gamecast. You can't get a good website these days for love nor money. I'm down to the bare bones here" said Harry Redknapp. Live on Sky Sports News. Probably.

5. The Referee

For a fixture between two fairly bland and inoffensive sides, there have been a strangely high number of red cards issued over the years. There should have been another here, when Paul Konchesky hacked down Carlton Cole inside the area with no other Fulham defender within hectares.

For reasons that escape most sentient beings, Phil Dowd chose not to send him off and instead made do with a penalty and a yellow card.

It should be pointed out that Konchesky appeared to have some sort of seizure moments before the foul, when he allowed Cole to run twenty yards to take the ball off him and run in on goal. So the yellow card might simply have been an acknowledgement that life didn't need to get any worse for the former Hammer.

Terrible decision though. On another day that might have led to firebombings.

"Of course I'd be interested in Phil Dowd. I have to referee my own training sessions here and I just give all the decisions to Parlo anyway otherwise he goes mad. Phil's one we're looking at for sure, but I don't want to say any more about it otherwise it will just be on the telly and in the papers" said Harry Redknapp. Live on Sky Sports News. Probably.

6. Zola Power

Before we move on to the really pressing events of the week (Bellamy, the absence of "Relocation, Relocation" from the schedules) it would seem fair to make an assessment of the current managerial tandem, who have master minded something of a resurgence during a run of fixtures against the soft underbelly of the league.

Let me be clear that I am not being sarcastic when I mention that last point. In fact if anything it's the most important criteria to note. My complaint about our start to the season was that we failed to take advantage of a soft run of fixtures, losing to the likes of West Brom, Hull and Bolton long before we encountered any of the bigger teams. As the season has progressed we have gradually evolved from a side who could only attack, to one who could barely attack, to the current incarnation who seem to be nicely balanced between the two, and are now taking points from those teams who we should be taking points from.

Zola has been unfailingly positive in his public pronouncements, and seems to believe greatly in both what he is doing, and those who are doing it for him. I am sure that there are those out there who could help correct me, but my feeling is that there have been very few poor performances since he took over. Even in defeat we have played reasonably adeptly, but have suffered from our lack of a cutting edge.

With the rebirth of Bellamy and Cole as bona fide Premier League players, we have really been playing very well recently, and both Clarke and Zola deserve much credit for that. We're a long way from home yet, but we're also only 2 points shy of Wigan, who are being lauded up and down the land for their excellent season.

More of the same please.

"Of course I'm interested in Zola. I used to tell Joe Cole to go and play like him. You can't coach players at this level. Except Darren Bent. He could use some help. Anyway, last I heard Zola was interested in coming here but I'm not going to say anymore about it. Our chairman is very interested I'd imagine. Look at how shit I'm doing to be fair." said Harry Redknapp. Live on Sky Sports News. Probably.

7. Farewell

Blimey, that Craig Bellamy's a card isn't he?

I refuse to be disappointed by footballers any more. I am sure that there are decent human beings who play the game and are ashamed by these antics, but they keep it well hidden wherever they are. Indeed, I find myself strangely underwhelmed by Bellamy's antics. Sure, going on strike so you can join tottenham is not any way to be behave, but I'm not going to lose any sleep over it. The truly curious thing to me is why he felt so strongly about tottenham when they had just signed Defoe, and were bottom of the league.

Manchester City is likely to provide more immediate succour for him, but in the long term he will be squeezed out by the likes of Robinho, Santa Cruz and whomever else arrives in the summer. The Sheiks did not take over at Eastlands to see decent Premiership players, which ultimately is all that Bellamy really is. Once he begins to warm the bench, he'll become disillusioned and move on again, for substantially less than £14m too.

Strangely, West Ham seemed to be something of a perfect match for him. A team built to his strengths, a huge weekly wage and a manager who he seemed to respect and who was seemingly developing him as a player.

The season ticket holder in me was enraged by the decision to sell, given that it's only going to lead to {insert no name Under 21 Italian striker here} joining courtesy of our new "world wide" scouting system. The accountant in me can't help but be impressed by the sale of a 29 year old, injury prone agitator, for twice what we paid for him. Sometimes I just don't know what to think.

As is always the case with West Ham, the test will be how we spend the money. I greatly favour purchasing a midfielder and a striker, which should be possible with £14m, and in fact I can't believe that tottenham wouldn't sell Bent and Huddlestone for a combined fee of about £11m, but sadly Duxbury looks to have burnt all our bridges there. Whoever they get in, I sincerely hope that someone somewhere is pointing out that it takes a while to adjust to the Premier League, and that we are currently a Carlton Cole injury away from a very bad situation up front.

Returning to Bellamy briefly, I do not believe that I will ever understand how a man can give £750,000 of his own money to develop a football academy in Sierra Leone, and at the same time go on strike because he was being forced to honour a contract that paid him £70,000 a week. The inner demons that guy must be fighting with....

8. A Quick Thought

From the sounds of it, we should probably be looking at Sandra Redknapp for a role up front. Based on Harry's many and varied descriptions she is not a scorer of great goals, but certainly a great goal scorer.

"Of course I'm interested in her.." said Redknapp zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

9. Farewell, Again

See you Craig. Thanks for Portsmouth. It seems I can now refer to you a goblin again. Isn't it funny how the world works.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

West Ham United vs Fulham: Match Preview - 18/01/2009

1. History

Fulham have the misfortune to count themselves amongst the two or three teams across the globe against whom we have a good record. We have lost but once in our last twelve encounters, recording seven wins and four draws along the way.

Prior to this year’s 2-1 away win at Craven Cottage, last season saw us come from 1-0 down at home to a Simon Davies free-kick before rallying to win 2-1, thanks to a header from Custard Cream Dean and a winner from Anton Ferdinand.

At the time, things were looking up - Julien Faubert made his debut, we had consolidated in the top half, a few players in the treatment room were declared “clinically not dead” and no-one knew quite how bad Julien Faubert was.

Of course from then on we were moored in 10th place until May and our aspirations for the season were sucked from us as if by a two dollar whore with a Dyson strapped to her face.

2. January Sale

Just halfway through this season’s transfer window and it already feels as if it has rumbled on for an age. With it’s dominance of recent headlines, this blog will inevitably follow suit until we can enjoy a few short months respite, before further news of firesale, financial irregularities and foreclosure.

The current rumour mill discharge can be summarised thusly:

(i) Herita Ilunga

No sooner had stories emerged of the club’s intention to hang onto Ilunga, than the newly rabid Rafa Benitez declares he could be interested in taking the Congolese to Anfield.

One would assume that part of our loan agreement is that we have first option and Zola has already declared his intention to make the move permanent.

Ilunga’s gaze could be turned by interest from the League leaders and at the moment I wouldn’t want to be the one to stand between Liverpool’s Spanish manager and whatever it is he wants - his recent outbursts missing only the requisite spittle, unkempt hair and him forcibly trying to ram a copy of The Big Issue in your face.

(ii) Bellamy & Parker

This story shows a stubborn and offensive refusal to die that Margaret Thatcher would admire. The latest rumours are that we have rebuffed three offers for Bellamy from Man City, the most recent being a £22million deal for both Bellamy (£12million) and Parker (£10million).

Both players have recently enjoyed their best form since joining West Ham, coincidentally in the run-up to the transfer window and tottenham continue to hover in the wings for Bellamy, making the frankly hilarious offer of a straight swap for Darren Bent.

(iii) Julien Faubert

The biggest disappointment since Terence Trent D’Arby’s second album, Faubert has been angling for a move away from Upton Park and has been quoted in the French media as saying:

“Zola has said he relies on me, but I don’t see anything coming. I didn’t play against Newcastle and I don’t know what he is up to. Right now my agent is discussing with clubs. Playing for a club such as Lyon is my priority to re-launch my international career. But the problem is that my selling price is very high.”

Sorry to be the one to break this to you, Julien, but that’s not the problem. The problem is you’re shit.

(iv) Luis Boa Morte

Just when you thought you’d had all the cold turkey you could stomach, the prospect of LBM’s departure to Hull City arises and knowing Luis as I do, he will surely take his big bag of hallucinogens with him.

However, having read HeadHammer Shark’s review yesterday, Luis has now decided to stay at Upton Park and ‘fight for his place in the team’.

The more likely reason is the inability of Hull to match whatever ridiculous wages Curbishley put him on and Luis’ desire to sport those white stilettos accessorised so tastefully with mini-umbrellas in the first half and these bobby dazzlers in the second.

(v) Lucas Neill

Joe Kinnear announced his interest in our captain and claimed that Neill’s agent (the commendably named Paddy Dominguez) has been contacted.

West Ham have reacted quickly to quash this story and “are astonished by reports today that a Premier League manager has claimed contact with one of our contracted players."

3. A Change Is Gonna Come

All this transfer speculation provides the men in charge with a clear choice and a great opportunity.

Should they refuse every offer for all key players regardless of fees, it would send out a strong message to onlookers, potential buyers, players, staff and fans on the direction West Ham intend to go.

If they cash-in on a few of those considered vital to any progression, there is nothing to stop any remaining top players looking for the exit, citing the club’s obvious lack of genuine ambition.

To resist any and all overtures for our top players would provide the club with a shot in the arm for the second half of the season that an extra £10million in the coffers could not – particularly as that money is likely to be swallowed by the black hole of our finances.

Resistance would also help to restore some confidence among those who are unsure of the Board’s long-term intentions.

4. Opposition

Fulham are enjoying a robust season thus far, having stealthily positioned themselves in midtable without drawing any attention. They have steadily gone about their business, picking up points here and there with no great fanfare and find themselves well placed at the halfway mark.

Jimmy Bullard remains their best player but has begun to do what Chuck D specifically asked him not to, and believe the hype. He has demanded a ‘double your money’ deal from his employers, lest he ply his trade elsewhere. Bolton have recently ended their interest in Bullard and so he may find himself in an awkward position unless someone else comes in for him.

The genius of Jimmy Bullard is that he detracts attention from Fulham’s true talisman, King John Paintsil. Sunday will mark Paintsil’s first return to Upton Park since a summer move across town along with Bobby Zamora, and the pair should both be on the receiving end of a warm reception.

JP is looking forward to the match, but has made clear his desire to do as well as possible for The Cottagers, as he is such an exemplary professional.

“I will be very happy to see the West Ham fans as I love them so much. They were really behind me when I was there and they gave me a lot of support.”

5. Sheikh Your Moneymaker

The week’s big story has been Manchester City’s pursuit of AC Milan’s playmaker, Kaka. While it has been firmly established on the Upton Park terraces that he is not as good as John Paintsil, he apparently still commands a fee of £100million and a weekly wage of £500,000.

This whole wage madness began at Old Trafford back in 2001 when new arrival Sebastian Veron was put on £50,000 per week, smashing the clubs previously strict wage structure. This lead to the likes of Keane, Giggs, Scholes and Beckham demanding parity and Pandora’s Box was left as exposed as Audley Harrison’s jaw.

From there we find ourselves in the position where the average wage of a Premiership footballer is now around £20,000 a week, rising up to the current high of the £130,000 Robinho is “earning”.

The figures involved in this proposed transfer are frankly ridiculous and would set a dangerous precedent in these uncertain times. If City succeed, Kaka will earn nearly three times as much as Robinho, who in turn earns nearly twice as much as his nearest teammate. This will surely only lead to unrest amongst the squad and raise the bar inexorably.

What would stop Stephen Ireland (a good, but not great player) from then demanding £100,000 a week? That then becomes the benchmark for above average players and before you know it Lucas Neill wants an annual wage of £4billion and the over-stretched finances of several clubs cause many of them to fall like so many Audley Harrisons.

Arsene Wenger succinctly summarised Man City’s proposal as potentially causing “an inflationary trend in a deflationary world.” Obviously there are positives to having Kaka gracing Premiership pitches from Stamford Bridge to St James’s Park, but the overall effects of this transfer could provoke the death knell of English football’s dominance of Europe.

6. Coming Apart At The Teams

Whilst still remaining tight overall, a few gaps are beginning to appear in the league table. The usual suspects (and Villa) are edging away, there is an eight point gap between Everton in 6th and Hull in 8th and we are six points clear of relegation-destined tottenham.

Ourselves and Fulham are locked together on 26 points, although Fulham have a better goal difference and a game in hand after last week’s scheduled encounter with Blackburn Rovers was frozen out.

A win for either team would help establish them as a top half outfit and keep the spectre of relegation at bay, as it is still plausible that any team from 8th down could get sucked into an end-of-season scrap.

7. Picture Book

Bolton weren't sufficiently impressed with Jimmy Bullard's new suit to sign him in January.

8. Claret And Blue In Green

An interesting if off-message article in the news this week was of 16-year old Tyler Rix, a former Academy player who was forced to make a decision between his two loves, football and music.

Rix chose music and its paid off as he has recently been awarded a £1million four-album deal with Universal Classics and Jazz.

One can only hope that the young Rix can continue the long tradition of great football music, like Crystal Palace’s ‘Glad All Over’ or ‘The Anfield Rap’.

9. Gentleman John

The following is an extract from the new book by Craig Murray, former UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan and prominent political activist:

“In December 2008 I found myself sitting next to Baroness Amos on an airport bus heading for the plane to Accra. Once on board she moved to Business class while due to overbooking I was downgraded to Economy Plus.

I shared this fate with John Paintsil, the Fulham and Ghana wing-back. We sat together and I must say he is delightful. He was flying back for two days mid-season to take his sick father to hospital. He was extremely polite and unassuming, helped other passengers with their luggage, put up with my conversation about football, and was evidently devoted to his wife and children.

At the end of the flight I saw him search through the cabin to find one of the British Airways Unicef envelopes to make a donation, while not drawing anyone else’s attention to his gift. We hear a great deal about the terrible behaviour of Premier League footballers. But I am sure there are other John Paintsils.”

Apart from that last line, I couldn’t agree more.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Newcastle United 2 - 2 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

1. Never A Truer Word Was Spoken

"It ain't the disappointment that kills you, it's the hope" - John Cleese (Sort of)

I have often thought it was probably being a West Ham supporter that drove him to say that.

2. Adventures In Cyber Space

Last time I posted a review of a West Ham vs Newcastle match we received the greatest H List comment of all time. (Scroll down when you click the link, it's well worth it).

To the anonymous author, please get in touch and let us know your thoughts on this game. I'd be especially interested in your views on Steven Taylor's ongoing quest to prove himself the worst defender in Christendom. He seems to be doing awfully well.

3. The Statistics

The ESPN Gamecast tells a story all of it's own for this game. Newcastle mustered an impressive 24 attempts at goal, of which a significantly less impressive 3 were on target. And bear in mind, this was the side without Carlton Cole.

As for us, we had 15 efforts and 9 on target, most of which were of a pretty decent nature although we ran into the overly familiar sight of Shay Given doing an impersonation of a one man defence.

Possession was split 53%/47% in favour of the home side, although the game itself seemed to be more even than that. This latter point is probably skewed slightly by the fact that we tended to create the better chances, giving a false sense of superiority perhaps.

It is also probably worth mentioning that Craig Bellamy was caught offside 6 times in this game, which is 5 times more than the other 21 players combined. I'm not sure if this says more about Bellamy or the ineptness of the linesman who wrongly flagged him offside 3 times in the first ten minutes. It's frustrating though, because if only one had gone our way we could have been talking about a whole different outcome.

4. The Opposition

Is it still humane to mock Newcastle? How do you spend this much money and look this bad without being Jordan? Jeez, if it wasn't for the insufferable fans, the sycophantic media approach and Dennis Wise one could almost feel sorry for them.

In truth, this wasn't a bad performance by the Barcodes, and they did have a number of first team players absent. Of course, whether you consider the absence of Obafemi Martins and Shola Ameobi to be a negative is another matter altogether.

They were boosted by their lively young striker Andy Carroll, who decided that the occasion of his first team debut was the perfect time to unveil a corn row style haircut usually favoured by American rappers and, well, women. Now, I am not here to pass judgement, but Michael Owen stated "It was a shocker. I almost refused to play with him". And Michael would know, as he wouldn't be seen dead playing for Newcastle with a ridiculous haircut, or indeed a decent centre forward partner.

In the end, Owen notched his 12th goal in 14 appearances against us which now means that he has scored 20% of all his Newcastle goals against West Ham. I think I just threw up my femur.

Ultimately, Newcastle resemble nothing so closely as ourselves. A disastrous takeover, a misguided belief in the power of reckless spending, a weird infatuation with Kieron Dyer and a season of trepidation peering at the lower half of the table and the trapdoor below.

The spectre of the soon to be departing Owen and Given loom large over the club, and I still think they would be wise to employ some living, breathing defenders, but truthfully they are likely to stay up on the same grounds as us. There are three worse teams out there.

5. The Referee

It's always a bit of a crapshoot with refereeing performances, and Alan Wiley did not disappoint with a puzzling display. Crucially for us he denied Craig Bellamy a penalty for this challenge by Sebastien Bassong:

It certainly looks like a foul.

6. The Case For The Defence

Our back four continue to raise the pulse. Fittingly it was here, at the High Temple of Shit Defending, that Lucas Neill proceeded to score the best own goal of the season by slicing a left volley past a perplexed Robert Green. The goal was disallowed as a result of Steven Taylor having needlessly shoved Collins in the back immediately prior to Neill's brain aneurysm.

Elsewhere, Herita Ilunga created Cole's goal, and we were indebted to Matthew Upson for a brilliant last ditch tackle in added time to prevent Jonas Gutierrez from doing whatever Jonas Gutierrez does when he is 5 yards from goal.

I have to admit - my immediate thought as I watched this performance was not "We should really sell Calum Davenport".

7. Because Snoop Dogg Looks So Good...

"James Collins attempts to boot Andy Carroll in the head. Probably because of the haircut."

8. Striker Light?

Our recent resurgence can be linked to the improved form of Bellamy and Cole. The latter has hit the hitherto uncharted territory of 4 goals in 4 games, which doesn't exactly make him Gerd Muller, but it doesn't exactly make him David di Michele either.

Cole's goal was beautifully taken, which it needed to be with Given in such good form. Shortly before this, Given had pulled off a near miraculous save from Jack Collison, but he was groping thin air as Cole unusually swung his left foot without causing 30,000 West Ham fans to groan in despair.

Bellamy undertook a match long exercise in pissing off the opposition, which worked tremendously well. His goal was also nicely created and taken, leaving me with the horrible vision of him departing for Manchester City on January 29th and us replacing him with an unknown Italian from Brescia, and wondering at exactly what this would do to my fathers pulmonary artery.

There seems to be an inevitability about his departure that pervades all, but in truth if the club can get £15m and replace him with a viable Premier League striker then I could probably shrug my shoulders and get on with it. Someone like Kevin Doyle would presumably be affordable and capable, but there seems little point in postulating theories when the club haven't exactly got a glowing track record in this area anyway.

I'll confess to this though, although I think the club are doing a nice job of getting rid of fringe players, it should be noted that those same players had roles to play in the squad. I struggle with this notion that we are somehow better off in a footballing sense by having less options to choose from.

9. Luis Boa Morte Footwear Update

This is a solemn day. We may never get to see this section again, as Luis ties up a switch to Hull City which will apparently involve actual legal tender coming our way.

So farewell, Luis. I don't think anyone ever put in more effort to get less reward since that Greek fellow who spent his time pushing the rock up a hill.

On paper, Boa Morte should have been a decent signing, but £5m for him now looks like one of Curbishley's most expensive mistakes, which is really something from the man who paid £3m for Freddie Ljungberg.

So although I am sort of sad to see him go, I am also sort of willing to rev up my motor and drive him up there.

Oh, and he wore these in his last appearance for us...

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Newcastle United vs West Ham United: Match Preview - 10/01/2009

1. January Sale

Firstly, a Happy New Year to you all.

Its that time when the excesses of Christmas are carried over into the New Year as people scour the markets for bargains and late additions to recently engorged troves, and football is no different.

This must also rank as one of the easiest periods for sports journalists who are able to link most any player with any club so long as their fantasies are prefixed by either according to sources… or Sky Sports understands…

West Ham have featured prominently in such articles for a while now and for the wrong reasons. Rumours persist and will do right up ‘til 1st February (before tales of a summer exodus emerge), but they may have been allayed a little by the recent sale of Matty Etherington to Stoke and the proposed move of Calum Davenport to Bolton.

Lee Bowyer has been seen at Birmingham City who are attempting to buy him for the second time after their first approach was shouted down by principled Blues fans - they initially voiced their disapproval of Bowyer’s character, just before they embraced Jermaine Pennant’s arrival fresh from prison, complete with electronic ankle tag.

There’s even talk of Luis Boa Morte upping sticks and heading for Hull, a town with more than one Barratts and a couple of Freeman Hardy Willis, so LBM will certainly need to up his dosage of mind-bending drugs in order to satisfy his accurately chronicled alarming taste in footwear.

These are obviously moves to cut the wage bill whilst getting some funds in without having to sell any of what the press have chosen to term our ‘aces’ – Bellamy, Upson, Parker, Green or Ashton.

After the capture of left-back Wayne Bridge, Mark Hughes has admitted recently employing his substantial kitty with an offer for Bellamy and Parker:

"We made initial enquiries about Parker and Bellamy, made a double bid, but that was rejected. We haven't gone back to the table on that one but we may well do”

More peripheral players may follow Etherington out the door and like many of us, post-Yuletide binge, the squad would benefit from a leaner look.

Captain Lucas Neill decided to take in an AC Milan training session in Dubai whilst recovering from injury, which lead to a few indolent hacks linking him with a move to the Rossoneri. That Lucas Neill could be considered a full-back replacement for the imperious Paolo Maldini or the tireless Cafu is as laughable as a Jermaine Defoe loyalty bonus.

2. Opposition

Saturday afternoon provides us with a trip to Newcastle and a not inconceivable opportunity to record our third successive Premiership win.

The previously laughed at but partially validated installation of Joe Kinnear as caretaker manager has soothed the post-Keegan maelstrom. The eminently likeable Kinnear has added 18 points to the meagre tally of 4 that Newcastle had accrued by the time he took charge in early October and has also given us the greatest press conference of all time.

After a brief period of revival, Newcastle have reverted to type in recent weeks and found themselves on the wrong end of a few defeats. Having established some momentum following victories away to Portsmouth and at home to tottenham, they then conspired to lose to Wigan and be on the wrong end of a thumping from the League leaders.

They have themselves been the subject of unwanted transfer rumour with a few of their top names being linked with moves away from St James’s.

Michael Owen has quelled speculation of a move before the summer until inevitably leaving on a free for a massive signing on fee while peroxide waste of potential Alan Smith has also been linked with a few teams wishing to add some steel to their side and yellow cards to their disciplinary record.

The most damaging aspect of the transfer window from Newcastle’s perspective has been Shay Given’s declaration (or rather that of his lawyer) that he wants to move on after 11 years service.

Given has arguably won more points for Newcastle than the any other player bar Alan Shearer during his time with club and their questionable defence would be all the more porous without Given between the sticks. If they lose him before February, they could be in trouble.

Currently, the opposition treatment room is doing a great impression of ours last year. Obafemi Martins has a hernia, Shola Ameobi ankle trouble, Mark Viduka a groin injury, Alan Smith an ankle problem and Joey Barton an attitude problem. Nicky Butt also serves a suspension this weekend.

3. Roll Up, Roll Up

After a dearth of serious interest, Newcastle supremo Mike Ashley has recently taken the club off the market amid a notable lack of protest from the Geordie faithful.

Ashley’s move is emblematic of the difficulty many clubs face in finding potential buyers. Portsmouth have publicly stated they are for sale, Everton Chairman Bill Kenwright has made no secret of his openness to offers and our own situation is as confidential as every single facet of Jordan’s OK Magazine!-funded life.

A few short years ago the uber-rich were queuing up to get their gold-plated hands on a Premiership outfit, but no more. Our own position is marked by a significant time-constraint as Chairman Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson’s holding company Hansa is due in court on 6th March to satisfy creditors or risk insolvency.

Should Hansa be declared insolvent, West Ham risk a 9-point deduction from the Premier League and potential consignment to the Championship, followed by freefall a’la Leeds United.

4. History

Last season’s corresponding fixture saw us go down 3-1, a flattering if unsurprising scoreline for Newcastle given our Curbsite sense of adventure at the time.

We had the tactical discipline to concede after two minutes and to relinquish Dean Ashton’s volleyed equaliser 10 minutes after it hit the back of the net. Viduka ended the day with a brace and to add insult to injury, we allowed a man with such a name as Charles N’Zogbia to claim a third.

At the time this was Allardyce vs Curbishley, the tactical equivalent of narcolepsy. Tomorrow’s strategic architects stand a much better chance of providing us a shot in the arm.

In our Premiership history, we are on the losing side overall having won 8 drawn 8 and lost 12. You will have to cast your mind back to 1998 for our last win at St James’s Park (3-0, Wright (2) and Sinclair) and Newcastle have won four of the subsequent seven meetings.

5. Groundhog Day

Another year, another inquiry into Tevezgate.

Now I’m no Perry Mason (bar my post-Christmas girth), but I can see no sense when adherence with an initial ruling, a successful rebuttal of two appeals to the Premier League followed by a further successful defence in the highest court in the land all stand for nothing when faced with a shadily assembled kangaroo court, trial by media and the stubborn refusal of a plaintiff to acknowledge their own obvious shortcomings.

The crux of this latest attempt to decry our club is that all initial rulings went through the Premier League whereas Sheffield United found a sympathetic ear with the FA. Both bodies will now get together to decide whether we having committed the greatest atrocity of the 21st century or whether Sheffield United’s indisputable incompetence can not possibly be negated by a single man.

Even Barrymore wasn’t hounded like this and he battered a man to death with a dildo. (Of course he didn’t, the man simply drowned in suspicious circumstances in Barrymore’s pool whilst chock-full of alcohol, cocaine and ecstasy, having suffered “serious anal injuries”. There was no question of impropriety on the part of the popular entertainer.)

6. Indian Summer

Something strange has happened to us recently in that we have all managed to witness a string of three consecutive victories without delving into Luis Boa Morte’s big bag of hallucinogens.

Our recent spurt of momentum has the opportunity to become a full-blown winning run in light of our next three fixtures: Newcastle (a), Fulham (h), and Hull City (h).

These are of course exactly the kinds of matches we will lose, but on the off chance we manage to take five points or more, this period could prove the critical part of our season.

Following that, its Arsenal at The Emirates and Man United at Upton Park – four points minimum there, particularly if I learn from my mistakes and manage to do a better job on Ronaldo’s brake fluid.