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

Friday, September 24, 2010

West Ham United vs tottenham hotspur: Match Preview - 25/09/2010

1. Is It That Time Already?

After registering a solitary point from our opening five fixtures, we are already at that stage of the season where we scour the fixture list to see where we can pick up the points necessary to avoid relegation.

Meanwhile, through the looking glass, tottenham fans are convinced they have the capacity to secure both silverware and peace in Afghanistan by May.

Traditionally, it is also around this time of year where they all too easily secure three points at Upton Park.

2. Opposition

Despite being as odious as ever, few can argue that this is not the best-equipped Spurs squad for some time. Champions League qualification finally arrived at White Hart Lane last season, and I feel sick even typing about it.

It’s not jealousy. I know as well as anyone that European fare at Upton Park will only ever come in the guise of the Intertoto Cup, or some ‘ollandaise sauce on yer ‘otdog. It’s the perceived validation, that last season confirmed what Tottenham fans knew all along – their status as a massive club.

Fulham got to the UEFA Cup Final (I’m still adjusting to ‘Europa League’), but entertain no fantasy of grandeur, content they are a midtable outfit capable of exceeding expectations on occasion.

The bottom line is, tottenham have to do well if they are to remain competitive. This summer’s acquisition of Brazilian Sandro and Dutchman Rafael Van Der Vaart has taken tottenham’s expenditure since May 2008 to £173 million.

The alluring prospect of a financial whirlwind just waiting to be reaped, remains.

3. Butterfingers

Robert Green’s summer exploits remain in the public consciousness thanks to a couple of similar blunders in consecutive weeks.

Green’s spilt effort against Chelsea lead inexplicably to the champions’ second goal and killed the game. At The Brittania Stadium, Green again displayed the nimble dexterity of an arthritic mammoth to present Robert Huth with a gilt-edged chance, the German bruiser mercifully striking the post.

Indecisiveness also contributed to Stoke’s equaliser – Green failing to claim a cross which should’ve been his, further illustrating his current fragility.

All goalkeepers make costly errors, errors which are sternly judged as they often lead to goals.

Despite continued woes, I think Green has the mental strength to rediscover his old form and once again embody the assured goalie we have often relied upon. However, he is, and will always be, one of those ‘keepers prone to the odd clanger.

I can accept that (to a point), but it’s the current lack of belief which concerns me. Defences look to their ‘keeper to command the box and act decisively. Any crisis of confidence will inevitably bleed through, particularly to a back four which has seen five different line-ups this season.

4. Picture Book

Joe Jordan was all too willing to accept Harry Redknapp's insistence on a holding midfielder.

5. The Only Way Is Up

A first win of the season, and a first away win since the opening game of last season, is as good a place as any to put a stop to the most septic rot on the fetid corpse of our recent exploits against tottenham.

Two good goals away to Sunderland in midweek will hopefully provide some crust of confidence to our malnourished ego.

If Scott Parker can maintain his recent dominance of any midfield he steps onto, Kieron Dyer and Pablo Barrera run effectively at the creaking Spurs defence, and Rob Green keep his gloves free from goose fat, the backing of what will doubtless be an intially vociferous home support could provide the result which will kick-start our season.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Manchester United vs West Ham United: Match Preview - 28/08/2010

1. Opposition

Since the departure of Ronaldo and Tevez, Man United have not looked as accomplished an outfit as their main title contenders, Chelsea. With a lack of big money investment this summer, the west London outfit are favourites to claim back-to-back Premiership titles.

Despite undoubted class, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes will play increasingly diminishing roles, and in the absence of a firing Wayne Rooney, the ‘attack attack attack’ nature of United looks less threatening now than in recent years.

Mexican mouse, Javier Hernandez, is their most noteworthy addition in the off-season. Unlike billions of others, the pint-sized striker enjoyed the World Cup, made an impact in the Community Shield and seems blessed with innate technique.

At £6 million and just 22 years of age, Hernandez may well prove to be another Ferguson masterstroke, despite the effeminately precise nature of his acrylic eyebrows.

United have made an unremarkable start to the season relative to some of their chief adversaries, last week’s 2-2 draw with Fulham an unwelcome blip as both Arsenal and Chelsea scored six. However, if there is one team in the league that the Big Boys look to to provide a welcome tonic, it’s us.

Man U are a wounded animal. They can not afford another slip up so early and will be looking to exorcise any doubts as to their title credentials by thumping us on Saturday evening, and who can say they won’t do just that?

Fantasy Football managers across the globe are frantically packing their teams with as many United players as possible.

2. Park Yourself Here

The importance of Scott Parker was again evident on Tuesday night as he popped up with the injury-time winner against Oxford United, in lieu of any incisive forward play.

He also created our best chance against Bolton, threading though a neat pass to Kieron Dyer, who forced a good save from Jussi Jaaskelaineuaiieenanen.

Parker has been the focal point of our transfer speculation this summer, with feather-ruffling tax cheat Harry Redknapp lodging a bid in spite of David Sullivan’s unequivocal refusal to sell. A lucrative five-year contract has been put on the table for Parker, a notable commitment to a 29-year old.

However, this contract has been awaiting his signature for nearly a month.
Parker must know that this is his last chance of a big contract and stalling thus far does not fill me with confidence regarding a long-term commitment.

Spurs qualification for the Champions League group stages will guarantee them a tidy income, and so expect another offer to be forthcoming before the close of the transfer window next week.

3. The Proposal

‘Fergie – how about it. You. Me. Candlelight. A can of Kestrel Super and some oven chips. Come on, you can't resist this.’

4. History

Since John Paintsil showed the world why he is the greatest player of all time back in 2007, United have utterly dominated us. In the five fixtures since, they have one all five, scoring 14 goals in the process.

A close fought 1-0 loss back in February 2009 is as admirable as we have been, competing until Ryan Giggs stepped inside an askew Carlton Cole to fire in a low, right-footed shot through a crowded penalty area.

Last season’s corresponding fixture ended in a 3-0 defeat with Wayne Rooney scoring a brace of headers during the red-hot spell of form he singularly failed to employ in South Africa.

Despite a similar deficit, this fixture was an improvement upon the home match, in which we were thoroughly outclassed and lost 4-0, picked apart like a Dan Brown plotline.

It says something about our expectations when you’ll take a 3-0 loss as long as we show some appetite.

5. The Response


6. Arrivederci Alessandro

This week saw the sale of Alessandro Diamanti to Brescia for £1.8 million, representing a loss of £4.2 million on our original £6 million investment.

The crass financial folly of this deal aside, I can’t see how it makes any football sense.

Diamanti was sometimes wasteful and as many of his efforts ended up in Zamora territory as tested the ‘keeper. But he was an attacking player, he wasn’t a ‘safety first’ footballer, he was someone willing to take on defenders or try the unpredictable.

At the very least, he provided a positive option on the bench. Kieron Dyer’s papier-mâché knees will not hold out for more than a couple of months, and two games since joining, Pablo Barrera can not solely be expected to carry the burden of creativity.

I just can’t see how this deal makes any sort of sense. While not a great player, Diamanti was a committed one who on his day could provide a breakthrough to a deadlocked situation. There are plenty of other contenders who should’ve been shown the exit in his stead.

Diamanti wore his heart on his sleeve. Benni McCarthy wears his mayonnaise on his shirt.

7. The Case For The Defence

The need for a settled back four is obvious, but prior to settling, it’s important that the right quartet is selected.

Herita Ilunga is nailed on at left-back. Not through exceptional ability, but just through a lack of alternatives. Fabio Daprela is yet to be given a sustained opportunity and one presumes he’s just not impressing on the training ground.

Ilunga has hardly been in dynamite form to keep Daprela out, although the Congolese merits some time to rediscover the form and appetite he showed before securing a lucrative long-term contract, Range Rover and big house in Chigwell.

Our need for a right-back is well established. Julien Faubert has sought to adapt and won a few people round with his renewed endeavour, but his midfielder’s nature has been cruelly exposed by a lack of positional awareness on more than a few occasions.

Matthew Upson has not been the same player since he had his head turned by the prospect of a regular England place. He has been embarrassingly caught out by some ‘Route 1’ football several times in recent months, and he just doesn’t reassure me as he once did. It’s the absence of that beard.

James Tomkins is dangerously close to joining Mark Noble in the ‘promising youngster cruising to mediocrity’ stakes, and his youth can no longer be used as a reason for under-performance. With two seasons of fairly consistent Premier League involvement behind him, he should be making progress.

Manuel Da Costa is on the fringes, but I see no reason why he cannot command a regular first team slot. Amid a mediocre bunch, it’s a good opportunity for the Portuguese to assert ambition beyond that of a Jeremy Kyle guest.

Tal Ben Haim is a bewildered and bewildering lump, probably still confused as to how what he thought was the Kings Road is now apparently littered with broken glass and swarming with pickpockets. His physical presence is his main asset, which also demands a mobile centreback be used in tandem.

Danny Gabbidon is a conundrum. Experienced and injury-prone, he would be considered merely a standard squad player were it not for that dynamite season in 2006, which has mostly served to leave us wondering if he is ever capable of regaining that form.

Everyone would probably have a different favoured four from this bunch. The important thing is that Avram Grant selects his, drills them incessantly and sticks with them.

Monday, August 23, 2010

West Ham United vs Oxford United: Match Preview - 24/08/2010

1. The Weird And Wonderful World Of Avram Grant

Other than our woeful defending, one thing has struck me thus far about the recent exploits of Mossad’s finest: his mysterious take on reality.

I have not determined whether Grant is yet to fully master the English language, or if his flabby jowls generate sufficient turbulence to distort his view of the world.

Consider his assessment of the Bolton game:

‘I am happy with how the players responded. The defence was good…(?!) On the football side everything went well. We played like a team at the top.’

And how about Villa:

‘We were on top of Villa in the second half before they scored their third.’

This last statement is particularly amusing, essentially translating as: ‘At 2-0 down we controlled the game. Until we went 3-0 down.’

Grant has undoubtedly had a rude-awakening, realising something we’ve all known for years: no matter how good many players look on paper, how respected their reputation, stick them in a West Ham shirt and they become as erratic as an autistic child left out in the sun.

2. Opposition

Oxford United visit this evening for our opening foray into the Carling Cup, a competition we regularly laud as an opportunity for Europe, but rarely progress beyond the 3rd round.

Oxford have recently returned to the Football League proper following their 3-1 victory over York City in the Conference Play-Off Final back in May.

They currently sit in the lower half of League Two, with two draws and a loss from their opening three games.

3. Six Degrees Of Separation

After tonight’s Cup distraction, we face one of the toughest stretches of the season: Man United (a), Chelsea (h), Stoke (a) and tottenham (h).

On current form, it’s far from inconceivable that we will lose all those fixtures, making six losses from our opening six games.

Grant took over at Portsmouth last year after it had taken Pompey eight games to register a point, a deficit they were unable to overcome.

Optimists will say we’re far from that at this early stage, but it is depressing to consider that just two games into the season, it looks increasingly likely that all we can realistically look forward to is another relegation scrap.

4. Picture Book

‘Pssst – Dave. I’ve got three Ann Summers dildos up my arse. And a writ for The H List.’

5. Backwards In Going Forwards

Rumours abound that Alessandro Diamanti is on his way to Brescia, a confounding move.

Diamanti is no DiCanio or Tevez, but he is the only player we have capable of the unexpected.

Despite his occasional wastefulness, I see no reason why he should be sold off and can only presume it is purely a financial decision, but there are plenty of players I’d offload before him.

A midfield of Diamanti, Parker, Hitzlsperger and Barrera would be one of the more promising we have fielded for some time. To jettison a genuine attacking threat is bemusing – it’s not as if we’re ruthless finishers upfront.

6. The Milk Of Human Kindness

Nothing can be said to excuse, explain or improve upon our opening two games this season, so I’m just going to pretend they didn’t happen, but when the present is unsure and scary, it’s always comforting to engage in a little nostalgia.

For no reason I can fathom, I have a particularly sharp recollection of Oxford United winning what was then the Milk Cup Final with a 3-0 victory over QPR back in 1986, later cruelly denied their place in Europe under the Heysel ban.

This star-spangled memory, combined with West Ham’s current malaise has resulted in no small part of me wanting to see Oxford progress this evening.

A win will mean an awful lot more to them than it would to us, and a defeat might just give us the kick up the arse we need before Man United on Saturday.

The mid-80’s era were simpler times: footballers were on a wage akin to that of the working man, West Ham had a title-contending team, to qualify as a ‘celebrity’ you had to display talent, football shirts were plain and functional, moustaches commonplace, and an iPad was something you stuck on your face.

Today’s fast-paced, information-saturated world seems cynically twisted by comparison, prostituted by media giants hell-bent on hyping over-stylised national pastimes to such an extent that they feel entitled to charge us for the spectacle as it’s ‘the best we’ve ever had’.

When the bewildering circus of modern football becomes too much, there is comfort to be had in the wistful remembrance of youth: Battle Of The Planets on a Saturday morning, Routemaster buses, Keith Houchen diving to meet Dave Bennett’s cross, and the brooding sexual menace of Michael Knight.

Such reflection becomes skewed over time, rose-tinted and largely pointless, but this harmless indulgence is an awful lot sweeter than the sour reality of the here and now.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

West Ham 1 - 3 Bolton Wanderers (And Other Ramblings)

1. Sympathy For The Author

Apropos of absolutely nothing. Here is a discussion I had with Mrs Shark last night as I spent 3 hours moving bricks from one part of our garden to another during a Biblical rainstorm. I was doing this because we have workmen coming today to lay some decking:

Me: "God, I'm tired"
Mrs Shark: "Why"
Me: "Well, I just moved about 200 hundred heavy bricks. In the rain"
Mrs Shark: "You shouldn't have left it until the night before then should you?"

Because, obviously, bricks get heavier the longer you leave them in the garden.

Why, I hear you wondering, for the love of God, are you telling us this?

Well, dear reader, because it is either this or write about another home defeat to Bolton. I'm only thinking of your sanity.

2. Is It A Bird

"AKA - Kevin Davies. Alright, go on then YOU explain it"

3. The Opposition

I hate Bolton. "Hate" is a strong word but seriously, I hate them. The footballing equivalent of the Flat Earth Society arrived at Upton Park with confidence flowing, largely at the sight of our trembling back 4, and proceeded to beat us in exactly the same way as they have for the previous 5 years.

I would argue that Owen Coyle's greatest achievement is nothing he has done on the pitch but rather the way he appears to have convinced the nations media that he has substantially altered Bolton's style. The three goals in this game were so obviously Boltonian that they may aswell just copyright them and prevent Blackburn attempting to imitate them when they visit us.

Coyle's drug addled claim that Bolton played some good stuff in this game makes no sense to me at all. The first goal was a traditional hoof, which culminated in Kevin Davies planting a "Bolton kiss" on Matthew Upson and spreading his nose all over his face as he haplessly headed past Green. The second and third goals were scored by Johan Elmander, which in itself suggests a Faustian interference. His first was a thumping unmarked header from a cross and the second was from another long ball and some typically hallucinogenic defending and that lead to a straightforward tap in.

I am not saying that Bolton didn't deserve to win this game. Of course they did, in fact, they always do. But Owen - don't piss on our legs and tell us it's raining. Your team is as uniformly awful as ever and the fact that you once had Jack Wilshere on loan doesn't make you the second coming of Honved.

I mean, seriously, Paul Robinson. No further evidence M'lud.

4. The Opposition Donkey

Johan Elmander has scored 12 (twelve!) goals for Bolton in the 3 years he has been there. Of that enormous total, 3 have come against us, making us one quarter of his victims. As Russell Brand might say : "My eyes! My eyes! Take my eyes but don't let Elmander score against us!".

How difficult is it to concede a goal to Johan Elmander? Incredibly. The only feasible explanation is as follows:

25 mins - your full backs are savaged by a pride of lions
45 mins - your centre halves finally give in to temptation and elope to Gretna Green
60 minutes - your defensive midfielder turns out to be little more than a theory devised by a crazy Russian physicist.

Even then I would be wondering how it would be possible given that the goalkeeper is still there.

Worse still is the fact that Elmander actually should have scored a hat trick but squandered a very early chance, hindered by the dual problem that it was early in the game and that he is Johan Fucking Elmander.

5. The Statistics

Per ESPN the possession was split evenly at 50% although we mustered a heftier 22 goal attempts to the visitors 13. Sadly, of Bolton's 5 goal bound attempts they scored from 3, rendering all other statistical analysis moot.

Perhaps more pertinently, Mark Noble opened our scoring for the season for the third year in a row, which does rather suggest that our strikers haven't been tremendously prolific.

6. Cole Patrol

Poor old Carlton was meekly booed from the pitch after a truly Elmanderian performance that included a horribly scuffed penalty that Jaaskelainen saved by moving all of about 3 muscles.

Quite why he took the penalty is really beyond me given that Noble was on the pitch. More than any other Hammer, Cole is a confidence player, and more than any other keeper Jaaskelainen plays brilliantly against us. Cole hasn't looked overly impressive so far this season and his penalty subsequently resembled nothing so much as Fredi Kanoute's hopeless effort against Arsenal in our relegation season.

I have only ever seen Cole take one penalty, against Burnley last year, which he side footed straight down the middle in a thoroughly unimpressive matter. Mark Noble, by contrast, is confident enough to have taken plenty of spot kicks for both West Ham and England and been largely successful. Most importantly, he is strong enough to survive missing them which Cole clearly isn't, having seen his woeful performance after the miss.

I simply do not believe we should be endorsing a penalty taking policy of "He who earns it, spurns it".

7. Not So Dyer After All

Not too much on this point, as I have had my fingers burned by Kieron Dyer before, but it was somewhat exciting to see Dyer buzzing about on the left hand side. His direct predecessor was Luis Boa Morte, who had looked as effective as ever, so Dyer's direct running and clever passing was a welcome relief. He very nearly opened the scoring but was denied by a marvellous Jaaskelainen save, and faded soon after.

On the opposite side, Pablo Barrera was equally lively, even as his legs were being scythed away by Paul Robinson. In home games against lesser opposition these two are a decent option but I would be fairly concerned if we were relying on them away from Upton Park, what with our defence currently attempting to redefine the word "porous".

8. The Myth Of Our Difficult Early Start

All I hear about these days is how unkind the fixture list has been to us this year. Bear in mind that at this juncture we have played only Aston Villa (a) and Bolton (h). In last years Premier League season only three teams (Birmingham, Stoke, Portsmouth) didn't gain at least a point from those same fixtures.

Now our next two games are Man Utd (a) and Chelsea (h) which are, of course, incredibly tough and rather obvious looking defeats, but I think it is rather putting the horse before the cart to suggest that our first two games were all that tricky.

Of course, having lost those games with some largely insipid play to blame, we now look forward to run of games that takes in the aforementioned defeats and then Stoke (a) followed by spurs (h). Perhaps the worst part about this is that by the time we play Fulham it is entirely possible we will already be well adrift at the bottom of the league without a point (as opposed to being pointless, like Fulham).

And on that cheery note...

9. Department Of It Could Be Worse

"Ladies and gentleman, please welcome your new West Ham manager...Phil Brown!"

10. Ciao Alessandro

Unusually we had to wait for quite a while before our first sale of the summer as mercurial sort Alessandro Diamanti was sold to Brescia for £1.8m. A lot of people, my illustrious writing partner included, have been most put out by this, claiming it represents a loss of £4.8m on the original £6m outlay.

It strikes me that anyone who thinks we actually paid that much for Diamanti is largely insane. Seriously, you think we sold Collins for £5m and then paid £6m for Diamanti. As in, a net loss on a player? How long have you people been following West Ham! When have we ever done this? Don't you remember the whole "Oh look we sold Craig Bellamy for £15m but we're spending £9m on Savio. Well, when I say £9m I really mean £3m plus a further £6m if he turns out to be half dolphin."

West Ham were owned by asset stripping creditors when Diamanti was brought in. I have no doubt that the actual figure was significantly lower than £6m, but that the Club was perfectly happy for you to think it was that high because it made you think they were still investing in the team rather than paying off debt.

As for his value to the team, pfft. I don't particularly feel that fussed at losing a one paced, one footed player with no real position and questionable fitness. There was a certain renegade aspect to Diamanti's play that I quite enjoyed, but his departure will have next to no bearing on the outcome of our season.

Worrying about Diamanti's departure would be like the captain of the Titanic turning to his First Mate and saying "Tell you what Bill, I'm just not sure whether the paint on this boat is water resistant enough..."

And besides..... Kieron Dyer abides.

Friday, August 20, 2010

West Ham United vs Bolton Wanderers: Match Preview - 20/08/2010

1. Here’s One I Made Earlier

Hello everyone. Hope you all avoided the World Cup and enjoyed a few brief months of respite before last week's ruthless wake-up call.

I was all set to begin this new season with the breathless, wide-eyed gusto of a Blue Peter presenter.

Outwardly full of enthusiasm at the prospect of making a kitchen utensil holder from an old shoe-box, or perhaps riding at some speed through big puddles in a tank driven by the Territorial Army, I would inwardly conceal my drug habit and self-harming.

But then West Ham contrived to shame themselves on day one, folding as they did so many times last season, as incisive as Fox News with a defence as frail as an ageing Rocky Balboa.

2. The Opposition

In seasons past, I have lamented how Bolton Wanderers are consistently able to beat us despite our theoretical superiority. Well no more.

There are only so many times one can cling to the illusion of competence in the face of consistent evidence to the contrary. Just ask Dean Gaffney.

There are rumours that Bolton boss, Owen Coyle, will employ a more pleasing brand of football this season in an effort to appease the long-suffering home support and to boost attendances to more than 7.

There was little evidence to suggest this in their stalemate with Fulham last week, but should they mix it up on Saturday and we manage to nick a win, there will be those who would justifiably argue against Wanderers adopting a different style when they so obviously have the measure of their opponents.

Kevin Davies will once again press his claim for the Ballon d’Or by scoring at will against us, while still making time to augment the rate of demolition over in Stratford with his pendulous elbows.

3. Cheap Visual Gag #1

4. History

... something written by the victors, hence the Lancastrian-leaning dominance of recent entries. Although, unlike the old adage suggests, this account is also entirely accurate.

5. Olympic Effort

The Club are putting the finishing touches to a proposal to frequent the Olympic Stadium post-2012, along with some 150 other applicants.

Despite an initial openness to this suggestion, I have become increasingly sceptical the more I hear the nuts and bolts of it.

Under West Ham’s plan, the athletic stadium capacity will be reduced from 80,000 to some 58,000. This invites the prospect of empty seats come matchday seeing as we rarely sell out Upton Park’s 36,000 consistently.

David Gold recently took time out from pawing at the Hammerettes in his criminally short silk kimono to confirm that we have the option of expanding The Boleyn to around 42,000. While I feel the ideal capacity would be more towards the 50-mark, I’d rather a packed 42,000 than 10,000 empty seats.

Vampiric smut baron, David Sullivan, is adamant we will fill the proposed new stadium and has boasted of its ability to enable the cheapest matchday tickets in the Premiership.

Unlike Arsenal or Man United, we do not have the appeal to attract the ‘tourist trade’ element necessary to regularly fill 60,000, and so ticket prices would certainly have to come down if the Club are to entice sufficient supporters in from rural Essex and the coast. But with the chief aim of increased capacity being increased revenue, would slashed ticket prices negate the perceived benefit of moving altogether?

These considerations aside, my main concern is David Gold’s recent U-turn on accommodating a running track around the pitch. This is anathema to me and I suspect to the majority of West Ham fans.

The Two Davids initially cited the inclusion of said track as a deal-breaker, an assertion I was relieved to hear. But now it seems that, having visited the site, Gold has been converted thanks to the “sightlines” afforded by the stadium design.

"Sightlines." Hmmm.

If you stand on Waterloo Bridge and look east, on a clear day you can see Canary Wharf far in the distance. A truly remarkable sightline, but I wouldn’t fancy my chances of being able to make out Julien Faubert in Canada Square missing the entire Citigroup tower from 4-yards. I might get hit by his effort, but pay £45 for the privilege? I don’t think so.

When the Doc Martens Stand was first opened, moving the pitch to accommodate the replacement of the West Stand resulted in a chasm opening up between the Chicken Run and the touchline. Small potatos compared to what a running track would impose, but it had the effect of irrevocably diluting what had once been the most pleasingly claustrophobic and intimidating section of the stadium.

I am far from convinced this will be a beneficial move for us. The ‘once in a lifetime opportunity' for East End rejuvenation will go ahead with or without our tenancy, and our obvious need for the 12th-man effect of the crowd may well be sacrificed for the rose-tinted legacies of a couple of old pervs.

6. Cheap Visual Gag #2

Avram Grant is asked whether he thinks we could nick a point on Saturday

7. Form And Function

It’s anyone’s guess what eleven will line-up on Saturday afternoon, although you would hope some fairly radical changes will have been made.

It seems as if Grant fancies Cole upfront as a lone striker, so long as he is adequately supported from midfield – something which so obviously didn’t happen at Villa Park.

With an abundance of midfielders more adept in our own half than the opposition’s, the introduction of a Kieron Dyer, Pablo Barrera or Alessandro Diamanti is sorely needed.

In squad terms, I would be loathe to see Frank Nouble go out on loan again this season as we are not overly blessed in attack, with an over-reliance on Cole again in prospect. Nouble is worth regular stints on the bench and a chance to prove himself after a few impressively combative cameos last season.

Since taking up Dean Ashton’s challenge to dedicate himself to the ‘nothing but butter-coated margarine’ diet, Benni McCarthy has condemned himself to 10-minute spells of wheezing on the sidelines as he tries to get out of his tracksuit. And Type 2 Diabetes.

8. "..."

I’m so dispassionate about the outcome of what is only our second game of the season that I’m seriously considering not staying up ‘til 2am to watch us lose 2-1.

Perhaps expectations were too high last week, and an assumption that we wouldn’t immediately revert to last season’s wretched type, misguided.

Let’s all hope we’re not so jaded that we can’t retain even a flicker of anticipation come the final whistle on at least a few occasions this season.

To paraphrase a debonair, inter-galactic maverick who played by his own rules: Come on Avram, old buddy – don’t let me down.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Aston Villa 3 - 0 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

1. Back! And Better Than Ever! If By "Better" You Mean "Much The Same As Before!"

This performance was so utterly, objectionably, abysmally abject that I rather suspect Naomi Campbell will be required to testify about it at The Hague by the end of the week.

2. What Naomi Saw

"Yes. It's rather an inconvenience to me that West Ham still can't fucking defend"

3. The Opposition

Although I may be somewhat unkind about Stewart Downing from time to time, I would like to think I can still recognise a good opposition team when I see one. Villa looked so much better than us in this game it was really a miracle that we only lost by three. They hit the bar twice, the post once and Ashley Young switched boots with Downing at half time and missed from a yard in the second half. All in all we were battered.

Perhaps the most galling aspect of this defeat is that Villa are currently being managed by Kevin MacDonald, who as far as I know was in charge of their ticket office before unexpectedly being given the reins when Martin O'Neill had his latest wobble. There is something so depressingly familiar about watching us subside at the first sign of pressure when apparently it's the opposition who are supposed to be in turmoil. I mean, seriously - allowing Stewart Downing to score (even if it was offside) - that's just amateurish.

I'm not sure this game gives us any great insight into Villa, on the grounds that most teams they meet this year will have a little more backbone to them than we displayed. Of course their biggest problem is the imminent departure of James Milner who seems set to join Man City for no less than £20m plus Stephen Ireland. The notion of paying Twenty Million for Milner only seems sensible to me if you are talking about Turkish Lira but I guess good sense has long since departed the English transfer market. Ireland is a good player and I rather think Villa will be fine this year, although I can't see anything much above 7th.

4. The Statistics

Despite not really wanting to, I forced myself to look at the ESPN Gamecast and thoroughly depressed myself in the process. You can suffer too if you want.

Apparently my attempted eye gouging may have worked somewhat as I must have missed pretty much all of our surprisingly high 14 attempts at goal. Slightly less surprisingly, just one was on target, and that was a right footed scuffler from Luis Boa Morte. Villa, by contrast had 27 (!) efforts which led to a, still eye bleedingly low, total of 5 on target. Still, they scored from 3 of them so I shall not mock too much.

I dunno, not much to see here as they really did hammer us. If you are unsure about this, consider that by the time we had our first goal attempt after 26 minutes, Villa had had 8 of their own, and scored. Yeah, I think they edged it.

5. Adventures In Formation

Our best two chances feel either side of the break and involved some egregious finishing from our wide players. The aforementioned Boa Morte chance was squandered not just due to poor technique but also because at the time Luis was underhitting his shot, Carlton Cole was standing alone on the 6 yard line waiting for the ball to be squared to him.

Later in the second half, Cole was involved in creating a great chance for Julien Faubert that would have brought us back into the game at 2-1. Sadly, Faubert slotted it calmly past the post and the moment was gone. Most irritating of all was that had Faubert used his left foot, his chest, his nose, harsh language or indeed any other method for propelling the ball forward he would almost certainly have scored, such was the nature of the chance.

This highlights something of a problem with the 4-5-1 method in so much as it does rely heavily on the two wide men getting forward to support the isolated Cole. Now that's a fine idea when your two wingers are Joe Cole and Arjen Robben. When they are Faubert and Boa Morte it doesn't seem quite so potent. Between them these two have played 131 league games for us and scored 3 times. And one of those was against Hull so I'm not even sure the Premier League actually count that.

I am sure the longer term plan is to mix them up with Pablo Barerra and Kieron Dyer but for an opening game it was somewhat disheartening to see us put out a team with almost no attacking threat.

6. Out With The Old, And Back In With It Again

On that last point, I have to say I found it deflating in the extreme that having spent the best part of £10m on new players we still lined up with more or less the same team who performed so abjectly last year. Our midfield 5 of Faubert, Parker, Noble, Kovac and Boa Morte is a thoroughly uninspiring group that is long on perspiration and short on pretty much any other kind of "-ation".

The starting XI on Saturday had a combined 51 league goals for West Ham, with Cole (26) and Noble (10) being responsible for most of them. By contrast Carew and Young had 60 between them for Villa, and even after just 5 minutes of this game it was impossible to ignore the difference in attacking potency between the two teams. This was best characterised by the fact that Carew and Milner between them mustered 13 efforts on our goal whilst Cole, for example, managed just one.

7. First Day At Work

"West Ham defenders - God's little practical joke on football managers"

8. Right Said Fred

I see Freddie Sears was on the bench for this game. I suspect this was Grant's way of trying to subtly suggest to our supporters that maybe they should temper their expectations for the year. In fact, as far as statements of intent go it was rather suggesting that you get your expectations, wrap them neatly in a brown bag, sellotape them in for safety and then put them under the bed with all your other footballing hopes and dreams.

Perhaps you can get them out again in 2013 when we will be firmly ensconced in the Olympic stadium and filling it with 58,000 fans every week. Apparently.

9. The Future

As appalling as we were in this match it's hard to get too worked up with just one game gone. Even though Blackpool won 4-1 at Wigan it's hard to think that they and the other promoted sides won't struggle and with other dross around like Blackburn and Bolton it doesn't seem to outrageous to think we could finish 5th bottom this year.

Because, obviously, with the 6th highest priced season ticket in the League this is exactly how I like to think of my team.

Anyway, sample size is everything when performing analysis so let's withhold judgement on Grant, Winston Reid, Pablo Barerra et al until they have at least been knocked out of the Cup by Oxford. For instance, it might be tempting to suggest that Reid looked every inch a man who had learned his trade at the hands of footballing powerhouses New Zealand Soccer and Brondby FC, but let's give the guy more than 1 game to rush to judgement, especially as he is apparently more a centre back than right back.

10. Just Because

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Aston Villa vs West Ham : Match Preview - 14 August 2010

1. The New West Ham. Just Like The Old West Ham, But With A Bigger Logo

As I wandered through the heaving urban metropolis that is south Romford on my way to the station this morning, I happened to glance up at the large revolving advertising board that helps to give South Street it's Parisian air of late 60's joie de vivre.

To my surprise I saw a large picture of Scott Parker glancing down, encouraging me to buy up some tickets for the new season. Sadly, in rather typical West Ham fashion, as the board revolved several of the panels remained stuck, meaning that Scott's chiselled features were rather weirdly mixed in with that new Milky Bar kid, giving the whole thing a slightly Mary Shelley feel. Naturally, the details of how you actually buy the tickets are also hidden. The more things change etc...

None the less, I applaud the Club's apparent desire to reach back out to it's traditional heartlands and wrest back some of the territory that was shamefully ceded to the likes of tottenham and Chelsea under Duxbury. Somewhat predictably, the execution is a little lacking, but it seems an apposite reminder of the difference between the Icelandic asset strippers and the new Gold/Sullivan/Brady triumvirate.

At this point, of course, I have very little idea as to whether our new owners are going to be any better than, say, Terry Brown. It doesn't strike me as all that sensible to suggest renaming the team within days of taking over as CEO (Brady), or firing out statements suggesting the whole squad is up for sale (Sullivan) or apparently accepting that any move to the Olympic Stadium will include a running track (Gold), but then again, what do I know about running a football club. The debt is down, we haven't sold anyone yet this summer, and nobody appears to be listening to Scott Duxbury. Things are looking up.

2. New Boys

The signing of Mexican winger Pablo Barrera is arguably the most exciting signing made by the Club for some time. On the one hand, the acquisition of young, pacy players who have performed well at the World Cup is a sure sign that our transfer policy might well be moving in the right direction...

3. On The Other Hand...

4. New Boys Cont...

Barrera aside, I am positively drooling over the prospect of Thomas Hitzlsperger slotting into our Scott Parker shaped midfield. Not only because he had been a regular member of the brilliant German squad that graced South Africa 2010, but because he will presumably take some of the load off the aforementioned Parker. I am less excited about the prospect of how often his name is going to be misspelled on the various West Ham internet forums who were previously unable to cope with "Don Hutchison", but I will put up with all your grammatical incompetence.

Naturally, Hitzlsperger was injured playing for Germany on Wednesday and is thus unlikely to feature at Villa, but leaving aside our ongoing susceptibility to opposition voodoo dolls, I rather suspect he will be an excellent addition to the squad.

Whether he will be joined in the starting XI by Frederic Piquionne seems unlikely as the ex Pompey striker seems like a dead cert late game replacement for Cole, and little else. In addition, the 3 year contract given out to the 31 year old seems like a somewhat regressive move when you consider that we have already saddled ourselves with Benni McCarthy's Atkins Diet for the next 2 years aswell.

Elsewhere, defensive new boys Tal Ben Haim and Winston Reid are welcome, if slightly unexpected additions. Haim, is a real Boltonian defender with a "Fuck No" approach to allowing strikers to walk unaided, whilst Reid, is a New Zealander, thus meaning that all my wife's friends and acquaintances now feel qualified to comment on West Ham. Marvellous.

5. The Boss

Avram Grant has had a unique few years in England. His initial foray as a Manager began with Chelsea whom he led to within a tear stained John Terry penalty of the Champions League title. Sadly for Avram, and mercifully for all the millions of people who openly despise John Terry, it was not to be and he won neither the League or the CL.

Despite the late season resurgence he engineered, Grant was largely damned with faint praise as various experts queued up to opine that any carbon based life form with a pulse and a functioning cortex (so not Sam Allardyce, presumably) should be able to get Chelsea into a Champions League final.

The fact that he remains the only Chelsea manager to achieve this feat does rather refute this argument, but no British football pundit ever let facts get in the way of a good myth.

Strangely, he was then largely held to be exempt from blame as Portsmouth slipped to an ignominious relegation last year. The common thread seems to be that Grant has inherited a couple of situations that required salvaging and has never had an English team to completely call his own. Presumably, we will be that team and one would like to think a manager of Grant's experience will be able to move us away from the dead men at the foot of the table.

Whether anything higher is a realistic expectation remains to be seen, and will presumably depend greatly on who is sold between now and the end of the transfer window (*).

(*) Except for Freddie Sears of course, who will never again have any kind of conceivable impact in any of our lives unless he runs over your cat.

6. Token Haka

"Nutmeg this, muthafucka" says Winston Reid

7. The History

Our recent past with Villa has been somewhat chequered as we mixed up a last minute win in November last year, with several draws and one game in which we apparently allowed Craig Gardener to score the winner, as impossible as that sounds.

Zavon Hines was the unlikely hero last year as he popped up with a last minute winner that was naturally followed shortly thereafter with a season ending injury.

The most recent genuinely one sided game between us involved a 4-0 win and a Marlon Harewood hat trick on September 12 2005. This was also the day that England regained the Ashes at the Oval, and if you put those two events together you realise that obviously London had slipped through some kind of hole in the fabric of time and space that particular day.

Incidentally, we followed that up by selling Villa Nigel Reo-Coker and Harewood for a combined £13m deal that presumably contravened several clauses of the Trades Description Act, the Geneva Convention and the Magna Carta.

"Hey Randy, I think I have a Benni McCarthy out the back that might suit you..."

8. The Opposition

"Wait, what? You're saying I CAN'T bankrupt the Club?"

Incredibly we aren't the Premier League club in most disarray going into the new season, as Villa have coolly swiped our long held title by spectacularly imploding on the verge of this game. Martin O'Neill, their much admired boss, surprisingly stepped down this week after owner Randy Lerner revealed that he wasn't going to allow him to piss the utterly incredible £20m they are going to get for James Milner up the nearest wall. Here's the transcript of their discussion:

Martin: "Hey Randy, can I have that £20m?"
Randy: "Sure. Well, not all of it obviously, but you can have some of it"
Martin: "Why can't I have all of it?"
Randy: "Because we owe about £100m to our various creditors. That's quite a lot of money."
Martin: "How come we owe that much?"
Randy: "Remember that time you spent £13m on Nigel Reo-Coker and Marlon Harewood?"
Martin: "Not really Randy - that was a loooong fucking lunch if you get my drift"
Randy: "Yeah, well, I have to keep paying those guys Martin. Seriously. It costs a lot of money"
Martin: "Right, sure, I understand but that doesn't explain why I can't have the £20m to replace Milner"
Randy: "Again, I say, Marlon. Harewood"
Martin: "Well that's not fair. Say something else"
Randy: "Curtis Davies. Nicky Shorey. Steve Sidwell? How about Heskey? Emile Fucking Ivanhoe Heskey. You just leave these guys in the reserves - I have to pay them"
"You know what Randy, I've had enough of you Yank owners and all your talk of debt. I'm off. And I'm going to wait for the Man Utd job. Things will be different there...!"

In case you can't tell, I'm siding with Lerner. £20m for Milner is such a ridiculous sum that no one in their right mind could feasibly turn it down. Milner isn't that difficult to replace and the pesky thing about debts is that you do eventually need to repay them.

Of course, O'Neill is intelligent and erudite and understands that just as well as me. He is simply the latest manager to bump his head up against the glass ceiling imposed by UEFA and the G14 whereby "ordinary" Clubs are instructed to lower their debts even as UEFA funnel more money to the Champions League clubs, conveniently widening the divide between the two.

He cannot compete financially with tottenham or Man City so even finishing in a UEFA Cup spot becomes a distant dream for the likes of Villa (or indeed us, should we ever progress past fucking Stoke in the table). Thus, I guess it has to be hard getting of bed in the morning when all you can see is debt repayment for the foreseeable future.

Still, £8m for Curtis Davies. Wow.

9. Opening Day Whatever The Opposite Is Of Blues

Yeah, but what you're really asking is "What do we normally do on opening day?It's statistically relevant, man!"

Well, in reverse order since we returned to the Premier League:

Wolves (a) - W: 2-0
Wigan (h) - W: 2-1
Man City (h) - L: 0-2
Charlton (h) - W: 3-1
Blackburn (h) - W: 3-1

So, actually, we're pretty good starters since you ask. This is largely helped by the fact that we have played some pretty moderate opposition at home and, well, Wolves.

Tomorrows game constitutes our most difficult opener for some time, even with Villa being in disarray and fielding Stewart Downing in a, presumably, post modern ironic kind of way. Ho hum. I'm glad the football season is starting again.

10. The H List

We're back! And perhaps determined to be a bit more punctual than before. Who knows - we're not like David Sullivan and are perfectly willing to make promises to you and break them, but we will definitely try to be a more frequent visitor to your inbox or Twitter feed...

Friday, May 07, 2010

West Ham United vs Manchester City: Match Preview - 09/05/2010

1. Opposition

Manchester City’s season, like ours, is now over and so Sunday will be a procession.

It will at least give us a chance to watch a game of football while keeping our blood pressure below 410bpm, and wonder at what might be if Luis Boa Morte can just stay out of The Priory for more than two weeks.

City will doubtless splash the cash again this summer on a host of big names, determined to mount a creditable and sustained assault on next year’s championship.

While a good side with an array of talent (Tevez, Given, Toure), City aren’t there yet and from some angles resemble a bunch of mercenaries (Adebayour, Bellamy, Lescott).

2. Sweet Dreams

Amid our underachievement, we must be grateful for small mercies. The nightmare scenario has after all been averted.

I would rather chaperone the Taliban on a Hen’s Party through Chelmsford than have been sent down on the final day of the season courtesy of a typically bustling, technically astute performance by Pope Carlos Tevez.

The very thought of it is enough to start me welling up.

3. Onto The Next Crisis!

After a few weeks absence (further illustrating the validity of H List dearth equating to points accrual), we have achieved the distinction of guaranteeing 17th place.

As Portsmouth, Hull and Burnley consider life in The Championship, we can be thankful that but for their crass incompetence go we.

We turned the tide with a creditable draw at Everton and a victory at home to Stoke. We then contrived to put in a performance at Anfield with all the urgency of an H List Review, before sealing the deal against Wigan.

If you consider the nuts and bolts of it, it’s a wonder we survived at all. One away win all season. On opening day. Against newly-promoted Wolves.

In such circumstances, it’s usually solid home form which ensures survival, but we have been as secure in our own home as a Pharaoh’s firstborn at Passover. At times we’ve made beating bad sides look as difficult as pissing through a Polo while keeping your hands dry.

Hugely infrequent spells of competence this season on and off the pitch have been thoroughly eclipsed by everything else.

Were it not for the increasing gulf between poor Premiership sides and top Championship ones, we could have plummeted into the kind of freefall witnessed at Elland Road, St. Mary’s Stadium and The Valley.

4. Through The Looking Glass

I’ve mentioned this before, but continue to marvel at the capricious, haphazard nature of fortune.

Those in doubt of the existence of a parallel universe need look no further than Sunday’s opponent, for not so long ago, they were a northern reflection or ourselves - a seldom achieving, yet ambitious team, well-supported by the local community and committed to living or dying by the pursuit of good football.

Both clubs came into new investment around the same time, and then our paths radically diverged.

Thai despots invested heavily at The Eastlands before selling on to even wealthier counterparts from the most oil-rich Emirate in the Middle East, laying the foundation for quality acquisition and the genuine promise of success.

Inept Icelandic clowns invested money they never had in West Ham, spunked it, went into receivership and relinquished control to a cabal of banks, who then went on to sell a 50% stake to a velour-clad vampire with a dodgy ticker and his retired-pornstar associate, laying the foundation for sober reality, sullied expectation and free Sunday Sport for all.

Somewhere in the cosmos is an economy founded on soft porn, where West Ham are Kings of Europe and tabloids provide insightful, balanced commentary.

5. The One That Got Away

Manchester City are well on their way to a title or two, and are sure to again invest heavily this summer.

Their immediate ambitions, however, have been stymied by a failure to secure the final Champions League spot on Wednesday night.

That honour went to tottenham, who have performed consistently this season with the best squad seen at White Hart Lane for many years.

Now, my hatred for tottenham remains undiminished, and perhaps even enhanced courtesy of their fan’s perceived validation of claims to being ‘a massive club’.

But in the interests of accuracy, strip away the lacquer of hatred, chisel at the plasterboard of abhorrence, score the epoxy of loathing and scrape at the mortar of disgust, and you could make an argument for Spurs having the greater claim of the four clubs vying for Europe’s Promised Land.

6. Scott Parker

Far and away our most effective and influential player deservedly picked up the Hammer of the Year award during the week, the first time it has been won two years in a row since Julian Dicks did the same between 1995 and ’97.

Parker’s performances have been more authoritative than Chairman Mao and as composed as Confucius. It’s fitting that it was his goal which cemented our Premier League status and he is fast becoming the only viable hero in our ranks.

Even casting bias aside, and particularly considering Fabio Capello’s favour of form, I think Parker is a must for the England squad. He’s been on fire this season and easily stands up to comparison with the likes of Gareth Barry.

7. Tony Carr

A massive shout out to Tony Carr who was rightfully lauded at a midweek testimonial on Wednesday night.

The evening saw many ex-players return to honour Carr, a smorgasbord of legends and nobodies alike. Invoking the spirit of December 1915, a cessation of hostilities was observed as John Terry and Frank Lampard enjoyed courteous receptions from the crowd.

Such civilities were of course abandoned when Jermaine Defoe’s absence was announced to a chorus of hearty boos.

As is so often the case with testimonials, the match was a pedestrian affair illumined by the odd sparkle. Paolo DiCanio confirmed his status as King of the Boleyn, and Gianfranco Zola demonstrated how his abilities are so obviously in rude health.

The sight of Stuart Slater sashaying down the wing was a sight to warm the hearts of every West Ham fan, conjuring memories of his swivel-hipped strike against Everton in the Cup back in 1991.

As head of youth policy, Carr is the main reason why we have continually produced top class talent from The Academy.

It is just one of the dichotomies of life as a Hammers fan that the assembly line of quality churning through Chadwell Heath is as much a source of shame as pride.

Had we managed to hold on to just 50% of recent produce, we would have the nucleus of not only a formidable domestic team, but the national one.

Still, Tony Carr can not be held responsible for the mercenary fiscal policy of the Kearns family, Terry Brown or our numerically-illiterate Nordic overlords. He is, and has been for some time, the greatest asset of the club.

8. Déjà vu

As ever, the promise of a new season poses many questions:

After 110-years of managerial stability, will we be onto our third manager in three and a half years?

Who will be offloaded in the summer?

How much will we bid for Graham Dorrans before he signs elsewhere?

How will the embers of hope be rekindled by mid-August?

And how long before they’re thoroughly doused?

The H List will aim to enlighten colleagues and enrage neutrals. At least once every three months.