Thursday, August 27

Nolan leaves Hammers

Back from my holidays to the news that skipper Kevin Nolan is leaving West Ham by mutual consent. Clearly Slaven Bilic has seen enough to know that Nolan is no longer a force at Premier League level and in truth he didn't look up to it last season and was seemingly picked out of sentiment.

But let's remember that Nolan has always come across as a decent human being and could have chosen to sit out this season in the reserves on a massive salary, so credit him with wanting to play and being willing to take a pay-cut to do so. At 33 he could still do a decent job for a Championship side.

Overall, Nobby Nolan did an effective job in his four seasons at the Hammers. Never the most mobile or speedy midfielder, he was signed by Sam Allardyce for his leadership qualities and goalscoring abilities. It's significant that the spirit of the side improved markedly after he signed and he was brilliant at the dark arts of influencing referees and appealing for penalties.

Nolan's goals also contributed to the club's promotion and it's often forgotten that he could have been the hero of the Play-Off Final against Blackpool, having hit the bar with a great effort before playing a part in Vaz Te's winner.

When he was scoring he was worth a place in the side, but the decline in his stats tells the story of a player coming to the end of his career. He scored 13 goals in WHU's Championship season, ten PL goals in season 2012-13, seven in 2013-14 and only one goal last season. He always tried his hardest for the club though and it wasn't his fault if he was picked when past his best last season. Good luck at your new club, Kevin.

Sunday, August 23

Winning friends and losing matches

West Ham 3 Bournemouth 4

Luckily I'm on holiday in Salzberg, Austria, for this one. Spent the morning taking a very scary cable car ride to the top of Untersberg, an Alpine mountain that is 6000ft high. Only like the Hammers it seems I've peaked too soon. And now we've got a mountain to climb.

Matt and Nigel send various texts detailing us going 2-0 down pulling back to 2-2 and then losing 4-2 with Jenkinson getting sent off. "Both full backs have been abysmal," is Matt's verdict. There's even more shocks when Modibo Maiga scores to pull back a consolation goal. "That's how you get to be first on Match of the Day," suggests Matt. "If anyone tells you there were any positives for West Ham take it with a pinch of Salzberg."

This is worrying. Bournemouth are a confident side and Wilson who scored a hat-trick is a good striker; but after a great win at Arsenal we've lost two at home to lower level teams. Bilic said he's restore the West Ham way but this is more reminiscent of the erratic form of Ron Greenwood's sides post-1966, winning friends and losing matches. The team will take time to gel, but even so, this result suggests a struggle.

Nigel's player ratings say it all really: Randolph 6; Jenkinson 2, Ogbonna 5 (Tomkins 5), Reid 5, Cresswell 2; Nolan 3 (Jarvis 4), Obiang 4, Noble 5, Payet 5, Kouyate 6, Sakho 5 (Maiga 6).

Sunday, August 16

Back to reality as Hammers out-Foxed by Leicester

West Ham 1 Leicester City 2

As the tube arrives at Upton Park there’s sense of sadness at the thought that this is is the last time we’ll be starting a season at the Boleyn. And does the clock still stand at ten to three, Rupert Brooke style? No, the sexist “Don’t kill your wife let us do it!” sign above the dry cleaners in Green Street has lost its clockface entirely, as if time has stopped altogether in E13, which is probably a matter for Michael the Whovian.

At the station I’ve bumped into my old schoolmate Steve who still travels up from Cornwall for home games, a sign of the strange devotion our not often successful team inspires. Inside Ken’s CafĂ© Matt and Lisa are attending their second game of the day having already seen the under-18s at Little Heath and been in close proximity to Martin Samuelson, while Michael is looking forward to Bakkhai at the Almeida, which is presumably some play about a Greek full-Bakkhai

WHAT A STREAMER
For some reason it’s “claret and blue day”. As the teams come on claret and purple streamers cascade from above the stands. Are they the remnants of an Ann Summers’ gift-wrapping outlet? One gets caught in the roof of the East stand and stays there all game.

West Ham have a decent first 20 minutes as a free kick from Payet sees Morgan head against his own bar and Sakho volleys over after a Zarate shot is blocked. But slowly Leicester come into it. Vardy and Jenkinson are causing Jenkinson problems and the speedy Vardy is booked for clattering into Adrian. On the other flank Mahrez skins Cresswell and forces a good save from Adrian. The Hammers’ custodian then makes a decent save from Huth only for the ref to give a goal kick. Adrian makes a “shush” gesture to the Bobby Moore Stand.

It all goes wrong on 27 minutes. Reid doesn’t get close enough to Vardy, who crosses. Young Oxford has lost Okazaki and the Japanese striker produces a brilliant back-heeled volley. Adrian saves but the new City striker heads the rebound home. Ironic considering Vardy’s recent linguistic issues with a Japanese punter.

Ten minutes later we’re 2-0 down as Allbrighton gets down the left and despite five defenders in the box Mahrez arrives to fire home. “We’re Leicester City we’re top of the league!” chant the away fans.

West Ham rally a little before the break. Payet plays in Sakho who lobs wide but is also brought down by Schmeichel’s outstretched arm. Could easily be a penalty.

Bilic takes off Reece Oxford at half-time and brings on Obiang. Oxford has done some good things, but at 16 he’s still learning the game and this will be part of his education. A "Cologne Hammers" banner hangs from the Bobby Moor Stand and you wonder if they think it is worth it. 

But Obiang has a decent game and brings some good tackling and pace to the holding role. The Irons look a different side with Zarate hugging the left touchline and Payat more influential. Zarate comes infield to finds Noble, who crosses into the box. Payet’s first shot is blacked but the rebound is played into his path by Kouyate and the Frenchman sidesteps a defender to score a classy goal. Suddenly the crowd are up for it again.

In a spell of sustained pressure Zarate nearly scores the goal of the season after a mazy dribble but takes on one man too many. Leicester look dangerous on the break though and Drinkwater should make it three but fires over. Matt has his first Premier League tirade of the season at the hapless Jenkinson: “Don’t foul him… he wants the free kick… How difficult is it for Jenkinson not to foul him?”

The dependable Huth clears everything at the back for City. Our best chance comes when Payet’s header finds Sakho who volleys at Schmeichel who makes an instinctive save with his chest. There are only three minutes of added time, which is odd considering Leicester’s timewasting.

JEEPERS KEEPERS
Adrian goes up for one final corner, leaving an empty goal, which seems an unnecessary risk. When the ball is cleared the Hammers’ keeper lunges in foot up and boots Vardy in the chest. Adrian’s eyes are on the ball but it’s a dangerous challenge by a player who’s not used to being outfield and the ref has little choice but to send him off. So that could be three games out with suspension. “Let’s hope Robert Green has his bags packed,” suggests Fraser. Jenkinson has to go in goal for the last seconds.

As I head towards East Ham tube there’s a familiar rumble of discontent that could have come after any home defeat of the last 40 years. “Typical West Ham… How can we beat Arsenal and lose to Leicester… that was disgraceful… I bet Allardyce is sitting at home laughing…”

In truth Leicester look a half-decent side, but we’ve struggled against the basic tactic of using Vardy’s pace. The full-backs have looked poor defensively, although the second half performances of Zarate, Obiang and Payet were encouraging. But Sakho was isolated up front and we still need reinforcements and typically we now have a self-inflicted goalkeeping wound. A definite reality check after the Arsenal win.

TEAM RATINGS: Adrian 5; Jenkinson 4, Reid 6, Ogbonna 5, Cresswell 5; Oxford 5 (Obiang 6), Payet 7, Noble 6, Kouyate 5 (Lanzini 5); Zarate 7 (Maiga 5), Sakho 5.

Saturday, August 15

A week is a long time in football

Back in London after a week in the Lake District ready to see the Happy Hammers take on Leicester. Thought it might be a quiet week after the stunning win at the Emirates, but not so. Firstly West Ham  tried to sign Joey Barton but the move collapsed after a fan revolt. Barton would have been more of a Sam Allardyce type-signing, trying to eke extra value out of a reformed bad boy; not a bad player, but can't see he'd be better than what we have. Though would have paid good money to see him trying to discuss Nietzche with Julian Dicks.

Meanwhile the Sun and Daily Mail reported that Diafra Sakho had been arrested at his home in Hornchurch on suspicion of an alleged assault on a woman, criminal damage and malicious communication. He's innocent until proven guilty, but clearly not the sort of thing we want associated with our club. The Standard reported that Morgan Amalfitano had been outcast to train with the kids after a bust-up with Slaven Bilic and the same paper also claimed that Rob Green might be coming back to Upton Park to provide competition for Adrian. Phew.

Bilic is right to point out the dangers of complacency after the win at Arsenal, but already we can see differences from Big Sam. Allardyce deserves credit for the defensive resilience he instilled at the club which was evident at the Emirates, but Bilic is clearly not scared of playing kids like Reece Oxford or flair players like Mauro Zarate. It was a much more fluid passing game from the midfield and at times we were actually out-passing Arsenal in midfield. Now we have to capitalise on two home games in a row which will set the tone for our season…

Monday, August 10

We're gonna win the league!

Arsenal 0 West Ham 2

Managed to watch the game at the Churchill Inn in Ambleside while on holiday in the Lake District. What a result! My companion was WHU border terrier Vulcan who is now officially West Ham's lucky dog even if he did watch from under the table. A fantastic performance from Reece Oxford on his PL debut screening the back four. Payet looked really classy and Ogbonna and Reid and latterly Tomkins were immense at the back, It helped that Cech appeared to be a double agent for Jose with Kouyate and Zarate's goals, but it was still a magnificent performance.

After last season I was convinced we'd blow it at the end but even with Jarvis, Nolan and Maiga on we still played out time comfortably. Managed to send a celebratory text to my daughter Lola who is on holiday with an Arsenal family in Cyprus and being threatened with being thrown in the pool. Don't worry Gunners fans - I'm sure you'll still stay up. Matt, Lisa, Fraser and Michael watched at the Hole In The Wall and kept in touch via disbelieving texts while Nigel says we just need another 37 points.

Celebrated with a chocolate cigar from one of Ambleside's many chocolate shops and a circular walk to High Sweden Bridge followed by a pint of Hartley's XB. Who needs the Europa League? Never in doubt. Come on you  Irons!

Thursday, August 6

Out of Europe…

Astra Giurglu 2 West Ham 1 (Europa League Qualifier)

So that's the end of West Ham's European tour. We were never likely to get a result fielding a team of promising but inexperienced youngsters such as Lewis Page, Josh Cullen, Kyle Knoyle and the likes of Elliot Lee and Doneil Henry. West Ham had a fine start when Lanzini scored on his debut after three minutes, but the game turned on some shaky defending and two goals for Budescu. Bilic has firmly prioritised the Premier League which is a gamble — you wonder how much abuse Big Sam would have received had he done the same. Difficult to read too much into this as none of these players are likely to start against the Emirates and elimination might prevent a relegation struggle. But even so, I'd still rather have given it a go and selected at least some players from Payet, Kouyate, Ogbonna, Noble, Cresswell, Adrian, Amalfitano and Jarvis to give us a chance. Our best hope of success in Europe now is if Slaven enters his band in the Eurovision Song Contest…

Should we be playing a weakened side at Astra?

Looks like it will be mainly WHU's reserves at Astra tonight. Not sure about Bilic leaving Noble and Cresswell back in London… Yes, the Arsenal game is a priority but it's also a match we traditionally get beaten in. It rather negates the last five games if we don't play our strongest side and what effect might it have on confidence to go out of the Europa League so early? Tomkins, Collins, Sakho and O'Brien are suspended, while Valencia, Carroll, Reid and Obiang are all injured. On a more positive note it looks like Jenkinson and Lanzini might get games. It's a big opportunity for squad players like Amalfitano, Jarvis and Maiga, who have to finally come good if we are to win tonight.