In Ken’s Cafe Nigel, Gavin and Matt are trying to name a team of players connected to shoes, having just discussed a projected visit to the Cobblers (Northampton). We come up with John Lacey, Adrian Boot-hroyd and David Healy. “And every team has a trainer,” adds Nigel, risking a boot wrapped round the head.
Big Phill’s been to see the Specials and is hoping that Tomkins, Stanislas and Sears haven’t done too much, much too young. Nigel (not wearing shorts) reports that AC-DC at the O2 were awesome. No doubt our earlier trip on the Highway to Hull inspired Angus Young and co.
Discussing the game, I predict that Lampard will get extra stick after his 15-minute call to LBC and then score. Dyer’s starting his first game for 18 months with Neill reverting to right-back. Chelsea rest Drogba and several other regulars ready for Barcelona on Tuesday. Big Fat Frank is playing though, although most of the first half stick is directed at John Terry with chants of “John Terry — Your mum’s a thief!” Something you don’t want to say to Eric Cantona.
Malouda shoots wide from a good position early on, but the best chance falls to the Irons. Tristan turns his man and plays a sublime pass into the box for Dyer. Faced with Cech he shoots straight at him rather than place the ball. If he was match-fit it’s the sort of chance he might have buried.
Stanislas has looked a little overawed early on but after half an hour he confidently shoots and wins a corner. We crowd around Cech and from Upson’s header Tristan prods the ball towards the net only for it be hacked off the line. We’re happy with 0-0 at half-time and if anything could be ahead.
But after Tristan dawdles with an early chance Chelsea raise themselves in the second half as Lampard is taunted by the Bobby Moore Stand with chants of “You let your children down!” Now you don’t want to that. Lampard crosses from the left, Green misses the ball and Kalou prods the ball home. Lampard and Terry celebrate in front of their tormentors in the Bobby Moore Stand.
Chelsea are much the better passing side now, a mistake by Upson lets on Anelka and Green makes a fine one-on-one save. Sub Cashley Cole plays a 1-2 and skims our bar. But then an unexpected lifeline in the afternoon sun. Tristan plays in Ilunga who is needlessly brought down by Kalou. Penalty.
“I’ve a bad feeling about this,” says Mystic Morris. Sure enough, Cech makes a fine save low down to his left from, Noble’s well-struck penalty.
Kovac comes on and plays the ball into touch a lot. There’s time for Green to save from a Lampard free kick, but after the penalty save it’s a routine Chelsea win. Matt makes an early dash for the Silverlink to make the Camden Crawl. He's strangely unconvinced by Nigel's text that we equalised in stoppage time through a Boa Morte thunderbolt. We've lost to a top four team, but to quote Terry Hall, it doesn’t make it all right. We’ve badly missed the physical presence of Carlton Cole again and need to buy two strikers this summer.
Still, it was 4-0 last season, and when you consider the players we’re missing we’ve at least given Chelsea a decent pre-Champions League run-out. After the game Zola and Clarke are in line to sign four-year contracts and Ilunga, one of the best left backs in the Premiership this season, has signed a permanent deal. So even though we’re ownerless, progress is being made off the field. Scott Duxbury’s vaunted football project continues even though we’re down to eighth. As the Specials might put it, Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think).
Manchester City's Craig Bellamy is out for the rest of the season it's been announced today. With his injury record that £14 million from City is looking like good business... and we're still above the City slackers too.
Friday’s Guardian announced “Bank consortium to take over West Ham”. Mr Gudmundsson borrowed the dosh to take over West Ham from the Icelandic bank Straumur, itself now effectively insolvent and nationalized by the Icelandic government.
A consortium of a dozen banks nominated by 40 institutions – Straumur’s creditors — was said by the Guardian ‘s Matt Scott to be ready to take control at West Ham until 2011. Only today the BBC Sport.com claims the deal is not certain and that investors from the Middle East are also interested in any old Irons, as is Daley Import-Export Enterprises Plc.
If it happens, it all seems rather an unwieldy structure to take over a football club, although apparently Zola’s position is safe if the bankers move in, although there will be no money for new players unless we sell.
All this a mere eight months after Gudmundson declared in the Wigan programme that West Ham is all about “progress through stability”. His investment of £85 million to buy the Hammers is now looking like a folly of Mark Goldberg-esque proportions. Perhaps the quids-in Terry Brown will now move in to rescue WHU?
Strangely, Nicola’s mum’s 70th birthday celebrations at Duck Cottage in Herts aren’t halted to watch Sky Sports News. But managing to sneak the TV on after chocolate cake, profiteroles, meringue, rhubarb fool and coffee, there’s the news that we’ve achieved an admirable away point at a ground where we traditionally lose. And all without Parker, Kovac, Spector, Collison, Behrami and Cole.
Match of the Day reveals it to have been an open game. Stanislas goes straight through their defence but Friedel saves his shot early on. After that it’s mainly Villa. Heskey scores from Milner’s cross and that usual defeat appears very likely. Barry heads inches wide, Young fires against the outside of the post, Green smothers from Heskey and after a terrible back pass from Noble, Heskey hits the inside of the post.
Yet we rally in the second half. Noble has an effort saved. A neat back-heel from Di Michele causes confusion in their box and Boa Morte’s shot is blocked by Friedal. In the 85th minute sub Kieron Dyer shoots from the edge of the box and the maligned Diego Tristan expertly twists to head the ball home with the assurance of a natural goal poacher.
According to Mike, enjoying a refreshing "kipper tie" in Birmingham with Big Jo and Smaller Jo, this resulted in the memorable chant of "You twats, you let Diego score!"
There’s still time for Noble’s deflected shot to be tipped over by the stretching Friedel and Villa to be denied a clear penalty when Tomkins plays basketball in our area but luckily the ref misses it.
Spurs are only one point behind, but we have to be happy with an away point. There’s something admirable about Zola’s reluctance to moan about injuries. Instead he talks up the opportunities for other players and it seems to be working. He's also picking up the Redkapp-esque art of managerspeak, declaring "We are down to our bare bones - much like a lot of this season - but I don't complain. At the end of the day perhaps I should be happy with a point."
Stanislas has played four games in a row, Boa is looking more confident, Tristan has had a run and a goal and Lucas Neill has become a midfield enforcer. Noble had a good game too, apart from that iffy back pass, and is benefiting from the extra responsibility. Five games to go and we’re still in contention for the Europa League. We’ll have to bring back Jimmy Walker to brush up on the Euro-banter.
Stranded in north Wales among eco-warriors for the Easter school holidays it's almost impossible to find football information, or indeed even watch Doctor Who. Greens don't have televisions as they regard them as "a boxed fire" that has replaced storytelling. Eventually BBC Sport online reveals that we've lost to Spurs. As expected. We don't seem to have won at the Lane since Chas and Dave were nippers. Can't tell you what Match of the Day was like as marooned among sheep, geese, chickens and horses. But as least this bucolic idyll makes the thought of being overtaken by Spurs in the chase for a Europa Cup spot slightly more bearable as everyone else here is preparing for the climate change apocalypse when Italy and Spain become deserts, Wales becomes like the Med and urban mobs come looting for food in the hills... and we'll still be struggling to find a replacement for Carlton Cole.
Radoslav Kovac has been banned from the Czech Republic, along with five others, after a disciplinary incident at a restaurant following the Republic's defeat by Slovakia, Absolutely disgraceful. Doesn't he realise that now he's a Premiership footballer he should be getting in trouble in lapdancing clubs rather than restaurants?
“Now don’t be upset if West Ham lose,” I warn my eight-year-old daughter Nell, who’s qualified for a free ticket today as an Academy member. “We’re without Collison, Behrami, Cole, Parker and Kovac,” I explain, wondering how we’ll field a side.
There’s a healthy turnout in Ken’s before the match, Fraser, Matt, Jo, Mike, Nigel (showboating by mentioning a planned trip to Banbury FC) and lucky omen CQ (who has a hundred per cent record in her two games so far this season). Nell is quizzed on her Sylvanian Families Collection by Jo, and fortified by isotonic sausage, egg, chips, beans, bread and butter.
We’re in the Doctor Martens Stand this week, just above the Centenary Stand goal. Anton Ferdinand receives a nice cheer as the teams are read out. It’s a scratch side, and early on Sunderland have the better chances with Leadbitter shooting wide and Cisse, fresh from his arrest outside a lapdance club as is de rigueur for a Premiership striker, producing another tip-away from Rob Green.
But we dig in, Neill makes some telling tackles in the unfamiliar position of midfield enforcer, Stanislas runs at their defence on the left flank and has a shot blocked, and Tristan looks as if his brain still knows what to do, even if his body is lagging behind.
“Daddy, why aren’t they singing 'Dirty northern custards' at Sunderland?" asks Nell, having seen us beat them 2-0 in 2005.
Neither team looks like breaking the deadlock and you can see it going the way of the WBA goalless draw,
But just before half-time Boa Morte takes the ball from Rob Green’s throw, plays the ball to Di Michele takes the return and accelerates into the Sunderland box, before squaring to 19-year-old Junior Stanislas to score an easy goal on his first start for the Hammers. He’s the first Junior to score for the Hammers since Frank Lampard. It’s also great to see Boa Morte finally playing with some confidence. Blimey.
At half-time a rainbow appears on the pitch above the sprinklers and maybe thee will soon be a yellow brick road to Europe too.
It gets better in the second half. Tristan has a shot saved and from the resulting corner James Tomkins heads home. His marker, Anton Ferdinand, looks as if he’s longing for the joy of East London and Faces nightclub.
“You’re going down with the Shearer!” chants the Centenary Stand.
Upson has another header saved by their keeper. Tristan lobs just over. There’s a long stoppage when Spector lands awkwardly after winning a header and lies unconscious on the pitch. Tough on Specs but a sign that this squad is plying for each other
The rest of the game is almost a stroll. Collins clears from the line and Cisse fluffs a late chance. "Why is Frank Lampard fat?… Is it true Chelsea ain’t got no history?” asks Nell, as the Irons’ fans regale us with a litany of anti-Chelsea ditties.
“We’ll easily survive eight minute!” says Nell, with the optiism of youth, unaware of the Wimbledon or WBA home debacles. For the eight minutes of added time she chants a mantra of “Sunderland are going to see!” And they do. We’re seventh! Jeremy Nicholas plays Twist and Shout as the sun streams down. And Tony Carr's incredible Academy is still working. We've blooded Stanislas, Tomkins, Sears, Collison, Payne and Noble in recent seasons.
There’s still time to visit the WHU shop, and then the Newham Bookshop and purchase a Horrid Henry Book (John says the Belgian Irons have been I today dreaming of a Europa Cup tie in their home land) before visiting the Black Lion to see Fraser, Matt, Jo and Mike. News arrives that Mystic Morris predicted Tomkins would score seconds before he did. Matt also says that some ignorant bloggers had earlier in the week suggested that West Ham might lose every game from now on. As if.
“Daddy, I told you Sunderland were rubbish,” adds Nell over a J20. Time to console some sad Makems at the bar as Fraser buys me a pint of Buffer. And to consider that with Spurs having lost to another last minute clanger there’s a considerable buffer between us and the north London upstarts.
Carlton Cole's out for six weeks after his England groin strain, which effectively means the rest of the season. As we have no alternative target man, Carlton's injury is a disaster for the Hammers. The only hope is that Dyer suddenly starts to play regularly, Freddie puts on two stone and Tristan rediscovers his YouTube form. Or maybe we could play Boa Morte up front as at least he's strong and gets stuck in. He confuses us, so imagine the effect he'll have on John Terry.
We're already missing Behrami and Collison, with Di Michele and Kovac failing to convince in recent games. Suspect we'll be helping a lot of teams stay up in our final eight games... we could help to save Sunderland, Stoke and Boro while boosting the European hopes of Chelsea, Spurs, Villa, Liverpool and Everton. So there's a lot to play for.
Maybe Zola needs to become tougher too. He's said Cole was not fully fit for the England game but he did not want to deny him the chance to play for his country. Can you imagine Ferguson doing that?
Thinking about it, there was the time Tommy Taylor and then Alvin Martin played up front for the Hammers. James Collins as centre-forward anyone?