It’s a trip to my mate Robert’s house to watch the game on ESPN and enjoy the delights of Ray Stubbs and Kevin Keegan on Setanta-lite. Robert’s son Bruno warms us up with 40 minutes of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. All those hapless Jedis being cut down by vulture droids is good preparation for watching WHU.
The Force is not with us, as Upson’s out again and we have the very inexperienced partnership of debutant Jedi knight Da Costa and James Tomkins in central defence. If only we still had Collins. Jiminez is back though and Diamanti starts too, with Kovac replacing the injured Collison.
It takes five minutes for Petrov to cross from the left and the bizarrely unmarked Tevez to sweep the ball home. Carlitos then shows his class by apologizing to the West Ham fans, raising his hand and then making a praying gesture. He later says "part of me will always be a Hammer". And one day we'll sign him back, probably when he's 40. Adebayor take note.
Time to break open the Whitstable Bay Organic Ale as it promises to be a long night. Tevez almost scores two more and we’re looking second best, but then in our first real attack we equalise. Kovac’s shot is probably drifting wide but Cole cleverly backheels it home.
Our lead only lasts eight minutes before Jiminez slightly shoves a City player and Petrov fires the free kick through the wall and into the net. Green should probably have done better, despite otherwise playing well.
It should be 2-2 when Carlton quite legitimately tussles with aristocratic cad Sir Joleon Lescott (see Observer Sport Monthly's very funny guide to footballers who should have been in 19th century novels) to win the ball and cross for Parker to sidefoot home. But unfortunately the man in black is Darth Vader and he blows for a foul.
We improve after the break, while Green makes a good save from Barry. But there’s no excuse for City’s third. From Bellamy’s (remember him?) free-kick, three City players are unmarked on the right and Tevez heads home. Sticking with your man appears to be very last year.
We show more spirit towards the end. Diamanti (an individualist or our great hope?) has a shot deflected wide for a corner and then has an excellent curling shot tipped over by Given.
But it could have been more for City and even Zola describes himself as “angry” at our under-performing. We have some good players, but so did the Roeder side that went down. We’re in the bottom three and now have to beat Fulham to start our season. I’d ditch Kovac, pray that Upson returns, make Diamanti play further up the field and unleash the pace of Hines at the Fulham defence. And maybe Luke Skywalker and Hans Solo too. Although knowing us we'll probably sign Annakin Skywalker.
Zamora will score of course, and probably Konchesky and Paintsil too, but we have to get a result if the WHU Empire is to strike back. We need A New Hope.
Today's Standard claims that Scott Duxbury and Gianluca Nani paid some of the dosh owed to Franco's agent out of their own salaries, so bad is the financial situation at West Ham. In which case put me down for a tenner towards our next signing… I'll gladly sacrifice a couple of meals at Ken's Cafe for the cause.
You have to admire Nani and Duxbury's commitment, although the fact we're so skint is hugely worrying and suggests Upson, Cole and Green may be sold in the next window unless we find a buyer.
Oh for a fit and proper person... or even an unfit and improper person with some dosh.
Or failing that the nationalisation of a much-loved but ailing institution might just save the election for Gordon Brown. He could even promise to curb the players' win bonuses safe in the knowledge that we never have to pay them anyway.
Bolton 3 West Ham 1 (after extra time) Carling Cup
Oh well. At least we don't mind getting banned from the Carling Cup now as we've done it ourselves. Their defender made a hash of Diamanti's corner for Ilunga to sneak in and tap home, but it's a worry that another goal was conceeded from a set piece for their late headed equalizer.
We took it to extra time, Diamanti hit the bar and it was good to see Bondz N'Gala make his debut. Cahill's goal was unstoppable and apparently we missed several chances.
We might have known Elmander would score the third. It's a football law that any player or team on a terrible run is certain to end it against West Ham. It was his first goal in 23 games and his first this year. We resurrected Nick Barmby's career after he scored a hat-trick against us and we've probably saved Elmander's season too.
Getting to West Ham is a marathon not a sprint. With no District Line tubes it’s a two-mile walk down West Ham Lane from Stratford station, taking in the ornamental Gardens of West Ham Park and the environs of Plashett Road before relaxing with an isotonic mug of tea in Ken’s Café. Matt’s back from Australia, which he found marginally easier than yomping from Canning Town.
It’s almost our first choice line-up with Behrami and Ilunga back and Diamanti playing behind the front two. Will the man from Diamanti be the new Di Canio? Zola says he has “crazy eyes”.
“Well, they say that Diamantis are forever” quips Matt.
We start well. In the second minute Cole challenges for the ball, the speedy Zavon Hines moves in to dispossess a dithering Carragher, he rounds Reina and hits the post. Should he have scored? Maybe, but it was a tight angle looking at the replay.
The Scousers soon show us their class. Gerrard plays Benayoun in with a fine ball but Yossi shoots straight at Green, and then Torres athletically volleys wide after another incisive move. Everything is going through Mascherano in midfield.
“He’s not fit to lace Hayden Mullins’ boots,” I mutter.
“He wouldn’t make it as understudy to Carl Fletcher,” suggests Nigel.
Liverpool take the lead after 20 minutes. Hines’ pass in midfield is intercepted by Mascherano who finds Torres on the left edge of the box. The Spaniard bamboozles Tomkins with a shuffle, outpaces him and then fires into the net from an acute angle, beating Green at his near post. A brilliant goal, but some naïve defending. Upson is injured trying to tackle Torres and Behrami’s sciatic nerve is playing up, so both players are replace by Gabbidon and Kovac.
But there’s still hope with Hines outpacing the Liverpool defence and finding 57 varieties of ways to make Carragher look slower than a District Line tube.
Carlton finds Hines on the left and he outpaces Carragher who brings him down for a clear penalty. Diamanti, who’s looked skilful throughout, shows an appetite for the big occasion by grabbing the ball and chipping the ball into the centre of the net. Or did he slip as he took the penalty and kick the ball with both feet? We don’t care, it went in.
Only 12 minutes later Liverpool get a corner, Gerrard rises to easily above Kovac and Kuyt prods home. Typical West Ham. But this is proving an exhilarating gamer. Skrtel brings down Hines and Diamanti’s free kick is deflected wide for a corner.
As half-time approaches a distraught Matt watches Noble jog up to the corner flag. “We’ll never score from this, they haven’t even sent Gabbidon up,” complains Mystic Matt.
Noble’s corner swings into the box and Carlton Cole gets between three defenders to head into the corner. Let’s hope we never send Gabbidon up again.
There’s still time for Mascherano to be booked for bringing down the effervescent Hines. Rarely can a young player making his home debut have exposed international defenders to such devastating effect. 2-2 at half-time and a great game.
The second half can’t possibly match the first and Liverpool appear to have kicked Hines out of the game. But it's encouraging to see Gabbidon making last-ditch challenges as of old, Parker is still making some great tackles and the crowd are really behind the Irons. Benayoun makes a mazy dribble into our box at one end, while Parker tries to dribble through the other penalty area instead of trying a long range shot.
Diamanti isn’t forever, he’s substituted for Kieron Dyer after 65 minutes. Dyer makes a fine run from the right but turns inside instead of shooting. Reminding Matt of why he was nicknamed ‘Jigsaw’ at Newcastle, “because he went to pieces in the box”.
Then on 75 minutes Kovac misplaces a pass, Johnson has a shot blocked and the ball runs to Babel who crosses invitingly for Torres to jump between Faubert and Tomkins and score with a header into the corner. Sod it. Credit the home crowd though, that goal is immediately followed with a rousing chorus of Bubbles.
We lump it long, Cole wins the ball late on and heads across to Kovac whose header is palmed away one-handed by Reina. But you can’t see Liverpool conceding again and they don’t.
We take the long march back to Stratford. Maybe the tube closures are simply a club plot to slim down some of the jelly bellies spotted on the pitch against Millwall. “Perhaps the players had to walk as well,” I suggest, thinking it might account for our long injury list. Poor old Deano probably made it for the first 100 yards.
But we eventually find a seat in the Park Tavern in Stratford and decide there’s cause for optimism. The quality of Mersey has been strained and young Hines was, ahem, full of beans. Our defence could be blamed for all three goals and the midfield gives the ball away too often, but with a fitter Ilunga and Behrami and Jiminez, Collison, Da Costa and Franco to come in we’ll surely soon move up the league soon.
Very considerate of TfL to close the District Line on Saturday. It seems football matches in the E13 area have taken them by surprise.
Part-time Matt getting home from Australia was the easy part. Much more difficult is getting to WHU on a match day. My best route is maybe Stratford which looks to be about 45 minutes walk. Or should it be Forest Gate or Canning Town? Or maybe rowing down the River Lee might be an option?
So we've completed the signing of Guillermo Franco, the 22-year-old Mexican international and ex-Villareal striker. Well, Paolo Di Canio did always insist that we needed a strong leader like Mussolini or Franco to make the training run on time.
And at least he's got a chantable name. Looks worth a punt on his record, although we should perhaps remember that Diego Tristan also looked good on YouTube... .
On the TV evidence it looks as if we were a little unlucky at Wigan. The team selection is a little strange. Never sure about Kovac, and playing Gabbidon at left back, welcome as his return is, seems strange when Spector has done a relatively decent job there. Zavon Hines is in up front, and you have to say he deserves his chance for his midweek hat-trick for the reserves and that goal against Millwall. TC rates him too and he short know a short-arsed goal poacher when he sees one.
Rodallega has a deflected shot tipped over by Green in the first half, but Hines also looks to have a good case for a penalty. Bizarrely, the ref blows for half-time seconds before Carlton puts the ball in the net.
Wigan take the lead after Charles Insomnia's shot is parried by Green, only for Rodalegga to net. Poor marking on the right flank. We rally though. Parker has a shot tipped over and Tomkins fails to connect with a free header.
The man from Diamante comes and makes an instant impact, going close with a free kick and then brilliantly turning and chipping a shot against Wigan’s post. Exactly the sort of flair we’ve been missing. It’s also really great to see Behrami come on as a sub.
We’ve lost, but at least against Liverpool we should have Collison back, Illunga and Behrami available and Diamante on from the start.
Robert Green and Matthew Upson shaded it as my joint men of the match against Croatia. Green did well to make a double save for Croatia's goal, but was let down by some Gary Breen-style defending, while Upson was dependable and made telling tackles.
Now all Capello needs to do is to bring in a third Hammer, the lethal goal-scoring machine that is Carlton Cole, (at least he's lethal compared to Emile Heskey) and we'll win the World Cup in South Africa.
Uber Fan Mike reports from his Blackberry on WHU reserves' rout of Birmingham last night:
"Birmingham side were kids but: Hines got a hat trick! Diamanti is so skilled and active, like Tevez but a bit more pace, and can deliver free kick goals, (2 in fact). Valon is really back on form attacking and defending, and Quashie and Da Costa kept the midfield boiling. Nouble is like Heskey, fast attacking bruiser, and perfect partner for Hines. Diamanti played behind them and never stopped. The other new boys were OK, Stech very shaky. Young Zola warmed up but didn't get on. It was a new team though. Well done Zola!"
Chelsea have been banned from signing any new players until January 2011 by Fifa, having been found guilty of inducing teenager Gael Kakuta to breach his contract with Lens. Is it too much to hope Sheffield United and Wigan might find a reason to sue them as well?
So ex-Iron Jimmy Walker has signed for Spurs. To judge by his legendary programme notes in 'Walkers's World', he must be going as a fifth columnist. Jimmy will surely undermine Spurs' morale and destroy their season through ridiculing the Totts' stars' dodgy gear, any player "having himself" and Harry's dodgy pants... Gertcha!
“West Ham stare into financial black hole,” reads the Guardian today. The full extent of the Magnusson/Gudmundsson era’s progfligacy has been revealed in West Ham’s accounts for 2007-08. We made a loss of £37.4 million and wages of £63.3 million were 77.67 per cent of turnover. What’s more, West Ham was only kept out of administration by the goodwill of its bankers, despite covenant breaches on a £20 million loan.
Finance director Nick Igoe fingers the signing of Ljungberg, Bellamy and Dyer: "West Ham United purchased three high-profile players in 2007-08 at a combined cost of £20m with total annual wages in excess of £12m. Those players made 36 starting appearances between them in the season." The signings of Boa Morte, Neill, Upson, Quashie and Davenport presumably all added to that drain.
"It is clear with the benefit of hindsight that not all of the investment undertaken in the playing squad in the period under review was prudent," declares Igoe. This seems to be accountantspeak for “blimey mate, we’re Brassic”.
Igoe added: “A business strategy which relies on the goodwill of the group's bankers to waive covenant breaches is fundamentally flawed.”
Plus we owe Sheffield United £21 million payable over four years.
Hopefully the club is now much better run and the 2008-09 figures wil be much better. The removal from the wage bill of the likes of Ljungberg, Bellamy, Ferdinand, Etherington, Harewood, Reo-Coker, Neill, Collins, Zamora, McCartney and co will surely help. But the thought remains, was there no-one around capable of saying no to Guddmundsson and Eggert the Egg Man?
It all makes it much more likely that we will have to be sold to the likes of David Sullivan. At least he might liven up the programme…
Sad to see James Collins go to Aston Villa for £5 million. At least we kept Upson, Green and Cole, but Collins has been outstanding in all three league games this season and Villa have profited from our financial problems.
During his first season under Pardew he looked good in the air but sometimes vulnerable on the ground. But during the Great Escape under Curbishley he was fantastic at the back and just as big a reason for staying up as Carlos Tevez. His finest game was at Old Trafford during that epic 1-0 win. A proper centre half who attacks the ball in the air and is not afraid to hoof it.
Admittedly we have Tomkins ready to step in and Gabbidon is fit again and maybe one day Davenport might play again. But if Ginge was simply sold for financial reasons you can't help feeling that perhaps we should have kept Collins, not signed Kovac and sold a few more fringe players.
So we've exchanged Savio Nserako for Portugeezer defender Manuel Da Costa from Fiorentina plus £3 million. If Da Costa is any good it might prove decent business as we get 50 per cent of any sell-on fee on Savio. Da Costa has Champions League experience with PSV and thankfully lots of comic possibilities if it all goes wrong with a name like Manuel (West Ham's Fawlty Towers at the back anyone?).
But basically it seems we wasted £5 million of the Bellamy money on Savio, despite all the spin about giving him Di Canio's number 10 shirt. He's had problems settling which seems to mean he was homesick. For all Nani's vaunted skills in the market, he should perhaps have predicted that a Ugandan-born kid raised in Germany then playing in Italy might find it a little difficult to adapt to Chadwell Heath, Ken's Cafe and the Congestion Charge. Maybe we should re-employ Jermain Defoe to show our new signings how to meet Danielle Lloyd and Chantelle Houghton in Faces?
Savio had potential, as we saw with his swerving shot that made Collison's goal against Man City, but what we should have done is spend the money on a proven Premier League striker last January and that way we might have made the Europa League.
Breaking news: A weekend passes with no stabbings of players, no tragic deaths and no riots featuring lardy-bellied geezers from the football (pie) factory. On Sky Sports News Phil Thompson is supposed to be monitoring the match but is hopelessly disracted by the Liverpool game at Bolton.
We nearly score when Carlton bundles his way through but then fires over when well placed. They have a decent penalty claim turned down. Upson and Collins have fine games. Kieron makes it on to the pitch in the second half. Sam Allardyce looks ever more like a grumpier Les Dawson. And that's about it really. But after the week we've had, normality, tedium and an away point is welcome.