West Ham musings by Pete May, author of Hammers in the Heart, West Ham:Irons in the Soul and Flying So High:West Ham's Cup Finals.
Wednesday, March 24
Devoured by Wolves
West Ham 1 Wolves 3
Outside Ken’s Café Jo remarks that the last time Wolves won at Upton Park Kate Bush was number one with Wuthering Heights. Which makes me wonder if we’ll be Running Up That Hill later on or is it just The Dreaming.
It's Her Indoors' birthday, but, perhaps wisely, she's declined the offer of dinner in Ken's and Dances with Wolves.
Inside the ground we’ve all been given clapbanners. It feels a little too American. West Ham fans can generate their own atmosphere under the lights. And it must have cost a week of Mido’s wages to buy all these.
Cole, Parker, Faubert and McCarthy are back in the line-up but from the off we seem slower to the ball than Wolves. Jarvis outpaces our defence to fire against the bar. McCarthy does play in Cole with a good ball but he’s tackled as he shoots. Faubert scuffs the ball wide and our short corners end in calamity.
The game hinges on a 28th minute howler from James Tomkins. The centre back gets his body shape all wrong when dealing with the ball and it skims off his left foot into the path of Kevin Doyle who races clear to shoot across Green and in off the post.
Just before half-time, in the Hammers best moment, Parker races 40 yards to fire against the inside of the post. He shoots from the rebound but the alert Hahnemann gathers the ball.
Zola replaces Tomkins with Spector at half-time, a risky strategy when Spector hasn’t played centre-back for years, and replaces Kovac with Stanislas.
Parker makes another good run to cross from the left but it’s headed clear. Just as the crowd get a “claret and blue army” chant going David Jones find Wolves’ right back Ronald Zubar in space on the edge of our box and he fires home crisply in the 58th minute.
Three minutes later the game’s over as Jones finds Jarvis, whose touch takes him into hectares of space between our centre backs and he fires home from the edge of the box. Beaten for speed again. Three-nil in our cup final. They’ve had four shots and scored three goals.
A rain of clapper banners are thrown towards the pitch. “At least we’ve found a use for them,” I muse.
“You’re not fit to wear the shirt!” chants the Bobby Moore Stand, which is not what we need. They’re trying, but the players lack pace and the big game mentality and simply aren’t good enough.
What must our old stars think of this? Morley and Bish must be turning in their wet look leather jackets. So much for resting key players. We need to play to win every game.
This is the end, my friend, the end. Will we get 55,000 fans watching us play Scunthorpe at the Olympic Stadium?
“It feels like the Charlton away match,” muses Nigel. “The game that spawned the ‘We want a new back four’ chant”.
We start to wonder of Zola will be placed on gardening leave and Mark Hughes employed as a technical consultant on football matters.
Franco replaces the disappointing McCarthy and at least we keep going. Franco makes a difference and has a shot well saved by Hahnemann. Diamanti has another low effort pushed away.
In the third minute of stoppage time Franco scores with a subtle chip but it’s way too late and greeted in near silence.
The lads and Zola are booed off at the end. It’s the worst defeat of the season and for the first time I think we’re going down.
Nigel receives a text from Gavin (on holiday in Iceland possibly trying to get a season ticket refund from Mr Gudmundsson) saying that West Ham have played 21 Premier League games on Tuesday and only won one of them.
I wonder if they serve absinthe in the Central, Matt suggests straightforward cyanide might be better.
We talk of possible managers and come up with an availability list of Mark Hughes, Curbs (well, it would save on compensation suggests Fraser), Glenn Roeder, Trevor Brooking (no, he got us relegated), Phil Brown, Julian Dicks, Paolo Di Canio, Hayden Foxe (now at Sydney FC) and The Gav.
It’s so bad Matt is now drinking the Central’s finest whisky. And then we reminisce about our most dispiriting games. Defeats at Reading, home to Brighton, home to Sheffield United, away at Oldham, home to Wimbledon, away at Gillingham, home to Wrexham, etc, etc.
The Central dissolves into a Proustian blur of bad lager merged with Sky Sports 2 and Dave Jones and Alan Curbishley dissecting our missing defence. I don’t know what’s wrong or real any more. And never mind Kate Bush. Like her modern equivalent, Lily Allen, we’re being taken over by The Fear.