West Ham 1 Aston Villa 2
Ah, no tubes again, must be a match day. The usual Diaspora of claret and blue legions carrying print-outs from Google maps trek from Canning Town station towards Upton Park.
My personal London Marathon passes the Newham Bookshop in Barking Road, where Vivian has many inducements on offer: Mark Thomas, Larry Lamb (Gavin’s dad in Gavin and Stacey) and Stacey Solomon (for details click the link above).
Then it’s on to Ken’s Café where Carol has a bad leg but is full of praise for Phill Jupitus, whom she’s seen perform in Spamalot. Nigel’s there with his mate Michael, a Plymouth fan, while The Gav is sampling Ken’s best bubble and designer coffee.
Strangely Matt, in Lanzarote with his brother, who's over from Australia, doesn’t fall for my text: “Stop press. Matty Etherington owned by third party (Ladbroke’s). Stoke thrown out of cup. West Ham now in semis.”
All is going well until Nigel opines: “If we lose today we’re down.” I’m inclined to agree with him, with Chelsea and Man City away coming up.
BEST OF BRITISH?
Entering the stadium we’re given “Best of British” claret and blue union jack flags that look like a job lot from Romford Market. Another silly marketing gimmick to go with the clapperboards and the SboBet scarves. What we need is something on the pitch to get the fans going, not PR stunts.
We have decent-ish first half and the perfect start – ahead through Keane’s smartly-taken opener in the second minute after Hitzlsperger heads a cleared corner back into the box. Villa have a seemingly good goal by Bent disallowed when the ref rules he’s pushed Jacobsen. Friedel makes a great stop low down from Cole, who is giving Dunne and Collins problems. But Villa equalise through Bent after Noble dallies on the edge of he box when he should hoof it. This allows the influential Young to get a cross in and Bent to head home. Still, at half-time we look good for a point at least.
Texts of doom arrive from Lanzarote: "Our inability to defend will relegate us," says Matt.
Why do we always play worse in the second half? The only time we’ve improved after the break was after Scott Parker’s speech at WBA. Surely this has to down to the manager? Villa start well with Green making fine saves from Bent and Ashley Young’s free-kick. They go on to absolutely dominate the second half.
We don’t look like a team scrapping for survival. We are heavy legged and strolling while Nigel Mediocre dominates midfield. Villa are a much better team than their position indicates, but without Parker we completely lack leadership.
Grant makes a bizarre substitution when he replaces Obinna, who’s had one of his better games, with the inexperienced Hines, whom we know can't turn a relegation six-pointer. It doesn’t help when Gary O’Neil goes off after being clattered in the box (surely a penalty even if the ball was played first).
Demba Ba comes on and we end up with a strange formation with Cole up front, Ba (who doesn’t look fit) out wide Keane floating somewhere unknown and the side being overrun in midfield. It’s like one of those Guardian Questions and Answers on the size of the universe – is it expanding, contracting or two dimensions contained within a third dimension? Whatever it is it isn’t working.
Matt texts from Lanzarote: “At Cesar Manrique’s cactus garden looking at a millstone – reminds me of WHU.” Matt isn't spineless, which is more than can be said for our midfield.
We finally force a corner towards the end and then a free kick on the edge of the box, but strangely we don’t allow Der Hammer to take it. But Villa’s winner is a sickener – arriving in the first minute of stoppage time. Green makes another good save but we can’t prevent Young getting in a cross for Agbonlahor to head home. We have conceded more goals from headers than any other Premiership side. They deserve it. The Brummies in the corner celebrate wildly as they reach 40 points. Even Fraser must be in danger of losing his Zen-like cool.
DOWN DOWN DEEPER AND DOWN
Nigel and myself traipse towards West Ham tube discussing who will stay and whether we can build a side round a new manager and Tomkins and possibly Noble if he stays and, erm, Specs and any kids we have left.
Nigel complains that he was 17 when we last won something. And we don't want to play sodding Millwall. Grant has been given the players to do the job — Ba, Bridge, Keane, O'Neil and the returning Hitzlsperger, but we’ve lost three in a row.
‘The results have gone for us elsewhere,” suggests Nigel.
“We’d be fine if we didn’t actually have to play ourselves,” I suggest.
We needed character today but we didn’t show any. And we won’t get a result at Chelsea or Man City unless we have the work rate as a base to then hope for a lucky break. Our only hope is that NATO will impose a no-flight zone around our penalty area.
This is the end my friend, the end. Can’t see any way out of this. We’re going to lose the next two away games and then the pressure of winning the last three will surely be too great.
Doncaster, Barnsley and Scunthorpe (if they stay up) here we come.
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