Sunday, October 30

Baldock's cunning plan

West Ham 3 Leicester 2

In Ken’s CafĂ© Nigel is asking what is the only league club that doesn’t contain any letters of the word mackerel, while Jo enquires what is the only team whose letters you can’t colour in (it’s Hull City).  While Matt is tearing out selected pages from Time Out so he can recycle the rest in the bins by the East Stand. Middle-class football fans, eh?

At least we’re back to full strength in the East Stand, Fraser has recovered from a stomach bug, Matt’s voice is back and Nigel is over his man flu. And Robert Green is back in goal too.

We start a little tentatively. “That was terrible control from Faubert, He was awful on Monday night, and he ‘s only ever scored one goal for us…” muses Matt. “Why did Curbishley ever pay £6 million for him?”

But after 21 minutes Noble finds Carew who gets to the line and pulls back a fine cross. Baldock, manages to show a poacher’s hunger by outjumping the defence to head home.

JULIEN JULIEN JULIEN!
A minute later Noble finds O’Brien with an excellent crossfield ball and the full-back pulls the ball back for Gustave Faubert to stroke into the corner. The French novelist runs to the half way line looking upwards in disbelief and possibly thanking his WAG Madam Bovary.

“Always said he was a good player,” claims Matt, as a text arrives from Lisa asking if he now takes back all the abuse he was heaping on Jules in the pub on Monday night.

“How shit must you be, we’re winning at home!” chant the Bobby Moore stand. We agree it’s time that chant ended – we’re actually a good side at this level.

The booked Carew goes off after half an hour to be replaced by Piquionne. In the last quarter of the first period Leicester show signs of a revival and just miss a couple of pull-backs in the box.

We have two chances early in the second half. Piquionne outmuscles the defence but shoots at the keeper when he could have crossed for Baldock, while Collison declines to shoot when he has a clear opening.

Leicester pull a goal back through King after some bad defending allows King to elude McCartney and Nolan to score at the far post.

Leicester have most of the game now, but Schmeichel makes a brilliant save from Baldock’s low shot after McCartney’s fine cross.

SAM'S TOWN
But we appear to have won the game after 75 minutes when from Green’s kick Piquionne heads on and Baldock expertly prods home. A three-touch route one goal that will surely have had Big Sam salivating.

Only this being West Ham we soon concede a goal – albeit a brilliant volley from Andy King that flies into the top corner. Not much we could do about that one.

Journeyman striker Howard causes all sorts of problems for us in the air at the back. Leicester then go agonisingly close to equalizing as Tomkins’ deflects Howard’s effort on to the bar.

Young Freddie Sears comes on and has clearly been promised extra sweets when he goes trick or treating if he keeps the ball in the corner.

Noble manages to calm things down with some cool passes out of defence and after four minutes of stoppage time we celebrate victory.

“In a perverse way it’s encouraging. We’ve taken six points from two games we could have drawn,” says Nigel, at the end of a very entertaining match. Noble has played well and appears to be coming out of Parker’s shadow, while Baldock looks a quality striker.

We retreat to the Black Lion for some soothing Maldon Gold. Bottom of the table Bristol City next and the chance to go top — what could possibly go wrong?

Saturday, October 29

Bye bye El-Hadji

Allardyce has said he won't be signing El-Hadji Diouf, having taken into account the player's lack of fitness and the hostility of the fans. Signing Diouf would have been the most expensive suicide note in history from Big Sam. Thank goodness someone has actually listened to the fans for a change...

Football with a snarl?

The Daily Telegraph's account of the Brighton victory was a bit over-the-top. Nolan didn't gesture at the home fans in a particularly provocative way and our tackling was committed but fair rather than dirty as the piece implies. And I wouldn't exactly describe Mark Noble as a "bruising  enforcer"... The Telegraph wrote:

The art of league success is in winning ugly, so the maxim goes; and it is difficult to imagine a more hideous triumph than West Ham’s last night. But it is they who left with the points, and it is they who sit second in the Championship after this textbook smash-and-grab.
Brighton certainly felt grabbed and smashed by the end...
If Sam Allardyce’s West Ham have shown at times this season that they are capable of getting the ball down and passing it, then here was a demonstration that the tactic of bombardment is still very much in the Big Sam manual. The game was a scrap, a brawl, from start to finish.
Playing just one striker in John Carew, and two bruising enforcers in Mark Noble and Papa Bouba Diop in front of the defence, West Ham set out, as many teams have done in recent weeks, to throw Brighton off their pretty passing game. That meant beefy shoulder barges, and spicy ­sliding tackles that gathered momentum on the greasy surface.
This was football with a snarl. Allardyce wore a permanent grimace on the touchline, launching verbal missiles at the heroically uncomplaining fourth official Gavin Ward. When Kevin Nolan scored, he ran straight into one of the home corners of the ground and haughtily gestured at them.

Tuesday, October 25

Brighton rocked

Brighton 0 West Ham 1

My text about being out my brain on a 5.15 train to Brighton, results in a barrage of Who references from Matt, watching the game in O'Neill's as the Lucky Pub is closed.

Who Are You? Just hope we Won’t Get Fooled Again. Looks like Freddie may be a Substitute for another Guy (Demel).”

My response is: “Will it be Happy Jack Collison? Will Sam play a Squeeze Box formation with Baldock proving to be a Pinball Wizard?”

Of course we are talking about My Generation, and younger fans may not be conversant with the Who, but though Matt Can’t Explain, we agree The Kids Are Alright.

Bubbles echoes nicely around the acoustics of Brighton station as I negotiate a huge queue and squeeze on to the tiny local trains to Falmer.

The sparkling American Express Community Stadium is a fine new ground and will eventually be extended to hold more than the current 20,000. As Fat Boy Slim might reflect, You've Come A Long Way, Baby, from Brighton's days of homelesssness and stay at the Withdean.

At the stairs to the Media Lounge I meet my Brighton-based pal Paul, a former Essex Man now here by the sea and sand in mod-land. Many thanks to Brighton webmaster Will Jago for finding Hammers in the Heart some tickets.

We’re sat right behind the gaffers and throughout the game watch Big Sam continually remonstrating with his bench and the fourth official like a curmudgeonly uncle in a play by Alan Bennett. Meanwhile Gus Poyet gyrates like a man being subjected to electric shock treatment, full of Di Canio-esque imploring to the heavens every time Brighton go close.

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN
With seven Irons’ players injured, Allardyce opts for a five-man midfield. Brighton subject us to much early pressure as the rain pours down, but on 16 minutes Nolan dispossesses the dawdling Bridcutt and fires into the top corner of Harper’s net, running away to point at his name and do his curious clucking chicken celebration.

What’s clear is the Hammers are working tremendously hard. Winston Reid, possibly the only New Zealander not to play rugby, makes some excellent Richie McCaw-style blocks, while Amdy Faye is imposing alongside him. Diop gets his foot in and Noble looks a better player for having been dropped. Collison, Nolan and Faubert also put in decent shifts in the five-man midfield.

The crucial moment comes in first half stoppage time when Makail-Smith latches on to a Harper punt and forces Almunia to produce a great stretching save.

The half-time grub in the Media Lounge is excellent, no prawn sandwiches but real coffee, chicken curry and cupcakes.

HERE'S FREDDIE
Brighton play some good football, with Craig Noone prominent, and put us under relentless pressure in the second half. A good chance for the Seagulls is air-kicked, both side have penalty appeals, and Carew fashions a half-chance.

Allardyce responds by sending on Piquionne for Carew and 13-year-old Freddie Sears for Diop. Freddie, wearing shorts that cover his knees, runs around like he’s consumed too much Brighton Rock and makes a couple of decent forays.

The home fans make a lot of noise, while the West Ham contingent amuse themselves with the old joke about Brighton, with unreconstructed chants of, “You’re too ugly to be gay!” and “We can see you holding hands!"

O’Brien has a good game on his return to the side and it’s a gritty, workmanlike performance on a greasy pitch in the second half. Almunia makes a smart low stop and somehow and Faubert slices wide when well-placed. We hold on for eight minutes of added time, despite messing up a short-corner trying to time waste and turning it into a Brighton attack.

The side have certainly played for each other and we end up with a great three points and restored to second place.

PRAISE HIM
We see Fat Boy Slim, aka Norman Cook, in the Media Lounge afterwards. He’s been on the pitch announcing two gigs at the American Express Community Stadium on June 1st and 2nd.
We resist the temptation to show him the league table and ask him to check it out now, funk soul brother.

Falmer station echoes to East End folk songs such as Twist and Shout and “He’s only got the match ball!” as a Hammers' fan holds aloft the very ball that Nolan scored with.

An ugly away win, but we never used to get any of those. With two home games coming up we have a great chance to go top.

Monday, October 24

Out of my brain on a 5.15...

At least we get a trip to Brighton this season. Heading to Victoria station soon, having watched my old VHS video of The Who's Quadrophenia as preparation. Speaking of which, Shane Barber, former editor of fanzine On A Mission, never did quite recover from the sight of the young Leslie Ash and what went on down that alleyway.

Let's hope the game is as entertaining as the film.

Not Diouf

The Daily Mirror reports that El Hadj-Diouf is training with us and Big Sam wants to give him a contract. We can cope with bad boys, but there's a difference between Di Canio (just mad), a stroppy moaner like Craig Bellamy say and Diouf, who has previous for some very nasty offences, such as spitting at fans, giving verbals to a player with a broken leg and winding up fans in an Old Firm derby. Plus he isn't that good.

Don't do it Allardyce. We want promotion - but not at any price.

Sunday, October 23

Deep Frozen Green

According to the club website: "Robert Green has been undergoing intensive treatment, including a midweek trip to a cryogenic chamber."

Does this mean he's been deep frozen and we plan to wake him up in 100 years when we finally make the Premiership?

Saturday, October 22

Are we playing long ball?

Interesting debate on LBC after the Southampton defeat, with Clive Walker and a couple of callers claiming we're playing the long-ball game.

I've been trying to look at the games objectively and not label our game long ball simply because it's Allardyce. Yes, we've lumped some long balls towards Cole and Carew, as indeed we did under Avram, but I've also seen plenty of short passing too.

Think it's more a case of just playing badly in some games such as Peterborough, Ipswich and  Southampton away, rather than a complete change in our game. Though scoring from set pieces is one Allardyce trait I'm very happy to see.

Anyone have any views on this?

Wednesday, October 19

The Saints go marching on

Southampton 1 West Ham 0

After a first half spent watching The Only Way is Essex and Made In Chelsea with my wife and teenage daughter, managed to find a radio commentary on LBC. My fellow season-ticket holder Nigel was at St Mary's and summed the game up thus via his texts:

Half-time: 1-0 Great atmosphere. Hammers fail to mark big defender. We've played ok but they have had more pressure. Our midfield are 2nd best. 
75 mins: WH playing much better but have blown several good chances, had good call for a pen. 
Full-time: Bit unlucky to lose, lots of pressure 2nd half, hit post, still lack a bit of quality.

Noble seems to have improved the side second half (maybe getting dropped is the jolt he needed). Not sure why Collison was dropped after scoring either. Big Sam agrees that we should have had a point if Nolan, Baldock and Carew had converted their chances. The Saints 17th straight home win, so no disgrace to lose, but that five point gap is worrying.

On LBC Clive Walker (who used to get a lot of grief from the North Bank) had a go at our supposed long-ball game. A couple of phone-in callers from Basildon did likewise. Can't see we're playing a long-ball game myself, and having scored four against Watford, Forest, Portsmouth and Blackpool we can't say there haven't been goals. It's an easy tag to give to an Allardyce team, but generally we've played a mixed game of short and long passing. As for scoring from set pieces, that's been a welcome change this season.

Not a good result, but if our strikers can score in the big matches then we can still get in the top two.

Tuesday, October 18

Either oar situation

Interesting piece in tonight's Evening Standard reveals that West Ham fan and Olympic Gold Medal winning rower Mark Hunter was invited to give a talk to the players before the Blackpool game.

Sam Allardyce had asked him to give the talk with the aid of a flip chart on how to achieve success and how to overcome setbacks. Hunter says, "I was amazed how responsive the players were afterwards".

Quite apt really, as we were up s**t creek without a paddle last season. Let's hope we swim rather than sink at St Mary's tonight.

Saturday, October 15

Baldock spirit

West Ham 4 Blackpool 0

Where were you when we were sick? Fraser texts to say that he has a stomach upset and can’t make the game. Nigel is hoarse and ailing after too much heavy living attending Ritchie Blackmore old English music gigs. Matt simply holds up a post-it note reading “I have lost my voice” and “the referee’s a tinker!”

It’s an interesting line-up with Noble dropped for the first time, no Cole and Carew and Baldock up front. Our nerves are calmed after 12 minutes when Gustave Faubert curls in a lovely cross for John Carew to rise above Hill and head home.

Blackpool blast a free kick hopelessly over the bar, but otherwise hardly trouble Almunia. Baldock and Carew are thwarted by good saves from Gilks.

Carew shows surprising skill on the ground for a big man, while Baldock is a nagging presence at the shoulder of the Pool defenders. Though ref Andy D’Urso seems to penalise our strikers for the slightest touch and shows no grasp of the advantage rule when Collison is clean through. Matt would be swearing at him if only he could speak. Diop gets some good tackles in and though his distribution is sometimes poor, he looks a difficult lump to get past.

Amazingly we score three goals in seven minutes after the break, Baldock calmly beats the keeper having latched on to Taylor’s header and sprung the offside trap. Four minutes later Carew causes further consternation and Baldock bundles home another poacher’s goal, and on 55 minutes Collison fires home a deflected drive after another Gilks’ parry.

“How shit must you be we’re winning at home?” comes the chant from the Bobby Moore Stand.

“Game of the century,” I text to Fraser.

Matt scrawls several illegibible messages on his post-it notes.

"Matt should have been a doctor," suggests Nigel.

We then have three further good chances in the next five minutes. Baldock has a shot saved by Gilks’ legs and Carew tries to curl one in the corner rather than pass to Baldock who is free. Good to see that Baldock has the confidence to give the experienced striker some stick for his decision.

With Blackpool’s defence looking worse than Liam Fox’s, West Ham then relax, which is a shame as goal difference might prove vital. But 4-0 without ever playing brilliantly will do me. It still seems very quiet without Matt lambasting the ref. We’re so relaxed that while looking at George McCartney, Nigel is able to joke that he hears Paul McCartney’s new marriage is in trouble as he’s noticed that he’s having to buy twice as many shoes for his new wife as he did for his last. Arf, arf.

Fraser texts back to say that the stomach bug has sent his blood pressure is up and if he’d had to have four celebratory cigars it would have been killed him.

Then it’s off to the Black Lion with Matt and Mike O’Brien for a celebratory pint of Maldon Gold. Matt even recovers his voice thanks to the rejuvenating ale. Just as well as otherwise it would be like having a pint with Marcel Marceau. We go second as well. A nice set-up for the big game at Southampton on Tuesday.

Wednesday, October 12

Bentley crocked

David Bentley is out for six months after a keyhole operation revealed he needed surgery on his knee. A blow, as his crosses could have provided the ammunition for our team of giants. But also another opportunity for Julien 'Gustave' Faubert... who has been one of our better performers of late.

Rent boys

"TAXPAYERS 0 WEST HAM 1" is the Daily Mail's take on the stadium fiasco. "Club still set to move away from Upton Park WITHOUT having to stump up £20 million."

Several papers cite Manchester City as an example of the type of deal that may take place. Their stadium is owned by the council, which receives rent and gets a cut of all revenues above 35,000 fans.

Yes, we save £20m plus on the £95 million cost of conversion if we rent and we won't need a loan from Newham Council. But the fans need to know what length the lease would be, what security we have and what happens if we get taken over by another dodgy Icelandic banker and end up Brassic and unable to pay the rent. And what happens if we are a success there and Spurs then decide to then offer more rent? And do we get retractable seats?

Meanwhile the Times suggests West Ham might still be offered a deal to buy the stadium at some future date once Upton Park has been sold and economic conditions have improved.

What is clear is that we have a strong bargaining position with the Olympic Park Legacy Company, which would struggle to organise a fake tan in a Buckhurst Hill beauty salon. If we withdraw, then the government ends up with a very costly white elephant.

The Lunacy of the Long Distance Runner

Here's something to cheer us up. BBC Sport reports:

Paolo di Canio unwittingly completed the town's half marathon after losing his bearings on the fun run course. The 43-year-old Swindon Town manager was supposed to sound the horn to start Sunday's main race before completing the two-mile short course.
But the Italian took a wrong turn and ended up finishing the full 13.1 miles in one hour 49 minutes - 36 minutes behind race winner Dave Roper.
"I couldn't stop, there was a challenge," he told BBC Wiltshire.

Tuesday, October 11

Where's our stadium gone?

Extraordinary news on the radio this morning. The deal for West Ham to own the Olympic Stadium has collapsed. The Olympic Park Legacy Company has scrapped the deal in the face of legal challenges from those litigious gits at Tottenham, Leyton Orient and a mystery Spurs or Millwall supporter who has complained to the European Commission. With all these legal challenges, seems it's unlikely a decision would be made by 2014.

So what has been the point of the last two years of negotiations? And how much money has been wasted on all this?

A new tendering process is to begin for a club to lease the stadium at £2 million a year. Security of tenure here would be the key. It would be a worrying situation indeed to sell the Boleyn Stadium and end up as renters. Though saving on the running costs might be beneficial for a club that's around £70 million in debt.

One interesting option is that as Spurs have said they won't play in a ground with a running track, we could call the bluff of the Legacy Company and  simply stay at Upton Park. That way they'd be left with a 60,000 seater athletics stadium that they would struggle to give away.

It's all about as transparent as Liam's Fox's trips abroad with his best mate. And how have Spurs been allowed to interfere in a part of London that their supporters don't want to move to? Baffling. It's tempting to do a Manu Tuilagi and jump in the River Lea.

Friday, October 7

Ten games in...

Ten games in and with a two week international break it's a good time to review progress at Upton Park. Two defeats in ten isn't too bad a record and we could have had four extra points were it not for last minute goals. Unbeaten away is some change from the side that blew a two goal lead at Wigan and made Avram Grant a Millwall legend.

Big Sam has bought or loaned 12 players, most of whom are older and experienced in the Premiership. Can Premier League players automatically transfer their class to the Championship? Not always, Michael Carrick was bypassed for much of his season among the cloggers. Though hopefully the type of players we have signed are more robust than MC.

O'Brien has probably been the pick of our signings, appearing to finally solve the right-back problem.  Nolan hasn't found top form but has still scored three goals, while McCartney looks a great loan signing at left-back. Amdy Faye has looked solid at centre-back and Henri Lansbury has shown some touches of class. Matt Taylor started really well before succumbing to injury and loss of form, while Carew will surely convert anything we sling at him in the air.

The jury is still out on Bentley, though he's shown flashes of skill, while Baldock, Diop, Montenegro and Demel have played too few games to be judged yet.

Of the old players, Rob Green has had a great season, Tomkins has been excellent and Reid much better. Noble has underperformed a little, while Collison is still playing his way into form. Carlton Cole had a good run of four in four and appears much more motivated. While poor Freddie Piquionne has been dropped, done for fly-tipping in Essex and sent off.

Lack of pace is still a worry and you do wonder if we can play all season with five in midfield - though interestingly the two games we've lost have been when Sam has played two strikers.

But ten games in, the wage bill is down, we've got rid of most of the relegation hangover and finally have some competition for places. Time for some cautious optimism, perhaps?

Monday, October 3

Paolo dogged by misfortune

Paolo di Canio appears to think he is managing a team of canines at Swindon. His latest rant after a defeat ran:

"With some players, if he has a chihuahua character I can't make a chihuahua into a rottweiler. He could be a proud chihuahua but he remains a chihuahua. So many of the players at the moment are chihuahuas away from home - this is the truth."

Sounds like he needs a modern version of Martin 'Mad Dog' Allen.

Sunday, October 2

Carew gatecrashes Palace party

Crystal Palace 2 West Ham 2

Left it too late to get tickets for this one, so reduced to watching it on the web while walking Vulcan the dog around Hampstead Heath (no, we don't live there). Matt texts “I hate WHU” at 2-1, but I have a feeling the Irons will salvage a point, as we ultimately do.

A good point, considering we were without the injured Green, O’Brien, Noble, Taylor and Reid. Nolan (twice) and Carew had chances to win it too.

The Football League Show highlights at some ungodly hour reveal that Big Sam arrives off the coach in shades, looking like a villain from Reservoir Dogs.

We’re undone by two bad goals There’s a route one goalkeeper’s punt followed by terrible marking for Ambrose’s opener, while we allow Murray too much space on the edge of the box for the second.

On the positive side McCartney made both goals with fine crosses, Cole setting up Nolan for the first. Then ten minutes from time sub Carew rises like a great lump of Norwegian Wood to power home a header after McCartney had given Sam’s Band on the Run some Wings.

Big Sam praised Papa Bouba Diop in particular after the game, so perhaps we’ll be using him more regularly after the international break (in place of Noble maybe?). Ten games in and unbeaten away — so far Big Sam has made good on his promise to make us difficult to beat away from home.