Saturday, March 31

Shambolic Saturday

West Ham 2 Reading 4

In the Newham Bookshop Jeremy Nicholas is discussing sales of Mr Moon Has Left The Stadium and match day requests with Vivian. While in Green Street Nigel and Matt have nabbed the corner seat and are wondering if George Osborne and David Cameron are going to turn up for a photoshoot in Ken's Cafe to detoxify the government after pastygate. Strangely they don't. But we do note that West Ham's trophy cabinet has been found along with the foundations of the Thames Ironworks in the archaeological dig beneath the Limmo Peninusla  at Canning town. Baldock and Maynard's shooting boots might be down there too.

On to the game played in unseasonal sunshine. What a bizarre performance. We play really well for 44 minutes taking an early lead just after Mystic Morris has said you wouldn't think either team were at the top the league. Nolan shows some great skill to find Taylor and then heads his cross against the post and Cole manages to prod home the rebound. We play it on the ground and Vaz Te causes big problems on the right and several times we almost get on the end of crosses to make it 2-0. But as Reading improve we make two bizarre mistakes. Noble gives the ball away to concede a needless corner and it's headed in by Gorkss who beats Nolan's challenge. Then in first half injury time Tomkins makes another mistake, Faubert slips and the unmarked Hunt makes it 2-1. Even then we almost equalise as Cole has a header scrambled off the line.

We utterly capitulate in the second half. The non-appearance of Noble is crucial and bizarrely we bring on Collins and move Tomkins to midfield. Hesitancy from Faubert and then a foul by Faye — who is probably still suffering from the effects of concussion at Peterborough — gifts Reading a soft penalty conveyed by Harte. Vaz Te pulls a goal back with a fine header from a corner, but instead of battering the Reading goal we stop pressing in midfield and allow Reading to walk in a fourth that is possibly offside.

Maynard and Baldock come on to little effect, apart from one chance created by Nolan when Maynard heads too close to the keeper. There appears to be a real lack of mental strength and character in the side on the evidence of this second half. Yes they played in midweek, but it's not an excuse. It's not long balls that are the problem or the crowd which remains loyal throughout, but terrible defending, something we're supposed to have eliminated, and a hugely worrying lack of fight when we pull it back to 2-3. Defeat is tolerable but not fighting for 90 minutes isn't. Reading look much better than us and we don't deserve automatic promotion playing like this. As Allardyce says, we need to win our final six games to have a chance. Play-offs here we come.

Showdown Saturday

Our marketing department is working overtime on alliteration with its "Showdown Saturday" description of today's match against Reading. Only it's a bit like that episode of Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? where they see the headline "England F…" and  spend all day working out possible headlines such as England fiasco, England fail, England five, etc. I keep thinking of alternative billings such as Shambolic Saturday, Shameful Saturday, Slowdown Saturday and Shoddy Saturday although in my more optimistic moments it's Super Saturday, Successful Saturday and Soaraway Saturday.  And as for the word Showdown,  I keep thinking of Big Sam in a Stetson drawing a gun at the OK Ken's Cafe…

Mad Men meets Bobby Moore

Now Mad Men is on Sky Atlantic no-one can watch it, but I hear it's set in 1966 now. Is is too much to hope that Lane, the only Brit in the series, takes Don and Roger to London for the 1966 World Cup soccer final to watch West Ham beat West Germany and they then recruit young Bobby Moore as the new face of some aftershave account? They then go for a swinging London knees-up in the Black Lion. It probably is, I fear. Now, let's have another scotch...

Thursday, March 29

Some PR advice to Big Sam

It might help Big Sam if he was less Alpha Male about the "We're West Ham United we play on the floor" chants at Peterborough. His response to press queries was typically combative, declaring  “I’m sick of all that rubbish. It just keeps rearing its head. We’ve outplayed and out passed the six teams we’ve played recently. The facts speak for themselves and the perception of people that it is anything other than that, is deluded."

He needs to be more Blair and less Thatcher in his dealings with the supporters. It would be far better PR for him to say that he understands the traditions of West Ham and the worries of the fans and will endeavour to play good football whenever possible, but it's a difficult and physical division to get out if. The fact he called the chants "rubbish" meant most people ignored the sound point he made later on that: “You can play on the floor when you’ve earned the right to play but you can’t do it when the opposition are shutting you down as Peterborough did in the first half.You play according to the situation which means long balls only when necessary."

I thought he got his tactics right at Peterborough, allowing the home side to tire and then playing some excellent  passing stuff in the second half. But instead the main press story is now of division between manager and fans. 

Wednesday, March 28

We filled your ground for you!

Peterborough 0 West Ham 2

Peterborough is shut when my train arrives at 6.15pm. Groups of forlorn West Ham fans loiter by the splendid cathedral able only to find a McDonald’s and Nando’s open. Still, it’s always good to visit a new stadium. This is my 63rd league ground, not that I’m counting.

The Posh’s London Road stadium is a throwback, one new stand but terracing at both ends and Matt, Lisa, Mike and myself are sitting in the antique stand with minute wooden seats and a close-up view of Sullivan and Gold in the Director’s Box. Big Joe got us the tickets, but has bizarrely chosen to go to Sri Lanka rather than East Anglia via Sandy and St Neots.

We’re behind Sam Allardyce, who stands in his technical area like a curmudgeonly character from a Samuel Beckett play, all mysterious arm twitches and finger signals at his players.

Peterborough come at us like it’s their cup final, which it clearly is for Grant McCann, and we rely on the excellent Faye and Tomkins at the back to repel the early thrusts, though the home side are unlucky when Taylor hits the bar.

We come into it more in the later stages of the half, Taylor has a cross spilled by the keeper, Vaz Te gets a couple of good runs in and we force some corners without ever really looking like scoring.

There’s a mutinous mood among the West Ham fans on the terracing. First come the chants of “Two up front!” followed by  “We’re West Ham United we play on the floor!” and “Paolo Di Canio!”. 

A West Ham fan near us rushes up to the police line to shout at Allardyce and Sullivan “Carlton Cole couldn’t trap a ball with two feet!”

The home fans treat us to “Kevin Nolan’s a wanker!” for some reason, while the mood in the away terrace turns more jovial as the Irons fans discover the joy of jumping, singing “If you ‘ate Millwall jump up!”

It’s goalless at half-time, though in the last minute of the first half Tomkins is injured making a fantastic block to prevent a goal and Faye is subbed for Collins after a clash of heads with Taylor.

Things improve greatly in the second half. Faubert is on for O’Brien giving us more attacking threat. The breakthrough comes after 52 minutes when McCartney finds Taylor and his cross is headed home by Vaz Te. Quite an achievement to direct the ball back across the keeper with that Mohican on his bonce.

Four minutes later O’Neil is given space to run at the Posh defence and unleashes a 25-yard curler into the corner – a great goal and a sign he's making a full recovery from a horrible injury.

The West Ham fans ask Robert Green what the score is, but he makes a don’t tempt fate gesture to much laughter. He’s then regaled with career advice of “He’s West Ham till he dies!” and “Sign in the morning he’s gonna sign in the morning!”

Green then proves why he’s England class with a fantastic save on the line from Freklington to prevent Posh coming back into it. Nolan who has closed down everything tonight and had one of his better games for club tries a back-flick shot that hits the bar and would have been goal of the season.

Possibly under instruction from the fans, we play on the floor and bamboozle Peterborough with some flowing 15-pass moves, though several end with Faubert’s wayward crosses. Or is it the result of Big Sam’s lectures on perception, reality and the unbearable lightness of being four points behind Reading?

O’Neil’s experience proves crucial in retaining possession and we see the game out comfortably. The fans “Ole!” every pass and McCartney, Vaz Te and Nolan all go close. Cole has admittedly worked hard all game though he’s completely lost his confidence in front of goal, hesitating when another opportunity for the third comes along.

The away fans in the terrace chant "Is that all you bring away?" at the West Ham fans in the stand, who chant back “We forgot that you were here!” We’re actually enjoying a game at last. Peterborough are taunted with ”Fergie Fergie what’s the score!” and "We filled your ground for you!"

Matt asks “Is there a fire drill?” as the coppers next to us despair and rush out for more doughnuts, and one of them actually smiles.

The final whistle blows and at last we’ve got that win, leaving Reading just one point ahead and playing us next.

Yes, we should beat a club with the meagre resources of Peterborough, but no game is ever easy. And all those who’ve wanted to sack Allardyce this week might note that we’ve now equalled the club record of eleven away victories in a season achieved in 1922/23 and 1957/58. When was a West Ham side last difficult to beat away from home? For all the worries about the style of play at home, to transform our away form in such a fashion is it has to be said a fantastic achievement. Now we have to deliver at Upton Park.

Tuesday, March 27

Sam's doors of perception

Good news is that Vaz Te and Faubert should be fit for tonight's game at Peterborough, where I'll be in attendance. Meanwhile Big Sam has gone on a PR offensive in his Evening Standard column and an interview in Saturday' Independent. He complains about being tarred with the "long ball shit" stereotype in the Indie and in the Standard has more views on The Doors of Perception than Aldous Huxley. 

He wrote in the Standard: "I have always been honest. At Bolton we achieved great results because we were clever enough to prepare the team tactically to beat bigger opposition. But the problem then was that opposition managers, either out of embarrassment and as an excuse, would sometimes criticise how we played. That was picked up by the media and no matter what I did or said after that, eventually it became fact. Against Middlesbrough the other night, we were accused of lumping the ball up. We didn’t, we comfortably out-passed them but once again, the long ball thing was brought up. It annoys me but I can’t let it get me down. As I’m often saying, I don’t live in the world of perception, I inhabit the world of reality. For example, the perception on Tuesday night was that we didn’t play well — in reality, we did. We did everything other than finish with a scoreline better than ­Middlesbrough’s."

Does he protest too much? I've some sympathy for the argument that it's a great 40-yard pass if played by Paul Scholes but a long ball if played by an Allardyce team. But although we passed a lot against Boro, we lacked penetration and we certainly appeared to be playing in too many crosses from deep aimed at Cole's head, or worse Baldock or Maynard's head. A good team has to mix up both styles. Grant and Zola played good football with rubbish results thanks to our defensive frailty. What we want is a passing game with defensive solidity. And an ability to score and defend set-pieces, which Allardyce has certainly improved. 

BFS also has a go at those who criticise him for playing one striker when he claims to be playing three, and dismisses two strikers in the box as "antiquated nonsense". Though that's not really the issue - we may have three up front but the fans object to playing Maynard and Baldock far too wide.

Still, what is the world of reality, what is the world of perception? Are we really here? Just hope that Peterborough perceive their net to be bulging later tonight.

Monday, March 26

West Ham In Basildon

For those in despair after five successive draws at least West Ham is now considered high art… Went to see In Basildon at the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square on Friday, a play about a feuding Basildon family gathered around the death bed of Len, a fanatical Hammers fan. David Eldridge's play has numerous West Ham references including a chorus of Bubbles in Len's death bed scene, a reference to Frank McAvennie's possible love child, Barry wearing a Hammers shirt at the funeral and a comment of "Avram Grant, more like Avram can't!" as Barry receives news of another defeat on his iPhone. It's a funny, non patronising play with numerous Essex references and our only chance to see West Ham win over Chelsea this season.

Sunday, March 25

Drawing drawing West Ham…

Burnley 2 West Ham 2

Viewed as a single match, you could say this was a good result, coming back from 2-0 down at half-time. But in the context of our run of draws even Allardyce admits it feels like a defeat. Big Sam said we should have won 5-2 and again berated his strikers. 

It’s a nervy afternoon listening to TalkSport at my mother-in-law’s cottage in Buntingford. There's Lapsang and Earl Grey in the afternoon tea pot, unseasonal sunshine, the sound of wood pigeons cooing and fear in my heart as we go two down. 

Cole sets the tone early on, as latching on to Noble’s through ball he rounds the keeper and then fails to hit the target. Bartley gives Burnley the lead on 25 minutes, brushing past Collins and turning inside Tomkins too easily, to fire past Green.

We seem to equalize when Nolan has a fine header disallowed for no apparent reason. Then Cole contrives to miss the ball from a yard out as the cross hits the post and Nolan fires the rebound at the man on the line.

We then go 2-0 down as Paterson gets across Collins to turn home a routine cross. Collison has a good effort saved but it’s nearly 3-0 at half-time when Burnley hit the post.

Subbing Cole and Taylor for Maynard and Baldock has some effect after the break. Kevin Nolan gets us back into the game with a great finish, chipping over Grant following a defensive lapse. It’s Nolan’s tenth goal of the season but he remains an enigma. He’s now our top scorer and the best finisher at the club, yet never seems to dominate the midfield. He also looks better away from home. Might he be better utilised at Upton Park as a second striker or impact substitute?

Two minutes later Noble’s free kick is headed across the box by Maynard and Tomkins finishes with confidence to make it 2-2. We should then go on to win it but Sam bizarrely brings on Carew, who misses a good chance. The best chance falls to Baldock who fires against the keeper’s legs.

So it’s ten games unbeaten but four behind Reading with a game in hand and nine behind Southampton. Glass half full or half empty? We’ve had to sell one team and recruit another and we’re still in with a chance of automatic promotion and if nothing else are difficult to beat away; yet we've blown several chances to go top through endless draws at home.

The games against Peterborough and Reading will surely shape our season. Two defensive mistakes haven’t helped at Turf Moor. But the biggest problem is our misfiring front line. Cole, Maynard, Baldock and Carew are all way off form and look about as likely to score as Russell Brand tied to a chair and locked in a padded cell in a Californian sex addiction clinic. Perhaps if Cole, Baldock or Maynard can get one, then we’ll finally give someone a tonking. If we don’t win soon though, it’s all over for automatic promotion.

Friday, March 23

Irons in the Soul

My West Ham book from 2002 West Ham: Irons in the Soul is republished on Kindle today. It's the diary of the 2001-02 season when we had Di Canio, Kanoute, Cole, Carrick, Defoe, Sinclair, Repka and James and finished seventh. Thankfully the lads soon righted that and got relegated the following season... Harry's sacking, Hayden Foxegate, Paolo's piranhas, a 7-1 defeat at Blackburn, a glimpse inside Jeremy Nicholas's box, finishing above Spurs and much more…

Thursday, March 22

How big Sam could win over the fans

Are we playing badly at home because of the system or underperforming players? If the fans are to get fully behind the side then Allardyce has to change his thinking. Winning ugly away with counterattacking football is one thing, and to give BFS credit the away record is first rate, but at home we have to stop crossing from deep ( Faye's goal was made by Taylor crossing from just over the halfway line, but it isn't going to work all game) and try to get behind teams and cross from the byline.

Dropping Nolan – which I doubt will ever happen — would certainly prove to the fans that he has no favourites. Nolan's scored nine goals without ever contributing much in midfield, and a rest for Kevin would free up Collison/Lansbury/Morrison and Noble in the middle. Cole surely needs a rest too and Carew is at a club too far. If he played Taylor and Faubert or Vaz Te wide and two strikers up front the crowd would be less restless as they'd at least see some attacking intent.

Allardyce is meant to be a pragmatic manager and his system isn't working at home. Is he clever enough to change things? When he arrived he promised hard to-beat football away and turning on the style at home - which so far has yet to happen.

Wednesday, March 21

Respecting the point (again)

West Ham 1 Middlesbrough 1

In Ken’s Café Nigel’s just got on Twitter and looks very pleased with himself, though strangely he can’t find the Ken’s Café Twitter account, which would presumably consist of endless tweets of “Fifty nine!!!! Who’s got fifty nine???”. Rumour has it he may soon prefer watching the game exclusively on Twitter.

Not a lot happens in the first half, though it’s an improvement on Doncaster. Both sides move the ball quickly without creating many chances, though we have a clear penalty for handball by Bates turned down. Our five men at the back look secure but Maynard hardly gets a chance and Carlton has one of his more frustrating games up front.

Our half time entertainment is provided by Nigel producing a crayfish and rocket sandwich to a chorus of “middle class football fans, eh?”

The crowd does well to get behind the side with some choruses of Bubbles at the start of the second half. 

“Drawing drawing West Ham…” mutters Mystic May, just as we take the lead on 67 minutes. Faye’s header takes a deflection of Bennett and loops high over the keeper. It’s lucky but he got his head on the ball and made it happen. Faye is the 24th West Ham player to score this season, which is impressive, if only our strikers could score too.

The Bobby Moore Stand sing “How shit must you be we’re winning at home!” which I’d have to agree with Big Sam is too negative.

Big Sam replaces Cole with Carew, a strange decision as his legs appear to have gone, and Maynard with Collison.

“That’s a very Allardyce idea. Take off a big man and bring on a bigger man,” says Nigel.

“It’s like watching the Shard try to get on the end of a cross,” muses Matt in a surreal architectural metaphor as Carew lumbers into the box.

We should wrap the game up, when Tomkins’ header is turned onto the bar by Steele. Then after a t defensive howler Taylor lobs the ball over the keeper but places it past the post. It could be 3-0 by now.

Sure enough, on 84 minutes Bart Ogbecha cuts inside and fires home from the edge of the box. It’s a fine goal, in off the post, though should be just a consolation if Taylor had taken his chance.

Matt's attempts at logical positivism end with a torrent of 'f' and 'w' words aimed at our strikers after a bizarre game of head tennis in the Boro box comes to nothing. 

Baldock comes on after 87 minutes and looks pacy though misses a good headed chance. It’s strange that Morrison is left on the bench as we’re crying out for something unexpected in the final third.

Boro skim the bar late on and almost snatch an undeserved win. The final whistle goes to a chorus of boos from some members of the crowd, which I don’t like, but is understandable after five draws in a row.

We move into the back bar at the Black Lion where we respect the pint and drink Doom Bar, hoping it’s not a comment on our automatic promotion prospects. We try to imagine things that are slower than Carew, but can't. Gavin texts to say that we have not won a Tuesday night game for eight years. The Gav has left the dog at home and has left early to walk him, but unlike West Ham he probably won’t lose the lead.

We try to think positive. We’ve been a little unlucky tonight. Weirdly, nine games unbeaten is probably the best run we’ve had since we were last in the Championship.  If we draw our final nine games we should make the play-offs. We’ve respected the point – though perhaps Allardyce should start telling the players to respect three points too. 

Tuesday, March 20

Negative vibes

Big Sam, writing in Friday's Evening Standard, addressed the problem of "negativity" from a minority of home fans. He wrote: "It’s only a minority I know but they need to support the team because, if they don’t, they will frighten the players. Teams should look forward to playing in front of their home fans. You can put up with any amount of stick away from home because that means you’re playing well but if it happens at home then it can destroy players who want to do well for their club. If we’re playing rubbish then, yes, I can understand it but we’re not.
We don’t make the same mistakes away from home that we do at Upton Park and that, once again, is down to the pressure. Players feel they can’t afford to make a mistake at home and when that mindset prevails, what happens? They make a mistake. You play your best when there’s a natural flow from your subconscious."

I'd take issue with the "we're not playing rubbish" remark about the Doncaster game, the problem was we played well for the first 20 minutes and then played rubbish. He's also not aware that traditionally the West Ham crowd will always get behind a team trying to play attractive football, but will not necessarily get behind a side flinging in high-balls from midfield. Still, there's something in what he says about pressure, confidence and human nature — though our lads do seem to suffer from a lack of mental strength if the odd groan puts them off — so I'd appeal to everyone tonight not to give the side unnecessary stick against Middlesbrough and really get behind them.

Oh Christian Dailly you are the love of my life!

Good to see football genius Christian Dailly still playing at 38 having just signed for Southend United after being released by Portsmouth. The ex-West Ham defender is still living in Ingatestone and told the Southend Echo he used to commute from Essex while playing for Rangers. He's looking a bit like Hugh Cornwall, ex-singer of the Stranglers these days, though I still wish I had curly hair too. Could he be West Ham's manager one day? After all, we've got the song...

Saturday, March 17

Oh Danny boy!

Leeds United 1 West Ham 1

This has to count as a good point at Elland Road thanks to Danny Collins' 90th minute equaliser, even if the Reading and Southampton results went against us. It was Leeds' biggest crowd of the season and it's never an easy place for us to get a result.

Was starting to get that familiar anti-Midas touch feeling when turning on my mobile on the Overground saw it was 0-0 at 83 minutes only to immediately have Leeds take the lead through Bechio's header. It's very rare that WHU ever get anything late out of a game so a pleasant surprise to see the update that Collins had headed (or actually shouldered) home a Noble corner. Collins has had a decent career at Chester, Stoke and Sunderland and Ipswich on loan, and has twice won the fans' player of the year award at Sunderland. He should be capable of doing a job in the Championship.

Looking at the highlights, our best chances fall to Maynard who just overruns the ball and Cole who heads narrowly over. Leeds have a goal disallowed for a slight push and we have a good penalty claim for handball against Brown turned down. Green makes a fantastic flying save too. Nice to see Morrison get a few minutes on the pitch. On the plus side it's eight games unbeaten, on the negative we've drawn five of them.

Back to the old perennial of can we win at home on Tuesday against Boro.

Friday, March 16

Time to shop at Morrison?

Could Ravel Morrison be the answer to our lack of ability at breaking down defences? My pal Matt spent ten minutes berating me on our walk to the Black Lion after the Watford game, claiming Morrison wasn't anywhere near ready. I'm not so sure. Morrison has just scored twice for the Development Squad. If he really is as good as Paul Scholes and Gazza were at 19 then surely he could come on for the last half hour of games to unlock defences? Admittedly, he's only played three times as a sub in the Carling Cup for Man United, but we've played with ten men recently and got by. Yes, it's putting a lot of pressure on him, but if Ravel is good enough then he's old enough.

Wednesday, March 14

We're West Ham United, we're third in the league…

Well, it's happened... Reading drew at Doncaster and we're down to third with a game in hand. Seems like we've been in the automatic promotion spots forever and indeed we'd be top with 70 points if we'd beaten Watford and Doncaster. Could have been worse though, as at least Reading's eight game winning run has been halted by improving Donny.

Monday, March 12

Home is where the hurt is

Still suffering a Doncaster hangover. Do we have a team that can only counterattack and play away from home? When have we actually played well at home this season? Apart from the early Portsmouth, Leicester, Blackpool and Derby games, we haven't put in an impressive home performance since November. We had a good 20 minutes against Doncaster and a good 20 minutes against Southampton until Taylor went off, but that's it.

Allardyce has certainly made the team more professional and transformed our away record, but most fans only get to see West Ham at home, so it's about time we performed. Big Sam's latest missive says he's been talking to the players about anxiety, but it's a problem Southampton and Reading don't seem to have. Sam also speaks in the programme of a "lack of goal efficiency" which I think is techo-speak for a phrase involving cow's bottoms and banjos.

You also wonder who is the leader on the pitch - Nolan has an impressive goals tally but does he inspire the side when they're struggling? And why when we get a goal do we always seem to ease off? Nurse, the screens.

Let's go effing rental…

One of my previous books Rent Boy: How One Man Spent 20 Years Falling Off The Property Ladder has now been reissued by US publisher Garrett County Press on Kindle. It's the story of my pre-property owning days in London and contains more than a few West Ham references, plus some hopefully funny stories and tales of dodgy landlords. And hey, it can't be any worse than watching the Doncaster game…

Saturday, March 10

Something Better Change

West Ham 1 Doncaster 1

Best part of the day is in Ken’s Café where there’s a sighting of DC and the wee man, back from self-imposed Hammers exile and being informed the Hammers play in claret and blue. Nigel’s seen the Stranglers last night and is watching Girlschool tonight (aren’t they more Middleagedmumschool these days?). Phill, Joe and Matt speculate about the washing-up arguments when Wilko Johnson flatshared with Jean-Jacques Burnel. Then it’s all downhill.

What a bizarre game. We completely dominate the first 15 minutes. Vaz Te scores in the first minute only to have what looks a good goal disallowed for a push on Chimbonda. Then Cole hits the bar with a volley and on nine minutes Tomkins' header results in a goalmouth melee and Nolan prods the ball home after a scramble in the box.

It all goes wrong after 25 minutes when the lively Vaz Te has to go off with what appears to be a hamstring strain. Baldock is forced to play wide on the left because of Allardyce’s refusal to play two up front and Collision and Lansbury aren’t contributing much in midfield. McCartney is out of position at right-back and Taylor is unable to get many crosses in at left back. We’re denied what looks like a blatant penalty just before half-time after a blatant handball in the area.

In the second half we all agree Something Better Change. It’s a terrible performance and we don’t create a chance, sitting back and inviting Doncaster to attack. Allardyce’s refrain that there are no easy games becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We have a huge wage bill compared to Doncaster and proven Premiership players. We have the strongest squad in the Championship yet no-one has the strength of character to take control of the game. Matt’s attempts to be positive last until the 70th minute when he announces we’re a bit crap.

Green has already had to make a fine save when good work by Diouf results in Coppinger equalizing on 73 minutes. Diouf should win it for Doncaster a few minutes later, but is foiled by a great save from Green. Even Tomkins is booting the ball into touch and the midfield is being bypassed. The limping Cole is clearly incapable of playing two games in four days, yet mystifyingly Big Sam refuses to bring on Maynard. Apart from Green and maybe Faye no-one plays well.

“We need to Get a Grip on ourselves, as the money’s quite good,” suggests Matt as we head to the real-ale desert of The Central for Stella in a skiff and reflect that there are No More Heroes anymore. Is our season going Down in the Sewer? Or can we Straighten Out?  How many fans will Walk on By? For the first time this season we start to wonder what the dates of the play-offs are. 

Allardyce and the players can’t blame the crowd for this or hide behind excuses about injuries to O’Brien, Reid and Faubert. Yes, we are unbeaten in seven games but we've drawn four at home in a row. It’s a second-half performance they should apologise for and on this form we don’t deserve to be in the top two. Reading are now level on points and can’t stop winning. Against Leeds we have to get some desire, keep the ball on the ground, get in some low crosses and demand the players take some responsibility. 

Passion is no ordinary word

There's been some negative stuff about the fans in the press since the Watford game. I don't think it's right to ever boo your own side, but generally the crowd has got behind the players even when we've been behind.

Abdoulaye Faye was quoted in the Standard saying that the first misplaced pass against Watford received a groan, but it's very hard to stop that natural reaction from any set of fans. And frankly any negative feelings from the home crowd have been pretty tame compared to the early days of Pardew  and the "Brown out" demos in the Championship.

Reading Jeremy Nicholas's book Mr Moon Has Left the Stadium it's interesting to note that Pards was always surprised when fans had opinions of their own and tended to blame poor Jem for not creating a positive atmosphere.

West Ham fans might be demanding but win them over and you'll be loved forever. If the fans see players giving everything they'll love them; the heroes of the crowd have always been those who've put in a shift and played with passion, such as Billy Bonds, Julian Dicks, Paolo Di Canio, Carlos Tevez and Scott Parker. Having said that let's get behind the team today and hope we can finally win convincingly at the Boleyn.

Thursday, March 8

Failing to pass Watford gap

West Ham 1 Watford 1

Trying a new route from Blackstock Road to Barking on the Overground is an interesting experience. First there’s a Christian preacher telling the whole carriage he’s been saved by Jesus, who cured his stammer, and then a shouty woman having a go at Muslims. The preacher departs, the shouty woman carries on shouting at another woman who’s started to laugh at her, is ejected by two Underground staff then rushes back on to start punching the other woman, before being dragged off again by four staff at Woodgrange Park. Think I’ll stick to the more genteel Overground route to Stratford next time.

In Ken’s Café there’s Matt, Mike and Big Joe spreading promises of away tickets and cockney knees-ups at Leicester. Carol and her staff perform their usual miracles feeding us before kick-off. There’s a slightly ominous feeling among us, as we always seem to blow our chance to go top, especially when confronted with a team we’ve beaten 4-0 away.

In the second minute Taylor rattles a thirty-yard effort against the bar, the sort of spectacular effort he used to score with at Portsmouth and Bolton. A shame it doesn’t go in as we have plenty of possession in the first half but again lack a cutting edge. It’s probably a good thing that my new contact lenses are great for reading the programme but making everything on the pitch indistinct.

Taylor provides another good cross that Faubert volleys wide when he should hit the target while Maynard appears to have lost his confidence and fails to shoot first time when an opportunity arises. Our best chance comes when Cole makes a great beckheel to Noble who chips for the top corner only to se Kuszczak, on loan from Man United, make a great save.

At half-time Nigel says he can’t see us scoring and then makes the fatal comment: “I can feel it in my waters that we won’t concede either.” Cue groans from Matt, Fraser and myself.

We make a good start to the second half with a sustained spell of corners and free kicks with Tomkins’ downwards header bouncing over the bar. There’s a ten minute stoppage when Watford’s Bennett and Eustace clash heads in their penalty box, with Bennett going off on  a stretcher and receiving sporting applause from the home crowd.

Then West Ham have their iffy patch, with 15 minutes of Watford coming increasingly into the game. The inevitable happens on 68 minutes as 18-year-old Sean Murray, on the corner of the area, fires a fine long range shot through a melee of players and in off the post.

That goal inspires more West Ham pressure. There appears to be a fire drill as the spectators in front of us file endlessly in and out of their seats. Do West Ham now just grab spectators off the street to fill the stadium? “Come on baby, cross the ball, cross the ball!” cries the deranged person a few seats down, over and over again, even when Tomkins and Faye have the ball.

Big Sam brings on Vaz Te for Taylor, Baldock for Maynard and Lansbury for O’Brien. Vaz Te immediately brings some spark to the side, playing in Baldock with a cleverly-weighted ball only for Little Sam to fail to connect properly and pass the ball to their keeper.

Nolan has a shot deflected just wide for a corner and Faubert, who’s having a poor game, blazes over when he should hit the goal and Matt gets very cross when Carlton tries to squeeze in a header from an oblique angle. We show good character to fight back though. After a corner in the 87th minute Baldock manages to hook the ball back to Vaz Te who fires through a posse of players and in off the post.

The crowd make a lot of noise during the eleven minutes of injury time but still we can’t force the winning goal. Again we make a defence look brilliant in the air by aiming high balls at Vaz Te and co. There’s boos from some of the crowd at the whistle, which is bad, even though it’s not been a great performance. Jeremy Nicholas plays Katy Brand’s I Kissed A Girl, which Fraser feels is not showing sufficient solidarity with her ex, Russell Brand.

We drift off to the Black Lion musing that we enjoy Ken’s Café and the pub, it’s just the bit in between that is the problem. On the pub TV Messi scores five for Barcelona and Matt suggests he might get in our team.

In fairness, we’ve created several good chances and on another night would surely have nicked it. But three draws in our last three home games is worrying and Doncaster becomes a must win game. Second against bottom – what could possibly go wrong? 

Wednesday, March 7

Six pint fixture

Nice to see that Roger Protz, editor of the CAMRA Good Beer Guide is a Hammers fan and is doing the write-ups for recommended away pubs the programme. He even gives the Black Lion a mention join the Southampton programme. If only the Central on Barking Road could take his advice and get some real ale in we'd all be a lot happier...

Tuesday, March 6

Freddie Piqui-gone

So Freddie Piquionne has gone on loan to Doncaster. He looked a decent striker when he first joined us, scoring the winner against Spurs. And he'd helped Portsmouth get to the FA Cup Final the previous season, scoring in the semi against Spurs. Yet very little has gone right for him since he scored for WHU at Everton, only to be sent off for celebrating in the crowd and getting a second yellow card. This season his biggest impact has been getting sent off and fined for fly-tipping in Essex, while also scoring a very lucky goal at Coventry. Perhaps his 33 years have caught up with him or his desire has waned, but it's strange how rapidly his Hammers career has declined.

Note from Statto

George McCartney was the 22nd player to score for West Ham this season on Sunday. Everyone in the squad who's played has scored at least once, bar Faye, Demel, Sears and Dan Potts. Which has in some ways masked our lack of a consistent striker. Midfielder Kevin Nolan on eight is now our second top scorer behind Cole on nine. We have to hope Maynard or Vaz Te are the answer, but encouraging to see so many goals shared around.

Sunday, March 4

Two-nil to the Cockney Boys!

Cardiff 0 West Ham 2

A great result in Wales. Saw the first half with Peter from the Solomon Islands and knew we were leading 1-0 before sitting down to our lunch party and finally watching the second half at 4pm (oh, the trials of being a petit bourgeois fan). Not a great first half with Miller going close for Cardiff and Collison and Vaz Te both volleying wide.

Nolan's excellent finish, after being found by Maynard, earned the Hammers the lead on 43 minutes. Whatever you think of him, Nolan certainly scores goals and at vital times too.

We should have settled it early in the second half with Vaz Te almost rounding the keeper,  Maynard blazing wide when he should have scored and then spurning a chance from a terrible back-header from the Cardiff defence. Maynard was promptly replaced by Cole. It looked like Cardiff might be coming back into it when Whittingham hit the post from a free kick, after a foolish push by Nolan.

But our second was the killer. McCartney took a long and winding road from the half way line down the left wing. Defying cries to get back to where he once belonged he crossed and when the ball rebounded off the defender Macca fired home with his right foot. Maybe I'm amazed by his first goal in five years.

Nice to hear the usual chorus of "Is there a fire drill?" from the away fans. Some encouraging signs, despite Cardiff hitting the bar with the last kick. We were profligate up front, but Faye mopped up everything at the back, Noble covered a tremendous amount of ground in midfield and Nolan looks more effective sitting in front of the defence away from home. In the second half Lansbury started to do some some decent runs and passes, before being subbed.

Cardiff looked a little deflated after their Carling Cup defeat last week, but with Reading chasing it's a fantastic three points, moving us one point below Southampton with a game in hand.

Extra terrestrial Hammers

Nice to see the Hammers live on terrestrial TV for a change. Should be able to catch the first half of Cardiff versus WHU live on BBC1, but Her Indoors, who is big in the Pacific Island Society but not on checking rearranged away fixtures, has also invited Will Randall, author of the very funny Solomon Time, and several exiled Solomon Islanders over for Sunday lunch. So may have to record the second half and turn my mobile off to preserve that live feeling...
Meanwhile just seen a photo on Stop! Hammer Time of the queues at the Cardiff service station where vouchers have to be exchanged for tickets and glad not be caught up among 1900 grumpy Hammers fans. What a ridiculous system...

Friday, March 2

Pay up Pompey

Terrible news that Portsmouth might go into liquidation. Their fans don't deserve it and from a selfish viewpoint it's pretty bad for West Ham too as we've taken six points off them. Today's Guardian has printed a Championship table where Portsmouth's games are expunged. We'd be down to third, six points behind Southampton and two behind Reading though we would have two games in hand over the Saints and one over Reading. Not going up because another club folded would be a very West Ham way of torturing the fans.

It might help if Alexandre Gaydamak, the last Pompey owner but five, waived some of the £2.2 million he's getting from the Premier League parachute payments, while Milan Mandaric and Harry Redknapp could surely spare a bob or two towards the Pompey fighting fund. Or how about a voluntary levy of one per cent on all Premiership wages with the proceeds going to any club facing liquidation? If only we had a 50+1 rule like the German Bundesliga, where 51 per cent of clubs are owned by members, i.e. the fans, and iffy foreign investors are only allowed 49 per cent, clubs like Portsmouth would never have got to the point of extinction.