Monday, April 30

The price is right

One thing the club has done right is keep the price down of the home leg of the play-off. It's £15 for adults and £5 for kids which is very reasonable. I seem to remember we had to pay full whack for the 2004 and 2005 play-off semi-finals.

Saturday, April 28

We are third in the league...

West Ham 2 Hull City 1
In Ken’s Cafe at 11.30aMatt’s feeling pleased with himself as he has discovered a new trivia question: Which international footballer appeared on the same edition of Top of The Pops in 1982 singing two different songs. There’s a good turnout in Ken’s of Lisa, Matt, Nigel and Michael the Whovian, Jo, Mike and Iain, while Big Joe makes a late appearance as young Billy reveals that he personally counted Sam Allardyce spit out 47 piece of gum during the Brighton game.

While in the Sun Kevin Nolan reveals a fairly unreconstructed view of marriage, when he says he can take moaning fans because they’re blokes “who might be getting shit off their wives all week”.

We press with some urgency at the start as Vaz Te glances wide an easy header from Lansbury’s excellent cross. Taylor then hits the bar with a vicious cross.

But the game is played in very strange near-silent atmosphere as soon as the news come through that Southampton are one up after 16 minutes and then two up three minutes later.

Lansbury volleys a good chance over the bar and it seems unlikely that we’ll get four even if Coventry somehow score two. Still, we make the breakthrough when Carlton Cole heads in Taylor’s corner after 39 minutes.

Just as we’re saying that Cole couldn’t trap a bag of cement, Lansbury curls in a fine cross behind the Hull defence and CC chests the ball down superbly to prod home the second on 49 minutes for his 14th of the season.  

Many people attack Cole and he’s not the player he was two years ago, but they rather overlook the fact that he’s had a bad knee injury and still tries his best. He’s shown some bravery to play on and put himself about the way he has while never fully fit.

We’re just discussing if Carlton might get his first ever West Ham hat-trick when Allardyce pulls him off to save him for the play-offs. As the Saints are only 2-0 up at this stage it seems a premature decision as another 15 minutes to get a third would have really boosted Cole’s confidence.

The Saints go 4-0 up and with Baldock and Maynard on we fail woefully to play them any inviting balls. A warning comes when Green has to smother an Evans chance. Matt gets very cross about Noble playing the ball across his own penalty area and O’Neil’s fumble into touch, provoking an angry glare from the woman in front, who wishes she had a vicar’s son behind her. Sure enough, we concede a terrible goal as Demel makes a woeful back header and Evans heads over Green.

O’Neil’s volley brings a fantastic reaction save from Mannone, as two inflated condoms float on to the pitch and the fans in the Chicken Run do the Conga. Our old boy Richard Garcia thinks he’s equalized with a header only for it to be disallowed by the narrowest of offside decisions.

We hold on to win 2-1 and finish third on 86 points, two points ahead of Norwich’s total in second place last season. So it’s Cardiff in the play-offs now. Time to reboot the side for knock-out football and build on four wins and two draws in the final six games and one defeat in 18. In truth we never looked as convincing as Reading and Southampton and now we have to do it the hard way.                                                

Friday, April 27

Winston's bulldog spirit

Whatever happens tomorrow it's been a good year for Winston Reid. Nice to see him score his third goal of the campaign at Leicester and tomorrow will be his 25th appearance of the season. He's made a difference since he returned to the side after suffering concussion with New Zealand. Last season he looked a terrible buy at £2.5 million, was never trusted by Grant and scored a calamitous own goal at WBA. Yet he's proved quietly consistent since August and has proved he's a good player at Championship level. At 23 he offers us some hope for the future. And he's even got his own (not very PC) song after the Millwall game.

Thursday, April 26

Head to head with Saints

Some rumours have been going round that if West Ham and Southampton end up with identical goal differences then it goes to a play-off. Apparently this won't happen, it will go to a head to head on the games between the clubs meaning Southampton would go up having drawn at Upton Park and beaten us at St Mary's. Not that it is likely to come to that...

Wednesday, April 25

What a load of rubbish from Ms Jones

There was an extraordinary piece from Liz Jones in the Mail on Sunday. Seems we're all Dickensian urchins down the Irons. "I was shocked at the level of poverty," she writes. "At West Ham, there was hardly any claret and blue to be seen: I think the fans are too poor to afford the official strip. But there were many, many hoodies, throwing the pinched faces into shadow. These faces used to be seen as the ‘salt of the earth’, the backbone of Britain, with the tenacity to survive the Blitz. Now the faces are the same, but instead of ancient tweed they are wearing jersey. Now there aren’t  deferential, gap-toothed grins, but, as Grayling says, scowls." 

After rambling on about hoodies she returns to the match: "Back at West Ham, I was peering through the railings at the shiny cars owned by the players: a Ferrari, a Porsche, a huge black SUV. I asked the Oliver Twist character next to me whether or not he was resentful of these young men with their expensive lifestyles. ‘Nah. I was too small to be a footballer. Me mum never fed me enough.No resentment, no jealousy. But no aspiration, either."

Strike a light, Guv! Obviously no-one wears claret and blue at West Ham. And there's no blokes working in the City among West Ham fans, no comedians, no journalists, no celebrities, no political bloggers, no lawyers, no plumbers, no office workers, in fact no-one with a job, just Oliver Twist-like oiks with hoods and sooty faces. Talking of Dickens, it's tempting to ask Ray Winstone, who played Magwitch in Great Expectations recently, to go to see Ms Jones and have a word about literary stereotypes. 

Tuesday, April 24

2-1 to the Cockney Boys!

Leicester City 1 West Ham 2
It’s off to the Lucky Pub somewhere in central London for this one, with Nigel, Gavin, Matt and Lisa and Nigel’s mate Tom. The very pub where various Irons have seen WHU beat Arsenal at Highbury, win a play-off semi-final at Ipswich and achieve several other notable away victories. There’s some debate if we should be wasting the pub’s karma on this game and if a draw would still count as lucky as we haven’t actually lost but have blown any hope of the top two, or whether it would destroy the aura of the Lucky Pub – Matt thinks it would.

We discover in the Standard that shouty professor Ruud Boffin has left the club and that Matt, possibly drunk on blackcurrant and soda, announces that he has seen two thirds of his Hammers' appearances. It’s a surprise that Lansbury is dropped but his replacement Collison looks fresh. While Carlton Cole is playing while still suffering from his “troublesome knee”. Collison goes close with a hard low shot that Schmeichel saves and Cole is put clear by Noble but CC is not exactly pacey these days and is robbed by a last-ditch tackle. Nolan flashes a volley just wide but then Leicester fire a warning, a good headed chance being glanced wide.

We go behind when Taylor sells himself and the unmarked Beckford heads home Marshall’s cross on 34 minutes and any hope of automatic promotion looks to have gone. “Taylor’s having a nightmare!” rages Matt. Almost inevitably Noble finds Taylor who plays in a great low cross that is bundled into the net by Winston Reid. We press before the break and Vaz Te has a shot deflected wide and fires a free kick past the post.

In the second half we know we have to win. Nolan fires a great chance over when he could have controlled out and shot. Matt wonders what has gone wrong with Collison this season, and his anti-Midas football punditry works brilliantly. We score a second when O’Neil’s shot is blocked and Collison shoots home a great 20-yarder that Schmeichel gets a hand to but can’t keep out. We can hear Bubbles around the ground and despite ourselves start to get quite nervous.

We try hard to boost our goal difference. Vaz Te and Collison try to pass to each other instead of shooting, Collison has a good effort deflected wide by Bamba and Nolan should score a third when he inexplicably dawdles in the box and hits the keeper.

Cole goes off to be replaced by Collins and there’s a late header that is straight at Green and we see the game out for our 13th away win of the season – the best away record in the club’s history.

“Well, we’ve prolonged the agony,” says Nigel, before he, Gav and myself head off to the non-lucky Harp pub for some post-match analysis over Hopback ale. If Southampton draw at home to Coventry and we win by 4-0 we go up, or if the Saints lose and we win we go up. Easy. All we have to do is ensure that Ricky Lambert injures himself by dropping a salad cream bottle on his toe Dave Beasant-style, Southampton are laid low by an outbreak of bubonic plague and that Coventry relax and play like footballing demi-gods and we’re there. Possibly.

Sunday, April 22

It's not the despair I can't take...

Well, Middlesbrough's win over Southampton means there's just that slight element of hope of making second place to keep Hammers' fans uncomfortable. A small irrational segment of my brain says what if West Ham won the last two games and the Southampton players, having all eaten dodgy lasagnes, underperformed against relegated Coventry, conceded a dodgy penalty and then couldn't get past an inspired goalkeeper. Of course this couldn't happen — could it?

Saturday, April 21

The waiting game

At least the agony may be over today if Southampton get a draw at Middlesbrough, when all mathematical hope of the top two will have gone. A dilemma what sort of team to play at Leicester if the Saints do go up today - do we rest key players or try to get a confidence-boosting result with a full team? At least Lansbury looks to be running into some kind of form, twice going close against Bristol City. Will he finally come good in the play-offs? And at least O'Neil and Demel should be fresh having both been out for most of the season.

Thursday, April 19

Loved up the Hammers

My old pal Diego Brown is writing personalised love songs to aid his London to Edinburgh bike ride for charidee, great mates. His latest effort is for a West Ham fan called Joshua entitled Josh U R which you can hear on this link. References to relegation, Brighton's Kezenga LuaLua, undersoil heating, Upton Park and Freddie Piquionne, all in one customised love song, though he deserves a good kicking for the libel on Robert Green. A nice chorus of "Papa Bouba Diop" at the end though.

Wednesday, April 18

How did we miss out?

In some ways West Ham have been a little unlucky in that 84 points took Norwich up in second place last season and we could yet make 86 points if we win the next two. While in a division where everyone was beating everyone else Reading suddenly couldn't stop winning.

But it's fair to say we should have made the top two with the players we signed last summer. Most of them were proven Premier League performers like Taylor, Nolan, Faye and McCartney, there was a solid existing core in Green, Tomkins, Noble, Collison and Cole and we also signed relatively expensive strikers in Maynard and Baldock. The advantage Reading and Southampton have had is they've been building teams over several seasons. In mitigation Sam Allardyce did have to rebuild nearly an entire squad over one summer and gave us a record number of away wins.

We defended well for most the season but in crucial games against Reading and Birmingham we made some catastrophic errors. But the biggest problem has been a lack of imagination in breaking down teams at home. We're hard to beat, having lost only one in 16, but can't win that many either. Allardyce seems to think that Plan B is an old record by Dexys Midnight Runners. When desperate, as at Bristol City, we lump the ball towards a big man in the form of Cole - who has worked hard but has lost his pace, can't play twice in a week and never scores 20 goals a season - or Carew, who has signed for a club too far and looks finished at the top level.

The strategy of playing a big man might have worked better if Baldock hadn't got injured when he had scored five goals early on. As it is we've had to rely on Vaz Te, a shrewd signing, who's scored ten while playing as a half winger/half striker. And we don't appear able to devise a formation where Maynard and Baldock can play together either. 

There has been some good passing in midfield at times from Noble, Nolan and O'Neil in recent weeks, but we lack that creativity you might get from a Berkovic or Benayoun during their better seasons with us and also a winger who can beat players. Ravel Morrison might be the long-term answer next season if he's as good as people say.  Do we have the quality to win the play-offs? Yes. Will we do so? Erm, remember this is West Ham. Momentum is crucial as they say, so it's important now we win our last two games. And on the small compensations front at least Blackpool away would be a new ground.

Tuesday, April 17

We are third in the league...

Bristol City 1 West Ham 1
Oh well. Knew it was all over once Carew came on... and according to the radio at least he missed a couple of passable chances. It was dropping points at home against Reading and Birmingham on top of five successive draws at home that did for us, not this result. Southampton will get at least one point from Middlesbrough away and Coventry at home so play-offs here we come.

What have the Posh ever done for us?

Thanks for nothing Peterborough — 2-0 down to Southampton after ten minutes. Half-time now and been listening to the Radio London commentary from Bristol City. Sounds like we deservedly took the lead when Tomkins headed home Noble's free kick, but sadly a Green error allowed a long range shot from Skuse (Skuse me?) to creep in. What's more, Bristol City appear to have a Gherkin in goal, although I think it's actually spelt Gerkin. We need a goal in the second half or it's virtually all over barring a Posh fightback that doesn't look at all likely.

Right hammerings

A lot of discussion about our biggest wins after Saturday's demolition of Brighton. There was the 8-1 against Newcastle in 1986 where Alvin Martin scored a hat-trick against there different keepers, the 6-0 at home to Barnsley when Abou got two and a 6-0 against Sunderland in 1992 on live TV in division one before it became the Championship. That game was watched by just 10,326 fans, the lowest crowd at Upton Park for 30 years.

Then there's Geoff Hurst scoring six in the 8-0 defeat of Sunderland in 1968. Not to mention 10-0 against Bury in the League Cup in the early 1980s. John Lyall immediately decided to buy Bury's centre half Paul 'Diego' Hilton after that one. And if you have the video footage the commentator is an Irish bloke who keeps referring to "Tony Coatee". There, all this talk of big wins should have well and truly jinxed us for tonight's game at Bristol City...

Sunday, April 15

200,000 hits

A big thank you to everyone who has viewed Hammers in the Heart as it's just passed the 200,000 views. It's written mainly for love - though the few pence that the blog gets every time someone clicks on an advert might pay for the odd cup of tea in Ken's Cafe - and as personal therapy for supporting West Ham United. Come on you Irons!

Saturday, April 14

The joy of six

West Ham 6 (six) Brighton 0
Good news for young Billy in Ken’s Café as Jo has found him a late spare ticket for the game – he’s so excited he can barely shout out the lunch numbers.

Matt’s returned from Uzbekistan and taking in Registron Samarkand v Yoshlik Kocon at the Olympia Stadium; Big Joe is bemoaning the dodgy internet link from Sri Lanka that cost him Bristol City tickets and then wanting to discuss Beckett plays in French; Big Phill is enjoying a breakfast grill and anecdotes of Bas Vegas; while Nigel’s there with CQ and basking in the light of being a proper groundhopper, hoping that Fleetwood don’t go up and that AFC Wimbledon and the old Wimbledon count as one club in his tally of 92 grounds.

We start the game on fire. Nolan finds Lansbury in the first minute and his shot is deflected on to the bar. Two minutes in and Vaz Te sends a long-range effort through the hands of the kneeling Brezovan for the first goal. Brezovan then produces two great saves from Nolan before O’Neil crosses and Vaz Te heads in at the far post after eight minutes. Demel is looking strong and efficient at right back on his home debut. We also appear to be playing 4-4-2 with Vaz Te and Cole up front.

There’s ten and a half minutes gone when Tomkins heads Taylor’s free kick across goal and Nolan prods home as the Seagulls’ defence goes missing again. Don’t they know we’re supposed to always draw at home?

Fraser says that he only has 20 cigars on him. Nigel suggests that if we win 10-0 we’ll better Southampton on goal difference. Matt and myself counsel caution and cite the Wimbledon and West Brom 3-0 up 4-3 down home games.

Cole scuffs a couple of good chances and as so often happens, West Ham relax a little and Brighton come back into it, playing some nice midfield stuff with Gai Assulin, on loan from Man City, prominent. But they lack penetration for all the pretty football and their best and only chance is when Green palms a header from Greer – who may feel his teammates are playing like female eunochs - off the line.

There’s time before the break for Nolan to send Lansbury clear with a superb ball, only for Henri to slice his shot wide of goal when he should score.

In the second half we start off with renewed energy, a bit like the Birmingham game. Cole has a one-on-one saved by the keeper and on 64 minutes we go 4-0 up. There’s a certain penalty appeal as Lansbury is pushed in the box, but Vaz Te plays to the whistle and scores with a brilliant bicycle kick to claim his hat-trick and tenth goal in 12 games at WHU. Not bad for 500 grand.

Cole surges through to score with a shot that is deflected in off Lansbury and then from a West Ham corner the aptly-named Dicker scores a comedy own goal. Even substitute Carew causes a few problems. It should be mentioned that the ref is rubbish too, allowing Cole to be clattered whenever he gets the ball, but we’re still 6-0 up.

There’s time for a chant of “We want seven!” I wonder if we should boo them off anyway, just for old time’s sake, but it’s Bubbles that resonates around the stadium. Nigel’s so excited he tweets the score to his followers. The only quibble is that the ground is half-empty at the final whistle, as numerous fans have rushed for the Silverlink or to drink the Black Lion out of Doombar. We don’t score six very often so why leave early?

We retreat to the Black Lion to celebrate with a Broadside and some Adams Mild as the kids in the garden whack footballs against our table.

We discuss our biggest ever scores. Mine is 10-0 versus Bury, who had the great Paul Hilton at centre back. Fraser remembers seeing Geoff Hurst get six goals in the 8-0 demolition of Sunderland when he was a kid (or possibly running Stirling Cooper or being Adam Faith) in the 1960s. Someone in the pub says he was at that Sunderland game with his son too. Does his son still go, asks Matt."No mate, he's banged up!"

It’s still in all likelihood going to be too late to catch Southampton, but with a deficit of three points and only three goals behind on goal difference it’s now possible. And having finally tonked someone we can go into the final games of the season with some confidence.

What a screamer

Interesting that Edvard Munch's The Scream is up for sale in the UK just as West Ham look set to miss out on automatic promotion. I've always thought that Munch might have been one of those early Norway Irons who visited England to watch Thames Ironworks back in the 1890s. Could it be the owner is hoping to find a buyer who's a West Ham fan? Still, some hope after Southampton lost to Reading last night if we can only win a home match...

Thursday, April 12

We're in the play-offs...

A small consolation for Reading defeating Brighton is that we've sneaked almost unnoticed into the play-offs. Brighton in seventh place are now 13 points behind us with four games left. Automatic promotion looks impossible which is all very disappointing, but perhaps we should remember that under Pardew we came fourth and then sixth, and this season look likely to finish third having made the play-offs with four games to go. The big problem has been Reading sneaking up like the bloody Terminator and winning 18 out of 24 games, while our lack of a goalscorer has meant we've drawn home games we should have won. And now it's lottery time...

Tuesday, April 10

Hammers comeback covers the cracks

West Ham 3 Birmingham 3

We’ve never been served so fast it Ken’s Café. It’s 4pm and brunch for my kids for a quid comes within five minutes. Then it’s on to the Newham Bookshop where we buy Sugar Girls by Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi, a history of the Tate & Lyall factory in Canning Town and two books from The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. A good start to the day, it's just the football that might be the problem.

At the unlikely time of 5.20pm we join groundhopper Nigel telling tales of “Stand up if talk bollocks!” chants at Barnsley, Whovian Michael and Fraser, complete with cigars, in the East Stand. Matt is still in Uzbekistan, and texts to say: ”Greetings from Bukhara heart of the Silk Road.” "Is he at Macclesfield, home of the Silkmen?” I quip.

My eleven-year-old daughter Nell asks why the crowd groan when Carlton Cole’s name is read out and I explain the goal ratio of CC compared to Ricky Lambert. There are early warning signs as Green parries a Birmingham shot and then Davies heads wide. We go behind after 27 minutes when McCartney plays a loose pass and Mutch surges past Faye to fire into the corner. Robert Green is badly at fault. “Daddy, why didn’t Robert Green move?” asks Nell.

It gets worse. Three minutes later a foul in midfield goes undetected and then City play in ex-felon Marlon King, who has found a Shard-size gap through our central defence and expertly shoots past Green. Bugger. It’s just like Reading. Then McCartney goes off and is replaced by Danny Collins after a clash of heads. Matt texts: "In Uzbekistan they know how to deal with those who fail dismally." 

As both Lola and Nell have Harry Potter books with them I ask them if there’s a spell to help us beat the blue forces of Valdemort. Thirteen-year-old Lola comes with an incantation that will make the City players die, but that seems a bit extreme, even for 2-0 down at home. 

The crowd and West Ham are sparked into life by the early calamities. Maynard curls an excellent shot against bar and then from Noble’s corner Tomkins heads on and Vaz Te glances home another header. Just the fillip we needed for half-time, all we have to do is keep it at 2-1 for two minutes of added time.

Ah, but we fail to win the next tackle in midfield and concede a corner, Nolan heads clear but Burke volleys into the ground and the ball bounces horribly over our defenders and into the corner. It’s slightly lucky but if we’d kept a man on the line it would surely have been cleared.

Matt texts: “Tamerlane the Earth-Shaker massacred five million in India – doubt if he would have forgiven Big Fat Sam for another failure.” I text back to say we’re going to win 4-3.

Allardyce has clearly done some earthshaking at half time, having possibly thrown several tea urns, unread Olympic stadium dossiers and a pile of Karren Brady books at the players. Lansbury replaces Maynard and we start with new intent. Nothing to lose now. Nolan is playing as a near-striker and looks much better further up the field. West Ham bombard the Brum penalty area. 

Lansbury has a good penalty appeal turned down and then Cole is held back and the incensed Lansbury races back to remonstrate with the referee and is booked. At least we’re playing with some spirit. The crowd sense this and are the noisiest they’ve been all season with chants of “Come on you Irons!” and “Claret and Blue Army!” Show some passion and the fans will always get behind a West Ham team. Patronise them and pick fights with them and it’s professional suicide.

Birmingham’s Zigic comes on to chants of “Does the circus know you’re here?” Our vital second goal comes after 70 minutes when Nolan is given space to feed the ball back to Cole who does well to swivel and shoot into the corner.  “I thought you said he wasn’t any good?” says Nell accusingly.

With the lights on it’s a proper game. Not pretty, but at least this is what we thought we were buying into with the Allardyce regime – unrelenting effort and never giving up. Collins balloons several crosses in to the area, but we miss the accuracy of McCartney. "We just need a lucky pen,” says Mystic May and Nigel offers him a blue Biro. Vaz Te looks a threat and Big Sam goes forward crazy, taking off Noble for Baldock. Cole volleys just over. And then Collins fires wide.

The breakthrough comes a minute from time when Lansbury’s shot hits the raised arm of Burke. Vaz Te puts the penalty straight down the middle and scores in front of a heaving Bobby Moore Stand. We almost win it when Lansbury miscues a late chance.

“That was the best atmosphere I’ve ever heard at West Ham,” says 13-year-old Lola. It’s been a reminder of why we come to West Ham, in the hope of six-goal thrillers and being entertained. Not much use to our hopes of automatic promotion though, unless Reading lose to Brighton and Southampton, and the first half saw some catastrophic defending. But in the second half a sign there’s some spirit in the side that might take us though the play-offs.

Monday, April 9

If the kids are United

Taking my daughters today in the hope that their 100 per cent record this season will result in a win for the Irons - and also because it's kids for a quid. This season they've seen us beat Portsmouth, Peterborough, Derby and Nottingham Forest, though obviously their appearances have to be rationed carefully as there's only so much good karma you can utilise in one season. Would really love us to beat Birmingham, particularly as their more neanderthal supporters tried to attack us West Ham fans leaving the ground in last season's  Carling Cup semi-final, even through City had just got to Wembley.

Sunday, April 8

Four-nil to the Cockney Boys!

Barnsley 0 West Ham 4

Clearly the lads are inspired by groundhopper Nigel completing his 92 league grounds in the company of Whovian and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart biographer Michael McManus, who has ordered “four goals rapid!”

In a desperate attempt to make the blog Matt sends a text reporting dancing in the streets of Khiva in Uzbekistan, where he’s on a mini-break with Lisa. He writes that he’s celebrating by drinking 11.5% Qibray beer. Meanwhile I’m down in Margate with all my family (insert Chas and Dave joke here) visiting the Shell Grotto and miss Nolan’s first goal as I’m still looking round the Turner galleries. Middle-class fans, eh? The half-time replays show that Nolan wins a corner with a clever one-two and the Barnsley defence completely fails to deal with it allowing Kevin to prod home from a foot out for his eleventh of the season.

I’m in the Wig and Pen drinking Spitfire in time to witness the second as Maynard plays a one two with Nolan and in acres of space fires home a fine low shot from outside the area. It gets better. The ground appears bereft of Barnsley fans and the home side are in freefall. Their keeper Button bungles a clearance under pressure from Maynard, slices the ball out to Noble who chips a clever goal into the top of the net – his first from open play this season. In the second half Nolan finds McCartney, who fires a dipping shot at goal. It’s saved by Button but Vaz Te is on hand to volley a sharp fourth. We’re playing some good stuff and Maynard strikes the bar with a 30-yard screamer and then has a goal disallowed for offside. Hopefully scoring today is the boost his confidence needed. 

Nigel texts to say that he’s celebrating the biggest away win he’s ever seen in the Manx Arms, but bets we blow it against the Blues. We’ve also broken the club record by wining 12 away games – some achievement. Barnsley were poor, but still had to be beaten and hopefully giving someone a tonking will inspire the lads to win the final five. Irons!

Friday, April 6

Making plans for Nigel

Congratulations to my groundhopping pal Nigel Morris, who barring disasters on the way to Barnsley becomes a member of the 92-club this evening. His colleagues in the East Stand are thinking of presenting him with a claret and blue anorak to mark the occasion at Monday's game. Whisper it gently though, but if Fleeetwood go up he's back down to 91 grounds... Irons!

Thursday, April 5

Never mind the bo**ocks

Big Sam seems remarkably thin-skinned for someone who claimed to have "the skin of a rhino" when he joined the club. The Daily Mirror reports his comments: "You get opinions about our results like, 'James Tomkins shouldn't be playing in midfield because he is a centre-half.' You get that b***ocks that goes round. What happens is I look at the performance of every player and say to everyone who says that, 'You're talking b***ocks.' He played in that holding role for three games with ten men, so that is how short memories people have. That is how much b***ocks is talked about in football. I don't listen to that drivel because what bothers me is that James Tomkins plays well."

No-one disputes that Tomkins did well when we had ten men, but that was because he was often augmenting a back five. Against a really swift passing team such as Reading he looked out of position and not mobile enough in midfield: far better to have a specialist in there when you're chasing a game and not defending a lead. That's a fair footballing analysis and not bollocks. Patronising the fans is really not going to help anyone.

Monday, April 2

Ten things we learned against Reading

James Tomkins is not a midfielder. A great defender, but not mobile enough to play midfield against top class opposition like Reading.

Abdoulaye Faye was rushed back too quickly after suffering concussion and had a rare poor game.

We go to pieces when Mark Noble is not in midfield.

Julien Faubert is not a right back, as we saw under Zola. Better going forward than O’Brien, but still not a natural defender.  

Kevin Nolan is showing signs of improvement, setting up the first goal and late on almost creating one for Maynard. But he would be better played further forward.

Three games in a week looked too much for Gary O’Neil, who has done well to recover from a career-threatening injury.

Carlton Cole can still threaten for 45 minutes, scoring and having one off the line in the first half, but isn’t fit enough or trusted enough to play 90 minutes consistently for us. And we need a one-time England forward to score more than ten goals a season.

Sam Baldock needs to complete 90 minutes. Today’s Sun points out he hasn’t completed 90 minutes since November. Play him until he gets a goal and then his confidence will return.

Henri Lansbury or Jack Collison should replace the injured Mark Noble and not James Tomkins.

We lack a leader when we are chasing games. Southampton would surely have battered a team if they had pulled it back to 3-2.