Sunday, April 23

Hammers hold Everton in game of few chances

West Ham 0 Everton 0

The most entertaining part of the day is a pre-match trip to Upton Park for the Bike To Boleyn send-off from the World Cup statue. They’re cycling from Upton Park to Stratford as part of the campaign to keep the World Cup Statue in Barking Road. Bubbles sounds rather good sung by a choir, there’s a local drum group, a couple of blokes who have cycled round India and homemade carrot cake on sale. Then it’s on to the Newham Bookshop to sign a copy of GoodbyeTo Boleyn for a pair of Everton fans.

On reaching the (Clyde) Best CafĂ© political anoraks Matt and Nigel are bemoaning May’s timing and discussing the Gorton by-election, now postponed until the day of the general election. Meanwhile Michael the Whovian has returned from his audience with Maggie Smith, who has predicted West Ham need 39 points. The falafel wrap is rather good (though obviously not as good as Carol’s), while Matt goes for haloumi with chips and in a desperate attempt to make my own blog I’ve visited the Chinese supermarket in the Stratford Centre and smuggle some spicy tofu into the stadium.

It’s another summery afternoon in the London Stadium as we join Fraser, who appears to be in Everton’s away kit with his yellow trousers and jumper and has had his cigar case frisked while entering the ground. Behind us are Steve the Cornish postie and Maldon Irons Alison and Scott.

DEFENCES ON TOP
Nothing much happens for 90 minutes and the blonde Barnets of Masuaku and Fernandes are often the most exciting things on display. The problem might be that Nigel has forgotten his lucky banana.

Adrian has been restored as number one and almost make a ricket when he mis-controls a tricky throw-in from Fernandes but manages to leap on the loose ball. Lone strikers Calleri and Lukaku look isolated for both sides and the teams cancel each other out. “It’s not a ladies match!” intones the unreconstructed gentleman behind us.

West Ham get the first shot in after half an hour when Nordtveit, restored to midfield, gets in a long range effort that Stekelenburg saves pretty comfortably. Collins gets in a header from Lanzini’s excellent cross and beats the turf in frustration as he misses the target.

KING ARTHUR
West Ham show the more attacking intent in the second half. Fernandes dithers when he should shoot and Lanzini has a shot blocked by Jagielka’s head. Lanzini turns inside to deliver another shot on target and after Sakho earns a late corner at the end Fonte fails to get in a solid header at he back post.

Yet the mood among the crowd has been surprisingly positive and they’ve done well to get behind the team. Playing three centre backs has kept WHU solid at the back with Ginge outstanding and dominating Lukaku. While Masuaku has had a great game on the left and played almost as an auxiliary midfielder. Fonte makes several forays into midfield from the back three and the maligned Nordtveit even earns a “well done Havard!” from Matt (words we never thought we’d hear). Havard has a storming second half, winning the ball well and setting up numerous attacks.

Bilic says we’ve had “11 lions” on the pitch and considering the players missing (Ogbonna, Obiang, Carroll, Antonio, Noble, Snodgrass, Feghouli and Byram) it’s not a bad result to take a point off a team that’s currently fifth. The Hammers are now unbeaten in three and although not completely safe yet, with Swansea and Hull winning it was vital to get something from this game. It’s the first scoreless draw at the London Stadium and a clean sheet is a welcome change. Now let’s get a result at Stoke.


PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 6; Fonte 6, Collins 7, Reid 6; Fernandes 6, Kouyate 5 (Cresswell 5), Nordtveit 6, Lanzini 6, Ayew 5, Masuaku 8; Calleri 5 (Sakho 5).

Friday, April 21

Oh Carroll

As Rupert Brooke once wrote in his poem, The Old Vicarage, Grantchester: 

"Stands the church clock at ten to three? 
And is Andy Carroll still suffering from injury?" 

Northing defines the start of an English summer better than another Andy Carroll injury blip. His abductor muscle is playing up again and Andy's out of the Everton game. Carroll's groin injury is proving costly — in recent weeks he's missed games against West Brom, Watford, Chelsea, Swansea and now Everton. Apparently he felt his groin go again while mishitting the ball for Ayew's opener at Sunderland, but again he's played on too long. Part of the problem is that Carroll is a bit like Monty Python's Black Knight and will always play on regardless of loss of limbs.

If it's not a big injury it's these small niggling ones and it's all so frustrating because when he gets a few games under his belt AC's looked in great form. The club really has to sign a striker who can stay fit for next season, much as I like the big Geordie.

There's no Antonio and Ayew doesn't look like a solo striker. So it seems Calleri or Fletcher will come in against the Toffees, with Sakho only fit enough to play 30 minutes from the bench. Calleri must be brilliant in training for Bilic to rate him so highly, but he just hasn't looked like a finisher at all this season even if he did put in a shift against Swansea. Could be time to give another chance to Fletcher.

Meanwhile we'll have to cope with the inevitable Lukaku goal against us. Now there's a striker who can stay fit…

Thursday, April 20

Why do West Ham keep losing the lead?

Fabio Borini's goal for Sunderland was scored in the 90th monute ;ast Saturday. It's been a much banded statistic that West Ham have lost 20 points from winning or drawing positions this season. 

Slaven Bilic must be reluctant to take his dog out in case he loses the lead. There also a worrying stat in Sunday's Observer that has West Ham top of the league of errors leading to goals, with 12. Though as virtually every goal results from some sort of error, it's a hard stat to quantify. The team has come from behind a few times, most notably at Southampton, but by my reckoning we've only won seven points from losing positions.

Does the fact West Ham lose the lead so often betray a lack of character or fitness? Certainly the number of soft-tissue injuries might indicate there's something wrong with the medical team. Payet's indifference to tracking back might not have helped morale in the first half of the season, but generally it seems to be more about individual errors and substandard players in the wrong positions rather than a collective problem. 

There was a tendency to lose leads last season too, but this season it's been far worse. The goalkeeping position hasn't helped generate any confidence in the rest of the defence. First Adrian was dropped for rickets against Watford and Stoke and now Randolph has started to make regular errors. Right-back has been a problem all season with either Antonio or Nordtveit played out of position or the inexperienced Byram thrown into the Premier League when he doesn't look quite ready. 

While the loss of Ogbonna has been a blow too and Fonte has taken an awfully long time to get any kind of understanding with the rest of his defence. If you add in the fact that Cresswell hasn't looked as good since returning from a pre-season knee injury then you have problems right across the back line. Consequently whenever the side takes the lead the players look terrified of losing it.

Certainly another goalkeeper and right-back would add to the squad for next season. Meanwhile for the final five games the side has to show the collective determination that resulted in a clean sheet against Swansea.

Tuesday, April 18

Zola out, Redknapp in

Some clubs seem to specialise in hiring former West Ham managers. First it was Crystal Palace replacing Alan Pardew with Sam Allardyce. Now Birmingham City have sacked Gianfranco Zola and replaced him with 70-year-old Harry Redknapp. 

Looking at Zola's managerial record, it seems that, with hindsight, Sullivan and Gold were correct to sack him — though not to replace him with Avram Grant. He was a lovely fella and a great player and at times he had West Ham playing a pleasing brand of football. But he didn't participate in transfers — that was left to director of football Nani who gave us the likes of Savio — and his West Ham side had struggled in his final season and rrely had a Plan B. His subsequent managerial career has seen him fired at Watford (though they did reach the Championship play-off final in his first season), Cagliari, Al-Arabi and now Birmingham, where disastrously he took them from seventh when Gary Rowett was fired to just above the relegation zone.

I'm quite pleased to see Harry and his car window back in the game, even if he did do too well at Spurs for our liking. He's statistically West Ham's most successful manager since John Lyall with his fifth-place finish and is the man who gave us Di Canio. And of course he likes a deal. There's been some great speculation online about his likely SOS X1, including Terry, Berbatov, Robbie Keane, Crouch, Defoe and just about everyone else. Wonder if it's too late to rule out a swoop for Carlton Cole, last spotted having visa problems in Indonesia? Or even a bid for Razor Ruddock?

Sunday, April 16

All square at the Stadium of Light

Sunderland 2 West Ham 2

Another game where West Ham have twice lost the lead. It's a decent away point on paper, but I've lost count of the number of points West Ham have thrown away from winning positions. The Hammers had the ideal start. Byram got in a good cross, Carroll mishit across goal and Ayew kept his head to poke home. Five goals in eight ages is now looking like a decent return from Ayew, although he also volleyed over when well-placed later in the game.

Just when it looked like the Irons might control the game Khazri equalised direct from a corner — Sunderland's first goal in 701 minutes of football. Anichebe was possibly fouling Randolph on the line, but the West Ham keeper also wasn't strong enough and there was no defender on the far post to clear.

Hammers had another great chance to win after James Collins headed in Snodgrass's corner two minutes after the break. But Sunderland showed good spirit to come back into the game. When Byram was sent off for a second yellow (his first booking was a silly off the ball foul) after 82 minutes you knew it was likely to all go wrong. In the 90th minute Randolph dropped the ball under pressure from Anichebe and Borini stroked home. To give the ten-man Hammers some credit they did survive ten minutes of added time due to Billy Jones' head injury.

So Byram and Noble will be suspended for the Everton game, with Ogbonna, Obiang and Antonio out for the season. Bilic also needs to look at the goalkeeping position after another uncertain display by Randolph. Though as results panned out we gained a point on Swansea and Hull, and at 14th the Irons are now nine points clear of the Swans with five games left and a better goal difference. Let's hope we can get a result against Everton to finally dispel any lingering fears. 

Friday, April 14

Bike for Boleyn before the Everton game

You can bike from the Boleyn Ground to the London Stadium before the Everton game on April 22. It's all part of the Bike From Boleyn campaign to keep the World Cup statue of Moore, Hurst and Peters at Upton Park. Meet at 11am at the World Cup statue on Barking Road for music, celebration and a 12.45pm send-off. Stephen Timms MP will be attending to support the campaign. Bikes can be provided for those who don't have them. Check out the Facebook page at bikefromboleyn or twitter @bikefromboleyn.

Thursday, April 13

Antonio out for rest of the season


More bad news is that Michail Antono is out for the rest of the season, It looked a serious injury when he pulled up against Swansea and you wonder if he was rushed back too soon. Antonio has managed to perform consistently well in a poor side and will be a big loss. 

So what do West Ham do without him? Calleri is surely not the answer. He worked hard, but again looked a striker short of all confidence against Swansea, failing to shoot when he had a view of goal and putting another volley wide when found by Lanzini's cross. 

It's a good time for Sakho to be fit again, as he might possibly provide some Antonio-style energy running into the channels. Andy Carroll needs someone with fizz alongside him and it's also a chance for Andre Ayew to prove he's worth £20 million and continue from his improved performance against Swansea. 

The key thing though will be mental attitude. West Ham have to keep the determination they displayed against Swansea and not allow another injury to stop a decent end to the season.