Thursday, December 14

Resilient Irons grind out a point against Gunners

West Ham 0 Arsenal 0

It’s a rendezvous at Eat in Westfield to meet my daughter Nell, who has just come from the Tate and is expecting to see further works of art at the London Stadium. Then down the bleak concrete concourse to H Block where Gavin and Ilona are awaiting their tickets. We’re joined inside by Michael the Possible Whovian, Fraser, Alison (who is not a jinx), Scott and Joe. Steve the Cornish postie has been feeling dizzy after the shock of West Ham beating Chelsea and is spending more time at home with his red delivery slips, while Nigel misses the game just because of some historic vote in Parliament. Matt and Lisa are looking for a bar that isn’t showing Real Madrid in Granada.

Early on Arthur Masuaku gets in a quality cross that Arnautovic heads home, only to be ruled offside by an arm and a leg. After that Arsenal’s pretty passing patterns start to dominate but West Ham carry on from the Chelsea game defending stoutly. The cold seems to have muted the crowd a little and also the football.

Iwobi hits the outside of the post from a tight angle, but it’s a game of few chances. Half an hour in you think this is where a Bilic team would have conceded a goal on the break, but the Moyes defence is looking a lot more solid, reverting to a straight line of five without the ball as Masuaku drops back alongside Cresswell.

Arnautovic lobs on to the roof of the net at the start of the second half but from then on it’s more Arsenal possession. Ogbonna has a storming game at the back and renders Giroud anonymous. Wilshere blasts a half-chance over and Adrian makes a decent save from a Sanchez free kick.

“This is how it’s going to be watching a Moyes team,” mutters Fraser, observing two banks of five and dreaming of the ghost of Martin Peters past. It’s not pretty, but then desperate times have called for desperate measures. The team looks much fitter and harder to beat and even Ozil and Sanchez are looking frustrated.

Moyes shows a strange reluctance to use subs until Hernandez replaces Antonio, while the crowd get going with Bubbles to raise the side. The Irons even almost snatch it in the last couple of minutes. After some sloppy Arsenal defending, Noble finds Hernandez with a clever reverse ball. Chicharito wallops it against the bar with the ball bouncing on the line and away. Really he should have scored.

The whistle blows and four points against Chelsea and Arsenal, plus a narrow loss at Man City, is definite progress. Now come four games against lower level teams and a different sort of test. Can we do it on a cold Saturday in Stoke?

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 6; Zabaleta 7, Ogbonna 8, Reid 7, Cresswell 7; Obiang 7, Noble 7, Lanzini 6, Masuaku 7; Arnautovic 7, Antonio 6 (Hernandez 6).

Wednesday, December 13

Too much information from Mr Sullivan

David Sullivan has been fortunate that the great win against Chelsea has distracted somewhat from the comments he made in Saturday's Guardian. It's fine being honest, but there's no point in undermining players who are still on the club's books. Sullivan told the Guardian's Jacob Steinberg, "The manager said he wanted Fonte and Snodgrass. My kids begged me not to sign them." Snodgrass, on loan at Aston Villa, responded with a tweet reading, "Thanks for your support Mr Chairman." While Fonte told the Daily Telegraph, "It's ignorance. I'm not gong to say anything. It's not going to change who I am. I'm going to keep being the good professional I am."

It's a row that never needed to happen. West Ham are certainly going to need Fonte again this season. To his credit Sullivan does admit in the same interview that he's made mistakes and he shouldn't have made it public that Slaven Bilic turned down Renato Sanches and Grzegorz Krychowiak in the summer window. As co-owner he's entitled to an opinion. But the discussion of the club's transfer policy in public by Sullivan and his sons should stop, particularly when it concerns current players. David Sullivan should either leave the PR work to the more discrete David Gold or allow a PR person to sit in with him at interviews who would have the power to tell him when to stay quiet.

Monday, December 11

Stick your blue flag up your…

West Ham 1 Chelsea 0

It’s into the Clyde Best Cafe at 11.30am with my daughter Nell, who has come along to bring the Hammers some needed luck. Over paninis we perform the great ticket exchange handing out tickets to Michael, Steve the Cornish postie, Nigel and CQ. Matt and Lisa are away scouting in Granada while Alison’s away with friends of Jeremy and replaced by Joe.

It’s a late dash to the stadium and a big alarm as the programmes have sold out (luckily I find a seller in the stadium at half-time.) Moyes has sent the right signal by keeping Adrian in goal, while Noble comes in for the injured Kouyate.

West Ham take the lead after six minutes when Arnautovic plays a one-two with Lanzini, skips round Christensen and calmly curls it into the bottom corner. He then leaps in to the fans earning a booking, but helping him get onside with the claret and blue faithful.

Have we just made Chelsea angry? Reid gets away with a tug in the box, Hazard volleys across goal. Adrian has to make smart saves from Kante and Zappacosta's long-range efforts and deals with a series of crosses confidently. But Arnautovic and Antonio work really hard up front and threaten on the break as Arnie is thwarted by a handball in the box the ref misses. While Arthur Messi-uaku is immense on the left, causing Chelsea’s world class defenders no end of trouble with his mazy runs. Creswell is tucking inside as a third centre back at times and plays a lot better too.

Indeed, the rest of the game is something of a revelation. It’s not pretty but the Hammers work tremendously hard. Obiang is immense in midfield, nothing like the poor performer against Brighton and Liverpool, while Noble isn’t far behind in terms of snapping into tackles. Reid throws himself at everything and Ogbonna is a stalwart performer too.

The crowd buy into it. Moyes seems to have discovered that part of the West Ham Way is putting in a shift and the fans respond with rousing choruses of “Come on you Irons!” Bubbles and, of course, “Stick your blue flag up your arse!”

I’m convinced that we’ll inevitably concede with a few minutes to go, but Chelsea’s chance goes when the possibly offside Morata fires wide. There’s a nervous five minutes of added time to endure but Nigel and CQ pass round the lucky pastilles. The super-spirited Hammers hold out to huge cheers. It’s a lovely moment for the much derided David Moyes.

Matt texts from Granada to report that they are flamenco dancing in the streets of Alhambra and having a San Miguel on Adrian. Private Fraser says he never doubted Captain Moyes for a minute, while Michael looks happier than a man who’s just penned a Marc Almond musical as he says hello and waves goodbye to the Blues.

Then it’s off to Hackney Wick and down to Christchurch with my wife Nicola for a romantic mini-break on our wedding anniversary and a full dissection of West Ham’s win. We even find a few Hammers fans on the train to Dorset. Another huge test coming up against Arsenal, but this result could change WHU’s season.

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 7; Zabaleta 7, Reid 8, Ogbonna 7, Cresswell 7; Obiang 8, Noble 7, Lanzini 7, Masuaku 8; Arnautovic 8 (Sakho 6), Antonio 7 (Ayew 6).

Friday, December 8

Adrian should start against Chelsea

If the press reports are correct then Moyes is going to start with Adrian in goal against Chelsea. It's the correct decision, bearing in mind what the Hammers boss has said about not picking players on reputation. Adrian had a great game at Man City and though it's tough on Joe Hart, he's been making too many errors. If you get the shirt and do well you stay in. Moyes has already picked Arthur Masuaku after an impressive cameo against Watford and he needs to make the point that no one is too famous to drop. The same terms should apply to the forwards; if Antonio, Hernandez, Ayew, Carroll (though there's an ominous silence about his knee injury) or even Martinez come in and play well they keep their places. 

Wednesday, December 6

Review: Home From Home by Brian Williams

Here’s something for your claret and blue Christmas stocking. Brian Williams’ Home From Home uses the format of contrasting games from the final season at the Boleyn Ground with games during the first season at the London Stadium. It’s written in the same urbane tone as Brian’s previous book Nearly Reach The Sky, and comes littered with quips such as, “Phil Jones was horizontal for so long there was enough time to have screened the first four episodes of Star Wars.”

Williams is no fan of Stratford. He books for the London Stadium late and finds himself breathless in Row 73 at the back of the stand, looking down at what appears to be a Subbuteo pitch. Home From Home records all the initial problems with stewarding, standing fans, Chelsea hooligans and West Ham playing crap. Things improve a little after a consultative meeting with Baroness Brady (which is described very amusingly and I’d have paid good money to see) as Brian and Di are moved forward to Row 54, saying goodbye to incontinent minors, self-appointed experts who go to one game a season and the Super Furry Coat Boys from Billericay in identical parkas. He does admit that the London Stadium starts to feel a little more like home after beating Spurs and that the Martin Peters Gents is pretty good. Though the white elephant in the room remains the running track.

Another good feature is the interviews with opposition fans of West Brom and Swansea on their stadium experience, along with West Ham figures such as Blowing Bubbles Monthly’s David Blackmore, blogger Sean Whetstone, Graeme Howlett of Knees Up Mother Brown and a great emotive piece on her childhood spent standing by the players’ tunnel from Upton Parklife's Jacqui Hughes. And to declare an interest, there’s even some nice words about myself in the section on the Newham Bookshop, for which I owe Mr Williams a round of popcorn.

It’s also a very effective love letter to the Boleyn, with lots of detail on trips to the Overdraft pub, the Stevie Bacon burger bar and of course the matches, including that epic final win against Man United and a French midfielder who sounds quite good. Fans of all clubs might appreciate this book as it’s a lament for the way football is changing, with nearly two thirds of league clubs having left their old stadiums and their old communities. Home from Home certainly gets over just how painful such a move can be.

Tuesday, December 5

Whatever will be will be we're going to Shrewsbury

So we're away to Shrewsbury in the FA Cup. The only time I've seen West Ham play at Shewsbury was a 3-0 defeat in a division two fixture at Gay Meadow, back in 1979. Somehow a West Ham side containing Trevor Brooking, Alan Devonshire, Billy Bonds, Alvin Martin, David Cross, Ray Stewart, Paul Allen, Geoff Pike, Stuart Pearson, Jimmy Neighbour, Frank Lampard and Phil Parkes managed to lose 3-0 to the Shropshire side's yokel heroes. In contrast to West Ham's footballing icons, Shrewsbury boasted players like John Dungworth. They thoroughly deserved their win too. 

On the way home the FA Cup draw came on my pal Will's car radio and West Ham were drawn away to WBA. We confidently predicted we'd lose that one. We didn't and West Ham went on to win the FA Cup. So there you go, all West Ham have to do is lose 3-0 to Shrewsbury again and we'll win the FA Cup. Though there might be a flaw in this argument…

Monday, December 4

Fighting Hammers go down to late Silva winner

Manchester City 2 West Ham1

It's off to the Stapleton Tavern with Matt and Lisa in the hope that it's a lucky pub, as I saw West Ham win at Man City at this very boozer back in 2015-16. We arrive anticipating a drubbing but the first half is a pleasant surprise. A down to the bare bones West Ham defend with character. The recalled Fernandes is having a decent game, Adrian looks solid and the Irons even threaten with the odd attack, Antonio firing over after Kouyate flicks on a corner and Lanzini shooting into the side-netting. Adrian makes an excellent save tipping over Silva's deflected shot. Incredibly we take the lead just before half time as a short corner is crossed by Cresswell and Ogbonna gets a run on Otamendi to steer home a header. 

We know City are going to come at West Ham in the second half so require more session IPA. Kouyate has gone off with what looks like yet another WHU muscle injury. Adrian distinguishes himself with several fine saves and you think it might be one of those great away days. But City are always patient and after one attack is repulsed the second phase sees a hard low cross bundled in by Otamendi. At 1-1 Antonio stings the palms of Ederson with a great shot from distance. It looks like the Hammers might hold on for a morale-boosting point until the 83rd minute. Declan Rice has had a really good game, but switches off for a second as he's caught between Aguero and Silva. De Bruyne's ball is expertly stroked home by Silva.

Antonio is kept on too long and limps off again, but then West Ham nearly equalise. Just as Matt is about to shout at sub Arnautovic, he does really well to outmuscle his full back and pull back a great cross for Sakho. If Diafra hits the target it's a goal but he fires past the post. 

So it's another loss and 13 wins on the spin for City. But some positives here. West Ham looked difficult to beat, Ogbonna had a much better game and the side looked more confident with Adrian in goal. Moyes will have learned a lot from this, but now we have to stop playing decently and losing and get some points, whoever the opposition.