Monday, September 18

Keeping Carroll fit

Some revealing comments from Slaven Bilic in his Evening Standard column about how the club and new physio Gary Lewin are trying to keep Big Andy fit. This season they have ensured that he trained for a month before playing, which seems sensible after he was rushed back last season and then injured in the Europa League. 

And rather counter-intuitively, Bilic adds, "In the early stages of his rehabilitation we pushed him a little bit harder, if he felt something we told him to go through the discomfort." Bilic also says that there are days when Carroll has to go to the gym rather than be on the training pitch and mentions Paul McGrath and Ledley King as examples of players who trained minimally but could still perform on match days, though it's easier for centre-backs. If all that fails a friend has been treating verukas by applying gaffer tape, and perhaps this might hold Andy together too.

Carroll had a storming game against Huddersfield and has now played two matches in succession. Admittedly it's still not clear if Chicharito and Carroll can function together, though it could work in a 4-4-2. While another option is having either of them on the bench to give the team a real goal threat late in games. Let's hope Andy is rested against Bolton (two games in a week may prove too much) and continues to be available for Spurs as he makes a difference. 

Sunday, September 17

Drawing drawing West Ham

West Brom 0 West Ham 0

We might have been lucky to make it as last on Match of the Day, but a point is a point even in a rubbish game. It's West Ham's second clean sheet in succession and a draw against a Pulis side is certainly an improvement on last season's 4-2 capitulation. 

Looking at the lowlights, the Hammers had the better chances. Obiang hit the bar with a tremendous 50 yard lob over Foster's head (he should be told to shoot more often) and there were calls for Foster to be sent off after he clattered into Hernandez, who was running on to Andy Carroll's deft flick. Foster had two defenders behind him so he wasn't the last man, but with the current guidelines there was a case for dismissal rather than a booking for a foot-up out-of-control challenge. Apart from that a couple of fine blocks by Reid and a tenacious run and shot by Antonio were the game's only other noteworthy incidents. The Hammers can certainly play a lot better, but the first three defeats results have to come first.

Arnautovic saw some action as a sub and Slaven now has some interesting tactical dilemmas, trying to fit in Arnie and Lanzini. Can Carroll and Henandez play together up front? Should Noble return?Probably not as Obiang and Kouyate now look our best midfield enforcers. And with Collins injured at WBA should we revert to a back four or stick to three centre-backs where Fonte looks much more comfortable? All good problems to have as Bilic prepares for Bolton and Spurs.

Tuesday, September 12

Obiang and Ayew give Slaven a birthday boost

West Ham 2 Huddersfield 0

First off it’s into the (Clyde) Best Café with my daughter Lola, newly returned from Paris though it can’t match Stratford, where we dine on egg, chips and beans. Matt and Lisa have seen the Under-18s lose and Nigel’s been touring Iceland while missing the West Han friendly against Man City — next year he hopes to go to Lidl. Meanwhile Michael the Possible Whovian is so pleased at purchasing 12 Hartnell-era Doctor Who pictures inbetween the matinee of Loot and watching Gyles Brandreth in Hamlet, that he’s celebrating with a beer, having discovered that the Best Café is licensed.

Then it’s on to the stadium where the new search procedures actually seem to speed things up and Michael enjoys a pint of Irons bitter in the concourse as we bump into West Ham author Brian Williams admiring the London Stadium’s many toilet facilities. We’re joined by Fraser (who thinks Palace were a little slow sacking De Boer as he’d have fired Big Sam after half a match), Alison, super chef Scott and Steve the Cornish postie. The PA is playing Motorhead’s Ace of Spades as we take our seats, much to the delight of headbanger Nigel.

HITTING THE BAR
The side Bilic has picked looks more balanced with three at the back and the Hammers start off with intensity. The returning Andy Carroll shoots across goal in the first minute. Great work by Antonio on the right sets up Chicharito for a certain goal only for the Mexican to lean back and hit the bar. Late on Kouyate miscues another good chance. 

But the side certainly seem to be playing for Slaven on his 49th birthday. Antonio is looking really pacy, Carroll is a big physical presence and Zabaleta, playing almost as a right-winger, really gets stuck in with a committed performance. Obiang is solid in front of the back four and Kouyate is doing well in a more advanced role, while three at the back ensures Fonte looks a lot more comfortable.

A surreal note to the evening is that the scoreboard is asking us to take a holiday in sodden Florida. The second half sees Huddersfield gain in confidence and we’re starting to have visions of an FC Astra-style smash and grab. But the Hammers stick at it, with a Town defender almost scoring an own goal and Antonio sending in numerous crosses. 

BREAKING DOWN THE WALLS OF HEARTACHE
Bilic replaces Hernandez with Ayew, which is met with puzzlement by most fans. Or does he 
know something we don’t?

Finally we get a piece of luck. On 72 minutes Obiang’s shot takes a huge defection and loops over Lossl. The stadium erupts with relief.

Five minutes later Antonio wins a corner and from the resulting melee, Fonte prods the ball forwards and Ayew reacts well to fire home. He goes down on his knees to celebrate. We never doubted you for a minute, Captain Bilic.

CLEAN SHEETS AND GOOD HABITS
“Another six goals and we’ll be out of the bottom three,” quips Nigel. There’s still time for Sakho to come on to some boos and Tom Ince to hit the bar for the visitors. Matt starts to get a little irate as the Hammers threaten to lose their clean sheet, but we survive and Joe Hart has his first clean sheet in 23 games.

We even manage to find the Railway without mishap. Spurs will be a much bigger test, but the whole side played well against a team that hadn’t conceded a goal so far. Yes, Huddersfield might struggle, but his was the performance that Bilic and his men needed. And now we’re just four points off Europe…


PLAYER RATINGS: Hart 6; Zabaleta 7, Reid 6, Collins 7, Fonte 6, Cresswell 6; Antonio 8, Obiang 7, Kouyate 6; Hernandez 6 (Ayew 7), Carroll 7 (Sakho 5).

Monday, September 11

Best to arrive early

Sounds like it's best to arrive early tonight as there's a new security process in operation where the fans will be searched before they cross the Olympic Park bridges. Judging by the "teething problems" last season, we should probably factor in some extra time for this and then seeing if the new cards work. Meanwhile we're up against a plucky newly-promoted side and relying on the fitness of Andy Carroll. What could possibly go wrong? Irons!

Sunday, September 10

More media rumours…

An interesting piece by Jacob Steinberg on West Ham in today's Observer, headlined "Sullivan salvo has truly burst fading Bilic's fragile bubble." Steinberg writes that "an increasingly demob happy" Bilic is "living on borrowed time" as the PR wars begin and that "there is little chance of his contract being extended beyond this season", while a defeat by Huddersfield could see the axe fall sooner. He covers the club's recruitment problems and adds, "Sullivan has assumed the role of director of football, which means he shares culpability with Bilic for the mess." Another point he makes is that it remains to hard to work out what style Bilic wants from his team: "Are they solid and physical? Are they a counterattacking team? Do they favour possession? One thing is indisputable; they cannot defend." Click on the link to read the complete piece.

Saturday, September 9

Did Slaven take a swipe at Sullivan?

The papers have made a lot out of comments made by Slaven Bilic about David Sullivan. Faced with a press conference bringing up questions about "the Dildo brothers" Bilic said he found the comments made by Sporting Lisbon's director funny, which seems fair enough in the sense that we now have grown adults discussing playground insults (will it now be known as Dildogate?) And having worked in the adult industry for decades, you'd think Davids Sullivan and Gold are pretty immune to cheap insults by now. Blic also said that "David Sullivan likes to talk", while adding the proviso, "It's his right to be able to." He made a pretty good attempt at defending his pursuit of Carvalho, saying that he turned down other options because Carvalho was his main priority and he didn't want to be disracted by other names. 

The comments that did betray a certain amount of irritation with Sullivan were these: "I am expecting if he [Sullivan] says something about me to call me, to say this and not go through you guys, although that is best for you." Bilic is right that Sullivan mentioning the club had the chance to sign Sanches was unhelpful and the club shouldn't be discussing who they go for in public. But that's unlikely to change  Throughout their ownership there's been a history of Sullivan making over-honest or controversial comments and then Gold doing a PR job to smooth things out. The best antidote to all this will be getting some points on the board.

Thursday, September 7

Crisis club West Ham?

There's rather a febrile atmosphere around West Ham at the moment. The inelegant dispute with Sporting Lisbon rumbles on with director Nuno Saraiva referring to Davids Sullivan and Gold as, "the Dildo Brothers" (rather a cheap insult as Ann Summers and co seem quite wholesome compared to the ways some owners have made their money) and claiming no offer was made for William Carvalho; while Sky Sports has published emails from West Ham showing a bid appears to have been made. Sullivan and Gold are threatening to sue while there are reports Sporting Lisbon plan to report West Ham to FIFA for making an illegal approach. 

Meanwhile there's the inevitable injury crisis. Manuel Lanzini withdrew from the Argentina squad with a re-occurrence of his thigh injury and is likely to miss the Huddersfield game while Ayew and Fernandes are doubtful too. 

Then there's the managerial situation with Bilic under more pressure after David Sullivan said he turned down chances to sign Renato Sanches and Gzegorz Krychowiak because he is happy with the current squad. If Bilic does go it will be because last season saw some of the least productive signings in the club's history (Zaza, Tore, Calleri, Nordtveit, Feghouli, Snodgrass and Fletcher have all departed while Fonte has disappointed). The five players signed this window really have to produce to save Slaven. 

There are even claims that some West Ham fans are planning a protest during the Huddersfield game — which seems a bit premature even by the standards of social media-fuelled indignation. Let's at least get a few home defeats in first before we do that and we can hardly return to Upton Park now it's rubble.

But having said all that remember it's just three away games into the season. If we're bottom after ten games it will look ominous. Right now there isn't much a couple of wins wouldn't put right.