Tuesday, April 17

Super sub Carroll saves Hammers

West Ham 1 Stoke City 1

This could be a bad omen. Nigel has two programmes, as I’ve bought him one after a missed call and he’s also got his own. It’s all about fine margins in programme buying.

It’s a timid team selection from David Moyes with Hernandez on the bench and a five-man midfield as Fraser and Matt suggest he’s picked a team not to lose.

The first half is a poor affair of misplaced passes and nervous players, which slowly subdues the crowd. West Ham’s best chance is when Zabaleta pulls back for Arnie to fire into the face of Butland. Cresswell tests Butland with a free kick and on a rare Stoke attack Diouf fires straight at Hart. Arthur’s crossing isn’t getting beyond Stoke’s three giant centre backs, though Arnie does pull a chance wide after good a link-up with Mario.

At half-time we’re reduced to discussing Nigel’s quiz question of naming two Beatles songs that don’t have the lyrics in the title. We get A Day in the Life, at least. Nigel then goes vaudeville with his quip about conjunctivitis.com, which is a site for short eyes.

The second half sees more West Ham pressure. Creswell has another free kick well-saved. Arnie heads home from a Cresswell cross but is marginally offside. Fernandes shoots home from the edge of the box but Arnautovic has dawdled getting onside and it’s ruled out. 

Declan Rice looks assured at the back and has some effect helping out in attack. But Stoke continually foul in midfield while ref Michael Oliver seems remarkably reluctant to issue yellow cards. The count of 36 fouls in the game is the joint highest in the Premier League this season.

Moyes is as usual glacial in making substitutions, but finally brings on Hernandez with 14 minutes left. There’s been a warning as Stoke break for Diouf shoot over. It all goes terribly wrong on 79 minutes as Hart spills Shaqiri’s tame shot straight into the path of veteran striker Peter Crouch who gratefully prods home. It’s a terrible bit of keeping.  In the last four games Hart has made errors against Burnley and Stoke, while having a great game at Chelsea and being untested against Southampton. Adrian should surely return for the rest of the season.

The crowd stick with the Irons and the side do keep relatively calm and carry on attacking. The Vicar’s Son starts to mutter about a “s**t team, s**t manager and s**t stadium.” Stoke seem destined to secure a scrappy away win and put us right back in it. In desperation Moyes brings on Carroll and Lanzini. It all looks over until Cresswell crosses and Andy Carroll expertly volleys the dropping ball into the corner. Great technique as the London Stadium erupts with relief. There’s even time for a disallowed goal as Hernandez nets only for Carroll to be penalised for handball. But a draw keeps us seven points ahead of Stoke and Southampton.

It’s off to the Refreshment Rooms, where there’s some Moyes-style dithering over who is in the round. Michael gets excited by the Bundesliga manager extolling “the high art of rotation” before going into a Withnail-esque diatribe against the Refreshment Rooms and Stratford in general. Nigel reminisces about legendary WHU reserve keeper Colin Mackleworth. We’re then joined by Gavin and Ilona. Gavin had expected us to win 4-0 but has been cheered by someone giving him a half and half scarf for tonight’s game and a fitting souvenir of a feast of defensive football.

It’s disappointing not to win, but also not the disaster it could have been. While the resurrection of Andy Carroll hopefully gives us another option for the rest of the season.

PLAYER RATINGS: Hart 4; Zabaleta 6, Rice 7, Ogbonna 6, Cresswell 7, Masuaku 5 (Lanzini 6); Fernandes 5 (Hernandez 6), Noble 6, Kouyate 5, Mario 5 (Carroll 7); Arnautovic 6.

Saturday, April 14

How do we solve a problem called Chicharito?

Looking at David Moyes' comments in the Evening Standard it seems that he still regards Javier Hernandez as an alternative to Arnautovic as a lone striker and a great player to come on and nick a goal. It proved effective at Chelsea where Javier netted his eighth goal of the season, but the problem is Chicharito has a big ego and wants to start, so he could well be off in the summer. Having waited years to sign a natural striker it seems careless to allow one to leave. 

Moyes points out that Arnie and Chicharito both started against Swansea and that didn't go well. But in the Watford home match it seemed to work, and we really need to try to work on a system that gets them both in the same side. Moyes was clearly happier with two strikers who worked really hard up front in Antonio and Arnie earlier in the season, but Chicharito has also added workrate to his game this season. 

Perhaps the key is both surviving and then playing four at the back next season once some better players are signed. If we let him go there would be a lot of rivals after Chicharito's signature and no team does well without a natural poacher.

Wednesday, April 11

Stop! Hammer Time: the joy of Arthur's socks

Great fun appearing on the Stop! Hammer Time podcast with Phil Whelans and Jim Grant last night. We discussed the Chelsea game, Chicharito's equaliser, Arnie and of course Arthur Masuaku's penchant for making holes in the back of his socks to minimise the strain on his muscly calves. (Or have the moths in our trophy cabinet got into the dressing room?) This lead to a discussion on kit modifications including Paolo Di Canio's too tight shorts worn back to front, Dicksy's ripped collars and Diamante's snood. To listen to the Stop! Hammer Time podcast click on this link.

Tuesday, April 10

Rice is right

It was a very encouraging performance from Declan Rice at Chelsea. Released by the Blues at 14, he seemed determined to show them what they had missed (and where to stick their blue flag). It's no surprise that John Terry rates Deccers from his time at the club. It's easy to forget that Rice only made his debut as a late sub at Burnley in the final game of last season. He's made mistakes, such as losing his man for a vital goal at Swansea and losing Silva for Man City's winner, but then he's only 19 and that's expected. In the last couple of games he's shown real maturity and is already looking a mainstay of the side. He's played in midfield and defence this season and If he maintains this form alongside Ogbonna then Winston Reid might have a struggle to get back in the side next season.

Monday, April 9

Hernandez wins bonus point for Hammers

Chelsea 1 West Ham 1

It's off to the Hole in the Wall at Waterloo to watch this one with Matt, Nigel and Fraser over a pint of Hog's Back TEA. Arnie has an early chance from a Masuaku cross but takes one touch too many. The rest of the first half is all Chelsea with Kante winning the midfield battle and Willian and Hazard running through at will. 

Hart makes a fine save from Willian, but from the resulting corner Chelsea take a scruffy lead as Azpilicueta pokes home. Morata nods down, Arnautovic gets in a tangle and Cresswell fails to react. Chelsea have two goals by Morata correctly disallowed for marginal offsides and Mystic Matt suggests it could be a three or four goal thrashing. The positive is that West Ham stick at it and Rice has another fine game at the back, while Arnautovic is tireless up front as a lone striker.

None of us are optimistic for the second half, but the longer it remains 1-0 we start to hope a little. A tardy Michael arrives to offer redemption as our lucky omen. Fraser is astonished to see Moyes bring on an actual forward in Hernandez, who replaces the disappointing Fernandes. 

Cahill miscues a header in the Chelsea box, Arnie gathers and delivers a perfect pullback for Chicharito who hammers home four minutes after coming on. Nigel is up out of his seat dancing in front of the TV screen and last looked this happy getting Ian Gillan's autograph. Loud chants of "Stick you blue flag up your arse!" can be heard on the TV.

The rest of the game sees the maligned Joe Hart emerge as a Hammers hero. He makes two brilliant saves, tipping over Alonso's effort and then tipping Giroud's header on to a post. Cresswell has to be replaced by Evra, who uses his experience to keep things solid. There's even a late chance for the Irons to win it as Arnie gets through only to be denied by a fine Kante tackle.

We had a bit of luck at times but a point here is a great result and now a win against Stoke — not easy — would secure survival. Irons!

Sunday, April 8

More Antonio woe

The euphoria of the victory over Southampton has rather eclipsed the bad news that Michail Antonio is out for the rest of the season. He's having another hamstring operation after shooting against the Saints and pulling up after nine minutes. Michail's injury record is starting to look very worrying. He was West Ham's best player last season, scoring nine goals and getting picked in the England squad. But after getting injured against Leicester (and being kept on for 90 minutes) with nine games to go, he was rushed back against Arsenal at the Emirates, injured again, and has never fully recovered. 

This season he has also had rib and knee injuries. Antonio was starting to show some of his old sharpness again having scored at Anfield and Swansea, but now he's effectively lost a whole season. His injuries have been unlucky for both Slaven Bilic and David Moyes, as a fit Antonio might have seen West Ham up in the top half where Newcastle are now. Antonio relies on pace and the worry is that if this continues he won't ever be the same player again. At least the close season will soon be here and with it a chance to rest him fully and try to get Michail back to full fitness for next season.

Thursday, April 5

We've got a mountain to climb

Lovers of both West Ham and striding edgily might like to try my new book Man About Tarn, now out as a Kindle Single. Despite being about the Lake District it has a fair few football references. There's a lot of searching for results in August, including learning that West Ham have lost 3-0 at Aston Villa under new gaffer Avram Grant while on top of Scafell Pike (the only place you could get reception in Wasdale) and discovering that West Ham had beaten Villa 1-0 in 2012 while up Yewbarrow. There's also watching West Ham win at Arsenal in the Churchill Arms at Ambleside and listening to England beat Northern Ireland 4-0 on a transistor radio in 1982 while in a sodden tent camping by Stickle Tarn. Man About Tarn is now available to download for less than the price of a pint at £2.99.