Wednesday, September 28

Team bonding West Ham style

Meanwhile the Daily Mail and the Sun have reports of a West Ham team bonding session on Monday night. First the lads went to Signor Sassi restaurant in Knightsbridge for a 'quiet dinner'. Shame they didn't invite Hayden Foxe and Frank McAvennie too as they know a bit about bonding sessions… Some interesting gear too. In the pictures James Collins looks like the Lord of Stratford Manor with his ginger beard, tweed jacket and flat cap, while Andy Carroll is wearing white trousers that might be Albert Steptoe's long Johns. Some of the lads then went on to the Cirque le Soir nightclub and at it seems made quite a night of it as the Sun prints a picture of Andy Carroll and Aaron Cresswell getting some sports nutrition at McDonald's at 7am. 

Normally you'd say they should have been in bed early with a hot water bottle. But these are desperate times and if having a few Sherbets and a McDonald's is what it takes to unite the team then perhaps that's a good thing. Part of the problem seems to be that we have recruited a lot of players from around the world who all speak different languages and hardly know each other and we didn't look like a team who would fight for each other on Sunday. A big night out might at least improve the banter and give us something that smells like team spirit.

Big Sam undone

So Big Sam has been undone by greed. An England manager on £3 million a year shouldn't need to do deals with 'businessmen' from Singapore to be a 'keynote speaker' at £100k a pop. If it's too good to be true chances are it's a Daily Telegraph sting. Allardyce was clear he was going to notify his employers of the offer, but it's unlikely they would have ever agreed. 

It's also worrying that West Ham have been dragged into it, with Sam mentioning ways of 'getting round' the FA's third party ownership rules and bringing up the Enner Valencia deal. He did say that West Ham had bought the 'whole player', though some clarification from the club is now essential as to what type of deal it was and how much the agents received. David Sullivan is quoted in the Sun saying: "Valencia's economic rights were wholly owned by Pachuca when we bought him. Sam is wrong. But he didn't know much about the actual transfer deal other than wanting the player. We have not broken any rules on third party ownership."

For a man who often spoke about perception, Allardyce seems very poor at understanding how certain things will be perceived. He didn't seem to understand that ridiculing the West Ham way in his first press conference would immediately alienate the fans, as did his ear-cupping against Hull, or that the England manager has to be above grubby deals and can't be indiscreet about Roy Hodgson or the players or offer advice on ways around FA rules with people he's just met and had a social drink with. 

You do wonder why Allardyce was so foolish two weeks into the England job and why his agent Mark Curtis didn't stop him and was instead trying to bump up Sam's fee. And the sad part is that if he sticks to football he's a decent manager, not to everyone's taste admittedly, but he just might have instilled some more self-belief into the England side. Now England are in turmoil too. 

Monday, September 26

Saints go marching in against shambolic Hammers

We can see you sneaking out…
West Ham United  0 Southampton 3

The best part of the day is a pre-match Ruby Red ale at Hackney Wick’s Tank with my near-neighbour Will, who’s a Saints fan, and my daughter Nell who has a hipster Coke.

Inside the stadium Nigel’s away discussing the new Bridget Jones film, but Alison and Scott are back from New York, perhaps wishing they were still watching the New York Jets, particularly as the sun is in our eyes all game and they said that wouldn't happen at the reservation centre.

The first half is uninspired with neither side getting in a shot until Saints take the lead after 40 minutes. Antonio and Nordtveit go to sleep, and Bertrand crosses for Austin to get in front of his man and flick home. Adrian prevents a second from Cedric just before the interval.

Bilic subs Lanzini for Feghouli at half-time. We mount some pressure and Zaza dives to try and get a penalty, receiving a yellow card for simulation. Soon it’s 2-0 as Reid and Kouyate dither in the middle and lose the ball. Tadic is unmarked and rounds Adrian to score.

Adrian has to make a further great save to keep us in it and there’s a brief rally. West Ham have a strong shout for a penalty as Feghouli’s shot is blocked by the arms of a defender. Van Djke clears off the line from Zaza’s scuffed shot and Antonio crosses for Payet to shoot wide when he should score.

But there’s no disguising that Southampton are better than us as they threaten every time they break. Adrian has to make another couple of great saves and Nordveit a fine saving tackle before Antonio loses his man and Ward-Prowse sneaks in to score the third in added time

“We’ve got more fans than you!” chant the Southampton fans at the rows of empty white seats.

Still, it’s not as if anyone’s travelled 5351 miles to see it. Oh hang on, that’s Steve ‘North Bank Norman’ Rapport who’s travelled all the way from San Francisco, writing on Facebook, “Well, that was fun.” Things are so bad Matt is going to have to resurrect his lucky Dukla Prague away kit.

Hammers getting tanked…
Will and myself stop for two thirds of a pint of IPA in Tank before I’m refused admission to Crate for wearing a West Ham shirt, even though I plead that Matt was reading Ferment magazine about Colorado beers at the interval and that no one is going to be dancing on the tables after a game like that.

It’s been a thoroughly dispiriting performance though Saints fan Will diplomatically suggests that our relegation talk is premature. Not on this form though. There’s a real lack of tempo and urgency to our game, which is mystifying as these players did so well last season. And it can’t just be adapting to the new stadium. We have to make changes and get some more hunger in the team — bring in Fletcher, Obiang, Oxford, Fernandes, anyone really. And we have to get some confidence back from somewhere. Nurse, the screens.

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 7; Nordveit 4 (Fletcher 5), Reid 5, Ogbonna 5, Arbeloa 5; Antonio 4, Noble 4 (Fernandes n/a), Kouyate 4, Payet 5, Lanzini 4 (Feghouli 5); Zaza 4.

Sunday, September 25

Hammers versus hipsters: Crate expectations

Friday's Evening Standard has another report on the Hammers versus Hipsters fixture at Hackney Wick. Canalside bar Crate has been handing out flyers saying that people wearing "football merchandise" will only be served before the game and that chanting is banned. I can see that fans jumping in the canal at the Bournemouth game is going too far, but in the colder weather that's unlikely to happen, at least as long as we don't lose to Southampton. Surely Crate needs to accept that it's on to a nice little earner with football fans and might have to be a little less family friendly on match days. The beer's excellent  so my policy will be to do up my jacket to conceal my West Ham shirt, arrive on a paddle board and start growing a beard. And as an alternative the nearby Howling Hops Tank bar also does very good ale and seems slightly more accepting of fans.

Friday, September 23

Who can replace Arthur?

More disastrous news on the left-back front. Aaron Cresswell is still a long way from fitness and now Arthur Masuaku is out for six weeks with the ankle injury sustained against Accrington Stanley. No idea who will replace him. Arthur might have had a 'mare at WBA but he's looked a decent buy in his other games. We could perhaps shift Byram or Arbeloa to left back, but they'd be playing on their wrong foot, while Ogbonna might be able to do a job there. Or Bilic could play three centre backs and two wing backs. Pretty worrying for Sunday as Southampton have payers like Tadic and Redmond who can do a lot of damage from the flanks. We've certainly had no luck this season, losing Cresswell, Ayew, Carroll and now Masuaku. Nurse, the screens.

Thursday, September 22

Sir Trev at the Newham Bookshop

One for your your diaries… Sir Trevor Brooking will be signing copies of Andy Hooper and Lee Clayton's Farewell to Upton Park (Trev wrote the foreward) at the Newham Bookshop in Barking Road, E13, before the Southampton game on Sunday at 12.30pm. Though we'd best all avert our eyes walking past the bombed out Boleyn Ground… personally I'd much rather it was demolished in private with some dignity rather than blown up for a movie.

Payet wins it at the death

West Ham 1 Accrington Stanley 0 (EFL Cup)

It’s down to diehards Fraser, Matt and myself for this one, though the attendance of 39,877 is very respectable and is more than Upton Park could have held. It’s a squad line-up and as Matt points out there can’t have been many West Ham teams where only two players have scored for the club (Ogbonna and Feghouli have one goal each).

It’s a tepid first half as we bemoan the lack of any Pardew-esque ‘tempo’. Accrington’s fans are noisy in the away end and almost see a goal when McConville gets acres of space on the let and Randolph has to make a fine save. We’re playing four forwards who look bereft of all confidence in Feghouli, Calleri, Zaza and Tore. When Feghouli is sent clear by Fernandes he appears be held back by an invisible tractor beam and is tackled after hesitating too long.

In the second half Bilic has to bring on a three-man team of Payet, Lanzini and Antonio. Payet and Lanzini instantly make us more creative though Antonio, on after 70 minutes, has a more frustrating game, rarely beating the defenders with his crosses. In a more central role Fenrnandes looks promising. Payet wriggles through on the left and crosses for Zaza to shoot at Parish’s legs.

“Premier League you’re having a laugh!” chant the Stanley fans. They almost nick it as McConville blasts another fine chance over the bar. Obiang has a steady game and almost scores as Parrish tips his long range effort wide.

There’s another injury worry as Masuaku is carried off on a stretcher and West Ham go down to ten men. It looks like extra time as we go into the 96th minute. Then Zak Vyner fouls Payet on the edge of the box. The little magician steps up and places a wonderful free kick past Parish.

Dimitri rushes into the corner celebrating like West Ham have just won the Champions League. Apparently we've got Payet. In a strange way that could be the most vital goal of the season. Going out to Accy would have really signalled an early-season crisis. We’ll take a clean sheet and a win whoever it’s against. Matt reminisces about past League Cup struggles against Southend, Aldershot and Chesterfield.

There’s no kettling with a 40,000 crowd and we escape through a ghostly Westfield to find the Tap Bar. The Number 6 Blonde is really very good, and we also try the Boleyn Bitter. Simon who sits in front of us introduces himself and recommends the craft beer at Hackney Wick — who says we’re all fighting each other?

So now it’s Chelsea at home in the next round with no police in the stadium. Now that should be interesting.

PLAYER RATINGS: Randolph 6; Arbeloa 5, Ogbonna 5, Nordtveit 6, Masuaku 5; Feghouli 4 (Payet 8), Obiang 6, Fernandes 6, Tore 4 (Lanzini 7); Calleri 4 (Antonio 5), Zaza 5.