West Ham 2 Astra Giurgiu 2 (Europa League Qualifier)
The Ashes are still on but football’s coming home to E13… It’s another
packed summer house at Upton Park as we anticipate the game in Ken’s Café.
Michael the Whovian impersonates Tom Baker (who was once married to Lalla Ward
who once played Princess Astra in Doctor
Who, stick with it). Meanwhile Matt employs complex negotiating skills to
order Lisa a 7.45pm takeaway portion of chips. Nigel's absent as his mum is visiting and for some reason she doesn't want to see the best the Europa League has to offer.
We enter the stadium where we are joined by a late Fraser. It’s West Ham pressure
throughout the first half and we’re starting to get a glimpse of what a Bilic
team will look like. The wingers have gone and it’s left to the full backs and
Zarate and Payet to drift wide to provide the width. Everything revolves around
Payet sand he looks a real West Ham-type player, a scurrying presence with
great skill who will dominate going forwards. We also get to see Reece Oxford
as a midfield holding player, who plays it simple and looks remarkably composed
for a 16-year-old.
THIS IS THE ENNER
West Ham take the lead after 23 minutes. A corner is half
cleared, Payet jinks inside and outside his man on the left and delivers a
perfect cross for Enner Valencia to rise well and score. Should be good for
Enner’s confidence, as he just didn’t score enough last season.
The only Astra threat is when Joey O’Brien is pickpocketed
by Budescu and creates a chance. Yet our injury crisis has already begun to worsen.
O’Brien has to go off with hamstring trouble after 36 minutes and is replaced by
Reece Burke. A minute later Valencia goes down heavily and is stretched off. On
comes Modibo Maiga. It looks bad and there seems to an unwritten rule that all
our three strikers have to be either injured or suspended.
West Ham still continue attack though and go close when
Zarate controls the ball on the edge of the box and has a fine effort tipped
away from the top corner.
The second half starts off well, and we double our lead on 51
minutes. Zarate receives the ball half way in side the Astra half and runs at
three defenders. It looks like he will maybe pass to Maiga but instead he
bamboozles three defenders in a mazy dribble and prods the ball into the net. Best
goal of the season so far. ”Super Slaven Bilic!” salute the Bobby Moore Stand.
But at least we haven’t quite forgotten how to mess up a
two-goal lead. Collins is booked for a body check and a few minutes’ later
makes a silly challenge outside the area and receives a second yellow. That’s
the same Collins who in the Standard has warned about the dangers of WHU
getting players sent off.
So it’s down to Burke at right back and 16-year-old Reece Oxford
at centre back for the last 30 minutes. Oxford makes a couple of great
interceptions and Ogbonna performs a saving tackle, but Astra pull one back
with a great strike from the edge of the box from Boldrin.
Everyone starts to get nervous and you start to worry about
Bilic’s tactical acumen as he brings on Matt Jarvis for Zarate rather than
shore up the midfield with Poyet or Nolan. The inevitable happens on 82
minutes. Ogbonna lunges at a pass into the box and manages to loop the ball up
over Adrian into the top corner. Not quite as good as James Collins' effort at Man City
but as own goals go a bit of a classic. Oh dear.,
To round the evening off Maiga gets booked for diving and the
ref ostentatiously delivers a red card to Bilic for something he said from the
bench. Apparently it’s quite common for Slaven to get sent off. ‘’You’ve got
problems when Julian Dicks is on the bench telling you to calm down,” suggests
At least we don’t actually lose. Matt texts Nigel to say that all he's missed is a two-goal lead overturned, Payet's debut, two red cards and an own goal. We retreat to the Central
where Matt suggests that our squad is starting to look a bit like Zola’s, good football
but too many number tens in Payet, Zarate and Lanzini.
“It’s July and we’re already depressed,” I venture. We agree
on the need for a striker like Charlie Austin though for some reason the Vicar’s Son ridicules my suggestion that Rickie Lambert might be a cheap fix
for one season. There’s some mirth at the news that Carlton Cole is in trouble
for failing to report a speeding offence in his car – and it’s suggested that there are 30,000
character witnesses at Upton Park who will vouch that he’s never been spotted going
too fast in E13.
Then the Central delivers a masterclass in how not to run a
pub. We’ve waited ages to be served and then at 10.30pm they play horribly loud
music to drive us out, via the loos which have flooded.
Still, we played well for 60 minutes and Sakho will be back
for the second leg. But you sense this might be the end of our European tour.
“We’ll concentrate on the League Cup,” suggests Fraser, “that’s
the really big one.”
Sounds like Dimitri Payet will make his competitive devout for the Hammers tonight against FC Astra. Should be exciting to finally see him in action. Interestingly Payet originally comes from the island of Reunion, the French Dom-Tom off the coast of Africa, which is where the possible MH370 wreckage has been found today. James Tomkins is suspended and Diafra Sakho will miss the third game of his suspension. We've clearly got to guard against teams winding us up in the Europa League as we've already had two players red-carded for off-the-ball incidents. Meanwhile it's a big night for Mauro Zarate. He's had a good run of games and clearly has self-belief, even a touch of arrogance; after falling out with various gaffers last season can he finally prove he's as good as he thinks he is.
A pal of mine went to the athletics at the Olympic Stadium at the weekend and said the atmosphere was good and noisy. Though someone else who went said their bit of the roof leaked! Strange as the two geezers in the white van who installed it said it would be strictly showerproof… Hopefully any such glitches will be eradicated by the time we move in. There's also an encouraging piece on the WHU website by Sean Whetstone who writes for the West Ham Till I Die blog, and he is very excited by the stadium atmosphere having sampled the athletics. We've got our category B appointments at the Reservation Centre next week so let's see how that goes… but exciting to be finally getting a seat.
Intriguing to hear the interview with Julian Dicks on the West Ham website. As West Ham's new coach (a case of Dicks out on the training pitch?) he sounds pretty reasonable and talks about what a good bunch of lads he has — though it would be interesting to hear how he might react should any of his players insist on drinking Coca-Cola before a game and refuse to warm-up, as Julian famously did. Still, it worked for Dicksy, who is a more thoughtful character than many people realise. You also wonder what influence he might have over the career of Andy Carroll. When Dicks spoke at the Stop! Hammer Time podcast end-of-season do he was clear that he wasn't a fan of Big Sam's style and Carroll didn't score enough goals. So when he's fit he'll clearly be on to AC to improve his goals to games ratio.
With seven new arrivals I'm still trying to decide what will be West Ham's first-choice side. My guess would be: Adrian; Jenkinson, Ogbonna, Reid, Cresswell; Payet, Noble, Kouyate, Obiang; Sakho, Valencia. This would leave a reserve XI of Randolph; O'Brien, Tomkins, Collins, Hendrie; Jarvis, Nolan, Lanzini, Amalfitano; Zarate, Carroll. And there are also squad players such as Poyet, Maiga, Burke and Henry and youngsters Lee, Oxford, Page, Cullen and Samuelson.
So it's looking pretty healthy competition-wise. Another option would be to play three centre backs from Tomkins, Reid, Collins and Ogbonna. We could also play five in midfield and a fit and firing Andy Carroll could well replace Valencia up front in my first-choice side.
If anything we have almost too many players and it might well be that if good offers come in for the likes of Nolan, Maiga, Jarvis or Amalfitano we take the money and put it towards another striker. Interesting times at Upton Park and some tough selection decisions for Slaven Bilic.
Birkirkara 1 West Ham 0 (After extra time, West Ham win 5-3 on pens) (Europa League Qualifier) A hardy contingent of Matt, Lisa and Fraser are watching the game in the Jetlag Sports Bar in Fitzrovia. Being a part-timer, I'm taking my daughter on a pre-booked showing of The Cult of Bacchae at the British Museum. Matt suggests that that geezer Euripides was probably a fan of the flat Bacchae four. The play involves a lot of semi-clothed women drunkenly cavortingas they worship the cult of Bacchus and Dionysus — so not too dissimilar to the Central at chucking out time. We start the game with a somewhat bizarre formation, with only the tiny Zarate up front. Just as KIng Pentheus of Thebes is getting into a ruck with Dionysus, Matt's text arrives informing me that the game in Malta is starting to resemble a Greek Tragedy. Birkirkara have scored after 14 minutes as Tomkins and Collins are outpaced and Miccoli nips ahead of O'Brien for a poacher's goal. Then Tomkins has been sent off for a shove on Vukanac. That's two red cards in four Europa League games now, a tendency that has to be stopped with our squad already stretched. After watching King Pentheus get torn apart by the Bacchae, there's more news on the bus home of West Ham getting torn apart in Malta. The game's gone into extra time and Matt Jarvis has had our only shot on target, though the numbers have been evened up as Mazzetti has been sent off. Late on Maiga has goal disallowed for a tight but correct offside flag. So it's down to penalties. Noble, Zarate, Cresswell, O'Brien and Poyet score for the Hammers while one of the home side's penalties is ballooned over the bar. Credit to Diego Poyet for his coolness at the end. Phew. Lisa suggests that we have found a new Lucky Pub. At least the Jetlag Sports Bar has never seen us lose a penalty shoot-out. Big Sam would surely have been vilified for a result like this, while Bilic will not be, as yet. But at this stage of the season I'm not too concerned about an undoubtedly poor performance in the 30C heat. We're still playing what are essentially pre-season games and the important thing is we got through in the end and had a 120-minute workout. Lest we get distracted by Europe, the most important game is still the away trip to Arsenal on August 8. Now it's FC Astra at the Boleyn — and surely time to put out a full-strength side for this one.
Once we had Diamanti and now we have The Jewel. West Ham have signed Argentine Manuel 'The Jewel' Lanzini on a season-long loan from UAE side Al Jazira. At 22 he looks an exciting prospect, having made his name at River Plate in Argentina as a creative number ten. Will he be the Jewel in our crown or more some replica sparklers from Romford Market? We shall see. That's our seventh signing of the summer and also marks good progress towards the assembly of a side named after 1970s classic comedies. We already have a young player called Pike, to which we can now add Manuel…
Various media reports suggest West Ham have bid £6 million for Everton's Kevin Mirallas. I've always thought he's a good player and he scored a cracking goal against WHU at Upton Park in the 2-2 FA Cup tie last season. He's a Belgian international, though appears to have fallen out a little with Roberto Martinez and clearly has a bit of an attitude: he managed to take the ball off the elected penalty taker Leighton Baines against West Brom last season and then hit the post before being subbed. He's not an exact replacement for Stewart Downing, but is a very dangerous attacking player (21 goals in 88 games for Everton) and I'd be happy to have him at WHU. The Standard also claims we're looking at Tottenham's Aaron Lennon — presumably so we can say we've had both Lennon and McCartney at Upton Park.
Interesting piece in Sunday's Observeron the Olympic Stadium. Owen Gibson gets to see inside the OS and is clear it will feel very different to other stadiums. He writes: "Taking in the view from the exact spot where the front row of fans will sit it is clear that this will still feel like a big, expansive European-style stadium rather than the tight grounds British fans are used to. Stadium designers elsewhere… are in contrast trying to mimic the imposing kops and tightly packed atmosphere of days gone by. On one side of West Ham’s new home there will be large flat platforms behind the seats once they are rolled over the track. Behind the goals, there are solutions to fill in the gaps, but it will still look unlike any other football ground in the country. To state the obvious, much will depend on results – if West Ham are winning and the place is buzzing, fans will take to it." I'd back West ham fans to create a good atmosphere just about anywhere, but as Gibson implies, it's going to feel very different to the Boleyn. Click on the link to read the whole piece.
Latest reports suggest that Andy Carroll won't be fit until October. It seems like his knee injury requires more rehabilitation than was thought (earlier reports suggested he'd be back by September). The club also plan to put him through his own 'pre-season', which will require several weeks of easing-in to full fitness. A cautious approach seems to make sense with our delicate striker. One thing that everyone in my East Stand constituency agrees upon is that Andy should not be forced to play two games in a week this season. His injury last season came after playing in the 1-1 draw with Man United at the weekend and then Southampton on the Wednesday (where he played on with an injury to prevent us going down to nine men). So with only Sakho, Valencia (who's more of a wide player) and Maiga up front we surely need another signing. Although we could give the replica Angel of the North sculpture in Andy's garden an outing, as it looks pretty injury-proof.
West Ham must be relishing the near-full houses for the Europa League games. Even at a tenner for adults and a fiver for kids a 33,000 attendance must mean something like £290,000 gate revenue per match (assuming 25,000 adults and 8000 kids) which is better than a poke in the eye. And if say 10,000 people buy a £3.50 programme that's another £35,000. Plus there's all the catering revenue from inside the stadium. Having two and hopefully three pre-season qualifiers must be more lucrative than the usual pre-season friendlies.
Also good to hear that David Gold went to the game on the tube for the first time in 50 years, only his train terminated at Plaistow. Luckily fellow fans told him to wait for the next train, but now he knows what we go though on the way to the match. Hopefully Stratford will be a smoother ride.
West Ham 1 Birkirkara 0 (Europa League Qualifying Round)
It’s frankly astonishing to see Green Street packed with 33,048 fans on July 16. Always thought the close-season was overrated. Inside Ken’s
Café Matt is causing a twitter storm by tweeting that I’m wearing my
19-year-old Dagenham Motors West Ham shirt as a tribute to Slaven Bilic,
claiming that it’s the newest item in the May wardrobe. Mind you, this is coming
from a man in a ‘lucky’ Dukla Prague away shirt that has so far seen us
relegated at Wigan and a 0-9 aggregate defeat to Man City. And it's the same colours as the Birkirkara kit.
Meanwhile Michael the Whovian suggests that young full back
Lewis Page is always getting turned, while I suggest he should be booked. We’re
joined by a full house of Lisa, Fraser, The Gav and Nigel, who has hot-footed
it from the taxi in which the Lib Dems held their leadership contest. Not sure
what the summer games will do for our health though, as Michael tucks away his
first big breakfast of the season with specially sautéed mushrooms from Carol
and Matt and Lisa (fresh from the Helsinki derby) opt for cheesy chips.
Nice retro programme
At least we've got our pre-season striker crisis in early. Sakho is suspended, Carroll injured and Valencia only just returned from the Copa America. So we're down to Modibo Maiga (remember him?).
The game is predictably one-way in the first half. Maiga gets in a good cross that Amalfitano controls only to shoot over. Modibo puts
a header over after a decent Jarvis cross and then produces a good save from
the Haber after Tomkins heads across goal. Should have kept it down though. Cresswell
goes close with a free kick. Modibo, who looks a bit stronger these days, is
proving a nuisance though, and near the break hits the post with a fine effort
from the edge of the box. Nolan also goes close with an overhead kick after the
keeper parries a cross.
WIN OR LOSE WE'RE ON THE BOOS
We lose momentum in the second half. Zarate looks busy and
wants the ball, but when he over-elaborates and is tackled, the Maltesers break
and Lilius fires just wide. Kevin Nolan goes off and the first — rather unfair — boos
of the season can be heard around Upton Park. “Is it too early to say ‘Bilic
out’?” I ask Fraser.
Young Martin Samuelson comes on for Amalfitano and plays it
simple on the left. He doesn’t look like he wants to take on his man, but
displays a good touch on his competitive debut. Bilic makes a Big Sam-style
substitution, taking off Maiga and replacing him with the diminutive Elliot Lee
when surely we need two strikers on against a team that has parked the bus. Plut comes on for the the Birks, providing some mild amusement in the week that Pluto was photographed (still suspect they might find some of Gary Strodder's clearances on the surface). Ten minutes before the end a row of eight fans in front of us all leave. Clearly they don't know West Ham.
After 90 minutes it looks like we’re going to face a cup
final in Malta. Thankfully Mystic Matt moves into action as Samuelson wins a
corner. “Our corners have been terrible all night and look at that, that’s
another poor one…” Only the keeper lets the ball sail over his head and Tomkins
chests home. Never in doubt.
A poor game against limited opposition, but in what still
feels like a pre-season friendly we’ve got a win and there’s the likes of
Kouyate, Jenkinson, Payet, Ogbonna, Obiang, Valencia, Sakho, and Carroll to return.
Though Nigel thinks I’m being Panglossian, whoever he played for.
We head off the Central where they have finally stocked up
on bottles of Old Speckled Hen. Nigel brings in a life-threatening chicken and
chips takeaway, Matt asks questions about a Herzog film (strangely the woman
selling dodgy dvds doesn’t have it) and buoyed by a spirit of summer lightness
we drink three rounds. As we leave the staff at the Central are setting up the breakfast tables for the hostellers staying above the pub — who says West Ham don't put up Kirkirkara in style? Seems like the lucky vintage West Ham and Dukla Prague away shirts have finally worked their magic. Just.
Sad to see Stewart Downing go to Middlesbrough. Bilic says he wanted to keep him but Downing clearly wanted to go back to his hometown club and these days it's always difficult to keep a player against their will. But a £5 million fee (maybe rising to £7m if Boro go up) is good money for a player turning 31 and Downing himself gets the security of a four-year contract. The worrying thing is that we've lost the best crosser at the club and we're relying on Amalfitano and Matt Jarvis regaining their form. Payet should make a lot of goals but he seems to be more of a number ten than a crosser. So Bilic might have to go back into the market for a winger before the window closes.
Not often that a player signs for two clubs in one day. Carl Jenkinson has signed a five-year contract at Arsenal and also agreed a season-long loan to West Ham. So plenty of signings this summer in Payet, Ogbonna. Obiang, Jenkinson, Randolph and Scottish left-back Stephen Hendrie (which was agreed last season). Meanwhile the club have launched the new away kit. Not sure about the slab of claret across the light blue shirt, prefer the old-fashioned twin hoops. But guess it could have been worse… the new kits can be pre-ordred from the West Ham store.
Tonight's Evening Standard claims that West Ham hope to re-sign Carl Jenkinson on loan for another season within the the next 48 hours. Ken Dyer is normally fairly accurate about these things, so let's hope it's true. Otherwise, as my mate Matt points out, the Lib-Dems have more leadership contestants than we have right-backs…
Slightly shocked to look at the team sheet for yesterday's 3-3 draw at Peterborough and discover that Modibo Maiga was playing up front. Like most fans, I'd forgotten he was at the club, though he was actually only on loan at Metz in France last season, where he scored a respectable nine goals in 25 appearances. A bit like finding that missing sock at the bottom of your drawer or that old Cranberries CD behind the hi-fi. Felt a bit sorry for Maiga at times being played alone up front as a target man by Big Sam. He clearly has some skill as we saw with fine goals against Southampton in a 4-1 win, and against West Brom in a 3-3 draw. Modibo was a similar price and gamble to Diafra Sakho, but with vastly differing results. He's behind Sakho, Valencia and Carroll but might he yet get some chances as a second striker? With a new manager anything is possible.
Just added a chapter on the 1976 Cup Winners' Cup Final between West Ham and Anderlecht at the Heysel Stadium to the new print version of my 2012 e-book Flying So High: West Ham's Cup Finals. We actually scored a couple of very good goals with Patsy Holland latching on to a Billy Bonds header for the first and Trevor Brooking producing a great cross for Keith Robson to equalise with a superb diving header. The game was also notable for probably the best shot of Tommy Taylor's career - a first time volley that the keeper just tipped away from the top corner. West Ham eventually lost 4-2, the likes of Keith Coleman, Tommy Taylor and John McDowell being undone by the brilliance of Rob Rensenbrink and Francois Van Der Elst (who was good, but never that good, when he signed for West Ham a number of years later). Flying So High also covers the FA Cup Finals of 1923 (no, I wasn't there), 1964, 1975, 1980 and 2006, the League Cup Final of 1981, the Play-Off Final victories of 2005 and 2012 and the classic 1965 Cup Winners' Cup win at Wembley. Let's hope there might be another chapter to add after this season. Click on the link to read the Amazon reviews.
Angelo Ogbonna has now signed for West Ham, for a reported £8.5 million fee according to the Daily Mail. A player who has learned his trade in Serie A will surely know a bit about defending and with Reid, Tomkins and Collins to choose from, plus Burke and Henry as back-up, we've now got six centre-backs in the squad. Things are starting to look exciting at WHU with the addition of Obiang, Payet and Ogbonna. We've spent something like £23 million already and it looks like the Davids are really going to give it a go in our final season at Upton Park. Irons!
A fairly comfortable win against the Andorrans, though we could have done without Diafra Sakho being sent off early on following an off-the-ball incident with a defender — he now misses the next leg. Good moment for Elliot Lee, who scored his first goal for West Ham, running on to Matt Jarvis's flick and finishing well with the outside of his right foot. Lee has had a good grounding in the lower leagues on loan at Southend, Colchester and Luton, and at 20, this is the season where he needs to prove his potential.
Watching the highlights on the WHU website it's impressive to see all the Hammers flags behind the goal, including ones for Billericay and Surrey and Sussex Irons. One side of the ground is a giant rock wall while the mountainous backdrop makes it look even higher than the away stand at Newcastle. Lee has a clear case for a penalty in the second half and a Lusitans header is disallowed for offside. So it's 4-0 on aggregate and now the Maltesers to come in the shape of Birkirkara next Thursday.
Tonight's team has already been announced and it's good to see Lewis Page get another game at left back, Josh Cullen come into midfield and Elliot Lee get a start up front. Otherwise it's a similar side to the first leg with plenty of experience in the form of Tomkins, O'Brien, Jarvis, Amalfitano and Sakho. Zarate is out with a groin strain. Good to know that Slaven will be on the bench too. Let's hope we can hold a three-goal lead in front of 500 fanatical(ish) Andorrans and 500 intrepid Hammers fans— and a ground surrounded by mountains that has to be the most picturesque in Europe.
In an apparent bid to corner the market in players with names beginning with O, the Hammers are reported to have agreed a £10 million fee for Juventus centre back Angelo Ogbonna. Earlier this month David Gold accidentally tweeted a picture of Ogbonna when West Ham signed Pedro Obiang from Sampdoria. Ogbonna would be an exciting signing since he has ten caps for Italy and was an unused substitute in the Champions' League Final against Real Madrid, though where he would fit in alongside Tomkins, Reid and Collins is unclear. If Ogbonna does sign we could have Obiang, Ogbonna and O'Brien in the same side, following several other members of the Hammers' 'O' Team such as Anton Otolokowski and Victor Obinna. OMG.
Various snippets in the press over the last week, we seem to be linked with just about everyone including Liverpool's Fabio Borini. He had a decent spell at Sunderland but was deemed not good enough at a Liverpool side that could't score, so not sure about this one. Rickie Lambert would surely be a better squad player. Meanwhile Dicksy is back on the coaching staff and Mark Noble has caught an 11-foot shark (who promptly asked Nobes if he could represent him) while fishing in Florida. Oh and congratulations to Andy Carroll and Billi Mucklow who have had a baby son called Arlo. If they've followed the Brooklyn Beckham model, does this mean he was conceived in Harlow?
West Ham 3 FC Lusitans 0 (Europa League Qualifier)
Surely definitive proof that West Ham have the best fans in
the Premier League. What other club would get 34,000 on July 2 for a Europa
League Qualifier? Sadly I’m away in Norfolk for this one as my sister is
visiting from Australia and has foolishly booked her ten days in England
without considering the chance of West Ham qualifying for the Europa League via
the Fair Play league. Very poor planning indeed from the Antipodean section of the family. At least Matt is able to
report from Ken’s Café that Carol has the iced lattes ready and the air
conditioning is on (Billy waving a rolled up copy of the Standard).
Super Slaven Bilic is introduced to the crowd before the game and then takes a seat in the stand. Matt’s texts alleviate any nerves during our curry in Kings
Lynn. “Slowish start. No easy games at this level. At 40 mins I am getting
worried. Diafra then got a header, then a tap in, both made by Zarate.”
Tomkins adds a third in the second half, scored from a Matt
Jarvis cross (when did Matty last get an assist?) to complete the 3-0 win.
There’s also some nice crowd banter aimed at FC Lusitans’ porky coach and another debutant, sub Josh Cullen, hits the bar late on.
Looking at the line-up the Europa League seems a benefit at
this early stage. Sixteen-year-old Reece Oxford has become the youngest player
to ever play for the club, making his debut in midfield. Lewis Page, another
Academy graduate, makes his debut at left back too. Sakho and Tomkins are
returning from injury and need games while the rest of the side consists of
players who didn’t play much last season and should be fresh, in the likes of
Joey O’Brien, Jarvis, Poyet and Amalfitano. There’s also the intriguing
prospect of Mauro Zarate possibly resurrecting his career at the club under a
There’s a little manufactured controversy at the end when
the Lusitans gaffer criticises Slaven Bilic for not taking charge and letting
Academy coach Terry Westley sit on the touchline. In fairness, Westley did do
all the preparation while we were waiting to appoint a manager, so he surely
deserves his moment in the dugout. Now we just have to hope that WHU can survive
the away leg in front of 1000 fanatical Andorrans…