Wednesday, March 22

Wayne's world? Rooney is not the answer

Spy Sports sources claim that West Ham are interested in signing Wayne Rooney in the summer — which is hopefully just TV rumour. Rooney was a great player, but buying someone whose career is on a downward curve smacks too much of a Harry Redknapp-era signing, when Harry was signing older players who might keep us up. Sometimes it worked in the case of Stuart Pearce, other times it failed, as with the lamentable Davor Suker. The other problem with Rooney is that he's played since he was 16 and his body is feeling the pressure now he's 31. Yes, there might be a few goals left in him but if West Ham are serious about getting to the mystical 'next level' then we really need to sign a top class young striker not an ageing star.

Tuesday, March 21

Obiang injury a blow for Hammers

Bad news on the injury front. Antonio has had to withdraw from the England squad with a hamstring injury while Perdro Obiang is out for the rest of the season having been stretchered off against Leicester with a knee injury. Pedro has been quietly efficient in his midfield role this season and the stats show that he's one of the most effective tacklers in the league. Top scorer Antonio might be out for four weeks too. 

But this is where the squad has to kick in. Kouyate can move back to midfield and we have a £20 million striker in Ayew to replace Antonio. Ayew might have missed a great chance against Leicester, but he's improving and has scored three in four games (only one of which he started in). Bilic needs to emphasise that we still need two wins to stay up and there can be no place for complacency or using injuries as an excuse. The squad should be strong enough to get results at places like Hull and Sunderland, but we have to keep fighting until the end of the season.

Monday, March 20

How can Bilic tighten West Ham's defence?

For an ex-defender it’s odd how weak Slaven Bilic's team has been at the back. West Ham have conceded 16 goals in the last seven games and Bilic urgently needs to sort out the defence. There doesn't seem to be a leader at the back so one option would be to give the struggling Jose Fonte a rest and recall James Collins. Ginge might be ageing but he gives orders and makes last-ditch tackles that tend to inspire the men around him. Fonte is a good player, but just hasn't bedded in yet.

There's also the option of playing three centre backs from Reid (if fit), Fonte, Collins and Kouyate, which worked earlier in the season. It would mean sacrificing a midfielder, but we simply can't concede three goals and expect to get anything in the Premier League.


The Hammers are missing the injured Ogbonna and still have problems at right-back, but I think Sam Byram is worth persevering with. He looks like he lacks confidence and needs assistance from the coaching staff. Sam needs help with the defensive side of his game and to be advised when not to bomb down the wing and respect he point (as he should have done at Bournemouth). But he did some good work coming forward against Leicester in the second half and is still a young player. Masuaku also looked decent going forward as a sub and is an option as a sub if Cresswell is out of sorts.

In goal Daren Randolph was caught out by Mahrez's cross and it could also be worth giving Adrian a recall, particularly if the Spaniard is better at organising his defence. Adrian, Reid, Collins and Cresswell all looked solid defenders under Allardyce, so much of the problem must be down to poor organisation. Slaven has to shuffle the team until he gets a clean sheet.


The defence also needs help from the midfield and West Ham need to get back to keeping it tight for the first thirty minutes rather than capitulating as they did against Leicester.

Sunday, March 19

Super Schmeichel defies Hammers

West Ham 2 Leicester City 3

I’m taking Her Indoors to her first game for 20 years, and at Hackney Wick Nicola’s pleasantly surprised to find a German deli and an art gallery café selling chocolate Brownies. Just like Green Street really. We meet the O’Brien clan by the giant bell and then join Nigel, Fraser and Michael in the stadium, along with Matt’s sister’s mate Bob, a West Ham fan over from San Francisco. The PA plays Vera Lynn’s version of Bubbles before the kick-off as the club salutes her 100th birthday.

It’s a terrible start. After five minutes Mahrez crosses and, distracted by Vardy and Okazaki’s leaps, Randolph allows the cross to drift past him. Two minutes later a short free kick confuses the defence and Albrighton chips forward for the unmarked Huth to head home. Our new American Iron Bob is a litigation specialist in San Francisco and contemplates an action against the West Ham defence. Nigel suggests that Vera Lynn could do a better job at the back.

THEY'RE WINNING AWAY 
“How shit must you be, we’re winning away?” chant the Leicester fans,

Winston Reid and Obiang both go off with serious-looking injuries. Nicola, more used to equine sports, asks if players get put out to grass or shot if they don’t recover after ten days. That could spell trouble for Andy Carroll.

West Ham gain a free kick after Antonio is brought down. “It might all look different if this goes in,” I suggest, prompting Nigel to remark that I‘m an eternal optimist. Thankfully Lanzini puts a great effort into the top corner and Nigel’s temporarily converted to a Panglossian worldview.

Two-one would give us a chance at half-time, but the Hammers crumble again as Carroll fails to get his head on a corner and a confused defence allows Vardy to scramble home. Lanzini shoots just wide, but at half-time it’s looking bleak. Losing to a team that hasn't won away all season.

Vardy chips wide at the start of the second half but from then on it’s solid West Ham pressure. Lanzini has another great game and Antonio and Ayew start to trouble the Leicester defence. Byram is effective going forward on the right, though sometimes his final ball betrays a lack of confidence.

Lanzini’s free kick is parried by Schmeichel and from the resulting corner Andy Carroll gets a header in at the back post and sets up Ayew who nods home. Game on. The noise level rises and the crowd sense an equaliser.

The forgotten Arthur Masuaku has come on for Cresswell and has a good attacking game on the left. He plays the ball back for Antonio to cross to Carroll, whose header is goalbound until Schmeichel somehow scrambles it off the line and around the post.

The equaliser should come after a great dribble by Antonio splits the defence and sets up Ayew in front of goal. Somehow he blazes over when any shot on target would have gone in. 

JEEPERS KEEPERS 
West Ham still surge forward. There’s an almighty scramble from a corner as Kouyate has a shot off the line and Carroll gets in a low shot. In added time Ayew is brought down and from the free kick Snodgrass fires into the wall. The ball deflects to Andy Carroll who gets in a shot only for Schmeichel to make an astonishing save with his hand. It’s the old ‘star save’ that his dad Peter used to specialise in.

So it’s no glorious 3-3 comeback and we trek to the King Edward to meet Gavin, reflecting that we scored the best goal of the game but will never win until we start to defend properly. Though Leicester do look to be back to their best and Huth stopped everything. 

Fraser and Michael go to the bar and inform me that the bitter is from the bottom of the barrel. “Not the first time we’ve scraped he barrel today,” quips Michael. Though Nicola’s request for European wine means we’re given glasses rather than plastic skiffs. Michael leaves early for a Vera Lynn tribute concert, muttering, “We’ll score again, don’t know where, don’t know when…”

At home Nicola says she doesn’t know how I go to matches as all that willing the team to score gives you a headache. I explain that as a West Ham fan you get used to the idea that you lose some and you draw some. And apart from deep psychosis it has no long-lasting effects.

Serious improvement is needed to the defence if we’re to get the win or two we need to stay up. We’ve seen a good second half performance and an inspired opposition keeper, but Bilic has a lot of thinking to do during the international break.

PLAYER RATINGS: Randolph 5; Byram 6, Fonte 4, Reid 5 (Snodgrass 6), Cresswell 5 (Masuaku 6); Lanzini 8, Obiang 6 (Fernandes 5), Kouyate 6; Ayew 6, Antonio 6, Carroll 7.

Friday, March 17

Antonio for England

Congratulations to Michail Antonio on his deserved call-up by Gareth Southgate. The BBC website has a good stat. Since making his debut in September 2015 Antonio has scored 17 goals, more than any other West Ham player in the same period. Andy Carroll has scored 15 in the same period while Dimitri Payet only got eight. Or to put it another way he's scored 17 in 65 appearances. That's a pretty astonishing strike rate considering Antonio's spent some of that period playing as a makeshift right back. 

When I was recently on the Stop! Hammer Time podcast host Phil Whelans came up with an interesting theory. He thought that possibly Bilic was so used to playing and managing technically brilliant players like Modric that he thought a trier like Antonio, who could be a mixture of brilliance and clumsiness, didn't belong in a forward line with the likes of Lanzini and Payet, but was better suited to defending. Slaven was proved absolutely wrong on that count of course, and now Antonio is our most important forward player. In fact Antonio is all set to unleash a Tempest against Shakespeare's Leicester. 

Wednesday, March 15

Four Four Two on lack of planning at West Ham

Interesting piece on West Ham in Four Four Two looking at the lack of strategic planning at West Ham. Writer Seb Stafford-Bloor comments: "In the absence of a more considered culture, they appear to have become overly reactionary, with organisational energies sapped by the need to firefight this never-shortening list of issues. There is always either an unhappy player, a crippling squad shortage, or a logistical or PR battle which needs plotting. Progressive clubs tend to radiate calm, logical order, whereas West Ham seem to exist in mild chaos. There is always some kind of drama."

Stafford-Bloor makes some pertinent comments about the leaking of transfer targets, short-term loan deals and the bungled search for a striker last summer, though he's wrong in saying that only Antonio and Winston Reid would be sold at a profit. Cresswell, Kouyate, Obiang, Lanzini and even Carroll (if that Chinese bid was true) might be sold at a profit.

Another point to come out of the article is that the writer has only ever sat in the WHU press box and it's in the worst part of the ground, on the upper tier of the Betway Stand: "The stadium's press box sits high up, almost in the atmosphere, affording a view so detached it's almost voyeuristic. But it's a revealing perspective: it shows the gaps between the tiers and the incongruous details which were likely never considered during the planning phase." With hindsight, the new stadium would surely have received less bad press if the press box had been in a lower tier or in the unified East Stand.

To see the whole feature click on the link, it's worth a read. 

Monday, March 13

Jose Fonte still bedding in to West Ham defence

Jose Fonte is a good player but hasn't reached anything like the form he's capable of since arriving at West Ham. In his six games so far West Ham have conceded 11 goals, four against Man City, one against Southampton, two against West Brom, one at Watford, two against Chelsea and three at Bournemouth. He didn't have a great game at Dean Court; he could have been a bit quicker for King's opener, though it was a great flick from the striker, and clipped Pugh's shin to concede a penalty. We also thought he might be more of an organiser at the back.

It would be unfair to be too critical of Fonte though. It will take time to establish a partnership with Winston Reid and bed into a new defence. Some of his problems have been caused by the lack of an established right back, with Kouyate being played out of position and Byram looking good going forward but vulnerable at the back.

Southampton fans rate their former captain very highly and he's been up through the top three divisions with them. Fonte played in a team that finished sixth last season and was a European Championship winner, so has to be a very good player. But while he's settling in might he benefit from playing in a back five alongside Reid and Kouyate or Collins with Byram and Cresswell as attacking wing backs? Hopefuly the best of Fonte is yet to come.

Sunday, March 12

Defensive lapses undo Hammers

Bournemouth 3 West Ham 2

So we're playing a team that hasn't won in 2017 — what could possibly go wrong? Clearly it's very disappointing to score twice away from home and still lose. Having equalised late on it should have been a case of respect the point. But sub Byram was caught overlapping and on the counter attack as Ayew gave the ball away. Jack Wllshere caused the damage as King stroked home after Randolph had saved the Arsenal loanee's shot. 

There were some positives for the Hammers going forwards. Lanzini played well again and Feghouli was busy, setting up Antonio's opener, which was a fine turn and shot. The equaliser was also a great goal. Obiang found Byram with a superb ball and the right back did well to pull it back for Ayew to tap home. Feghouli's shot also inspired a great stop with his foot from Boruc. 

But there were big problems at the back. There wasn't too much Fonte could do about King's bit of skill for the first, but it was woeful marking from a set piece for the Cherries' second, even if there was a claim for handball. If you add this to the fact that Bournemouth missed two penalties after rash challenges by Feghouli and Fonte then it could have been 5-2. A big improvement is needed defensively against Leicester.

Saturday, March 11

I just don't think he understands

Dimitri Payet will have even fewer friends in East London after his latest statement to L'Equipe. He seems to be blaming his departure on West Ham's defensive formation, telling the paper that his career was going backwards: “I had no desire to play in the lower reaches of the Premier League. The defensive system that we put in place did not give me any pleasure. With a 5-4-1 in front of our box, I could have had all the freedom in the world, so it’s difficult for me to explain. You could say that I was pissed off, yes. I worked hard in every game without taking any pleasure. You could say I was bored."

Which rather ignores the fact that the club did so well playing with only one striker last season. There was plenty of attacking intent earlier this season, it was just undermined by the lack of an in-form striker and the stadium change. Not to mention that his relationship with the fans was like "a love affair." Nor does he take any responsibility for his own performances dropping off. You could understand Payet wanting to play for an elite club, but there is no excuse for striking or telling us he's bored on £120,000 a week. Let's hope he keeps quiet for the rest of the season. 

Thursday, March 9

Above Head Height scores with tales of faded shirts and middle-aged dreamers

For those of us who have spent much of our lives playing five-a-side while pretending to be Billy Bonds or Julian Dicks, there’s much to enjoy in Above Head Height, James Brown’s memoir of the not-so beautiful game, 

The former Loaded and GQ editor neatly captures the world of smelly socks, bags behind goals, people who run like cartoon characters and middle-aged men in faded replica shirts scrambling over fences and up netting to retrieve lost balls. Brown realises that he’s spent 30-odd years playing five-a-side with men whom he knows very little about beyond their on-pitch personas. It’s a world of characters called Old Geoff, Big Ben, Little John, Sunderland Graham, Charlton Dave and Derby Dave’s brother Andy.

The book contains the odd celebrity anecdote but not too many, such as playing football with the Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones in California. There’s a personal story too — the game has certainly helped James following the excesses of the 1990s and he’s now given up alcohol and drugs, instead relying on a fix of tarmac, AstroTurf and wooden gym floors at his Spitalfields of glory.

A lot of this stuff seems familiar; the realisation of a middle-aged man that he’s now got an upturned wok stuffed down his jumper, the desperate attempts to play through injury and his pride at playing with his son. He’s also very good on the seemingly endless street games of childhood headers and volleys while growing up in Leeds and the unsung characters who organise games for decades, keeping payment records and tattered books of phone numbers while always trying to get the numbers even.

Above Head Height should appeal to anyone who's gone home on the tube in a football kit. It’s a book that celebrates the joy of socks and scores after a one-two off the boards. Click on the link for details. 

Wednesday, March 8

Support needed for Andy Carroll

Looking back at Monday's game it seems we still need more support for Andy Carroll. West Ham got in 13 crosses in the half hour before Hazard scored, but Carroll was always tightly marked by the three centre-backs. West Ham lack a Plan B when the aerial bombardment doesn't work, the default option being to give the ball to Lanzini. Antonio certainly enhanced his reputation through not playing and has to be fitted back in the side, either as a second striker, wideman or wing back. 

There's also a case for starting with Andre Ayew at Bournemouth (he was a little unlucky not to get in the side after scoring at Watford) in a deep-lying striker role alongside Andy if Antonio plays wide. Assuming Lanzini is kept as our main playmaker that would mean dropping Feghouli and/or Snodgrass or possibly Noble, though Slaven is unlikely to depose his captain. Obiang certainly played well against Chelsea despite inadvertently making the Costa goal with his back header and deserves to keep his place. 

And then there's the problem of what to do with Kouyate, whether to retain him as an emergency right-back, or restore him to central defence or midfield. If you add in Byram and Collins as options we have 15 players contesting 11 positions, which is not a bad situation for Bilic to be in.

Tuesday, March 7

Game Hammers succumb to classy Chelsea

West Ham 1 Chelsea 2

It’s in to the Clyde Best Café for egg, chips and beans with my old schoolmate Mark and Matt and Lisa. Then there’s a rendezvous with Roz and Joe via a teeming H block to dispense Steve the Cornish Postman’s ticket. Fraser’s absent visiting his agent, threatening to dispense an Ibrahimovic-like elbow unless he publishes his western blockbuster, while Nigel’s on time and tells us he’s taken CQ on a Valentine’s date to Eastleigh v Braintree.

There’s an early scare as Andy Carroll goes down with a cut face after a clash of heads with Victor Moses, but like the Black Knight, he declares it’s just a scratch. Several Chelsea players go down but for once there’s no cry of “get up you tart!"— the very angry chap behind us has seemingly gone AWOL along with Alison and Scott.

It’s a good first half hour from West Ham. Obiang gets in some good tackles and Cresswell and Snodgrass, who is playing more as a conventional winger without Antonioin the side, get in a series of crosses aimed at Andy Carroll. But Cahill are Azpilicueta are solid and David Luiz has a brilliant game at the back, seeming to stroll through the match.

HAZARD WARNING
West Ham get a free kick that Snodgrass fires into the wall. Snoddy’s pass to Feghouli is intercepted by Kante, who releases Hazard. The revitalised Chelsea man plays a quick one-two with Pedro, beats Obiang for speed, rounds Randolph and scores a quality goal. It took eight seconds.  A bald bloke has got on the pitch and tried to attack the celebrating Hazard and Luiz, but is thankfully contained by stewards. We didn’t realise Fraser had shaved his head.

West Ham keep fighting and Lanzini fires over when well-placed. But Chelsea almost double their lead when another speedy Hazard break sees Cresswell block one goal bound shot and Randolph make a fine save from the rebound.

The game seems over after 50 minutes. A Chelsea corner flicks off Obiang’s head and Reid has let Costa get goal-side as Desperate Dan thighs it over the line. A cheap goal to give away.

“We’re gonna win the league!” chant the away fans, along with praise for big Fat Frankie Lampard and the metaphysical, "you sold your soul for this shithole!" Chelsea do look like likely champions. Kante wins everything in front of the defence and Hazard and Pedro threaten every time they break. Their three subs are Matic, Willian and Zouma, which tells you about the strength of their squad.

MANUEL'S LATE CONSOLATION
But credit to West Ham for keeping going. Andy Carroll fires over, and then Snodgrass gets in a low cross from the left and Courtois has to make a fine stop from Feghouli’s drive, and from the melee there’s an appeal for handball. Feghouli gets in another cross that Fonte heads just over. At the other end Costa draws a great save from Randolph.

Nigel and his lucky banana
Nigel wonders if it's too late to eat his lucky banana. It all looks over, only deep in added time sub Ayew finds Lanzini who finishes well in a half-deserted stadium. There’s only a minute left and you want West Ham to equalise just to prove to the part-timers that you should never leave a match before the end.

But there’s not enough time and Chelsea get their points. We’re all slightly relieved that the scoreline makes it look a closer game than it was, even if the Hammers did have 52 per cent of the possession.

So it’s a trek back to Stratford over the crowded railway bridge and into the King Edward for some Doombar. Matt dispenses copies of When Saturday Comes and Nigel reveals that he’s been to a Procol Harum gig at the RFH where singer Gary Brooker skipped off stage and fall and hurt his head, only to gamely play on in a bandage like a musical Andy Carroll. I wonder if he turned a whiter shade of pale.

It’s a game that rather sums up our season. We can’t take a big name scalp but we can beat the middle-rankers. Still, it was no disgrace to lose to the likely champions and had we pulled one back earlier we might even have had them worried. And on a positive note there was no major crowd trouble and Carroll got through 90 minutes.


PLAYER RATINGS: Randolph 7; Kouyate 5; Reid 5 (Byram 5), Fonte 5, Cresswell 6; Feghouli 6 (Ayew 5), Noble 6 (Fernandes 5), Lanzini 7, Obiang 6, Snodgrass 6; Carroll 5.

Monday, March 6

Snoddy available after baby seat-gate

Robert Snodgrass is available to play against Chelsea after baby seat-gate. He's not been arrested after a police warrant was issued, but is required to attend another court hearing in Glasgow. He told the Sun: "It was just a misunderstanding. I didn't realise I had to be present in court. It's not a big issue and will be resolved in due course."
Meanwhile there's been much press coverage of the likelihood of a repeat of the trouble against Chelsea in the League cup tie and you do wish the papers would be more accurate. The Guardian reports there was "fighting" against Chelsea, which isn't strictly true. There was bad behaviour, posturing and missile throwing, but it seems to have been forgotten that the security line did hold. There's been no trouble in the nine home games since and hopefully the bigger gaps, adapted exits, better stewarding and larger police presence will work tonight.

Sunday, March 5

One for Walker's World…

Where's Jimmy Walker when you need him? If our former keeper was still writing Walker's World he might have enjoyed some of the dodgy gear worn during the premiere of Iron Men at the Genesis Cinema. In particular Jimmy might have thought that Andy Carroll was 'having himself' with his pink Chelsea boots and ripped jeans. Robert Snodgrass (pre-babyseat-gate) and Aaron Cresswell are certainly having a laugh at Andy's footwear in the pictures. While James Collins with his flat cap, grey jumper and bushy beard looks rather like a brilliant but temperamental modern artist. Over to you Jimmy.

Saturday, March 4

Snoddy wanted by Mr Plod

Just when the season seemed to be going smoothly again… Robert Snodgrass could miss the Chelsea match as a warrant for his arrest has been issued by Glasgow police. Snodgrass had been charged with allegedly allowing a passenger in his car to carry a baby without using a baby seat. He didn't turn up for the court case because he didn't think he had to according to his defence lawyer, which hasn't gone down well with the court. And now it's more baby blues for Snoddy as the Scottish Old Bill would like a word. Just another normal day at West Ham.

Friday, March 3

Feghouli coming to terms with the Premier League

Sitting in row D at Watford we had a good view of Sofiane Feghouli. He was up against a giant defence, but encouragingly he seems to be adapting to the physical demands of the Premier League. He was always involved on the right flank, won several free kicks and looked up for a battle, even when he was getting kicked. One encouraging moment in the first half saw him win the ball back against his full back and then cross for Snodgrass to get in a shot that was blocked. The French-born Algerian was labelled "the new Zidane" when he was a youngster at Grenoble. He's clearly not as good as Zidane and his control can still let him down, but since the departure of Payet there's been a steady improvement with two goals and an assist for Lanzini's second against WBA. Feghouli is a player who thrives on confidence and is starting to look like he believes he belongs in the Premier League

Thursday, March 2

The Back of Row Z

Just started a general football blog The Back of Row Z containing my ramblings on topical events. It's covered Ranieri, Ibrahimovic, Mourinho, Wenger's duvet coat and Peter Crouch so far. Click on the link to have a butcher's.

Wednesday, March 1

Carroll's Chinese whispers

Last night's Evening Standard claims that West Ham turned down offers from three Chinese clubs for Andy Carroll before the Chinese transfer window closed yesterday. The Chinese league is certainly throwing ridiculous amounts of money at Premier League stars, paying £50 million for the likes of Oscar. Obviously every player has his price, but West Ham are still bizarrely dependent on the injury-prone Andy. Of his main rivals, Valencia ended up on loan at Everton and being chased by police Wacky Races-style as he was stretchered off in an Ecuador World Cup qualifier. Sakho's back went for a whole season and Zaza was returned to sender, only to score a belter against Real Madrid. 

It's hard to believe that Carroll is in his fifth season with West Ham during which we've finished 10th, 14th, 12th, 7th and hopefully top half this time. Yet apart from his first loan spell, every season has been hugely disrupted by injury. But there's still that nagging sense that sometime he might actually have an injury-free season and be different class. We've seen how good he can be during his recent spell of six goals in eight games, and with the club's terrible record of buying strikers, it's right to hold on to Carroll, whatever the state of his groin niggles, ankles, knees, neck and heels.