You couldn’t really ask for two more contrasting matches. A really classy Czech side brought England crashing down to earth in a terrific performance. Between the two games, despite the respective score-lines, I believe that the Czech game will prove a far more useful one than the, men against boys, affair served up in Bulgaria last night.
It’s lovely to see a team ping the ball around so confidently however what did we, and the England players, really learn in Sofia? No doubt the thrashing dished out will consign the poor performance in Prague to the backs of the minds of the England media but I certainly hope that it doesn’t have the same effect on England’s team management because there’s far more to learn. So poor were the Bulgarians that no conclusions about where England are up to can be drawn up in any way. It really is like comparing night and day. Despite the fact that the England shape looked much better, and defensive organisation much improved, the huge gulf in quality between the two opponent teams means that no meaningful conclusions can be drawn when comparing the two matches. To quote Clive Tyldesley at full time “One or two of the questions that were asked of his (Gareth Southgate’s) team’s performance in Prague on Friday have been answered against a weak Bulgarian team.” Are you sure? I couldn’t disagree more strongly.
Bringing the discussion back to West Ham I reflected on the poor balance to the starting line-up in the deep lying midfield area. Despite the fact that Gareth Southgate has learned and grown in recent matches I felt that the most obvious lack of balance was at the CDM position. Perhaps, tactically, Southgate had considered the most effective formation to take the Czech Republic on with but Henderson and Rice are simply too similar. In his pre match ITV snippet ahead of the Bulgaria game GS stated that he had gone with more experience so I can understand why Henderson was selected and, yes, it seemed to work far better. I just hope that it’s not a sign of things to come. One thing I’ve really enjoyed since the ex-Middlesbrough, and England U21, manager has taken over has been the introduction of many young players to the mix. Along with, practically, all of his team-mates Declan had a bad day at the office on Friday night. How much of that was down to him and Henderson doing the same job in the same position is open to debate but I’m convinced that it really didn’t help. Over the last two weeks I’ve listened to many negative opinions of Declan from fans of other clubs. When in conversation with some of those fans I found myself defending the youngster by pointing out his consistently good performances for West Ham – shifts that I’ve witnessed myself. Every match this year, IMO, he’s been excellent. I’m aware that some thought he was poor against Palace but that’s not what I saw. Outside of his handball mistake I thought he played very well to curb many of Palace’s quick counter attacks.
I’m not going to say too much about the racist chants heard from the stands in the Basil Levski National Stadium last night other than to completely condemn those who took part. It is, at least, a little encouraging to see UEFA take a slightly more proactive role in cutting this disgusting behaviour out but, for me, it’s still not enough and much tougher sanctions should be meted out by Europe’s governing football body. There’s still a long way to go to kick racism out of football and the officials need to play their part in making it happen.
A great win this weekend for the West Ham ladies away to Brighton. September Goal Of The Month contender, Martha Thomas, put the Ironesses one up with a clinical finish before French International, Kenza Dali, and Alisha Lehmann made it three nil to the Cockney Girls. A late consolation made the final score three – one which saw the Ladies climb the table up to sixth place. There’s a clear top three in WSL at present, with big spending Arsenal, Man City and Chelsea vying for dominance at the top of the league, however I genuinely think there’s an excellent chance of a fourth place finish come the end of the season. One of the best football outings I’ve ever attended was the F.A. Cup Semi-Final at Adams Park last season so I’d love the West Ham Women to put another excellent cup run together this term so that we can enjoy another great occasion. With any luck, this time, the F.A. might also schedule the latter rounds much more sensibly, without mens fixture clashes, so that season ticket holders and other men’s match day attendees can go and shout the ladies on as well.
Welcome to the latest in a series of articles designed for international matches – a look back at former Hammers players who wore the Three Lions of England.
Today, with England facing Bulgaria in Euro 2020 qualifying in Sofia this evening, we look back at a former Hammers and England midfielder. Scott Parker was born in Lambeth on 13th October 1980; a Lilleshall graduate, Parker was the 13-year-old keepie-uppie star of a McDonalds advert during the 1994 World Cup. He began his professional career at Charlton, making his debut in 1997; he also had a brief loan spell with Norwich in 2000. Parker made his full England debut under Sven-Goran Eriksson in a 3-2 defeat to Denmark in a friendly at Old Trafford on 16th November 2003.
Parker, who had been consistently linked with moves away from Charlton for several years, finally left the Valley just before the January transfer deadline in 2004 to join Chelsea on a four-and-a-half-year contract for a fee of £10m after a protracted and acrimonious transfer saga. Parker was initially signed to compete with Claude Makelele and Frank Lampard but did not get too many opportunities to play in his preferred position. He scored his only goal for Chelsea in a 2-0 win against Portsmouth at Fratton Park on 11th February 2004. Parker won his second England cap in a 1-0 friendly defeat to Sweden on 31st March 2004 and was named as the PFA Young Player of the Year at the end of the 2003/04 season.
Following the summer signings of Arjen Robben and Tiago Mendes, Parker’s first team opportunities were extremely limited during the 2004/05 season, although he was a regular starter in Chelsea’s League Cup matches, a competition where he played in three consecutive victories against West Ham, Newcastle and Fulham. His difficulties were compounded when he broke a metatarsal in a game against Norwich. Parker consequently missed both legs of the League Cup semi-final against Manchester United and the final against Liverpool, although he was awarded a winner’s medal during the trophy presentation. Chelsea went on to won the title for the first time in 50 years –having made only four league appearances for Chelsea during the season, he did not receive a Premier League winner’s medal as he did not make the required ten appearances to be eligible, though Chelsea did have a replica medal made. After scoring one goal in 28 matches in all competitions for the Blues, but having found first team opportunities hard to come by, Parker signed for Newcastle in July 2005 for £6.5m.
Scott became a regular in the Newcastle first team and was one of the few players at the club to show any consistency during an often difficult 2005/06 season in which the Magpies finished in seventh place, despite suffering a poor start under Graeme Souness. His first Newcastle goal came against his former club Charlton in a 3-1 defeat on 25th March 2006. Later that month he was diagnosed with glandular fever, putting an end to his season. The timing was especially unfortunate for Parker; he had been playing well but the illness ended any hopes he may have had of forcing his way into the England squad for the 2006 World Cup.
New manager Glenn Roeder named Parker as his captain In July 2006, succeeding the retired Alan Shearer. Despite Newcastle’s poor form, his performances earned him a recall to the England squad after an absence of more than two years – Steve McClaren gave Parker his third cap in a 2-0 European Championship qualifying defeat to Croatia in Zagreb on 11th October 2006. After six goals in 73 matches for Newcastle, Parker left for West Ham United to be reunited with his former Charlton manager, Alan Curbishley, in a £7m deal in the summer of 2007.
Injury played a large part in Parker’s early career in east London, with the midfielder unable to make his debut until a League Cup win over Plymouth at the Boleyn Ground in late September. Three days later Parker was injured again during a home defeat to Arsenal and ruled out for a further two months. His first goal for the club came three days before Christmas, the last-minute winner in West Ham’s first ever victory at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium.
Parker’s second goal for the club was over a year later, from close range in a 2-1 defeat at Bolton in February 2009, by which time Gianfranco Zola had taken over from Curbishley. His season was ended by injury the following month but he had still done enough to win the 2008/09 Hammer of the Year prize. The Irons struggled in 2009/10 and were second bottom of the Premier League when Parker was sent off for two yellow cards in the 2-2 home draw with Arsenal in October. His first goal of that season was a stunning, dipping half-volley from distance to bring the Hammers level at the home of his old club Chelsea in March, although the match would ultimately be lost 4-1. His only other goal that season was infinitely more significant, the winner in a tense 3-2 victory over Wigan on 24th April which secured the Hammers’ survival – Parker’s sensational 77th-minute strike from 25 yards was followed by an emotionally-charged celebration. Two weeks later, he would become the first player to retain the Hammer of the Year trophy since Julian Dicks in 1997.
A 17th-placed finish in 2009/10 resulted in Zola being replaced by Avram Grant and the Hammers would endure a turbulent 2010/11 campaign. Parker was the bright light shining in the east end gloom as he displayed the fight, determination and character sadly lacking in many of his team-mates – he was often mistaken as the club’s captain by an inattentive national media. This was epitomised by his best goalscoring season during his time with the club, Parker opening with three goals in his first six games (the injury-time winner against Oxford in the League Cup, a wonderfully-lofted volley in a 3-1 defeat to Chelsea and a scrambled effort in a 1-1 draw at Stoke). Another three-goals-in-six-games spell followed in October/November as he scored a late headed equaliser in a 3-1 extra-time win over the Potters in the League Cup, struck a thunderbolt in a 2-2 draw with West Brom and grabbed the clincher in a 3-1 win over Wigan.
On 9th February 2011, he became the first England player to receive his first four full caps whilst playing for four different teams, coming on as a second-half substitute for Frank Lampard in a 2-1 friendly win for Fabio Capello’s England against Denmark in Copenhagen. Parker was to score once more for the Hammers that season, a beautifully-executed effort with the outside of his right foot from the edge of the area in a 3-1 home victory over Liverpool in late February. The following month, he played in a 0-0 draw at Tottenham hours after the death of his father. He also started in England’s 2-0 European Championship qualification victory over Wales at the Millennium Stadium on 26th March 2011. Parker would again be crowned Hammer of the Year, the only player other than Sir Trevor Brooking to claim the award three seasons in a row. He was also named as the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year, an incredible feat considering his club were relegated in bottom place. In doing so, he became the second Hammer to win the award, following in the footsteps of the great Bobby Moore.
Parker won his sixth England cap, and his third whilst a Hammer, in a 2-2 Wembley draw with Switzerland in Euro 2012 qualification on 4th June 2011. He started West Ham’s 2011/12 Championship campaign, notching one goal in four league appearances, this coming in a 4-0 win at Watford. His final appearance in claret and blue came in a 2-2 draw with Leeds at Upton Park on 21st August 2011. At the age of 30, Parker knew he may only have one opportunity left to play in an international tournament and, with Euro 2012 on the horizon, was aware that he would have to be playing Premier League football. With his children in school in the local area, Parker opted to remain in London and signed for close rivals Tottenham for a fee of £5.5m. Parker made 129 appearances for West Ham in all competitions, scoring 12 goals – all 12 of these goals can be viewed on the WHTID social media pages.
Parker was named Tottenham’s Player of the Year in his first season with the club, playing in 29 league matches as the club finished fourth but were denied Champions League qualification as Chelsea won that competition and would compete as holders despite finishing sixth in the Premier League. Parker’s move to Spurs paid off in that he cemented his England place, being named Man of the Match in a friendly against European and World champions Spain in November 2011 and appearing as captain of his country against the Netherlands in February 2012. He was also voted by his peers into the PFA’s Premier League Team of the Year for 2011/12 and was voted by supporters as England’s Player of the Year for 2011. Parker started all four matches at Euro 2012 as England made the quarter-finals; he won his 18th and final England cap in an 8-0 World Cup qualifying win in San Marino on 22nd March 2013. After 63 matches without scoring for Tottenham, he was on the move to Fulham in August 2013 – he retired in the summer of 2017. Parker, who turned 39 yesterday, is now the manager at Craven Cottage.
Scott Parker, disappointingly, received a mixed reception when he returned to Upton Park as a Tottenham player in February 2013. I was one of the many, however, who gave him a standing ovation when he left the field that night, remembering his four years of exceptional service rather than focusing on the club he left us for. For me, Parker was a perfect picture of passion, perseverance and pirouettes and I am sure he will be long remembered as a West Ham United great. I wish Super Scotty all the very best in his role at Fulham.
Bulgaria v England
England face Bulgaria tonight in a Euro 2020 qualifier – it will be the 12th meeting between the two nations. Parker played in the previous match between the two on Bulgarian soil – a 3-0 win for England in a Euro 2012 qualifier in front of 36,521 on 2nd September 2011. Olly Murs featuring Rizzle Kicks was number one with ‘Heart Skips A Beat’, The Inbetweeners Movie topped the UK box office and, the following evening, the first episode of The Jonathan Ross Show aired on ITV, just over a year after the presenter’s departure from the BBC.
Future Hammers Joe Hart and Stewart Downing joined Parker in Fabio Capello’s starting line-up two days after the midfielder had signed for Tottenham; former Iron Frank Lampard Junior also made an appearance from the bench. Manchester United’s Chris Smalling made his England debut at right-back. 25-year-old Bolton centre-half Gary Cahill was off the mark for his first England goal after 13 minutes, guiding home a clipped ball from Gareth Barry.
Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney rose to head home Downing’s 21st-minute corner and then rounded off a sweeping counter-attack involving Theo Walcott and Ashley Young to wrap up the victory seconds before the break for his 28th goal in his 71st international appearance.
Bulgaria: Nikolay Mihaylov (Twente), Petar Zanev (Litex Lovech), Ivan Bandalovski (CSKA Sofia), Ivan Ivanov (Partizan Belgrade) Nikolay Bodurov (Litex Lovech), Zhivko Milanov (Vaslui), Blagoy Georgiev (Terek Grozny), Stiliyan Petrov (captain, Aston Villa), Ivelin Popov (Gaziantepspor), Martin Petrov (Bolton), Tsvetan Genkov (Wisla Krakow).
Subs: Georgi Sarmov (Kasimpasa) for Bandalovski; Georgi Bozhilov (Cherno More) for Genkov, Marquinhos (Anorthosis Famagusta) for Popov.
England: Joe Hart (Man City), Chris Smalling (Man Utd), Gary Cahill (Bolton), John Terry (captain, Chelsea), Ashley Cole (Chelsea), Scott Parker (Tottenham), Gareth Barry (Man City), Theo Walcott (Arsenal), Ashley Young (Man Utd), Stewart Downing (Liverpool), Wayne Rooney (Man Utd).
Subs: James Milner (Man City) for Young, Frank Lampard Junior (Chelsea) for Barry, Adam Johnson (Man City) for Walcott.
With England’s upcoming match against the Czech Republic on Friday, here’s the second part of my look back at the Hammers’ Czech contingent.
Tomas Repka was born in Slavicin, Czechoslovakia on 2nd January 1974 – he began his professional career with Banik Ostrava in 1991 and made his sole appearance for Czechoslovakia in 1993. He joined Sparta Prague in 1995, having already made his first appearance for the Czech Republic, and moved to Italy’s Serie A with Fiorentina in 1998. He missed Euro ’96 through suspension but did play for his country in Euro 2000. He won 46 caps for the Czech Republic between 1994 and 2001, scoring once.
The 27-year-old Repka signed for Glenn Roeder’s West Ham United in September 2001 for a club record £5.5m after team-mate Alessandro Pierini failed to secure his own switch from Florence to east London. Repka was sent off on his debut in a 2-0 defeat at Middlesbrough on 15th September 2001 and was sent off again in his third appearance for his new club, a 7-1 defeat at Blackburn. He made 34 appearances, mostly at centre-back, as the Irons finished seventh. He was part of a porous Hammers backline which played a large part in the club’s relegation in 2002/03 – Repka was sent off for a third time in claret and blue in a 1-1 home draw with Fulham on Boxing Day 2002.
Repka gradually reverted to the right-back position under Alan Pardew, making 47 appearances as the Hammers failed to secure promotion at the first time of asking in 2003/04. He was red-carded again on 5th March 2005 for a first-half headbutt with the Hammers already trailing at home to Preston and desperate for points in their hunt for a play-off place – the match would be lost 2-1. Promotion was eventually secured via the play-offs as Repka returned to the Premier League with the Irons. He left the club midway through the 2005/06 season – his last appearance for the club coming in a 2-1 home win over Fulham on 23rd January 2006. He had played 188 games for the club without scoring, been sent off four times and booked on 53 occasions.
Repka returned to his homeland, rejoining Sparta Prague. He remained there for five years before joining Dynamo Ceske Budejovice. He ended his career with a brief spell at Hvozdnice. Now 45, Repka is currently in jail for a combination of offences, including fraud and driving under the influence.
Pavel Srnicek was born in Ostrava, Czechoslovakia on 10th March 1968 – the son of a woodcutter, he started his working life with a period of service in the Czechoslovak People’s Army. The goalkeeper began his footballing career with Banik Ostrava in 1990, replacing a certain Ludek Miklosko who had just moved to England to sign for West Ham United. ‘Ludo’ featured in Part 1 of my Czech connections, which can be viewed here.
The 22-year-old Srnicek signed for Jim Smith’s Newcastle in January 1991 for £350,000 and made 179 appearances for the club. He rejoined hometown club Banik Ostrava, playing six matches, before returning to England to sign for Sheffield Wednesday in October 1998. He remained at Hillsborough until the summer of 2000 when he moved to Italy, signing for Brescia. He stayed with the club for three years before a brief spell with Cosenza. Srnicek also won 49 caps for the Czech Republic and started all of his country’s matches at Euro 2000.
Srnicek returned to England in September 2003, signing for Harry Redknapp’s Portsmouth. The 35-year-old Srnicek joined West Ham United, initially on loan in February 2004, as cover for Stephen Bywater after the departure of David James to Manchester City. When Bywater was sent off at Millwall with the Hammers 3-1 down, Srnicek’s first action as a substitute was to see Tim Cahill fire a penalty off target. He could do nothing about Millwall’s fourth in their 4-1 win with his hapless fellow Czech, the aforementioned Tomas Repka, at fault for Nick Chadwick’s goal.
Srnicek made his move to the Boleyn Ground permanent on a free transfer and made his first start against Derby on 10th April 2004 – he kept a clean sheet in his only Upton Park appearance for the club in an Easter Saturday goalless draw. His third and final appearance for West Ham United came in a 1-0 defeat at Crystal Palace two days later. He left the club in the summer of 2004, moving to Portugal where he spent two years with Beira-Mar.
Former Hammers boss and then-Newcastle manager Glenn Roeder took the 38-year-old Srnicek back to Tyneside in 2006 – he played two matches to take his Magpies total to 181 appearances. After retiring, Srnicek began the Srnicek School of Goalkeeping in the Czech Republic, offering youngsters from around the world the opportunity to learn from his coaching. He was also involved in a number of charity organisations. Srnicek also joined the coaching staff at Sparta Prague in January 2012. A regular visitor to the North East after his retirement from playing, Srnicek returned to Tyneside in December 2015 to promote his autobiography, Pavel is a Geordie, named after the song the Newcastle faithful sang for him.
Just weeks after visiting his former club, Srnicek suffered a cardiac arrest while out jogging in his native Ostrava on 20th December 2015. He was put into an induced coma but sadly passed away nine days later at the age of 47. Srnicek’s funeral was held in his hometown on 4th January 2016, with his former Newcastle understudy Steve Harper and Czech team-mate Pavel Nedved among the mourners.
Jan Lastuvka was born on 7th July 1982 in Havirov and began his career with Karvina before moving to Banik Ostrava in 2000. He signed for Ukrainian club Shakhtar Donetsk in 2004 and spent the 2006/07 season on loan at Fulham. A goalkeeper, Lastuvka spent the following season on loan at German side VfL Bochum, making 64 appearances, before spending the the 2008/09 season on loan at West Ham United, with whom he played one match under Gianfranco Zola, a 1-0 League Cup third round defeat at Watford on 23rd September 2008. The only goal of the game came when Lastuvka rashly raced off his line to claim a high ball, missed it and then watched it rebound into the net off the unfortunate Hayden Mullins.
The 27-year-old Lastuvka left Shakhtar permanently in the summer of 2009 to sign for Ukrainian rivals Dnipro. He won three senior caps for the Czech Republic whilst with Dnipro, and was part of their Euro 2012 squad. He returned to first club Karvina in 2016 and joined Slavia Prague a year later. Now 37, Lastuvka is currently at Banik Ostrava, who he rejoined last year.
Radoslav Kovac was born in Sumperk, Czechoslovakia on 27th November 1979 – he came through the ranks at Sigma Olomouc and made his debut in 1997. He joined Sparta Prague in 2003 and made his first appearance for the Czech Republic in 2004, before moving to Spartak Moscow in 2005. He represented his country at the World Cup in 2006 and at Euro 2008, winning 30 caps in total between 2004 and 2009, and scoring two goals.
The 29-year-old Kovac signed for Gianfranco Zola’s West Ham United on loan in January 2009. A defensive midfielder, he made his debut in a 2-0 FA Cup fifth round replay defeat at Middlesbrough on 25th February 2009 and scored his first goal for the club – a cracking long-range strike – in a 3-1 defeat at Everton on 16th May 2009. He joined the Hammers in a permanent move three months later. Kovac was sent off in a 2-2 draw at Sunderland on Hallowe’en 2009 but scored a match-clinching header in a 2-0 triumph over Portsmouth at Upton Park on Boxing Day two months later.
Kovac scored a crucial goal, again a header, in the 3-2 victory over Wigan which secured the Hammers’ survival towards the end of a turbulent 2009/10 season – his last appearance for the club came as a substitute under Avram Grant in a 3-1 win at Blackpool on 2nd February 2011. He had played 62 games for the club, scoring three goals, all of which can be viewed in my video below.
Kovac signed for Swiss side Basel in the summer of 2011, with whom he won a league and cup double, but returned to his homeland with Slovan Liberec the following year. He ended his career with a spell back at Sparta Prague between 2013 and 2016 – he is now 39.
Marek Stech was born on 28th January 1990 in Prague and began his career as a trainee with Sparta Prague before moving to West Ham United at the age of 16 in August 2006. After loan spells with Wycombe and Bournemouth, the goalkeeper made his Hammers debut under Avram Grant aged 20 on 24th August 2010 in a 1-0 League Cup second round win over Oxford at Upton Park – he went on to play in the 2-1 third round win at Sunderland and the 3-1 fourth round win over Stoke at the Boleyn on 27th October 2010. This third appearance was also his last for the club as Robert Green replaced him for the quarter-final win over Manchester United in a snowy east London. Stech has the distinction of a 100% winning record in a West Ham shirt.
Loan spells at Yeovil and Leyton Orient followed before he signed for Yeovil permanently in 2012. He won promotion to the Championship via the League One play-offs in 2013 and earned his first (and currently only) senior cap for the Czech Republic a year later, shortly before he returned to his homeland by signing for Sparta Prague. He signed for League Two Luton in 2017 and was named in the PFA League Two Team of the Year at the end of his first season, which culminated in promotion. Now 29, Stech is still at Luton, who are now in the Championship.
If you want to learn how to deal with disappointment, then become a West Ham fan. I went to the game against Crystal Palace full of enthusiasm. I left feeling like a sucker, having been drawn in to believe that this season is going to be quite different to any other.
So, how do we deal with disappointment? Firstly, we need to put things in perspective. Many sporting events are decided on the narrowest of margins. A four hour tennis match can end on a single deciding point. A three day golf tournament decided on a single putt. England won the cricket world cup on an incorrect decision by the umpires awarding England six overthrows instead of five. A football hitting an arm because a player got himself in the wrong position. A player judged onside by VAR by a couple of centimetres.
Let’s be constructive and positive. Firstly, we need to congratulate Roberto. We held our breathe every time he touched the ball, but he came through unscathed. He must have been under enormous pressure and perhaps he will settle in quite well in the future. Of the other players, none played badly. Perhaps, Anderson and Lanzini weren’t at their best, but Haller was sharp, the two full backs were pretty good and Rice was solid.
Secondly, try to concentrate on something positive. I went to the game with my eldest son and my grandson and afterwards, we went to a Toby Carvery and it was great to share disappointment with three generations of the family. At the Toby Carvery, you can rely on the meat and vegetables being consistent whichever and whenever you visit a branch. Quite a contrast to the West Ham team. By the way, it would take an average employee at Toby Carvery three years to earn what each West Ham player earn this week . This might be grounds for marching on the Bastille again.
Others would cheer themselves up by reflecting on what is happening to Spurs, where there is a total collapse of confidence. Or Manchester United. Even Manchester City had a hiccup this weekend.
This kind of disappointment is totally beyond our control. We may shout from our seats or even write articles, but you have absolutely no control over events. So, why beat yourself up when a match goes bad?
Then we have hope and that’s how you become a sucker. We are already hoping that we will beat Everton, whose fans are suffering disappointment in spades,their manager hanging on by a thread.
And disappointment doesn’t just affect the fans. There is an article in the latest Sunday Times about Alan Sugar. He rates his biggest disappointment in life to the ten year period he owned Spurs. ‘ My decade as chairman wasn’t a great period for me and my family: it made me a bit of a miserable sod and wary of journalists. I often think that instead of spending 10 years worrying about Carlos Kickaball on the pitch and getting criticised by the fans, I could have done something more lucrative ‘
And our own pornographer owners have suffered exactly the same experience but they keep on going, watching matches behind a glass screen.
So, I have considered taking up knitting or collecting stamps, but I think I shall remain in hope taking the bitter blows of disappointment. COYI.
After one weekend I’m writing to say I’m reminded of the ‘Boys of ‘86’ – the next I’m returning to the ‘Same Old West Ham’. In between we lose 4-0 to Oxford. Much the same as Hamburg Hammer my article this week is going to be relatively short due to it being the final week of ‘Exhibition Season’. Think I’ll book a well earned week off soon as it’s much needed.
Coming away from the Stadium on Saturday night there were several murmurs of ‘reality check time’ to be heard. That ‘Big Team’ mentality is still a work in progress just yet. Having got to the dizzy heights of equal fourth (although we were quoted as being fifth for some reason), and three points away from a third place finish to the weekend, the mind was busy with the ‘oops we’ve blown it again’ thoughts. What appeared to be a disappointing showing from our creative players, however, was, in my opinion, instigated by a masterclass in how to hold a solid defensive formation from Crystal Palace. Rarely have I witnessed a team get back in to shape so quickly with two banks of four holding five yards apart, on the edge of their box, with nigh on military precision. Not only that their pressing was well timed and precise too. Annoying as it was I have to applaud their organisation, patience and resilience.
Although I didn’t see the latter game for myself I’d have Palace’s defensive performance alongside that of Wolves’ in the Citeh game this weekend – so confident am I of it’s quality.
Despite all of that, and with slightly sharper finishing, we could have been two up at the point when Haller put us ahead. I’ve read many comments that Anderson improved after the break, and I’d agree, however that really was coming from a low starting point. Ok – so he had little space to work in, and was closed down super quickly every time he went near the ball, however some of his touches were not up to his usual standard. I’ve absolutely no idea what was going through his mind when he had the opportunity just inside the box, and ‘screw-footed it’ in completely the wrong direction, midway through the first period. Lanzini was little, if any, better. What Manu did was ok but there was so little of it I couldn’t make out whether he was on the pitch or not.
I’m not going to get in to a ‘Pellegrini got it wrong’ conversation however the omission of Artur from the bench really did come to haunt MP when Cresswell was forced off. I don’t say this just because we had no direct, left-back, replacement but because I think that the game was made for him. Interesting how the consensus has completely changed of late following good displays from Cresswell and, before he was suspended, Mas. Now it feels like we’ve got different options for different matches with the two of them but, on reflection, AM would have given us more against the South London team than AC did.
Speaking of Pellegrini my Brother and I noticed a very nice Ferrari F488 pista whilst sat at the lights, near the A12, at Waterden Road. After pointing out the Ferrari to my Bro he mentioned that the Huge Bentley behind it was pretty tasty too. I looked over at the drive thinking what a professional looking chauffeur he was but noticed that, in actual fact, it was Mr Pellegrini himself (he’s now not known as the ‘Engineer’ in Thurston circles but as the ‘Driver’). So the window went down, picture was taken with multiple thumbs ups, despite us not quite capturing MP’s thumbs up to us on the phone camera’s CCD. Another misconception went out of the window, namely the ‘professional driver’ one, too when the gaffer cut in from the wrong lane at the final junction before the A12. We let him off as his response to our over-enthusiastic (considering how we were feeling about the result) thumbed signals was such a polite and positive one.
So, for me and the Bro, we’ve got over the defeat and it’s upwards and onwards for the rest of the season. I’m already looking forward to visiting Goodison Park and taking three points away after giving the Evertonians a good thumping.
Sadly nothing to report on the U23 or Ladies teams this week. Many of the ladies, like our men’s team, are off on their respective international duties. Equally, if not more, sadly the Academy team lost 4-1 at Fulham however it wasn’t a game that was reflected in the score-line but one where Fulham took full advantage of their chances. Like Wolves and Crystal Palace their conversion rate was top notch. Let’s hope we see the same from our boys next time out.