The GoatyGav Column

Super Fab? Footballing Cycles & The F.A. Cup

Second week on the spin for disparate subjects but bear with me as there is a link.

In the Burnley match I heard a few choruses of “Super, Super Fab, Super Fab Balbuena!” Before then I was singing a similar song but with Fabianski’s name instead. Seems there might be a bit of competition for who claims that particular chant between ‘The General’ and our Polish number 1.

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When he first arrived at the club there was some discussion over whether ?ukasz Fabia?ski would establish himself as first choice between the sticks for us. He had his work cut out, IMO, because of the cult hero status of Adrian. Whatever happens to our current Spanish keeper he’ll always have a special place in our hearts as fans. Yes, he’s been capable of the odd howler of a game, but for the most part he’s proven himself an excellent shot stopper. It’s as much, however, his attitude, clear love for the club and the genuine, heart on the sleeve, honesty of the man that so many of us admire. So when he was displaced by LF the new signing had a job to convince us. I’m pleased to say that the Polish stopper has come through the test with shining colours. He’s been incredible. How much of the Balbuena & Diop confident partnership that’s developing is down to the keeper should not be underestimated. Maybe it’s the other way around? Well – yes, that can be argued but what you can’t deny are so many of the excellent saves that he’s made so far this season.

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With Fabianski’s first clean sheet, since the Macclesfield rout in September, now registered I wouldn’t back against the former Poznan, Warsaw, Arsenal and Swansea man to go on to play the best football of his career with us. Now 33 years of age he has the commanding presence that his extensive experience lends him. When you look at some of the saves he’s made since joining you might be mistaken, if you weren’t aware of the fact, in believing he’s much younger – such has been his agility and conditioning.

Successful teams all tend to have a very solid base of the ‘spine’. Our current two Centre Backs and Goalkeeper provide a sound basis to build upon. With all three new signings in these positions now adapting, both to the league, in the case of the outfield positions, and to each other, the confidence seems to grow with each passing game. This weekend the likes of Anderson and Noble, deservedly, took the plaudits. The unsung heroes, however, were Diop and the two ‘Super Fabs’. What remains to be seen, or heard, is whether our Paraguyan defensive rock or our 6ft 3in stopper retains the ‘Super Fab’ chant. Either way it’s, sadly, hard to see Adrian staying beyond January as, at 31 years old, he’s going to want first team football. From a selfish point of view I hope I’m wrong and we manage to retain both goalies but I wouldn’t hold it against the Spaniard for wanting to play more regularly. Whatever happens we’re unlikely to have a keeper who cares as much as Adrian San Miguel del Castillo cares about us again in the future.

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One thing that I’m not finding so difficult, away from the thought of losing our glove shedding, penalty scoring, goalkeeping hero is the belief that the team’s confidence can keep growing. I think that 8th position should be the expectation along with a cup run to be proud of. Tonight’s draw saw us pitted against Birmingham, in an excellent home draw, in the 3rd round. Always my favourite footballing weekend of the year the 3rd round is the most dramatic stage of the season for me. The magic of the cup never died in my view. So what if Manchester United once decided to pull out? Who cares if pundits and media suggest it’s had it’s day? The David and Goliath matches where the underdogs punch above their weight, sometimes providing the most theatrical and interesting of shocks and stories (second, maybe, to Leicester’s Premier League win), are where it’s at. The cups also provide clubs like ours with their best opportunity to win silverware. I know I’ve written about this before but this cup, this year, offers a very special chance.

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Listening to a sports phone in last night I was amused and entertained by one caller in particular. I have to admit that it was quite easy listening as I smiled wryly at the Manchester Unite fan explaining how he’d ‘had enough’ of the current manager, the way his team is playing, being outside of the top four and the lack of recent success. I couldn’t be absolutely certain but I guessed that the ‘supporter’ was of a certain age that, most probably, meant he grew up in an era when his team were winning awards practically every season. Premier League titles, Champion’s League trophies, Cups and international tournament accolades galore year in year out. The thing that occurred to me was that this fan was completely unaware that periods of footballing triumph go in cycles. Arsenal dominated in the ‘30’s. Liverpool reigned supreme in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. His team, under Alex Ferguson, won the lot in the ‘90’s and noughties. Saying you’ve ‘had enough’ because your team ‘only’ won the League Cup the previous season and are lying in 7th in the league this term provided all the evidence I needed to back up my opinion that this fan was naïve enough to think his team should be dominating ‘ad infinitum’. Sam Allardyce once, foolishly, called us deluded. I don’t think it would be too far off the mark to suggest that many of the same generation of Manchester United fans, to the aforementioned caller to the radio show, are deluded in their belief that they should always be winning games and gongs season after season.

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Bringing it back to West Ham I’ve got a gut feeling that the cycle I referred to above is about to turn our way. I’m not saying that we’re going to win anything. I hope with all my heart that we do but I’m convinced that exciting times are ahead for us. As for the very special chance the cup offers us? A good cup run this season could well act as a start of that cyclical return to a highly competitive West Ham and, especially for the West Ham contemporaries of those Manchester United fans who’ve grown up on nothing but success, that’s what we all want.

So off to Cardiff tonight – looking forward to a great game and a couple of beers as I’m not driving :) .

COYI! West Ham 4 The Cup!


The Blind Hammer Column

West Ham 3 Cardiff 1-Pellegrini Calling The Shots

Blind Hammer reflects on a vital win against Cardiff.

Football can be a game of fine margins. West Ham’s stop/start performance in the first half could easily have seen us fall behind and this could have been a much more difficult night.

Yet before Ward feebly addressed his penalty attempt I was strangely confident that Fabianski would deal with it. In the end he gathered it fairly comfortably. It was telling that at half time that the obvious candidate for man of the match was our goalkeeper who in addition to dealing with the penalty made some fine saves, including a crucial twisting adjustment to cope with a deflected Cardiff effort.

Many were underwhelmed by Fabianski’s recruitment in the summer, arguing he was little better than what we already had. Pellegrini’s judgement and faith has been richly vindicated.

Pellegrini’s judgement has come under some scrutiny in recent games, especially in the home defeat to Manchester City. His surprise decision to start with Masuaku backfired badly then, resulting in his hooking at half time. Even more questionable was his decision to persist with Arnautovic throughout a second half when the cause was clearly hopeless. More pragmatic Managers would have protected Arnautovic from his eventual injury.

Possibly because of this injury Arnautovic has looked diminished in both the Newcastle game and here tonight against Cardiff.

Apart from injury problems there does seem to have been a change in Arnautovic’s body language. He seems rather more petulant and his clumsy concession of a penalty against Cardiff tonight was odd. It is possible that his Brother’s attempt to engineer a “big money” move has just taken the edge off his commitment. Ironically he has in the event become more rather than less injury prone as evidenced by His pulling up with a probable hamstring strain tonight.

As soon as Carroll was judged fit, a couple of weeks ago there was an expectation of a rapid return into the team. Yet Pellegrini has made it clear both against Newcastle and here tonight that both Hernandez and Perez are ahead of in the pecking order.

This judgement was vindicated against Newcastle where Hernandez fired crucial goals. Tonight he was far less effective.

Tonight was Perez’s turn. At half time I wondered aloud what Perez offers the team. In the first 9 minutes of the second half he replied with an emphatic statement of2 goals.

Pellegrini’s faith in both Hernandez and Perez in preference to a returning Carroll was justified, though Carroll’s entry into the fun against a by now demoralised Cardiff late on provided him with a useful workout.

Antonio’s performance at right back was solid enough for me, despite Cardiff’s obvious attempt to target him. Cardiff’s lack of threat for large parts of the game allowed him to launch some telling rungs. His performance was rightly rewarded with a goal though tougher challenges will await him at right back.

Masuaku, in contract, remains a concern. He had a crucial role in our second goal but that is never the issue with him. He is often excellent going forward and can be a handful for many defences. The problem is that he is a disaster waiting to happen in defence. I think there may be a real case for retaining Antonio against Palace but return Zabeleta and ask him to fill in at left back. I shudder at what Townsend and Zahra may accomplish against Masuaku.

Finally a word for our returning Captain Noble. I loved the way he commanded possession, especially in the lead up to our second goal. Noble never uses possession for its own sake and can be as incisive with his passing as anybody.

So Pellegrini is calling the shots and getting more judgements correct than wrong at the moment. He has engineered the first back to back wins for 2 years despite a spiralling and increasing injury list. Wilsher’s return to the list of crocks with a recurring ankle problem after only 5 minutes against Newcastle is a depressing reminder of his glass like fragility.

Yet despite the stretching of our squad with so many injuries a spirit of resourcefulness is emerging at West Ham. Few in the summer would have predicted that we could be looking with some positivity to the challenge of Palace, despite the absence of Fredericks, Arnautovic, Wilshere and Yarmolenko. Pellegrini’s ability to coax out performances from the like of Robert Snodgrass and Grady Diangana, who also gained some useful minutes, is as important as his recruitment of the big name stars.

COYI
David Griffith


Match Thread

Match Thread: West Ham v Cardiff City

West Ham v Cardiff City
FA Premier League
London Stadium
KO 7.45pm
TV: None
Radio: WHUFC.com

Please use this thread to comment on the match as it progresses.


Dan Coker's Match Preview

Match Preview: West Ham v Cardiff

Blast from the past

17th August 2013 – Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa topped the UK box office and Miley Cyrus was number one with ‘We Can’t Stop’ as West Ham United recorded a 2-0 victory over tonight’s opponents Cardiff City in front of 34,977 at Upton Park.

Joe Cole (pictured below) scored the Hammers’ first goal of the 2013/14 season 13 minutes into this opening day encounter, meeting Matt Jarvis’ low cross from the left before swivelling and squeezing an effort into the corner of the net. Shortly afterwards, Mo Diame’s deflected effort spun inches wide of the post as the Irons sought to double their advantage against the newly-promoted Bluebirds, managed by former Hammers centre-half Malky Mackay.

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Stewart Downing came on for his West Ham debut before skipper Kevin Nolan secured the points for West Ham in the 76th minute, sweeping home a first-time curling shot after good work by Mark Noble. Nolan would go on to be the Hammers’ top scorer of 2013/14, with seven goals in 35 matches. Ex-Hammers strikers Craig Bellamy and Nicky Maynard featured in the match, with substitute Maynard coming closest for the visitors, scooping over under pressure from former Bluebird James Collins.

Sam Allardyce’s Hammers would finish 13th in the Premier League in 2013/14, while Cardiff would end the campaign relegated in bottom place. Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City won the title and Arsenal won the FA Cup.

West Ham United: Jussi Jaaskelainen, Guy Demel, James Collins, Winston Reid, Joey O’Brien, Mark Noble, Mo Diame (Alou Diarra), Joe Cole (Ricardo Vaz Te), Kevin Nolan, Matt Jarvis (Stewart Downing), Modibo Maiga.

Cardiff City: David Marshall, Matthew Connolly, Ben Turner, Steven Caulker, Declan John, Gary Medel, Aron Gunnarsson, Craig Bellamy (Rudy Gestede), Peter Whittingham, Kim Bo-Kyung (Nicky Maynard), Fraizer Campbell (Jordon Mutch).

Club Connections

A decent number of players have worn the shirts of both West Ham United and Cardiff City. These include:

Goalkeepers: Tommy Hampson, Stephen Bywater and Peter Grotier.

Defenders: Clive Charles, Danny Gabbidon, Phil Brignull, Roger Johnson and James Collins.

Midfielders: Gary O’Neil, Matt Holmes, Trevor Sinclair, Ravel Morrison, Bobby Weale, Billy Thirlaway and Jobi McAnuff.

Strikers: John Burton, Craig Bellamy, Marouane Chamakh, Billy Charlton, Nicky Maynard and Keith Robson.

Bobby Gould, Malky Mackay and Frank O’Farrell all played for the Hammers and managed the Bluebirds.

Today’s focus though is on a player who turned out for West Ham before representing Cardiff later in his career. Joe Durrell was a winger who was born on 15th March 1953 in Stepney. He started his career with the Hammers, signing schoolboy forms in 1968, and made his debut at the age of 18 in a 2-1 home win over Stoke on 25th September 1971. A diminutive, speedy winger competing for places with Johnny Ayris and Harry Redknapp, West Ham supporter Durrell made six appearances for the Irons during the 1971/72 season, with his final appearance for the club coming in a 1-0 home win over Southampton on 1st May 1972.

Competition for places led to Durrell moving to Bristol City in 1973 – game time was again hard to come by and he had a two-match loan spell at Cardiff in 1975. The most successful spell of his career came at Gillingham, for whom he played from 1975 to 1977, scoring nine goals in 49 league matches.

A bubbly character, Durrell returned to the East End with wife Denise and worked as a primary school teacher. He suffered a stroke in 2016 but, now aged 65, is said to be “fine” and, pleasingly, attended a pre-Christmas drink with a few fellow ex-Hammers last Friday.

Referee

Tonight’s referee is 50-year-old Graham Scott. The Oxfordshire-based official will be taking charge of only his sixth Premier League match involving West Ham United – the Hammers have won four of the previous five league matches he has officiated. His first Premier League appointment with the Irons was our 3-1 win at Southampton in February last year. He also took charge of the Hammers for our 3-0 win at Stoke in December – Scott’s decision to award Manuel Lanzini a first-half penalty saw the Argentine retrospectively banned for two matches. He also refereed our 2-0 home win over Watford in February, our 3-1 home win over Everton on the final day of last season and, most recently, our 3-1 defeat at Arsenal in August.

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Scott was also the man in the middle for our 2-1 League Cup victory over Cheltenham in August 2013 and also sent off Callum McNaughton in the defender’s only Hammers appearance as the club were knocked out of the same competition by Aldershot in August 2011.

Possible line-ups

Manuel Pellegrini should have Fabian Balbuena available but Aaron Cresswell is a doubt. The manager has previously hinted that Michail Antonio could come in for Pablo Zabaleta, who is likely to be rested. Zabaleta is also one yellow card away from a one-match suspension. Ryan Fredericks, Winston Reid, Carlos Sanchez, Manuel Lanzini and Andriy Yarmolenko are still sidelined. West Ham are on a six-match winning streak against Cardiff, keeping clean sheets in five of those games. Andy Carroll hasn’t played since May but could make his 200th Premier League appearance.

Cardiff City will be without the injured Jazz Richards, Greg Cunningham and Kenneth Zohore. The Bluebirds have picked up nine of their 11 points this season from trailing positions, second only to Arsenal. They are also the only two sides yet to lead a Premier League game at half-time this season.

Possible West Ham United XI: Fabianski; Antonio, Balbuena, Diop, Masuaku; Snodgrass, Rice, Noble, Anderson; Arnautovic, Chicharito.

Possible Cardiff City XI: Etheridge; Morrison, Bamba, Ecuele Manga; Camarasa, Ralls, Arter, Gunnarsson, Hoilett; Paterson, Murphy.

Enjoy the game – Up The Hammers!


Opposition Q & A

Opposition Q&A with Cardiff City

On Tuesday night West Ham welcome Cardiff City to the Olympic Stadium feeling more confident after that great away victory against Newcastle. Before the game I chatted to Paul Evans from Cardiff City Blogsite Mauve and Yellow Army to discuss the upcoming game and the season so far.

First off welcome back to the Premier League: after running close a couple of times in previous years, at which stage last season did you start to believe you were going to get promoted?
Thank you Jeff. First of all I was thinking it was in March when we came back from going 1-0 down at Griffin Park early on, but came back to beat a good Brentford team 3-1, but, truthfully, it wasn’t until the last minute of our final away game of the season when Sean Morrison scored a remarkable goal to clinch a 2-0 win at Hull – we only needed to equal Fulham’s result and the last day to go up automatically and with our final game being at home to a Reading ream with the worst current form in the division, I knew then that we’d be okay.

Having played about a third of the season, how would you judge things to be going so far? What so far have been the highlights?
Much as expected really. We were given a decent start by the fixture computer with matches against Bournemouth, Newcastle and Huddersfield and, when we failed to take advantage of that (we only managed two points), we were always going to struggle in September and October because we were almost exclusively playing top six sides – now we are having more matches against sides who are likely to finish half way or lower, we are beginning to show that we can beat the sides likely to finish around us in home matches. Getting that first win in an open and entertaining match with Fulham was a highlight, but I think I’d go for Friday’s win over Wolves because we had two spikey games against them last season.

Neil Warnock is famously known for getting teams promoted, yet can’t quite manage to keep them up, or is not given a full chance Is this a reflection on him, or the clubs that he has managed? Presumably at the moment you are quite satisfied with his performance?
I think Neil Warnock has never been at a team which could feel at the start of the season that they would finish in the top half of the First Division/Premier League, so it follows that his record at the top level is not going to be good. That said, any argument which says that his approach and playing philosophy is a bit too limited to succeed in the Premier League would not get too much argument from me. I would qualify that last bit mind by saying that we have played some pretty good stuff at times this season (e.g. our first goal in the recent win over Brighton) – we may not qualify as a passing side, but we do play more football than we did during the second half of last season in particular.

What if anything do you think about West Ham’s appointment of Manuel Pelligrini as manager?
It’s a statement of intent which continues your efforts to become an established top half Premier League side I suppose, but I find it disappointing that, almost as a reflex action, so many teams turn to foreign coaches or managers these days. I suppose though that if you’re determined to go down that route, Pelligrini is one of the better ones you could bring in.

Your last visit to the Premier League was rather short-lived, is Cardiff City going to be able to stay up this season? And who are the players that are going to play the biggest role in this task?
In 13/14 we were I believe the seventh transfer highest spenders in the league for all of the good it did us. It was obvious from the comments coming out of the club that it would be different this time around. Broadly speaking, I agree with this approach, but, unless we go about things in a very different way in the January window, the money men at the club are asking an awful lot of our manager, his coaching staff and players because we look on course to spend less than the likes of Huddersfield and Brighton did last season in staying up. It will depend a lot on who comes in during January, but, despite encouraging signs recently, I think it’s just too big a task for Neil Warnock and his team and that we will return to the Championship after one season like we did five years ago.

Which of our joint former players Danny Gabbidon and Craig Bellamy do you have the fondest memories of?
That’s a very tough question! I have so much admiration for Craig Bellamy because he tried to give something back to his home town team when he first came here at a time when he would walk into most Premier League clubs first team. However, having been watching Cardiff games since 1963, I rate Danny Gabbidon as the best defender I’ve seen at the club and that’s an even bigger compliment when you consider that he played in the position where I would say we have definitely had the most strength in depth over the past fifty odd years. Gabbs was great because he was so much more than a head it, kick it defender. We’ve had some with a lot of ability down the years, but I don’t think “classy” is an adjective which normally springs to mind when you think of Cardiff City players – Gabbs was classy though and it’s good that you were able to see that for a season at least before he sustained the injury from which he never completely recovered.

Which of the current West Ham team would like to see pulling on the blue shirt of Cardiff City?
We need a right back and a striker, so, if I was being realistic and practical, Sam Byram and Jordan Hugill are the sort of players at your club who could probably be bought on our budget under different circumstances – if you’re talking money no object, then Arnautovic and Anderson would be very nice and I’ve always liked watching Masuakua play.

Presuming you don’t think you will be relegated, who are your favourites for the drop?
Although they beat us, Burnley were the worst side I’ve seen this season and, based on what I’ve seen of them in other matches (e.g. at Palace on Saturday), I don’t believe they were having an untypical bad day when they played at Cardiff City Stadium – I think they are in real trouble. Southampton have been on something of a downward spiral for two or three years now and I reckon their latest stay in the Premier League may be coming to an end. Drawing with Man United on Saturday seems a decent result on paper, but when you look at how the game mapped out, it’s typical 18/19 Southampton – I don’t see how they can expect to survive unless they rediscover the knack of winning at home. The other place is tough to predict – Fulham will probably throw even more money at it in January (I assume they have an exemption from what I still call FFP regulations!), but I reckon they’ll be down there for the rest of the season now. However, although Huddersfield played really well at Wolves, this weekend’s match came over as the sort of defeat relegation sides suffer, so, with not much confidence at all, they’d be my third tip.

Which teams have most impressed you so far this season? Who do you think will end up in the top three positions?
Funnily enough, Wolves were the team which I was pleasantly surprised by early in the season, but, having not watched a whole game of theirs for a few weeks, I was really shocked by how much they had declined when I saw them against Huddersfield and they weren’t much better against us. As for the top three, Man City beat us 5-0 at our place and could have scored double that if they had needed to – they seem obvious Champions to me. Liverpool are more boring now because they have tightened up, but that’s probably a good thing if you are to be thought of as title challengers and if they keep on getting the sort of luck they did against Everton, they should finish second. Until yesterday’s North London derby I would have said Spurs to finish third, but if Arsenal can keep that level of intensity, then maybe they could sneak it – Chelsea haven’t impressed me too much in recent weeks.

How will Cardiff set out against West Ham on Tuesday? Formation/Team?
When Neil Warnock was asked if more would be seen of the three-centre backs with attacking wing backs: the formation used against Wolves, his reply was “you must be joking”! Although I quite like playing with three central defenders because it means Bruno Manga gets to play in his best position, I think we’ll see a more cautious approach from City tomorrow and a return to a back four. With three games in eight days this week, there is likely to be a lot squad rotation seen with Premier League teams, but my guess is that we’ll line up something like this;-

Etheridge

Manga
Morrison
Bamba
Bennett

Camarasa
Gunnarsson
Ralls
Arter
Hoilett
Paterson

with Josh Murphy possibly on the left instead of Hoilett.

You won your last game, are you confident you can get a positive result this time out? Prediction for the result?
The pundits talk about our poor away record, but don’t seem to make an allowance for the fact that, after beginning with a defeat at Bournemouth and a draw at Huddersfield in August, all of our games have been at clubs currently in the top six since then. That’s why, for now at least, our lack of away goals is a bigger concern for me than the fact we have only taken the one point on our travels. Tomorrow’s match is the first of five we have against teams in the mid/lower table range before we visit Arsenal and so I feel it would be more realistic to form conclusions about our capabilities away from home in about six weeks time. That said, I don’t see us ending our run of consecutive away defeats tomorrow, I’ll go for a 2-1 home win.

Many thanks to Paul for his time and thoughts on the game. I hope and think that we will finally get to win 2 consecutive games for the first time in a couple of years. We really were great on Saturday, and think that result will spur us on to mop up a load of points that are available to us over the coming month. 3 – 0 West Ham. COYI

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