The HamburgHammer Column

Saints teach us this is still West Ham, but only just

I love games like this. Games that are influenced to some degree by the elements, blustery winds, rain, hail, snow, mud, you name it. Who could forget those fantastic NFL contests in freezing Green Bay, Wisconsin in December. Some of those Rugby Union clashes played out in the mud when you cannot tell at the end if a player is wearing a shirt for the home or the away team. I’ll never forget during “my” West Ham season in 1996/97 our home game against Spurs (although I couldn’t be there in person on the day), wild, wet and windy night when Hartson, KItson and Dicks brought us a thrilling win against our North London rivals.
I also (unfortunately) remember a similar evening in the Cup at Stockport where Iain Dowie scored the most incredible headed goal I’ve ever seen, unfortunately it was the goal guarded by his own custodian.

Those games are hard to predict and most anything can happen on the day. I’ll admit though, when Southampton found themselves down to ten men with about 35 minutes to go I fancied our chances to get a point out of this, maybe even the win. We had tons of possession, we passed the ball around nicely, albeit mainly in a sideways or backwards direction, but we also created some good scoring opportunities. Some of the stuff was comical though while also being utterly frustrating at the same time:
Carroll blocking a shot from his teammate which curled beautifully towards the zop corner, maybe preventing a great goal.
Valencia sending a freekick from a promising position into the rainswept evening sky.
Emenike sending a bullet of a header after a perfect cross past the wrong side of the post.
Let’s face it: Saturday it simply wasn’t meant to be. We might have played for another 45 minutes and still the ball would not have found its way past Saints goalkeeper Fraser Forster (Shouldn’t he be a boxer with that kind of name ?).

It has been discussed at length why we have not managed to get maximum points in recent games, most of the points are obvious: Missing key players through injuries, other key players being tired after returning from injury, lacking match fitness, a strange tendency to not quite perform in the first half of games, bringing on Carroll while taking off the wingers who could actually provide him with the crosses he’d crave in order to convert them into goals or assists.

I was disappointed after losing this game, which West Ham fan wouldn’t ? But I wasn’t down in the dumps for long. As my reminiscing about past West Ham seasons made it clear to me that it is very rare for West Ham to win plenty of games in succession. I was surprised when I had just arrived in Barking to find at a local WHSmith a collection of West Ham videotapes (no DVDs back in 1996) one of which particularly caught may eye: 5 in a row – a video showing highlights of West Ham winning five games of football in succession. I was puzzled about this: Why would a team celebrate something which in itself may be a rare occurrence but nevertheless not a reason to celebrate like a Cup win or a Championship. Later I learned of course that indeed it is fairly special for West Ham to win five games in succession.
Most of our fans seem resigned to the fact that they may never see West Ham win any silverware in their lifetime, so they celebrate special acievements instead:
West Ham winning against Spúrs three times in one season. West Ham winning at Liverpool for the first time in donkey’s years. West Ham winning a Cup game against lower league opposition. You get the picture.

My point is: We are not a team (yet) where we can expect to win five games in a row on a regular basis. At this point we will still lose games we may be expected to win, but then again wonderful West Ham will also do the opposite and return with three points from games we go into as underdogs. Or let me correct that: It is rare these days that we are actually underdogs anymore. Expectation levels have risen, both among us fans but also among the rest of the league.
Our league position alone tells us that we are unlikely to lose five games in a row (something which used to happen fairly regularly in our past).
We are still unpredictable old West Ham, but at a different level of unpredictability when comparing us with past teams.

Slaven Bilic will know better than anyone that we are nowhere near the finished article. He needs to find a way to rotate players in order to keep everybody fresh, healthy and happy, he needs to find a system that maximises the Payet effect for us, we need to learn how to break teams down when we cannot play our prefered counterattacking style.
The Southampton loss was a timely reminder that we are not Barcelona yet, far from it.
But let’s also not forget: Even teams like Barcelona, Real or Man City (Leicester City anyone ?) occasionally lose games they are not supposed to lose – still it happens.

I’m sure we’ll see a different team tomorrow in the Cup against Liverpool, with a different approach, a different body language with the Boleyn crowd behind them, cheering the lads on under the lights at home. It may be wet, it may be windy and Liverpool may be down to ten men at some point. What happens next nobody can tell.
But that’s why we love our football in general and our West Ham in particular. Winning for us at this point still tastes sweeter than what I’d expect it to taste for Arsenal or Barcelona fans who are used to winning week in week out.
I’m quite happy with our lot these days. Sod that! I’m ecstatic about our team this season. A defeat against Southampton away from home won’t change that. COYI!

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The Mike Ireson Column

It's a funny old game

For those old enough to remember, Jimmy Greaves and Ian St John used to present a Saturday lunchtime programme imaginatively titled Saint and Greavsie.

And long before we had Kammy and his “unbelievable Jeff” catchphrase Jimmy Greaves coined “it’s a funny old game”

Well I think that phrase could sum this Premier League season up. There is no rhyme or reason to it, giants are slain so often that many aren’t giants any more.

I’ve mentioned here before that I don’t mind partaking in a weekend football bet or two and now, when I sit down on a Friday evening to plot the bookies downfall, I don’t even look at the Premier League fixtures.

I go straight to the Championship table and fixtures and work my way down the leagues and in to Scotland. At no point does it cross my mind to dip in to the Premier League and look for a ‘banker’.

Such thing does not exist in the Premier League this season. It is absurdly unpredictable. As it stands at this moment just about any team could beat another regardless of stature, form, money spent, star names fielded.

At the start of the season Leicester City were 5000/1 to win the Premier League. As I write this they are 7/4 favourites.

Now regardless of the stupidity of some things, our totally biased devotion to our clubs will make us do unreasonable stuff.

So I can guarantee a few Leicester fans would have taken that bet at the start of the season. Supporters of every team in the league would have thrown a couple of quid on their side winning the league.

Unless you follow a so called ‘top 4’ team you know you will have been throwing your money away but you would do it just the same. It’s a loyalty thing.

So, out there are a few Leicester fans nervously looking at a betting slip. If you had thrown a fiver on for the fun of it, you’re looking at potential return of 25 large ones.

When Leicester beat Man City on Saturday it all got very real.

We all said it wouldn’t last. Plucky and courageous, that band of previous unknowns and cheap buys (Riyad Mahrez £375,000) will run out of steam.

The engine still shows no sign of slowing down. Are we not all rooting for Leicester to carry on?

Yes we are because Leicester have become a standard bearer for the ‘lesser’, ‘unfashionable’ teams.

And we at West Ham fit that bill. Forever patronised. Patted on the head for wanting and sometimes getting attractive football. Ushered along and out of the way so the alleged big teams can get on with the business of winning the league.

How many times have you heard that West Ham are someone’s ‘second team’ because they like our plucky spirit or other such nonsense?

Well those people can do one. There is a revolution happening in the Premier League and long may it continue.

It is indeed a funny old game.


Parish Notice

Latest Issue of Blowing Bubbles

West Ham’s legendary snapper Stevie Bacon remains optimistic about his and the Hammers’ future as he continues to recover from having had his lower left limb amputated.
And in a wide-ranging interview in Blowing Bubbles Monthly>, Stevie has said he is determined to visit Upton Park one more time before the move to Stratford.

The results and performances of West Ham this season have also lifted his spirits in what has been a very difficult period in his life. Reminiscing about working as West Ham’s official club photographer for three decades, Stevie says he still feels privileged to have done a job he enjoyed for so long.

‘Being involved with the club was great for me being a local boy and a West Ham fan. To get to travel with the team was incredible. The biggest highlight for me was when I was able to go to Australia with them on tour. It was three weeks with them and it was superb.’

However, it was the big European nights that really stick in his mind.

‘I’ll never forget when Dinamo Tbilisi came to Upton Park and were applauded off the pitch. Then there was the game behind closed doors [in October 1980 after rioting by fans in the first leg against Castilla in Spain in the European Cup Winners’ Cup]. That was eerie. Everyone was desperate to see the game but it was only played in front of such a small number of people. Travelling abroad with West Ham for European games was also something I really enjoyed. I covered the Cup Winners’ Cup final when we got beat by Anderlecht and also the Intertoto Cup in 1999.’

The February issue of Blowing Bubbles also reviews Sam Allardyce’s legacy in East London with Emily Pulham suggesting Big Sam’s ‘deluded’ comments will come back to haunt him later this month

Elsewhere in this month’s issue, George Parris writes in his column that the capture of Sam Byram shows how far West Ham have come.

‘Sam Byram’s signing bodes well for the future, but he is still young and we need to give him chance to develop. We must accept he will make mistakes along the way but he has already shown that the step up from the Championship to the Premier League is possible, and there’s no reason why he can’t make the transition.’

The latest issue of Blowing Bubbles Monthly is now available to read for FREE on your computer, tablet or mobile phone.

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Zaman Siddiqui's Match Review

Saints on top

That red card in the Villa game helped us pick up all three points. This time, we couldn’t even manage to recover a single point from a losing position, despite the fact we played over 36 minutes with the extra man. Including Leicester City, both teams are capable of attaining European qualification. We both have squads with a lot of breadth and depth, as well as the finances to bolster them, given that both teams are in the top 25 of the Deloitte Football Money League. We both lost just once in the league in January. I could go on comparing how similar we are to the club who have finished 8th and 7th in their previous two seasons in the Premier League, but you get the gist. I feel that as long as we remain above Southampton, we can finish in the top 7, which would be a wonderful way to go into the Olympic Stadium.

It has become quite apparent that we are struggling on the road. We have only had one away win in our last 8 away matches. This is more than likely overshadowed by the fact that we are unbeaten at Upton Park since August – it was a 3-4 loss to Bournemouth. We have conceded 6 first half goals in our 4 away losses. The main reason for that is down to us failing to set up properly. The surroundings may be unfamiliar, but the team needs to start holding onto the ball from the first blow of the whistle, and stringing some passes together to improve confidence on the ball. Otherwise, we as visitors, can easily turn into spectators.

At first, I didn’t know if it was just me who thought that Payet has underperforming for a few matches. After reading Iain’s talking points, and numerous comments in threads, I had the right instinct. In particular, it is his dribbling in the final third which has been severely lacking. I thought it was just a one-off when he was playing down the flanks, but it turns out that it wasn’t the case. He played in his preferred CAM position yesterday, but simply did not cut through inside enough. I can see why he tends to play around the wings, as he gets success with his skill, but it wasn’t working, as Virgil van Dijk played with a lot of physicality, as did the Saints in preventing any headers reaching the targeted players. I feel Payet crosses best when he takes set-pieces, instead of in play. In previous posts, I have referred to him as a superhero who delivers at the right time. He scored a fabulous free-kick against Bournemouth, when he was under pressure, and crossed a fabulous ball in for Reid yesterday. He even assisted Kouyaté in scoring the first goal of the PL season. It is an asset of a top-class player. That is why I feel he is better in dead-ball situations on the flanks. Furthermore, he needs to be more confident in his ability in the final third, as he was towards the end of the game finally cutting inside when the pressure was really and truly on. He also did well in the centre of the pitch to evade the Southampton midfield, only to get an agitated Wanyama make a dangerous tackle on the Frenchman. If only Payet played like that in the final third, we could have at least got a draw.

Lanzini and Sakho have been out for quite some time. Bilic said: “They are still out, but they will be back in a couple of weeks, maximum.” The Lanzini and Payet partnership is one that we have not seen since November. We have seen Lanzini prosper in the CAM position, so if Payet wants to play out wide, he certainly can. Lanzini can also play out wide. To be honest, there are so many ramifications that can be made when considering the entire squad that I can’t predict how we will play. We know they are the sort of players not to confine themselves to their positions.

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David Hautzig's Match Report

Southampton 1, West Ham 0. A Cold, Damp Performance.

I saw an ink jet printer on sale the other day. $49. Epson. They make good stuff for sure. And this one would work directly with an IPad, using the AirPrint feature. Really convenient for my daughter to use for homework. Now she writes her papers and emails them to either my wife or myself so we can print from the computer. It’s not that the email system doesn’t work. It does. It’s just not the most convenient way to do it. Then again, it doesn’t require that much effort either. Here was the kicker. The ink was pricey. And the price per page was about 5 times as much as the laser printer we already have. It’s old, a bit quirky, but 99% of the time works just fine. I didn’t need the printer. I may have wanted the printer, but that’s usually a bad reason to shell out what could have ended up being a lot of money over the long term.

Kind of like Charlie Austin.

I saw the table. I saw that Saints were right behind us, and despite a wobbly start to the season they have steadied the ship. Back in December we were lucky to have a chance in the second half to overcome being 0-1 down and snatch all three points. But because of what David Sullivan said on the KUMB podcast a few months ago and the firestorm it created, Charlie Austin was the story today. And unlike so many on social media, I wouldn’t have taken a risk on him. 4 million in today’s market is like the $49 printer. But his reported wages with the added injury record were the ink. He didn’t factor in today’s result, which must be seen as a disappointment under the circumstances.

The opening 12 minutes gave the impression only one side figured playing football was a good idea, and West Ham weren’t that side. In the 2nd minute, Long won a corner off of Reid chasing down a long through ball. The corner was cleared, but Southampton’s pressing kept the field of play tilted towards Adrian.

Alex Song has complained about the protective eyewear he’s used, saying it interferes with his vision of the play around him. Likely because they don’t have little wipers on them, he removed them in the driving rain. It didn’t help him see Mane running at him in the 8th minute, and he lost possession. The ball made it down the left to Bertrand who looped a cross into the box. Cedric got to the ball and forced a superb save from Adrian. The ensuing corner was cleared, but not well enough to prevent Mane from starting another attack. He fed Wanyama on the right side of the West Ham penalty area. Wanyama then slid a low cross into the box towards Yoshida. The ball looked like it took a slight deflection before the Japanese fullback put it past Adrian and into the back of the net.

Southampton 1, West Ham 0.

The Saints kept up the pressure, and in the 12th minute knocked on the door again. After a good run by van Dijk, the ball went to Cedric on the left, who then whipped a cross into the box towards Pelle, but his header went out for a goal kick.

West Ham were finally able to keep some possession, which was helpful if for no other reason than giving me a break from looking up the spelling of all the Southampton players. In the 18th minute Noble and Moses linked up outside the Southampton penalty area to set Moses up for a long-range effort. The shot took a deflection and bounced harmlessly into Foster’s arms.

West Ham had what turned out to be their best chance of the match in the 29th minute when Payet took a free kick from the left side of the Southampton penalty area. He whipped the ball into the area and Reid made contact at full speed, directing it towards the goal. At first it looked like a world-class reflex save from Foster. On the replay it looked like, ohhh, maybe a European class save as opposed to the whole damn world because the shot was closer to his body than it originally looked. I’m probably splitting hairs here out of spite and frustration. Good save. Leave it at that.

West Ham enjoyed the better part of possession for the rest of the opening forty-five minutes, but not a soul made a run into the box so the Southampton defenders didn’t have too much to worry about. Moses won a corner, Noble sprayed passes around, and Valencia ran. He didn’t run anywhere in particular, but he did in fact run. Kind of like Forrest Gump.

Halftime. Southampton 1, West Ham 0.

The second half started much like the first half ended, with West Ham having quite a lot of time on the ball but wasting much of it. Valencia earned a free kick in the 51st minute when he was yanked back by Yoshida, but nothing came of it. Then Noble found Forrest Valencia running into the box but his low shot was no trouble for Foster.

I had a season ticket to the New York Rangers of the National Hockey League for over twenty years. It is common knowledge and practice in the NHL for teams to have a player whose job it is to be physical. Either against the opponents similar physical player, or in some devious instances against the opponents most skillful player. We called that player a Goon. But in hockey, the penalty to a goon for even breaking a skilled players wrist might only be a two-minute penalty. You have to wonder if this hockey concept has been adopted by our opponents when it comes to Payet. In the 54th minute, Wanyama chased down Payet after losing the ball and cut him down at both ankles. Unlike McCarthy, the Everton Goon, the Southampton Goon saw red and the Saints were down to ten men.

Koeman switched from the back three he employed at the beginning of the match to a back five. Considering the difficulty West Ham have had at times playing against ten men, that looked a prudent move from the friendlier version of Van Gaal. He also replaced Mane, who had been stellar in the first half, with Romeu. Bilic was going to respond with Carroll making his return for Moses, but an injury to Tomkins forced him into a double switch, adding Byram to the mix.

Moments after the double Hammer switch, there was a real goal scoring opportunity. For Southampton. A long ball from Foster got caught up in the blustery wind and rain, fooling Collins. It dropped behind him, allowing Long to run onto it and attempt a curling left footed shot that just missed.

In the 73rd minute, both sides made another substitution. Ink Jet Austin came on for Pelle, and new signing Emineke came on for Antonio. The narrative seemed set up for one of those two to deliver the next big moment in the match. And a minute later, it looked like the latter was about to when Valencia found Emineke in front of goal with a cross that the Nigerian headed just wide.

West Ham kept possession of the ball, over 80% actually, but did very little with it. Cresswell tried to find Carroll with a cross in the 76th minute but missed. Emineke chested the ball down to Song near the top of the box, but his shot looked roughly the same pace as a Sunday Leaguer. Then, with Byram wide open on the right to receive a pass and possibly deliver a cross into the box, Valencia took a shot that would have made Zarate look like a model of selflessness, sailing miles over Foster. In fact, for all of the time on the ball, the best chance of the final ten minutes came when Romeu fed Austin on the right side of the West Ham box with a perfectly weighted through ball but his shot went wide.

West Ham were almost gifted an equalizer in injury time when Valencia sent a cross into the box. Cedric tried to clear, but his clearance came back across the face of goal. Foster raced Emineke to it, and the slow keeper won the footrace and cleared the ball out for a corner.

Final Score. Southampton 1, West Ham 0.

In retrospect, Southampton had been playing well of late. We hadn’t won at St. Mary’s in seven attempts. And defending for your life after going down a man is a reasonable move by any team that has the lead. But it felt like too many West Ham players were off their game, particularly Valencia and Moses. Payet was only average. Slaven Bilic is probably deserving of some criticism as well for his tactics, particularly after the red card. We had two strikers out there and passed the ball around the top of the box like we were holding a lead. It was, all in all, a disappointing and frustrating afternoon.

I guess it’s a sign of progress to be frustrated at such things as opposed to expecting them.

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