The HamburgHammer Column

When Kane wasn't able - Hammers in Dreamland

It’s not often that your team wins a Cup Final in February. But apparently we did just that yesterday. I’m not quite sure if it was Spurs’ Cup Final or ours, but we did win this somehow.

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Although looking at the stats and considering how much of a workout my matchday screwdriver had to endure, I’m still a bit baffled how we managed to get all three points regardless.

Dare I say it ? This is what good teams do. They get a narrow lead over the line, by hook or by crook, even if they’ve been under the cosh for long spells in a game.

Talking about being under the cosh, I’m not gonna lie to you, but I didn’t sleep at all the night before, tossing and turning in my Futon style bed, gazing at the alarm clock on the bedside table every five minutes, never getting a proper dose of shut-eye until the sun was up again on Sunday.

It wasn’t just pre-match nerves either. This is a big week coming up for my family (more of that later) and once those meandering thoughts and lingering worries are beginning to direct a tense film drama of their own inside your head, sleep becomes an elusive commodity…

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Valecnici, that’s a useful Czech word, describing our team as a whole in this game against Spurs – it means “Warriors”. And that’s what the lads were yesterday, to a man. Like Soucek who had to briefly leave the pitch after a clash of heads in order to get a nasty cut above his eye fixed up, leaving us a man short for what seemed like eternity, but apparently was little more than five minutes. I was almost certain Spurs would exploit that fact and punish us. They didn’t.

For the rest of the game Spurs laid siege on our goal, they had 69% possession, a whopping 20 shots, 4 of them on goal. West Ham only had 31% of the ball (it seemed even less than that to me, watching on the old custard and jelly), only 4 shots in total, ALL of them on goal.
The truly important stat though, the one that got spelled out in all the major headlines is the one about West Ham scoring twice and Spurs only once. Did we bend ? Absolutely.
Did we break ? No, we didn’t. Not this time. Still hard to beat. Thanks to Moyes. Warriors.

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There’s no denying it: West Ham were riding their luck, especially in the second half. A combination of brave defending (Coufal taking one for the team late on, Rice racing back into the box to clear a ball and save the day), some fantastic saves by Fabianski and a great defensive contribution by the left goalpost (from Fabianski’s POV) kept Tottenham’s equaliser from materialising.

No Lanzini moment for them, no equaliser in dramatic fashion, rotten luck, Spurs! NOT sorry about that! LOL

When Spurs started collecting yellow cards early on as if they were going out of fashion with Mourinho busting the odd blood vessel or two down the sideline, I was expecting the game to go south for Spurs and Mourinho ending up in the stands once more. We didn’t exactly cruise after going 2:0 up. Spurs kept pushing, turning the screw further.

But we actually won by doing something very un-West Ham-like – we scored early in both halves, catching Spurs flat-footed both times. Again, that’s the sign of a strong team. As much as I was hoping we would keep Kane, Son and Bale quiet all game, I knew deep down that this was unlikely, if not impossible to do.

Even when not on top form they are still fantastic players who can turn a game on its head in a matter of seconds. And they nearly did. But “nearly“ is the little brother of “better luck next time“ and the poor cousin of “close, but no cigar!“, especially in football.

This time, luck was on our side and this is now one of those rare seasons where Spurs have failed to beat us at least once. God knows what’ll happen to our North London neighbours should they also fail to qualify for European football…

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I don’t have to go over each individual player’s contribution to this famous victory, they all did their bit, everyone put in a shift. Nobody more so than Jesse Lingard once again.

He really gives us that extra bit of quality, that desire and big team winning mentality we have been crying out for for years. He took his goal really well and he even got to celebrate it twice with his teammates, thanks to VAR. For me it was never really in doubt that the play was onside, even in real time it looked like a perfectly good goal to me.

I thought it would knock the stuffing out of Tottenham much more than it did though…several nervy moments and substitutions later we had the win in the bag. Sweet, mate!

And here we are then, sitting beautifully in 4th place. Best team in London.

It looks bizarre, it seems unreal. But his ain’t a fluke. Not anymore. Yes, we still have to play Man City, Man United and Leicester. But we can approach any and every game with confidence, pride and a bit of swagger these days. The season is far from over yet, of course. We aren’t even mathematically safe yet. There may be setbacks lurking.

However, this team now reminds me of a shark that’s been starving for prey for too long and which has finally smelled fresh traces of claret in the water. Thanks to players like Soucek, Coufal and Lingard the entire squad have acquired a taste for winning, a desire to train that little bit harder, to look after themselves more while trying to become better performers from one game to the next. It’s a refreshing change from seeing the likes of Carroll or Wilshere taking the club for a ride.

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This is a watershed moment for our club in my opinion. Moyes is key in all this. He’s the one with a clear and strategic plan and the right ideas about how to push this great club forward. I read some quotes from our gaffer, talking about how having Rice at West Ham helps himself and this club as a whole to be more ambitious. Because Rice is rightfullyambitious and hungry for success, Moyes feels added pressure to bring better players in to keep the likes of Rice happy.

This is what Moyes said just recently:

Declan is pushing me to improve the team, because I’m looking at him and saying, ‘You’re an England international, possibly future England captain and you want me to get you good players.’ I think Declan will always be here as long as he thinks I’m going to try to do that.

And it’s true. Rice could become a legend at West Ham – if we can keep him at the club that is and keep him happy. As unlikely as that may sound at this point, he will have no reason to leave as long as West Ham are heading in the right direction. With European or even CL football beckoning and starting every game for us, with Moyes adding to the quality of the squad, why would Rice want to leave ?

I’d go one further . We all know how Rice grew up a Chelsea fan, how they ditched him as a youth team player because they were convinced he’d never be good enough to make it into the PL. Well, they got that one slightly wrong, didn’t they ? Rice, by the way, was magnificent against Tottenham.

Playing for your childhood club must be a dream come true if it happens, I am ready to believe that. But Rice is making some great progress and wonderful memories at West Ham NOW as a man. He’s no longer the kid that used to cheer when Lampard or John Terry scored a goal.

He’s clearly enjoying playing for West Ham and why wouldn’t he ? He’s been our player for a while now, U23s and first team. Chelsea may have been his first football love. But not everybody gets to marry his first love from teenage days in real and adult life. My bedroom used to be plastered with Nena posters on every wall during my teenager years, today I listen to many other artists and have given up any desire or hope to hold hands with the singer of “99 Red Balloons“ at the end of the aisle, exchanging vows in front of a clergyman.

I can see a similar process at work for Declan Rice and his relationship with his boyhood crush Chelsea.

There is every chance that Rice is no longer simply a West Ham player at this stage. I wouldn’t be surprised to seeing him becoming more and more of a West Ham supporter who happens to wear the claret and blue shirt while playing his football, if it hasn’t already happened. A fan on the pitch, just like Mark Noble used to be and still is occasionally.
Playing every game and being skipper of your team must make a difference. I can see Moyes making Rice the focal point of his improved future West Ham team. Build the team around him.

Let’s hope Moyes will indeed be in a position to bring in more good players in future to keep this club on the right track.

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Moyes has mentioned what he thinks is essential to turn this club around. A proper scouting network and recruitment policy. Signing young and hungry players rather than big name players looking for one final hurrah, paired with a big wage packet.

Players who are good at football AND sound as human beings and teammates. Pillars of the dressing room rather than pillocks on Instagram.

I reckon this is going to be a bloody exciting ride if Moyes is allowed to make more decisions concerning the club’s future.
If he gets proper backing in words and action, who knows what he can achieve for the Hammers ?

I am really grateful we won our derby game because it has lifted my mood just in time for what is going to be a crucial week for me personally. My brother is having to face yet another medical procedure on Thursday to finally get rid of his cancer. It’s minimally invasive surgery this time, so he should be in and out of hospital quickly.

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My brother is obviously hoping that this is gonna be the final operation required in order to kick the tumour into touch once and for all. Fingers crossed and all that. Your kind thoughts and expressions of support have been most welcome and sincerely appreciated, thank you all for your words of encouragement, positive vibes and prayers, bless you all!

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Somehow wins against Spurs are always that little bit extra special, aren’t they ? It’s only three points on paper, same as the previous win against Sheffield United.

But it does feel more like six or nine points really, this one. Not just because it was a derby win. More in terms of being a statement of intent.
A line drawn in the sand.
In the form of an impressive run of results with victories coming in different shapes and sizes. And not just against relegation strugglers. Pundits are finally sitting up, taking notice. West Ham, on current form, can no longer be ignored.

And what’s even more uplifting to see is that this bunch of players is in no danger of losing contact with solid ground, these guys aren’t getting cocky, too big for their boots or ahead of themselves.

But winning breeds confidence. And bigger confidence makes winning more likely. Which raises the confidence levels even more.

Have we got anything to lose against Man City ? Not really. As long as we don’t suffer a thrashing by three or four goals, there is no shame if we were to lose against them. Most other teams do. But one thing I’m sure of is that Man City will know they’ve been in a game once the final whistle has sounded.

It’s great to be a Hammer in February 2021.
Especially after also winning Spurs’ Cup Final this year. COYI!!!

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Hamburg football update: Isn’t football weirdly wonderful ? When a team topping the table travels to the worst team in the league and still manages to lose by a scoreline of 2:3, then we are all being reminded once again what is so great about the beautiful game: You just don’t know what’s gonna happen over 90+ minutes.

Hamburg SV of course have a long history of losing this type of fixture.
They can beat three top teams in a row, only to suffer an embarrassing defeat at the hands of a Würzburg team that is (still) very much destined for the drop at the end of the season and rightly so. Hamburger SV are still occupying top spot though for the time being, thanks to their superior goal difference over both Bochum and Kiel who are also on 42 points, just like HSV. What a promotion race this is already shaping up to be, with Fürth and Karlsruhe also still very much in the hunt…

St.Pauli, meanwhile have apparently forgotten how to lose at football, they have now won four in a row after beating Darmstadt 3:2 and they firmly got their minces peeled on the top half of the Bundesliga 2 table rather than another dreaded relegation dogfight.


The HamburgHammer Column

Fatigued in Fulham - can Hammers bounce back against the Mancs ?

The Predictor League for Manchester United is open. Enter your team HERE. Deadline is 5.30pm tomorrow.

I really don’t want to dwell too much on the Fulham game as such. It was a bit of an anti-climax all around, wasn’t it ? We can blame Moyes and his brilliant work so far this season for our sense of disappointment. The gaffer has been whetting our collective appetites for more scintillating and winning football in recent weeks. We quickly got used to West Ham finding ways to get all three points, even if we weren’t always at our best. Now we are miffed that our team only managed a draw at Fulham…

We certainly weren’t our usual confident self at Craven Cottage. Most of our players looked worn out and off the pace. Energy levels depleted.
Please recharge batteries ASAP their body language seemed to beg.

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Fulham, it has to be said, were fighting for their lives. They were a tough opponent, running, tackling, busting a gut as if there was no tomorrow.
If they do get relegated it won’t be for lack of effort. They actually looked more likely to score throughout the contest. So I prefer to be content with keeping another clean sheet in difficult conditions rather than being overly critical this Monday morning.

Another away point in the bag. Where I’m from a draw away from home is never to be sniffed at. It was one of those games where the cookie simply didn’t seem to crumble in our favour. West Ham didn’t get the rub of the green on the day. And not just in terms of the actual football…

Our players didn’t perform to their usual high standard and that applies pretty much to the entire team on the day. Application was fine, but there was precious little end product or quality in terms of build up play.
It happens. Maybe some players already had their minds on the upcoming FA Cup game, who knows ?

While we didn’t win, we also didn’t lose. We are bloody hard to beat these days and that’s something to be very pleased with. Mind you, I can’t say the same about Mike Dean and VAR official Lee Mason.

“The Dean&Mason Show“ sounds like an exciting Las Vegas attraction, with white tigers doing pirouettes on stage, women being sawn in half or a group of artists spinning 112 porcelain plates on long wooden sticks, perched on their heads, hands and feet while singing Dead or Alive’s Eighties classic “You spin me round“. Sounds like fun!

Unfortunately Dean and Mason are not doing magic tricks in the Nevada desert. They referee football games in England.

Which is no fun at all. Not anymore.

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The sending-off of Tomas Soucek was very harsh indeed. To put it mildly. It was a travesty really which is the slightly less mild way of putting it.
What I really want to write is: WTF ??? Is this where football is going ?
If it is, I’d rather start following dressage in future, it sounds more appealing and less biased at this point. Not as exciting maybe, but less controversial.

Soucek had never seen a red card in his professional career prior to this, he’s not that kind of player. He doesn’t seem to have a bad bone in his body, judging him on his time at West Ham so far.
He probably didn’t even nick his sister’s favourite toy as a kid to tease her.

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I didn’t see any intent from Soucek to hit out at Mitrovic at all. Mitrovic made the most of it, like unfortunately most players would these days.
It’s professional, it’s instinct, trying to gain an advantage anyway you can, innit ?

Acting like you had just been hit on the Loaf with a giant pipe wrench or cricket bat when in fact it was merely an accidental brush from the opponent’s elbow. Not a pleasant experience to have an elbow in your face, granted, but I’m sure Mitrovic will live to tell the tale…

Any young boy hitting the floor of the local playground in this fashion after similar contact would be laughed right out of the sandpit by his mates – and told not to forget his Hello Kitty shovel and bucket before buggering off home to mum for tea and biscuits.

You could see from Soucek’s instant reaction that he didn’t mean to even touch Mitrovic, he merely wanted to get his arm free, I reckon, to avoid any shenanigans for the impending free kick – but by doing just that somehow contact was initiated and the Fulham striker unsurprisingly made a proper three course meal of it, with salad on the side and a pint of bitter.

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But the referee still had a chance to do the right thing. Dean watched several replays, just like we all did. Apparently only an endless repeat of the split-second when Soucek’s elbow hit Mirovic’s face. Obviously you can’t tell if it was intentional from that split second, you need the two seconds before and after for context…

Still Dean went for glory and yet another moment of look-at-me-I’m-running-this-show fame for his personal collection. How he must have enjoyed it all! I can’t for the life of me understand how you can give a red card after seeing the replays. A yellow card for clumsiness, maybe, fair enough.

But this may now cost us Soucek for several games unless the card gets rescinded as it bloody well should! Apparently we can expect a decision, one way or another, as early as today. Tomorrow at the latest.
Indications are that Mike Dean has been told by his superiors at the PMGOL that he got it wrong, clearing the path for the card getting indeed rescinded and Soucek escaping a ban.

Still, I have been saying all along that the proof in the pudding for West Ham will come once injuries and suspensions to key players start to happen. This could have been one of those situations. We have nobody in the squad who can replace Soucek like for like.

This would require Moyes to think on his feet and find an alternative.
It would likely have to be Noble, Fornals or even Balbuena or Diop.

Whatever the decision might be, it’d have an impact on Rice’s performances as well. The chemistry between Rice and Soucek would be difficult if not impossible to recreate. But it’s a potential dilemma we have brought upon ourselves, we’ve ordered this particular bowl of broth, now we gotta finish it as ordered. We didn’t sign a DM in January and we also didn’t sign a striker.

So what happens if Antonio got injured again, doing his hamstrings ?
“A striker, a striker, my kingdom for a striker!“ as a certain Mr.Shakespeare might have put it…

As much as Moyes might prefer to work with a small squad – this will be his challenge now whenever a player becomes unavailable. You can’t predict that a referee is going to strike with an unfortunate call or when a player might go down with an impact- or fatigue-related injury, but you gotta be prepared for the possibility it can and will likely happen to your team at some point in time.

We took the gamble, we decided to play with fire and we might get our fingers burned as a result. Tough. But not surprising.

Still no penalty for West Ham all season, but now a truly questionable/embarrassing sending-off to our detriment.
This is much more like the old West Ham!
I had almost forgotten what it feels like…

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Talking of feelings – it’s still lockdown here in Germany. And it will be with us Krauts for a while longer, until Easter at least by the looks of it. On top of that the coming days will bring heavy snowstorms and dropping temperatures to my neck of the woods. It’ll be so cold that cats all over Hamburg will be happily retreating into their human tin openers’ fridge just to warm themselves up for a while. The forecast is predicting snow galore and we are still advised to stay at home as much as possible.

Oh, and my brother still hasn’t heard back from his doctor about how and when his next phase of therapy is likely to go ahead. Not the news I wanted to hear. Let’s say I am not looking forward to the next seven days with any kind of joy or excitement.

A healthy dose of joy though arrived on Saturday by way of our dear friend BSB who called me up unexpectedly on the old dog and bone, so we could chat away for 45 minutes, mainly about West Ham of course. It was really lovely to hear my favourite cabby’s voice again – but don’t forget that due to the lockdown situation and no trips to Blighty for me in a while, I haven’t actually been speaking English to anyone for over a year now. (Muttering to myself on matchdays during our games doesn’t count!)
Typing away on a keyboard is one thing, but chewing the fat on the phone is a different matter altogether.

I’m pleased to say though that after an initial phase of struggling for words and phrases, the conversation began to flow along nicely, like West Ham’s attacking play throughout our great January run of games.
I gotta give thanks to BSB for this chinwag.
It may not sound like much, this simple phone call, but sometimes little gestures like this one mean a lot. It certainly gave my mood a proper lift. Cheers for that, me old mucker!

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No rest for the wicked though, another game tomorrow, FA Cup duty away at Old Trafford. A free hit as far as I am concerned. Most people would still expect Man United to win this fairly comfortably. With our league position we really have nothing to lose here and winning the Cup would not only be a bloody nice achievement in itself and give us a beautiful trophy to parade, it may also be a more likely route to European football for West Ham than final league position.

I am reasonably confident. We weren’t really firing on all cylinders against Fulham and somehow I can’t see a Moyes team having two subpar performances in a row.

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I know it’s Manchester United, I know they’re a bloody good team and they are “at home”. Still, the number of games surely is having an impact on their squad too. Pogba might be out for them after leaving their game at the weekend with an injury. And their 3:3 draw against Everton with the visitors scoring a very dramatic late equaliser, might have knocked their confidence a bit as well.

Anything can happen tomorrow and I for one will be watching full of hope and, yes, expectation. Again, that’s what Moyes has done – he has raised our expectation levels in terms of what this team can achieve against all the odds. We will see a strong starting XI (under the circumstances) and surely Michail Antonio, if he starts, is due another goal eventually.
Or two! ;-))

With Lingard out for this one, I would expect Fornals or Lanzini getting the nod. Time to grab your opportunity with both feet, lads! Get us into the quarter-final round so we can be look forward to blowing some more bubbles this season!

With a bit of luck and common sense prevailing, even Soucek might be allowed to play at Old Trafford…

COYI

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Hamburg football update; Pretty good weekend for the two Hamburg outfits. Hamburger SV got a point away at East German team Erzgebirge Aue, sharing the spoils in a wild 3:3 draw (after being 3:1 up at half-time). With their fiercest promotion rival Bochum winning their fixture, the gap has narrowed again with HSV still on top with Bochum right on their heels and only two points behind.

The St.Pauli boys maintained their impressive run of form, beating Sandhausen 2:1. That’s an impressive four wins out of five now, getting them into 14th place with a cushion of four points between them and the relegation playoff place. Nice to see both Hamburg clubs doing reasonably well again!


The HamburgHammer Column

One step closer to Wembley and some fresh faces on display

The Predictor League for Crystal Palace is open. Enter your team HERE. Deadline is Tuesday at 4pm.

This is going to be a predominantly positive article. And it’s a deliberate decision of mine. Partly to do with our highly professional performance in the FA Cup against a hopelessly inferior Doncaster Rovers team. But also as a result of looking back at some of the exchanges in the comment section on previous articles where I got a bit hot under the collar.
And, to be fair, some of the comments from my fellow posters got me thinking.

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Indeed I sometimes feel like poor old Don Quixote fighting windmills when ranting, raving and spitting fire over our esteemed owners. Indeed there is going be a day eventually when they cease to own and run this club and when that particularly eventful chapter in our history will be closed.

It’ll be no surprise for you to hear that this will be a day of unfettered joy for me, I might light a vanilla-scented candle for the occasion, open a bottle of bubbly or baltic porter and maybe even sacrifice a goat down my local church to appease and honour the football deities (although that kind of bloodshed seems to be frowned upon these days, especially at my local church!), but you get what I’m saying here.

My local church, by the way, is named Church of the Cross, but I doubt they named it after our very own David “Psycho” Cross…;-))

Whatever I say on here (or how often), no matter how passionate I may be while doing my moaning and moping around, it won’t make that final day of their ownership arrive any faster. But arrive it surely will! Today we are already one day closer to it happening actually.

So I am determined to dial it down a notch in future, you all know what I think about GSB, so I shall try to simply enjoy the fantastic ride we’re on in league and cup for the time being and not worry too much about all the other stuff, silly transfer rumours or any other off-field shenanigans.

Que sera, whatever will be, will be, we’re going to Wemberley!
Not physically, with fans inside the stadium and all that, obviously, but I am confident we can go far in the FA Cup this year. It’s up for grabs, that’s for sure, with clubs like Man United or Leicester likely to focus their attention on the league title and/or international competition.

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So, back to that cup game against Donny. There were plenty of things to appreciate in this one. I already mentioned our professional and determined approach throughout. Yes, Moyes rested many of our key players with an eye already firmly cast on our next tough league game away to Palace.

But every single West Ham starter on that pitch put in a proper shift with all eyes and feet set firmly on the prize of a big next round encounter away at Anfield or Old Trafford. Now confirmed to be the latter.

I hadn’t even taken my first customary sip of Rosie from my lucky West Ham mug and the ball was in the net already for the first time, thanks to our Spanish Duracell Bunny Pablo Four Nails! Does the geezer ever stop running ?

The Doncaster players must have felt as if they had forgotten all their fork handles for battle on the bus, from that point on you could see the belief constantly seeping out of their team with every passing minute. They looked very much beaten after that early goal.

Doncaster, as I had alluded to in a previous comment, were really weak in midfield which meant that we were given the keys to the pitch basically, resulting in one attacking wave after another rolling into Doncaster’s penalty box and on another day we might have scored six or seven.
We didn’t. That’s the negativity for this article done and over with!

Yarmolenko showed that he may be a decent enough option to play upfront occasionally if we need him there to give Antonio a breather (in case we don’t get to sign a striker in this transfer window after all, we might also see young Oladapo Afolayan on the bench more often ).

Yarmolenko took his goal beautifully and was working very hard all game long, also tracking back and helping out with defensive duties.

I cannot single out a single player who was disappointing. Ben Johnson was doing admirably well on the left side which, as we all know, isn’t his forte. But he stepped up to the plate and, you guessed it, put in a shift.
Benrahma was constantly trying to create, same as Lanzini and while they were unlucky in terms of scoring there was plenty of effort and desire there. In fact I thought the entire team were enjoying that game tremendously which felt more like a glorified training fixture than a proper competitive game.

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Noble was instrumental, covering most areas of the pitch, picking passes, intercepting balls, working his socks off. It may only have been League One opposition, but he had a fine game. At the back we looked solid. So much so that it didn’t look like just a good day at the office but more like a leisurely afternoon stroll out in the park.

I reckon we are set up quite nicely in terms of CBs. Ogbonna is obviously our key defender, but I reckon it doesn’t matter much if you put Dawson next to him. Or Balbuena. Or Diop. All very reliable and they all seem to understand the system Moyes has implemented at our club.

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I love how Moyes is gradually introducing youngsters, bedding them into the first team gently. This may be out of necessity due to our thin squad and games coming at us thick and fast, but it’s still good to see.
Take players like Ben Johnson starting. Take Moyes’s decision to give a debut/cameo to Oladapo Afolayan, an aggressive and pacy striker, maybe also a late bloomer in the Antonio mould.
(“Dapo“ returned the favour by scoring not long after coming on.)

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Take the introduction of young defender Jamal Baptiste aka “Barry the Baptiste”, probably our top-ranked youth prospect these days. Or look at the gaffer’s move to give goalkeeping prospect Nathan Trott his first team debut late on with the win already in the bag and nothing to play for except keeping a clean sheet.

Trott didn’t have anything significant to do, but his heart will have been bursting with pride regardless. Always a big moment, that much anticipated debut for the first team, innit ?

And I guess that Fabianski has never flashed a bigger smile when being pulled from a game in his entire career…

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We have a got a good thing going here, thanks to the ability of Moyes to get the best out of the players he’s got at the club. It’s about work ethic. About effort, desire, stamina. And about being a team player.
We have got players running and fighting for one another. It’s a team in the true sense of the word. Maybe that’s why the gaffer is reluctant to sign just any old player offered to him.

Whoever we bring in, be that on loan or on a permanent contract, needs to fit into the current group of lads in the dressing room.

That’s another thing why I am no longer overly concerned with the signings we may make or fail to make in the coming days. Adversity may be ahead caused by injuries, suspensions, self-isolation due to Covid. But I think Moyes can prevail by finding solutions and use players in different ways who can and will perform despite being asked to deputise in an unfamiliar role. They will give it a shot and try their best, not just for Moyes, but for their teammates.

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I wouldn’t expect Palace to particularly fancy having to face us tomorrow. They have numerous players out with injury while we have the luxury of being able to field well rested regular starters like Ogbonna, Coufal, Rice and Antonio. So I am already buzzing for tomorrow. I would predict Moyes to field a very strong side that will hopefully be too much for Palace to handle under the Selhurst Park lights in South London. COYI!!!

Health update from my brother: This will get a bit technical, so skip if you’re not interested. My brother phoned me up just half an hour or so before our game to give me the heads up after he had been given the results of his MRI scan on Thursday.

The bad news is they found loads of little metastases on his liver that were too tiny to spot during the CT scan they did just before Christmas.
The good news is that the doctors have a pretty good grasp and idea of how to tackle this issue and finally get rid of his cancer. There is a specialised surgeon at a local hospital here in Hamburg who has developed a reasonably new method of therapy for this type of cancer.
In a relatively short space of time this medical expert has been performing the procedure dozens of times already on both local patients and numerous others coming from far and wide. And his method seems to have worked a treat so far.

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The therapy is exploiting the fact that apparently healthy liver cells and cancer cells are being supported by separate systems of blood vessels. So the doctor can somehow isolate specifically those blood vessels nurturing the cancerous cells and then flood that system within the liver with a highly concentrated dose of chemo therapy for two hours or so. Dipping the tumour supply line in pure poison basically. If they injected that level of poison into my brother’s system the usual way via a so called chemo port it would certainly kill him within an hour, like the bite of a black mamba would.

But by doing keyhole surgery on the liver they can essentially flush his cancerous cells (or rather the blood nurturing those cells) with the deadly poison, with pinpoint precision, keeping his healthy cells completely unaffected by the chemo. That’s how my brother explained it to me.

I cannot claim to have understood every detail but the key thing is that both his oncologist and the surgeon seem to know exactly what they’re doing. And they have decided that this will give my brother the best chance of getting rid of his cancer after almost six years of fighting, setbacks and new hope. Keyhole surgery is likely to go ahead early next month. Fingers crossed and all that, but it sounds promising.
Thanks for your continued support, positive thoughts and words of encouragement. It’s very highly appreciated.

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Hamburg football update: It’s still a lovely view for HSV, looking down from the top of the Bundesliga 2 table upon their footballing kingdom. Saturday’s game was a lot harder than expected though, seeing Braunschweig racing into a 2:0 lead, but that must have woken up the Hamburg lads as they won the game 4:2 in the end.

St.Pauli also had a successful weekend as they beat relegation rivals Regensburg 2:0. After back-to-back wins they have finally waved goodbye to the relegation spots for the time being. The Boys in Brown are in 15th place now and out of all the teams in and around the relegation zone they are currently enjoying the best run of form over the last 5 games. Looks like the four players who have arrived at St.Pauli in the January transfer window are making a difference to performances and results.


The HamburgHammer Column

Clean sheeters DO prosper! Behold the new West Ham!

West Ham right now are a team that’s making plenty of people sit up and take notice. It’s not exactly the most breathtaking brand of football, granted. But crikey, these Hammers are tough to beat! Four clean sheets in a row are testament to a team that is well drilled and organised.
As they say: Great sides are built from the back and that’s exactly what seems to be happening at our beloved little club at this stage.
Stop leaking goals first, then take care of the attacking side of things.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither was London. Not to mention West Ham.

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The Burnley game was an unusual matchday experience for me as I had rare company in my flat for the first time in ages, a mate I hadn’t seen in person for more than a year had come over, so we could compare notes as to what had happened in our lives over the last 12 months or so. I used to play baseball with the guy and he has recently become a father for the third time (welcoming his first son into the world after being blessed with two daughters in previous years).

So he had a lot more to tell than me than vice versa and we were also taking walks down memory lane, reminiscing about our glory days on the local fields of dreams, hitting line drives and making diving catches for the Hamburg Oysters. Contrary to what the moniker might suggest we weren’t posh or well minted, but as a northern team from a port city it was a fitting name with maritime/seafood connotations I suppose…and apparently a shucked oyster looks a bit like a wide open baseball glove too, so that was the reasoning behind our unusual team name.

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Marc and I had the West Ham game on in the background to usher in the evening, but I wasn’t watching as closely as I usually do. But like everyone else I was absolutely delighted with the result. Before you ask: We shared our traditional favourite dish for occasions of watching live sports together (we used to follow the NFL coverage in Germany religiously both at this place and mine over the years) – a jumbo-sized nacho platter bursting with jalapenos, minced meat, kidney beans and melted cheese accompanied by homemade sour cream and guacamole dips on the side.
Plus some lovely homemade coleslaw the recipe for which I learned to perfect during lockdown.

I have really picked up a trick or two as far as cooking is concerned over the course of the pandemic, so the food was certainly a bit spicier and tastier than the game playing out on the custard.

When Antonio scored what turned out to be the only goal of the game, my initial celebrations were rather muted. I thought this one might be chalked off by VAR. I held on to that thought even when Antonio was doing another of his weird celebrations, flipping around on the floor as if he was suffering an anaphylactic shock after munching a granola bar despite having a nut allergy…

Apparently he was merely taking punishment due to losing a game of Call of Duty against Declan Rice who in return had suggested that exact celebratory routine for one of Antonio’s next goals…

Wouldn’t it have been the most West Ham thing ever to see Antonio doing a mad celebration scoring solid 9.5 marks for awkwardness only to find VAR ruling out the goal for offside just 20 seconds later ?

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Be that as it may, the goal stood and we were up and running. It’s been statistically proven that scoring the first goal massively improves your team’s chances of winning the contest. Funnily enough, this season I also feel strangely confident even if we concede the first goal, but that hasn’t happened in quite a while, so for now I am quite content to heap praise on our defensive shape and a proper gem we picked from the “Bargain! Everything must go!” shelf.

Craig Dawson was one of the most uninspiring signings to arrive at West Ham in the past decade. That’s what 90% of our fanbase thought when he arrived. People were hoping he would never have to play for us.
That all changed when he DID start to play for us…

Indeed he is a very unspectacular, almost boring player to watch, but that’s the way I like my defenders. Let’s face it: The highlight reel wasn’t invented with Craig Dawson in mind. He is predictable in terms of doing all the basic and simple things right, leaving the showboating and complicated stuff to other players who are more inclined to take the risk of making a fool of themselves in the process.

Dawson stepped into this team and like magic he fit our team like a glove, immediately striking up a great partnership with Ogbonna and Coufal.
So much so that our glorious CB pairing has been christened Dawgbonna on social media. It certainly has a jolly nice ring to it.
It can’t be long before Dawgbonna are getting their own line of branded merchandise items in the club shop. Maybe starting with dog bowls…

I’m sure most of you will remember that launderers and drycleaners shop in Green Street (Blossom and Browne’s Sycamore) that used to greet West Ham fans on their way to The Boleyn on a matchday with those notorious signs above and below a big square clock face telling the passing punters invitingly “Don’t kill your wife – let us do it!”

Great humour that, but also quite fitting for the current West Ham players though who have made the art of keeping clean sheets a very beautiful habit for the Hammers in recent weeks.

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The clean sheeters from Stratford – some PL strikers might by now be almost ready to kill their wives if it helped them to finally put the ball into the West Ham net again…
May those sheets remain spotless for a while longer…

From what I could gather in the second half, we created plenty of promising goalscoring opportunities and squandered them all just as Burnley were increasing their pressure all the time down the other end.

We actually look alright until we get to the penalty box, then we struggle with finding an end product to reward ourselves for good build up play.
We have a tendency to keep the ball for too long or making things too complicated when a quick through ball or cross may be the better and immediately more dangerous option for the defenders to deal with.

I was almost expecting the dreaded equaliser to arrive any minute before the final whistle, 1:0 is a very dangerous scoreline and at times we were riding our luck a bit.

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As the league is so tight that win “only“ got us into 9th place for now, but also just six points behind Leicester in 2nd place. Bonkers!!!
On the other hand there is now a five point cushion between us and Arsenal in 11th place and looking at the upcoming games we seem to be destined not only to wrap up PL status for next season very early on, but also manage to cement our position in the top half of the table for the time being. Very nice indeed!

And it looks like we may wrap up the signing of Haller replacement *Boulaye Dia from Reims" in the next few days. We are certainly a more attractive option for players now, looking like a team on the way up rather than one fighting the drop as we did all too often in recent years.

Right now I think we definitely need more options upfront so that Moyes can find different formations for us allowing West Ham to attack different opposition teams in different ways. There’s more than one way to pluck a goose and right now Antonio is pretty much the only way upon which we’re relying.

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So I will definitely welcome a new striker at West Ham with open arms and eyes. Oh, and if we have a couple of million quid left I would also make the Dawson deal permanent, so we can pick up someone else on loan for the rest of the season.

Making the right signings in the next few weeks could be the difference between us qualifying for Europe or ending the season in 12th-14th place due to unexpected injuries or players being tested positive for Covid.

Squad depth is vital, as much as Moyes may enjoy working with a small squad, as long as they’re all fit and healthy that is…

Next up is a meeting with an old friend…
And, depending on your personal view, another old friend. Or foe. Yes, it’s West Brom bringing the Tartan Pele back to his old hunting grounds at the London Stadium while Samuel “My ear is forever cupped, you ungrateful cockney gits!” Allardyce will be chewing some more gum as he will be trying to out-tactic Moyes.

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Usually this constellation would worry me senseless. I would expect nothing less than Snodgrass scoring a hattrick upon his return and Allardyce giving the cameras a filthy grin while sticking various fingers up to the Hammers faithful watching at home. But this is a different West Ham. Gone is the soft underbelly. We no longer allow anyone to tickle our tummies without asking our approval first. If you want to beat us these days you gotta play hard and well. We no longer gift-wrap any points for other teams.
You want the points you bloody well earn them with your performance. West Brom should be a feisty affair and a vastly more interesting game of football than Burnley.
With hopefully another clean sheet for the Hammers at the end of the day.

COYI!!!

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Hamburg football update: Saturday brought a crucial away win for St.Pauli at midtable team Hannover 96. A crazy game where the Kiezkicker took a 2:0 lead after ten minutes, only to see Hannover equalise within the first ten minutes of the second half. St.Pauli’s manager proved to have his choice of substitutes spot on though as he brought on Igor Matanovic, a young midfielder who came through the club’s youth academy, in the 86th minute only to see him score the winner two minutes into injury time.
St.Pauli are still second from bottom, but now only one point away from a non-relegation spot.

Their cross-town rivals Hamburg SV will try to reclaim top spot from Bochum when they’re facing the team they signed their current gaffer from in the summer, VFL Osnabrück. You can follow that game live on BT Sport 1 if you fancy a bit of German football, kick-off is at 7.30 pm UK time.


The HamburgHammer Column

After an evening swim at Edgeley Park - where do West Ham go from here ?

The Predictor League for Burnley is open. Enter your team HERE. Deadline is Saturday at 1pm.

I am not a big fan of Monday games, especially late kick-offs. I will still try and rustle up a column, sort of, typing a few paragraphs down prior to the game at Stockport and a few bits and bobs after the final whistle.

Stockport then, eh? Dan Coker led us down memory lane earlier in yet another excellent match preview of his yesterday.

One of the strongest West Ham memories of my Barking days in 1996 leads me back to The Bull, one of many Barking pubs that was still selling pints in 1996, but is unfortunately no more in 2021 and hasn’t been open for business for many years. The building was/is located right opposite the old Barking Abbey. I suppose some of you who are local will remember the place. Apparently it closed as a pub in 2010, briefly reopened as a nightclub in 2017 only to find itself boarded up again today.

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It’s in that pub where I did watch most of the games of Euro 96 (“Football’s coming home” and all that!) and where, just a week before Christmas and a flight back home to celebrate with the family, I witnessed our painful exit from the League Cup on a wet and windy day night on a muddy pitch against Stockport County at Edgeley Park.

I watched the drama unfold in the random company of a total stranger, an elderly chap, over a pint and the football conversations we had turned out to be more entertaining than the game. Dowie’s bullet of a header to this day is still the most astonishing own goal I have ever seen. Down the other end it would have been a brilliant finish, going into West Ham’s own net it was mindblowing.

You know sometimes when a goalscoring opportunity is blasted over the bar from five yards out, the pundits say it was the finishing of a defender. Dowie’s attempt to head the ball out of danger showed that there is something like a striker’s clearance at the back as well. There is a reason after all why defenders defend and strikers mainly focus on scoring goals…

Job done! That’s the best you can say about last night’s performance on an occasion where oop north it was coming down in stair rods as Paddington Bear might have described it before biting into a marmalade sandwich.

We found it hard to break down a very organised and gutsy Stockport team and it took a late set piece by substitute Bowen, finished off by a bullet of a header by Dawson, this one going in at the right end though.
How apt that it was a defender scoring the winner! ;-))

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This, by the way, was Dawson’s third start for West Ham resulting in our third clean sheet. This one already looks like a loan deal working in our favour.

We also caught a brief glimpse of forward prospect Ademipo Odubeko.
Due to our squad size we might see the lad more often now methinks.
His little cameo was too short to evaluate how he might cope against the likes of Burnley or West Brom.

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After cracking this particular tough nut in the FA Cup we are now facing Doncaster at home first and if we can take care of that fixture it’ll either be Liverpool or Manchester away. Nice one, Crouchy!

To be fair, I always thought if you are serious about winning the trophy, you cannot be picky about the opposition at any stage. A favourable draw is nice if you can get it, but if you beat one of the big clubs on the way to the final, that’s when you really know you deserve to be there.

And besides. IF we were to get past Doncaster, who can say what the situation is going to be in terms of squad availability for the teams involved, players being injured or self-isolating ?

Liverpool may decide to field a weakened side to focus on their Champions League exploits. Manchester United may want to rest players to focus on their league fixtures to cement their position near the top.

To summarise: I am not fazed by the cup draw at all. In fact I’m looking forward to it. This year we can really go for it and field our best side in every round. I reckon that’s what every West Ham fan would be expecting now since relegation fears are no longer a viable excuse this time around…

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A quick word on the players who we let go so far in January, first name obviously being Sebastien Haller.

The player has probably been discussed, defended, mocked, criticised and argued over more than any player on this blog in the past three years.
So far we don’t know the exact circumstances of how the deal came about, but Ajax must have made a financial offer that by all accounts suited all parties just fine although it leaves us very short in the striking department.

A parting of ways was always on the cards though and as one of his biggest supporters on the blog I will gladly admit that it just didn’t click for Haller at West Ham. I still think it was mainly about the way we were lining up rather than him being a bad player or the PL being too fast or physical for him.

I reckon there are several sides in the PL where Haller would have been just as successful (or more so) as he used to be at Frankfurt. I know the overall quality of the PL is superior to that of the Bundesliga, but it’s not like every PL team out there has world-class defences. Haller could have done a lot better, for instance like he did in the games when playing together with Antonio, but our manager obviously wasn’t keen on going down that road, so Haller had to be sold. Fair enough!
I’m sure Haller will be a great striker at Ajax.

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Then there’s Robert Snodgrass, the Tartan Pele.
I am happy he left because the lad deserves more game time in the PL.
I love players like him to bits because you could always expect to see 100% from him on the pitch. From what I have heard he was a brilliant character on the training pitch and in the dressing room. A proper competitor and textbook professional. The kind of player every team needs to complement the tricksters, the finesse passers and the tough-tackling defenders.

I can only wish Snodders all the best in his future endeavours at West Brom which is hard for me to do as that would correspond with an upturn in the fortunes of a certain Samuel Allardyce…;-))

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So, two players gone, only one defender in (Frederik Alves Ibsen) so far. Make no mistake, we still have a small and unbalanced squad, we all know that we’re practically brassic as a club, so it’s not that unlikely we don’t sign anyone else in January. We may see a lot of U23 players on matchday first team benches in the next few months as a result…

I think we can all agree that David Moyes is doing a fine job in very trying circumstances. The gaffer clearly has ambition and he wants to improve the squad but he is being hamstrung, pardon the pun, by a lack of striker alternatives to Antonio (He of the dodgy hamstrings) and very limited funds to make amends.

Moyes, by all accounts, isn’t keen to bring in just any old player to make up the numbers, only those who genuinely improve the team. He said he’d be happy if we didn’t sign anybody else this window. That is admirable, but coupled with our financial situation it creates a conundrum.

As indeed Moyes may not be able to bring his targets in due to them being too high quality and too dear in price whereas the players he will be offered left, right and centre by agents, clubs and the owners (Sullivan/Salthouse punts) may be in our price bracket, but not be what the gaffer has in mind.

THIS is where as a board you have to come to the fore and support the gaffer. Not with big words or inches in a newspaper column, but actions and £££.

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All of this is even more disappointing as we are doing really well so far and could make a push up the table with the right January signings, as we did with bringing in Soucek and Coufal late in successive windows.

We certainly could do with another striker or two, a left back and a defensive midfielder. Don’t hold your breath though. And I guess it’s safe to say we can all go to bed throughout this transfer window at our regular bedtimes without fear of missing much.

I don’t expect much activity in terms of players coming in. We are essentially gambling on Moyes working his magic with the squad he still has at his disposal, we are hoping that Antonio’s hamstrings will last a few more months (like an old Vauxhall Vivaro approaching its next MOT test) and we pray no other players will go down with long term injuries.
Good luck with all of that!

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In terms of the league fixtures we are now entering a stretch with very winnable games, on paper at least. We should be able to establish ourselves firmly in the top half of the table and banish any lingering fears of relegation within the next four weeks or so. Our next few results may also affect our transfer business. If we do well it might lead to a sense of security within the club hierarchy that could result in the owners keeping their hands firmly in their pockets in January.

I don’t even think that Moyes would kick up a fuss if that were the case. He will know by now how the cookie crumbles at West Ham. He will focus on working with the players at his disposal and consider his options. Which might lie at a different PL club if he continues to do well in trying circumstances.

That’s a very useful trait for a football manager to have in these challenging times. I have no doubt that other clubs will approach Moyes and make him offers he may not be able to refuse.
David Sullivan, watch out! Even Moyes may outgrow your ambition very soon. Which isn’t that difficult to begin with of course…

COYI

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Hamburg football update: A very mediocre weekend for the Hamburg clubs, HSV could only muster a draw at Nuremberg which was still enough to keep them at the top of the league table for now,however, with traditional Ruhr Valley club Bochum (Dortmund’s poor cousin) gaining ground and giving Hamburg a proper run for their money. The promotion race is heating up nicely.

As for St.Pauli they managed a highly unexpected draw against promotion chasing Holstein Kiel. The team from Hamburg’s red light district are still second from bottom, four points adrift of a non-relegation place. It’ll continue to be tough for them, but there’s still life in that team with everything still to fight for. They have also brought in several new signings to help them with their push up the table.


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