Tony Hanna's Musings

The transfer window, an injury crisis and our Noble captain

With only fourteen games remaining of the Premier League season just six points separate the ten teams sitting between 10th and rock bottom of the table. It is no wonder there is so much pressure every time any of these teams play each other. Every game seems like a six pointer. A couple of wins or a couple of losses on the bounce can make a huge difference. We are currently unbeaten this year and have reached the heady heights of 11th but things can change so quickly that there must be no room for complacency. Despite our lofty position we are just four points clear of the relegation zone.

Last week I gave my thoughts on the blog that a win against Bournemouth could influence the Board to keep their transfer powder dry in this January window. The extra buffer an additional two points would have provided may have allowed us to play a stronger eleven than what will now, in all probability, be selected for the Wigan cup game. However, with just one point gained on the weekend together with fresh injury concerns, David Moyes focus may have shifted back to adding a player or two to his depleted squad. With three games in eight days looming again, two of which are six pointers, I think the team for the Cup game will now have a strong influence of fringe and U23 players. The latest injury news suggests Lanzini will be out for at least 6 weeks and Arnautovic a minimum of three. Isn’t it just our luck that as soon as we start to see a brilliant attacking partnership develop we lose both players to hamstring injuries? To make things worse Andy Carroll is missing again and is likely to need surgery, there is the mystery injury to Antonio and together with an unreliable Sakho our attacking options are becoming quite limited. Even Ayew missed squad selection on the weekend due to injury.

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On the bright side I thought our first 25 minutes against Bournemouth saw us play some of our best football for quite some time. The interchange of passing and one touch stuff was very easy on the eye. But as is often the case if you don’t convert your ascendancy into goals the opposition normally find a way to get back into the game. The visitors certainly finished the stronger and a point apiece was probably a fair result. David Moyes has suggested that Joe Hart will get his opportunity again this season and I do wonder if the England keeper were to have a good game at Wigan, whether he may be in the running to take over from Adrian in the PL team? There may be an argument that Adrian was at fault for the Bournemouth goal, or at least he should have done better. Personally, I would like to think that Adrian deserves a bit more of a go – I really don’t see Hart being at the club next season. Mind you, I was very disappointed to see Adrian flicking the ball up in the air before volleying away when being pressed during Saturdays match. It smacked of old bad habits returning and the sort of antics that I am sure will not go down well with our current manager.

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One thing that did go down well, with me anyway, were some comments from Mark Noble a week or so ago in a Daily Mail interview. “I’ve known these people since I first came to the club. I want the very best for this club. I make sure, out of the players’ bonus, every staff member shares in that bonus. We can’t do it without them.” Mark was referring to the back room staff at the club and even the chef and Shirley in the kitchen. Now he is a very good player but I wish Mark was as good a footballer as he is a bloke because we would have a Messi or Ronaldo on our hands. It is lovely to see some good old fashioned values still exist in a game where greed more often grabs the headlines nowadays.

So, onto the bookies updates. It has been a much more difficult window to try and predict than usual – especially as nothing has happened for us so far! The winter window markets are always less reliable than the summer window markets and this year it seems even more difficult. My own view is that if we are to persist with a January window it should be reduced to a much shorter timeframe. The biggest argument for a winter transfer window is so clubs can buy replacements to cover long term injuries in key positions. If a two week window was in place I am sure the same deals would still get done but with much less of the hassle and uncertainty it brings to many clubs. I know deals can be complex and hard to do, but I am sure they would still get done if the alternative meant the agent misses out altogether!

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Relegation The bookies seem to think we are safe and have us at 14/1 (6.67%) for relegation with ten other teams more likely to go down than us. Those odds may well tighten up on the back of our latest injury news. As for player transfers;

Andre Ayew is an even money chance (50%) to join old club Swansea. He has had a mixed spell with West Ham and one of the problems is where does the player fit or more pertinently, what is his best position? With our current injury problems I doubt we would entertain him leaving unless we had another striker lined up as a replacement. The market does suggest that a deal may be on the cards though.

Javier Hernandez – ditto above regarding a suitable replacement, but there has been money for Chico to move to Besiktas. He is still 1-3 (75%) to remain a Hammer.

Jonjo Shelvey is now odds on to stay with Newcastle. The current price of 2/1 (33%) for the move South does suggest a deal could still be done though. If rumours are to be believed the player would welcome the switch but the Geordies would want to sign his replacement first.

Michy Batshuayi is at 9/1 (10%) to join West Ham from Chelsea and this deal looks dead in the water now. I think any real chance of that transfer happening was on the back of Carroll going the other way.

Two players who are rumoured to be possible targets but are not listed with the bookies are Inter Milan midfielder Joao Mario and Leander Dendoncker from Anderlecht.

A note to our Australian readers. The Wigan cup tie is being shown live on Foxsports ch1508 ESPN


Tony Hanna's Musings

Early shouts for HOTY

I wrote in my article last week about Arnie’s physical pressing leading to his goal at Bournemouth and then setting up a great opportunity for Masuaku against West Brom . Well his closing down of Lolley on Saturday from a goal kick did the trick again for that opening goal and long may it continue. The first few minutes of the game had passed by with the Terriers knocking the ball around at the back, getting nowhere but keeping possession with mainly side way passes. Watching Arnie chase this way and that had me thinking to myself – “all this is doing is tiring Arnie out, perhaps he should not get drawn into all this rubbish.” But keep going he did and that is one of the reasons he is in the side and not Chico. With no cameras at yesterdays game against Shrewsbury I can’t comment about that match but by all accounts the introduction of Arnie and Mark Noble probably made the difference on the night and a few months ago I doubt many would have predicted that scenario!

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When Lanzini banged in number four against Huddersfield it was most enjoyable to just sit back and enjoy a West Ham team win a game without all the usual anxiety that such events provide. You know, the normal one goal lead and we drop deeper and deeper and invite the pressure as we attempt to hang on. We rarely do things the easy way. My thoughts strayed to the IFCF and all those around them having a great time and basking in the glory of a 4-1 away win. Our away fans rightly deserve the plaudits they receive. For every great away result there are always many more defeats. Trudging back from some gloomy faraway town on a winters night with a long drive back home after a loss may be good for the mental fortitude and camaraderie with fellow supporters but the loved ones at home must be questioning their sanity. But a bit like Arnie chasing down so many thankless lost causes there is always a reward that may come along when least expected. Two three goal triumphs in the space of a month will keep the travelling armies spirits up.

I am someone who made a living in environments where stats were thrown at you every day to try and identify strengths and weakness amongst a host of other things. Don’t get me wrong they can be useful but they can also be totally irrelevant and be manipulated for a cause or an argument. I have often said that when you hear the stat “only one win in four” it really means two wins in five. When you see Huddersfield play 48 passes and get nowhere and then us play six and score one of our best goals of the season (the third) it renders possession stats worthless. Just ask Leicester City’s title winning team. Stats are occasionally used to back an argument up, normally based on past results, but quite often past results do not repeat themselves in the future. In football there are a lot of things that influence results beyond your control. Just refer that statement to Robert Madley. So, when you see our latest stat “only one defeat in the past eight PL games” it really means two defeats in nine. In fact in our case, five defeats in fourteen. But that is far too negative and we should be very happy with the progression the side has made over the past few months under David Moyes. There was no initial new manager bounce when he was appointed but the recent run of results are more important than just a bounce. You can see the new man is really enjoying his new job and it is being reflected on the pitch. With each win the pressure eases and the fear factor disappears. Lack of confidence, poor motivation and playing with fear are three ingredients that make just one recipe. Losing. David Moyes has turned that around to add that elusive fourth ingredient – momentum. It is not three hat Michelin star stuff yet but a few more good results and we will be dining in restaurants rather than the specials menu in a back street pub.

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Now and again some of my articles ask a question of its readers. So this week it will be who is your early shout for HOTY? For me it would be down to three players with Marko Arnautovic (spelled correctly unlike his shirt the other day) and Angelo Ogbonna both just shading Arthur Masuaku at present. When Arnie was at Stoke I used to love watching him play on TV and was naturally excited to see him join West Ham. After what can only be called a poor start to the season the transformation under David Moyes has seen him become a revelation. Angelo Ogbonna has been with the Hammers for two and a half years now after signing from Juventus in July 2015. In the 2016/17 season he made 25 league and cup appearances before succumbing to an injury that Bilic said he had been carrying for the majority of those games. An operation saw him miss the rest of the season apart from the final game at Burnley. This season we are finally seeing the best of Angelo. Arthur Masuaku has been a breath of fresh air – an entertainer. Despite some defensive weaknesses he has become a fan favourite and he is often the player who provides the outlet to drive us forward. Other players for consideration would be Zabaleta, Adrian, Lanzini and if he continues his fine recent form Mark Noble.

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OK, so on to the bookies transfer markets. Not much happening to be honest. I do wonder whether our recent good results and move up the table will influence the club to keep their powder dry until the summer? The interest in Mawson has cooled and he is now an 8-1 (11%) chance to join West Ham from Swansea. The markets have also seen a drift for Newcastle’s Jonjo Shelvey who was 1-2 (66%) last week to 3-1 (38%). The past seven days has seen more focus on the possibility of outgoing players. Lanzini was 11/8 (42%) to join Liverpool last week but the market now suggests he is nailed on for staying put at 1-20 (96%). The louder noises are concerning Andy Carroll who was 1-8 (88%) last week to remain at West Ham and has since been backed into 1-3 (75%) for a move to Chelsea. That suggests a move may be on the cards and if it is perhaps there could be a Chelsea player involved in part of a swap deal. The latest rumours suggest that the Board want to cash in on the injury prone striker but Moyes wants him to stay.


Tony Hanna's Musings

Away day pain, Lanzini fears and Chico a luxury we can't afford?

The rapid fire of fixtures for West Ham has been such that it has been three games since my last article. It seems an eternity! A last gasp winner against West Brom followed by an all hands to the pumps effort at Spurs and a very “toothless” display against Shrewsbury sees us unbeaten in 2018 but that stat is papering over some cracks isn’t it? We are churning out some results but we are hardly a well-oiled machine.

By the time we have played Huddersfield this weekend our home and away fixtures played will have quite a lopsided view to it (10 home and 13 away) due to the unavailability of the OS at the start of the season. We have still not caught up with our home game equilibrium and won’t until we play what will be the reversed fixture against Southampton in late March. Sandwiching that game we have a sequence of five matches where four of them will be at home. So far our away form has been disappointing with just the solitary victory at Stoke although we have had near misses at Palace, Bournemouth and Burnley where late goals have cost us six points and another late goal at Southampton saw us drop another point. This leads me on to a stat which I came across during the week. We have conceded 25 goals away from home in the Premier League this season. Only eight of those have been first half goals but ten, that is 40% of them, have come in the last fifteen minutes of matches. This is an area that David Moyes will be working on I am sure?

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One topic I have been meaning to bring up for a while now is Javier “Chico” Hernandez. Some months ago it was pretty lonely being of the opinion when we signed him that he would not work for us whilst so many pundits were saying he would be the signing of the summer window. I did manage to have a bet with one blogger on here that he would not score fifteen PL goals for us this season and at present it looks like a pint of Stella (which will be reciprocated anyway – he is a lovely fella) is going to be ready and waiting for me on my next visit back to East London? To be honest though, these are the types of bets I don’t mind losing. For me, at the highest level Hernadez has only ever been a super sub at best. That’s how Fergie used him and he knew a thing or two? He is not the type of player that can be moved out wide and expected to help track back when needed. He is not the type of player that can play a lone role up front and hold the ball up effectively. And in fairness to him that is where and how he has been expected to play most times he has donned a West Ham shirt. Realistically, he needs to be playing for a team that plays someone up with him and preferably dominates possession thus creating more chances in the box than we currently do – seems a bit of a one dimensional luxury we can’t afford? When we have played Chico and Andy Carroll in the same side it hasn’t worked and in recent times any good chances that have come his way he has bombed. But alarmingly there are even more deficiencies. Put clear at Spurs the other night he had a three yard start on the defenders around 40 yards out but before we could even hold breath in anticipation he was rounded up in next to no time.

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When Arnie plays up top under Moyes he has chased lost causes with determination – leading to his goal at Bournemouth and then more recently his closing down set up a great chance for Masuaku against West Brom. When Chico is called upon for the same effort it is just not there with any conviction and any half-hearted closing down normally ends up in shrugs and flailing arms directed at his team mates. I don’t like to be negative about our players but this situation is a problem for West Ham. He is the biggest earner at the club on a permanent deal. Am I being harsh? What do you think should happen? I can only see a complete shift away from how we currently set up if we are to get the best out of him and I just don’t see Moyes entertaining that scenario? Of course we have been down that path before with “building a team” around Andy Carroll. Not only did that not work out too well but I just don’t think Hernandez is good enough to warrant any similar consideration. Personally, I think he is nowhere near as sharp as he used to be but at the price we paid we should still be able to recover our losses should the club or the player himself wish to pull the plug. Your thoughts?

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The transfer window has been open for over a week now and things had been very quiet for us until the Coutinho transfer from Liverpool to Barcelona which has triggered a surge of money for Manuel Lanzini to be a targeted as a possible replacement? Over the past two days Lanzini has been backed from 4/1 (20%) to 11/8 ((42%) for a move to a cashed up Liverpool. This is obviously not good news and it will be interesting to see how things pan out on this one.There is still three weeks of the window to go but I am sure David Moyes would like to get any transfers done and sorted sooner rather than later. Here are some updates on other potential transfers.

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Alfie Mawson Things have cooled somewhat and it appears more likely that he will either stay at Swansea or a move to Watford is on the cards. Even money (50%) to 5/1 (16%) this deal is looking less likely than last week despite the injury problems of Fonte, Collins and now possibly Winston Reid again.

Jonjo Shelvey Good backing from 5/2 (28%) to 1-2 (66%) for Shelvey to become a Hammer last week but a slight cooling over the past few days to 8/13 (62%). Apparently he is a West Ham fan but if he does become a Moyes signing which Shelvey will we get? Horribly inconsistent with discipline problems or the one that almost single handedly dismantled us not so long ago? Moyes is currently getting the best out of Arnie – perhaps he could with Shelvey?

Daniel Sturridge plagued by injuries the Liverpool striker’s problem now is he can’t get into the team. He has slipped down the pecking order at both club and for country in a World Cup year. A move to Southampton is a possibility while we are rated a 8/1 (12%) chance of signing him.

Danny Ings another Liverpool striker who has had injury problems but once fit also can’t get into the side. Rated a 6/1 (14%) chance to join West Ham. Newcastle seem to be a more realistic proposition for him at this stage if he leaves Merseyside.

Joe Allen It will be interesting to see what transpires at Stoke after Hughes got the sack. The Hammers are 9/2 (18%) for the midfielders services though it may seem more likely a new manager will persuade Allen to stay at the Potters.

Marouane Fellaini lots of speculation about a possible deal on the forums but despite backing last week from 18/1 (5%) to 12/1 (7.6%) if this deal was likely I think the odds would be much shorter than they currently are.

Steven N’Zonzi ditto as above – currently 18/1 (5%).

Andy Carroll is 1-8 (88%) and Joe Hart is 1-6 (85%) to remain Hammers for the foreseeable future and elsewhere Manchester City are 1-4 (80%) to sign Alexis Sanchez during this window.


Tony Hanna's Musings

The Highs, the lows and Robert Madley

The past year has certainly been a big disappointment for West Ham fans. The highlights from January to May in the season prior included two excellent performances beating Palace 3-0 at home and Southampton 3-1 away, but the topping on the cake was that barmy night under the lights beating Tottenham 1-0 with a significantly understrength team. Had Spurs won that night they would have finished the season with 13 consecutive wins but a loss pretty much ensured they would not be Champions. The second half of the year into this current season has not been much better with again just three games that got us really excited. The marvellous comeback in the League Cup game which saw a 2-0 deficit against Spurs (again) turned around for a 3-2 win; the brave 1-0 defeat of last season’s champions Chelsea, and the footballing display we dished out at Stoke in a 3-0 drubbing were for me the main highlights. In November we parted company with the 15th full time manager in our history as Slaven Bilic made way for David Moyes.

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Supporting West Ham for over five decades has never been easy but it has been far less rewarding since the inception of the Premier League era. Take the past 12 months, six highlights for the whole year. No major trophy since 1980 – thirty seven bloody years! Let’s face it, we are not going to win the PL any time soon, if ever, but at least we used to give the domestic Cups a fair crack. I saw us win three in the first two decades supporting the club – and a European trophy. Our League campaigns were almost always disappointing but for the most we saw some great players and at times some wonderful football. Even in division two we saw some of our best players of all time. Trevor Brooking, Alan Devonshire, Billy Bonds, Alvin Martin, Frank Lampard , Phil Parkes and Ray Stewart. How could a team with these players be playing in the second flight – but there again our highest league position with Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters all in the side was eighth! However, in most of those years there were a lot more than six highlights. Since then the title challenge of 1986 and the Payet season are like a comfort blanket to a child – something to cling on to with all our might. I really feel we missed a trick by not fielding our best eleven at Arsenal in the LC quarter final. Not only did we surrender any cup ambition that night, but also the confidence and momentum that was starting to build. Those two ingredients are worth their weight in gold to any sporting team and I feel we lost more than a football match at the Emirates.

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Some of the hidings we have taken, some of the train wrecks we have witnessed, well we can never be accused of being plastic can we? Back to the Payet season, sorry if I offend anyone by calling it that, I realise there were many more factors that led to that great season, but towards the end of that season we had a run of three games where poor refereeing decisions possibly cost us 4th place. On March 19th 2016 Robert Madley awarded a penalty to Chelsea in injury time for an incident that took place outside the box which once converted saw three points turned to a solitary one. He had earlier turned his back on Cesc Fabregas moving the ball back several yards to his advantage at a free kick which he duly converted from a more advantageous position. In our next match Kouyates red card against Palace (which was later rescinded) tipped a comfortable win into another draw whilst a fortnight later the softest of late penalties at Leicester forced yet another 2-2 draw from the jaws of victory. These were all notable incidents where the officials got it wrong at our expense. However, what we witnessed at Bournemouth last week was an absolute disgrace. It has been done to death now but Robert Madley is one fella I never ever want to see referee a West Ham match again.

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I have never been one for New Year’s resolutions. Being strong willed if I want to change something in my life I don’t need any special day of the year to do it. However, it is a tradition for some and I know many people who do like to partake. If David Moyes is looking to make one or two what would your suggestions be? I think I would start by making it an absolute must that we bring in a top quality holding midfielder in the January transfer window.

I wrote in my article last week that Sakho, Ayew, Carroll and Kouyate may be players we may listen to offers for in the January window. Nothing has happened to change my mind there but what of incoming targets? Reece Oxford has been recalled from Germany despite only playing a handful of games. I would be surprised if the youngster is not given a run in the Cup against Shrewsbury to give the boss an idea as to whether he has improved any? Meanwhile, transfer targets mentioned in the press include;

Alfie Mawson Swansea centre back who will be 24 years old later in January. Can’t say I have watched a lot of him to be honest but what I have seen he looks pretty decent. It is always hard to appraise a defender who is playing for a team that is bottom of the league and in Mawson’s case hasn’t played in the top flight for very long. Moyes is looking for a central defender and the bookies make him 4/6 (a 60% chance) to join the Hammers.

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Steven N’Zonzi French midfielder who is out of favour at current club Sevilla. I was impressed with the player when he was at Stoke – his ball retention and distribution was very good. He is a big lad and in 2011 when playing for Blackburn he elbowed Ryan Shawcross in the face and received a four match ban for his efforts – so he has a bit about him. His form at past clubs has often tapered off after bright starts and at 29 he may be a risk considering he would demand a large fee. Despite the paper talk saying we are interested, Skybet don’t even have us listed as a club chasing him. Arsenal are currently even money favourites (50%) for his signature.

Marouane Fellaini David Moyes would have plenty of knowledge on this player from his time at Everton. Out of favour at Manchester United in a World Cup year usually means where there is smoke there is fire. However, despite the rumours West Ham are 18/1 (5%) to sign the Belgian this window and he is 1-2 (66%) to stay in Manchester.

Jonjo Shelvey There has been a sprinkling of money in the past 24 hours for the Newcastle midfielder to join the Hammers. We are quoted at 4/1 (20%) whilst he is priced at 1/3 (75%) to stay put which at this point seems the most likely outcome.

Other players muted to be on our radar are Jack Wilshere and Daniel Sturridge who are both quoted at 5/1 (16%) which seem way under the odds as both seem unlikely at this point in time.

Happy New Year to you all and stay SAFE


Guest Post

Still Following the White Line – an update from the Infirm City Firm

Guest post by Voice of Reason

Despite all of the obstacles that have been put in our path, the Infirm City Firm has limped its way to the end of 2017 and is still alive (just) and kicking (very weakly).
The other members of the Executive Board (me, BSB and Russ) are rather concerned about the Big Fella (Safehands) who has missed a few matches. We thought it was due to filming and location issues but a pattern seems to be emerging and the games that are missed are all north of Watford.
A strange situation which we need to get to the bottom of. Although Safehands managed to come to West Brom, absence was recorded in the register for Burnley and Stoke and it will be a similar situation for the Cup game at Shrewsbury and for Huddersfield.

Anyway, in a sort of diarised format, this is what has happened over the past three months.

Sat 17th Sept – West Brom away
2 cars needed as the attendance figures go up!
BSB & Safehands took Irons 1959 whilst Russ drove CRB and myself. Also met Dan Coker in the pub and Carlinsir and his missus, who we managed to get tickets for, before the game which was a “turgid” (Russ’s description) goalless draw. I have never seen a home team set up as blatantly for a draw as West Brom did. And it’s not as if they were playing a top team. It’s very easy to understand their fans thoughts about Tony Pulis and his negative, old school football. That man sure does love a central defender. Or about six of them to be honest.
Not a lot else to say.

Sat 14th October – Burnley away
VoR, BSB and CRB in attendance and we also met David Murray there having managed to get him a ticket, plus a ticket for Nigel’s nephew Billy who lives oop north.
We went into Burnley Cricket Club which is adjacent to the football ground. They open up their car park and bars for away fans and is a great location for a pre-match pint. Some of our youngsters were a total embarrassment with some really fouls songs about Karren Brady. She’s far from my favourite person but these were not funny and not clever – that’s both the songs and the kids. This was all in front of families and female staff at the Cricket Club. We really do have our share of pillocks.
Going to Burnley shows that modern football does not have to be completely sanitised. Their ground has been upgraded in recent years but is still a “proper” football ground in the centre of town with a great atmosphere and a good bunch of fans. Would prefer to watch games there every week rather than at our mausoleum.
BSB’s in-car catering included Scotch Eggs and Pork Pies as well as ham and beef rolls. In a chill box. This is almost at corporate catering level now!
A 1-1 draw – which we would have all taken before the game – could (and should) have been 3 points. Only Andy Carroll’s sending off in the first half when we were one up stopped that happening. Officially he was sent off for two yellow cards but in reality it was for being stupid.
Bonus points for BSB for the catering but a yellow card for forgetting to take the flag.

Sat 28th October – Crystal Palace away.
VoR, BSB, Safehands, Nigel, Russ all rolled up for this one and we finally got the flag into the ground and hung on the railings, although I’m not sure it was very visible. Getting it in took some time as there were West Ham stewards demanding to see every flag. They were looking for the “Board Out” one that had been at Wembley for the Spurs Caribou Cup game and it still got in and was unfurled at the end of the game.

2-0 up at half time (a touch flattering) with two great goals from Hernandez and Ayew but we gave away a needless penalty early in the second half (Ogbonna) and then came under the cosh. Hart showed that he is still a very good keeper with a string of saves. They hit the woodwork twice and then scored in the 97th minute (even though Bobby Madman had only added 6 minutes – see later comments about this clown) due to Antonio’s lack of football intelligence. He could have kept the ball in the corner but gave it away with a weak cross and Palace went up the other end and scored.
A very disappointing finale but a neutral would have said that Palace deserved at least a point.
Beer in plastic bottles and rubbish food in Selhurst Park and, as always seems to happen at Palace, every West Ham ‘erbert decided to go. We really to have some twats follow us.

But we also have some very considerate people like a Mr Nigel Kahn, formerly of Canning Tahn who is always happy to help.

Sun 19th November – Watford away.
Following the long drawn out will he go / won’t he go Slaven Bilic saga, VoR, BSB, Safehands and Nigel were in attendance for the first game of the Davis Moyes reign and we deservedly lost. 2-0.
No heart, no pace, no difference really. Even Andy Carroll was still throwing his arms into opposition faces and could have been sent off in the first minute. He wasn’t even booked for that but got a yellow card later in the first half and it was a surprise that he came out in the second half as seemed like a red card waiting to happen. He was eventually replaced by Sakho.
For the first time this season the away fans really turned on the club – in the form of the owners and, to a lesser extent, the players generally and Carroll in particular. The “offensive” flag managed to breach security and duly appeared to be followed by a “debate” between the flag’s owners and the West Ham stewards.
We had our flag but decided against showing it. I hid behind Safehands for safety’s sake.
For the first time relegation seemed like a distinct possibility but Safehand’s Ginger Shortbread was the highlight of the day and we did “stay til the end” which was more than Carroll did.
I’m afraid that inappropriate behaviour by one of our number has to be reported. Comments like that to 15 year old girls manning the car park at the Girls Grammar School will not be tolerated. This person knows who he is and we all hope he has learned his lesson. You are not an MP or a film producer and you will do well to remember that.

Sat 16th December – Stoke away
BSB, VoR, Russ and Barney travelled up without Safehands as Stoke is a bit of a way up the M6.
We met Carlinsir and his wife at Longton Rugby Club having picked Dan Coker up from Stoke station first.
As usual, the rugby club was most welcoming. £5 to park, cheap beer and a burger. No complaints there.
Our first away game since Watford as we decided to give Everton (midweek, cold, crap ground) and Man City (decided to hide behind the sofa instead) a miss. Everton was a good decision (4-0 loss) but we did well at City and were unlucky no to get something from the game.
So, following home games against Chelsea (1-0 win) and Arsenal (0-0 draw) this, in some ways was a test of how we would play against a lesser team.
But the first test was for Stoke’s electrician as a complete power outage meant the game kicked off an hour late. Waiting outside in the cold wasn’t the greatest way to spend an hour but even that did not justify the moron who shouted “open the fu***ng gates you c**ts”. Amazingly, despite being told by a bloke with a megaphone, he was too bereft of brain to understand that the turnstiles were not working and it was pitch dark inside the ground and therefore dangerous. Plus, of course, there was no football. This was all from a middle aged man with a small boy. What a role model. (Thinking later, I wonder whether it was the same small boy who sat behind me at Bournemouth who is mentioned further down the article. Probably not, as there are a lot of them around).
Any road up, excellent performance ending in a 3-0 win. Arnautovic baited the Stoke crowd and the laughingly misnamed “Sparky” Hughes and the whole team played well including the Ginger Pele, back from injury and revelling in a game where the opposition just lumped it into our penalty area for him to head away.
There was the first full away airing of “Arthurs Song” (Arthur Masuaku, he’s better than Lukaku”). Genius. And Lanzini got a retrospective ban for diving when winning the penalty that led to the opening goal.
A reasonable car boot buffet was produced by Barney (Mrs Barney?) although it has been noted that there were no pork pies, resulting in the fully deserved “must do better” comment on Mr McGrew’s end of year report.
The flag couldn’t make it due to Christmas shopping.

Tues 19th December – Arsenal away (Caribou Cup)
A worse game than West Brom away. Concentrate on the league. That’s it.
Tuesday 26th December (Boxing Day) – Bournemouth away
VoR, BSB, Safehands and Russ gave up the armchairs, turkey sandwiches and mulled wine to travel to one of Britain’s premier holiday resorts in the dead of winter.

Good News and Bad News

Good: Car Park still only £1, we got a point although, on overall play, we didn’t deserve it, Arnie scored two more goals, the IFCF Secret Santa thingy at the Services on the way home (next year I’m going to get Safehands a whippet or a ferret), giving a mince pie to a complete stranger in the Services and leaving another one on the table for the first homeless person / greedy bastard to help himself to.
Bad: Accidents on the M25 and M3, non-stop rain, high winds, a kid of about 10 years old behind me (with his father!) who shouted “You F***ing C**t” at least 100 times over the course of the game in his high pitched voice and, worst of all, the Bobby Madley Show.
We’ve been on the wrong end of some of this idiot’s decisions a few times (see Palace game above) but this time he excelled himself by allowing a 93rd minute “equaliser” to stand despite it being offside and handball both of which he gave from his position on the edge of the penalty area.
I’ve watched him on TV against other teams and this wasn’t isolated bad refereeing. The Madman is just not a good referee. This time he seemed to take a perverse pleasure in allowing the goal and his smirking face has invaded my dreams ever since. If referees were allowed to speak to the media, and explain some of their more contentious decisions, there would be a far greater appreciation of them from sensible fans at least. I doubt it would change that horrible little ‘erbert who sat behind me.
I would love to hear Madley’s explanation of his decision at Bournemouth as I can’t imagine what he could possible say to justify his actions. So we lose 2 points and he will probably rock up at a match in a few days and spoil another few thousand peoples day.
So it will be a new year when we next venture to fields far away, more in hope than expectation. We are off to Shrewsbury and Huddersfield (first time for both those grounds) in January to watch the start of our run to Wembley and our climb to safety.

Thanks to all of the Infirm City Firm for their company and their catering skills and particular thanks to both BSB and Russ for their driving.
And a very Happy New Year to you all.


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