Rather a worrying team line-up at Goodison Park. The international break has deprived West Ham of Downing (who never looked fully fit for England in his 45 minutes against Scotland), Song, Sakho, Valencia and Kouyate. That's the core of the team that has performed so well this season. Looks like we'll be playing a five man defence with Cresswell and Jenkinson as wing backs. Cole and Caroll are starting up front, though won't have anything like the pace of Sakho and Valencia down the channels and Nolan is not going to get around the midfield like Song, though he might add some goal threat. It promises to be more like the West Ham of last season though at least Big Sam is still playing two up front. We'll do well to get something out of this.
Did anyone notice that the infamous picture tweeted by Islington South MP Emily Thornberry of White Van Man in Rochester featured a West Ham badge on one of the England flags? Thornberry rapidly had to resign from Labour's front bench. Politically at least, with the Emirates Stadium being in Islington, she is probably an Arsenal fan. Patronise West Ham Man at your peril…
Interesting to see former Hammer (though he never played a game for us) Jimmy Bullard saying "F••k!" 30 times during the Bush Tucker Trial on I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here! He played for West Ham from 1999-2001 under Harry Redknapp, having been signed from Gravesend. Once saw him training with Paolo Di Canio, Lampard, Ferdinand, Carrick, Defoe and co and thought he looked a good player even then. He went on to have a fine career with Peterborough, Wigan and Fulham and is definitely one we missed out on. His cheeky personality would have gone down well with the fans too. Actually, he coped pretty well with the underwater lizards, crabs and snakes and won four stars. Makes you wonder what he must have encountered in the portacabins at Chadwell Heath…
My fellow season-ticket holder Matt was at West Ham last night for Argentina's 2-1 victory over Croatia and reports that Lionel Messi looked pretty tasty: "Messi was fantastic, great vision and technique and surely the best left foot the game has ever seen. He'd be a great addition to the Hammers' bench." How fitting that he should finally play upon the Upton Park turf that has been graced by other world-class players such as Christian Dailly and Hayden Mullins. Ex-Hammer Javier Mascherano was playing and Carlos Tevez came on for the last half an hour. Matt also reports lots of Argentina fans in Ken's Cafe sampling the finest English cuisine. Meanwhile the Daily Mail ran the headline "Messi signs for West Ham (fan)" above a picture of Lionel signing autographs. Maybe he'll join us for real once we're in the Champions League.
One interesting aspect of Saturday's draw was the quality of West Ham's substitutes. We had Carroll, Nolan, Tomkins, O'Brien, Amalfitano, Cole and Jaaskelainen all warming their posteriors. That's seven players who have all at one point held down a first team place. Surely the strongest set of subs we've had in Premier League history and a good sign of the depth of the squad.
In Ken’s Café Michael the Whovian has just returned from a theatre-watching
trip in New York. He’s seen Les
Miserables and Showboat, musicals
possibly based on former West Ham teams, and is now looking forward to the 90th
birthday party of Doctor Who and Coronation Street legend William
Russell. We’re joined by Matt and Lisa and CQ and Nigel, who seems quite
chipper despite AC/DC’s drummer being nicked for (allegedly) being on the
Highway to Hell. Phill and Big Joe make a late appearance. While inside the stadium Fraser is modelling his early Dexys
black woollen hat and the fans are thankfully not requested to strip off in aid
of Feel ’Em Friday.
We’re playing a team that has lost six in a row with Benteke
suspended so what could possibly go wrong? Quite a lot, we fear, as it’s all
going too well at West Ham. Before the match there’s a minute’s silence for
Remembrance Sunday. Early on Agbonlahor uses his speed to get round Collins and
shoots over from a good position. But apart from that it’s West Ham pressure.
Collins has a header saved from a corner, Valencia makes a great run down the
left and his cross results in Baker blocking Noble’s goalbound effort.
An Adrian punt is missed by Villa’s Cissokho and Sakho races
down the right and crosses; the ball rebounds off a defender to Downing who
hits a rising shot towards the top corner only to be foiled by a great reflex
save from Brad Guzan. Weimann then shoots into the chest of Adrian, but the
half ends with a great move between Jenkinson and Song setting free Downing on
the left, only for Stewie to blaze over. The curse of the England call-up… There’s
still time for a bizarre “we shall not be moved!” chant from the Villa fans, so
elated are they to be drawing at a Champions League(ish) club.
At half-time Nigel’s mention of the tree-walk at Kew inspires
a discussion of vertigo, something many West Ham fans are suffering from this
season. CQ dispenses her lucky aniseed balls for the second half.
Cleverley shoots just over, but that’s the last Villa
threat. Nolan replaces Kouyate, who’s had a quiet game, after 66 minutes and Carlton
Cole comes on for Valencia after 75 minutes. Cole immediately has an effect
swinging in a great cross that Sakho heads over. It’s the sort of chance Diafra’s
scored with all season and there goes his chance of a Premier League record of
seven goals in seven starts. Sakho then flicks a more difficult headed chance
wide. Downing shifts over to the left wing and starts to combine well with
Cresswell and gets in a steady stream of crosses. The crowd really get behind
the team too in the latter stages, whereas last season they might have started
complaining, which is encouraging.
Carlton Cole stays on his feet despite being tripped by
Baker in the box, who injures himself in the process. Bizarrely the ref gives a
free kick to Villa. Downing gets in a decent cross to the far post and
Jenkinson sends a header straight at the keeper.
On 92 minutes we send on Andy Carroll. You could argue that
his injury has helped West Ham develop into a better team, with two strikers
playing on the ground, but I’m still glad to see him back and he certainly
gives another option up front. The Villa defenders certainly appear worried by
AC. Downing gets in another fine cross, Carroll rises to head goalwards and
Guzan pulls off another great save. That would have been a story. Still we come
forward. A West Ham corner causes further panic as Song is blatantly brought
down in the area. Michael the Whovian is so incensed he nearly Sonics the ref. The
ball breaks to Downing who gets in a cross from the right and Carroll gets in
another header that the keeper holds.
Respecting the pint in the Central
The Villa players celebrate at the final whistle and we
retreat to the Central where we respect the pint. I’m not too despondent. We go
fourth at least for a day. We’d have lost this game last year and the unbeaten
run continues. Villa were possibly playing for their manager’s job and at some
point their bad run had to end. We’ve created chances today and have been
unlucky not to get two penalties.
The Central now stocks IPA (though not from a hand pump) and
we amuse ourselves by looking forward to Andy Carroll’s stag party. Matt
suggests that Hayden Foxe, Trevor Sinclair and Razor Ruddock will all be
invited. It’s a two -week break now and despite the draw we can reflect on West
Ham’s best ever start to a Premier League season. And hopefully having Sakho,
Valencia, Cole and Carroll challenging for the striking positions will improve
us even more.
PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 6; Jenkinson 6, Reid 6, Collins 6, Cresswell 6; Song 6, Noble 6 (Carroll 6), Kouyate 4 (Nolan 5), Downing 7; Sakho 5, Valencia 6 (Cole 6).