Thursday, February 4

In praise of Tomka

James Tomkins deserves a lot of praise for playing with 13 stitches in his face against Villa as he must have been in some pain. While Mark Noble is seen as the heartbeat of West Ham, the younger Tomkins can't be far behind. He's been dropped this season and also played out of position at full-back, but has never complained. And the fact he's adapted so well to playing at full-back suggests he's a very good footballing defender. Tomka's taken a lot of batterings in games like Man City away but never complains— though being a Basildon lad he might have learned his survival skills in Bas Vegas. In addition he's cultivating a really excellent Victorian villain's beard. He might just have a great career ahead of him in silent movies, or perhaps as an extra in Poldark.

Wednesday, February 3

Below-par Hammers see off Villa

West Ham 2 Aston Villa 0

Inside Ken’s Café Lisa is ordering cheesy chips and Billy is shouting, “I can’t get through I’m trapped!” as he tries to return with his plates past a burgeoning queue. Michael the Renaissance Man arrives late and in a triumph of optimism over experience orders a big breakfast thinking he’ll make the kick-off. His Irons constitution manages to cope with some remarkably rapid ingestion before we leg it down the alleyway. As the café empties Carol offers to give Michael special treatment next time and ensure he makes the kick-off, while there’s a rare appearance of Kenneth himself from the back of the kitchen to greet his best customer.

YOU'VE ONLY GOT TEN MEN
Inside the East Stand the big news is Fraser’s opted for the Steptoe and Son look with a rakish neck scarf. West Ham start very slowly and the whole side looks jaded — possibly not surprising after a testing game at Anfield and with Tomkins playing with 13 stitches in a head would and Kouyate still feeling Saturday’s injury — with Villa shading it in the first ten minutes. An optimistic penalty appeal against Antonio is turned down after the ball hits his hand. Villa’s gameplan is ruined when Jordan Ayew stupidly elbows Cresswell in the face after 17 minutes. The crowd in the corner certainly spot it and the ref gives Ayew a straight red. He wasn’t provoked and it’s absolute stupidity. It’s noticeable he didn’t try to do it to Collins or Tomkins.

Nothing much else happens in the first half. Tomkins’ shot is headed over by Valencia and Enner hits a 40-yard free kick just wide and that’s it. Even Payet is anonymous. Playing against ten men who are bottom of the league, what could possibly go wrong? Surely it won’t be like the Hull game two seasons’ ago.

WHEREFORE ART THOU, ANTONIO?
Part-time Nigel turns up in the bowels of the East Stand at half-time complaining about the tube and saying he’s almost glad we’re going to the superior transport hub of Stratford. He hasn’t missed much. Matt is preparing for his night shift by watching the game in the pub and seems to have lost all his positivity, texting “Have our players bet on who can play worst? Think Antonio is winning but it’s very close.”
  
But the Hammers start much more positively in the second half, penning Villa back. Mark Noble produces a tremendous volley straight from a corner only to see it brilliantly saved by Bunn. Payet hits the post with a free kick and Richards makes a great clearance from Collins’ header.

Just as we’re thinking WHU will do everything but score, the breakthrough comes. Mark Noble swings in an inviting cross and Antonio does really well to head the ball into the far corner. Bunn appears to think it’s going wide as he barely moves. Phew. Mystic Matt has worked his magic on Antonio again.

CHEIKH MATE 
We still struggle to get a second, with Cresswell going close and Noble shooting just wide and Payet much more involved. The game drifts as Nigel asks me to tell the bloke from the Treasury in front of us that Carlton Cole scored for Celtic against Stranraer. Meanwhile having to drink soft drinks in the pub is clearly affecting Mystic Matt, who is texting, “Bilic could substitute 8 or 9 of them. Song, Valencia and Kouyate could all be hooked.” He’s done it again. From a Villa corner Valencia breaks and plays a perfect pass through to Kouyate who chips over the keeper to make it 2-0.

The Villa fans unveil a couple of anti-Lerner banners and we join in their chants of “sack the board!” They’ve been pretty noisy for fans of a team that are doomed and deserve better.

After three very late substitutions from Slaven, we head to the Central where Nigel is befriended by two angry cockney Villa fans raging at their defending for Kouyate’s goal. Michael the Whovian has an anecdote about holding a pub door open for Steven Moffat. As Nigel and Michael discuss David Cameron’s problems over an in-out referendum and whether British teams will still be able to play in Europe after Brexit, I’m able to quip, “It only took West Ham six games to get out of Europe this season.”

An important three points. A poor performance in the first half, but we’ve seen off a struggling team with ten men. That’s progress and we remain sixth. And on 39 points I think we’re safe…


PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 5; Tomkins 6, Collins 6, Reid 6, Cresswell 6; Payet 7, Song 6, Kouyate 6 (Obiang n/a), Noble 8, Antonio 7 (Jelavic n/a); Valencia 6 (Moses n/a).

Monday, February 1

Emineke signs on loan

Emmanuel Emenike has finally signed for West Ham on loan from Fenerbahce. Seems like God was the main agent for the deal as Emmanuel says: "I have always known West Ham as a great club. I have known Slaven Bilic for years and thank God we are here together." He's scored nine times in 37 appearances for Nigeria and Bilic knows him from his time managing innTurkey and Russia, so he's clearly worth a punt.Now we just need to make a deadline day bid for Eminem as well.

Sunday, January 31

Randolph earns Hammers replay

Matt and Lisa's view from the away end
Off to the lucky/unlucky pub The Hole In The Wall at Waterloo where our posse has seen West Ham both win at Arsenal and get thrashed at Spurs. Fraser and myself opt for the Jurassic ale, which has kept pretty well over the millennia. Matt and Lisa are at the game having opted for a romantic mini-break in a boutique hotel with a bonus trip on the 26 bus to Anfield, soft lad.

There's not much to report when Michael arrives close to half-time, bar Randolph making a great save to tip Brannigan's shot around the post and Obiang volleying just wide after O'Brien's cross is cleared. The ref has also missed a double handball by Caulker in the box. And we've accrued the usual injuries; Tomkins has got a bleeding face after a clash of heads and Kouyate looks like he's done his knee. So we get a very rare sighting of Joey O'Brien.

It's not a great game and for much of the game Fraser is left rehearsing his cowboy accent for the reading of his Western to a bunch of goddam literary agents, while Michael is high on steroids for his sinus condition, which is probably just as well.

Liverpool are playing squad players and kids, though Smith, Branagan and Teixeira all appear promising and in the second half they look more dangerous against almost our strongest line-up. Even Payet has an off-day. Randolph has to make a good stop from Teixeira and towards the end makes a great triple save denying Benteke and then blocking two follow-ups. We've got a quality back-up for Adrian, who's in Spain for the birth of his first child. 

Antonio heads against the post at the death but Cresswell's cross had already gone behind the line. It ends 0-0 which is a good result, though also a missed opportunity as only Mignolet and Clyne were Liverpool regulars. Though perhaps also a sign of progress to be upset at not beating Liverpol for a third time in one season. So now it's back to Upton  Park, though Liverpool will surely play a stronger team in the replay.

Friday, January 29

The world wakes up to Dimitri

A little worrying that Match of the Day is starting to wake up to the skills of Dimitri Payet and the Evening Standard's Patrick Barclay has suggested he should be in the running for the Footballer of the Year trophy. We don't want to alert the world's elite clubs to just how good he is. I'm still trying to work out what he did when beating three defenders at Bournemouth to create Valencia's goal, which looked like a back-heeled nutmeg. 

But the problem is the Champions League clubs must also be looking at Dimitri enviously. He would certainly improve Man United or Liverpool and would fit into the Arsenal and Man City teams easily enough, as well as most of Europe's elite sides. Thankfully Slaven Bilic has said that "no money in the world" would tempt West Ham to sell Payet and Sullivan and Gold must realise that we have to hold on to him at all costs. We also have the lure of the Olympic Stadium to keep Payet at the club and the possibility of European football. And he seems genuinely moved by the love of the fans; there surely isn't another club that would give him his own song to the tune of Achy Breaky Heart.

Tuesday, January 26

Jenkinson out for season

Bad news is that Carl Jenkinson is out for the season following his injury against Manchester City. The Daily Mirror says it's his cruciate ligament. Jenks has now returned to Arsenal. A real shame, as although he's not been as impressive as last season, he's always given it everything and has scored twice this season. Just as well West Ham have signed Sam Byram and have James Tomkins ready to fit in at right-back too. And there's always Joey O'Brien although he seems to have been out for ages too. Let's wish Carl a full recovery from a devastating injury.

Meanwhile the Evening Standard reveals that Alex Song removed his Edgar Davids-stytle protective glasses because he couldn't see well enough in them against Man City. He certainly had a great game without them. Song has had an "eye problem" and has been told by doctors to guard against infection by wearing the specs.

Sunday, January 24

Enner Valencia double almost does it for Hammers in City classic

West Ham 2 Manchester City 2

In Ken’s Café Matt has forgotten his unlucky Dukla Prague away shirt, while Nigel and CQ have forgotten CQ’s not-very lucky aniseed balls. Michael the Whovian has got his big breakfast in early, but is not impressed with Steven Moffat’s successor as Doctor Who showrunner. We discuss the death of David Bowie and wonder if David ever liked football. He went to a game once apparently, but was put off by too many programme ch-ch-changes.

I’m with my daughter, 17-year-old Lola, who becomes quite tearful thinking this might be the last time she visits Upton Park and has egg chips and beans with two slices and a cup of tea in Ken’s. Today we’re in borrowed seats in the West Stand, provided through the efforts of West Ham Till I Die.

On the way to our new seats we bump into my old school mate Steve, up from Cornwall for the match — though I’m not sure if he’s in a box with Russell Brand and Noel Gallagher, he could just be with Alison and Scott.

ENNER IS REALLY HERE 
It’s the usual slow start. Kouyate leaves Toure looking as mobile as the Belly Busters burger stall on Green Street as he speeds past him on the left and crosses into the box. Valencia is lurking on the edge of the box and prods home under Hart. After a mere 53 seconds. “It’s not always like this!” I tell me disbelieving daughter. Upton Park bounces to our new theme song of “We’ve got Payet!”

The thought occurs that we might have just made City angry. They play some crisp, fluid stuff going forward and Aguero produces a brilliant lob that bounces off Adrian’s post, before Reid chests it back to the grateful custodian. After seven minutes Aguero breaks on the left and Jenkinson takes player and ball for a softish looking penalty. Aguero duly dispatches and the City fans sing, “We’re not really here!” Some start to the game.

Instead of crumbling the Hammers come right back into it. Payet looks better than De Bruyne, Toure and Silva and all City’s superstars. In our borrowed West Stand seats we have a great view of the managers. City’s Pellegrini stands on the touchline with the air of a kindly uncle watching the young folk dancing at a wedding, while Slaven Bilic is much more animated. He stands right on the line, pumping his fists, waving his arms and sitting on his haunches. In his black suit and tie he looks rather like a City trader who’s just seen all his Chinese shares shorted and is complaining about it to the fourth official.

Jenkinson only lasts another couple of minutes before departing with what looks like a muscular injury. On comes young Sam Byram to replace him. “Dad, he looks about 12!” protests Lola. Sam’s first touch is to instantly control a strange high ball from Payet and play it 60 yards back to the Reunion man. Byram looks instantly at home against City and we might have a player. He’s not averse to clattering the odd winger either and picks up a yellow card later on.

HART BREAKER 
Kouyate gets fouled and requires treatment, which the ref completely ignores, earning a chorus of “You’re not fit to referee!” After half an hour Payet plays Antonio through with a brilliant shimmy and pass. Demichelis is lucky to be only booked as he brings down the flying Shakespearian character on the edge of the box. Antonio would surely have got a shot in. From the resulting free kick, Hart produces a brilliant one-handed save to stop Payet’s effort going in the top corner.

We go in level and at half-time we have a good view of Jack Collison being interviewed on the pitch. Matt texts to say the ref is having a shocker.

Delph shoots against the outside of the post for City after the restart, just after Mr Moon has left the stadium. Strange he should scarper, as it's a cracking game. The busy Antonio heads wide of the left post after a West Ham corner. Ten minutes into second half Antonio takes a long throw, Otamendi is caught looking for planetary alignments in the night sky and Valencia nips behind him to prod past Hart. That’s four in three games for Enner now.

It looks like being another famous victory. Noble has an immense game and is all over the pitch. Song is inspired, breaking up numerous attacks on the edge of WHU’s box, while Kouyate is having a fine game too.

LATE SERGIO 
But City bring on £50m Raheem Sterling and Iheanaco and always look dangerous. When Victor Moses comes on for Antonio we briefly have Moses and Jesus on the same pitch, enough to please the Vicar’s Son in the East Stand. City equalise when Iheanacho makes a run into West Ham’s box, the ball inadvertently rebounds off Creswell and the City striker shows his class to balance himself and chip over Adrian.

It’s end to end for the final ten minutes, but we can be proud of the way West Ham have matched the Champions. In added time Aguero puts a chance straight at Adrian. With seconds to go, Moses is brought down by Fernando. From the free kick Kouyate heads against the top of the bar with the last action of the match.

What a game. It feels like one of those classic draws from 1970s where the crowd have gone home thoroughly entertained and the fact we haven’t won doesn’t matter too much. There’s a hubbub of drained excitement and Lola and myself trek through a never-ending alleyway to Plaistow. A good day to be a Hammers fan and another sign we’ve got a team here.


PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 7; Jenkinson 5 (Byram 8), Reid 7 Collins 7 Cresswell 7; Antonio 7 (Moses 6), Payet 9, Noble 8, Song 8, Kouyate 8; Valencia 8 (Jelavic 6).