Friday, October 31

Do West Ham have strength in depth?

Big Sam suggests our squad will be most severely tested in November and December in today's Evening Standard. Certainly injuries might start to mount and players who have performed in the World Cup like Enner Valencia might suffer.  But looking at our squad it's a lot stronger than last season. I'm assuming our best team is Adrian: Jenkinson, Tomkins, Reid, Cresswell; Song, Noble, Kouyate, Downing; Valencia, Sakho. So in reserve that leaves Demel, Collins and O'Brien in defence, who can all do a decent job. In midfield there's Amalfitani, who looks a really good player, plus Poyet who is promising, and £9 million Matt Jarvis. While up front we have options with the £15 million Andy Carroll, Mauro Zarate and Carlton Cole. So that's nine quality reserves in the squad, plus Ravel Morrison, currently on loan at Cardiff, if he can ever fulfil his potential. All of which leaves me feeling fairly optimistic for the season.

Wednesday, October 29

Trevor Brooking: My Life in Football

You don’t buy a Trevor Brooking autobiography for controversy. Brooking is such a decent man he doesn’t really want to offend anyone in the game. There are hints that he found his early career under Ron Greenwood frustrating (“Ron didn’t like to upset his big name players”), although Brooking also emphasises what a fantastic coach he thought Greenwood was.

Very little is mentioned about the boozy antics of the 1960s and 1970s players, with even Jimmy Greaves’ alcoholism described as “personal problems”. Though the normally tee-total Brooking was forced to have a whisky with Scottish centre back John Cushley to wet his baby’s head, and got so carried away he had a sip of champagne to celebrate getting to the 1976 Cup Winners’ Cup Final.

Similarly the chapters on his time as a director at West Ham don’t reveal very much new about the fall out between Billy Bonds and Harry Redknapp or why Redknapp was sacked. Though it's interesting that he is very clear that he had a major say in appointing Roy Hodgson as England boss instead of Redknapp and that he still believes Hodgson was the right choice.

The most interesting chapters are on Trevor’s spells managing West Ham. Here there’s a hint that a much steelier character lurks beneath his affable persona. He clearly finds Paolo Di Canio a bit of a prima donna, but realises his talent might keep West Ham up and so makes the trip to Chigwell to win him over. When Edouard Cisse throws his boots across the changing room after being substituted, “I laughed. I wasn’t too bothered about who I upset. I had nothing to lose. We needed to win and I had to do what I thought was right.”

When Sebastien Schemmel objects to being included in the squad for the final game when he’s already booked a ferry to France, Brooking says, “Non!” You feel Brooking might have made a good manager. As he writes: “I can be forthright and decisive when I need to be and years later as chairman of Sport England I think I surprised some important people by demonstrating that side of my nature on several occasions.”

My Life in Football often just repeats match facts without any deeper analysis, but it certainly brings back some great memories. Brooking’s goal for England in Hungary that lodged in the stanchion, a magnificent performance in Europe against Eintracht Frankfurt, that headed FA Cup Final winner against Arsenal and many a body shuffle and cross.

Brooking has some good points to make about the modern game; too few payers are comfortable receiving the ball sideways on and not enough players are two footed. Trevor’s policeman father made him practice for hours with both feet and that made him twice the player he might have been.


The book also reveals that he watched West Ham as a fan when he was a child and turned down interest from Liverpool to remain with the club after relegation. Such loyalty would be inconceivable today and rightly means that Sir Trevor remains a West Ham legend.

My Life in Football by Trevor Brooking is published by Simon and Schuster, price £20.

Tuesday, October 28

We've not got Sakho in the morning?

Diafra Sakho hasn't broken his shoulder, though West Han now face an anxious wait while he sees a specialist to learn the extent of the damage he suffered late on against Man City. He seems certain to miss the game at Stoke, so presumably we now have the option of either adding Kouyate to a five-man midfield or giving Carlton Cole a game up front. I'd favour starting with CC for his height against Stoke and his ability to defend, but theres no doubting that the absence of Sakho - who scores when he wants - is going to be a big loss.

Sunday, October 26

We're not really here!

West Ham 2 Manchester City 1

Have to watch this one in the Famous Cock Tavern in Upper Street as I’m supporting Her Indoors at her Islington Faces blog roadshow at the King’s Head Theatre at 3pm. Still, it’s not as if I’ll miss an epic win or anything… and there is a Pearly King coming. The coffee and Doombar are good in the Cock, though Michael Owen’s summarising makes Phil Neville sound as animated as Russell Brand.

City come at us for the first ten minutes and Silva fires a free kick just over. But West Ham start to impose themselves in midfield through Noble, Amalfitano and the excellent Song. A straight free kick sees Sakho win a header and Valencia fire into the onrushing Hart, who is winded making the save.

Incredibly, we score after 21 minutes. Song dissects the defence with a superb through ball. Valencia outspeeds Mangala and crosses behind a defender for Amalfitano to tap home. Amalfitano (who’s been booked already) leaps into the Bobby Moore stand followed by Sakho. We’re not really here!

GOOD MORGAN
Dzeko flicks just over from a City corner, but West Ham continue to really test the City defence. Sakho crosses, a City defender heads it across the box and Downing heads over when he probably should have got it on target. Just before the break Adrian saves with his feet from Aguero and we go in 1-0 up.

Predictably City come at West Ham at the start of the second half, though Kompany is lucky to escape a second yellow for a push on Valencia. We almost score a second when Song performs a rabona (I could only do a Ribena in my playing days) and Downing volleys wide.

Collins makes a brilliant block from Aguero after Adrian’s save. Throughout the second half Winston Reid proves he’s one of the best defenders in the Premier League. One tackle is almost Moore-esque and we need to get him to sign an improved contract now.

West Ham have some luck as Toure powers through, Aguero strikes the bar and Adrian makes a fine reaction stop to deny Toure from the rebound.

It’s a great game. Sakho chips over after a fine WHU move and then Toure curls a shot on to the bar for City.

SIX IN A ROW FOR SUPER SAKHO
On 75 minutes Cresswell plays in a fantastic cross and Sakho outjumps the defence to power in a header. Hart scoops it away but as the TV cameras prove, it’s a foot over the line. Diafra runs to the Chicken Run and performs a silly dance. Blimey. Six in six games for the bargain striker.

We can’t get too excited though, as two minutes later Silva waltzes around three defenders to curl in a superb goal. Two-one up against the Champions with 13 minutes left —what could possibly go wrong?

Valencia is replaced by Cole while Kouyate has reinforced the midfield as we try to hold out. Bubbles rings around the ground as if it’s the 1970s. I nervously sip at my pint of Doombar. Jovetic produces a fine tip over from Adrian. Lisa sends a text saying simply “Aaaargh!” during added time. Sakho has to go off with a shoulder injury which is a worry and Nolan replaces him. There’s five minutes of added time.  Jenkinson relieves the pressure with one last run into the City box and the whistle blows. Fantastic result!

I KISSED A MANAGER AND I LIKED IT
“Hell of a performance that. So different from last season,” texts Matt. “Rubbish game, you didn’t miss much… apart from our best performance for years!” texts Nigel, helpfully. Fraser is (possibly) suggesting that he never doubted Big Sam and smoking a victory cigar. Sixteen bloody points! We’re forth!


There’s still time for Russell Brand to kiss Big Sam in the TV interview room, though Sam should perhaps remember the example of Katy Perry and not be seduced by the Grays lothario. What a day. Six-nil away at City seems a long time ago now.


PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 8; Jenkinson 7, Collins 7, Reid 8, Cresswell 7; Amalfitano 7 (Kouyate 6), Noble 7, Song 9, Downing 7; Sakho 8 (Nolan 5), Valencia 8 (Cole 6).

Friday, October 24

Super Stewart Downing (and Carlton Cole!)

Some interesting statistics in Robbie Savage's piece on West Ham's revival on BBC.com. For example, Stewart Downing has completed three assists so far, which is one more than the whole of last season. Playing at the top of the midfield diamond Downing's created 25 chances so far, which puts him right up among the Premier League's top creators. The other revelation is that our most efficient striker is in fact good old Carlton Cole, who has scored two goals from five shots, and has 80 per cent shooting accuracy. Poor old Diafra Sakho has to make do with five goals from 14 shots (and 50 per cent shooting accuracy), while Valencia has two goals from 12 shots (42 per cent accuracy). Carlton Cole was our most productive striker last season too, with six goals from 19 shots.

A long way to go yet, but with even Robbie Savage being nice about us and Kouyate possibly coming back against Man City and even rumours of Andy Carroll getting closer to fitness, things are looking good at WHU. All we have to do is beat the wealthiest team on the planet. What could possibly go wrong?

Sunday, October 19

Champions League? We're having a laugh…

Burnley 1 West Ham 3

We’ve just come out of Electra at the Old Vic (a sort of ancient Greek version of EastEnders) when my mobile tells me that West Ham have won at Burnley and gone into fourth place. “Looks like it’s between West Ham and Southampton for the title,” I text to Nigel, who replies, “More relevantly, it’s 13 points towards avoiding relegation.”

Still, when we were last in the top four? Match of the Day reveals an early scare when Burnley’s Boyd hits the bar. The Clarets have more of the play in the first half, although Downing also hits the post after a great run inside from the right wing.

West Ham go two up in the second half with both goals coming from crosses from our new young energetic overlapping full-backs. Cresswell crosses from the left for Sakho to head home his sixth in sixth games. Then Jenkinson crosses from the right for Valencia to bullet home a tremendous header. He’s scored three for Equador during the break and it’s another quality finish for WHU.

Substitute Carlton Cole has a header cleared off the line but disappointingly West Ham then let Burnley back into the game as Adrian makes a complete mess of gathering a corner and the ball spills to a grateful Boyd to scoop home. Ings then sees a good header fly just wide of Adrian’s post. (Ings can only get better?)

But West Ham produce some character to clinch the game. Downing wins a corner and from the set piece Sakho heads across goal for Carlton Cole to head home from a yard out. Nice moment for Carlton who never complains about being a sub but is now our joint second top scorer. And ironically we’ve scored three headers with Andy Carroll out injured…


There’s still time for Burnley to hit the bar, but it's been an entertaining game and we’re fourth (at least until Man United play). A fine 60th birthday present for Big Sam. Yes, Burnley are winless and our defence looked wobbly at times, but it’s another great win. What can we complain about now?

Friday, October 17

Big Sam at 60

Quite a few articles on Big Sam celebrating his 60th birthday this Sunday, and some people getting irate online about him saying that getting sacked at Newcastle deprived him of his chance of managing a bigger club. I can't see that's being disrespectful to West Ham, as he presumably means the likes of Man United, Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, all of whom have been Champions League regulars. And it's worth noting that in the Daily Express the full text reads: "But as plain old Sam Allardyce approaches his 60th birthday on Sunday, he finally accepts he will never get a chance to manage a really big club. Unless he says with the fire of ambition still burning in his eyes, he can turn West Ham into one." 

So far this season I'm happy with what Big Sam has achieved. He's proved that provided with better players he can adapt the system and produce entertaining football and playing Downing at the top of the midfield diamond is looking inspired. Admittedly the last three seasons have seen much functional football, but let's give Sam some credit for getting the club promoted first time and keeping us in the Premier League for two seasons. Yes, Allardyce can at times be a PR disaster with the fans, but if we'd failed to come straight back up we could be floundering where Bolton and Fulham are now.
 
Unless, he says with the fire of ambition still burning in his eyes, he can turn West Ham into one.