Inside Ken’s Café the bespectacled Big Joe is receiving a ribbing over his uncanny resemblance to a picture of the young Arsene Wenger on the front of the Sun’s football section. Nigel arrives rehashing his joke about Danny Welbeck’s dad Stan, who was in the bomb disposal corps, Matt’s just come off the night shift and is giving away copies of Who Invented The Stepover?, while Michael the Whovian has tales of fans queuing for four hours to meet Tom Baker. We’re slightly buoyed by the fact that Van Persie is out and Carrick is playing as emergency centre back for United, though any team in crisis normally comes good against West Ham.
‘These local derbies are always difficult,” quips Nigel looking at the Cockney Reds in the away section. There’s a warning early on when Fellaini’s header is kicked off the line by Andy Carroll. It all starts to go wrong after seven minutes. Rooney gives a subtle nudge into Tomkins’ back, meaning he misses his header, the ball bounces and Rooney, spotting Adrian off his line, half volleys over our keeper from just over the halfway line. It’s a great piece of skill and a Beckhamesque moment, even though some might say it was a long ball if West Ham did it. The last time we saw a West Ham keeper lobbed from the hallway line was probably Mervyn Day.
There’s some brief hope for West Ham as Downing does well to skip past Rafael and gets in a good cross that Carroll, under pressure, heads straight at De Gea. We’re not playing well though, and Taylor, Diame and Noble are misfiring in midfield. Fellaini is dominating midfield and Mata looks much more at home behind Rooney. Kagawa forces a save and then Young finds Mata and his shot from the edge of the box produces a sharp stop from Adrian. West Ham’s best chance is a free kick on the edge of the area that Carroll fires into the wall.
On 33 minutes Nolan goes down in the United box and claims a penalty only for the ball to go downfield and Young to cross. Noble tries to clear in the box but miscues and directs the ball straight to Rooney and it rebounds off Wayne into the net.
Most of us predict a big defeat at half-time, but West Ham at least improve a little after the break, winning more possession and pressing on the United goal. But too many high balls are aimed at Carroll and Jones and Fellaini head everything away. Michael Carrick shows what a good player he is as he strolls through the game at the back. Jarvis comes on for Diame and Cole for Nolan, and it makes some difference, Jarvis’s inviting cross being missed by both Cole and Carroll. But soon it’s back to Downing and Jarvis getting into good crossing positions and finding the keeper or Jones’ head. United never look in real danger and late on Nocerino is fortunate not to concede a penalty as he clashes with the onrushing Fellaini in the box.
The result is inevitable. We’ve kickstarted Fellaini’s United career and maybe solved United’s problems at the back through making Carrick look like Franz Beckenbauer. Matt says he may be late on Wednesday as he’s having birthday tea at the Ritz Hotel with his parents – middle-class football fans, eh? Wonder if they get numbers like at Ken’s Café?
The United fans head off home to Surrey while Fraser, Matt and Michael the Whovian meet his mate Nick in the Central. I manage to get the last bottle of Speckled Hen and the barmaid apologises that it’s not cold — CAMRA needs to visit these parts and soon. We decline the lady with the dodgy dvds again and see endless repeats of the Rooney goal on the big screen. Three defeats in a row and we’re all starting to worry again – victory against Hull on Wednesday is vital.
PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 5; Demel 5, Collins 6, Tomkins 5, McCartney 6; Downing 6, Noble 5, Taylor 5 (Nocerino 4), Diame 5 (Jarvis 5), Nolan 5 (Cole 5), Carroll 6.