Overly long writings about West Ham United FC. This is the kind of thing you might like, if you like this kind of thing.

Monday, December 05, 2016

West Ham 1 - 5 Arsenal (And Other Ramblings)

1. Helplessness Blues

"In that dream I can hardly contain it
All my life I will wait to attain it" - Grown Ocean, Fleet Foxes

With one eye closed, son, some of them still look like professional footballers

In some ways I feel a bit sorry for David Sullivan and David Gold. I know that won't be too popular, but you have to imagine that this season is like a footballing snuff movie for them. 

After all, this was it

Finally we had taken the step forward to compete with the big boys. Sure, we left Upton Park behind and some fans seem unable to get past this, but this was the only way West Ham were ever going to be able to compete on a remotely level playing field with the UEFA subsidised global brands at the top of the Premier League.

But in order to get their gleaming new jewel of a stadium, they were forced to agree to keep the athletics track, largely in order to fend off a bid from Spurs which wasn't even particularly serious. 

But since that moment, well...imagine if you had never left the UK in your life and you entered a competition to go to Turkey, and you won, and you were thrilled and couldn't wait and then found out that you'd actually won a trip to Torquay.

Loosely it's the same thing, and you really want to like it because you finally won something, but deep down in your very core you know that the thing you've won isn't what you wanted. 

Why do I feel bad for them? Because they didn't want this. They like to keep it on the down low but they are fans themselves, and no doubt all of their summer moves were done with the intention of improving the squad. The announcement of signing a £30m striker and then failing to do so pissed off everyone from Diafra Sakho to Ray Winstone. It was yet another sign of them hoping something was true, and then being hit with the reality that it wasn't. 

And that's where we are with the stadium. It's a home away from home. The running track means we're miles from the action, which isn't necessarily a bad thing when the action is as bad as this, but putting physical distance between the players and the fans has soon lead to an emotional distance as well. 

The empty seats dotted around on Saturday were telling in their own way. I considered taking two of my daughters, until I realised that would have cost me £180. Let that sink in. The Club don't even think kids deserve discounted tickets anymore, so confident are they in their ability to fill those seats with fans. 

Put another way, for me to attend this game with two young fans would have cost me more than it did for those mythical Spurs fans who bought a couple of kids season tickets in the summer at £89 a pop. 

That said, if you think about what's been served up at the London Stadium this season, Spurs fans have probably had more to cheer about than us. 

2. He Doesn't Know Why

"In that dream I'm as old as the mountains
Still as starlight reflected in fountains" - Grown Ocean, Fleet Foxes

Praying can help, Slaven

Slaven Bilic looked like a broken man during this debacle. Stood on the touchline, miles from anyone, bemused by the utter shit unfolding in front of his eyes. Much like Dimitri Payet, in fact. 

After his extraordinary post match admission that the players have "lacked intensity" in training - code for "they're fucking about, the lazy twats" - it doesn't seem unreasonable to ask whether he still retains the support of the squad. They're certainly playing like they wouldn't mind hearing a new voice in the changing room. 

This has been a brutal run of fixtures which I would characterise as follows:

Spurs (a) - A game we set up to win, tried to win, should have won. And lost.
Man Utd (a) - A game we set up to draw, tried to draw. And drew. 
Man Utd (a) - A game where we hoped that none of our players contracted dengue fever. And lost. Horribly.
Arsenal (h) - A game where the best that can be said for us is that we managed to get 11 players on the pitch and none of them were Gokhan Tore.

3. The Shrine/An Argument

"...wide eyed leaver, always going" - Grown Ocean, Fleet Foxes

Saturday will have been a familiar look for long time fans. We set up like a non-league team drawn away at Man Utd in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup, and by half time should have been 4-0 down. Despite having Payet, Lanzini, Obiang and Fletcher we offered nothing in attack.

Whatever work had been done this week in preparation for this game did not apparently involve crossing the halfway line as all the players got nosebleeds when they did so, and generally we looked as toothless as one of Heisenberg's New Mexico meth addicts.

This was all the worst elements of Allardyce, Curbishley, Zola, Roeder and Grant together. The cluelessness of the attacking play combined with the worst defence since Lee Harvey Oswald's attorney said "Your honour, but he never realised it was loaded!". We have regressed to such an extent that the only thing we are really hoping for from our trip to Anfield is not to pick up any more injuries. 'Tis the season, after all.

From the moment the teams were announced here, it was impossible to see how we could win this game and whether you're a Bilic fan or not, that is unacceptable. I veer wildly between thinking that last season wasn't a mirage and that he has been let down by terrible signings, bad luck and unfortunate injuries, and then watching games like this and thinking that he has to go. The fact that I am so changeable is largely due to the fact that the team are so madly inconsistent from game to game, and even from half to half.

In the end, my opinion is irrelevant but I'd give Bilic the Burnley and Hull games and then see where we stand. I'm not entirely convinced that Roberto Mancini is going to able to get anything more from this current shower, and once you go to a new manager you are resetting your team. The new man will want time, a full preseason, and generally a change of everything. If we go away from Bilic now then the last eighteen months have been for nought.

Of course, where you stand on that will probably depend on whether you think Bilic has built on, or eroded, the base that was left for him by Sam Allardyce.

4. Quiet Houses

"I know someday the smoke will all burn off
All these voices I'll someday have turned off" - Grown Ocean, Fleet Foxes

There was a minute's silence held at the start of this game for the tragic victims of Chapecoense plane crash, which then continued for the rest of the evening. Arsenal fans even sang "Is this the Emirates?" which is admittedly pretty funny.

That's not a dig at anyone, as only someone on psychotropic drugs could have found any joy yesterday, but it's a reflection of reality. In the symbiotic relationship between fans and their team there is now an athletics track sized obstacle between the two participating groups and the symbiosis has dissipated. Plenty hark back to Upton Park with rose tinted glasses, but it wasn't this flat this frequently. 

But it can't all be blamed on running tracks and temporary non retractable seating. The cold hard truth is that we have been abysmal at home. Truly awful. Even the games we won, against Sunderland and Bournemouth, were undeserved and otherwise we've been poor even though Arsenal are the first top level team we've played. 

Interestingly, if I look back on the season as a whole the only two games that I think we demonstrably  should have won are Palace and Spurs away, one of which we lost and the other required Cristian Benteke to take a penalty like he was wearing VR glasses. 

I still think our home form will be the key thing that keeps us up, purely based on history, but I think what I'm really saying is...stock up on psychotropic drugs. 

5. Heard Them Stirring

"...I'll have so much to tell you about it" - Grown Ocean, Fleet Foxes

And what of the game, I hear none of you ask? 

Well, Arsenal scored five at West Ham for the first time, which seems remarkable considering that they beat us all the time and Alexis Sanchez was masterful. But the real story was that the game was somehow only 1-0 after 70 minutes. 

Sanchez scored a hat trick, Oxlade-Chamberlain thumped in a beauty from outside the box and Ozil opened things up with a tap in, and the only thing you could walk away from this game thinking was "How on earth did we keep it to five?".

The opening half an hour of this game was about as one sided as the time the Americans went to war with Grenada, which coincidentally was also a pointless mismatch just before Christmas. James Collins got injured after four minutes, because there is a quota and someone has to, and thereafter Alvaro Arbeloa came on - about 5 years too late - so that we would at least have someone who could take throw ins over there when Arsenal misplaced a pass. 

That wasn't very often, sadly, as Monreal and Oxlade-Chamberlain repeatedly cut us open as Arbeloa looked every inch a 33 year old free agent with no fitness. Another triumph for David Sullivan and his army of agent-scouts.

We started with the 3-4-2-1 formation that hasn't been working for a while, and quickly reverted to do-whatever-you-want-lads-I've-got-no-idea-anymore once Collins went off. I don't actually think Bilic wants to play this system particularly, but with Arbeloa proving as useful as having Europe's largest digital wrap he doesn't really have much choice. 

One of the many issues with it, is that without Cresswell he has no drive along the left side to support Payet. Arthur Masuaku is, like Arbeloa, short of fitness but he doesn't offer much in attack and thus Arsenal had little trouble containing Payet today. By the time the second went in his interest had waned to the point of non existence, or perhaps a blinking disbelief that his team mates could be quite so shit.

Mind you, it also didn't help that Angelo Ogbonna attempted to pass the ball directly through another human being in the lead up to the Arsenal opener. Say what you want about James Collins and his declining physical skills, but he does at least respect the basic laws of the Universe. These state that you should not attempt to kick a football through solid mass, and when you're playing against Alexis Sanchez you should at least attempt to fucking tackle him every now and again.

6. Someone You'd Admire

"You would come to me then, without answers" - Grown Ocean, Fleet Foxes

Farewell Payet then. I've said it for a few consecutive performances but he doesn't seem terribly perturbed by events unfolding around him. That might be unfair as he always looks languid, and one thing I've grown to appreciate is that even when he's playing well he's actually a peripheral player. He drifts in and out of games, but last year that mattered far less as players like Noble and Kouyate were actually useful in attack, whilst we had forward players who could influence the game. 

Say what you will about Ashley Fletcher but for all his obvious promise, starting him while £60m of strikers sat on the bench might just be the most damning indictment possible of our scouting and medical teams. 

How he would leave for Madrid if this was a musical

Payet will go because 29 year olds who are good enough to play for Real Madrid don't sit in the bottom half of the Premiership. Spurs couldn't keep Bale and Modric so we won't keep him. The Club will put up enough of a fight to make it look like they tried but it was probably a done deal the moment West Brom's fourth went in and we truly began to understand the extent of the malaise. 

There are rumours today that Arsenal are interested but I doubt that the Board are that suicidal. Selling Payet will be bad enough, but selling him to a London rival would be bonkers. I also don't like the idea of dealing with Arsenal as they aren't stupid like Man Utd or Chelsea. Any deal with the North Londoners should require Alex Iwobi coming back the other way, which of course means we'll get Per Mertesacker.

In some ways we might already have Payet's replacement, as Andre Ayew looks like a player without a position thus far. His brief but positive cameo at Old Trafford was followed up by him having a leisurely stroll around here that didn't exactly endear him to many. But like so many others he is returning from injury and needs games and an actual functioning formation in which to play. By the end of this match we were so bedraggled that we looked like the marines in Aliens with men disappearing everywhere and Mark Noble lying in the middle of the park yelling "Game over, man, game over!" as Mesut Ozil outpaced him whilst not appearing to run.

Wait, you're not bringing him on until they score again?

Bemusingly, Andy Carroll was left to warm up for 25 minutes of the second half despite it being obvious that it would take an asteroid, a pack of wolves and an avalanche to disturb the Arsenal back four. Gloriously, as Bilic was finally lining him up to bring him on, Sanchez scored the second to put the game away for good. Carroll did later score to make it 3-1, heading in a Payet free kick that came back off the bar, and if nothing else he should be fit to start and get injured next week at Liverpool. 

7. White Winter Hymnal

"Eucalyptus and orange trees are blooming 
In that dream, there's no darkness a' looming" - Grown Ocean, Fleet Foxes

A quick glance to January then. Our season could actually be over by then, because after the inevitable defeat at Liverpool we have Burnley, Hull, Swansea and Leicester to play which really is a trip through the detritus of the division. If we don't get points there you should start investing in those guide books to Rotherham that I was mocking last week. 

A quick squint at Transfermarkt shows a number of right backs who will be out of contract in the summer and therefore possibly susceptible to a bid in the window:

Pablo Zabaleta (31) - Man City
Branislav Ivanovic (32) - Chelsea
Bacar Sagna (33) - Man City
Antonio Valencia (31) - Man Utd
Glen Johnson (32) - Stoke
Rafinha (31) - Bayern Munich
Dario Srna (34) - Shakhtar Donetsk 

With the exception of Valencia, the above all meet the criteria of being past their prime, expensive and not playing very much at the moment. These will be catnip to Sullivan, so keep an eye on them. I added Srna as he is Croatian and well known to Bilic, but I don't get the impression that the manager will get too much say in this window as Sullivan looks to redress the balance of his horrendous summer in the manner of absolutely no other English chairmen anywhere.

Also out of contract are the following forwards:

Saido Berahino (23) - West Brom
Eder (30) - Inter
Lima (33) - Al Ahly (Dubai)
Nilmar (32) - Al Nasr (Dubai)

Not much here, really. Berahino feels like a typical West Ham signing as he's overrated and overweight so he might make a nice homage to the Mido/Benni McCarthy signings of Sullivan's first season but I can't see him coming. 

Eder is actually very good and in some weird love triangle with Inter and Sampdoria meaning he won't come either. That leaves a load of South Americans playing in Dubai, which again is a David Sullivan wet dream. It's worth watching them, but I suspect that we'll have to spend real money here which is bound to end about as well it usually does. 

8. Sun Giant

"Kept like jewellery, kept with devotion"Grown Ocean, Fleet Foxes

Interesting that since dropping Adrian and bringing in Darren Randolph we have picked up one point and conceded 9 goals in 3 games. Of course, Adrian also managed to concede 4 himself in the middle of that little run which just goes to show that a goalkeeper is really only as good as his defence. 

Randolph and Adrian were both probably as good as each other in those Old Trafford matches, but for the league game we had some backbone (and full backs) and for the Cup game we didn't. C'est la vie and all that but Bilic needs to get a defensive system in place before those Hull and Burnley games. 

Those are two terrible teams, but they are committed and will run all day and by his own admission we have not got those qualities right now. Whatever happens between now and the end of the season, it is to be hoped that we see an actual proper pre-season next year and not a meaningless tour to the US for photo opportunities and brand awareness. 

Changing your goalkeeper when your back four is this porous really is blowing into a hurricane. 

9. Drops In The River

"I will see you one day when I've woken
I'll be so happy just to have spoken" - Grown Ocean, Fleet Foxes

Passion. I fucking hate that word. 

It's so completely meaningless as to be almost redundant. Footballers don't play better because they sing their national anthem loudly. The Brazilians were belting it out in 2014 at the World Cup and the Germans had them all crying after 25 minutes.

Likewise, just because Lawrence Dallaglio was weeping before a World Cup semi final in 2003 doesn't mean that it would be in any way useful for Gary Cahill to do the same in 2016. It would be much more useful, for instance, if Gary Cahill could learn how to defend. 

I digress. Footballers play well or badly. The things that make them play well are manifold and complex. Their own technical performance, their tactical awareness, their physical condition, luck, their mentality - all sorts of things. 

But ultimately they well or they play badly through a combination of the above. 

And when they don't play well, football fans often decide that it's because the players don't care. My experience is that this is generally because it's easy. Rather than give any thought to it, we can just say "Arbeloa doesn't give a shit does he? Absolutely no PASHUN." and leave it at that. 

But here's the thing. Arbeloa played poorly on Saturday because he's not fit. He hasn't played in weeks and look about as mobile as the Cutty Sark. He may actually be too old for this level altogether. He also got his positioning all wrong, seemed unsure as to whether he was playing as a third centre back or a full back, and got barely any protection from the otiose midfield in front of him. while the excellent Arsenal pairing of Monreal and Oxlade-Chamberlain terrorised him.

It wasn't a lack of passion, because passion is a meaningless catch all word that says nothing. He just played badly.

When we watch football we demand our team care as much as we do, and think it's the least they can do. But the thing is, the only people who care like we do are in the stands with us. And I don't want my team that pumped up and emotional because then they wouldn't be thinking clearly and wouldn't make sensible decisions. 

As Danny Baker says, the only people in the ground who've paid to be there are the fans. We can show all the passion necessary (whatever that means). 

I just want my team to play well. 

10. Sun It Rises

"In that dream, moving slow through the morning"Grown Ocean, Fleet Foxes

I had promised myself I would say something positive about the Club in this article because it's been a while, and then they somehow took the midweek 4-1 defeat, laughed in our face and said "that's amateur hour pal - watch this!"

I did read however, that a fan was prevented from bringing into this game a banner demanding the sacking of Karren Brady. I don't really know where I stand on this. I believe in free speech and I believe in speaking truth to power but I'm also not into public trials for people who don't deserve them.

I am a little unclear as to why Brady bears so much criticism from fans. She has managed the Stadium move, of course, but she did so at the behest of her employers. She was instructed to win the bid, and did so and against an opponent who was willing to hack her phone in the process, by the way. 

Now, I'm a former season ticket holder of 25 years who was leapfrogged on the waiting list by thousands of fans on the Plus 2 scheme. I thought, and still think, that was a disgrace. But a little perspective is needed here. 

The move has been a PR disaster, and at best a qualified success in real terms. There are plenty who won't ever forgive her for the simple fact that we no longer play at Upton Park. But I say again - she didn't choose to move - Sullivan and Gold did. 

Viewed objectively - and I know some of you are going to choke on your tea at this - but Brady is by far the most competent executive we have ever had. Do I need to remind people of Scott Duxbury and Paul Igoe, the men who thought third party ownership wasn't a big deal?

How about the time we missed out on a League Cup Semi Final because no one bothered to check if Manny Omoyinmi was cup tied, and then we brought him on for 25 seconds?

Maybe I could remind you of the season we played without a sponsor, because who needs extra money when you're raking it in from the portakabin serving as a club shop. 

And for those of an older vintage, you will no doubt recall the £1.3m Bond Scheme, which proved so popular the fans invaded the pitch and had a sit down protest during a home game. In fact, for most of my childhood I assumed we had a player called Zach Verboerd that the fans loved to chant for - and was presumably injured, this being West Ham. 

Only after I saw the "Lying thieving cheats" banner did I figure out it was "Sack the board" that was the theme tune to my childhood.

Brady has her faults, and her lack of humility grates on me. But she didn't sign Tore or Zaza or Calleri or any of these other disasters, and she didn't forget to mark Alexis Sanchez either. 

She's a competent executive, doing a tough job, getting some stuff wrong, and not being openly reflective enough of that. I'm not here to defend the banning of innocent fans, or the Club using a 15 year old's Twitter feed as their man form of communication, but just to try and present the other side of the story. 

I don't see how this stuff equates to her needing to be fired. In any normal business that is failing as West Ham is, a review would be carried out of the decision making processes that are being followed to allow such consistent poor performance. The problem is that the person making all those decisions is David Sullivan, and he is highly unlikely to sack himself. 

So, if you must direct your ire at someone then at least have a think about what it is you're pissed off about. If a 5 game winning streak would solve your issues, then the guy you're upset with is Sullivan. 

And if your critique of Brady involves the words "bint", "bitch", "slag", "slut" or any other gender based insult then I'd suggest your issue is probably as simple as the fact that you're a fairly keen misogynist and you don't like the fact that a woman is in a position of power. 

Nobody at West Ham is above criticism. It's West Ham for fuck's sake, they're always messing something up, but I've got Karren Brady quite a long way down my list of people to be pissed off at. And that's even allowing for the fact she won't sell me a season ticket. 

One had no money. Neither did the other. You don't want them back.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Man Utd 4 - 1 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

1. Winter Is Here

A friend of mine once said that if you're ever unsure whether to read a book, then check to see if it has a map of an imaginary land in the front. If it does, bin it. Sadly, I ignored this rather sage advice a few years ago, and embarked upon the Song of Ice and Fire books that later spawned the Game of Thrones TV show.

They started well, interesting and lively, and then gradually lost their lustre over time as all the stuff that made them good in the first place was replaced with overblown self important ideas as the author began to believe in his own infallibility. You're probably beginning to see where this is going.

If you follow the books then you'll know that the Starks have a saying - "Winter Is Coming" - and are currently having a bit of trouble with marauding hordes from the North.

So, yeah, having watched this pitiful capitulation tonight, I think it's safe to say that winter is here.

Oh Christ...that's...that's Masuaku

2. Ours Is The Fury

Let's not beat about the bush here, West Ham were fucking abject tonight. I'm well aware that I wrote only two days ago about how I would prioritise the Arsenal game over this game, and I stand by that. As this 90 minute nightmare shows, we are not very good, but not prioritising a game is a long way from not trying. 

From the start, there was absolutely no sense of belief that we would get anything from this fixture. Whatever brittle confidence existed disappeared as Ibrahimovic gave Man United the lead after just 90 seconds. In fairness it was a well crafted goal as Rooney and Mkhitaryan combined beautifully to allow the Swede to lift it over the advancing (and apparently newly qualified as a ninja) Adrian. 

Michail Antonio was on the wrong side of his man once again, but there's not actually any point in saying that any more as it happens all the time and by this stage we all realise that an actual functioning right back would be significantly more useful to us in defensive areas than Antonio. In fact, a life size cardboard cut out of Desmond Tutu would be more use to us back there than Antonio, but I digress. 

Our only attack of the first half, indeed perhaps the entire game, got us on level terms but once we conceded immediately after the restart that was all she wrote. 

I can take losing, for I am a West Ham fan, and if I couldn't then the last thirty five years would have been a very difficult time indeed. But I like to see some fight in my team. It's OK for me to not think we can win tonight as I am not being paid to do so. These guys are professionals. The very least they owe us is to work hard, be diligent, maybe run about a bit and to perhaps mark ANTHONY FUCKING MARTIAL FROM TIME TO TIME.

3. Family, Duty, Honour

Dimitri Payet didn't look happy tonight. Or indeed interested. His run and shot led to the first goal, but after Fletcher poked in the rebound the Frenchman just ran off as though he was seriously pissed off with missing The Missing. Now look, maybe he is, although you’d think he’s been here long enough to figure out Sky +, but then maybe his planner is full of shit like Strictly Come Dancing and I’m Willing To Do Anything To Get On TV….Get Me Out Of Here like mine is and he doesn’t have room to record anything decent.

But if he’s upset at his own situation, I find it hard to blame him. The team around him last year got to 7th in the league and within proper refereeing reach of the Champions League. 

Suddenly that has disappeared. Gone are players as good as Alex Song and Victor Moses, and in have come a succession of players who, at least currently, don't look remotely up to the task. With the usual slew of injuries (and two more tonight won't help) he has gone from the highs of last season and Euro 2016 to a relegation fight. I can see why he might be pissed off. I know I am. 

But he can't do what he did tonight. This was a 76 minute resignation letter.

I can take that he gave the ball away for the second goal - that's how he plays. He's Dimitri Payet, he plays in places other people don't dare and we can’t grumble when it fails occasionally as we all know the deal. But when you give the ball away, at least track back. Don't just impersonate Andros Townsend at an England squad get together and stand there pointlessly, miles from anyone. Track back, work hard. Tackle.

I L.O.V.E Payet but he can't do that again. However underwhelmed he is by the team around him, he has to get on with it. I have written before that his sale was inevitable once it became clear that we were going to be a bottom half team this season, but what we cannot afford now is for Payet to go into a tailspin in pursuit of a move in January. I suspect this will be another reason we'll spend heavily (and stupidly) next month. 

Maybe this is all a massive overreaction and he’ll be back to his brilliant best on Saturday and you’ll all laugh at me and point, and everyone will just move on, but I’m not sure. His body language last night was terrible. He looked like I do when my wife forces me to go to Dunelm Mill. 

This is the problem with being a one man team. If that man isn't there, then suddenly you're a no man team. You're Hull. 

4. Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken

So most of this article was initially taken up by me calling the entire team a load of shithousing twatbadgers over and over again. Eventually my wife looked up from Grey’s Anatomy and told me to stop saying it out loud as she was finding it hard to hear the inane shit they were over emoting on screen. I found that ironic as our long litany of injuries would probably be deemed a bit unbelievable by the folks who write Grey's Anatomy, a show that is so bonkers that the doctors actually own the hospital.

Three hamstring injuries, you say? In a week? Seems a bit unlikely 

I decided at that point to leave the column until today when I would have likely calmed down and would stop calling them shithousing twatbadgers and instead moved on to calling them a useless gaggle of overpaid fuckhawks.

Excluded from my tirade, however, is Adrian. It may seem odd to say that of a goalkeeper who conceded four times, but without him it would be have been substantially more. He made a remarkable double save from Ibrahimovic shortly after the opener, and thereafter repelled everything Man United threw at him. Which was quite a bit, because all their strikers score against us ALL THE TIME.

He did have quite a bit to do all night, largely as a result of our defence apparently going on hunger strike at half time, but he made plenty of saves and generally showed the right type of response to being dropped.

His opposite number David de Gea, by contrast, spent the entire evening shivering and thinking “I bet it’s not like this in Madrid”. When called upon for the only time all game he fumbled a shot from Payet, and Fletcher slid in the equaliser from the rebound. 

Some food for thought - these were our only two shots on goal, meaning that Man United could have played this game without a goalkeeper and it still would have finished 4-1. Somewhere Glenn Roeder is nodding approvingly. 

5. Fire And Blood

It might be 2016, but how different was this to the Allardyce era or any other the other numerous pitiful capitulations of years past? I think that’s what is making me so angry about this performance – we were supposed to be past this now. Gone were the days of turning up at big away games and hoping to keep the score down and not get any injuries. Now we were going to punch back, and that’s exactly what we did last year.

Whether you believe that it was all luck, or smoke and mirrors, or deep voodoo shit it doesn’t really matter as it all did actually happen. We took points from every team in the division, and most importantly found a way of playing away from home. That was crucial as we knew we were going to be giving up a lot of our home advantage in the move to the new stadium.

But this game just reverted back about ten years. We would have destroyed Allardyce for this, excoriated Roeder, lamented Redknapp’s defensive flaws and probably congratulated Grant because at least we scored a goal.

This was directionless garbage, with no obvious attacking plan and no clear sense of how we ever intended to win a game that had to be settled on the night. There was something to commend in surviving the first half barrage, but that was mostly luck and good goalkeeping. After half time we collapsed like a Pogba, and in the end were grateful to keep it to four. I keep returning to this point, but I think it's worth considering - can you remember Southampton playing like this away from home recently? We came up together and yet the two sides couldn't be further apart in terms of how they are run, and how they are performing. I acknowledge we have injuries, and this team included some reserves, but still. Directionless garbage.

On the plus side however, this wasn’t even our worst league cup performance in Manchester in the last three years. After all, who can forget Roger the Relegator and the boys and their plucky 9-0 aggregate defeat to Man City in 2014? 

Thank goodness these days are behind us

6. The Winds Of Winter

With winter here, the fixture list is yet again playing havoc. After we get through Arsenal and Liverpool (a point, a point, my kingdom for a point!) we have a stretch of seven games where we play:

Burnley (h)
Hull (h)
Swansea (a)
Leicester (h)
Man Utd (h)
Palace (h)
Boro (a)

So that’s six of the current bottom eight, and Man Utd at home which is always a bit of a barnburner. As much as we’ve been dreading the current run of games, this is really where our season will be settled.

A good run here and we can pull away from the dross and concentrate on trying to convince Payet that while Madrid is nice in summer, it doesn’t have anywhere near the same access to top quality tanning salons like Loughton does. If we revert back to our early season inconsistency, however, then you could very easily see us getting dragged into a fight for which we are absolutely not prepared.

This is where January will be important and, as I explain here, absolutely terrifying. You’ll see there that I predict David Sullivan is going to do something full on barking mad in January and it doesn’t look like he’s going to disappoint. Buckle up kids, Sully’s going shopping!

7. The Old Gods And The New

As is customary at this time of year, and required under Subsection E (4)(ii) of Premier League rules, West Ham players are starting to get injured. This is only remarkable in the sense that it is not remarkable at all. There is no point bemoaning injuries as West Ham pick them up like an American Civil War battalion. That said, I have long thought that we have a ludicrous injury record, so I went to www.physioroom.com and had a scout around to see whether we are really worse than the average Premier League team.

Starting only at August 15 2015 I took the last eighteen months as my sample size. This is not suitable for a proper study as it’s not big enough, and also because that website lists literally anything that a player reports, even if it doesn’t keep them from missing a game.

However, as a quick and dirty exercise it seemed as good a way as any so I ploughed on, and uncovered the following:

Over that time West Ham suffered 77 injuries, shown here:

Knock                            14
Knee                             10
Ankle/Foot                 7
Thigh Muscle Strain         6
Muscular                     5
Hip/Thigh                    5
Groin/Pelvis                       4
Calf/Shin                      3
Eye                         2
Illness                           2
Heel                               1
Concussion                 1
Back                               1
Facial                             1
Hand                             1
High Ankle Sprain             1

Not all of these are created equal, of course, but you will remember the High Ankle Sprain as that was Payet when Everton took him out last year, and the back injury is Sakho and his vertebrae made out of blancmange. There is also an eye wateringly high number of hamstring and muscle injuries. I’m not a doctor, you’ll be shocked to learn, but I’m beginning to wonder if anyone at West Ham is either. This seems an unnecessarily high volume of players lost to injuries that seem like they should be more preventable. Maybe the medical types among you could opine, but this just feels like the kind of area where marginal gains could be very easily made.

I did the same quick scan for some other clubs, because you need some kind of frame of reference here, and found the following:

Spurs had 76 injuries in the same time (Danny Rose being the best, listed with “fatigue” having presumably exhausted himself running after referees demanding other players be booked) but notably only 6 hamstring injuries.

Leicester had just 43, also with only 6 hamstring injuries although it should be noted that they sold the souls of all their players in order to get such luck as part of their Faustian league title win.

Free flowing entertainers West Brom had 54 injuries, with 12 hamstring problems, and also the only player who had to be sent to Fat Camp, so huge kudos to Saido Berahino on that front.

What does all that mean? Probably nothing, but in a very quick survey of four teams we had the most injuries and specifically the most hamstring strains. We do have Carroll and Sakho, who are like the Messi and Ronaldo of this particular league, but that is still an impressive haul of maladies. 

He's not even injured. He just looks like that.

8. Hardhome

For all that it might not seem it, our home form is what will keep us up. We have so far taken eight points from our home fixtures and four on our travels .Admittedly we've played much easier teams at home, but we've been equally shit everywhere we've played so I'm not sure that's mattered.

It doesn't seem like it right now, but the London Stadium is our friend. In that run of seven games where we participate in the Premier League Survival of the Unfittest, five of the matches are at home.

Arsenal will be an interesting test in that regard. Our best performance of the season was against Chelsea, under lights and at home. If we can regenerate that atmosphere, and find two functioning full backs, then we might have a shot on Saturday. I doubt it, as Arsenal have had the wood on us for years, but anything is possible. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Man Utd 1 - 1 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

1. In Dubious Battle

Imagine getting sent off trying to defend this shithousery though.

"Of course this a foul" says Jose "Do you know how much he cost?"

2. The Wayward Bus

The first West Ham away game I ever attended was on March 17 1984 and we lost 4-1 to Leicester. The most recent was our 5-1 demolition of Blackburn in the FA Cup last season. Those two absurd bookends serve as a nice reminder of the riches and rewards as well as the pitfalls of following a football team around the country with any degree of regularity. 

I saw us lose 5-0 to Newcastle while allowing Leon Best to score a hat trick. This bordered on the impossible as Leon Best is a large, flat piece of wood and is not capable of kinetic movement. And yet it happened. 

I've seen us lose 3-0 to Notts County as the fans staged a sit down protest, blissfully unaware that we would one day lose 7-1 at Blackburn, making that day in Nottingham look like a right laugh.

I vividly recall the 4-2 midweek defeat under Roeder at Charlton that precipitated the legendary, and never successfully answered, chant demanding a new back four. 

But I also watched a 3-0 win at Bolton when Danny Williamson ran 80 yards to score a wonder goal and briefly made us dream of home grown talent again, before disappearing off the face of the earth and becoming a "Who remembers" contender on the KUMB podcast. There were soul nourishing wins at Arsenal, Spurs, Man United and that bananas 3-0 win at Wigan that made everyone dare to dream that the Great Escape might actually be possible, and had the added effect of making Neil Warnock cry.

The point is that West Ham have been pretty crap away from home for a long time, but there is always that small kernel of hope that drives us on. This game never really looked winnable, and yet we came within a James Collins aneurysm of nicking it. Those fans who braved the Arctic conditions, the terrible Old Trafford track record and Sunday train services deserve our unstinting admiration. 

The reality is that in the last thirty years, West Ham fans travelling to this fixture have seen almost as many six goal defeats as they have victories. To paraphrase Alan Pardew - and why wouldn't we given what he is currently giving to the football world at large - travelling away with West Ham has always been done Moore in hope than expectation.

Does this even need a caption?

3. East Of Eden

Let's be honest, points gained at Old Trafford don't carry quite the same cachet that they used to but when you've been as bad as West Ham have been this season you take what you can get. This was a workmanlike performance that owed much to Darren Randolph, some to good fortune and a lot to a disciplined defensive unit who rode their luck to the last. 

It helps, of course, when you have a forward who can score, and Diafra Sakho's 2nd minute bullet header should have been the platform for a stirring away performance. As it was, we seemed a little confused by how to approach the game at 1-0 up, and seemingly abandoned all pretence at going forward. It wasn't a huge surprise, therefore, that Pogba picked out Ibrahimovic twenty minutes later and dreams of an away win turned into seventy minutes of hiding behind the sofa in search of a point.

The big Swede was able to head his equaliser unopposed as James Collins was caught up discussing the new series of "The Affair" with Angelo Ogbonna and thus forgot to pay any attention to the man he was marking, but still, you can't have everything.

There were lots of good things today, however, and while we seem to have lost the counterthrusting ability that served us so well last year this can at least be partially explained by the fact that we've been operating without a striker for three months. Diafra Sakho has remedied that and his hard work and general physical presence was enough to put opposition defenders under the kind of pressure they haven't had to face all season. 

Randolph also built on a sort of good start last week by performing well here in the face of much pressure. There were fine saves from Lingard and Ibrahimovic and best of all from Rashford when he was clean through. I'm still not entirely convinced by either of our keepers, and suspect that Adrian probably remains the better of the two, but the Irishman has waited a long time and seem some genuinely postal fuck ups by the Spaniard so he deserves his run. 

Curiously, our best part of the game was the last five minutes when we had a couple of decent looking breaks, and Ashley Fletcher nearly stole the points in the last minute but was denied by a fine De Gea save. Rather like the Spurs game last week, had we found Payet on one of those breaks we'd have been going home with the points and this column would need to acknowledge some green shoots of recovery. 

As it is...Avram Watch!

2010/11 (Worst West Ham team in living memory) after 13 games: W1 D6 L6 (9 points)
2016/17 (This lot) after 13 games: W3 D3 L7 (12 points). 

Relax guys. Everything is fine. 

4. The Winter Of Our Discontent

Unrelenting Avram hatred aside, there actually were some green shoots today, and indeed last week. One thorny issue, however, is Mark Noble and whether the captain should remain the automatic selection he has been for so long. Last week, Lanzini dropped deeper and was a key influence on the game as his neat passing helped us pass out of trouble, and he did enough defensively to keep Spurs at bay for 88 minutes before....sobs uncontrollably.

The problem is that with Noble needing to be accommodated, Lanzini was pushed further forward here and reverted to flitting ineffectually in and out of the game as he had done for most of the season. Man United probably aren't as good as Spurs and yet we struggled to create too much today until those last few minutes, and our front players were horribly isolated. Interestingly, I thought we actually sparked into life when Andre Ayew came on, which is handy given that he cost £20m.

What the broader point highlights, however, is the slightly one dimensional nature of some of our players. You need central midfielders to be able to break up play, and then transition you from deep on the pitch into forward areas from which to launch attacks. Noble does the latter, and Lanzini the former and thus we need both of them on the pitch to make those things happen. If you're Manchester United or Chelsea you just buy Pogba or Kante and get them to do both, but without that sort of financial muscle or an actual scouting network, we need two players to do the work that can be done in better teams by just one.

We're hardly unique there though, and must say I consider myself a Noble fan. He has been undeniably less effective this season, however, and it's worth examining why. Maybe his legs have just caught up with his hairstyle, which has been the same since he was 19 and he has actually transformed into the 45 year old man that he has looked like since about 2004. I do wonder if the bigger pitch at the London Stadium is having an effect as there is more real estate to cover and no centre forward to pass to, and that's a recipe for putting miles on the clock.

His discipline and determination is important in keeping our defensive shape but the reality is that we've still been crap at the back. It took Obiang's belated introduction to give us the required ability to regain the ball in central areas, and despite that we have a goal difference worryingly close to Sunderland's - and they're not even a professional football team. It's just Jermain Defoe plus the first ten paying customers to arrive.

Whatever is ailing Noble needs fixing soon. Winning the ball back is not much help if your use of it is then so slow that it can't allow the team to break. And if you review the highlights from this game you'll see that the late Ibrahimovic chance, ultimately snuffed out by Kouyate, came as a result of Noble taking a truly godawful free kick which he floated on to Valencia's chest and then had to watch helplessly as Collins decided the best way to deal with the resulting threat was to have some kind of seizure.

I don't know the answer to this problem, but the beating heart of our team is out of sync. One for Bilic to focus on. 

5. The Pearl

I've seen mixed reactions to Payet's performance today. I liked his industry and willingness to do some pretty decent defensive work, all the while shouldering the burden of playing for a team whose tactics whiteboard has one sole entry, simply saying "I dunno - give it to Payet".

Others seem to think he looked uninterested and shirked his duties, but I can't say I really saw that. Having the ball is an underrated aspect of defensive play, and there has been a season long trend of us giving away possession way too easily. Payet remains our best asset in this regard, added to the fact that he can put in crosses that lead to things like this.

At least one thing we all now know - Zlatan cannot defend

It was a bit odd that Mourinho dared to Zlatan there, but dare he did and Sakho capitalised brilliantly.

There is even a mad rumour going round today that Mourinho wants to buy Payet himself in January. There might be a germ of truth in this as United have only spent £400m on attacking players in the last year or two and still can't defend, but nothing they do is surprising anymore.

I'd sell if we can get Martial and Rashford back in the deal but I doubt that's likely. Still, any football executive not ringing up Manchester United and seeing if they'll do something stupid isn't doing their job properly.

6. Once There Was A War

Not to belabour the point, but take a look at our bench today and see if you can spot the common link between the outfield players:

Adrian, Nordtveit, Feghouli, Zaza, Ayew, Fletcher, Fernandes.

When you don't improve your first team at all in a £40m summer spending spree that's terrible business. And make no mistake, this was the worst shopping trip since John Terry's mum said to her mate "Don't worry - I'll take care of this". 

7. To A God Unknown

The absence of Winston Reid could have been damaging today, but our back three generally stood up pretty well except for the couple of times they channelled the lost spirit of Aston Villa.

That said, I think we may be seeing the decline phase of James Collins as a Premier League player. Ibrahimovic simply ran past him for the goal, and whilst there were a couple of typically heroic last ditch interventions, it wasn't a shock to see him then nearly scuttle the whole thing with a terrible late back pass, and it's fair to say that he may have been more successful than Pope Francis in getting East Londoners to pray this Sunday.

It's a shame that Reece Oxford is injured as he could probably have got some playing time this week, which is apparently a sticking point with his new contract. That said, picking up a poorly timed injury suggests an understanding of the Club's history that bodes well for him sticking around a while.

Collins, meanwhile, has been a great servant but with Kouyate, Reid and Ogbonna looking semi decent in the new formation, I don't expect him to play too much for us in the future. Like Noble, it's the glaring lack of pace that causes consternation.

8. The Grapes Of Wrath

No sooner does Diafra Sakho return to the team and provide us with our first goal from a forward all year than he injures himself and is out for two weeks, per David Gold.

Gold also tweeted that Andy Carroll wasn't risked yesterday and will instead be subject to a week of "high intensity training" ahead of the Arsenal game, which doesn't sound like it should be an issue for a guy who once injured himself getting off a barstool.

This means he'll be rushed back half fit for Arsenal, and thus increases the future risk of injury fairly substantially. It's really difficult to see why West Ham struggle so much with injuries.

But, returning briefly to Sakho, his (latest) injury is a killer as we had been so utterly awful in attack this year. Take a look at this:

This graphic is taken from Experimental361, a great website run by Ben Mayhew, who was gracious enough to allow me to use this chart, which highlights the truly pathetic state of our attacking threat. 

In fact, I haven't seen anything this tragic since someone at the BBC's flagship political programme Question Time searched through their email address book for a guest to help us make sense of Brexit, Trump, the rise of far right nationalism and the attendant economic uncertainty, and settled upon Huey from the Fun Lovin' Criminals. 

What Ben's graphic tell us, in broad terms, is how frequently our players are scoring, and how often we might expect them to be scoring based upon the Expected Goals value of their shots. This last concept may be alien to some, but it's a widely used statistic in the analytics community that looks at a huge range of historic data and then tries to quantify how likely a player is to score based upon how often a player in his position, taking that shot, has historically scored. I might be slightly off in that description as there are some moving parts, but that's essentially it. 

For Michail Antonio, he is scoring about 0.5/per game but his XG would suggest that he should have a rate of around 0.35/per game. So he is actually outperforming what we might expect from him. (It should be noted that Antonio is something of an analytical darling due to his tendency to perform exactly as we might expect with great frequency. And also possibly the Simpsons celebration, I don't know). What you should take from this is that Antonio is probably the real deal, and that playing him at right back is absolutely insane

Elsewhere though - it's a disaster. It's Mariah Carey's acting career. It's that time London decided to celebrate the Millennium by setting the River Thames on fire. It's Southern Rail. It's Eurovision.

We actually don't have any forwards who have either played enough minutes or taken enough shots to make this chart other than Zaza. It also probably highlights that we are not taking enough shots from decent areas which probably isn't too much of a surprise if you consider that Lanzini alone has twice tried to score with a Rabona from outside the area.

That's what makes Sakho getting injured again so frustrating. Now we'll be back to Zaza huffing and puffing, Ayew out of position and Fletcher, the boy being asked to do a mans job. It would be great to get Sakho back for Liverpool, but at this stage it's hard not to wonder about this back/hamstring injury he has and quite why the Club have yet to successfully fix it.

To put all of this in context, Toby Alderweireld is on the Spurs chart. Repeat after me; Our centre forwards are less threatening than Spurs centre backs.

9. Burning Bright

On the subject of Ashley Fletcher, I thought he looked alright yesterday. There has been a bit of a clamour for him to be playing more frequently, which might be more of a reflection of the performances of his fellow strikers than anything specific that he has done.

That said, if Zaza is now persona non grata due to his stupid transfer clause, and Ayew is clearly better suited to a support striker role, then it's possible he may be a stop gap until one of Carroll or Sakho are fit enough to play regularly.

I can't help but feel he might be better served by more regular game time in the Championship, but the sad fact is that we probably need him until the Club can overspend hugely on someone in January. 

10. Cup Of Gold

Wednesday sees us return to Manchester for yet another Cup meeting with the Red Devils. With our league position so precarious and our form improving, I wouldn't be tempted to risk anyone important. So no Payet, no Lanzini, and therefore I accept, no hope.

I know plenty of fans who have said to me that they would take relegation if we could win a cup. I've always found this false equivalency as this is a binary choice that doesn't exist, but if there comes a time when Cup games could potentially negatively impact on the league then the latter takes precedence in my eyes.

I know that honours are unforgettable and stay with you forever, but trust me - so do league trips to Rotherham.

Let's face it, our league status is non-negotiable given the stadium situation and the riches on offer for Premiership football. Liverpool and Arsenal will remain in the EFL Cup after Wednesday, so whatever chance we have can't exactly be characterised as more than "average". If this were a more open competition I could see us throwing a bit more at Wednesday but I'd rather play it safe and see how the reserves get on.

Those terrible summer signings were brought in for nights like this and we should live or die by that. The idea of Payet getting injured on Wednesday and missing any time is terrifying. Oh, and I'm sure you're all aware that Kouyate, Ayew, Feghouli and whatever remains of Sakho's body after medical science have picked him apart, are all off to the African Cup of Nations in January.

For all that, we bent but we did not break here, and that's important. We've been to Spurs and Man Utd, scored three times and trailed for a total of one minute. In some regards it's almost impossible to only get a point from that combination but here we are. This is the key part of our season, where we can push away from the bottom three and off up to the promised land of mid table mediocrity, or slide down with the dead men and prepare for a relegation fight.

So yes, I want us to prioritise Saturday over Wednesday, and I duly apologise to the dreamers amongst you. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

Tottenham Hotspur 3 - 2 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

1. Say No Go

Going to the cinema when you're married is a delicate business. You've got to at least make a nod towards compromise, but if you get too agreeable then there's a reasonable chance you'll end up watching a film with Katherine Heigl in it where absolutely nothing explodes.

Sadly, back in 2004 I made the mistake of suggesting to Mrs Shark that we go to watch the newly released Van Helsing. I think I'd been seduced by the fact it had the delectable Kate Beckinsale in it, and there were a couple of trailer friendly set pieces and thus it was that we ended up watching one of the worst things committed to film since someone once said to George Clooney "Yes mate, you'd be great as Batman".

There are no bad pictures of Kate Beckinsale. But this is the best.

Since then I've been carrying that particular monkey on my back for a dozen long years. Every new viewing suggestion has to be clearly weighed up against the threat that it might become the new Van Helsing and haunt me until my dying day by having a denouement featuring three CGI characters and a plot that was concocted during an acid trip. 

I also have to exercise similar restraint with 5.30pm Saturday football games. With three daughters anxious to watch Strictly, there's no room for error when commandeering the TV for oneself. It had better be worth it if you're going to play the Dad card, because you're going to be hearing about it forever.

This was not worth it.

2. 3 Feet High And Rising

So just how bad is it? Well, after 12 games our record reads W3 D2 L7 (11 points), putting us a point clear of Hull City who only have 8 professionals and are allowing three fans to play for them every week, and level with Crystal Palace, who are Crystal Palace. 

I'll offer up a quick comparison to our two relegation seasons and The Great Escape of 06/07:

2002/03 (Roeder) - P12 W3 D2 L7 (11 points)
2006/07 (Pardew) - P12 W3 D2 L7 (11 points)
2011/12 (Grant) - P12 W1 D5 L6 (8 points)

Big shout out to Avram then for comprehensively owning the "shittiest start ever" award. He actually wouldn't win his third game until Boxing Day, which was a heroically awful performance, although Bilic is nicely imitating Roeder by smuggling in a late 3-2 defeat at Spurs.

Of course, there isn't an awful lot of hope on the horizon. Our next three games, as everybody knows, are away to Man Utd, home to Arsenal and away to Liverpool. Without being too Spursy, this was our most winnable game of that run, and we somehow messed it up and it seems reasonable to assume that our record after our Merseyside trip will read P15 W3 D2 L10 (11 points). And that compares thusly:

2002/03 (Roeder) P15 W3 D3 L9 (12 points)
2006/07 (Pardew) P15 W3 D2 L10 (11 points)
2011/12 (Grant) P15 W2 D6 L7 (12 points)

So all hope is not lost, but if you're still labouring under the misapprehension that West Ham aren't in a relegation scrap then you should disabuse yourself of that notion. When you're nearly halfway through the season and behind Avram Grant it's safe to say that someone somewhere has fucked up royally. 

3. Dave Has A Problem...Seriously

Not to revisit those summer signings all over again, but they really are the gift that keeps on taking. HÃ¥vard Nordtveit is going to take a lot of blame for this defeat, which is remarkable considering he was only on for 8 minutes, but if you're going to turn up for work without your cerebrum then I suppose you always run the risk of that happening. 

He has pretty decent pedigree having started at Arsenal, then played 150 times for Borussia Monchengladbach in the Bundesliga and the Champions League as well as turning out 29 times internationally for Norway. He is not a bad player, but he's been bought along with a few duffers, hasn't had a great start and has now conceded a last minute penalty in a big local derby. So far, so bad.

I'm sure that all of that was preying on his mind as he was brought on and it was probably a determination to make a positive impact that led him to make such a brainless challenge on Heung Min Son and invite the Korean to take a tumble. It was all very reminiscent of Alex Song a couple of years ago - although Harry Kane dived then - when an experienced player did something brainless and cost us dearly. 

The summer shopping spree from hell also reared it's head a few minutes earlier when Simone Zaza had a great chance to play in Dimitri Payet during a three on one breakaway with the score still at 2-1. Sadly he went full Transport for London on the pass, delayed it for no obvious reason and pushed Payet wide. He still actually had a chance to make an impact when the ball was laid back to him, but he hit a powderpuff shot straight at Lloris and the chance was lost. 

As I've written previously I expect all the loan signings to be moved on in January, at which point David Sullivan is going to do something batshit crazy because there is no way he's going to stand idly by and let the players fuck it up all on their own.

4. Keepin' The Faith

The especially galling thing about this result is that for 88 minutes we'd played pretty well. I can't say that we'd been brilliant, but Spurs are very decent at home, and it's clear that we're playing with a few round pegs in pentagon shaped holes. 

One obvious plus was Manuel Lanzini, who dropped deep into Noble's position and was outstanding. His quick feet and slick passing was especially helpful in bypassing the incessant Spurs pressing game, and he combined well with Obiang to break up play regularly. 

We sat men behind the ball here and allowed Spurs to have possession, which they largely squandered. Vincent Janssen was heavily pursued by West Ham in the summer, which really should have been a warning to Spurs but they bought him anyway, and he duly doesn't look up to much. With he and Kane anonymous, there wasn't much to fear and we snatched a goal when Antonio popped up like an out of position salmon at a corner and gave us a lead that we sort of deserved. 

Spurs improved after half time and they got their equaliser when Angelo Ogbonna decided to go for a leisurely evening stroll on the edge of his box, lost possession and then promptly went to sleep. 

Vincent Janssen controls the ball for the Spurs opener

Antonio then sold himself like an ex Prime Minister in allowing Rose to run past him and cross for Janssen, who caught it, span it on the end of his finger, and took the three point attempt. Mike Dean saw no issue with this, and despite Randolph making an excellent save, the ball rebounded fortuitously to Harry Winks who tapped in the rebound.

After that it didn't look promising, but we picked up a penalty when Janssen (him again) put both arms around Reid at a corner and then looked shocked, shocked I tell you when Dean pointed to the spot. Lanzini continued his Noble impression by duly tucking it away and with that everything went just swimmingly until it didn't. 

I'll be interested to see if Noble gets his place back next week. Our central midfield was a strength today, and there's not much doubt that Lanzini moves the ball quicker than the skipper, without offering the same ability to win it back. I suspect that Andre Ayew might be jettisoned as I still have no idea what position he's supposed to be playing, which is pretty good going for our record signing.

5. The Art Of Getting Jumped

Of all the bad habits to pick up, conceding late goals to Spurs seems to be a fairly sub optimal one. Pochettino has actually been outwitted a couple of times against us in the past - once when Pep Guardiola's tactical inspiration Sam Allardyce played with no strikers and beat him 3-0, and then more recently last season when Bilic deployed a 3-5-2 at Upton Park and ended their title hopes. 

I'm not sure if he was expecting us to abandon the 3-4-3 variant here, but Spurs didn't really get to grips with the game until after their equaliser, which contained more than a hint of good luck. Thereafter, they were clearly the ascendant side but our defending was resilient enough to keep them out until the worst 160 seconds I've experienced since someone agreed to let Pierce Brosnan sing solo during Mamma Mia!.

What didn't help was Bilic taking off Dimiti Payet with 5 minutes to go. Payet was our only outlet at that point, as Zaza was holding it up about as well as an imaginary scaffold, and once he was gone there was nothing to stop Spurs bombing on freely. I wasn't averse to solidifying things with another defensive player but surely Lanzini made the most sense in that situation. 

I wouldn't say we lost because we stopped trying to win, but inviting any team to spend the last ten minutes in your half with no respite doesn't seem like a great idea to me. 

He probably supports Spurs too, the smug prick.

6. All Good?

"It ain't all good, and that's the truth
Things ain't going like you think they should"
- De La Soul "All Good"

Talking of Payet, I may be overreacting wildly, but I can't help feeling this is the beginning of the end. They won't let him go in January - not even West Ham would be that bonkers - but if this season ends up as expected with a relegation struggle and a narrow escape, then that won't be enough to keep him. Sullivan can talk all he wants (and let's face it - he wants to talk) but he didn't surround him with good enough players and thus he'll demand the opportunity to play on the platform his skills (and agent) demand. 

This leaves us with the terrifying prospect of no Payet and David Sullivan on a £50m pound spending spree. If we had a proper scouting network in place we might dream of Julian Draxler or Iker Muniain or Yannick Carrasco in replacement, but instead it will be whoever the agent of the week brings in, which will presumably lead to us wasting it all on Wesley Sneijder. 

Anyway, enjoy him while you can. That's all I'm saying. 

7. Potholes In My Lawn

Not to continue to state the eye bleedingly obvious, but the lack of a right back is destroying us. Whilst Nordtveit is taking all the blame it shouldn't be ignored that the first and second Spurs goals came as a result of defensive lapses on our right side. I am past blaming Antonio - he's not a defensive player and to continue to shoehorn him into the side there is a dereliction of duty by all concerned. 

Alvaro Arbeloa is apparently on his way out having fallen out with Bilic, which is becoming a bit of a recurring theme. I have no issue with a bit of discipline but between Amalfitano, Sakho and Arbeloa there seems to be a bit of a pattern. 

I also wonder, with no basis for this other than my own opinion, whether that ongoing investigation into Caroll and Randolph being on the piss in Shoreditch at 5am is a factor here too. You'll remember that the Club were determined to get to the bottom of that and then apparently appointed Sir John Chilcott to lead the inquiry as we've heard nothing since. 

I doubt it's a great look when some lads can get pissed without it being career limiting, and others have to face up to being transferred to West Brom. As I say, all guesswork, but it doesn't feel quite right.

A little bit like having to consistently play Michail Antonio as a wing back. 

8. Vocabulary Spills

Getting angry about Man of the Match awards is a monumental waste of time. It was slightly bizarre though, even by the standards of modern journalism, that Owen Hargreaves gave the award to Harry Kane, whilst admitting in the same breath that Winston Reid was the best player on the pitch. Stranger still was that Kane wasn't even the best player named Harry on his own side, as Harry Winks turned in an irritatingly decent performance to highlight once again the paucity of young talent being developed at West Ham currently. 

Reid, was exceptional however, and after watching the game and reading every match report I can get my hands on I'm still none the wiser as to why he was sent off. 

Kane, meanwhile, at least had the good grace to be as peripheral as he is when he plays for England before popping up with a tap in and a penalty and taking home the champagne. Whilst I admire their dedication to participating in social media trends, I just feel our defence could have picked a better time than the 88th minute of a London derby before joining in with the Mannequin challenge.

9. Stakes Is High

I was pretty surprised to see Darren Randolph get the nod ahead of Adrian, but with the latter having followed the centuries old West Ham tradition of losing his form as soon as he got called up by the national team, I guess it wasn't too shocking. 

He has a tough run of games now in which to cement his place, although some may argue he's likely to get plenty of opportunity to show off his skills. We have kept just three clean sheets all season and have won each of those games. We have yet to pick up a win in any league game where we have conceded a goal. 

Stick with me, I've got an idea, it's on the tip of my tongue. 

10. Change In Speak

Hate is a strong word. 

Nobody comes here to listen to my politics so I don't generally indulge that. I average about 800 visitors for each post and possibly a few multiples of that when the column is carried at KUMB. So I'm not kidding myself that I speak for anyone other than myself, or that I'm speaking to anything other than a tiny majority of West Ham fans. 

I have no doubt that some of you think me self important, and you'd be quite right. I write a column that no one pays me for, and then ask people I don't know to read it. You'd have to have a certain level of self importance to do that, especially in an age when people are not even remotely reluctant to tell you they think your writing is "fucking awful". 

But I'm going to say this anyway. A lot of West Ham fans have convinced themselves that they hate Spurs fans. It might be true for some, but I suspect it's not really. I have some close friends who are Spurs fans and we all accept the enmity and have generally lapsed into not ever talking about the football at all. I certainly don't hate them or anyone else who supports them. It's like these things that I say I hate but I am really just mildly irritated by:

- people who have long, inane, wittering phone conversations on quiet 7.30am trains
- people who queue for planes at the gate an hour before departure time
- people who get to Underground ticket barriers and then begin the search for their Oyster cards
(I am a dream to travel with, as you can see)
- ads before songs on YouTube
- Robbie Williams
- Anton du Beke
- Robbie Williams performing on Strictly whilst Anton du Beke dances; and so on.....

And so even though Spurs fans are annoying when they win, and the whole "Spammers Cup Final" thing is irritating it's worth remembering that you're not 14, and it's supposed to be irritating because that's what football fans do. 

Hate is a strong word.

If you really feel you want to respond to that, why not just point out that Spurs could have gone top of the league for the first time in March since 1964 when they visited the Boleyn earlier this year. Not just their Cup Final, but their biggest domestic game in 50 years and they shat themselves and didn't manage even an attempt on goal in the first half. We deservedly won and ended their league title hopes. 

Why mention this?

Because at no point did that require the use of the word "Yid", "Yiddo", "Jew", "Fucking Jew" or a hissing sound. 

This was the first game we've played at White Hart Lane in 3 years where there haven't been media reports about our fans signing anti-Semitic songs. I sort of feel like saying thank you to the fans that went, except that not singing Nazi songs shouldn't really be considered a success. 

Post match Twitter, by contrast, was awful with plenty of West Ham fans seemingly throwing around anti-Semitic barbs with furious abandon and then retreating behind the mealy mouthed "it's just banter" excuse because yeah, wasn't Dachau funny. LOL. Megabantz. I wonder if these people have ever considered even briefly what it must be like to be a Jewish West Ham fan and have to stand next to people hissing. That's rhetorical. They haven't. 

Twitter isn't real life, and I am well aware that a tiny number of twats posting anonymously on a social media site doesn't mean a great deal, but you know it's not like we don't have previous for this. 

I'm not even sure I really have an acceptable pay off to this point other than to say we should all be aiming to eradicate this bullshit completely. Call them out on social media, block them from our forums, report them to the Police. Anti semitism is a disgrace. 

I've written and deleted and then re-written this a couple of times. No one comes here for this, I know, and people being abhorrent on Twitter isn't really news but this is a "thing" that people now associate with our club. I wondered if any other club had a similar label and stuck in "Sunderland anti Semitism" as a test and the only thing that came up was loads of articles calling Paolo di Canio a Fascist. So, yeah, it's a bit of a West Ham thing. 

It's only football, folks. 

Hate is a strong word.