Another day, another disappointment as Sunderland did that last minute thing again, and lost the point they’d worked so hard to have in their grasp as Reid’s last-kick (virtually) goal gave West Ham the win.
The day had started so well, with the discovery of one of last week’s sandwiches in the bottom of my bag as bait was put up in the wee small hours. Thank goodness the Stoke game was only a week ago, otherwise the smell would have been a lot worse. A fairly uneventful journey, apart from a suicidal white van man who did his best to die beneath the wheels of our bus, saw us arrive at the Olympic park, or whatever it’s called, well before noon. The whole thing looks impressive, what with the velodrome, the swimming pool, that weird helter-skelter thing, and, of course, the stadium itself. It looks very impressive, but more of that later. There was lots of open space, river (or canal, it’s hard to tell)-sidewalks, lots of folks on bikes – but no car park. Or bus park. Or anywhere to eat or drink within sight of the ground. Or public transport. There was, however, a random Boro fan walking past our us, so we were parked up on the roadside a couple of hundred yards from our turnstiles, and began the long walk into Stratford. The only pub that was known to allow (welcome would be too strong a word) away fans was on the far side of the high street, so we headed there, past the decidedly unfriendly Carpenters Arms and several other dodgy-looking establishments.
“It’s a hole, but it’s serving us” was the assessment by our forward party (the Masons) so we gave it a try and met up with the Woods, the aforementioned Masons, and suffered the insults of the locals as they sang unpleasant things about geordies and dirty northern b@stards, and something that sounded like “we’ve got some eels, pie and eels” but turned out to be referring to Payet. More of him later as well. From there to the ground was a virtual wall of stewards, some of whom even spoke English, who ensured that us nasty football fans did not come into contact with the shoppers in the Westfield Centre.
Into the ground after a thorough search, and it has to be said that the concourse is light years away from the coal-hole we had at Upton Park/ the Boleyn Ground. Lots of light and space, plenty of facilities, but, unfortunately none of the real ale they advertised. Not even any brown beer at all, but hey – that’s modern football. If you don’t drink lager, you can’t be a proper fan.
That was the nice bit. Entering our seats in the lower section, the amount of space inside the place became apparent as we walked past what can only be described as giant trampolines which served to hide the area where the seats used to be during the Olympics. Apparently some Boro fans had tried to have a bounce on them earlier in the season. There was the space between the seats and the pitch, with room enough for two or three five a side pitches between the tunnel and the touchline. Looking back, you needed a telescope to see your mates in the upper section, beyond the biggest TV screens in the Western World. The Hammers have tried to do an Arsenal by listing their trophies on a wall between the posh seats and the plebs, but there’s an awful lot of empty concrete when there are only four trophies to list. It just looks silly, but not as silly as those bloody bubble machines and the way too loud PA system and the bubbles song itself.
In short, you could see our collective jaw drop as we entered the bowl – and all we were thinking, or saying, was “this is crap. This is the end of football.”
Well, let’s make them pay for this assault on our football senses and win the game.
Manquillo O’Shea Kone PVA
Khazri Ndong Watmore
We kicked off away from the 3,000 visitors – well, when I say away from us, I meant we watched the home side kick toward us. For the first twenty or so minutes, we couldn’t get hold of the ball and as a consequence had to dig in and defend like demons. Pickford saved well a couple of times, O’Shea refused to be outmuscled by their forwards, and they shot wide. They even hit the post, and Defoe was a lonely figure up front as he tried to work out how to get into the game. Rodwell and Ndong were booked as we resorted to desperate measures, but thankfully the ref was more lenient towards Manquillo when he conveniently stood up in front of Reid near the touchline in the box, and when O’Shea won a wrestling match – also in the box.
It’s fair to say that at this stage the fans could be forgiven for expecting a heavy defeat, as the defence were all over the shop and it was like a Sunday morning game, with desperate blocks, tackles, and clearances. Although individually they did their job (as there were no goals) collectively – well, you have to wonder what goes on in training, as there seemed to be no plan. When we conceded a free well outside the box, O’Shea, our most experienced defender, couldn’t decide whether to be part of the wall, or stand inside the post, so he jogged between the two positions a couple of times, allowing Payet to lay the ball off into space – but we had enough players in the box to get in the way of the shot.
Thankfully, come twenty past three, Pienaar began to keep hold of the ball more, and we worked our way back onto level terms to stop the game being played in and around our box, and ten minutes after that we got in top of things. Watmore was, as ever, covering a lot of ground, and both full-backs were pushing forward once the need to defend at all costs was removed.
A couple of free kicks were won, with PVA firing the first into the wall, and the second being put over by Rodwell under pressure. Khazri was giving their defence a few problems, and Defoe began to receive the ball. Despite being marked by three big lads, he worked enough space to get a shot away, but it was straight into the arms of Adrian. In an attempt to keep up our pressure, Pienaar was booked for clattering an opponent to prevent an attack, and it sort of worked as it kept the ball out of our box and us on the front foot. As the whistle approached, we slipped into our old ways and allowed Zaza to try a bicycle kick unchallenged, but it flew well wide and we breathed a sigh of relief when it, and the added two minutes, was all over. Despite doing well for twenty minutes, that opening spell took a lot of getting over.
No changes for the second half, and, thankfully, we continued where we’d left off – and things could really have got better had the ball from Pienaar deflected to Defoe and not Khazri within a minute of the restart. Clear through in the box, he swapped his feet in a style Gordon Armstrong would have been proud of, but the curled effort was at the right height for Adrian to claw to safety and West Ham cleared. Hard and low was really the way to go, Wabi. They took the ball down the other end and set Zaza away, but Kone showed why Everton fancy him, with a burst of speed and show of strength to clear the ball. Khazri spotted the keeper off his line and tried and audacious effort from his own half, but it dropped a yard or so wide – the sort of thing that comes off when you’re top of the league, but looks a bit daft when you’re bottom.
Defoe again worked some space, but fired over the top, then Antonio went off, which was nice, as he’d been a pain in our backsides. West Ham had worked out the best way to stop Watmore was to reduce the space he has to run into, and they worked this one a couple of times, with Dunc bouncing off bigger defenders before he was tripped. As the ball broke to Defoe just outside the box, the ref signalled the advantage, but it all went cockeyed when Defoe looked to have been brought down. He fell and grabbed the ball, and we expected either a free on the edge of the box or, more realistically, play to be taken back to the foul on Watmore. We got neither, as Defoe was booked - either for handball or diving, I’m not sure.
West Ham then got the upper hand in terms of possession, but had lost the ability to hit the target. Gooch came on for Watmore with fifteen to go, and he worked hard to prevent West Ham getting past him, but without Watmore’s running up and down the pitch, Defoe became more isolated. On 80, Pienaar, who was visibly running out of steam, was replaced by McNair, and our midfield set itself to defend rather than attack as we looked to settle for a point – which was fair enough, given what had happened in the first twenty minutes. When Jones came on for Khazri with five on the clock, we were a bit surprised, as at least Wabi offered the odd creative pass. But perhaps it was to prevent him being sent off, as he’d been booked for stotting the ball away when a throw was given the other way. Anyway, Jones and Manquillo basically doubled up at right back, which meant that we were lighter in the middle of the field and we settled for defending what we had.
Four added minutes were announced, which was fair enough with all of the subs being used and the time wasted by Payet falling over at every opportunity. One day, a short-tempered defender will get heartily sick of this and hoof him out of the ground, but against us the ref just smiled and gave free-kicks.
As it was, we entered the last of those four minutes, and Payet managed to stay on his feet long enough to work a short corner on their right with Mark Noble, and the ball was rolled to Reid on the edge of the box. He fired low through a forest of legs, and it flew past Pickford and into the corner. Replays have shown that the last legs it flew through belonged to Calleri, and as he was standing offside and right in front of our keeper, it shouldn’t have been allowed. But when you’re down, these things go against you and the ref does what keeps fans happy at the shiny new ground. We restarted, the final whistle went, and we were beaten. Harsh, reckons Mr Moyes. You’re not kidding, David.
Don’t believe the evidence of MOTD, which chose to show nothing of our good spell and made it look like 89 minutes of West Ham and a shot each from Khazri and Defoe. Very biased editing, BBC.
Man of the Match? Again, Pickford did well, but after the opening spell had little to do but claim crosses – which he did with confidence – and produce some of his trademark passes. The pick of the midfield was probably Pienaar, and Defoe kept nibbling away up front. I’d probably give it to Pienaar, but not with much enthusiasm.
At least we got back in time for me to watch MOTD at the Green Tree, but not after what is now traditional at West Ham. I didn’t hear a single positive comment about the inside of the stadium – soulless, plastic, overblown, and unnecessary were some of the terms used by our fans – and I did read the minutes of the meeting between the West Ham fas’ representatives and the club, which basically read “Karren Brady Says”…and what she and the club said was that reports of trouble had been grossly exaggerated. Astonishing, especially when we’ve seen the footage of the trouble inside the ground against Watford, and of the trouble outside against Boro. So we should have expected the inevitable. The set-up is quite similar to Arsenal, where home fans make their way around the stadium after the game, and we cross their path to some steps which take us to the road the away coaches are parked on.
The difference is that West Ham have best part of 20,000 new fans who have no idea how to behave at a football match – you know the sort, when we get shedloads of tickets for a game at Blackburn or Bolton and the first-timers get full of beer or Red Bull and act like dickheads. At Arsenal, the fans pass each other without incident. At West Ham the home fans charge in screaming in your face and throwing punches. Folks will retaliate. So there were fights at the top of the stairs, the bottom of the stairs, and on the road above the coaches. Until West Ham acknowledge that they have a serious problem, and they can’t keep saying “oh, it’s down to the stadium operators, not the club”, there remains the very real possibility of something serious happening. There’ll be a few sore heads this morning, especially the Hammer who adopted the arms out “come on, then” pose without seeing the best punch I’ve seen outside a boxing ring heading his way. Wednesday night sees 6,000 Chelsea fans heading to and from West Ham, and they’ll all be using public transport. I wouldn’t like to be anywhere near that.
Oh, and there are no burger vans outside the ground either.
Keep the Faith
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