Home form the key for Burnley


Tonight Chelsea open their Premier League campaign with a very tricky away game to newly promoted Burnley.  For those who have never experienced it, Turf Moor is not an away day for the faint of heart. The ground has gone through some huge redevelopments in the past decade or so, with two new stands, but it is still the away end that gives visitors a feeling of what the ground was late three decades ago.  Seats are of the cold, wooden variety, and leg room, should you try and sit down, is designed for people under five foot tall.

The David Fishwick stand was recently hammered by Championship supporters in a poll of the worst away ends by the Trinity Mirror newsgroup. Not only were its poor facilities criticised, but supporters were hardly complimentary about the surrounding area either. However, could the lack of luxury on offer to visitors work in Burnley’s favour this season?

I’ve always enjoyed my trips to Turf Moor – although have been lucky to go there when the weather has been pleasant.  My one experience of being an away fan at Burnley was on a Tuesday night ten years ago when West Ham won thank’s to a late Harewood goal. Great, passionate fans who will not make Turf Moor an easy place to visit.

Burnley boss Sean Dyche admitted this week that the transfer market was proving tricky to navigate as he desperately tries to add a bit more quality to his squad. His struggles in attracting new talent mean his options are limited and he will doubtless be relying on the team’s home form to give them a chance of avoiding relegation.

Last season the Lancashire club had the second best home record in the Championship, just behind Leicester, winning 15 out of 23 games and losing just twice on their own patch. The Clarets also had the best defensive record in the division last term and look set to stick with the same backline that served them so well.

The stats suggest that going to Turf Moor this season will not only be an unpleasant experience for the fans but for the opposition as well. While they shouldn’t cause Chelsea too many problems on the opening weekend, Burnley can be expected to ruin a few people’s football accas over the course of the year.

At home will be where the fight for survival is won and lost for Dyche and co. Last time in the top flight they recorded all seven of the victories they managed at Turf Moor and they will be counting on recording a few more to make sure it is Premier League fans dreading coming back in 12 months time.

 

 

Bigger than the Intertoto Cup


Being a Lewes and a West Ham fan doesn’t really give me many opportunities to watch my team play overseas.  Going continental means crossing the respective bridges for our league games in Canvey Island and Swansea City.  One of the great things about the “bigger teams” not taking the domestic cups seriously has been the opportunities presented to sides who may not have had a look in a a decade ago.  Hull City, Swansea City, Wigan Athletic – heck, even Arsenal, have benefited in the past few years, qualifying for Europe thanks to their cup exploits.  Am I jealous?  Absolutely.  Who doesn’t want to go on a European tour watching their team?

The last “proper” trip for West Ham fans was a short-lived UEFA Cup run back in 2006.  And when I say “run” I actually mean was a two-legged game against USC Palermo which will be remembered more for events off the field than anything that took place across the three hours of football.  Like many others, I paid £400 for a day trip to Sicily through West Ham’s official channels in order to get an official away ticket to watch a limp Pardew-inspired performance whilst the main talking point was the huge fight in the city centre the previous evening between locals and some of the more “old school” West Ham fans who had come out of retirement for the trip.

14629783778_99168a9a66_zChanges in the way that pre-season preparation are run has meant that English clubs tend to disappear to all four corners of the world in mid-July, returning just before the start of the season to play one “prestigous” friendly.  This used to be a slot reserved for a testimonial, but few players in the top leagues last five years at a club these days, let alone ten. In fact, the last West Ham player honoured in such a way was Steve Potts back in 1997.  Current first team squad player, Dan Potts, son of Steve was one of the mascots that day, aged three years old.  That is how rare these games are.

This year West Ham took in Australia, New Zealand, Stevenage and Germany for their warm up games before returning to play in the inaugural Marathon Bet Cup Final (formerly known as the Display Systems Trophy, the Bobby Moore Invitation and the “if you have the cash then you can sponsor it” Shield) against Sampdoria.  Germany though, eh.  A four team tournament hosted by Schalke 04 at their impressive Veltins Arena. Far too tempting to miss that one.

So that is why I was sitting in a Wetherspoon’s pub at London Stansted at 8am along with ten other football fans.  I blame my brother 100% for this.  Sitting alongside Stag Do’s, Hen Do’s, Grannies on a “sex tour of Shagaluf” (their words, not mine) and other football fans including Chelsea fans heading for Bremen and Newcastle fans also heading to Gelsenkirchen gives you an interesting slice of life.  My brother recently took redundancy from a job he had done for twenty five years.  His reward, a life of leisure hoping around the world, finding the most bizarre things to do, and arranging trips like this.

14626287460_c523315fbd_zIt didn’t take him long asking around his local pub to find seven other West Ham fans, plus Malcolm the Newcastle fan.  It took even longer to convince one of them, Nick, to splash out on a box for the day in the Veltins Arena.  All the beer and bratwurst we could consume, hence why we were taking it easy so early in the morning by only drinking Carling.  One short fifty five minute flight later and we were disembarking into the sunshine of Dortmund (officially hotter than Greece at that moment), ready for the day, and night ahead.

Schalke 0 West Ham United 0 – Saturday 2nd August 2014 – The Veltins Arena
You can dress up the fact that West Ham won this game on penalties all you like but in truth it was a terrible exhibition of football.  You would have hoped that with a bit of silverware on offer, West Ham would have at least tried to get the ball out of their half.  Having seen a picture of the Veltins Cup, it would have at least been more impressive to have in the trophy cabinet than the thumbnail-sized Intertoto Cup that we won back in 1999. It was a good job that penalties were used to decide after ninety minutes rather than extra time, to stop the majority of fans falling asleep.  Yes, it was only a pre-season friendly, but surely this should be the time when the manager is being brave, trying out things that could work.  So far this season we have seen very little of that in the draws against Stevenage and Ipswich Town and the defeats against Sydney FC and Wellington in New Zealand.  With just two weeks ago before the Premier League starts, the club are still desperately trying to bring in some more firepower.

14626366469_6123008bbc_zWe arrived at the stadium just in time to see Newcastle fall behind to Malaga in the first game.  I’d been to the Veltins Arena a few times before – yet never seen the home side play.  Tickets are incredibly difficult to come by so I had been forced to experience one of the best new build stadiums in Europe during the Champions League Final in 2004 and then in the 2006 World Cup Finals.  However, it seems that the locals weren’t particularly interested in the Veltins Cup either.  A handful of Malaga fans, a smattering of Schalke fans on the huge terrace and in the far upper corner, around 500 Newcastle fans who were already realising in the same way the West Ham fans had, that this Premier League season may be “problematic”.

After the third Malaga goal went in just before half-time (The Daily Mail summed it up by saying that “even” ex-Man Utd flop Obertan got on the score sheet) a few of us headed out of the stadium to where a few hundred West Ham fans were drinking.  Few seemed particularly interested in the game, here for a weekend away and experiencing a more “grown up” footballing experience (terracing, beer, sausages and no heavy-handed policing or stewards).

14629751869_7ab7ceb2d5_zWest Ham lined up with three up front, although you can hardly ever call Stewart Downing, with four goals to his name in the last four seasons.  Carlton Cole, maligned by many outside of the club (and some inside it), was also in the starting XI.  You know where you stand with Carlton and if we had players with the same work ethic we would have a lot less to worry about.  But it mattered very little.  The game was tame, with Schalke coming the closest to breaking the deadlock when they hit the post twice.  The five hundred or so West Ham fans spread out across SudTribune tried to rally the Hammers but it seemed penalties were inevitable.

Fortunately, 39 year old Jaaskerlainen was still awake and made two excellent saves in the shoot-out, the final one from Borgmann in sudden death to win the game for West Ham, meaning the game 24 hours later against Malaga would determine the first ever winners of the Veltins Cups.

The night was young for us.  We were one of the last groups to leave the stadium, getting our full money’s worth of Veltins beer before heading to the bright lights of Dortmund.  It was only a pre-season friendly, but it did give us a taste of how the other half, well top seven Premier League clubs, live.  It’s only August.  Who knows, this year could be our year….please?

Matt finish saves Hammer’s pre-season blushes


At the end of last season many West Ham fans faced a dilemma.  Premier League survival had been assured, which of course was the prime objective of any club outside the top seven every season, especially with the increased revenues available from the overseas TV rights but the team had gone backwards under Sam Allardyce.  In the previous season the club had finished in 10th spot, and with the big money signing of Andy Carroll, expectations were for a push towards a Europa League spot.  Instead a dreadful run of form between November and January saw them lose nine Premier League games and be eliminated from the Capital One Cup at the Semi-Final stage by Manchester City, shipping in nine goals without reply over the two games.

Questions were asked of Allardyce’s stewardship, not only in terms of the results but also the style of play that was still not winning over the fans.  His relationship with the supporters had dropped to an all-time low as he often mentioned that the failure to get behind the team in difficult times was one of the reasons why their form was poor.  In April 2014 during the away game against West Bromwich Albion, a section of West Ham fans expressed their distaste at the style of football played under Allardyce by displaying a banner which read “Fat Sam Out, killing WHU”.  Owners Sullivan and Gold took an unprecedented step of almost undermining him by insisting he employ an attacking coach for this season to “ensure the team provides more entertainment”.

14635690272_14b416929c_kThe club moved quick to appoint former player Teddy Sheringham in the role, although he is yet to finish his coaching qualifications and has no background in similar roles which suggests it was more of a move to appease the fans rather than to assist Allardyce.  The main issue is that Allardyce had built a squad to play in a certain way, his way.  You simply cannot change the style a player plays just by coaching them for a few weeks.  So Allardyce has been given the cash to bring in some new faces.

So far four have arrived.  Argentine forward Mauro Zarate, Senegal international Cheikhou Kouyate, highly rated full-back Aaron Cresswell from Ipswich Town and Charlton Athletic’s teenage midfielder Diego Poyet.  These aren’t the signings on paper that would have me purring with excitement at a new look, attack minded team.  Allardyce (and the owners) transfer record in bringing in overseas forwards has been shocking to say the least.  Let me throw some names out there and see whether you can say what impact they had on West Ham or English football in general:-

Maroune Chamakh (2 games, no goals), Modibo Maiga (31 games, 3 goals), John Carew (21 games, 2 goals), Brian Montenegro (2 games, 0 goals), Papa Bouba Diop (16 games, 1 goal), Pablo Barrera (2 games, 0 goals), Marceo Borriello (0 games, o goals)

Last season all the attacking eggs were placed in the Andy Carroll basket.  Carroll’s strike rate through his career has been just less than 1 goal in every 4 games.  So over the course of a Premier League season, even if we had changed our style massively by using two wide me, such as Jarvis and Downing, we would have only expected to score a dozen goals.  Hardly enough to push us into the top eight.  Alas, Carroll picked up an injury and missed over half the season – the reason that Allardyce continued to trot out as to why we were struggling.  He was forced to resign Carlton Cole who for many games was the only striking option we had.

14632781351_e28cdcbd53_kThe first opportunity for the new dawn of the Hammers was to be away at Stevenage in a pre-season friendly. Whilst these games can be dismissed as irrelevant in terms of a barometer for the season ahead, it would be one of the few opportunities Allardyce would have to demonstrate his new attacking intent before the Premier League season got underway. However, in an all too familiar story, Carroll, Cole and new striking option Zarate would not travel up the A1(M) for the game.

Whilst not in the same financial bracket as a Non-League team hosting a big club, this would be an important game for Stevenage and they hoped for a bumper crowd.  Their relegation back to League Two at the end of last season had dented the momentum the club had after winning promotion to the Football League back in 2011.  Two seasons later and they were on the verge of a place in the Championship after reaching the Play-Offs, only to lose to Sheffield United.

This was my first visit back to Stevenage since they lost their Borough a few seasons ago.  I’d first been to Broadhall back in 1996 when they played Hayes in the FA Cup first round.  I’d stumbled on the ground by accident after visiting our prospective wedding venue down the road and celebrating by buying our first ever PC (an Intel desktop that cost a whopping £1,995) in the Industrial Park just off the A1.  Having seen a number of football fans parking outside Comet (RIP) I managed to persuade the then Future Mrs Fuller (FMF) to go to the game.

14635563612_4ef65c1a55_kEighteen years later and she was dropping me back in the same Industrial Park opposite the ground.  Alas, with the two little Fuller’s in tow she wouldn’t be joining me, opting for the shopping option instead.  The fans were out in force, with all those hopes and dreams for the season still in tact.  Whilst one day would not make them fade and die, they could start to plant those seeds of doubt that sit in all football fans.

Stevenage 2 West Ham United 2 – Saturday 12th July 2014 – Broadhall Stadium
Whilst we all know this is all about the performance, rather than the result, if it wasn’t for Matty Jarvis West Ham would have left Hertfordshire with their tail firmly between their legs with a defeat to a spirited Stevenage side.  His 84th minute header brought the Hammers back into the game then set up Stewart Downing to score a 90th minute equaliser much to the relief of the fifteen hundred travelling West Ham fans.

Without any first choice recognised strikers, Allardyce, sporting an American Hustle look with three (THREE!) shirt buttons undone, was forced to start with a first half side utilising Kevin Nolan and McCallum up front.  New signings Cresswell and Poyet also started, with youngster Leo Chambers playing alongside Winston Reid at the back.  Despite the wishes of the board, the opening exchanges simply saw the Hammers punt the ball long for the likes of Vaz Te and Ravel Morrison to chase, rarely troubling the Stevenage keeper, Sam Beasant, son of ex-Wimbledon legend David.

14450407710_0806dace44_kThe opening exchanges were unsurprisingly cagey, and played at a sedate pace, yet bang on 22 minutes the referee blew his whistle for a water break.  Ridiculous.  We were in Stevenage not Salvador.  During the break, both benches were on the field, coaching the teams.  You can see this playing right into the hands of the TV companies if this is allowed to continue, being able to sell more advertising slots in prime time TV.  Five minutes later, after the referee had been prompted as to where the game actually stopped from, Stevenage had a player down injured.  Once again, manager Graham Westley was on the pitch, obviously now the club doctor.  And the role of the fourth official is often dumbed down.

West Ham’s keeper Adrian had a torrid first half and was at fault for the opening goal of the afternoon.  Cresswell headed back to Adrian and as the keeper slid out  to gather, he dropped the ball at the feet of ex-Wealdstone winger Pett who said “Thank you very much” and tapped the ball into an empty net.  Adrian did what all good goalkeepers should do in that position – he appealed for a foul then started holding his wrist as if injured.  He then faffed at a low cross from Deacon and pushes the ball into the onrushing Stevenage forward, who couldn’t believe his luck and slammed the ball against the post.

14449338290_45762b6c6a_hHalf time and wholesale West Ham changes saw a brand new starting XI with Downing and Jarvis brought on to give the team some width.  However, it was Stevenage who struck again when that old favourite “A. Trialist” turned neatly and beat Jaaskelainen to double their lead.  It looked like being a miserable afternoon for West Ham until Jarvis threw himself at a Demel cross to score a rare headed goal.  Even rarer was a Downing goal, let alone a header but it was his nod, from Jarvis’s cross in the 90th minute that gave West Ham a share of the spoils.

So what would Allardyce have learnt from the 90 minutes?  There were certainly some positives – Winston Reid looked sharp, Jarvis positive and it was great to see assured performances from the young trio of Lee, Potts and Chambers.  On the flip side where must be some worries over the goal keeping situation, Tompkins looked very shaky against League Two strikers and the lack of strikers saw Nolan huffing and puffing away chasing long hoof balls.

 

 

Italian stallions held by the Super Eagles


Being the city that London is, and with its wide variety of nationalities contained therein, it’s not much of a surprise any more that more internationals are being played here and you can be guaranteed that when one of these takes place, the Daggers Diary team will be there.

Last month, Dagenham Dan and I traipsed across London to watch Australia v Canada at Craven Cottage. While others were watching England beat Poland at Wembley, we were getting cold down by the Thames watching the green and gold easily defeat a spirited but inferior Canadian team.

IMAG1125This month, the good people at Fulham have attracted Italy to the Cottage, for a friendly international against Nigeria. While Italy qualified for the World Cup in September (winning their group by six points), Nigeria secured their place at the weekend, becoming the first African team to qualify for Brazil by beating Ethiopia 4-1 on aggregate. For both, the start of the World Cup on June 12th starts to loom large on the horizon, although the draw on December 6th will be the most immediate thing to worry about.

For both (and indeed, all) teams taking part next summer, this will be one of the last opportunities to have a look at their team before the month of wall to wall football kicks off. With one international date in March, and then probably two just before the tournament, any player wanting to make an impression on the coach of their national team doesn’t have that long left. It may even be that players will be going to the World Cup with no international experience at all. While that may not be a bad thing, a quick look at England’s defeat to Chile last Friday shows that it isn’t always desirable. Continue reading

Champions League Nights: Part 2 – Sofa United


Manchester United vs. Real Sociedad – Champions League – Venue: my couch by Luge Pravda
A7cShDyCQAArcV3Anyone who knows me well enough will know I am able to watch more live football on the weekend than I was ever able to back in the UK (thanks to no Saturday 3pm embargo; and now new US rights owner, NBC, showing every one of those 3pm game on what Americans like to call TV ‘real estate’). One casualty though has often been the Champions League ties, being as they are in midweek and in slap bang in an Eastern seaboard afternoon. Of course, for many ties there was a purely coincidental increase in ‘business meetings’ in my calendar at around 3pm Eastern Standard time, 8pm back at home: meetings between myself, a pint or two and a TV screen at the local soccer showing bar in Lower Manhattan. The best kind of business meetings if you ask me. However, as I am currently on a sabbatical I have no such worries about work inconveniently getting in the way of an afternoon European tie. At least not for the time being. Perhaps in the knowledge I would be watching the match in full, Stuart asked me if I would like to write a review of the match and who was I to turn down another slice of The Ball is Round.

First things first, I liked the look of the team the team: Jones getting a chance at center back; a chance for Kagawa, and to a lesser extent Hernandez to show what they are capable of (Chicharito could well score a hat trick but he ain’t going to usurp RVP when the latter is fit, let’s face it); and Giggs in midfield. Moyes must have expected less of an emphasis on protecting the back four – and for periods of the match this was the case – but Fellaini, who has looked off the pace and prone to wayward passes in recent weeks, must have been a tad disappointed. On the subject of Kagawa, there appears to be a ‘movement’, a body of fans railing against the club, or more accurately Moyes, for his exclusion. To those people I say this: do you see him every day in training? Moyes clearly sees something; or maybe he is simply not fully fit. And you know what Klopp, you can keep your opinion on you ex player to yourself too. Thanks.

United flew out of the traps: the first move of the match results in a goal: a wonderful snaky wriggly run from my favorite player – Rooney (despite everything that has happened or not depending on who you believe) – before the pinball confusion in the box results in an own goal from Martinez. And while I am on the subject, can we all refrain from referring to Rooney as ‘rejuvenated’ now please? I think it is fair to say that Moyes’ greatest achievement to date (sorry Community Shield apologists) is the form of the Utd number 10. Headband or no headband. But rejuvenated? Come on he never became a bad player, he just seemed disinterested at the fag-end of Sir Alex’s reign.

The atmosphere in the early minutes seemed a world away from that which descended over Old Trafford for the Southampton draw. This has something to do with the ‘singing section’ so I am told on Twitter. I would be keen to know exactly what constitutes this section and how it differs from the rest of the ground, because I genuinely don’t know. And, perhaps as a result, Sociedad seemed genuinely shaken. This bodes well for a good performance from the home team I say to myself. Continue reading