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

The beg, steal or borrow Premier League XI


The summer transfer window is the busiest time for managers and football clubs in general, as the big money transfer deals dominate the sporting headlines. Many of the loan deals, though, go under the radar amid all this hype. Here is the best starting XI compiled of players currently loaned out by Premier League clubs.

GK- Thibaut Courtois
The Belgian shot-stopper is currently on his third loan-spell at Spanish giants Atletico Madrid. The Chelsea ‘keeper is turning plenty of heads with his match winning performances at Atletico and is also attracting attention from Barcelona, one of the favourites on http://betway.com/sports-betting/ for European glory this season.

DF- Jack Robinson
The Liverpool right-back is currently on-loan at Blackpool in an attempt to further his development. This is a great opportunity for him to grow as a player as he will play regularly at the Tangerines.

DF- Johan Djourou
The 26-year-old Arsenal defender is currently with German club Hamburg. He has made 81 appearances for the Gunners and has 41 caps for Switzerland, bringing vital experience to the back-row.

DF- Karim Rekik
The 18-year-old has been at Man City since 2011. He is currently back in his native Holland with PSV. With 13 under-19 caps for his country Rekik undoubtedly has potential and looks like an astute deal for PSV as they strengthen their squad for the Europa League campaign.

DF- Benoit Assou-Ekotto
The Tottenham man followed his ex-manager Harry Redknapp to QPR in the summer. A left-back with bags of experience, he has been playing Premier League football since 2006, racking up a total 155 games for Spurs. His experience will be vital in QPR’s promotion push.

MF- Victor Moses
The Nigerian winger is on-loan at Liverpool from parent club Chelsea. The pacey midfielder has bags of top flight experience and is a quality player. His pace and power will be vital in helping Liverpool achieve a top-four place this season.

MF- Gareth Barry
The most experienced player in the team, the 32-year-old has racked up an incredible 500 top-flight games. Deemed surplus to requirements by Man City he joined Everton as they attempted to fill the void left by Fellaini who had joined United. Barry has so far been a rock in the Everton midfield and some fans are calling for him to be reinstated in the England squad.

MF- Stephen Ireland
Like Barry he is an experienced central midfielder. After falling out of favour with Aston Villa boss Paul Lambert he has ended up at Stoke, where the tireless midfielder is starting to recapture the form that once made him a Republic of Ireland international.

MF- Nick Powell
The Man United youngster is currently at Wigan. One of the last Alex Ferguson signings this boy has plenty of potential and you can expect to see him terrorising Championship defences for the Latics.

ST- Darren Bent
Another player who has fallen out of favour at Villa, Bent has now wound up at Fulham. With 13 caps for England and 103 top-flight goals Bent is an astute capture for the West London side.

ST- Romelu Lukaku
The Belgian spent last year with West Brom and scored an impressive 17 league goals. Many were surprised to see him join Everton on loan from Chelsea and he is now the key ingredient that could fire Everton into the Euro places.

The combined value of this starting XI comes in at £93.4million – who says we are still in a credit squeeze!

Popping my Cherry…again


9283753010_e72eb97b42_bHow much is too much to watch a football game?  I know people who have paid hundreds of pounds to watch Cup Finals and World Cup matches, but would you pay four times the average ticket price just to watch a friendly?  This was certainly the question being asked on the South Coast a few weeks ago when AFC Bournemouth shocked the footballing world by announcing they had secured a friendly against the mighty Real Madrid.  Shock soon turned to disbelief when it was announced tickets would cost £60 for General Admission.  £60 to watch a friendly???  Even Chelsea wouldn’t have the cheek to charge this!

But it seems the Cherries had done their Economics homework in terms of supply and demand as this week the final tickets went on sale and were snapped up within hours.  Every one of the 10,783 tickets had been sold.  Instead of running out against Woking next weekend, Eddie Howe’s first XI will be lining up against Ronaldo and Kaka at Dean Court whilst the Directors will be counting their £600-odd thousand pounds of takings.  Who has egg on their face now?

But first up they had a small matter of a visit from West Ham.  I’m sure if tickets for this game were £60 each then it too would have been a sell out, but a £10 price tag obviously put your discerning Hammers fan off who only buy high price tag items now such as Andy Carroll and the Olympic Stadium.  But I wasn’t complaining.  After all I was getting a chance to take the Fuller family to the English sea-side as well as see the game.

Football fever has gripped Bournemouth ever since they won promotion back in April.  In one short season they would be going from taking a few dozen to Hartlepool United and Tranmere Rovers, to welcoming the likes of FA Cup holders Wigan Athletic, Reading and Leeds United.  And of course there would be the return of Bournemouth’s favourite loveable East End rogue, ‘Appy ‘Arry as he brings his QPR team down the A27, stopping off no doubt for tea and biscuits at one of his Sandbanks residences. Continue reading