West Ham on Song to jump into the top three


15967541542_58a6b64140_kIt’s a good time to be a West Ham fan.  Yesterday our fellow London rivals Arsenal, Chelsea and Millwall all lost, whilst Spurs could only manage a goal less draw at home to Crystal Palace.  Coming into the game at The Boleyn Ground against Swansea City the team knew a win would take them to third…THIRD.  I cannot remember the last time The Hammers were in the top three, even after the opening day of the season.  Third.  Champions League Group automatic entry third.  Top three in one of the richest leagues in the world.

We all know it wont last.  It can’t last. Why?  Well we can blame the economist Francis Galton for making our dreams fade and die.  19th Century Galton was credited with first documenting the Theory of Regression.  Whilst Galton used the biological phenomenon of the height of ancestors to demonstrate his theory, it can be applied today in predicting bouncebackability (he actually invented that word too) of teams who either punch above their weight or failed to meet expectations.  Everyone will always gravitate to their natural position.

But that’s not to say there hasn’t been a seismic shift in events at Upton Park.  After Allardyce was given a seat at the bar of the last chance saloon in the summer, he used the close season well, and whether it was his hard work, that of “attacking” coach Teddy Sheringham or the scouting network, he has built one of the best looking West Ham side’s that I can ever remember.  By best looking I mean in terms of positive and attacking play rather than any looks, although the shift to the blue shorts is very pleasing on the eye.

Few expected the likes of Enner Valencia, Cheikhou Kouyaté and Diafra Sakho to settle in East London so quickly but they have.  Sakho in particular has been a revelation.  The Senegal international had been playing in the French Second Division until the summer, but someone spotted something in him.  Whoever that was deserves a knighthood.  Sakho has been a handful for Premier League defences so far this season, hitting seven goals in just nine games before the game against Swansea.  Thoughts turn to a young Frank McAvennie when he first came to England back in 1985 and terrorized English defences.

15348569513_2ba959a754_kThe lofty position hasn’t been down to fluke either.  I’ve never been an Allardyce fan, hating this traditional Anti-football which hasn’t ever proved to deliver anything apart from neckache to fans.  His purchase last season of Andy Carroll was seen as the final piece in his long-ball jigsaw, and when the injury-prone striker inevitably ended up on the operating table, there was no plan B.  Even in pre-season when I saw them against Stevenage there appeared to be zero attacking intent.  Four months later they are playing some of the best football in the Premier League and have beaten Champions League qualifiers Liverpool and Manchester City comprehensively at Upton Park, whilst away from home they have been impressive, sticking to an attacking 4-4-2 with the resurgent Stewart Downing finally being freed from his wing.

Despite a Sunday lunchtime slot for this game, the game was a sell-out, as had every other Premier League game bar the one versus Aston Villa this season.  With the rest of the Fuller family up North it was took good an opportunity to miss.  A £43 ticket is easier to swallow if the football on offer is attractive and positive.

In a pre-match interview with Radio 5Live, Co-Chairman David Gold admitted that he was very surprised that the club were so high up the table.  “Not that don’t believe that we are a good team, we probably didn’t expect to be in this position at this stage of the season”.  It would of course be amiss to forget that the visitors from Wales were also having an amazing season.  After starting off like a train they had followed the Galton theory and dropped back down the table, only to start to climb again in the last few weeks.  In fact, a win at Upton Park would see them leap-frog the Hammers and Arsenal into the top six.

15781622859_b9798b6d14_kThe sun was shining and it was felt good to be back in East London.  Due to overseas travel and my commitments at Lewes (plus the dire football on display in recent seasons) I had been a rare visitor to these parts, but just like a London bus, I would be following today’s game with visits to the next two Premier League games here.  But for now it was time to see for myself exactly how this new team were taking the table by storm.

West Ham United 3 Swansea City 1 – The Boleyn Ground – Sunday 7th December 2014
It took the introduction of that man Sakho to power West Ham to victory against The Swans, adding the cutting edge to the dominance in possession.  This was a great game of football, full of attacking intent from both sides, controversy and a couple of great goals.  Whilst the game between Southampton and Manchester United tomorrow night will see one of them reclaim third place, for 30 hours or so, The Hammers could look down on the likes of Arsenal, Spurs, Liverpool and United themselves with a sense of pride and achievement.

The return to form of Andy Carroll had been perfectly timed, with Sakho missing from the past few games but it was the re-introduction of Barcelona – Alex Song that gave West Ham the victory.  Quite how and why Arsenal let their former player slip through their fingers in the summer is beyond me.  Likewise, their attacking full back Carl Jenkinson seems to revel playing in a side that allows him to run behind the opposing full backs.

For all of their opening possession it was the visitors who took the lead.  Despite West Ham being “all over them like a cheap suit”, they couldn’t “put the ball in the Onion bag” (those two quotes courtesy of the person sitting behind me), Swansea attacked down the left-hand side, Montero got in behind Jenkinson and played the ball across the face of goal for the on-rushing Bony to easy tap home.  Swansea’s tactics then switched from mildly attacking to retention and time-wasting.  With seventy minutes to hold on, it was a foolhardy tactic and it was always going to be a case of when and not if West Ham scored.

15780798948_deac688edd_kFor all the great passing play from the home side, the equaliser came from a familiar route in the 40th minute.  Jenkinson crossed from the left and Carroll out-jumped his marker and headed home.

Swansea started the second half the better side and a powerful run through the middle by Bony followed by a shot that hit the bar had most of the West Ham fans groaning that this wouldn’t be our day.  But then Carroll rose again and headed Downing’s corner into the net via Rangel’s desperate dive to keep it out. But the main talking point came moments later.

Earlier in the season when Lewes took on Margate at The Dripping Pan we had our centre-back Ollie Rowe sent off for a “professional foul”, or to give it its correct term, stopping a clear goal-scoring opportunity.  Rowe had stumbled when chasing a Margate forward and as he fell he took the legs of the attacker.  But the attacker got to his feet, carried on and managed to get a shot in which the Lewes keeper, Rikki Banks, saved.  The referee pulled play back and sent Rowe off.  How could it be claimed that he denied a goal-scoring opportunity if he then went on and got his shot on?  What would have happened if he would have scored? As we were told at the time by the officials, the fact that there had been a clear foul, it is irrelevant what the end result was.  If he would have scored them it is a different matter, and the offender would have been cautioned.

Sakho outpaced the Swansea defence and took the ball passed the on-rushing Swansea keeper Fabianski.  The keeper tried to take Sakho out but the forward was too quick for him and he recovered his poise and from a tight angle tried to slot the ball home, only to see his shot come back off the post.  Referee Chris Foy brought play back for a free-kick and dismissed the keeper.  Swansea’s main argument was that Sakho had allegedly handled the ball rather than Fabianski’s foul.

The game was wrapped up when Sakho once again showed his pace and power, running onto a flick from Carroll to smash the ball home from the edge of the box.  3-1 and West Ham were going third.  Man of the Match was always going to be given to the two-goal Andy Carroll but it was clear to see that it was Alex Song who called the tune today and without his energy, drive and tempo it could have been a very different result.

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Swans safe for another season despite meeting a pack of Wolves


Who would have expected Wolves to suddenly find their teeth on Saturday at The Liberty?  Certainly not most of the sensible football betters that is for sure as well as our resident Swansea expert, Abi Davies.

Brendan Rodgers made two changes to the Swans side for Saturday’s fixture against Wolves, to that which had picked up 4 points from their previous 2 matches. Andrea Orlandi and Gary Monk were handed rare starts in an experimental 3-6-1 formation, meaning both full backs Taylor and Rangel were omitted.

Despite the formation’s potential, Swansea were too often left exposed at the back as a result of playing three centre-backs. With Gary Monk playing central and Williams and Caulker seemingly unsure of their roles as both played out in wider positions. Continue reading

Swansea gain a point and their Premier League survival


Whilst their survival has never been in danger, those of us who study the league tables will know you are never safe until the maths prove you are.  Swansea knew that a draw on Saturday at Bolton Wanderers would be enough and so we dispatched Abi Davies to the Reebok to join in the potential party.

Brendan Rodgers unsurprisingly named the same XI to face Bolton, to that which comprehensively condemned Blackburn to defeat seven days prior to Saturday’s match.

Swansea knew that a win at The Reebok would see them mathematically secure their Premier League status for the 2012-13 campaign with three fixtures still remaining. The Welsh side, largely backed for relegation before the commencement of the season, put themselves in the perfect position to do so with just 6 minutes played, when Scott Sinclair’s sweetly struck effort following a great move infield from the winger fired past Adam Bogdan and into the top corner.

Sinclair had a chance to double the Swans lead moments later however failed to retain the same composure as his shot blazed over the cross bar. Continue reading

Swansea hammer another nail into Rovers coffin


After a recent dip in form, some wags in the game suggested that the Swans inexperience at this level would see them sinking into the relegation mire.  So the game against Blackburn Rovers would be key to right the wrongs and put them safely in Mid-table.  Abi Davies was on hand to give the Nero thumbs up or down.

Swansea’s uncharacteristically lacklustre display at Loftus Road sparked concern amongst Swans fans due to the manner in which they slumped to a 4th consecutive defeat. However, efficient with their possession and direct with their approach, Swansea City delivered the perfect response to their woeful performance against Rangers by comprehensively claiming victory over Steve Kean’s Blackburn.

Gylfi Sigurdsson opened the scoring for the Welsh side, before Nathan Dyer and an own goal from Dann ensured Swansea stopped the rot and returned to winning ways. In doing so, condemning Blackburn to their 5th successive defeat. Continue reading

Swansea fail to earn their Spurs


Swansea’s visit to Spurs yesterday was a mouth-watering treat for those who love their football played on the ground with pace and skill.  During the week Sam Allardyce made a shocking statement that West Ham have played at times like Swansea this season.  Based on what I have seen he can be only referring to the “shoot from the half way line” pre-match competition by the substitutes.  Our regular Lily of the Valley, Abi Davies made the trip down to London for this one.

A fairly even encounter at White Hart Lane, inclusive of some scintillating football from either side, was decided largely by Spurs superior clinical ability in front of goal as they capitalised on their opportunities whilst their counterparts couldn’t do so as efficiently.

Looking to end their poor run of form in order to record a first win in 6, Spurs found themselves on the back foot early on as Routledge, Rangel and Sigurdsson in particular were combining well for the visitors in order to cause problems for Assou-Ekotto at full back.

Despite Nathan Dyer’s availability, Brendan Rodgers stuck with Sinclair and Routledge on the flanks- a decision by no means perplexing given the form of the two wide players heading into Sunday’s fixture. Having relished his opportunity in the side whilst Dyer served his suspension, Wayne Routledge demonstrated from the outset through his footwork, control, strength and deliveries into the penalty area, exactly why he is keeping Nathan Dyer out of the side. It was Routledge who almost broke the deadlock for the visitors with their first real chance of the game however his effort from the edge of the D fired marginally wide of the Spurs goal. Continue reading

Toffees too much for high flying Swans to swallow


Everton came to The Liberty on Saturday hoping to retain their unbeaten record against Swansea City in order to avoid a third successive league defeat but Two second half goals from Leighton Baines and Nikica Jelavic ensured they did so, condemning Swansea City to just their third home defeat this season and sending Abi Davies into a state of sorrow only made better by an intake of Wales’s finest ale.

For large spells of the first half, it appeared to be business as usual for Swansea City as they were the commanding force, despite only showing glimpses of the stylish brand of play that has earned them the highest appraisals over recent weeks. However 10 minutes before half time, Everton started to play their way into the game and after the interval continued to assert the dominance they enjoyed towards the end of the first half, pushing forward with far more penetration than their counterparts. Their bold and highly successful approach to stopping Swansea play their game was rewarded by two second half goals to which Swansea had no response. Continue reading

Swansea make themselves at home at the Cottage


On another amazing weekend for Welsh sport our resident Swansea City fan, Abi Davies made her way back from London with a smile as wide as Swansea Bay after an excellent win at Fulham.

On the back of their sensational 1-0 victory over Manchester City last weekend, Swansea knew that a win at Craven Cottage would see them move to 8th in the league with only one other Premier League fixtures being played on Saturday.

Gylfi Sigurdsson’s second brace since joining Swansea, along with a Joe Allen strike guided the Swans to their fourth away win of the campaign, in doing so, the Welsh side all but mathematically secured their Premier League status and now look set to further prove critics wrong as they seek to finish the league in the top half of the table.

The only change to the side that started last weekend’s game against Manchester City came in defence as Ashley Williams run of 169 consecutive league games came to an end, with the Welsh international suffering from a virus. Williams absence meant club captain Gary Monk partnered on loan centre back Steven Caulker for the first time.

The euphoria of last weekends win seemed to play no part in Swansea’s performance as it was back to the grindstone, with the whole side demonstrating all the credentials that has seen them earn mass success so far this season. Continue reading