Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Tremendous Run, And Still In The FA Cup

Good times all around in East London, in a footballing sense, and we have a tight-knit squad and the coaching/managerial talents of assistant Steve Clarke and head man Gianfranco Zola, respectively, to thank for that right now. Unbeaten in 8 after Saturday's nil-nil result carved out against Arsenal at The Emirates, the Hammers are finding themselves as the 2008-09 season head into what's commonly known as the "business end." Let's start at the back -- you can't say enough abut the quintet of goalkeeper Rob Green, outside backs Herita Ilunga and Lucas Neill and, most importantly, the center-back pairing of Matty Upson and James Collins. Seriously, other than the fact that he represented homegrown talent, does anyone miss the erratic form of Anton Ferdinand? He was a touch-stone for us at Championship level and during that blissful first year back in the Prem, but Upson and Collins are the real deal. These guys don't let opposition strikers get a sniff. As stated before in this space, Collins' forehead is a ball magnet, and Upson must use his arms for balance more noticably than any defeder in the top flight. When you think of Iluga's play, does anyone really miss George McCartney? Or, more importantly, does the sale of Macca to Sunderland really stand up as a reason for Alan Curbishley to resign his position? And that's a good transition to Curbs' ridiculous views on the acquisition of Italian striker Davide Di Michele, which have also been documented here. After a week in which Zola and Clarke have sung No. 32's praises, it's easy to see that Upton Park needed the fresh eyes of Zola and technical director Gianluca Nani to make a push for the UEFA Cup places. Plus, a home tie in the fifth round of the Cup v. Middlesbrough puts us in great position to reach the final 8 (round 6). Also, factor in the continued good form of Coley plus the capture of club-record signing Savio Nsereko, and all signs point upward for the Hammers. No wonder !! my personal life is in such shambes. Oh, well, as they say ... Fortune's always hiding!!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

8th Place in The Prem, and Round 5 Beckons ...

A Sunday match with Fulham at Upton Park was on the cards -- and, more importantly, on the telly here in New Jersey. The Hammers entered the game in good form, with the Zola regime seemingly taking root. Continental, cultured and easy on the eye. The color commentator on the broadcast even made the allusion that Hammers, under Gianfranco, are playing with a similar tactical nous as did Arsenal in their heydey. He mentioned that Valon Behrami and Jack Collison are mirroring the positioning taken up by Robert Pires and Freddie Ljungberg, respectively, with the Gunners a few seasons ago. Namely, playing wide but pinching in and narrowing the midfield. Those players had Theirry Henry running rampant up front, but Hammers are quickly finding out what a striker we have in the ranks in one Carlton Cole. With his goal today, Coley became the first Hammer to score in 5 consecutive matches since Teddy Sheringham in 2004. He really is in England form at the moment, and Fabio Capello was in the stands. But Coley's goal came from a perfectly weighted pass from Italian striker Davide Di Michele, who also scored Hammers' opener. You dozens of pardewsguardian readers who check in regularly will know I have been calling for Di Michele's inclusion, at the expense of Welshman Craig Bellamy. With recent developments -- the petulant Bellamy seems headed to Manchester City after refusing to train and play for our side -- that seems a bit prescient, doesn't it? Sunday's 3-1 win puts us 8th with 29 points, and with 16 league matches left we seem to be rising above the relegation mire. Next up? A tricky 5th-round FA Cup tie at Hartlepool United. Most importantly? The match is live on the telly this Saturday, 7:30 a.m. East Coast time on Setanta. Come on, you Irons !!!

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Cruising into Round 4 !!!

The FA Cup is special to me. In my mind and sense of football consciousness, it represents everything beautiful about The Beautiful Game (TM), especially in England and Wales. The Coppa Italia and Copa del Rey (in Italy and Spain, respectively) certainly have their merits, but it's the FA Cup that captures imaginations throughout the world. West Ham did well to impose themselves at home v. Barnsley on Saturday, avoiding the usual banana-skin result against lower-league opposition. A comprehensive 3-nil win, with goals by Herita Ilunga, Mark Noble and the ever-dependable Carlton Cole sets the stage nicely for a massive tie in Round 4 (the final 32). I just get the feeling that gaffer Gianfranco Zola is really getting a grip on this side and the English game in particular. I'm not there to witness them, but I must imagine the training sessions run by Zola and his assistant, Steve Clarke, are among the best since the Hammers' heyday under Greenwood and Lyall. Harry Redknapp was a superb gameday manager, but -- as good a source as John Harkes has told me -- training was not his strong suit. The Cup also holds a very special place in my Hammers' fandom, which began officially with my attending a match at Upton Park in 1999. The 2001 4th-round upset of Manchester United (nil-1 to the Hammers at Old Trafford) saw me amongst about 8 Hammers supporters set against 70 or 80 Red Devils partisans while watching the match live at the Dickens Inn in Philadelphia. When Di Canio scored, the small contingent of Irons whooped, hollered and embraced (beers spilling left and right), sharing a moment that may never be equaled. Fast forward to spring 2006, and Andy Stubbs and I, as well as my lads, watched the final against Liverpool at Atlantic City Bar and Grill, located about 15 minutes from our home in South Jersey. Big Ron Garofalo was pouring the pints, and we took 2-nil and 3-2 leads, only to be pegged back by Gerrard. When Nigel Reo-Coker's second-half extra-time header was pushed onto the bar by Pepe Reina, I knew it was not to be our day. The penalty shootout confirmed that, with only Sheringham converting. But I get the feeling that Zola can bring us a trophy. From my lips to God's ears !!!