Saturday, 27 October 2007

First Rule For Life In The Lounge

First of all, apologies for the lack of updates for the last fortnight. I doubt anyone cares but severe technical problems, logistical hindrances and ill-health combined to put a stop to my posting. Normal service will be resumed shortly.

How a public encounter with my boyhood hero Tony Cottee could have gone better

By Russell Brand

Tony Cottee requested that I be his guest in the lounge for West Ham's last home game against Sunderland. In this context "being a guest in the lounge" is not like it would be in Lady Windermere's Fan where one would sit demurely exchanging epigrams with toffs. No, what it entails is appearing on a low-budget chat show, where you stand - that's right, stand, I said it was low-budget - and are interviewed by Tony before an audience of West Ham fans tucking into their nosh.

One suspects that the sedentary diners have paid handsomely for this unique afternoon of entertainment and I was determined not to let them, or Tony, down. Cottee is a hero of mine, occupying a place in my affections so formative that it is almost impossible to view him objectively. He exists in a realm shared by childhood pets, Wurzel Gummidge and Morrissey; a realm that precedes rational judgment, for the retina of my consciousness was scorched by his image before the facility to analyse had evolved.

Like when I first saw that poster of the tennis player lady scratching her bottom it made me feel angry as at that early stage I didn't know how to be aroused. Actually, I'm still a bit angry with her post-pubescently - why didn't she put some knickers on if she knew she was going to be playing tennis? It's flouting the sport's conventions.

When I think of all the bother Andre Agassi endured at Wimbledon just for wearing those colourful cycling shorts it makes my blood boil. At least he didn't turn up on Centre Court nude from the waist down dragging himself along the baseline like dogs do to scratch their arses. It's one rule for the rich and one for the poor.

So with all that borne in mind you can imagine it was important I didn't disappoint TC. He runs the executive lounges at Upton Park with the same febrile tenacity that he ran West Ham's attack in the 80s, and he stoutly issued me with instructions: there are two lounges, we do them consecutively, Tony does the quiz and player of the month (my current heartthrob Mark Noble) then brings me out for a chat.

He asks me five questions - "No pressure, it's just a laugh" - then we repeat the process in the second lounge. Oh, and "No swearing". Simple. Here are just some of the blunders I managed to jam into my five-minute interview in lounge one:

a) I said that I thought Dean Ashton would be influential even though Dean is currently out with a knee injury. Damn. I've been away for weeks in Tuscany with no internet or papers writing my autobiography. I was oblivious. I'm so sorry;

b) I implied that in the legendary partnership between Tony and my beloved Frank McAvennie, Tony was a goal scrounger while Frank did all the running, deftly comparing it to the onstage relationship between myself and the show's esteemed host;

c) To illustrate the nature of man's curiosity I evoked an analogy in which I queried whether the audience would open an envelope which contained a photograph of Her Majesty The Queen's vagina.

And, finally, d) I said fuck. Before we embarked on the second lounge Tony's main note was "watch the swearing", he was quite firm about it, then during interview two, which was better, as I went to relay my royal analogy Tony expertly steered me into some chat about Billy Bonds.

And then to watch the match. I sat with Tony, his mate John and his lovely dad Clive to witness West Ham's flattering 3-1 victory against the "Black Cats" (I struggle with that nickname as it was only issued as the result of a poll in a local paper in Sunderland and I query whether or not actual Sunderland fans use it conversationally. Or if they're too self-conscious thinking maybe they should've gone down a less obvious route of talismans for ill fortune in a blatant affront to their rivals Newcastle United's nickname "the Magpies") more shy about chanting than usual and profoundly touched that a man whom I used to study with awe as a child as he hustled defences and keepers and scored now sat beside me watching the team we both love.

Guardian column

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Dum Spiro, Spero

Kieron Dyer is hoping to get the all-clear today to start his long recovery from a broken leg. Dyer, 28, suffered the double leg break in a Carling Cup tie at Bristol Rovers in August in only his second game for the Hammers after a £6million move from Newcastle. According to the Sun, the midfielder is already targeting a place in next summer’s Euro 2008 finals. "It’s a very big day for me," he said. "I’m having an X-ray and if the specialist is happy I should be able to put weight on my leg." Looking ahead to the impending England games, Dyer added: "I have no doubt that we will get the results. It would be great if I could be involved. But I’m concentrating on rehab. The bones are pinned and it feels solid."

Another injured West Ham player with international ambitions has been assured by Steve McClaren today that he will get another chance to pull on an England jersey. Dean Ashton was forced to withdraw from the England squad for the Euro qualifiers against Estonia and Russia with a knee ligament injury that is likely to keep him out for six weeks. "I spoke to him on Monday and he was devastated," said the England manager. "I watched him play against Aston Villa on Saturday and when I left with five minutes to go he looked okay. It's terrible for him to miss out again but I've told him not to worry. Once he gets his fitness and form back he'll be in contention for a place."

Ashton's injury means only Carlton Cole is fit among the five forwards at Upton Park (gulp!). Henri Camara has a hamstring problem and Bobby Zamora will be out for two more weeks after knee surgery. Alan Curbishley may even be forced to push Luis Boa Morte into attack, although the manager hopes that Craig Bellamy will soon be available after a groin operation. Anton Ferdinand could also be out of action for a further six weeks while The Times report a possible setback in the recovery of Scott Parker, who Curbishley had hoped would return at the end of the month. Happily, Boa Morte showed he had recovered from the dead leg he picked up in Saturday's 1-0 defeat at Aston Villa by heading the winner for West Ham reserves in the 1-0 win over Tottenham today.

One further piece of good news is that Craig Bellamy has joined up with the Welsh international squad after recovering well from surgery on his groin last week. The club have declared themselves happy with the progress Bellamy has made since having the operation last Thursday out in Germany and fully support his wish to make himself available for Wales' two Euro 2008 qualifiers, against Cyprus and San Marino. The Mirror call it an sensational return for a player who had been expected to be sidelined for at least 12 days. Bellamy has been in light training with West Ham over the last couple of days and participated in full training with his Welsh team mates today in Cardiff before flying out to Cyprus for the first match.

Welsh FA spokesman Ceri Stennett said: "It has been something of a surprise. Craig had a groin operation last week and we were aware that he was training with West Ham, and the intention was to wait to see how he went and then, if he was okay, fly him out to Bologna on Monday to join up with the party heading for San Marino. Craig has had the same operation that Michael Owen has had, and Owen was back playing in just a few days. We were prepared to wait a little longer and for him to be monitored by West Ham. But Craig has always said to us that he wanted to travel for both matches, and now West Ham are happy for him to do so and for him to be available for both matches". If he plays in either of the qualifiers, it would mean him getting important match action under his belt ahead of West Ham's next league match, at home to Sunderland next weekend.

On a separate note, The Sun have continued their 'anyone but Robinson' campaign by trying to flog Robert Green to Arsenal, citing the keeper's frustration at being continually overlooked by Steve McClaren as a possible reason for the move. Andrew Dillon claims Arsene Wenger wants to buy our £6million-rated keeper as he remains unconvinced about his current stopper Manuel Almunia. The article intimates that Green could be receptive to an approach by one of the 'Big Four' and suggests the only sticking point could be that Green will demand first-team football.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Back To Basics

Dean Ashton has been ruled out of action for up to six weeks after scans confirmed the striker has a sprained medial knee ligament. The forward was yesterday forced to withdraw from the England squad to face Estonia and Russia in Euro 2008 qualifiers on Saturday and Wednesday week respectively after being hurt late in Saturday's 1-0 defeat at Aston Villa. Head physiotherapist George Cooper confirmed the extent of Ashton's injury on the official site. "We received the results of Dean's scan and they were what we expected which is that he had sprained the upper third of his medial ligament," he said. "In the majority of cases it will take up to six weeks for full recovery." The injury is a bitter blow for the 23-year-old whose previous call into the England squad for an August 2006 friendly against Greece saw him pick up an ankle injury in training. On a more positive note, Craig Bellamy began running again last Friday after an operation on a groin injury and is to join up with the Wales squad ahead of their own qualifiers against Cyprus and San Marino, although he is set to sit out the first fixture.

Meanwhile, West Ham have announced that young winger Hogan Ephraim has extended his loan at Queen's Park Rangers for a third month. The 19-year-old Academy graduate has been on loan at the Championship club since August and has made nine appearances in his first two months at Loftus Road. His most recent outing came last night with Ephraim impressing in the 1-0 home defeat of Norwich City - the club's first victory of the season. Ephraim's loan will see him stay with QPR until November 6. Two other West Ham players are also out on loan. Scotland defender Christian Dailly, who is in his country's squad for the Euro 2008 qualifiers at home against Ukraine this Saturday and next Wednesday's trip to Georgia, is at Championship club Southampton until 22 October while 18-year-old goalkeeper David Blackmore is on loan at Conference South side Thurrock.

Finally, Hayden Mullins believes the international break will allow West Ham United to get "back to basics" as they look to push on from a respectable mid-table position. The versatile midfielder was naturally disappointed with the 1-0 defeat at Aston Villa on Saturday but insisted: "I think we have to get back on the training field, work hard and get back to basics. What we were doing right before we went on this bad run. We had a very good record. We want to get back to that." Once the international programme is out of the way, West Ham entertain Sunderland at home on Sunday 21 October before a trip to Portsmouth six days later and then the Carling Cup fourth-round tie at Coventry City on Tuesday 30 October. According to Mullins, there is every chance of taking league points and reaching the last eight of the cup competition. "We know there a couple of good games coming up for us later this month and we're looking to win them," he added.

Looking back to Saturday, the midfielder paid tribute to the effort shown despite conceding from a free-kick he felt was harshly awarded. "We did really well in the second half, we were the much better side and we're disappointed to come out of that losing. It's just a reminder that we have to take our chances and keep it a bit tighter at the back. I think we always looked dangerous but didn't get that bit of luck that we needed. That was the decisive factor. Once you get half a chance, Carlton Cole had one, Lee Bowyer and Matty Etherington, you have to take them, which we didn't today. We'll be going back to the training field and working on that."

Monday, 8 October 2007

Aston Villa 1 West Ham United 0

Wing Wizard Young Keeps English Flag Flying by David Lacey
While the presence of 14 Englishmen on the Villa Park pitch at the start would have pleased Sepp Blatter, the president of Fifa, who wants teams to be restricted to five foreigners, the match itself supported the view of Arsenal's Arsène Wenger that such a move would undermine the quality of the football... Guardian
Walls Have No Fears For Gardner by Duncan Castles
Hundreds of millions have been spent on purchasing and renovating these two stalwarts of the English game, yet still they inhabit the twilight zone of the Premier League. Capable enough to trip up a superpower once in a while, but struggling for the consistency that would earn their owners a European away day... Observer
Ashton Injury Compounds Misery by Brian Doogan
FOUR goals failed to accomplish the job for Aston Villa on Monday night against Tottenham but, with a converted free kick by Craig Gardner and a much more assured defensive display, Martin O’Neill’s team needed just one strike to rise to fifth in the Premier League at the second time of asking... Sunday Times
Villa Park Remains A Fortress by Peter Lansley
Manchester United are the next side to visit Villa Park and it is testimony to the platform Martin O’Neill is building that since the Barclays Premier League champions ran out 3-0 winners there before last Christmas, Aston Villa have been beaten at home only by Arsenal and Liverpool... Times
Ashton Injury Is Hammer Blow by Mike Rowbottom
An afternoon of increasing frustration for West Ham ended in something distinctly worse, both for themselves and England, when Dean Ashton suffered a knee injury that reduced him to the role of walking wounded by the end of this frantic but largely unaccomplished match... Independent
Ashley Young Shines As Dean Ashton Suffers by Clive White
Steve McClaren was at Villa Park yesterday afternoon – well, it's not as if there was anywhere else for him to go – ostensibly to run the rule over West Ham's Dean Ashton and Villa's Ashley Young for the upcoming European Championship qualifiers. The latter will have left the deeper impression upon the England coach, along with his Villa team-mate Gabriel Agbonlahor, rather than the lumbering West Ham target man... Sunday Telegraph

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Friends Reunited

When Nigel Reo-Coker left West Ham for Aston Villa last season, there was much acrimony. Now he can't wait to clatter a few old team-mates today and upset the fans who berated him. But the truth is that he had to get out of London to rekindle his career — or risk sinking with the temptations around him, according to his former midfield colleague, Hayden Mullins. Mullins could have been on the way out too, as a makeweight to Charlton with striker Darren Bent going to Upton Park, but the move fell through and Mullins' professionalism has led to him re-establishing himself in the team. Reo-Coker and Mullins still socialise and keep in constant touch but once the white line is crossed at Villa Park today, expect the tackles to fly.

"Nigel has already told me that anyone who gets in his way is going to get kicked — and he wants to score," admits Mullins. "I spoke to him on Wednesday and he's up for the game, there's no doubt about that. He'll want to show what he can do and put one over on us, but all the lads are ready for it and we want to put one over on him. It was the usual banter, it's all friendly — but once that whistle goes . . . it's different." Mullins understood Reo-Coker's desire to get away from London, especially after he began to be linked with big moves. The Hammers player said: "It's very easy to get distracted with his profile as a Premier League player. There are distractions like nightclubs and other bits and pieces. Nigel probably felt for his own sake he needed to get out, and it was probably the right choice. He was probably getting pulled here and there by other people so the best thing to do, to concentrate on his career, was to get away from those kind of people."

So why didn't Mullins face similar temptations? He said: "I'm married. So I rarely have the chance to get out. It doesn't really apply to me, it's more the younger lads." West Ham assistant boss Mervyn Day said: "Nigel wanted to leave as soon as me and Alan Curbishley walked in. He and Marlon Harewood (also at Villa) moved on because they wanted to. It was their choice. It was disappointing." Mullins added: "I tried to convince Nigel to stay because if we'd had him in our midfield, with the players we've signed, we'd have an even better squad. " After a season which began with the midfielder being linked to Arsenal and ended with a last-day Houdini act, Reo-Coker chose to swap the Icelandic revolution at Upton Park for the American-financed revival at Villa Park. And so far his new club are two places higher in the table. "Nigel put in everything he had when he played for us and he was a very good captain," Mullins said. "I told him that the club is going in the right direction. We are trying to become a top-half table club and we are pushing for Europe, and the signings prove that. He has his own people talking to him and he had his mind made up. He was very impressed with Martin O'Neill, who sold the club to him."

O'Neill has been very happy with his contribution so far, but has warned his £8.5million signing not to overstep the mark. He said: "I hope he has enough experience to know it does not really matter how the West Ham fans react to him. I'm pretty confident he will concentrate on his game and, if he does that and plays the way he has been doing since he joined us, then I have nothing to worry about." The Villa manager believes Reo-Coker is capable of breaking into the England squad for the Euro 2008 finals as he prepares to face former club for the first time since his £8.5million summer switch. Reo-Coker skippered the England Under-21 side during the European Championship finals in Holland in June before making the move to Villa Park. O'Neill said: "There were other teams very interested in signing him. I was very pleased he decided to come to us. West Ham told us there were other offers and I was very pleased to get him. He has done well for us and is very conscientious. He is still finding his feet here and that is pleasing because there is much more to come from him. I think if England qualify for Euro 2008, which you would expect them to, then Nigel would have time to make a big enough impression to be heading with that squad to Austria and Switzerland in the summer time. That should be a driving ambition of his - and I am sure it is."

Despite being labelled a "bad egg" at West Ham, Reo-Coker's attitude and form so far has delighted Villa boss O'Neill. "Nigel made his point about feeling he was hung out to dry but we have been able to get his services and I have been very pleased with him," O'Neill said. "So far I have found Nigel very conscientious and he wants to improve his game and do very well. He does not want to be a shrinking violet, he is keen to win and get involved. I have been pleased with what he has shown me." O'Neill is particularly happy with the way Reo-Coker and Barry have combined in the centre of the park but is not getting carried away with first impressions. He said: "All those things I thought I saw from a distance, Nigel has shown so far for us. I think his game has helped Gareth although Gareth has been making significant progress for some time and he was a very good player before Nigel arrived at the club. Gareth has done a lot himself but I would accept the fact that there has also been some sort of influence on the side from Nigel. They are doing fine as a pairing, and they are playing strongly together, and I am very pleased for both of them, but it is early yet to make positive assumptions you expect to last for the rest of the season."

Elsewhere, West Ham assistant manager Mervyn Day has revealed that he and Alan Curbishley tried twice unsuccessfully to sign Ashley Young from Watford. Young was on the verge of signing for West Ham in January before moving to Villa Park for £9.65m following a last minute change of heart. The midfielder will be up against West Ham tomorrow and Day, speaking in the absence of Curbishley who is unwell, admitted: "We also tried to sign him when we were at Charlton. We tracked him for some time and I must have seen him a dozen times. He can play anywhere along the front, right or left-side midfield. He has a trick, he crosses with both feet, he's decent in the air and he can score goals." Ashley Young revealed: "West Ham did come in for me and I had talks with them. I chose Villa over West Ham and I believe I made the right choice and I'm happy here. From the time I joined the club I knew it was going places."

Regarding team news ahead of today's clash, West Ham United will be without Anton Ferdinand and Scott Parker. Defender Ferdinand misses the trip to Villa Park with a slight hamstring strain, while Parker, the former Newcastle United midfielder, faces another spell on the sidelines after damaging medial knee ligaments in last weekend's 1-0 home defeat by Arsenal. Alan Curbishley's team need to get back on track in the Barclays Premier League after two successive defeats. But they are without forward Craig Bellamy, who is struggling with a groin injury, and long-term casualties Kieron Dyer, Julien Faubert and Calum Davenport.

Shaun Maloney could come into contention for a rare start for Aston Villa after returning to training following an ankle problem. The former Celtic player, who has netted three goals as a substitute this season, may challenge Luke Moore for a place alongside Gabriel Agbonlahor. Moore has struggled to recapture the form he showed in the early part of last season before undergoing a shoulder operation and is still to score in the league during the current campaign. Patrik Berger (calf) and John Carew (knee) are still ruled out as Villa look to recover from the shock of conceding three goals in the final 21 minutes of the 4-4 draw at Tottenham Hotspur.

Aston Villa (from): Carson, Mellberg, Laursen, Knight, Bouma, Gardner, Reo-Coker, Barry, Young, Moore, Maloney, Agbonlahor, Petrov, Harewood, Taylor, Davies, Osbourne.

West Ham United (from): Wright, Green, Neill, Upson, Gabbidon, McCartney, Bowyer, Mullins, Noble, Etherington, Ashton, Cole, Pantsil, Collins, Spector, Ljungberg, Boa Morte, Reid.

The game is the only one which kicks-off at the traditional 3pm today and Day said: "I'm a bit of a traditionalist and I find it quite sad although we all take a lot of money from the TV companies."

Whatever Next?

Whatever next, Joe Cole on stilts?
By Russell Brand

I'm in Tuscany. I've been sent here by my publishers to finish my autobiography. Usually, this column is the only writing obligation I have to fulfil and is brattishly indulged, today it must vie with literary siblings and is being produced during a hiatus of the solipsistic, caffeinated torrent that has consumed my every waking hour. Goethe wrote here, I am informed, and Auden too, so expectations are justifiably high and this voluptuous, rolling land ought be sufficient muse for any man.

I went into town on Wednesday night to watch Chelsea vs Valencia, initially to gloat but as usual when abroad, was seduced by patriotism. My hopes that post Mourinho Chelsea would fall apart looked likely to be fulfilled before a ball had been kicked, with John Terry in his see-through mask (there's a baffling concept, see-through masks. What's next? Cuddley daggers?) and Petr Cech in his stupid bonnet, they look like they're disintegrating as individuals let alone as a team. For future matches I want Joe Cole to be on stilts and Didier Drogba to wear fake boobies. Let Chelsea field a team of prosthetically enhanced oddities, it'll be good for morale.

After David Villa's opener I felt the first nationalistic twinge, the Italians that were watching were hardly vociferous, they indifferently sipped beer, but I took their silent boozing to be a slur upon Her Majesty and all her fleets and became enraged. "How dare you!" I thought, after everything we've done for you. I began to crave a Chelsea revival, not in a profound way, just in a "I drew them in a sweepstake at work" way. Then thanks to the skill and persistence of Drogba and Joe Cole, or Johkohl as he's known on Italian telly, Britannia triumphed.

Were Chelsea more flamboyant under Avram Grant? It seems ridiculous that they could be, using the judge-a-book-by-its-cover method, Mourinho has the appearance of a Latino, gigolo assassin, Grant looks like Herman Munster's butler. There's a word that oughtn't be bandied about so profligately, butler. Butler means a devoted, Woodhousian gentleman's gentleman. The lunatic who bears that title and has come as part of the package with this Tuscan villa would have seen Bertie Wooster starved and raped within an hour of his employment.

I know that complaining about the quality of your butler is a lament unlikely to elicit much sympathy outside of Kensington but this fella, Sam, could no more butter me the perfect crumpet than take flight over the olive groves that surround me.

It was Sam who took us to the bar where we, me and my mate Nik (who's also my agent here to force me to write the booky wook), watched Wednesday's match and let me complain about the coffee and the light reflecting off the TV screen before telling me on the way home that the premises were run by the Mafia. I suppose I should be grateful he didn't wait till my funeral before mentioning it to my weeping mother.

Had I been aware that I was drinking in the Café Cosa Nostra I might not have been so cheeky with the waitresses, nor would I have sung the national anthem at the final whistle. The problem may be due to linguistic difficulties rather than incompetence - he did yesterday speak the sentence "Marijuana Michaelangelo my brother Italy." I've been thinking about it ever since and am no closer to unravelling its mysteries.

What could it mean? It's almost entirely made of nouns, there's not a verb to be had. Could it mean that marijuana influenced the sculpture of Michealangelo and in turn inspired Sam and his brother to come to Italy? Whatever he said, it's better than my Italian, all I can say is "grazi" I say it in different accents to deal with every situation. I just hope that I can intone "grazi" in such a charming fashion that I can avoid being murdered in the plaza by a disgruntled Godfather.

Guardian column

Friday, 5 October 2007

Deano Yes, Greeno No

Dean Ashton has been included in the England squad for the next round of Euro 2008 qualifiers against Estonia and Russia. As expected, the striker has been given the nod from Steve McClaren after his consistent form for the Hammers scoring three times in the last four matches. The Hammers hitman receives his first call-up in over a year after recently returning from the ankle injury which threatened to end his career. McClaren picked Ashton for his first ever squad in charge of the England team and was devastated when the striker broke his ankle in training, 15 months later he said he was delighted to be able to call him up. "I am absolutely delighted to be able to include Dean Ashton in the squad. It was sickening for me when he got that inury, but he has worked so hard this past year and he has got his rewards. He has improved game by game and we will watch him tomorrow when he will no doubt impress again and he most certainly deserves this call-up."

Ashton, speaking on the official site, described how he heard the news: "When I came into training this morning I spoke to the Manager and he let me know so that is how I found out. Then I spoke to Steve McClaren on the phone and he relayed the same message to me that I had made the squad and talked me through when to meet up. He said well done for getting back from the injury, it obviously happened when I was away with England with him so we talked about that as well and he just said he was really pleased to see me back and scoring."

Speculation about Ashton's inclusion in the squad has been rife this week but the twenty-three year old waited patiently to hear the news for certain and was ecstatic to get confirmation of the call-up this morning. "I tried to ignore all the press talk and was just waiting to hear for definite today. I was just absolutely delighted really, to have had the year that I've had it is just amazing to finally get here. It is obviously well documented that I picked up the injury before I had a chance to make my debut for England so to get back in that squad after being out since then is a really great feeling and to know all the hard work I have put in has paid off is just fantastic." It was a long, hard and often frustrating year for Ashton to get back to full training and playing again for West Ham and this England call-up hopefully means he can put that period behind him and just look forward. "Hopefully this is the final thing that can help me put last year behind me. Obviously my first priority was to get back playing well for West Ham and only then could I even think about getting into an England squad, now that has happened I just want to go away with the team and enjoy the experience, especially because my first experience of it was so short lived."

With Wayne Rooney back in the squad and Michael Owen making a speedy recovery from his operation to also be included, Ashton knows he may have a wait on his hands to break into that elusive starting eleven but he is happy to be patient. "There is a real competition for places there which is why it is that much more flattering to get included with such other high caliber strikers. I know I will have to be patient in terms of getting my actual debut as these are very crucial games for England so the manager obviously has to pick what he feels is his strongest eleven and I obviously support that." The striker believes the experience he will gain from being away with the national set-up will be invaluable to his West Ham career and the call-up itself sets him up nicely for tomorrow's away trip to Aston Villa. "I want to reach the highest level possible and I think the experience of training and maybe even hopefully playing with England can only enhance my game immensely which can only be good for West Ham. It is definitely an extra boost going into tomorrow's match. I am really looking forward to it as the last time I played at Villa Park was in the semi-final of the FA Cup so I have great memories there and all that along with the England call-up should help me to a good performance along with the rest of the team."

However there was no such luck for goalkeeper Robert Green, who continues to be overlooked by McClaren despite proving to be the most consistent English goalkeeper in the Premier League thus far this season. Green is another who got injured whilst on England duty but unlike Ashton has so far been unable to find his way back to the international arena. Just this week he was voted best goalkeeper in the Premier League for his display against Arsenal.

Provisional squad in full: Carson, James, Robinson; Brown, Campbell, A Cole, Ferdinand, Lescott, P Neville, Richards, Shorey, Terry; Barry, Bentley, J Cole, Downing, Gerrard, Lampard, Wright-Phillips, Young; Ashton, Crouch, Defoe, Johnson, Owen, Rooney, Smith

Bellamy Muschawecked

Craig Bellamy returned from Germany last night to recover from a sports hernia operation he had done by the same specialist that treated Michael Owen, Ulrike Muschaweck. Bellamy has missed the past three matches since limping off during the 3-0 victory over Middlesbrough nearly three weeks ago. There were fears that he would be out for longer, but Muschaweck said that the type of operation he had would mean that he could return after the international break, which begins next week. "He has got the minimal repair technique, which allows a quick return to full activity; within eight to 12 days he should be back to full activity without any restriction," Muschaweck said. "The operation technique has been the same which I carried out on Michael Owen." Bellamy is expected to withdraw from the Wales squad to play Cyprus and San Marino in European Championship qualifying matches on October 13 and 17.

Head physio, George Cooper travelled to Munich with the Welsh striker and was pleased with how it all went. "We went out there because he had a scan that showed he was a candidate for a sports hernia and we wanted to seek an opinion because he had two problems, unlike Owen who had one problem," explained Cooper. "We wanted to establish if the hernia was causing his pain or if it was his groin. After consultation with the specilaist, she deduced all symptoms were due to the hernia and she demonstrated this to me under an ultrasound on an MRI scan and showed me where the problem was. She then advised he had the operation and predicted he would be back within 14 days. So he had the surgery, it went very well and he walked out of the centre the same day and we flew back later that night. He can start running three days after the operation, building up to sprinting after five days then gradually building up to training and playing within a fortnight. We went to Doctor Muschaweck because through her techniques she can offer her patients the most pain-free and shortest term recovery period."

"We will be very happy if Craig is back in eight to 12 days," admitted an understated Mervyn Day. The forward had been in outstanding form, scoring three times in his last two matches for West Ham before the injury and two goals for Wales away to Slovakia. His loss leaves West Ham with three fit forwards for the match against Aston Villa tomorrow. Bobby Zamora is out for another three weeks after a knee operation and Dean Ashton will probably be partnered by Henri Camara in attack. "The people who have come in have done really well for us," Day said. "We’ve played some of the top four teams and it’s disappointing not to be able to put out your strongest team. We’re looking forward to the game against Villa and we’re hopeful that we can get a result."

Thursday, 4 October 2007

George's Dragon Breath

Mervyn Day has given a fitness update from Chadwell Heath this morning ahead of the Hammers' Premier League clash against Aston Villa on Saturday. Speaking on the official site, he said: "Anton Ferdinand won't be available and Craig Bellamy won't either. Scott Parker won't be available for a few weeks and Nigel Quashie and Calum Davenport are still recovering. Anton has a slight hamstring strain. Scott Parker has damaged his ligaments following that challenge from Matthieu Flamini on Saturday. Craig Bellamy has an ongoing groin problem and is seeing a consultant in Germany. He may need an operation but we'll find that out later today. I wouldn't have thought he'll be on international duty next week even in the best case scenario."

According to the Times, there were doubtless sighs of relief at Upton Park last night with the news that Parker should be fit to play in about three weeks. The midfield player caused great concern when he limped off with a knee injury at half-time during the 1-0 Barclays Premier League defeat at home to Arsenal on Saturday, with fears that the injury could keep him out for three months. Parker was playing his first league match for the club since returning from two months out with an injury to the same knee. A scan has revealed that the damage to the knee was far less serious than feared. Parker has suffered medial ligament damage, which is expected to heal within a month. It is hoped could return for the first game after the international break, against Sunderland on October 21, but more likely is the match against Portsmouth a week later.

In other news, Mark Noble has had a few less than flattering words to say about team-mate George McCartney. A small piece in the Mail states the Northern Ireland defender has found other ways to irritate those around him following his mid-air scrap with Keith Gillespie. "He wears the same clothes every day," claims Noble, who also describes McCartney's breath "as the thing in life which scares me most." Lastly, West Ham are tipped to knock Arsenal off the top of the Premier League of personalised car registrations. The number plate WE57 HAM is for sale and expected to fetch more than the £36,000 that was paid for AR53 NAL.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

News In Brief(s)

Mark Noble says he is expecting a tough test when he comes face-to-face with former West Ham team-mate Nigel Reo-Coker. The Hammers take on Aston Villa at Villa Park at the weekend and while Noble is looking forward to reacquainting himself with England Under-21 colleague Reo-Coker, he insists there will be no love lost when the game starts. He told the club's official website: "It's going to be a tough test. I've played so much with him so it's going to be a strange one. Obviously I've played with him, Marlon Harewood, Ashley Young, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Luke Moore. It'll be a good game and there'll be a lot of banter before and after hopefully but once you cross the white line friendships go out the window and it gets serious on the pitch. I'm sure they'll be geared up after letting a 4-1 lead slip against Spurs. They'll be upset and they'll want to put things right but they'll also be looking to win all their home games so it's not going to be easy."

Meanwhile, the players are still coming to terms with high expectation levels at the club this season, says captain
Lucas Neill . The defender has been frustrated with the number of errors the unsettled Hammers' back four has made in recent games, but believes their spirited performance against Arsenal could be the kick up the bum' that was needed. He said: "It takes some getting used to after last year. It was just about survival and now it's about making sure that we're consistently winning. This year, with the money that's been spent and the way that we started the season everyone's attitude and expectations have changed. Obviously, we're all chasing fifth spot - us Newcastle, Blackburn, Portsmouth, etc - and as a result it's a different mindset, it's a different attitude to approaching every game. You're expected to go out and beat every team that's not in the top four - or at least put in a display worthy of a win."

The West Ham defensive line-up has changed five times in nine games in all competitions this season, with
George McCartney the only settled name on the teamsheet. Neill believes that lack of stability in the backline hasn't helped, with injuries affecting himself, Anton Ferdinand, James Collins and Danny Gabbidon at different times. He said: "I think it's going to change throughout the season depending on who we play. The manager has said on record that he'll play different players in different games depending on how he thinks certain attributes will contribute to the game. So it's nice to have a settled back four, but to be honest everyone's so close on the same level, it would be very hard to pick your first choice back four," he added. "It's been very small problems, but it's been magnified because they've ended in goals, crossbars or very close calls. It's just about communication and getting the right feeling and letting it all click together. We're not far away. Just when we're making our mistakes, they seem to be big ones."

As the pressure mounts on Paul Robinson, Robert Green says he remains 'hopeful but not expectant' of a recall into Steve McClaren's England squad.
The Hammers keeper is being widely tipped for a return to the squad and possibly the starting line up as Spurs keeper Robinson appears to be stumbling form one mistake to another. looking back at his performance over the weekend, Green said: "I was disappointed to let in another goal. I almost got to it but just couldn't quite get there. It was just one of those things. Fortunately I managed to save the ones I could save. You're playing against a quality side in Arsenal and they're going to create chances. I think it's been a long time since they played a game where they haven't scored. You know it's going to be tough."
Lastly, Freddie Ljungberg is finally giving up his other job as an underwear model. The former Calvin Klein advertising pin-up, who moved from Arsenal in the summer, said: "It's weird to see yourself on billboards and I don't really enjoy it now. It depends on what sort of person you are, but I don't really fancy it."

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Selective Retrospective

England manager Steve McClaren has given his strongest hint yet that Dean Ashton will be named in the next England squad. England face both Estonia and Russia in forthcoming Euro 2008 qualifiers and could already be without the likes of Michael Owen and Emile Heskey. Although the squad is not officially announced until Friday, McClaren, speaking last night, gave strong indication that Ashton, as expected, will lead the line for his country in the two fixtures. "He has forced his way in," said McClaren. "It was very disappointing about the injury at the start of last season with England. I have been watching him from pre-season onwards and he certainly comes into consideration. Ashton has scored three goals thus far for the Hammers this season." Well placed sources are suggesting that the news will be confirmed in the printed press tomorrow.

Also on the international front Wales have included
Craig Bellamy in their squad for the upcoming Euro 2008 qualifiers against Cyprus and San Marino, despite the striker missing West Ham’s last three games due to injury. Bellamy has been suffering from a groin strain but if he shakes off the problem will captain John Toshack’s side as they look to finish their Group D campaign strongly despite, barring a miracle, having missed out on qualification. Bellamy had been in training for West Ham’s game with Arsenal at the weekend before pulling out, and Alan Curbishley is hopeful the injury is not serious. "He's trained Thursday and Friday perfectly, then felt sore again, so we've had to pull him out again," said Curbishley. "So we have some thinking to do about the injury. We don't think it is particularly serious but we have to get to the bottom of it." The Mail are reporting that Bellamy will seek a second medical opinion in a bid to sort the problem out.

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger insists Mark Noble should have been sent off on Saturday for his challenge on Alex Hleb. Wenger claims Belarus star Hleb was "incredibly lucky" not to have his leg broken by the tackle in Saturday's 1-0 win at West Ham. Now Wenger wants Noble banned for the foul, despite being shown only a yellow card by referee Alan Wiley. Wenger said: "I have watched the challenge again and it was a straight red card for Noble without a doubt. There can be no excuse for a challenge like that. We have to keep that under control so it does not harm a player's career. I don't blame the referee. He saw it was a foul but did not realise how bad it was. You can only see that by watching it again on TV. But after a challenge like that there is a case to charge the player after the game. The rules do not allow that to happen but maybe there needs to be a change. If the referee admits he did not see how bad it was there should be a retrospective charge." Obviously, Wenger did not call for retrospective action in reversing erroneous offside decisions.

Talking of which, Freddie Ljungberg has become the latest player to voice his disappointment over Saturday's defeat. "It was an emotional game for me personally," admitted the Sweden midfielder. "First half we didn't play particularly well. We gave them too much respect and let them take the initiative in the game. Second half we came out more positively, we showed some confidence and I think we were the better side. If we can play like we did in the second half throughout our games we'll come out as winners."

Finally, it was confirmed late yesterday that West Ham's fourth round Carling Cup tie at Coventry City is to be broadcast live on Sky. The tie - which has been rescheduled for a 7.45pm kick-off on Tuesday, 30th October - will be West Ham United's first visit to the Coventry's new home, the Ricoh Arena. The club's well deserved reputation for struggling against lower league opposition has made them a firm favourite with the television cameras in recent years. Set to face his old club is Coventry's Elliott Ward, who joined the Sky Blues in the summer of 2006 a year after playing a major part in United's return to the Premiership. Also in the Coventry squad will be midfielder Michael Hughes, a popular figure during his three years at the Boleyn Ground back in the mid-90s. City manager Iain Dowie - a third former Hammer - said of the draw: "West Ham were my team as a kid when I used to stand on the North Bank. I was very lucky to play for the team I supported as a boy and I have some great memories there. It is a great draw for us and we are looking forward to it."

Monday, 1 October 2007

Reflections On Arsenal

From the moment that Robin Van Persie nodded Arsene Wenger's side into a 13th-minute lead, Alan Curbishley knew that his team faced an uphill struggle against the Premiership pace-setters. "The start was always going to be very important because Arsenal are all set up to be a very difficult side to play against if they go one-nil ahead away from home," acknowledged the Hammers' boss following the 0-1 defeat at Upton Park. "And once they got their noses in front, it was obvious that they'd defend from the back and use their pace to try and hit us on the break. Van Persie's goal had made it doubly difficult for us. We were disappointed by the goal. The ball’s gone up to Deano and we’re coming out to support him and it looks like he is going to retain the ball but we lose it. Then it’s flicked in. Van Persie's got up at the far post. It wasn’t the best challenge on him but we had a problem last week where we didn’t stop the cross. This was another one we could have done a bit better on. When you play Arsenal you need a few things to go for you."

A clearly disappointed Curbishley said his side gave Arsenal too much respect. "My half-time talk I told them we were giving Arsenal too much respect," he said. "We were allowing them yards on the ball to take quick free-kicks and throw ins. If you let them pass and move you’re going be chasing. It’s a tough old game. We’ve managed to get the goal and beat people on the break a number of times ourselves. We’re disappointed we didn’t get back in it especially as we know Freddie’s goal wasn’t offside. I’m not sure if it would have stayed 1-1 but at least we would have been in with a chance. All in all, we worked as hard as we could and we tried to get ourselves back into the game in the second half but you need to take your chances against a team like Arsenal. The two chances – well one we took but was taken away from us and the other we didn’t take. Ashton’s was a great ball from Bowyer and we saw him setting himself up to get some power on it yeah we’re all disappointed it didn’t go in."

The game was a fiercely contested London derby. "The Noble challenge? Well although it was near us I thought we’d lost the ball so I was looking to the back four to see what was going to happen there so I’ve not seen any replays or anything," claimed Curbishley. "You might want to have a look at the tackle on Parker as well. He’s tweaked his knee again I think. It’s the same knee as he’s been having trouble with. Anton’s done his hamstring. The squad’s just gonna have to cope with it. Bellamy pulled out after training yesterday – we thought he was in for the last two days. The injuries are a bit disappointing for us at the moment." The Mail says West Ham will discover today whether midfielder Scott Parker faces another spell on the sidelines after he limped out of Saturday's game. Anton Ferdinand also hobbled off with a hamstring injury and could miss the trip to Aston Villa on Saturday. The struggling defender insists the Gunners have found the edge which could lead them to Champions League glory this season. "Arsenal look more clinical to me than last year. They got that vital first goal from Robin van Persie and they were very good at keeping that advantage."

Robert Green was the consensus pick as West Ham's player of the match, just as he was against Arsenal towards the end of last season. "For the goal I just couldn't quite get enough on it," he said. "It was a good header, a downward header. After that with Van Persie's effort in the second half, I got less of a hand on it and managed to touch it onto the post and it's bounced out rather than in. That's just the way that football goes sometimes. I've done pretty much all I can do for the team and it's just a shame that when our chance came along and we took it and it was disallowed. Maybe it went Arsenal's way because they're creating their own luck and being top of the league."

Reflecting on the Hammers' performance, Rob said: "You'd rather see your team play like that and lose one-nil than play like we did last week and lose to Newcastle. In that respect, it's an improvement but still no points. I think the first half was all a little bit too easy for them but in the second half we gave it a real go. As we've seen from Premier League games throughout the years that whoever gets the first goal, it's very hard for the other side to get back into it. It was a disappointing game, but it was one where we showed what we can do in the second half and if we'd done that in the first, then maybe we'd have come out with a positive result. We've lost a couple of games, but we're still in a good position in the league. This week gives us another chance to put it right. Everyone will be working towards that this week and then we can go into the international break looking forward rather than back."

Finally, his manager has pleaded for him to be given more time but Dean Ashton insisted today that he is ready to answer England's call. Speaking in the Mail, the West Ham striker, who has scored three goals in four games following his comeback from a year out with a badly broken ankle, believes the "sky is the limit" for him. "I feel ready to play for England if I am picked," he said. "If I didn't feel ready I wouldn't be playing. I'm improving in every game and all I can do is maintain that improvement and do my best for West Ham in every game. Hopefully that will be enough to impress Steve McClaren. Whether it's Aston Villa next Saturday for West Ham or England against Estonia in a couple of weeks time, I am ready. I feel brilliant and excited about moving forward. I believe the sky is the limit now and no one is going to stand in my way because I'm going to work harder than anyone else and I want it more than anyone else."

On most days, before reporting for training at West Ham, Ashton and physiotherapist John Green meet at the Esporta fitness club in Romford at around 8am for a work session which includes manipulation on the ankle. Green, who was West Ham's club physio for 15 years, now acts in a freelance capacity and has worked with Michael Owen, Kieron Dyer, Damien Duff and David James. Green said: "I would compare him to Michael Owen in his dedication. I've been fortunate enough to work with Michael recently and he's so competitive by nature. Every little task, every small exercise, he has to win. Dean is different but it's the commitment to the level of work he does that is really impressive. He's a really driven person."

Ashton himself explains that single-mindedness which could bring him the reward of an England cap in the near future. "John assessed me and told me what was possible with my physique," he said. "We then worked tirelessly on making that a reality and I feel so much better for all that work. I'm still big and strong but at the same time I'm leaner and quicker. Football wise, it takes time to get your touch back but because I've worked so hard, it just doesn't seem like I was out for a year. I've been pigeon-holed in the past as a big, slow target man who can't really run and probably carrying a bit too much weight. If people actually watched me train, though, they would see that's not true. I haven't got a big belly under my shirt and I feel fairly athletic. It's hard to change peoples' opinions but that's what I'm trying to do now. I've even moved down a size in shirts because I wanted to show people what good shape I'm in."

With other striking candidates like Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe and Andy Johnson not playing regularly, Ashton could soon have his chance to demonstrate to England fans at Wembley just what they've missed over the last year. "Going through that whole process of recovering from a long-term injury makes you tougher mentally," he said. "It's depressing at times but now I appreciate every day's training, every game. It makes me more determined to do as much as I can with what I have and to fitness. It's difficult mentally as well and physically coming back from a serious injury like the one I had, but he has given me that confidence which has been vital. He's been there to reassure me every step of the way and without a doubt I wouldn't be back if it hadn't been for John. I have a hell of a lot to thank him for because he's been there every day and put in as much effort as I have. I first met John when I had a hamstring injury just before our FA Cup Final against Liverpool and West Ham team-mate Christian Dailly advised me to go to him. Again, without his input I probably would not have played in that game so from then on I knew that, if I was injured, I would go to him."

West Ham United 0 Arsenal 1

Arsenal Show A Gritty Side by Kevin McCarra
Life is going so well for Arsène Wenger that he can reminisce about disappointments with a sort of nostalgia. Thinking of the trudge through two trophyless seasons, the Arsenal manager now emphasises the solidarity it nurtured in a relatively new line-up: "It's good to share the pain."... Guardian
Van Persie Keeps Arsenal Flying High by Stuart Barnes
Arsenal's early-season bandwagon rolls on. A week after dissecting Derby with great precision, they successfully negotiated a much sterner test, standing two-to-toe with West Ham, delivering that extra bit of class when it mattered and protecting Robin van Persie's early goal for a merited victory... Observer
Arsenal Combine Graft With Craft By John Ley
If Arsenal win the Premier League they will turn their minds back to the late September day when graft rubbed shoulders with craft and stole a win that, a year earlier, would have been improbable. West Ham gave Arsenal the sternest test yet of their title aspirations and, with more luck, might have sneaked a point... Telegraph
New Gunners Tough it Out In Bulldog Style by Neil Ashton
From Alan Pardew to Alan Curbishley, the team talk ahead of any fixture against Arsenal usually follows a familiar thread. Ever since West Ham made a successful return to the Premiership two years ago, the notion that 'this lot don't like it up 'em' has been a hugely successful formula against Arsene Wenger's urbane outfit... Mail
Wenger Confident His Youngsters Won't Shrivel by Glenn Moore
Arsenal, generally written off pre-season, sit two points clear with a game in hand as the Premier League approaches the quarter-way mark. They have played 11 matches, at home and abroad, won 10 and drawn one, at Blackburn Rovers... Independent

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