ESM: post Preston thoughts

I'll be honest with you, I'm not a particularly superstitious character. This stems from a time when I went to see Gypsy Rose Lee on the front at Blackpool and she told me that I would be lucky in love. Subsequent events proved that the old crone was a five star charlatan.

But I do find that when West Ham are not playing well and I'm hoping for something better, I wake up on a Saturday morning looking for hopeful signs as to the likely outcome of the game.

Yesterday, I awoke feeling none too bad. I thought that maybe today could be that elusive kick start to the season that we've all been looking for. After all, we had won the last two games and here was a real opportunity to put ourselves in a strong position amongst the play-off contenders.

The writing was on the wall

The next couple of hours in the run-up to kick off my confidence began to ebb away.

The first sign was that inevitable point when ESM Jnr's brains were picked as to the outcome of the game. "Not confident today", he said. Why? I asked. "Well, Preston have only lost 1 in 14 and our home form is absolutely rubbish."

Sign number two came on the way to the game, when I decided to nip into COSTCO in Chingford. You may know this veritable cave of wonders, which sits astride the North Circular Road. Alright inside, but I return to my beloved Panzer in the car park to find that some c**t has hit it and duly f**ked off. But lo, a fine upstanding citizen has remained to tell me the number plate of this lowlife ar*ewipe. What could this mean? Is it a bad sign or a good sign? OK, my car's got a new racing stripe, but at least this geezer's stuck around to help me sort it out.

I'm still contemplating that one as I approach my favoured programme seller at the rear of the East Stand. I am frozen in my tracks as I look down to take the programme out of his hand and get a full frontal gaze from Beelzebub himself, grinning up at me from the front page of Hammers News. Like Medusa, once you have looked into those baleful eyes, you lose all hope.

The programme seller clocked my horror, and all I could jibber was "I'd better take a copy of Hammers News, just to see what the Dark Lord is saying." He replied, "Well, at least you can use that front cover as a dart board afterwards." Nice riposte, but it didn't make me feel any better.

Next bad sign. The team sheet. It's that dynamic duo again or the Chuckle Brothers as I call 'em: Quinn and Stockdale. But at long last, we actually start with Donaldo. Stockdale I can put up with, but Quinn? When Horlock is available? Why Alan? Just tell me why?

We're doomed

The opening 15 minutes reveals that the game is going to be difficult to call. Hutch is everywhere, even hoofing over his own bar at close range. But the ominous signs of defensive frailty down the flanks are shown as Cresswell becomes the latest wide man to discover that Quinn can't defend to save his life. At the other end, Connors appears to get into a good position one on one with the last defender but can't convert.

Incidentally, I do not condone the booing of any West Ham player as he leaves the pitch and Quinn should not be treated like that. But do I think he should be starting the game? No I don't.

Preston go close again twice more until out of the blue we score. James delivers an excellent throw to Etherington who just leaves 'em for dead. Sweet cross and a lovely little jink from Connors.

But even amongst this jubilation, I just had to utter the immortal words to ESM Jnr "This is far from won, remember Ipswich". The events of the day flashed past me again and I could not get out of my mind those Satanic eyes of the Chairman burning into the depths of my very soul. If Fraser from Dad's Army had tapped me on the shoulder and said, "We're doomed, doomed I tell ye", I would not have been surprised.

The demons from hell

And so it proved. We came out well enough in the second half and ESM Jnr said to me that he thought that we were actually playing as a team for a change. Etherington could have scored, but all the demons of hell came out of the depths of Hades on the hour when we conceded the first goal. Quite frankly, the team looked like I felt when transfixed by the evil eyes of Old Man Brown. They turned to stone.

Preston should have had more. Cresswell was wreaking havoc down the left and Pearcey in particular looked like he had taken a slow motion pill. As for Fuller, well, I can't recall a striker going down so often like a sack of sh*t this season at Upton Park. I have to say that I thought Dailly dealt with him quite well and I did say to ESM Jnr that Fuller was falling all over the place because this was the first time that he had come up against an international class central defender this season. ESM Jnr did not look too convinced by that.

The fact of the matter is that we simply do not seem to be able to build on a lead at home and go into confidence melt down when we concede. From a position where the likes of Carrick and Mullins were pretty much in control in midfield, we didn't even seem to be able to get the ball for about fifteen minutes. Matty went missing as well. Their second was absolutely no surprise.

To give Pardew some credit, he did try to throw the kitchen sink in, although I think I would have left Hutch on. Despite the fact that he was tiring, he really is one of the few players we have with the touch to turn a game. His close ball control is really brilliant.

Defoe, or not Defoe, that is the question

The problem was that the substitutions did absolutely nothing for us. I barely noticed Deano do a thing when he came on for the last 20 minutes. Super sub? All that seemed to be happening was that the Preston defenders were winning everything in the air. Maybe he's still trying to shrug off injury. As for Mellor, he did come on too late to make a difference, but I am of the opinion anyway that we should be buying him a train ticket back to Merseyside.

Marlon, that bloke is a conundrum. He is a Jekyl and Hyde player. One week turning on the pace and leaving people for dead, the next looking languid and lethargic. Is it unfair to call him Heskey in disguise? Time will tell and you can't take away from him the amount of goals he has scored for his two clubs this season.

Connors. Look, I like the energy and the commitment of the man, but he's no Defoe. Where Defoe does not take the touch in the box and just shoots, Connors does take that touch. I am not going to go through all the arguments I have made in the KUMB Forum why I think we must keep Defoe until at least the end of the season, but for me this game exemplified why we must retain his services.

The reality is - and let's all accept this now - is that an automatic promotion place has slipped beyond our grasp. Maybe if everyone looks at it that way, the pressure might lessen a bit. The playoffs are there for the taking, but we must all recognise that we are likely to be up against the Prestons of this world in some tough high-tension games. We need Defoe to give us the best chance of prevailing when we hopefully face them in the Spring.

On the way back from the game, I popped in to see the gentlemen of the constabulary. We may have lost the game, but I was gonna get the scumbag that hit my car and did a runner. The lady constable was reassuring - "I'm sure that we will get the person that did this. You can cheer up a bit." I was miles away, stared at her blankly and said, "What, you mean that you are going to arrest Terry Brown? Beware, the Dark Lord has many mysterious powers, just don't look at his eyes, for he will destroy you."

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