West Ham 1-0 Swansea (And Other Ramblings)

Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream

I have very few good memories of watching football games played in the sunshine. England, of course, play their games of import in the summer and England, of course, disappoint us all in the summer. I'm fairly confident that won't change after Brexit.

But I rather like my football in the dark of winter, with the night closing in and a thin layer of rain making the surface nice and slick. On this, at least, I can agree with Nick Hornby. Bright sunshine just seems to highlight our deficiencies, and usually signifies the end of the season where we are either floundering in our pursuit of success (last year) or staring disaster in the face (every other year).

So I watch this game like I'm watching a dream. I'm so far back and so far up it's like I'm in the clouds anyway. Up here I feel like I'm watching Inception. A dream within a dream. West Ham have barely any decent players - I must be dreaming. Each minute on the pitch lasts an hour in the stands. It's that sort of day.

Far below me, I wonder if Michael Caine is here, or maybe Tom Hardy is riding around on a snow mobile for no discernible reason. Maybe they are attempting to plant the germ of an idea in David Sullivan's psyche. "Let someone else buy the players, David". Christ, I hope so.

It's as near as anybody will get to being entertained on this particular day, when nervousness has settled over the stadium like a blanket being thrown high up over a child's bed and then fluttering down onto the toys below. Hello tension, my old friend.

But days like today aren't about anything other than the result. Pretty football and confident finishing are for those other London teams. We're here for the sweet embrace of mid table mediocrity, and the giddy promise of ninety million more of those television pounds to make it all better. I couldn't care less how we play today, so long as we prevail. It is a day for winning.

Bridge Over Troubled Water

We start nervously, but so do Swansea. The visitors press us high up the pitch and we don't have the wit to cope with it. Our most frequent early pass combination is Randolph smashing it long to Antonio, which eventually ends up with the latter injuring his hamstring. He did this originally in the Leicester game and was expected to miss six weeks. Instead he came back in a fortnight and failed to complete either game he started. It's the West Ham Way.

Most of the early exchanges are tepid, although Swansea break dangerously a couple of times before remembering they are Swansea and wasting the opportunities. Up the other end, it's our biggest home game in years so naturally none of our strikers are fit. In their stead we play wingers as forwards and pray. You'd think someone might pay the price for such incompetence, but you know deep down they won't. That's also The West Ham Way.

When Antonio gets injured Bilic turns around and eventually his gaze rests upon Jonathan Calleri. The young Argentine runs on with the confidence and derring do of a man walking the plank. The guy next to me yells "Come on Julian, score a goal". It's that kind of a day too.

We are playing like a team on a first date, filled with trepidation. Robert Snodgrass was a curious signing, but at least I thought he'd have an immediate impact. Instead he has no confidence at all, visibly wilting as the catcalls inevitably start raining down. It's The West Ham W...urgh, you know what I mean.

I glance at the bench, wondering if reinforcements are likely. Carroll and Sakho can't be trusted to play for an hour so it seems safe to rule them out. Elsewhere my eye falls to Sofiane Feghouli - he of the incriminating photographs - and I am not reassured. I have never seen a footballer do so many things right, whilst simultaneously managing to get them all wrong.

Better stick with the lads on the pitch then.

The Sun Is Burning

The early exchanges aren't worth writing about. Snodgrass nearly scores with a back post header, but Fabianski stops it right on the line. It's as near as we get to cohesive attacking, but in truth we look alright at the other end too. It doesn't hurt that there is more likelihood of an actual swan swimming up the nearby canal and sticking in a shot at goal than any of the ones on the pitch.

The Swansea team look bereft, as though their very essence was ripped out and forever destroyed by the midweek collapse against Spurs. God bless our nearby cousins - we should send them some flowers or, better yet, some lasagna, when they come to visit in a few weeks.

Mark Noble is everywhere. It's his four hundredth appearance for West Ham, which is a lot of futility for one so young. But his badge somehow looks bigger than the others and the shoulders a little broader, for Noble never shirks anything. It's easy to roll your eyes at the "West Ham through and through" stuff, but in the end it's true. The man isn't going to let the occasion pass him by like so many of his team mates are. He still spends too much time going sideways, but just before half time he finally straightens up. At last a little jink, and suddenly the door is ajar. Snodgrass plays it short to Cheikhou Kouyate and I'm finally roused to edge forward in my seat.

The Senegalese is a giant of a man, who runs first and asks questions later. Today he is perpetual motion, and right now he's flying. Swansea help out a lot by continuing to defend like they are unfamiliar with the concept. Would be tacklers split like the Red Arrows and his shot is unerring and tremendous and right in the corner and stick that up your fucking Championship.

As the ball arches into the bottom corner there is a release like no other. Finally we can all breathe out - finally we have something to cling to. At half time people in the concourses are smiling. It's an odd, unfamiliar sensation, like when they play a decent song on Capital FM.

Keep The Customer Satisfied

Our defence will need to improve next year if we're to have any hope of avoiding another season of despair like this one. Reece Oxford seems like he might be the man for that particular job, so at half time I check how he's doing on his loan spell at Reading. They are 6-1 down at Norwich so that's all going swimmingly. I reckon he might think he's dreaming too.

Who knows what was said here at the interval, but I'm guessing it was something along the lines of "Don't concede to this lot - they're appalling". The visitors change things themselves, abandoning the neat, ineffectual passing of Tom Carroll and instead opting to smash it long to Fernando Llorente. I don't blame them - nothing else has worked.

The thing is, we carry James Collins around especially for days like this. He's our air raid shelter - useful when you come under aerial bombardment and not quite what you need the rest of the time. He and Jose Fonte are doing yeoman work. Even though Swansea press forward desperately, they just look hopeless. Our fullbacks aren't venturing upfield very much, and we look almost solid as a result. Arthur Masuaku is prone to dive in a little, but he has an odd serenity to his play that marks him out as a man to watch. I come away impressed, if jittery.

On the other side Sam Byram is coming of age. He is outstanding, and even earns himself a team wide high five when he successfully snuffs out a last minute Gylfi Sigurdsson foray into the box. It's possibly the first time any of his team mates have seen any honest to goodness right backing all year long. He will later leave the ground on crutches, because West Ham.

As the minutes slip by, I find the knot in my stomach growing ever so slightly. I can't see how Swansea are going to score, which probably means they are going to do it any minute. They eventually conjure up a shot, from Luciano Narsingh, which Darren Randolph appears to tip over the bar, and the referee awards a goal kick. I almost wish we could let them have the corner so we can save up that luck for when we might actually need it.

The visitors manage only four efforts at goal all day. They have an xG lower than their mascots. It is a risible performance and I could not care less.

El Condor Pasa (If I Could)

Up the other end we are looking threatening, but the chances keep falling to the players least capable of taking them - Byram, Calleri and Ayew. Two of them are our strikers. I hope you'll join me in a moments silence for this dead, decaying fucking season. I wish I could set it on fire and shove it off down the river on a Viking longboat.

The sun has arched across the sky now and is slowly being impaled on the Canary Wharf skyscrapers, so the shadows are lengthening. Bilic is bent over on the half way line but then he always does that so it's hard to know if he's nervous or not. He gets a word in his ear from the fourth official for venturing outside of his technical area, which is remarkable as it has a bigger square footage than my house.

On comes Feghouli for the disappointed and disappointing Snodgrass. The Algerian actually does some pretty good things, generally immediately followed by something equally less good. I think there is probably a decent player buried inside him somewhere like a Russian doll. Who knows whether he'll stick around long enough to emerge at West Ham, where the only constant is change.

I'm reminded of that opening day win at Arsenal again. Of the eleven who started, only two appear today - Noble and Kouyate. We have been ravaged by injury and poor decision making, but I wish they'd keep some players together for a while and try and build a team. Not these particular players though, mind you. Good ones.

Ayew draws two good saves from Fabianski and Calleri shoots wide after some ludicrous skill from Manuel Lanzini. The diminutive playmaker is central to anything good we intend to do in the future. They should try and build a team around him as the people of Pompeii built their city around Mount Vesuvius. I was ill the week they told us at school what happened there, but I'm sure it was all fine.

On comes Edmilson Fernandes for the last few minutes to shore up the middle. He runs around promisingly, and reminds me that the one area where I think West Ham have done well is to invest in young players. Fernandez, Martinez, Quina, Fletcher, Holland - they are doing a good job at trying to replace the players who should be arriving through our Academy.

Elsewhere Darren Randolph gets booked for time wasting, which renders me speechless having seen Ben Foster in action earlier this season. It doesn't matter. The whistle blows and the low thrum of the crowd becomes a crescendo. Bilic falls to his knees like he's in that old Take That video, and Paul Clement wonders where his team have disappeared to exactly.

El Condor Pasa, Paul - I'd rather be a Hammer than a nail.

James Collins clenches his fist and goes into the crowd to give a child his shirt. Great stuff. It's the action that launches a thousand tweets - almost all of them containing the word "passion". Give me strength.

The Dangling Conversation

I am not sure where all of this leaves Slaven Bilic. I have lost faith in the manager, but I can't find it within me to dislike the man. Seemingly, neither can anyone else, as his name rings round the bowl as the match draws to a close.

I am pleased for him, but worried for the future. There has been nothing in this performance today to suggest that a corner has been turned. We look pretty much just like we have for weeks, but now we have the benefit of playing a team who are somehow worse than us.

Swansea finish the game with Alfie Mawson up front. He sounds like he should have played in this fixture 70 years ago, when we would have won 8-2 and then inexplicably played the reverse fixture two days later and lost 6-1. In the end, Mawson doesn't have any joy either, as he bumps up against the Great Wall of Ginger that we've strung across the back.

To my right sit the Directors, who have to be ashen with fear. Defeat today is unthinkable, but in some ways a victory isn't much better, as it serves only only to highlight the paucity of our success. I feel almost ashamed as I punch the air at the full time whistle. It's Swansea at home in April, and somehow this is game is HUGE. What a fucking shitshow.

I am shocked at the disintegration of our team. Like an elderly relative with an illness, they have declined in front of my eyes and I have barely noticed. How did it ever get to this, where we are relying on Calleri and Ayew to get on the end of chances created by Snodgrass and Feghouli? It's easy to castigate Bilic for the lack of organisation and all those disjointed performances, but what a nonsensical level of turnover he has had to deal with. Plenty of it has been self inflicted, but still it makes his job all the harder.

I believe Gold and Sullivan when they say they don't want to fire Bilic, but they are still marked by their inertia of 2011. Then, they should have jettisoned Avram Grant, but failed to successfully line up a replacement and instead soldiered on until it was too late. Relegation should have been avoided now, but the larger question remains - does Bilic have it in him to get challenge for the Top Four? It feels like a ludicrous way to frame the issue, but Leicester and the new stadium changed the scene. As I watch our front three play here, I am moved to ask the question "Do they all have their laces tied together?" . Champions League football doesn't immediately spring to mind.

The Sound Of Silence

The stadium is a weird place again. The teams emerge to a wall of noise that dissipates quickly in the spring heat. It's a lot of effort to keep optimistic and chant all day, and even the Swansea fans don't manage, unusually for an away following.

I am struck by how few of our players have their own songs nowadays. Antonio gets a couple of rounds, so too Lanzini and then it's back to singing about our goalkeeper from the 1990's. Someone in the West Ham choir sure does like the "Ludo Miklosko/I come from near Moscow" line.

That's mainly it from what I can hear, until a late first half round of "Stand Up If You Love West Ham". This makes sense as buying tickets and attending games isn't enough. You must stand to truly prove your allegiance.

Otherwise it's just a low, nervous hum that reverberates around like a fourth afternoon Test match crowd. People will talk later about the atmosphere, but I'm not really feeling it where I am. Most people sit gnawing their fingernails to the bone, wondering why the clock seems to be frozen. By the time Ayew fails to bury his late chance I've gone past the fingernails and I've chewed off most of my lower arm.

Only when the end is in sight does the noise begin to increase. A small pocket behind me even start chanting about the Spurs game, because some people just want to watch the world burn .

On days like today it's hard not to pine for the Boleyn. I'm over that particular separation, and I'm certainly done with seeing stage by stage pictures of the old place coming down, but - to paraphrase ol' Shakey - when she danced, I could really love. Spurs and Ipswich were among those who visibly and memorably wilted when confronted by her charms, but it's hard to imagine that here. But by the same token, just as songs could gather momentum as they rushed around the ground, so too could the negativity. That doesn't seem to happen in the new place. By and large, the crowd stay with the team today, even allowing for the frustratingly short half lives of most of our attacking moves.

Maybe the crowd will save Bilic, as the Board don't like being unpopular and firing him would certainly go down poorly with most. I used to think the West Ham crowd was one of the more knowledgeable around, but now I'm not so sure. It feels like we must be fairly easy to dupe if 54 games and fucking off to Everton can make you a cult hero. Paolo di Canio would have a job for life, although we might find ourselves without a manager on some of those trips to the icy far North.

Perhaps it's me who knows nothing of football. I don't care about passion, or the perception of effort. I care about what players do, and how they actually play and I like to see a scientific approach being taken to this most emotive and instinctive of games. Maybe I'm depriving myself of something, but I don't really care. Fist pumping doesn't win anything, as we're likely to find out when James Collins has to mark Harry Kane in a few short weeks.

But that's for another day. Far below me, Randolph and Fonte exchange a celebratory hug and briefly look like Turk and JD from Scrubs, which makes me chuckle. I think I'd almost forgotten what it was like to laugh at a football game, so joyless has the experience been lately. I make a vow to myself here and now to try and prise some pleasure from the last few games of this season.

I'm back to dreaming my peyote dreams again, I think.

Wednesday Morning, 3AM

Later tonight I will watch Match of the Day for the first time in months, and wonder why I bothered. The euphoria of the win will have gone, the pundits will be underwhelmed and I'll be hit by the sad ennui of realising that 36 points does not a successful season make.

I will spend the rest of my night listening to Simon and Garfunkel, two men with voices so gorgeous you can drink them. I will allow myself to be whisked away to a dream state and try to forget this whole season. We've seen worse, let's be honest, and our grandfathers would probably think us pretty uppity if they heard us whinging about being one point off tenth with a few games to go. Those were men who went to watch West Ham with no dreams of Europe or top four finishes. Indeed, if Pards were to get them t-shirts made up they would doubtless have said "Moore in hope than expectation".

And so I walk out of the ground into the fading sunlight of Saturday London and there is a weight lifted and a curtain lowered. The Arsenal game from Wednesday night is still burning at the back of my mind and I don't think this particular scrappy home win will be enough to erase it. This manager was a shooting star once, but I think he might have burned himself out, and faded and died.

Just, in fact, like my dreams.

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