West Ham vs. Manchester United view from the oppo

Wayne Rooney scores a wonder goal at West Ham last season as United picked up all three points

Louis van Gaal will be hoping to overtake Southampton and reclaim third place with a win over West Ham United today. United haven’t lost to West Ham at Upton Park, in the league, since 2007/08 and will be hoping to maintain the same form that overcame Leicester City last weekend. The visitors welcome back Ashley Young, who has been out injured since New Years Day, but will be without Michael Carrick.

One other piece of news is that West Ham United have terminated the contract of former Manchester United prodigy Ravel Morrison with immediate effect.

We have a great view from the opposition for you, having caught up with Alex Shilling, the news editor of the Blowing Bubbles fanzine. You can follow the guys on Twitter @WestHamFanzine.

You must be happy with eighth in the league? Has Sam Allardyce won over the fans?

Definitely. This is the strongest West Ham side I’ve ever seen since I started watching us when I was 11 and I really can’t complain with much given how we’re playing and the results we’re getting.

The only complaints I can have is that the side is starting to revolve once more around Andy Carroll, which was what got us in trouble last season; Allardyce either can’t or won’t see that Kevin Nolan no longer has the legs for Premier League football anymore and the side is suffering for such a talented and creative player in Morgan Amalfitano being benched every game to accommodate a spent force and we’re letting a lot of good young players go and it looks like the Academy’s drying up.

In terms of results and football though, I couldn’t be much happier. The fans are much happier with Allardyce generally and we’re not going to turn on him like we did last season even if our form slides.

Although he’s been hamstrung by the board in terms of some of his signings (Diafra Sakho, for example, was the choice of our co-chairman David Sullivan- Sam didn’t fancy him at first), it’s one thing signing good players, it’s another thing entirely working out how to get the best out of them in your favoured system and Sam deserves credit for getting out of his comfort zone and achieving that.

He’s not perfect; his substitutions can still be infuriating and the obsession with the prodigal sons Nolan and Carroll is something which leaves a lot of fans spitting with rage, but broadly, we’re very happy with the change in Sam.

What about your style of football these days? Would you say you’re playing better football than last season or is there still an element of the directness?

I’m very happy with our style this season, we’re now seeing the best of Sam, as I mentioned above. A lot of fans were pretty upset when he came in summer 2011 and announced that he was going to have a major shake-up and didn’t give a toss about the famous ‘West Ham Way,’ but I actually respected him for that.

Our football’s been pretty dire at times over the last couple of seasons but with signings like Sakho, Amalfitano and Enner Valencia, we’ve now added a creative balance to our defensive strength and organisation and have started to look like the team I’ve always wanted us to be.

How much of an impact as Andy Carroll made since coming back from injury? Worth the £15million?

He’s starting to justify the money and I really can’t fault his effort, commitment and contribution since he’s been back.

I don’t like to gripe (well, that’s a lie, West Ham fans are born moaners) but the downside of Andy being back is that the hugely exciting and productive strike partnership between Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia has been split up.

You are never going to see three strikers in a Sam Allardyce side and one of them is one the bench every game, while the other one is forced wide on the wing, which works for Valencia but doesn’t for Sakho, who really needs to be playing central every game and I think we lack the creative spark we had at the start of the season with Sakho and Valencia starting every game.

It’s not gone completely and as I say, I really can’t complain with Andy’s contribution since he’s been back and we’re much less one-dimensional than we have been the last two seasons, but much as with Kevin Nolan in previous seasons, our side is still built to accommodate Andy and that’s something which worries me. I was actually happy when he got injured in pre-season as it would give Sakho and Valencia a go up front and Allardyce would be forced to build a team which didn’t revolve around one player. As I say though, this is one of the only complaints I can have with our season so far and Andy’s been brilliant since he’s been back, so this is just a minor thing really!

What did you make of the row over Diafra Sakho and the FA Cup tie with Bristol City? 

What you’ve got to bear in mind with all that is that there were 18 days between Sakho withdrawing from the Senegal squad and him coming on for the last 20 minutes at Ashton Gate. If he’d withdrawn from the squad and started for us a couple of days later, I’d say Senegal would have had a case, but the fact is that they had the opportunity to have their own doctor look over him and decided not to.

What Sakho needed was rest and painkillers and Allardyce himself said he was hesitant about putting Sakho on the bench as he clearly was half fit at best and still in a fair amount of pain (as evidenced by the fact that he took a private limo from London to Bristol as flying with the rest of the squad would have put too much strain on his back), but Sakho really wanted to play a part.

I’m not criticising Sakho at all and I’m obviously delighted he did play and score the winner- but coming back was very much his decision and not the club putting pressure on Senegal as they’ve tried to make out.

What with the Tevez stuff a few years back and the previous Manny Omoyinmi drama (we won a League Cup quarter final v Villa in 1999 and brought Omoyinmi on as a sub for the last five minutes, who, it later turned out, was ineligible having played in an earlier round for Gillingham whilst on loan there earlier in the season. We had to replay the game and lost on pens), I’m just happy that we just got fined £70,000, which our money for making the fifth round covers anyway!

United haven’t lost at West Ham since 2007/08 in the Premier League – how confident are you that you can get a result?

After last week’s wet blanket display at Anfield, not very! I think it’ll be a great spectacle, I’ve never seen a dull West Ham-Man U game, but I can’t see us getting anything out of it. I’m saying 3-1 away win.

Who has impressed you at United this season? Is van Gaal the right man to rebuild the club and will United finish top four?

I thought Danny Blind was one of the best players at the World Cup over the summer; you did really well to get him so cheaply and he’s really performed for you this season, his versatility is incredible.

LVG is the Regina George of football management, even his flaws look good. I’ve been particularly impressed with how he’s worked with the likes of Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia, who looked like their careers were going down the pan under David Moyes and even at the fag end of Ferguson’s reign and turned it round to convert them into useful squad players even if they’re not going to be starting every game.

You’ll make top four no bother, this season was always going to be about rebuilding for you; I’d put money on you getting the title back next season.

Are you confident of reaching the FA Cup final? Is there any chance of silverware or finishing in a European spot this season?

A good run in the FA Cup would be nice- I’m not going to tempt fate but it would be lovely to get to the final and play Liverpool and avenge my teenage scars inflicted by a certain Mr Gerrard (I mean the goal in the last minute of the 2006 final, just to be clear- he didn’t attack me).

For every club in the Premier League other than you lot, Man City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Spurs, a top 10 finish and a good run in one or both in the cups constitutes a very good season and we’re hopefully set for a top 10 finish so a cup run would be lovely.

As for Europe, a lot of our fans are getting excited about Europe, but personally I think European football is the last thing we need at the moment. We’re not going to make the Champions League in a million years and the Europa League is frankly, pointless.

Everton and Spurs have played regular Europa League football the last few years and both of them use it as an opportunity to give game time to reserves and young players, so they can concentrate on the league- and for what? So they can qualify for the Europa League and start the process again! If you take the money out of the equation, what’s the point of just going round in circles and not progressing?

We were involved in a relegation battle until the last couple months of last season and European football has done Hull absolutely no favours this season and they’re in a real mess now, so I’d be very happy with a top 10 finish this season and us reinvesting in the summer ahead of the move to the Olympic Stadium and focussing on finishing in the top 10 regularly and then making a serious push for Europe when we’ve got the squad.

Who was the most talented youngster out of Michael Carrick, Rio Ferdinand, Joe Cole and Frank Lampard that you witnessed in the early years?

I’m afraid at 23, all of that lot are a bit before my time! The only one of those I saw in a West Ham shirt was Michael Carrick, who very honourably stuck it out for a season in the Championship after we got relegated in 2003.

Going by my old DVDs of our early 2000s side with those four and Jermain Defoe, Di Canio, Kanoute etc, I’d go for Joe Cole in the early years.

Hasn’t really lived up to his potential though and I’d say he’s the only one of the four who hasn’t. I don’t think he’s been the same since that brilliant volley against Sweden in the 2006 World Cup. The fact that he ended up re-signing for us a couple of seasons back summed up the way his career has gone downhill the last few years!

If you could take one United player, past or present, and slot them into your side today – who would it be?

We’re desperately short at the back at the moment after both James Collins and Winston Reid limped out of last week’s defeat to Liverpool, so I’ll go for the Rio Ferdinand who won the Champions League with you lot in 2008.

What is your all time West Ham Xi
GK – Ludek ‘Ludo’ Miklosko
LB – Julian Dicks
RB – Ray Stewart
CB – Alvin Martin
CB – Bobby Moore(c)
RM – Alan Devonshire
LM – Joe Cole
CM – Mark Noble
CM – Trevor Brooking
ST – Paolo Di Canio
ST – Tony Cottee

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