The HamburgHammer Column

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Needs must! I think you will all be happy to join me in congratulating our West Ham Women’s team for winning one nail-biter of a semi-final yesterday to progress to the FA Cup Final at Wembley to be played May 4th.

Yes, Wembley Stadium, that great stage in North West London where our first team played one of our three Championship Playoff Finals (great result against Blackpool!) and where we also had the odd FA Cup Final appearance (mixed results).

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I had completely forgotten about the women’s semi-final against Reading and when I returned home after my Cordi matchday (more of that further down) there were still ten minutes to play of the regular 90. If I hadn’t had a quick butcher’s at the blog after sitting down, that game might have passed me by altogether and what a crying shame that would have been!

As you know, as far as the women’s game is concerned I am not exactly a bandwagon jumper, I began supporting and regularly watching the local Cordi Women’s team ever since they were founded the season before the current one. In the course of following their fortunes I have learned to appreciate the female version of football with all its obvious differences to the men’s game.

It is nowhere near as pacy (but still faster than some first team West Ham players this season), the individual quality of the players varies a lot more within the women’s game, but on the plus side you don’t get a lot of playacting or diving, there are no relentless debates with the referee about certain decisions and in general you get to see a lot more fairplay both on and off the pitch. If a woman player stays down for more than ten seconds after a challenge, you can assume she is genuinely in pain or injured.

So I was obviously delighted to be an eyewitness to the latter stages of the Cup drama yesterday afternoon, the tension of extra time and the resulting penalty shootout being a great sporting event and advert for the game.

And what a joy it was to behold at least one West Ham team taking the Cup seriously this season…;-)

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What a great day this will have been for the players, the manager and his staff and everyone rooting for the girls in claret and blue! I was impressed to see a decent crowd at the game and I would hazard a guess that a significant number of our fans might be choosing a day out at Wembley, cheering on our women’s team rather than watching what promises to be a rather meaningless league fixture of our first team against Southampton on the same day. Unless we are still in the race of 7th place, although a day out at Wembley surely is far more special as it’s by its very nature a rare event.

Except for certain teams that had to play their league games in there because their new stadium wasn’t quite ready for service yet…

I for one hope that the Women’s FA Cup Final will be a truly great occasion and the stadium will be reasonably full, the players surely deserve playing in front of a decent crowd. Like the final last year where 45,423 fans had made the journey to Wembley. But that was a London derby between Arsenal and Chelsea. We’ll see how many fans from Manchester will travel down for the occasion.

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As for our lads’ game at Manchester United most of the match-related topics have already been covered at length in the previous articles. Unlike David Hautzig, I didn’t have any issues with my knob on Saturday, the door variety that is, as mentioned by David in his excellent contribution.

I didn’t really expect much from that game, so I was very chuffed to see us conjuring up such a solid performance, surely ranking as one of the very best all season in terms of effort, guts and passing, despite the scoreline not necessarily reflecting that.

Let’s be frank here, at times we played the Manchester version of United off their home turf. They got out of jail. With the warden/referee looking the other way just as the escape artists were swinging their legs over the wall…

In fact I was so relaxed over our performance that I was chatting to my brother for half an hour on the phone while the game was on as he was giving me the highlights after returning from his short holiday break on that East Frisian piece of rock in the North Sea not far from the Dutch border. Apparently the air was very salty, but the beach was brilliant, the local fish dishes tasty and the place wasn’t overcrowded which sounds good to my ears in terms of a short term break to recharge the batteries.

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Once again West Ham were denied by missing golden opportunities, but also by some (dodgy) borderline refereeing decisions which, in doubt, always seemed to benefit the big team playing at home.

Theatre of Dreams ?

On the contrary I thought for a while I was in the middle of a nightmare, watching some of those decisions by the officials unfold! And yes, I was screaming at my TV screen on several occasions! Which doesn’t help.

Of course this wasn’t the first time we have seen a severe case of big team bias, it’s happened before and it won’t have been the last time either, despite the impending and long overdue introduction of VAR to Premier League football.

Don’t get me wrong, I expect VAR to be a massive help and step up in that respect, but overall big clubs should not really lose too much sleep over it. Referees will still find some elaborate ways around VAR in order to continue with giving the more glamourous clubs a little nudge in the right direction if required, although that will likely happen more on a subconscious level rather than manifesting itself in the shape of blatant favouritism. We shall see…

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Did Man U deserve to win the game ? Do vegetarians live on a diet of Ribeye steaks and Beef Stroganoff ?

Having to rely on not one, but TWO penalties, one of them awarded in rather dubious fashion, considering that Anderson’s first goal (chalked off for offside) looked totally legit even after the fourth replay and bearing in mind we played them off the park for long periods in the game, West Ham should have got a draw out of this. At least. I reckon even most Manchester United fans would admit that this was a very lucky escape for them.

The frustrating thing of course is that we should and could have secured so many more points this season if we had played with this much effort and skill against the likes of Burnley, Cardiff, Wolves or Bournemouth. If we get the application levels right for more games next season than we did this season we should be able to see some significant improvement in terms of points gained and goal difference next time around. I have no answer really as to why players don’t look forward to every single competitive game, regardless of opposition, treating every fixture with respect and the effort it deserves.

Should Pellegrini try telling his players that actually we do happen to play Manchester United again next weekend?
And yet again the weekend after ?
I suppose that spiel won’t quite work these days with all them players having smartphones and tablets…LOL

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Looking ahead to the upcoming fixtures, for our first team I would expect the players to at least put a shift in now in all the remaining fixtures. If we then drop points, so be it, but it shouldn’t happen because we didn’t give it our all, now that relegation is no longer on the table. We didn’t move to a 60K+ stadium to just escape relegation season after season, after all.

For our U23s I am keeping my fingers crossed they will indeed manage to stay up, with the odds stacked against them. Our main relegation rivals Spurs (had to be them of course!) have, on paper, the easier fixtures left, but West Ham still have their fate in their own hands and feet here, so starting today (with Wiltshere apparently playing for the U23s today to gain more match fitness) the U23s have it all to play for! It will be nervy, it will be tight and hopefully the lads will surprise us all in a positive way!

The highlight now of course will be the women going to Wembley, I’m looking forward to watching that one on my custard and jelly, if needed with Chinese or Polish commentary…;-))

Hamburg Update

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FC St.Pauli drew their first game with new manager Jos Luhukay in charge, 1:1 at home against Bielefeld, not enough really to stay in the promotion race at this late stage.
Hamburg SV play away at table-toppers Cologne later this evening (live on BT Sport 1) in what promises to be an epic and feisty clash between the two sides most likely to win promotion back to Bundesliga 1. Both of those teams surely belong there too, what with their history, stadiums and fanbase.

Concordia’s first team lost only 0:1 away to one of the best teams in the league, Dassendorf. It was a more than respectable result (I watched the game online) and, despite the defeat, relegation is no longer an issue really although mathematically it is still possible at this stage.

The U23s won their home game 5:2 which keeps them in the promotion hunt, at least in theory. In truth they are relying heavily on other teams slipping up. Which might not happen of course.

I chose to go and watch that game at 11am rather than attending the Cordi Women’s away fixture as unfortunately both games were being played in different locations at the same time and I simply had to pick one at random.

I hate it when fixture clashes like these happen…

To my utter surprise, my smartphone informed me that the Cordi girls had won their away game 6:2, at a very strong side too (Lorbeer). The even bigger surprise was the table-toppers Alstertal-Langenhorn not only dropping points, but getting an almighty spanking in the process, 1:5 at Rahlstedt.
In combination this means that Cordi are now back in first place, with a cushion of three points, but also a much worse goal difference than Alstertal-Langenhorn and only two games left to play.

So, if the girls manage to get at least four points out of the possible six, they will get promoted for the second season in a row, and without having to take a detour via the playoff round first. Fingers crossed!

These are some highlights of the game I found on the internet. If you watch it you will notice that the standard of goalkeepers at that level is not impressing.
Watch out for Cordi’s best player, Michelle “Mini” Hille, shirt number 7.
I have been raving about her on here before, maybe you will begin to understand why after checking out the video…