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Three go missing in Manchester

Filed: Tuesday, 18th October 2005
By: Greg Mansell

So the first away defeat has arrived. It’s a couple of weeks late, even the most ardent West Ham supporter would surely agree, having stolen a point at the Stadium of Light with Yossi Benayoun playing the ‘get out of jail’ card perfectly with a classy finish.

We may well have had a repeat in Manchester on Sunday, had Etherington put his one on one chance in when sent through by Marlon Harewood, early in the second half. True to form, Etherington saw the shot blocked by James and chance to change the face of game (again like Sunderland - undeservedly) was gone. Where was Yossi when you needed him? Answer- probably involved in the build up.

The similarities with that game were apparent even in the early stages of the game at the City of Manchester Stadium. The players hadn’t showed up. Again. The home team were first to everything, quicker in the pass and harder in the tackle. The adrenaline-fuelled performances that characterised our encouraging opening six performances were missing. The confident hustling of the defence, the busyness of the midfield and the quick incisive passing through to the forwards a distant memory.

Bobby Zamora’s last minute consolation was more than just that; it added respectability to a score-line that should have left us at least three, or probably four or five goals adrift. I certainly would not have begrudged them such a figure such was the woefulness of the display.

From our point of view, three glaring factors emerged from the contest. Tomas Repka, Matthew Etherington and our strikers ... from back to front we go...

Tomas Repka

I don’t know if I’ve seen a West Ham player put in a poorer performance than our £5.5m right-back produced on Sunday. I genuinely find it difficult to remember Repka completing a pass to a team-mate in the entire forty-five minutes he (dis)graced the pitch.

I wonder about Super Tom. A headless chicken in our relegation season, void of discipline and an undoubted factor in our demise that year, he was as much a factor in our oh-so-near return the following year in the Play-Off Final defeat to Crystal Palace and eventual promotion the year after; culminating in beating Preston. So why after the early encouraging signs this season, has ‘reliable Repka’ gone walkies? Is Tomas Repka the ‘Darren Huckerby’ of defence? Comfortable and classy in Division One; while hurried and liable in the Premiership? The Czech was, of course, so close to leaving for pastures new in the summer but surprised us all by signing a new one year contract extension.

To all intents and purposes, lightening will not be striking twice come next summer and Alan Pardew would be wise to turn his attention to replacing our record signing- preferably in the January transfer window. I hope Pardew sticks to his transfer policy of what roughly constitutes as ‘young and British’ shown in the signings of Reo-Coker, Gabbidon, Konchesky and Collins. Hayden Mullins and Roy Carroll are certainly not old for the positions they play either.

Two players spring to mind if he is to stick to this category; one definitely possibility (given his situation) and the other not so for the same reason.

The not so likely one is Phil Jagielka of Sheffield United, who possesses the added bonus of versatility and being able to play in midfield. However, chances of being successful with a second bid for Jagielka (having had£3m turned down pre-season) would appear to be small, given Neil Warnock’s ability to fend off the attention of his possible suitors in the summer.This was particularly impressive, as at that time, it was not known how the Blades would fare in the coming year. Now in October, Sheffield United sit pretty at the top of the Championship and look good for a long awaited return to the Premiership barring a mini disaster in Yorkshire, adding yet more weight to Warnock’s case to keep the player at Bramell Lane.

The more likely option is Glen Johnson, perhaps on loan, with his chances severely limited at star-studded Chelsea. The feeling, however, among West Ham fans would not seem to be as forthcoming as one might have thought, given the quality of the 14 appearances Johnson gave in the second half of our relegation year. Many warn of ‘bad egg’ attitude, citing his recent expulsion from England under-21s a prime example. It certainly does not appear to have been perceived kindly by Jose Mourinho and when Paulo Ferriera, William Gallas and Robert Huth can all play in your position, a bad attitude certainly doesn’t help your cause. So with Johnson in Mourinho’s bad-books, how might he take to a return to Upton Park?

The jury is definitely out on that one. It is hard to see Johnson and his arrogant swagger taking kindly to a return to a ground where he had left so recently, seemingly destined for big things. It’s a gamble, however, it would be a gamble I’d be comfortable with Pardew taking. There is undoubtedly quality in Johnson’s play; clearly this lies mainly in his attacking play but the defending can improve with some close tutoring. Besides, I would accept the odd-defensive lapse if there is the possibility that he may run half the length of the pitch, go past four or five players and set-up a goal as he did for Chelsea at St. Mary’s versus Southampton in last season’s run in.

Matthew Etherington

Forgive the repetition of the analogy; but in Etherington, do we see the‘Darren Huckerby of the left wing’? In Matty Etherington’s first season with the club his influence was such that he changed the complete emphasis with which West Ham attacked. Suddenly, the team had an old-fashioned winger, a player obsessed with beating his full-back for pace, reaching the by-line and sending in a cross. When his name wasn’t on the team sheet, the team struggled, devoid of creativity. That changed to some extent with the arrival of Teddy Sheringham in the following season while Etherington’s form coincidently dipped, but on his day, could still win a game for us single-handed .

They say Tottenham let Etherington go because he couldn’t handle the Premiership. If the eight games thus far are anything to go by, one can certainly see where they are coming from. He started promisingly versus Blackburn on opening day, providing the finishing touch to Benayoun’s magic but that was two months ago now. Matty’s tried and tested method, of tapping the ball past the full-back and galloping past, doesn’t seem to be enough to better his opponent. At this level, more seems to be required.

Premiership defenders ask more questions of you and Matt has yet to come up with the answers. At Manchester last week, Etherington did bear down on the away end towards the touchline once or twice to send in a cross but unfortunately they always eluded the on-coming Harewood. He did manage to pick out Benayoun second half, who crashed a volley into the side-netting but that was his highlight. If only he had put away his one-on-one with James the story may have been very different. Unfortunately the miss was indicative of his current form.

Many are calling for Etherington to be dropped. This is valid argument but the problem this presents is there not a Matty Etherington-type player in the current squad (or for that matter in the country). If Pardew is to drop Etherington, we will find ourselves with a square-peg in a round hole situation. More than likely it will be a right-footer constantly trying to cut inside and leaving us narrow or, failing that, a defender
not accustomed a to the requirements of left-midfield. Etherington will certainly have to discover some sort of form or the self-enforced reshuffle will be the only possible solution to the problem of the left-winger’s form.

The Strikers

Two’s company, three’s a crowd. That would certainly be the case regarding our striking options. At the moment, the only preferred ‘company’ in this area of the pitch consists of Sheringham and Harewood. Zamora, Pardew tells us, is breathing down their necks. When we heard the comment, in the run-up to Aston Villa game, it was a direct reference to Harewood. A hat-trick that night and a further contribution at Fulham suggested those fans jumping on his back in the opening three games were daft. Now it seems that week of form may have only been a stay of execution. The goals for Harewood, have again, dried up.

Question marks have resurfaced over his strike partner, Sheringham, and his role in the team. Again, Sheringham began with a bang against Blackburn, hauling the team back onto level terms and was constantly involved in the wave of attacks against a usually mean defence. Watch Sheringham closely and you will see his approach play is still top-drawer. He receives it, waits, then maybe turns and plays an intelligent, or at least, sensible pass. You can see why Alex Ferguson wanted him at United post-Cantona, his style of play fits seamlessly into the pass, pass, pass nature of their play that made them so dominate.

The problem is West Ham United are not Manchester United and Sheringham is not the age he once was. Sheringham can produce the odd sublime moment but it is all too infrequent. His neat approach play is in areas of the pitch that is comfortable for the opposition to handle, he doesn’t sting the fingers of the other team’s goalkeeper enough and although it is easy to pick on; perhaps at Teddy’s age, he’s simply not in the thick of things enough, where the real chances are, hanging back to be involved in the build-up, leaving Harewood to fight alone up front.

The modern game demands that if one of the Harewood and Sheringham combination is dropped for Zamora, it be the latter. Sheringham performs better at Upton Park, which is why it is surprising Zamora was not given his chance versus either Manchester City or Sunderland. It is also why I will not be surprised to see Sheringham walk out onto the pitch come 3 o'clock against Middlesbrough as captain (by the way, Teddy, tossing the captain’s arm-band to Reo-Coker when you were substituted, in the way you did, did not go down well in the away end).

Even if Pardew were to bow to public pressure and introduce Zamora one way or another, it remains to be seen whether he would represent the answer to our striking problems. Granted, the Z-Man took his goal well but his two notable contributions before that were to hit the corner flag and screw a second chance badly wide.

I look forward to seeing if Pardew can repeat the success of his summer purchases in January and hope he still has Benni McCarthy’s mobile number.

Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.

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