Saturday, 11th September 2010
It seems like an eternity since we last had a match to consider. International breaks are all very well but they really mess up the body clock. Still the break enabled some running repairs to be made to the injured amongst the squad with Rob Green taking the opportunity of a week off to have his hip operation and Valon Behrami to complete his protracted recovery from “not going to Roma syndrome” - or “mystery groin strain” as I believe the condition is officially known. A hamstring problem precluded the appearance of Gabbidon, prompting a first league start for Tal Ben-Haim. There were also starts for new boys Lars Jacobsen – part of an interesting experiment involving playing a right back in the right back position, and Victor Obinna up front to leave us with a starting line-up of Green, Jacobsen, Ilunga, Upson, Ben-Haim, Parker, Noble, Behrami, Boa-Morte, Cole, Obinna.
Any optimism for the match took about a minute and a half to evaporate. A corner was given away on the left. Ilunga failed to get up and make a challenge and Essien headed back across goal, Cole's despairing header only helping to put the ball past Green. The visiting support, bless their plastic hearts barely found it within themselves to raise a cheer and, by the time they'd worked out that it was their team that had scored what little celebration there had been was drowned out by the “gallows humour remix” of Bubbles.
To be fair to the team they buckled down and ought to have picked up an equaliser on four minutes. Behrami bustled on the right. Jacobsen got up in support and crossed deep. Noble's header found Obinna in acres of space but the new boy failed to make use of the time and space afforded to him and smashed a weak volley into the ground to give Cech an easy save. Obinna was next to have a go, receiving the ball wide on the left before cutting in and slicing through a right foot effort that went out for a throw-in. Ten out of ten for ambition, but minus several million for execution.
We were doing ok in this period and all looked well for a while, until a series of terrible errors doubled the lead for the visitors. Firstly, and this may have been his sole contribution to the game, Boa Morte brought down Drogba about 35 yards out. It was the usual thing – stick a leg out and Drogba will find it and perform a beautiful mid-air pirouette just in case the referee was the only person in the ground not to see that there there had been no contact. The embellishments were as unnecessary as the challenge had been. Drogba shot, Green spilled a dipping shot, Upson panicked and, in his attempt to clear, hit the ball against Kalou's heel and watch the freak rebound sail into the net. If Upson had listened to the call Green could have gathered at the second attempt. 18 minutes gone and we'd effectively gone two down from two attacks.
The next 20 minutes or so saw us wandering about as if shell-shocked. Not by the goal itself but by the nature of the goal. All the hard work getting back into the match had been undone by a couple of moments of pure Keystone Koppery (if one may be allowed to make up such a word). Things could have been worse. A Drogba foul on Behrami went unpunished and the ball was fed through to Kalou who proved less effective going towards goal than he had done staring in the opposite direction a few minutes previously and his shot was deflected wide for a corner. Green gathered the corner safely prompting ironic cheers – mainly from the away support who had finally drawn themselves away from that interesting article in the paper about the latest trends in new world wine production to actually watch the match for a minute or two.
Despite the shell-shock the visitors seemed as reluctant to make an effort as their supporters and we slowly started to show signs of possibly being able to get back into the game. Obinna got the end of a terrific ball but elected to try a first time volley when he might have taken a touch. The ball went a foot or so wide with Cech stranded and Ivanovic having a look at here Terry had got to. Cole then won a free kick – Ivanovic got the ball originally but the follow through caught Cole. Obinna's effort went straight into the wall which had been allowed to settle on 6 of the required 10 yards. Obinna then had another go. Starting off by making Drogba look so much of a mug he forgot to fall over, the Nigerian's back-heel saw Ilunga push out. The move looked promising until s misplaced pass saw Jacobsen slip and have to play the ball back to Ben-Haim. Ben-Haim's 40 yard cross field pass found Obinna on the left and new boy cut in to unleash a powerful shot that had both Cech and (unfortunately) the post beaten.
Up the other end the industrious Parker was alert to prevent ramieres getting a sho in. From the resulting corner Ivanovic's lack of control fell for Mikel whose shot looked good coming off the outside of the post – though it was never going in. Ilunga then found some space in an advanced position on the left and Cech did well to palm the cross away with Cole lurking dangerously. Ashley Cole had become the first player to enter the book for a cynical trip on Behrami – a tad unfortunate maybe given that Behrami had got away with a number of tugs and trips previously. Parker was next to get a yellow – a slightly late but far from malicious challenge being deemed worthy of sanction by Foy who seems to love booking Parker.
We were then unlucky not to have pulled one back. Boa Morte got involved for the second time in the match and a good run finished with a decent through ball that was dispatched by Cole only for the flag to go up for offside. It was mighty close and on another day the goal might have been given but when your luck is out it's out. Anyone watching Match of the Day would have missed this incident – a significant incident and potential turning point ignored because it didn't fit in with their view of the game.
The team were applauded off – this may seem bizarre but they had, for the most part, battled gamely and but for some rotten luck, could quite easily have gone into the interval level.
At the half time interval we were treated to the bizarre sight of Jem having to provide commentary to a couple of lads playing some sort of football card game for a trophy out of all proportion to the significance of the game. Clearly having as much idea as to what was going on as the rest of us, Mr Nicholas gamely battled against the odds to provide us with the score without ever quite being able to conceal the air of “what the hell am I doing here” in his voice. For the record I have no idea who won. I care even less.
We made a change at half-time. Boa-Morte, who had been so anonymous he might have been phoning details into Crimewatch, was replaced by Kieron Dyer, who has thus probably made more appearances this season than he has done in the previous three combined. Dyer looked livelier in the first few minutes of the second half than his predecessor had in the whole of the first half. Those of you who watched highlights on MOTD will not be aware of this but, for much of the second half we dominated possession. Obinna walzed passed Terry and Ivanovic but just failed to get on to the end of a Cole flick-on. Jacobsen and dyer combined well on the right with Ivanovic just cutting out Dyer's cross from the by-line. Chelsea were limited to attacks on the break though Kalou went close with one of these, curling a shot past Green's right hand post. Green then saved well from a Drogba effort from distance.
By and large however, the visitors were kept penned into their own half for long periods of the second half but the final ball was letting us down. Typical of this was an incident where Dyer, Parker and Jacobsen had all kept possession well on the right. Parker played a killer ball in for Dyer but nobody read Dyer's clever step over. Ivanovic became the third player in the book – Cole being scythed down having got the better of the defender. Obinna's free-kick was on target but lacked enough pace to cause serious trouble. Noble then w a shot go narrowly wide and a measure of the concern that ws being felt in the Chelsea ranks could be gained from the ever-increasing amount of time that it was taking Cech to retrieve the ball from goal kicks.
With about 15 minutes left it was decided that it was time to throw another striker on. Piquionne replaced Behrami. Drogba then conned a free-kick which he took himself. The ball was played on to a clearly offside Ivanovic whose shot was smothered by Green, the final touch coming off Ivanovic for what should have been a goal kick but was actually given as a corner. The offside and goal kick decisions could be explained quite simply by taking a quick look at the linesman who was shielding his eyes from the sun and had therefore guessed at both decisions.
Then we were 3-0 down. Ferreira was given far to much space on the right and Ben-Haim failed to get up to prevent Essien from heading home. A real sucker punch. 2-0 had flattered Chelsea. 3-0 took that flattery to a new level, akin to the sort of thing one might tell Bella Emberg's uglier and fatter sister after an otherwise unsuccessful night on the pull. Still there was some consolation to come. Shortly after the goal we earned a corner on the right. Cech's punch fell to Parker on the edge of the box and the midfielder's cushioned volley back into the top corner was perfection itself – though scant reward for his efforts on the day.
Then, with stoppage time looming, there came possibly one of the worst misses you'll ever see. Obinna whipped a ball in from the left, Cole's run deceived everyone and the ball came through to Piquionne unmarked a matter of inches out. Quite how Piquionne hit the bar from there I'll never know, maybe if he'd turned his back on the ball it have flown in off his heel without him knowing. All I know is that it summed up the day. Lots of decent play let down in the final third.
There was still some time for late shenanigans. Noble picked up a mystery yellow card for, well it appeared to be the result of a four man campaign by the Chelsea defence to get him booked. The ref fell for it unfortunately. After a suspiciously short 3 minutes of stoppage – Essien had had treatment lasting at least that long following a fake injury sustained in a dive – the game petered out.
Well there really were positives to take out of this. I know that's the party line from the Boleyn but we at least gave it a go in this one – something reflected in the applause given to the side as they trudged off. The result may not have been as big a travesty as the Bolton defeat had been but the visitors knew they'd been in a match – and with a spot of luck ourselves we could even have got something out of the match. The defence needs to settle down though (the second goal owed as much to panic as to the goalkeeping error) and we need to start taking our chances. The fact that we got so many decent chances against Chelsea was unusual and, as both home matches have shown so far, we can't afford to keep missing them. Heads up!
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Culpable for the second but he recovered enough to make two decent second half saves.
Good debut – who'd have thought that playing a right back in the right back could prove so effective.
Relatively solid but failed to prevent Essien's first header.
His horrible panicky clearance was partly responsible for the horror goal. Still it makes a change for him to actually be genuinely responsible for a goal with Terry on the pitch.
Tal Ben Haim
Relatively solid but failed to prevent Essien's second header.
At the heart of all that was good for us. Fine goal as well.
Ran his legs off and put himself about a bit.
Busy enough but could have picked up a caution for a number of niggly fouls on Cole.
Luis Boa Morte
It says it all really that when I was listing the team earlier I'd completely forgotten he was there. A wretched first half ensured that he didn't appear for the second.
A decent enough debut marred only by profligacy in front of goal.
Poor. His touch let him down time and time again.
(Replaced Boa Morte, 46 mins) A lively match – could we be getting some return for our money at last?
(Replaced Behrami, 72 mins) Aargh – that miss!
(Replaced Cole, 86 mins) Not really on for long enough to make an impression.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Referee: Chris Foy.
Man of the Match: Scott Parker.
West Ham United
Robert Green, Lars Jacobsen, Herita Ilunga, Matthew Upson, Tal Ben Haim, Scott Parker, Mark Noble, Valon Behrami, Luis Boa Morte, Victor Obinna, Carlton Cole.
Goals: Scott Parker 85 .
Booked: Mark Noble Scott Parker Carlton Cole .
Sent off: None.
Cech, Ferreira, Terry, Cole, Ivanovic, Mikel, Ramires, Essien, Drogba, Kalou, Anelka.
Substitutes: Kakuta (Anelka 76), Alex (Terry 82 ), Malouda (Kalou 83).
Subs not used: Turnbull, Zhirkov, Benayoun, Sturridge.
Goals: Essien (2, 83), Kalou (17).
Sent Off: None.