Sunday, 26th September 2010
It's been a rather dry weekend in these parts, not helped by my being dragged out to a rather dull gig post-match at a venue whose main supplier appears to be the good people at Thames Water rather than one of the normal breweries. It is therefore with great delight that I am able to enjoy the aftermath of a first league victory of the season without the aid of paracetamol and black coffee.
It had been a good week on the pitch and pointers from the fine win on Wearside were not ignored as the out-of-form Carlton Cole was dropped to the racing car seats in favour of a front two of Piquionne and Obinna. At the back Jacobsen returned having been cup-tied in midweek whilst DaCosta and Upson resumed their central defensive partnership with Gabbidon filling in at left-back. Starting line-up: Green, Jacobsen, Gabbidon, DaCosta, Upson, Parker, Noble, Dyer, Boa-Morte, Obinna, Piquionne.
We could have scored in the opening seconds. A ball up from the back found Piquionne, whose headed pass into the path of Obinna was excellent. Obinna's diagonal run promised much but the shot lacked either power or direction and was pulled a couple of yards wide. The opening spell was largely one-way traffic as we imposed ourselves on the visitors. However, this being West Ham dark thoughts concerning our failure to convert chances were haunting those of us who had witnessed the Bolton travesty. As if to reinforce those thoughts, Noble gave away a free-kick on the edge of the box for a foul on Van Der Vaart, who took the free-kick himself. The wall did it's job and the corner was easily dealt with.
Such intervals were few and far between in the opening half-hour and play was mostly concentrated in the visitors' half. So much so that fate was tempted by the ritual chanting of “ole” as pass after pass was completed with nary a Spurs touch for minutes on end. Me? I prefer us to be 5-0 up in the last two seconds of stoppage time before dusting off the “oles” myself. Years of supporting us will do that to you.
We continued to dominate. Dyer pounced on a loose clearance from Huddlestone who recovered to deflect Dyer's shot for a corner. Noble's corner eventually found Da Costa, whose header was deflected away for another corner which came to naught. Confidence seemed sky high as the pressure seemed incessant. Piquionne had a shot deflected wide for another corner. Boa-Morte cleverly won the ball back and his back-heel played in Dyer hose shot lacked enough power to cause any serious concern to Cudicini in the visitors' goal. Piquionne then cleverly won himself some space on the left and put in a shot that Cudicini made a bit of a mess of, though the loose ball fell kindly for him. Dyer then fed Obinna whose sublime turn deserved better than the rather weak shot that ended the move with other players screaming for a pass. Boa Morte forced another corner on the left but Cudicini wisely elected to deal with it himself, his defence looking less than able from such set pieces.
The visitors had a rare effort on goal on the quarter hour when Jenas got in a shot that moved all over the place in a manner that would have had had cricket umpires having a close look at the ball had the sport been different. Green pulled off what was to be his first save of the match, getting a strong hand to the ball to keep the effort out. He then turned a long-distance effort from Van Der Vaart round the post with a greater degree of comfort.
It would have been difficult to keep up the pace that had prevailed in the first 20 minutes and we started to back off the visitors a little. However in this spell chances were largely limited to long range efforts – usually from Van Der Vaart, usually wide. However, despite the apparent lifting of foot from pedal, we still looked the more likely to score, our passing being more incisive than that of the visitors and it was therefore no more than we deserved when we took the lead on the half hour. Obinna played the ball from the centre circle into the path of the lively-looking Dyer who took the ball to the by-line before forcing a corner off Hutton. As had largely been the case all match, Noble's delivery was superb and Piquionne's header sailed in at the unguarded far post. Actually it went in in what seemed to be slow motion and there was a half second of disbelief in our bit of the ground before we realised what had happened and went potty. You see whilst we're quite used to seeing us concede goals in that manner, to see us score one from a corner is a bit of a collector's item so we can be excused for a microsecond of hesitation.
The lead was merited on the balance of play and if confidence levels had been at a raised level, the goal worked wonders to raise them even higher. The impressive Jacobsen combined well with Dyer before letting fly with an effort that flew a yard or so wide, the full-back having put a tad too much slice on the effort. However, it wasn't all sweetness and light, Boa Morte picked up a yellow for a clumsy challenge on Hutton. The midfielder can feel a little hard done by on that one – there had been a number of challenges from both sides that had arguably been more worthy of such punishment. The free-kick was easily dealt with but the potential break collapsed and the ball was fed out to Lennon. Lennon had been kept as quiet as the Trappist monks occupying the away end but went down the right with pace and pulled the ball back to Modric on the edge of the box. Modric caught it perfecly but Green flung himself to his right and got a touch on the ball to tip it onto the bar and eventually away for a corner. It was, quite simply, a stunning save. Just for good measure the 'keeper pulled out another decent stop at his near post in the aftermath of the corner that had resulted from the first save.
As we broke away from that attack we then noticed the rather forlorn-looking Dyer stood on the touchline indicating that he wouldn't be able to continue. Obinna didn't see the signal and sent over a fine cross-field pass, the effect of which was rather spoilt by Dyer deliberately putting the ball into touch. As it happened, the hapless midfielder was made to soldier on for a minute or two before eventually being replaced by Barrera with five minutes of the half left on the clock. Thankfully Dyer's departure was due to a spot of illness/nausea/dizziness rather than any one of the record 2,332 physical knocks from which he's been suffering over the past four years. Just before Dyer came ashore he was in a good place was Obinna broke forward but, possibly by this time mindful of Dyer's state, Obinna elected to shoot, an effort that went harmlessly wide. That was basically it for an entertaining first half and the warm applause from the crowd was well merited.
Thankfully, this week we were spared the half time “entertainment” sight of some kids playing an obscure version of Top Trumps for a trophy twice their combined height. This was a good thing as, after the incident-packed first half, I'm not sure I'd have been able to stand the excitement.
There were no changes during the interval. We'd played the first half at a pretty high tempo so it was possibly understandable if we played more on the break in the second half. However the visitors rarely looked like troubling the defence. The midfield were working their socks off to close down the man on the ball and most spells of Tottenham possession generally ended up with a hopeful dink into the box or a long distance effort that bothered nobody. What clearer chances there were weren't much to write home about. There were a few oohs from the Trappists as a Huddlestone shot from the edge of the box hit Crouch on the back before going wide – the original shot was right down Green's throat so anything more than a goal kick would have been a bit of a fluke.
We always looked more incisive and Barrera's fine run out of defence ought to have gained a better result than the harmless Piquionne cross that it got. The visitors ought to have got an undeserved equaliser on 55 minutes. A through ball found Huddlestone in acres of space, having beaten the offside trap. He calmly took the ball to the side of the advancing Green before slicing an hilariously woeful effort into the away section. It was a let-off yes. It was also very, very funny indeed.
Piquionne had run his legs off and had shown signs of cramp so he left just after the hour mark to be replaced by Cole and shortly after we could have doubled the lead. A superb ball from LBM found Obinna in the inside-left channel. The Nigerian held off the challenge of Hutton and got away a shot that produced a fine save from Cudicini, who tipped the ball round the post. Obinna's corner wasn't the greatest but it found it's way to LBM who pulled his shot wide under pressure from a defender. The visitors then made their first change of the day, Lennon leaving to be replaced by Keane. This came as a surprise to many who hadn't been aware that Lennon was out there in the first place.
The pattern was becoming repetitive. As an opposition move broke down we'd play two maybe three passes before producing an effort on goal. Obinna was a more than willing outlet for one such move, pulling defenders across the park before playing in Cole with a fine ball that produced a decent, albeit just wide shot. Cole was making a nuisance of himself, forcing Bale into giving away an unnecessary corner. Obinna's corner wasn't the greatest again but it was cleared only as far as Noble who brought the ball forward before unleashing a superb goal-bound effort that drew another top-drawer save from Cudicini. The save well-merited the generous applause it received. Obinna's corner was better this time and Cole's header took another deflection to give a corner from the other side. Obinna and Barrera combined but nobody took a punt on Barrera's dangerous-looking low cross and Cudicini was able to gather.
Parker then won a loose ball and, having swapped passes with Noble, played a low near-post cross into Cole whose shot was deflected wide from yet another corner. Obinna's corner found Upson whose header was on target but lost much of its pace from being headed downwards and Cudicini gathered safely. Now Spurs fans are an easy target I know but their reputation for not being the full ticket is sometimes rather self-inflicted. Picture the scene. You are 1-0 down in a derby match. The clock is ticking. The ball goes into your section of the crowd for a goal kick. Do you a) Throw the ball quickly back to the 'keeper to try to keep the game moving as much as possible, saving precious seconds in the process?; or b) chuck the ball as far away from the 'keeper as possible, thus costing your team a precious few seconds as the 'keeper takes full opportunity to take his time in retrieving the ball. The Spurs fans took option B, much to the amusement of those of us with higher Iqs.
We might have picked up another with 12 left on the clock. Green's clearance was nodded on by Cole to Barrera who played another low cross into the box. What ensued was one of those old-fashioned goalmouth scrambles involving Cudicini, Obinna, Corluka, Hutton and some background music of old-fashioned silent movie type music played on an inadequately tuned piano. Eventually Cudicini emerged from the scramble with the ball just before the Keystone Cops arrived.
Jenas then upended Cole on the touchline. This had been at least the fourth time that Jenas had stopped a promising move with a niggly foul, something that made LBM's earlier yellow look even sillier than it was already looking. Da Costa got on the end og Obinna's free kick but failed to trouble Cudicini.
The last real effort from the visitors came with five minutes left, Modric finding Keane who curled a tame effort into Green's welcoming arms. Kovac came on to stand about in the middle for a while in place of Obinna who had had a fine match. Three minutes of stoppage came and went – the COYI chant lifting the players to one last effort and that was about that.
Green gave it fairly large to the visiting support and to the press box who, no doubt, will all be saying what a great 'keeper they have always thought he was unlike those other papers you might read. Those closer to the dugout than I am inform me that Avram Grant actually smiled – there was certainly a slight glimmer of one in the post-match press conference - and why not. There was a lot to smile about. Right through the team there were impressive performances and the whole win had hard work and a strong team ethic as its twin foundations. Keep it up!
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I think I vaguely recall him coming for one cross in the first half that he didn't look too convinced about. However the four proper saves he pulled off were breathtaking. There were a number of candidates for MOTM this week but given the rubbish that he's had to put up with since the summer, on balance I think I'll give it to our custodian.
It certainly makes a difference having a proper full-back in that slot. Solid in defence and supports the attack well – a nice little right side partnership with Dyer developing there if Dyer can stay fit/well.
Kept Lennon very quiet with the exception of the one run that ultimately produced Green's wonder save. One might think he'd let him past deliberately so that Green could show off!
Benefits immesurably from having a strong partner alongside him. Like Da Costa. I believe that Grant may have, at last, settled upon our best central defensive pairing.
Manuel Da Costa
His absence from the team at the start of the season was something that baffled me a bit. His type of player brings the best out of Upson and he had a fine match in his own right.
Not many plaudits from the papers this weekend from the player they think is our skipper. Nevertheless it was another fine performance from our “not the captain” albeit one that was overshadowed by more eye-catching stints from others.
It wasn't all that long ago that the received wisdom was that Noble and Parker couldn't play together. They look like they work well together to me. Unlucky not to score and sent over some excellent corners – including the one that led to the goal.
Luis Boa Morte
Excellent work-rate – ran his socks off and, if his distribution was occasionally less than perfect, this shouldn't detract from what was a fine match.
Possibly the unluckiest player in football. Gets back to full fitness, has a decent 40 minutes then succumbs to a stomach bug.
Strong candidate for MOTM – full of running and a constant worry to the Spurs defence. His corners are a bit variable though.
I like the look of the Piquionne/Obinna partnership. He was one of the few players to impress in a wretched season at Fratton Park last year and his form has carried over to this term. If only he were a few years younger!
(Replaced Dyer, 42 mins) Took over from where Dyer left off. Some fine tricky runs from deep not only relieved what little pressure there might have been but also set up some decent chances.
(Replaced Piquionne, 64 mins) Provided a different sort of outlet to Piquionne who he replaced. Very harshly booked for being wrestled to the ground by a defender.
(Replaced Obinna, 89 mins) Replaced Obinna at the end in an attempt to run down the clock. Not sure if he actually touched the ball.
Did not play.
Tal Ben Haim
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Referee: Martin Atkinson.
Man of the Match: Robert Green.
West Ham United
Robert Green, Lars Jacobsen, Danny Gabbidon, Matthew Upson, Manuel Da Costa, Scott Parker, Mark Noble, Luis Boa Morte, Keiron Dyer, Victor Obinna, Frederic Piquionne.
Goals: Frederic Piquionne 29 .
Booked: Luis Boa Morte 38 Carlton Cole 90 .
Sent off: None.
Cudicini, Hutton, Corluka, Bassong, Bale, Lennon, Jenas, Huddlestone, Modric, Van der Vaart, Crouch.
Substitutes: Keane (Lennon 66), Giovani (Van der Vaart 78), Pavlyuchenko (Crouch 80).
Subs not used: Pletikosa, Palacios, Sandro, Kranjcar.
Sent Off: None.