Saturday, 27th November 2010
It started with my being woken up at 4.30 am after the Blackpool match by 'phone call from an inebriated Upton Girlie who was keen to remind me that it was her birthday – as if I might have missed the constant hints over the course of preceding 364 days. Then there was the Liverpool match in which a professional football team appeared to have been kidnapped and replaced by non-thinking zombie-like automata. That performance kept me up for a few nights I can tell you. And finally my sleep patterns this week were disrupted by the Aussie's ridiculous insistence on playing cricket in the middle of the night in winter. So I'm a little worried that I may have fallen asleep early on in this match and that much of what follows was some sort of sleep deprivation-inspired hallucination – as it appears that we won.
A number of changes for this one. Tomkins made his first start for a while. Ilunga's absence allowing Gabbidon to move to left back. Noble was one of the few to have evaded alien capture the previous week but picked up a hip injury in the process. However Parker's chest had cleared enough for him to return to the starting line-up. Stanislas came in for a first start since, well, his last one and Behrami had regained fitness to allow him to start. Cole had blotted his copybook either through his comments or through lack of form and he returned to the bench, leaving us with a starting eleven of Green, Jacobsen, Gabbidon, Upson, Tomkins, Behrami, Parker, Barrera, Stanislas, Obinna and Piquionne.
I'd love to say that the opening spells were full of cut and thrust but frankly, even the fresh air and nippy temperatures weren't helping me stay awake. In fact had it not been for Piquionne's insistence on straying offside at every possible opportunity I'm sure I'd have slept through the first 30 minutes or so; ref Halsey's whistle for each infringement rousing me out of my slumber on each occasion.
The clearest chance of the opening period went to the visitors – Diame pulling the ball back for Cleverley to shoot tamely at Green. Had Cleverley's shot been better there would have been hell to play – the ball travelling well over the dead-ball line before Diame was able to get his cross in. We then forced a corner – Piquionne's flick towards Obinna coming off the arm of Stam. Obinna claimed the spot-kick but it would have been harsh in the extreme. The corner was played deep and Tomkins got an unconvincing touch on it at the back post but it was cleared as far as Parker. Parker's drilled cross field pass was a peach but Stanislas failed to make the most of it and shot harmlessly straight at a defender,
Stamm then went down our left and got a dangerous-looking cross in that Tomkins did well to clear. However, it was all pretty turgid stuff from both sides at this stage. In fact it looked just like a match between two of the bottom three sides in the league. So it was with much relief that on 35 minutes there was a goal, that relief being doubled by the fact that it was us that scored it. It started really with a superbly-timed tackle by Gabbidon on N'Zogbia. A few passes and a quick throw later the ball was back with Gabbs whose cross was cleared as far as Parker, whose clever first time header kept the ball alive. Jacobsen's cross was nodded down by Piquionne and Behrami's late run between two defenders was superbly-timed to give the Swiss midfielder a nice finish.
It wasn't just me that the goal woke up. Whereas before the goal the team had been tentative, maybe nervous even, taking the lead seemed to bring a bit of colour into the cheeks of the team. Piquionne had, by now, managed to remember what the offside law was all about and started to win a lot in the air. One such nod down found Stanislas, whose powerful effort was turned round the post by 'keeper Al Habsi for a fine save. It was one of those that Stanislas caught too well really – a slight miss-hit would have caused more problems. However the fact that the youngster took the shot on at all seemed indicative of the confidence brought by the goal.
Stanislas took the resulting corner and Piquionne's towering header was the subject of an even better save from the 'keeper who pushed the ball away from the range usually described as “Point Blank”.
That was just about it for the first half of what the marketing bods had decided we should call “Save Our Season Saturday”. There was a minute of added time but really that was just there for cosmetic purposes – I'd like to see a ref have the guts to add zero one day. I reckon the 1 minute is there as a safeguard just in case there was a stoppage they'd forgotten about.
I spent the interval trying to get myself warm, the weather having reverted to what those marketing bods would probably have decided to call “sub-zero Saturday” had they been on the contract. A quick look through the programme showed a page inviting me to design next season's kit and another containing a personal letter from Prince William. Clearly the hallucinations from the lack of sleep were kicking in already so I was grateful for the resumption of the match itself.
There were no changes of personnel at the start of the second half though we didn't have long to wait as Jacobsen indicated that a knock to the ankle that he'd picked up in the first period had not improved in the interval and the signals indicated that the Dane would be rather grateful if someone would take his place what with it being a bit nippy out. It took a few minutes to sort out though and we could – nay should – have been two up before the swap was made. Wigan failed to clear their lines properly from a corner and a long pall played into the box saw Piquionne make a complete hash of his shot when clean through only a couple of yards out. It looked for all the world like he was offside – something that may have confused him – but he failed to notice the defender playing him on and, whatever the circumstances, he ought to have put the ball away first and asked questions after. It was a miss that some of us feared would prove costly in the same manner as others had already done so this season.
We finally got the substitution made – Jacobsen being replaced by Reid who, coincidentally, had been the subject of this week's pre-match “what happened to that bloke we paid £4m for” conversation. We missed another chance on 51 minutes, Obinna playing in Barrerea whose attempt with the outside of his boot just went straight out. It appeared that Stanislas might have been well-placed had Barrera seen him but the wasted chance just conjured up visions of so many other games where we'd failed to convert chances into goals. This worry was merely underlined when a luckless Obinna tried a snapshot from the edge of the box only to see his effort go a couple of feet wide.
However, we finally got the goal our dominance at that stage deserved. Al Habsi's clearance was won in the air by Upson. Obinna flicked on to Piquionne who feigned a shot but then found himself crowded out. Obinna returned the ball to Obinna who didn't seem to have too much on but the Nigerian nipped past a non-existent challenge from (I think) Thomas, before burying a low, powerful angled drive sweetly into the bottom corner of the goal. An excellent finish and not a bad way to open your Premier League account. Obinna spent his goal celebrations buried under a pile of fellow players who, presumably, were huddled together for warmth. A remarkably subdued celebration under the circumstances I reckon.
Of course after the initial elation in the crowd came the sudden realisation that we were two-nil up. This was a position we had a habit of messing up in the past and we gave it a go for a few minutes in this one. Cleverley got the better of Gabbidon and just beat the Welshman to the ball inside the box. The on-loan Man Utd midfielder went down under the challenge and there was some initial confusion as Halsey appeared to wave play on befor ethen pointing to the spot. I don't think there can be any complaints about the decision as such but the ref might have lost a point or two on the section where he gets marked for clarity of signals. Strangely Wigan elected to give the penalty to sub Boselli who had only been on the pitch for a minute or two. However long he had been on the pitch though, there was no excuse for the shockingly poor penalty he took. Green added to his list of penalty saves with ease – but frankly it wasn't even his most difficult save of the day in a match where he was called on only infrequently at best. Not that that worried us of course. Maybe it was going to be our day after all.
Or maybe not as another Wigan attack broke down on the rock that is Scott Parker, Obinna played Piquionne in only for the striker to be upended by a challenge from Gohouri. Halsey decidede that the challenge was lean though he was a good 40 yards away, the pace of the counter attack having caught the official out. It looked a wrong 'un to me. Mind you we didn't have long to wait for a third. Yet again Scott Parker took central stage. For the 400th time in the match Parker broke up a Wigan attack and burst forward. He played the ball down the left for Obinna whose low pass into the danger area was perfect for Parker who continued his run and finished low at the near post. It was a fine goal that capped off another fine performance. Too good for England? Definitely.
We all jumped up and down with the exception of Upton Girlie who appeared to have gone into some sort of catatonic trance resulting from the stunned shock of actually seeing us score three goals. In the same match.
With fifteen left Piquionne left to replaced by Carlton Cole whose name was booed by one or two of the brain donors that had presumably been attracted by the cut price “Save Our Season” ticket deal. Presumably those that only come to give players a hard time had been confused by the 3-0 scoreline and the absence of Luis Boa Morte and therefore shifted their Pavlovian responses onto Cole. Pretty bad darts in my view. With 8 left on the clock Parker was replaced by Kovac to nobody's delight – well apart from Upton Girlie's. There was still time for a few palpitations of course. N'Zogbia's run down our left wasn't checked and he pulled the ball back for Cleverley whose curled shot into the top corner gave Green no chance. There was a mere five minutes left for us to throw it away.
N'Zogbia was allowed to get a cross in but Diame's header failed to trouble Green unduly. Cole then broke towards the box only to see his shot deflected over for a corner. It looked like we were going to play silly beggars by the flag but Stanislas' clever back heel sent Barrera into the box and the Mexican's low cross looked dangerous before being cut out for another corner. This time we did play silly beggars which ended with a free-kick to Wigan.
It was time for late scares. Firstly Kovac gave away a free-kick on the edge of the box that was stupidity itself. The wall spared Kovac's blushes. Then Moses got the better of Reid and got towards the by-line before Tomkins cut out the cross. The resulting corner saw the ball played back in for Gohouri to put away. There were a few Wigan players in offside positions but Gohouri probably wasn't one of them – Kovac deciding that he was far too cool to move out with the rest of the defence. It could have been costly but thankfully it wasn't and the remainder of injury time passed without further worries.
Well it was undoubtedly a better performance – it couldn't fail to be after last week's effort (and I use that word quite wrongly). Some will point to the arrival of new defensive coach Wally Downes. I think it might be a bit early to credit the new coach with too much influence. However, it was pleasing to see some animation and instruction coming from the touchline. And, of course anyone who decks Warnock scores a few extra points in my book. If nothing else Downes' appointment should also put an end once and for all those insane rumours about the possibility of Colin coming to the Boleyn.
Meanwhile there were fun and games in the post match press conference as a couple of Her Majesty's Press Corps had a very vocal spat about passes to the tunnel area. It was an entertaining way of passing a few minutes before the managers arrived, though, had the debate continued “outside” as it seemed to be heading at one stage I'm not sure I'd have left the warmth to have watched it.
Well having got home following a nice post-match pint or two the lack of sleep finally caught up with me and I passed out on the sofa with a strange hallucination kicking in. You see I had this weird vision that England were having a great day in the Brisbane test with both openers hitting tons, the first time that that had occurred since some time in the 1930's. And that's as likely as us scoring three in a match isn't it!
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Ok he had a good game. The penalty save was decent but it wasn't his most testing of days. So the sponsors' decision to award him MOTM was met with much scratching of heads – not least from our Jem who could scarcely hide the disbelief in his voice when he had to make the announcement.
Was looking solid enough until forced off by injury.
Decent enough up to the point that Wigan switched N'Zogbia over to his side whereupon Cleverley and Insomnia combined to give him a hard time – witness his lunge for the penalty.
A nice confidence-booster for the youngster who kept it simple throughout.
Good solid performance from the skipper who rarely looked troubled.
Do you think that someone said to the sponsors “for Pete's sake when you do MOTM whatever you do don't give it to Parker – he gets it every week”. Sorry Greeno but if we had enough money at KUMB towers to be dishing out champagne every week, this week's bottle would be sitting in the Parker fridge. If you look at his goal that was his match summed up in a nutshell. And he wasn't 100% fit either.
Lots of running box to box. Took his goal nicely.
Drifted in and out of the game. Looked promising when he took on players.
Similar sort of match to Stanislas really. Some good moments in between the periods of anonymity.
Lively and showed some nice combination play alongside Piquionne. Fine goal and excellent set up for Parker.
Ought to have scored in the second half but thatmiss shouldn't detract from his overall contribution which, once he'd stopped getting caught offside, was actually quite good.
(Replaced Jacobsen, 49 mins) A fairly gentle 35 minutes or so for the Danish Kiwi, though Moses did catch him out of position late on.
(Replaced Parker, 82 mins) His only contributions were on the debit side – a stupid free-kick given away late on and his failure to come out of defence could have proved costly.
(Replaced Piquionne, 76 mins) Could have scored late on but not really on for long enough to make an impression.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Referee: Mark Halsey.
Man of the Match: Scott Parker.
West Ham United
Robert Green, Lars Jacobsen, Danny Gabbidon, James Tomkins, Matthew Upson, Scott Parker, Valon Behrami, Junior Stanislas, Pablo Barrera, Victor Obinna, Frederic Piquionne.
Goals: Valon Behrami 34 Victor Obinna 55 Scott Parker 74 .
Sent off: None.
Al Habsi, Stam, Gohouri, Caldwell, Gomez, Diame, Thomas, Cleverley, Figueroa, N'Zogbia, Di Santo.
Substitutes: Moses (Di Santo 61), Boselli (Gomez 61), Watson (Thomas 68) .
Subs not used: Pollitt, McArthur, McManaman, Mustoe.
Goals: Cleverley (86).
Booked: Adam (28).
Sent Off: None.