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Premier League
Tuesday, 28th December 2010

Everton 1
West Ham United 1

by Gordon Thrower


You have to love the festive season don't you. Well you do if you have young nephews, anyway.

If your main concern is the fitness of professional footballers you may have different ideas. I reckon that our medical team can only dream of the time when all they have to worry about this time of year is a surfeit of turkey. Of course tradition dictates that we all like to take in a game or two over yuletide but I sometimes wonder whether we have the balance right.

Fitness concerns and injuries meant that there were widespread changes to the side that won away at Fulham. In defence Ben-Haim and Gabbidon were omitted in favour of Faubert and Ilunga respectively. In midfield Boa-Morte returned from suspension to replace Stanislas whilst, possibly most surprisingly given his two well-taken goals at the Cottage, Carlton Cole returned to the bench to be replaced by “Vic” Obinna. This left us with a starting line-up of Green, Faubert, Ilunga, Tomkins, Upson, Sears, Boa-Morte, Parker, Kovac, Obinna, Piquionne.

It was a scrappy start and within the first minute we discovered that we were in for one of those inconsistent performances from Howard Webb that makes you long for the days of a couple of years ago when he used to base his decisions on whether they were right or wrong. Common sense is a dirty phrase in the upper echelons of the PGMO but on this display Webb's paymasters won't have anything to worry about. Which is a shame. For the record it took him about 40 seconds to ignore his first blatant foul of the day, Coleman upending Ilunga with the resulting goal kick being the one decision it should have been impossible to give.

The first chance of any note went the visitors' way as Coleman picked out Distin after a corner but the Frenchman's touch let him down and his shot went across the face of goal with no following forward within tap-in distance. However, the general pattern consisted of us conceding possession, picking up the ball after an interception from Parker (it was usually him) before our own attack would break down, usually with a misplaced pass. The only interesting thing was trying to work out how wrong Webb could get every decision – Coleman pushing Piquionne into LBM was a particularly spectacular one but there were plenty to choose from.

So, with not much prospect of a goal coming from anywhere, we got one. On 14 minutes a mis-hit ball into the box found Sears whose promising movement was halted by Hibbert putting the ball out for a corner. It's been a particular bugbear all season that the number of corners that we take that fail to beat the first man is a stupidly high number. It seems that we have now decided that Parker is the man to buck this trend. Why not? I suppose – he does everything else on the pitch (including painting the lines and mowing it I reckon).

Parker hit on the revolutionary idea of putting the ball into the box where Tomkins is an underused threat. Tomkins' header was cleared only partially by Howard. The loose ball saw an hilarious attempt at a bicycle/scissors kick from Kovac the best bit of which was that it took place only a few feet off the deck. As a meaningful goal attempt it was lacking. As an attempt to keep the ball live and in the danger area it was spot on and Hibbert stuck an instinctive leg out to divert the ball past Howard.

'Kovac's goal' screamed Upton Girlie with 100% predictability. And 100% inaccuracy. Back in my playing days we had a coach/physio at Midland Bank called Charlie Wright who, in his 70s, was still fitter than 90% of the players under his wing. Charlie was also responsible for the invention of beer (according to one song at least) and there was an outstanding promise that he would buy a jug of his invention for any player who scored with an overhead kick.

Now, had I had the cheek to claim the prize with an effort like Kovac's, Charlie – (God rest his soul) would have sent me packing with a clip round the ear and an order to do 20 push-ups and ten laps of the top pitch at New Beckenham. So that's what I'm doing to Kovac (with the exception of the ten laps as we have another match on Saturday that kicks off at 3pm). So, to summarise, Hibbert OG.

What we needed was for the goal to galvanise the team into upping the performance, much in the same way as the stroke of luck we got at Craven Cottage did a few days previously. Unfortunately, 'twas not to be – though it looked promising for a bit. Everton forced a corner or two with Distin 's header going wide from the first and his shot from the second bothering the Bobby Moore stand rather than Robert Green.

We had our moments, Sears, for example, got the better of his full-back and his cross deflected agonisingly away from LBM who was handily placed in the middle of the box. Sears then swapped wings and chipped a cross in that was nodded away for safety. The ball was kept live by Obinna who nutmegged Arteta before cutting back across goal but he may have been better served by driving the ball across goal rather than trying the near post shot that he actually did.

The lino then incurred the wrath of the crowd. Howard tried to shield out a long ball into the corner but it didn't want to go. So he fouled Piquionne. Except that, since he is a goalkeeper, he is statutorily incapable of committing a foul so the lino gave the free-kick the other way. One day officials will have the guts to do the job properly. This wasn't that day.

Webb's interpretation of the laws has come under much scrutiny since the World Cup Final – though, as mentioned, he's been on the slide for a couple of seasons now. He messed up again as Tomkins collected a clearance and moved dangerously forward only to be halted by Rodwell's blatant and cynical body check. That there was no yellow card was a major surprise – though thinking back given that Webb allowed ABH in the World Cup before brandishing the cards, it wasn't that much of a surprise I suppose. Upson headed over from Obinna's free-kick.

Well half an hour had passed without an injury so we got one. Ilunga, just back from whatever it was that ailed him went down and soon we saw that 'rolling hands' signal that either means that your physio is about to start singing a sea-shanty or that you will shortly be seeing a substitution. In the absence of a chorus of “haul away lads”, off hobbled Ilunga amidst dark mutterings regarding recovery time for someone of “his age”. On came Spector for a stint in the left back position that gave us so many problems the last time that Spector was the only option.

It was Webb time again. Fellaini's late, off the ball flattening of Obinna was just thuggery. No attempt to play the ball just a deliberate attempt to injure an opponent. However, since the Everton player didn't actually brandish a knife during the incident Webb decided to deal with the incident outside the scope of the laws of the game and no card was forthcoming.

refworld.com – the apologist site for all that is wrong with English refereeing today (motto 'referees are perfect, it's everyone else that is wrong') – suggests that referees make about 500 decisions a match, which is roughly one every ten seconds or so. Now I'm no statistician but I reckon that if you are facing the wrong direction with your eyes closed you'll still get a few calls right by the law of averages. So how Webb managed to give Everton a throw in when we were attacking whilst facing the ball looking right at the incident escapes me. It wasn't the first time either.

Unfortunately this occasion turned a promising spell of attacking into one of defending which, a few passes later saw the ball find Cahill on the left. Spector found himself marking both Rodwell in the middle and Coleman out wide. Pushing in to cover Rodwell left Coleman unmarked and, in a manner not dissimilar to that of Piquionne v Fulham, the far post cross was put away first time by Coleman to level the scores.

We went straight back up the other end and forced a corner but Upson failed to make the most of a free header. Spector then gave us all a few palpitations by electing to beat a player in his own box before chipping the ball out to Obinna. Obinna fed Sears who, in turn, fed Parker. Parker advanced on goal and, seeing Howard off his line, tried an audacious chip that cleared the bar only by a foot or so. That was about it for the half.

We spent the interval trying to make up songs for Kovac (“he's tall, he's large, he sleeps with birds that charge) until Upton Girlie told us we were all beastly for doing so. At least that's what I think she said.

The second half began with a, well shot is probably overstating it a bit, from Obinna that dribbled wide. The match reverted to its earlier state of us conceding ground and looking to operate on the break. This meant long, long, spells of nothing happening – save for ref Webb getting basic decisions wrong. Watching both Cahill and Rodwell constantly jumping at Tomkins without sanction was getting a bit tedious and it was to Tomkins' credit that he managed to win virtually every challenge despite the lack of protection he was getting from the officials.

Ten minutes into the second half Piquionne slipped and seemed to injure himself in the process. Green kicked the ball out for treatment but none came, Everton holding on to the ball rather than returning it much in the same way that the other team on that city likes to do. A free-kick given by the linesman against Spector for winning the ball cleanly caused a few problems (by this time I was beginning to wish that the officials would look the other way just so they might get a decision right every now and then) but a weak volley from Rodwell finished all that and Piquionne, belatedly, left to be replaced by Carlton Cole.

On the hour Yakubu replaced Rodwell, presumably on the grounds that since it was open season on Tomkins you might as well have someone on who could do the job properly. Yakubu signalled his intent by making his first contribution an obvious and rather pathetic dive which Webb fell for completely as you knew he would. Just to even things up Spector fouled Fellaini but somehow, bafflingly won the free-kick. Kovac then upended Pienaar. A yellow card, definitely, but in the light of earlier fouls by Arteta and Fellaini Webb's brandishing of the card only served to highlight how poor this once decent ref has become.

With 70 played we ought to have scored. Obinna fed Sears who was making a fine break down the inside right channel. Sears played the perfect low ball into the path of Cole made a complete pig's ear of his shot screwing it horribly wide.

The battering of Tomkins continued with the youngster taking a nasty fall after Yakubu backed into him. Cahill was next to have a pop, throwing an arm into the youngster's face. It seemed that only a murder was going to get you a yellow card if you were wearing a blue shirt. Cahill then went on to find space in the box only to put a weak shot along the ground into the arms of Green.

Parker, not for the first time, then put in a saving tackle. From the resulting corner Fellaini got a free header that was well saved by Green with the follow up shot ballooning harmlessly over. Cahill then got a loose ball into the net but the lino somehow managed to spot the three yards that the Australian had been offside and the goal was rightly ruled out.

Hines replaced Obinna with five minutes left and Webb added another five in which he allowed Howard to upend both Hines and LBM in quick succession. I'd given up on Webb showing a yellow by this time but his failure to award a free-kick for either foul was just depressing in the extreme.

That was about it. A draw – about the right result and one which, pre-Fulham, I suspect many would have settled for. I suppose it made a pleasant change from tearing Everton apart and somehow losing as has been the trend in recent years. Whether resting players was the right decision I suppose we'll never know – or, more accurately, we'll find out on Saturday.

In the meantime, have a great New Year!



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Player Ratings

Robert Green
Comments to follow.


Julien Faubert
Comments to follow.


Herita Ilunga
Comments to follow.


James Tomkins
Comments to follow.


Matthew Upson
Comments to follow.


Scott Parker
Comments to follow.


Radoslav Kovac
Comments to follow.


Luis Boa Morte
Comments to follow.


Fred Sears
Comments to follow.


Victor Obinna
Comments to follow.


Frederic Piquionne
Comments to follow.


Substitutes


Jonathan Spector
(Replaced Ilunga, 34 mins) Comments to follow.


Carlton Cole
(Replaced Piquionne, 56 mins) Comments to follow.


Zavon Hines
(Replaced Obinna, 85 mins) Comments to follow.


Ruud Boffin
Did not play.


Winston Reid
Did not play.


Pablo Barrera
Did not play.


Junior Stanislas
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: Peter Walton.

Attendance: 34,179.

Man of the Match: James Tomkins.

West Ham United

Robert Green, Julien Faubert, Herita Ilunga, James Tomkins, Matthew Upson, Scott Parker, Radoslav Kovac, Luis Boa Morte, Fred Sears, Victor Obinna, Frederic Piquionne.

Goals: Tony Hibbert og 16                  .

Booked: Radoslav Kovac 65          .

Sent off: None.

Everton

.

Substitutes: .

Subs not used: .

Goals: Bilyaletdinov (77), Fellaini (90).

Booked: None.

Sent Off: None.

 
Gordon Thrower's Man of the Match: James Tomkins


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