Sunday, 6th February 2011
The feeling that it was going to be one of those days started early on in proceedings when the central defender injury jinx went into overdrive during the warm-up when James Tomkins felt a tightness in a calf muscle. Tomkins was withdrawn from the starting XI so late that the team sheets had been printed which makes my copy a collectors item I expect. Matthew Upson, who was on the bench despite not being fully fit himself, was promoted to the starting XI.
This left a place on the bench for Julien Faubert, who had been left out of the squad. However, Faubert had legged it home once he’d found out that he wasn’t in the 18 which might (just) have been fair enough had he turned round and returned to the ground when asked. Instead he rather petulantly refused to turn up and do the job for which the club pay him all too handsomely. He’ll be fined of course but that doesn’t reduce the level of insult. Something to consider perhaps if you ‘re one of those who routinely boos players such as Boa Morte who at least try to make the most of what may be limited talent.
Sorry, went off on one there. Anyway, Faubert’s tantrum left us with only six substitutes and a starting line-up of Green, Jacobsen, Bridge, Upson, Reid, Parker, Noble, O’Neill, Obinna, Piquionne, Keane.
This was yet another of those matches that evoked horrible flashbacks of the dark days of our last visit to the Championship. You remember the ones, where opponents of limited ability and ambition set out purely to avoid defeat, ride their luck, nick a goal then park the bus, usually spending hours in looking for the keys. This was one of those days. Of course it should be down to us to break down such sides, to make them try to play. To do that we have to create and take chances.
We bossed the first half really, though our efforts were hampered by wayward finishing and the tendency of the opposition to collapse under the slightest hint of contact. Chances were created and missed. Piquionne was first cab off the rank, getting the ball trapped between his feet from Keane's clever flick meaning that his eventual shot lacked pace.
By and large the first 45 was a story of unfulfilled promise undermined by poor decision making. Over the season we’ve come to expect, to pick a random example, Obinna, to, again for example, elect to shoot when other players are better placed. However, Vic’s luck has been in of late and I suppose when someone is in the kind of form that Vic’s been in you can understand them chancing their arm. As Obinna did, his shot going wide when Bridge was on his own on the left.
Jacobsen then played in O'Neill with a clever ball. The midfielder pulled a dangerous-looking low cross across the six yard box but, tellingly, not one of Piquionne, Keane or Obinna had ventured that far forward. The ball fell to Noble on the edge but he failed to keep his shot down.
When O'Neill and Jacobsen combined shortly afterwards – the roles being reversed with Jacobsen getting to the by-line – whilst Piquionne had made it into the danger area, the Dane's cross was cut out.
”Wrong choice syndrome” seemed to be catching. Even Parker seemed to be afflicted as we broke from a rare Birmingham corner. With Obinna all alone on the right hand side with no opponent in the same time zone to bother him, Parker elected to perform one of those pirouettes of which he is so fond. These can be quite effective in changing the direction of an attack – when used at the right time. However, on this occasion the end result was the ball played into a crowded area and the attack broke down when a simpler pass would have set us up on goal.
The extent of Birmingham’s attitude to the match could be gleaned by the fact that the time-wasting started as early as the half-hour mark. Bizarrely, it was their own corner that they seemed most reluctant to take, the ball having been thrown back 25 yards from the flag. They all looked at each other with an air of “well I’m not getting it” as the clock ticked slowly away.
The much-improved Obinna then went on a storming run down the left before unleashing a dangerous cross that Johnson had to go full stretch to cut out. The corner wasn't great but still caused problems as Bowyer hooked an attempted clearance straight back into the box but Reid got the header all wrong.
As the announcement of one extra minute came Obinna wriggled his way into the box and his goal-bound shot was blocked by Johnson's arm. One that gets given outside the box but not inside – of which more later. Certainly Johnson's guilty look spoke volumes. Keane made himself some room in the aftermath but again shot over as the half came to a close.
It had been no surprise that the visitors had picked Zigic who had caused so many problems in the League Cup semi-final. It’s not that the player is particularly talented as such. It’s more a case of the way he heads the ball. Fans of cult sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf (a programme that, much like some of our players, descended into sad predictability after some early promise) will be aware of the amusingly-shaped head of android butler Kryten. Kryten’s head has so many angles and points on it that a football thrown at it could easily rebound at any sort of unpredictable angle. Birmingham’s tactic seemed to be based on the premise that if they didn’t know where the ball was going neither would their opponents. Thankfully Upson had been in no mood to let the 12ft tall striker(“does the circus know you’re here?”) get the better of him.
The problem was that Upson was clearly unfit. Given the fact that Reid had been preferred to the skipper in the pre-tantrum starting line-up, it was clear that there had been doubts about Upson’s ability to last the full 90 from the outset. The longer the half went on the less comfortable he looked and, with a good ten minutes to go, the signals he was giving the bench indicated that he wanted to go off. The signals back indicated that the management would be jolly grateful if the dear chap could hold on to the interval whereupon the situation would be reassessed.
As it happened Upson’s condition was such that he was unable to return for the second half. Up stepped Manuel DaCosta for his first game in aeons following an ankle injury and some other, er, “problems” about which we’d probably best not talk.
Now I’ve been accused of being “harsh” on referees who I am told have a hard job that ought to be made easier. I’m glad to help out wherever possible and I have a really handy hint for all referees – but in particular Mr Foy, whose officiating in this match reflected our manner of play. In short if Mr Foy had a decision to make, he invariably got it wrong. My hint to referees is this: don’t complicate the game by applying different laws to different parts of the pitch. Simply apply the same law to each offence wherever it occurs. Worry about the punishment afterwards.
Now the more perceptive of you who have actually bothered to read the laws of the game (sadly not nearly enough of us in my opinion) will realise that there is already no law that says something is not an offence simply because it happens in the penalty area. Unfortunately this fact apparently doesn’t apply to Premier League officials who routinely turn blind eyes to stuff that they will quite happily blow up for if it means that they don’t have to give a penalty.
We saw the living embodiment of this unofficial and dishonest practice in a ten minute spell of the second half. A clever ball from Bridge saw Keane bearing down on goal. Johnson pushed him over in the box. It was quite simply a full-blooded shove in the back that sent the striker flying. Foy looked the other way and bottled the decision waving play on. Now this was bad enough – but in the light of what was to follow it just served to highlight the penalty box double standard that applies these days.
Shortly after the hour Da Costa was a bit too casual on the ball and gave away a harsh-looking free kick, Bentley going down a bit too easily for my liking under a shoulder to shoulder challenge. The free-kick was cleared but Noble, in challenging for the loose aerial clearance, shoved Bowyer in the back. Now this challenge was identical in every possible salient way to that which had upended Keane a few minutes previously. It had involved a pointless and stupid shove in the back. However, it differed from Johnson’s earlier foul in one vital respect: it was outside the box. This meant that Foy didn’t have to worry about messy things like penalties and could simply give one of those nice, safe cosy free-kicks.
The free-kick was whipped in and, presumably trying to divert the ball back across goal, Zigic got on the end of it and stuck away the goal. Birmingham boss McLeish made much of the fact that he thought his player was being shoved as the ball came across but strangely ignored the two-handed push on Reid that preceded the arrival of the ball. In the box you see. Too much bother. Zigic did a bit of a celebration in front of the two men and a dog that seemed to have wandered into the away section in the absence of any travelling support.
Keane didn't last much longer, a calf injury ending his match prematurely. On came Ba for his debut. He might have scored with an early touch as well. A bridge free-kick fell to him and sat up invitingly only for the Senegalese striker to blast his shot against the post. An inch the right way and Foster would have had no chance.
Having nicked the lead, Birmingham's time-wasting became farcial. So much so that, having made a point of pointing out his nice watch to everyone, ref Foy finally lost patience after about the 4th endlessly delayed free-kick and cautioned Foster for delaying the restart. Not that this put Foster off any. If anything the time-wasting got worse.
As time pressed on Da Costa was pressed into service further and further forward and a long distance effort brought a save out of Foster whilst a far post header across goal went even closer at the death – sub Cole not quite finding the wherewithal to put the loose ball in at the near post.
Foy's behaviour went from bad to worse – Jacobsen getting hauled to the ground without punishment was just one of a number of baffling decisions. If referees and their apologists spent as much effort in trying to get things right as they do in trying to come up with increasingly convoluted and unsatisfactory justifications for their errors maybe things might improve. They won't whilst the myth is perpetuated that everything in the garden is rosy however, and it came as little surprise when, despite all the “hurry up” signals and the watch pointing, Foy decided that maybe all that time-wasting hadn't been that bad after all and added on a mystifying three. It was as if the yellow card had magically reset the clock.
To be brutally honest by the time we got to stoppage we could probably have played all night without scoring, such was the paucity of ideas and, during a week when other results were not kind to us the three points went to a poor Birmingham side.
We need to start beating these anti-football sides if we are to have a chance of staying up and I'm afraid that over the 90 minutes we didn't have enough creativity or guile do do so. If we don't start picking up wins in matches like these soon we'll soon be playing in matches like these every week. It's time to stop relying on other sides' misfortunes guys.
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Barely tested by the visitors. No chance with the goal.
An improved performance going forward where the beginnings of a partnership with O'Neill is beginning to form. A couple of dodgy moments defensively though.
Another showing a bit of an improvement. That's what a quiet night in will do for you.
Was coping well with Zigic until his injury time-bomb finally exploded.
Well a run in the first team is doing him good but I'd still prefer it if we didn't have to rely on him.
Not his usual self I'm afraid.
Another out of sorts in the middle.
Beginning to bed down well and, as mentioned, the partnership with Jacobsen is beginning to gel.
Most of what was good came from him and the recent boost in confidence his goals have brought was there for all to see. Still needs to work on shot/pass selection.
Won a couple of headers but showed little threat.
Lively and inventive on occasion we can only speculate how he might have played if actually fit.
Manuel Da Costa
(Replaced Upson, 46 mins) Obinna apart, he produced our biggest threat in the second half. Which is rather sad really.
(Replaced Piquionne, 59 mins) First touch sometimes good sometimes bad. The usual.
(Replaced Keane, 75 mins) A couple of good touches and was unlucky not to score. Not quite up to pace yet I'd say.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Referee: Chris Foy.
Man of the Match: Victor Obinna.
West Ham United
Robert Green, Lars Jacobsen, Wayne Bridge, Matthew Upson, Winston Reid, Scott Parker, Mark Noble, Gary O'Neill, Victor Obinna, Frederic Piquionne, Robbie Keane.
Booked: Mark Noble 40 Victor Obinna 90 Manuel Da Costa 90 .
Sent off: None.
Foster , Ridgewell, Carr, Jiranek, Johnson, Bowyer, Bentley, Ferguson, Gardner, Jerome, Zigic .
Substitutes: Larsson (Jerome 57).
Subs not used: Phillips, Beausejour, Doyle, Murphy, Davies, Fahey .
Goals: Zigic (65).
Booked: Foster (74).
Sent Off: None.