Sunday, 27th February 2011
It hadn’t been the most promising build up to the match – injury rumours were flying around like Gadaffi’s accountants, suggesting that a shoulder injury picked up in training was likely to keep Scott Parker out of the match, whilst earlier in the week Matthew Upson had been ruled out by certain sources until the end of the season. In the event, both were fit to take their place in the starting line-up and there was also a welcome first league start for Thomas Hitzlsperger, giving us a starting line up of Green, Jacobsen, Bridge, Upson, Tomkins, Parker, Noble, Hitzlsperger O’Neil, Piquionne, Ba.
The match was preceded by the culmination of young Jonjo Heurmann’s walk from Wembley to the centre spot at the Boleyn. The walk raised over £10,000 for the Bobby Moore Fund and the applause given to the youngster was therefore more than deserved. Of those in the middle, there was a particularly warm welcome from the referee Mark Halsey, for whom the walk must have had some special resonance with him having successfully battled cancer not that long ago himself. A nice touch from the ref who, unusually amongst his colleagues, usually manages to combine common sense with a sense of humour in his officiating.
To the match. It was a fairly even first twenty. Der Hammer endeared himself to the crowd by electing to volley a mishit clearance that fell out of the sky. The volley was on target too, though it was of comfortable height and direction for Reina to gather safely. Full marks for having the bottle to take it on though. A couple of minutes later Meireles got between Tomkins and Jacobsen to nod a long ball from deep over the bar. It was to prove to be a rare chance for the visitors.
Skrtel picked up a deserved caution inside the first few minutes, Piquionne beating him. The free kick led to an early shout for a penalty when the chubby Carragher got away with a two handed shove into Upson’s back, ref Halsey being on the wrong side to see it. It was probably one of those that mysteriously becomes a non-offence inside the box anyway, though the lino on the Chicken Run side ought to have seen something. However, as we were to find out later, Mr Halsey was unable to rely on that particular official for anything sensible.
Much of the game was taking place in midfield and it was a battle that we were gradually winning. Hitz, Noble and Parker were closing down well, ably assisted by Upson whose awareness saw him coming out of defence to intercept supply to Suarez. A Hitz (you try typing it out every time) corner fell to O’Neil whose shot was blocked allowing Liverpool to break. The fact that the eventual cross was blocked by Hitz for a corner should give you a clue about some of the ground he covered. Piquionne blocked Johnson’s header from the corner.
Hitz had some more target practice on 20 minutes when an O’Neil cross was blocked. Der Hammer did well to get the ball out from under his feet and get any sort of shot away though as with his earlier effort it was an easy one for Reina to gather. However we didn’t have to wait long for the goal. A spell of keep ball found Parker with the ball wide out right. Parker exchanged passes with Noble, did the same with Hitz, took one touch before finishing into the left hand side of the goal with early taken and deftly placed shot that simply drifted into the perfect place to evade the rather despairing dive of Reina. Fine move, fine finish, fine goal.
Parker’s celebration was deservedly joyous (like mine) and involved planting a wet soppy kiss on the lens of the touchline camera. Upton Girlie and I settled for the altogether more chaste effort of jumping up and down together – definitely no tongues.
We continued to work hard as evidenced by Ba’s chasing down of Carragher. Though the corner that resulted came as the result of what looked suspiciously like a little shove, the fact that Ba was willing to pen the chubby donkey into the corner was a refreshing sight. The visitors broke from the corner and Kuyt went close with a distance effort that bothered the side netting.
We started to take the game to the opposition more and more. Noble’s burst down the inside right channel and fed Piquionne whose low centre just evaded Ba at the far post – though had someone gone middle the lead would surely have been doubled.
There was arun of penalty shouts on or about 35 minutes. Carragher had a fair chunk of Ba’s shirt and had the forward not been quite so theatrical about going down he might have got something. Again Halsey needed help from the lino. Again he got none. Suarez then went down on the very edge of the box with Tomkins behind. The shout – if one could call it that – was somewhat muted. So much so that I wasn’t aware that the incident had qualified as a “shout” until after the match. Contact appeared minimal and Suarez appeared to be just outside the box when it occurred anyway. The third in the trilogy involved Piquionne. Carragher pulled Piquionne whilst Wilson pushed. Piquionne handled under the attention and it was this offence that Halsey, again let down by his assistant, spotted. Still the lino had one comedy number up his sleeve.
The visitors pushed forward but, by and large, were limited to efforts from distance such as that from Kelly who cut in but failed to bother Green too much with his shot along the ground. Lucas then brought down Hitz within striking range. Allowing Noble to take the kick may have been a double bluff but the effort was wayward.
Well if the visitors though they were having a bad time of it, things went from bad to worse within the last five minutes of the half. Kelly went on a run down the right but just before reaching the by-line his hamstring went. Those of us who have played the game and have had that happen winced at the almost audible “ping” as the player drew his leg back to put over the cross. To nobody’s surprise Kelly was unable to take any further part in the match and Joe Cole (such a waste) came on to replace him to generous applause. Johnson moved over to the right whence he delivered a cross that was horribly sliced by Parker straight into the arms of Green.
Green delivered the ball long to Ba who nodded on to O’Neil who composd himself and delivered the most perfect of crosses for Ba to bury with a diving header. Another fine move, fine cross and fine finish. No kisses for the camera this time, though Upton Girlie and I probably broke a few of each other’s ribs as part of the celebratory process. Still never mind eh.
Stoppage for the Kelly hamstring added two minutes which were seen out without further ado and we entered the half time interval. Now I’m not sure what our Jem was expecting to be doing for this match but I’m sure that his plans didn’t involve being given a hard time by Martin Allen. Now I have no idea whether “Mad Dog” had partaken of any pre-match hospitality but I’d certainly worry if he hadn’t. Poor Jem didn’t stand a chance as question after question was given the treatment. After describing himself as George Clooney, Mad Dog marvelled at the sight of thousands of East-enders cheering as a German bombed Liverpool, described Parker’s opening as a “toe punt” before going into a wild-eyed stare at the question “why do they call you Mad Dog?” As the shell-shocked Mr Nicholas said to me later on “I felt like Ernie Wise to his Eric Morecambe”!
Still it took the mind off the fact that we were 2-0 up – which, as every Hammer knows, is a worrying score at the best of times. As the half started though we kept the workrate up. This was pleasing as we’ve had a habit of playing games of two halves this season. The chances were going our way – but worryingly they weren’t being taken.
Hitz put a ball into the crowd on the hour. The visitors’ best spell followed shortly after. Noble broke up an attack with what looked a decent tackle to me though Gerrard’s trademark tumble was enough to persuade the ref otherwise. A few passes later, Suarez got the better of Tomkins for one of the few times in the match but green saved marvellously from the Uruguayan’s goal-bound effort. Over an hour gone and it was probably the first real save that he’d had to make. However, for all their possession in this spell –and it didn’t lst long, we always looked the more dangerous. O’Neil latched on to a poor clearance and cleverly making space for himself he shot across goal with the ball deflecting off Carragher’s gut for a corner. Noble’s corner looked to be misjudged by Reina but the ‘keeper managed to clutch it just under the bar.
Jacobsen was next to join in the fun. Pushing forward nobody came to close him down so he had a go, his shot curving away a few feet over. Then Piquionne nodded wide from a corner. There would have been a bit of controversy had his free header gone in. Noble made a mess of the original corner by accidentally tapping it with his boot before stopping it with his hand. I certainly thought it had moved far enough to have been deemed to have been in play but much to the visitors’ consternation Mr Halsey disagreed and allowed the corner to be retaken (or, if you want to be technically accurate, taken). I can only think that Mr Halsey had decided that Lucas had encroached perhaps.
Hitz had another go adding to the shot tally without troubling the ‘keeper before we got to the lino’s finest hour. I haven’t a clue what O’Neil was trying to do out on the touchline when he hit a full blown volley into Bridge’s face as the ball went out for a throw. What I do know is that Bridge was doubly gobsmacked as the lino indicated a West Ham throw. I presume that Mr Halsey was being guided by his lino and, if I’m being charitable, I suppose there was the slight chance that the ball may have gone vaguely into the same general area as Kuyt who was the nearest Liverpool player. However, given the big red mark on Bridge’s face the clues were there and the fact that we got the throw was baffling in the extreme.
As it happens the visitors shouldn’t have bothered with the protest. We gave the ball away from the throw and Gerrard made one of only two noteworthy contributions to the game, letting forth a dipping shot that Green turned over the bar for a fine save which he made look easier than it probably was. Gerrard’s second contribution to the day was less edifying. The midfielder – running Carragher a close second in the chubber stakes - lost control of the ball as he burst into the box and threw himself to the floor in an all-too-familiar way for a dive that was as desperate as it was poor. The fact that he acknowledged that there had been no contact saved him from a booking – though it shouldn’t have. Another disgraceful show from a player who will no doubt walk straight back into the England side at Parker’s expense for the next international.
With ten left on the clock Spector came in for Piquionne, who had been virtually playing in midfield for much of the second half. However shortly after we let the visitors back into the game. Cole’s cross was met by Tomkins and the ball fell between him and Jacobsen. Each left the ball to the other, allowing Ngog and Wilson to keep the ball alive. The ball was fed into Suarez whose fine turn bought him space for him to play the ball across the box to give Johnson the easiest of tap-ins from a couple of feet. Green did his nut – one of Jacobsen and Tomkins ought to have dealt with the ball. More worryingly it looked like a possible long seven minutes to survive.
The visiting supporters – hitherto silent (another myth gone) burst into life –sort of. A few chants of “USA-USA” at Green was about the best they could muster really. On the pitch the theatrics were getting more desperate as Suarez backed in on Upson before going to ground, conning Mr Halsey into a free-kick which Gerrard took and played straight out. Too much weight on it I expect.
Grant replaced Ba with Cole with two left to play. I’ll admit it wasn’t the change I’d have made but boy was it effective. Cole made a nuisance of himself and held the ball up pretty well for the short time he was on. Reina kicked the ball against him and, having won a harsh free-kick for doing so, waved the imaginary yellow card that, in itself is a yellow card offence. Halsey punished neither offence though Reina’s was by far and away the more heinous of the two offences.
As the three minutes of added time were announced Upson won yet another header which fell to O’Neil who played the ball forward to Cole. Cole got the better of Skrtel who was pulling him back and burst forward. A quick fancy stepover confused Carragher before Cole shot low beating Reina at his near post to seal the match. Poor goalkeeping? Possibly. Did we care? Not a hope. Upton Girlie and I broke the few remaining intact ribs that we had as the away support went back into trappist mode from which they’d emerged for all of two minutes.
There was just time for Green to deny Suarez once more at the death but that was about it and the three minutes passed with no further worry.
This was by far and away the best performance of the season without question. I’d say it was better than the 4-0 against Man Utd if only for the context. Every player came off that pitch knowing they’d done a job. Quite what the inspiration was we may never know but the important thing is to build on that momentum and keep going. After all it would be so typical of us to beat Liverpool then mess up against Stoke wouldn’t it? So let’s not. More please. About ten games worth should do it.
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Unemployed for the first period he weighed in with three fine saves in the second half.
Ah the joys of having a proper right back at right back!
Not quite there in the first half but improved as the game wore on in the second.
A fine game marred only slightly by the mess up with Jacobsen for their goal.
If that’s him playing with injury let’s give him a good kicking! An excellent performance with the bonus of the fact that Tomkins always seems more comfortable alongside him.
Outstanding. Doubly so considering the severity of his injury. Fine goal and for once the sponsors got it right. MOTM.
Another who ran his socks off. I Like the look of him with Hitz and Parker in the middle.
So that’s what we’ve been missing!
A good game – though not in an eye-catching way. Lots of hard work off the ball and the cross for Ba was perfect.
Like O’Neil his performance was of the off the ball variety, especially second half when he played a more withdrawn role.
The leggy one always looked dangerous and took his goal really well.
(Replaced Ba, 88 mins) A high mark for five minutes work perhaps but in those five minutes he did all that was required – and much, much more.
(Replaced O'Neil, 78 mins) Came on and did a job.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Manuel Da Costa
Did not play.
Luis Boa Morte
Did not play.
Did not play.
Referee: Mark Halsey.
Man of the Match: Scott Parker.
West Ham United
Robert Green, Lars Jacobsen, Wayne Bridge, James Tomkins, Matthew Upson, Scott Parker, Mark Noble, Thomas Hitzlsperger, Gary O'Neill, Frederic Piquionne, Demba Ba.
Goals: Scott Parker 22 Demba Ba 45 Carlton Cole 90 .
Booked: None booked. .
Sent off: None.
Reina, Carragher, Skrtel , Kelly, Wilson, Johnson, Gerrard, Meireles, Lucas, Kuyt, Suarez.
Substitutes: J.Cole (Kelly 43), Ngog (Meireles 49).
Subs not used: Rodriguez, Gulacsi, Kyrgiakos, Spearing, Poulsen.
Goals: Johnson (84).
Booked: Skrtel (7).
Sent Off: None.