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Premier League
Saturday, 5th March 2011

West Ham United 3
Stoke City 0

by Gordon Thrower


And lo it came to pass that life was suddenly a bit more fun again at the Boleyn, and smiles aboundeth and we looked us at the table of league and saw that it was, well if not actually good, a whole lot better than it had been a few weeks previously.

As everyone was more than aware before this one, we hadn’t put together back to back league wins since, well probably the last time we went through a month without Upton Park tube being closed. The fine performance over Liverpool notwithstanding, the general air pre-match was that it would be 'typical West Ham' to turn over Liverpool one week then lose a dire match to Stoke the following week. I guess bitter experience has done that to us over the years.

The other general feeling was that few, if any, would have changed a winning side. This was not an opinion with which Grant concurred and Da Costa came in to partner Upson in the middle with Tomkins pushing over to right back. This left us with a starting XI of Green, Tomkins, Bridge, Upson, Da Costa, Parker, Hitzlsperger, Noble, Piquionne, Cole and Ba.

The first 20 minutes or so were pretty even really. Chances at either end were of the half variety with the major surprise being that the visitors’ usual tactic of trying to win throw in after throw in didn’t seem to be working. The best of the chances probably fell to Stoke during this spell. Tomkins got caught out of position on the right and Delap, using his feet for once, put in a low cross where Walters got near side of Upson and diverted it goal bound, Green turning the effort round the post reasonably comfortably.

We took the lead shortly after 20 minutes – just after it had occurred to me that we seem to score a lot on the 20 minute mark but just before it had occurred to me to mention the fact. Noble played a through ball down the middle. Begovic was favourite to win the race but, possibly with one eye on Ba and Wilson who were also closing in on the ball, he took a complete air shot leaving the ball running towards goal. Ba was stronger over the ten yard race to the ball and bundled it in for a good forward’s goal – not pretty but effective.

It was a poor goal from a defensive point of view and any strength that the visitors had shown up to that point seemed to evaporate as the psychological spectre of a possible sixth away defeat on the trot raised its head. It can’t have helped either to have had the opener scored by someone you’d turned down for medical reasons. Either way from that point on there was a spring in the step, as exemplified by Ba’s superb 50 yard diagonal ball into the path of Piquionne, Fred’s run being crudely ended by Pugh’s trip on the edge of the box. Noble’s free-kick was wasted by ploughing it into the wall.

I’d been a bit worried about the choice of ref for this one. Andre Marriner has not exactly shown great levels of competence in his career and his handling of the thuggery dished out by Bolton’s Davies in a previous encounter beggared belief. However, it seemed that he might have had some sort of dressing down as he seemed less than willing to let the visitors get away with some of the more uncompromising challenges for which they are noted. Whilst Pugh escaped caution for his challenge on Piquionne, Wilson was not so lucky, hauling Cole to the ground as he turned away. Wilson could have few complaints, the challenge coming only a few minutes after he’d brought down Ba out on the touchline. Noble’s free-kick wasn’t the greatest though it did cause a minor scramble.

Shawcross was next into the book for a mistimed and misplaced hack at Parker. However, the foul would go on to prove even more costly for the visitors. Hitzlsperger’s delivery was inch perfect and Da Costa’s towering leap allowed the defender to plant the perfect header past the ‘keeper and put us 2-0 up after half an hour.

It could – probably should - have been three five minutes later. Parker fed Bridge who went down the left and saw his cross blocked only as far as Ba on the edge of the box. Ba tried a first time effort that was blocked into the path of Piquionne who snatched at the shot a bit and put it wide with only the ‘keeper to beat.

Pugh completed the referee’s writing activities for the day, his yellow arriving for upending Piquionne as Fred got away for the umpteenth time that day. The resulting free-kick was brought down marvellously by Cole who laid it off to Hitzlsperger whose first time effort required an equally fine save from Bergovic to keep it out. We thus entered the interval 2-0 up which was a fair reflection of how things had gone.

Sadly (though I suspect that our Jem might disagree with the use of that word) we had no repeat of last weekend’s half-time entertainment involving bonkers ex-players so I had to make do with a quick read of the programme with the traditional half-time Kit-Kat.

There were no changes at the interval and the second half commenced with us hoping that whatever the manager had said to the team in other matches we’d been dominating at the interval, he’d given it a miss this time. We forced an early corner with Ba looking to get on the end of a loose ball, the defence smuggling it clear for a corner in the nick of time. After a bit of shilly-shallying with a short corner the cross finally came deep and Tomkins was on the end of it only to see his header come back off the post for a goal kick.

Although no subs had been made at half-time we only had to wait five minutes for Stoke to make a change, Etherington coming on to applause from all sides of the ground. The next time Lampard’s paid press lackey moans about the treatment his un-credited paymaster gets at the Boleyn he might want to think about the reception other players get on their return to E13 and consider whether the stick his precious one gets might just be a little bit self-inflicted. Tag-boy Pennant was the one to come ashore.

We thought that the change might have been part of some plan by Tony Pulis to exploit Tomkins’ unfamiliarity with the right-back slot but the anticipated onslaught down our right never really materialised. Of more concern was the collision that Scott Parker had with the advertising hoardings in blocking out a corner. The crowd held its collective breath, the tension relieved by a huge sigh of relief as Parker re-entered the fray. I understand that the hoarding was a write-off though.

The turn of the hour saw a couple of the hitherto forgettable Delap throw-ins. The first saw Green punch less than convincingly and there was a bit of a muddle as the ball wouldn’t come down. Carlton Cole did superbly, taking charge of the ball, working it out to the touchline then clearing upfield. The ball eventually found its way to Delap whose shot from about 25 yards or so was well saved by Green, despite it appearing to move wickedly through the air. Tomkins mopped up to give Delap another chance for a throw. Green got more decent contact on this one and punched well away from danger.

We still looked the more likely to trouble the scorers however and, Cole might have made it three. Parker and Noble crowded out Carew and Parker played a fine ball diagonally towards Cole, copping a bit of a forearm shove off the ball from the Norwegian for his trouble. Cole taunted a defender before curling a low shot towards goal that required a decent fingertip save from Begovic to keep the score at 2-0.

Cole had another chance to increase the lead with about 20 left on the clock. Shawcross elected to head back to his ‘keeper who had come a little too far to collect such a header. Cole’s shot was on target but Begovic managed to get back to claw the ball away to safety. Da Costa’s leap from the resulting corner was, if anything, even higher than the one from which he’d scored earlier. However he was unable to get direction on the header.

You know things aren’t going Stoke’s way when they take off Delap. Delap’s last couple of throws had mustered about as much distance as I can throw it so Pulis was presumably getting as bored with the tactic as we all were. Jones replaced Delap and had what was probably their best chance of the match. Etherington had found little change from Tomkins and, swapping to the right, found Jones with a cross. Jones put the free header wide.

With ten left Cole had another chance to put the game beyond all doubt. A Hitz shot rebounded to Tomkins who embarked on a little run and fed Cole on the left hand side of the box. Cole’s shot beat the ‘keeper but also, unfortunately, the far post by a foot or two.

Shortly after we made our first change of the day, O’Neil replacing the tiring Ba. The change prompted the third goal. O’Neil was immediately involved, combining with Noble on the right. Noble held the ball up for Parker to run on the overlap, easily getting the better of the defender. Parker pulled the ball back for Piquionne who saw his shot blocked.

Now if you are a goalkeeper I’d suggest that the last person you want to see bearing down on a loose ball id Hitzlsperger. To describe Der Hammer’s shot as a “rocket” is probably underestimating the sheer power of the midfielder’s shot which, but for decent netting, would probably have achieved escape velocity entering orbit somewhere above Beckton, having punched a hole in the back of the Bobby Moore stand en route.

There was just time for Obinna and Gabbidon to replace Cole and Parker respectively- in Gabbidon’s case there was barely time for the player to take his position before the final whistle went.

Well the manager has been telling anyone who would listen for ages that we’d be a different side if only we could get everyone fit. The arrival of Hitzlsperger does seem to have rejuvenated both Parker and Noble and this match proved that we can function with a variety of different formations. We may not be out of the woods yet but we’re certainly on the right path. And some of the football’s not bad either!

More again please! Here endeth the lesson.



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Player Ratings

Robert Green
One iffy punch aside he wasn’t found wanting on the few occasions he was required.


James Tomkins
I’ve never felt he has been comfortable out of position in the past. However, a few early wobbles aside, he looked happier as the game went on and even found time to get forward in the second half.


Wayne Bridge
Probably his best game for us – going some way to banish the memory of that nightmare debut.


Manuel Da Costa
Fine game in defence. Fine goal up front.


Matthew Upson
Was it the same medic who said who said he was out for the season that did Ba’s up at Stoke? Kept the forward line quiet and one tackle in the second half was so well-timed they re-adjusted Big Ben as a result.


Scott Parker
Yet again the pick of the bunch. Hope he has a decent space to use as a wine cellar at home!


Mark Noble
Continues to improve. Looks like he’s enjoying his football as well.


Thomas Hitzlsperger
A few wayward passes at the start but yet again proved what a fine signing he was. Lots of 'if onlys' about the player, not least 'if only he’d caught that shot cleanly'!


Carlton Cole
Unfortunate not to go on the scorer’s list. Was a handful throughout for the Stoke defence and was seen to pop up in defence on the few occasions Delap’s throws looked as if they might be bothersome.


Frederic Piquionne
Pushes out wide when we go with three up – a position I suspect is not one that he enjoys quite as much as his usual role. However, he gave Pugh a rotten time throughout. Should have scored though.


Demba Ba
Another excellent run out and did well to pick up the goal. Not bad for someone unfit for Premier League football.


Substitutes


Gary O'Neil
(Replaced Ba, 82 mins) On for the last 7 minutes and had a part, albeit a minor one, for the goal.


Victor Obinna
(Replaced Cole, 86 mins) I can’t really give him a mark as he came on and he barely had a chance to touch the ball. I bet the boss sticks a mark in to make the database work though.


Danny Gabbidon
(Replaced Parker, 90+2 mins) Didn’t put a foot wrong in the, er, 20 seconds or so between his arrival and the final whistle.


Ruud Boffin
Did not play.


Lars Jacobsen
Did not play.


Jonathan Spector
Did not play.


Zavon Hines
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: Andre Marriner.

Attendance: 33,066.

Man of the Match: Scott Parker.

West Ham United

Robert Green, James Tomkins, Wayne Bridge, Manuel Da Costa, Matthew Upson, Scott Parker, Mark Noble, Thomas Hitzlsperger, Carlton Cole, Frederic Piquionne, Demba Ba.

Goals: Demba Ba 21 Manuel Da Costa 29 Thomas Hitzlsperger 83              .

Booked: None booked.           .

Sent off: None.

Stoke City

Begovic, Huth, Wilson, Shawcross, Whelan, Pugh, Delap, Pennant, Whitehead, Walters, Carew.

Substitutes: Etherington (Pennant 52), Fuller (Carew 65), Jones (Delap 69).

Subs not used: Sorensen, Collins, Diao, Wilkinson .

Goals: None.

Booked: Wilson (27), Shawcross (29), Pugh (44).

Sent Off: None.

 
Gordon Thrower's Man of the Match: Scott Parker


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