Saturday, 19th March 2011
I nearly didn’t make this one if truth be told. A night best described as 'uncomfortable' left me feeling lousy and the prospect of having to battle my way up to the dubious delights of N17 without much in the way of help from the transport authorities didn’t really appeal. Even the restorative properties of a hot bath didn’t improve my mood much. In the end I decided to make the effort on the grounds that the alternative involved housework and supermarkets.
The first good omen of the day was the arrival on my train of someone who knew me. “Last time I sat near you at Spurs, Ferdinand ruined their afternoon with a last minute equaliser”. He informed me. I was impressed with the guy’s memory – I can barely remember who I sat next to last week never mind lord knows how many years ago.
Having been forced off the train at Bruce Grove rather than White Hart Lane by the Met for no readily apparent reason other than because they could, I managed to escape the 'kettled' march up the middle of the road by slipping onto the pavement while nobody was watching. Thus I was able to maintain a pace appropriate to my getting to the ground before kick-off. Others weren’t as lucky.
Team news arrived on the way which saw the return of Jacobsen at right back in place of Tomkins, who reverted to the bench. In midfield O’Neil returned from cup-tie limbo and, whilst Piquionne hadn’t recovered from the nasty little hack he received from Huth in last weekend’s disgrace, Ba was fit to start though Keane was “league-tied” if I can be permitted to make up a new term. Team: Green, Jacobsen, Bridge Upson, Da Costa, Parker, Noble, Hitzlsperger, O’Neil, Cole, Ba.
The match was preceded by a minute’s silence in honour of those who perished in Japan that was respectfully observed within the stadium, what noise their was coming from outside the ground where we will be charitable and assume that those Spurs supporters chanting were not aware of what was happening inside.
Well you’d expect the home side in this case to come at you from the start and so it proved, with Modric pulling the strings. Van Der Vaart combined with Modric who pulled the ball back to Dawson (a left-over from a previous set-piece) whose curled drive clipped the top of the bar on its way over. Bale then went down the left and played a low ball into the box where, worryingly, Da Costa allowed Defoe to get in front of him but the first-time effort went wide.
Da Costa did slightly better a couple of minutes later when Lennon got a low ball in from the right. The Portuguese defender first got a good challenge in to deny Defoe then blocked the follow-up shot from Sandro, an effort that left the defender hobbling for a moment or two. The resulting corner ended up far with Lennon who shot high wide and into the crowd.
We then had a spotlight on the world’s worst referee Mike Dean – which is just the way he likes it of course. In fairness he didn’t have a bad game overall for once. However, quite why Bale’s undershorts had assumed the status of an evil that needed to be stamped out from the game was something of a mystery.
According to the laws undershorts need to be the same colour as the main kit and, admittedly, Bale’s were white. Actually the bottom of one leg of Spurs’ 'sailor boy' shorts is also white., but the other one isn’t. Dean decided that this was something so import that it needed dealing with immediately and banished Bale to the touchline to adjust his dress. Aren’t you glad that the guardians of our game have their sense of priorities right? Tottenham were grateful that the ref hadn’t widened his fashion police duties to the crowd which would have been half empty had Dean adopted a 'no shell suits' policy on the door.
Whilst Bale was explaining to the Met that, no, it wasn’t a case of indecent exposure and if they could have a word with the bald bloke in the middle he’d explain it all to officer and that although it was sunny it was a bit nippy really wasn’t it?, we enjoyed a brief spell of possession which ended rather tamely with a weak effort from Cole that gave Gomes no problem, though with Cole’s recent record of involvement in “wacky” comedy goals you never know.
Dean was endearing himself to the crowd no end by insisting that Bale wait for his return which only came round when they deliberately hoofed the ball out of play, The whole episode was ridiculous – especially when you consider that the replacement shorts were, technically, every bit as illegal as the white ones they’d replaced since the black didn’t match with the white leg. Of course it does beg the question as to how often Bale has gotten away with such a dreadful crime and whether or not a points deduction might be in order. Sheffield United might want to get their lawyers on the case.
Cole should have put us ahead shortly after “pantsgate”. He got between two defenders on to the end of Hitzlsperger’s fine ball but elected to try a difficult first time mid-air lob when either a header or a touch would surely have been the better option.
On the quarter hour Spurs won a corner at which we nodded-off. It was taken short to Modric who hit a low drive narrowly wide. It was a worrying lack of vigilance from the defence I’m afraid. It took a while for the lesson to be learnt as well. Another corner taken by Modric was pulled back to the unmarked van Der Vart whose shot had a bit of slice to it, going about a yard wide.
Whilst Spurs were racking up and missing chances they weren’t alone in that respect. Ba played a lovely ball through the middle as Cole once more got between the two centre halves. And, once more, he made a total hash of things, shooting weakly at Gomes. Noble then gave away a free-kick for a challenge that seemed to get all of the ball and none of the player.
Tottenham next went through an elaborate training ground routine that involved giving the ball straight to Wayne Bridge. Ba did well to keep possession on the break but his shot from distance lacked accuracy.
Modric was giving cause for concern. Combining with Defoe he was given even more space on the edge of the box and another shot went feet wide. With five minutes of the half left Defoe then gave us all a laugh. Lennon, by this time plying his trade on the Spurs left having swapped with Bale, cut in and hit a shot across goal, the ball coming back off the post to hit Deofe and go out for a goal-kick when it was easier to score from there.
Hitzlsperger then played a nice ball outside the full back which Ba’s run picked up. The angle was against Ba and his shot caused Gomes no problems. Parker then picked up a yellow for a tackle that probably looked worse than it was, being mistimed rather than malicious. Van der Vaart chipped the ball tamely at Green for what was the last meaningful action of the half.
During the interval Alan Mullery told the home support that Tottenham would win the Champions League. You could hear the laughter from Madrid and Barcelona. And Donetsk. Whether or not Mullery was the cause I wouldn’t know but Sandro managed to lose his lunch as he came on to the pitch for the second half prompting enquiries as to whether or not he’d had a pre-match lasagne.
The second half started brightly with Cole finding himself in useful territory on the left hand side. Lacking much in the way of options he elected to shoot, an effort that
was pushed out by Gomes.
It was then Noble’s turn to pick up a yellow. Looked a tad harsh to me, Bale failing to clear the hurdle created by Noble’s follow-through. Shortly after that Spurs spurned yet another chance and yet again Defoe was the culprit. O’Neil and Jacobsen failed to deal with Modric whose pull-back eluded Da Costa. Defoe prodded goalwards from all of six yards out onlt for Green to save well with his feet. Apparently Defoe had an undershirt bearing the words “100 Goals” underneath his shirt. Presumably a tribute to the number he missed in this match.
Cole next did well to win the ball in midfield before putting it out wide to O’Neil. O’Neil’s cross was blocked by a defender and Noble’s overhead kick could only have been a foot or so wide, though it was arguable that Cole was slightly better placed to get onto the loose ball.
Dean was having a nice time with the card and Cole became no.3 into the book for a clumsy challenge on Sandro that owed more than a little to the push in the back Cole got from a defender. Another that seemed a bit on the harsh side. Cole was then the subject of a penalty shout – Dawson clattering into the back of the striker as a throw in came in. It was yet another of those that refs seem quite happy to give the other side of the line but develop a strange blind spot to once the ball enters the box.
Just after the hour it was Ba’s turn to get on the chance list. Beating his man in midfield he unleashed a low, powerful drive that Gomes did supremely well to tip round the post. If the save was good Gomes waqs very fortunate to win a free-kick from the corner, there being nothing wrong with Upson’s challenge – indeed the skipper was more sinned against than sinning, but , as Gomes found recently up at Wolves, ‘keepers are definitely pampered these days. In fact if a goalie were caught harpooning a blue whale I swear referees would book Moby and charge him the cost of the harpoon.
Upson picked up the next of the yellows. Noble burst into the box but delayed his shot a bit too much and Spurs cleared. Defoe was first to the ball and Upson made sure he went no further. The caution was fair enough – though there are those who would argue that if it’s Defoe it shouldn’t count! Defoe then played another fine ball through to Defoe who, briefly, was one on one with Da Costa. Da Costa held the striker up and Bridge got back marvellously to force Deoe wide before winning the ball off him. Excellent defending.
It was becoming a little 'end-to-end' during this spell. Cole held the ball up and found Noble on the box. Noble dummied a shot before placing his actual shot wide of the far post, his shot reminiscent of Parker’s effort with the outside of the boot against Liverpool. Except for the result. Obviously.
Van Der Vaart went off to be replaced by Pavluycenko. The Dutchman straight went down the tunnel, presumably to get on the phone to his agent to discuss not having to play in next season’s Europa League.
With 77 on the clock Cole went off to be replaced by Obinna. For the second time in recent weeks Parker caused concern by crashing into an advertising hoarding, this time helped on his way by a rather obvious shove from Bale that the ref missed. After a minute or so of treatment the hoarding was fit enough to continue advertising nylon shell suits to the home crowd. The throw that Spurs had been awarded caused mild concern but Pavluycenko’s shot was blocked.
As we entered the last ten Pavluycenko nutmegged Da Costa and Green did superbly well to palm the resulting shot away. Less than a minute later the ‘keeper had to be alert once more as another shot from the same player “did something in the air” – Green got everything behind it as it swerved in mid flight.
With 6 left Upson gave away a free-kick, though again it looked like the ball had been taken. Bale took it left footed and it looked for all the world that it was goal-bound. However Green somehow, impossibly, managed to get an fingertip to the ball to push it onto the bar. Jacobsen was on hand to complete the clearance. The save was breathtaking and one of the best bits of keeping you’ll see.
As the final moments came the worry was that we were starting to defend deeper and deeper. Defoe put another shot over – presumably his undershirt contained a digital update system so that it read 101 by now. He made it 102 as Pavluycenko put him through, Bridge’s splendid tackle (ooer) taking the sting out of the shot.
We survived the four minutes of added time without too much to worry about and a hard-earned point was ours.
This was an entertaining 90 minutes. Two teams trying to play football came as a refreshing change to the cynicism, diving and dishonesty (both playing and refereeing) of the previous week and it was a match that made me glad that I’d made the effort to drag my weary carcass across London. As if to reinforce the feelgood factor the journey home was sheer perfection with train, bus and train again all arriving within instants and seats being available all round. It’s tight at the bottom sure but the sort of application and purpose shown in this one will go a long way towards helping us to safety.
More of the same please!
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The save from Bale’s free-kick was out of this world. Mind you I’d have held it!
It was hard work but he stuck to the task well.
Superb. So that’s how he got to be an international. So good Lennon kept swapping with Bale in an attempt to get some change out of the match. MOTM – just.
Manuel Da Costa
Blocks here, tackles there. Just needs to guard a tendency to lapses of concentration from time to time.
Another immense performance from the skipper. Always seemed to be there or thereabouts when a block was needed.
Should be four inches shorter such was the running he got through. Again. Just like me he seems to have a dislike of those digital advertising hoardings – which is no bad thing.
Seems to enjoy the game so much more when part of a middle three with Hitz.
If only we hadn’t let him played for Germany in that pre-season friendly.
Gary O Neil
A lot of hard work but occasionally took the wrong decision going forward.
Held the ball up well on some occasions then messed it up completely on others. Battled throughout though and never let the defenders settle. Should have scored.
Not as involved as Cole but always looked dangerous when things came his way.
(Replaced Cole, 78 mins) Remember the days when you only had one sub? Oh just me then. Only on for a few minutes without registering one way or the other really.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Luis Boa Morte
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Referee: Mike Dean.
Man of the Match: Wayne Bridge.
West Ham United
Robert Green, Lars Jacobsen, Wayne Bridge, Manuel Da Costa, Matthew Upson, Scott Parker, Mark Noble, Thomas Hitzlsperger, Gary O Neil, Carlton Cole, Demba Ba.
Goals: None .
Booked: Scott Parker 45 Mark Noble 51 Carlton Cole 57 Matthew Upson 68 .
Sent off: None.
Gomes, Corluka, Gallas, Dawson, Assou-Ekotto, Sandro, Bale, Modric, Lennon, Van der Vaart, Defoe.
Substitutes: Pavlyuchenko (Van der Vaart 72), Hutton (Corluka 78).
Subs not used: Pletikosa, Bassong, Jenas, Kranjcar, Crouch.
Sent Off: None.