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Championship
Saturday, 19th November 2011

Coventry City 1
West Ham United 2

by Gordon Thrower


Six away wins? In the same season? Before Christmas? That’s what the league table says.

With the West Ham iFC supporters’ team playing their Coventry counterparts in the morning I elected to make an early start and take in both matches giving the Gnomemobile a bit of a spin. Unfortunately the geeks suffered a 3-2 reverse. I then adjourned to one of those social club-type places that Romford always manages to locate for away trips. However having elected to drive diet Coke was the order of the day for me. Thus in successive matches I’ve survived trips to both Hull and Coventry without a beer. The sacrifices I make.

After a 14 minute, 23 second walk to the ground (the distance had been the subject of debate in the club) we arrived at the Ricoh Arena where they very kindly played “Twist And Shout” for us – which is probably one short of actually playing “Bubbles”. This being the Sky Blues’ first match since Remembrance Sunday, a minute’s silence was held, partly in recognition of the terrible battering both Coventry and the East End took in the Blitzs of the second World War.

Much has been written in the forums about the silence. My take on it was that, as usually happens on these occasions, there were inevitably a few voices from outside the pitch area coming from those arriving in the area underneath the stand who were unaware of what was happening inside. This didn’t seem to cause a problem at Hull where announcements and the tv screens in the undercroft made it clear to all as to what was going on.

What usually happens is that someone chants something then realises what is happening and shuts up. This didn’t happen and a few “sshs” turned into shouted “shut-ups” from both home and away support – followed by booing from the home support all of which which only served to make things worse. All in all an unedifying passage of events from which only those who stood silently emerge with any credit.

Team news after all that was that rumours of an appearance of the mythical Guy Demel proved to be premature with the defender not even making the bench. It was, as expected, a week too early for Matt Taylor leaving us with a starting XI of Green, Faubert, McCartney, Faye, Tomkins, Diop, Noble, Collison, Nolan, Baldock, Carew.

The opening seconds saw Jutkiewicz go straight for Faye with his elbow, something that the diminutive ref Stroud saw as a free-kick but little else. The sight of the ref looking up at Faye to admonish the defender for complaining was hilarious. Think of the running gag in “Little Britain” featuring a two foot tall Dennis Waterman and you’ll have a fair idea of the picture.

It was clear that, despite the selection of both Baldock and Carew we were effectively playing a 4-5-1. I’m sure the manager will issue his usual denial and, I suppose it’s possible that his instructions were to play with two up front. However, if that was the case his instructions were being ignored as Baldock was playing so deep that he was often behind McCartney to clear long balls into touch. This, of course, left Carew isolated and his efforts to hold up the ball were not assisted by the officials who, in line with what seems to be official policy amongst match officials in this league, was penalised every time he stood his ground. On one occasion he was hilariously penalised when his nearest defender lost his footing in what appeared to be slippery conditions. The fact that Carew hadn’t actually touched the player was a bit of a giveaway.

The way we were set up meant that attacking was not an option in the first half, which was largely a football-free zone. Diop picked up a yellow card for a series of challenges which, taken individually, seemed pretty innocuous but when taken together were considered sufficient for sanction. Overall I can remember us having just two efforts on goal in the first half, from Noble and Faubert, both of which sailed over the bar into what I will laughingly refer to as the “crowd”. Coventry, for all the possession we were conceding, didn’t really look like scoring either. Until just after the half hour.

Christie out on the Coventry right was fed the ball. Collison failed to get anywhere near to the player, allowing Christie to get a cross in. McSheffrey’s step-over caused momentary confusion. Faye ought to have got closer to Platt who had the time to turn and score past a stranded Green. Depressingly, Coventry is yet another club that has succumbed to the Mickey Mouse gimmick of playing music after goals. I suppose as a cue to the sparsely-populated home sections of the ground that some singing might be in order it worked since it appeared to wake up one or two of them.

The rest of the first half was much the same really. No real efforts on goal from either side. Carew pulled up for a foul every time he touched the ball. Little urgency from the visitors. All in all a most unsatisfactory 45 minutes that left the travelling hoards bemused and, possibly, grateful that we weren’t actually playing a team that were good enough to take more advantage of our unwillingness to venture over the half-way line.

Things had to change and change they did. Carew was replaced by Cole. Just as significant was the instruction that had clearly been given to Baldock to move up and play as a striker.

It took a while though for things to warm up. Stroud summoned up the guts to book Faye for a rare foul on McSheffrey, the height difference between the official and Faye was so comical that one expected Ricky Gervaise to turn up. We forced a few corners which, though little came of them, was at least a statement of intent. Jutkiewicz then took time off from leaving his feet or elbows in on Faye to hit a powerful shot that forced Green into his one real save of the day, diving to his left to turn the ball past the post.

We then had a shout for a penalty. Noble ran into the box and had both legs taken away by a defender. If Stroud didn’t see the challenge properly then fair enough. However, for the ref to make the sign that the player had taken the ball when he clearly hadn’t was just dishonest however you look at it.

On the hour we made our second substitution with Piquionne coming on for Diop, a further signal of attacking intent. Within ten minutes we were on level terms. Green took a goal kick. Cole and a defender jumped for the ball. Neither got anywhere near it. Cole’s marker clutched his face in the manner that had seen Carew penalised so often in the first half. For once the ref wasn’t fooled and Cole bore down on goal. His shot was probably going wide but Cranie’s desperate sliding block served only to divert the ball past Murphy to level the scores. Fortunate finish? Maybe but you don’t get those unless you actually attack the opposition.

The winner came six minutes later. If the finish for the first was streaky we hadn’t seen anything yet. Cole collected a throw-in on the inside left position and spread the ball out to our right hand side to bring Faubert into the play. Faubert’s cross was a shade too high for Piquionne’s jump. However, possibly put off by the striker’s attempt to connect, Christie saw the ball bounce off him straight back onto Piquionne who was face down on the floor as the ball ricocheted off him past the luckless Murphy. The cheers of the away support were mixed with laughter at the nature of the goal, which was as funny as any of the comedy goals Cole treated to us last season. Maybe a new category for the end of season awards?

After the second we seemed to revert to defensive mode. To underline this state of affairs O’Brien replaced Baldock with ten minutes to play. This prompted a bit of a reshuffle with Faubert pushing up into midfield. As they had been in the first half, Coventry were invited forward by our switch to defending deeply. However, as had been the case for most of the first 45 the net effect was to provide Green with a bit of crossing and catching practice. Nolan added some contribution to an otherwise uninspiring game for him by making a vital block on the edge of the box with seven to play.

The frustrating thing about the closing stages of the match was the fact that, unlike the first half, we looked quite capable of doing something on the break – what with having two strikers on the pitch and all. However, it looked for all the world as if the players had been instructed that they should on no account score. Closing the game down is one thing but it seemed that we wanted to take the ball into the corner flag even on those occasions when it seemed simpler to actually go for goal.

A suspicious mind might have also wondered about team orders in the final moments of stoppage time as Piquionne broke away and fed Noble, who fed Collison who stuck the ball high into the crowd with an open goal at his mercy. It was an appalling miss that thankfully we didn’t get a chance to regret and a couple of minutes later another road trip three points were in the bag.

The substitutions together with the switch from whatever the manager says we were playing in the first half to a 4-4-2 then 4-3-3 were what turned this match. The manager joked afterwards that the fact that his two subs had scored the goals qualified him as a “master tactician”. I realise that the comment was made in jest but it does rather beg the question as to why the “master tactician” thought that his original system would be good enough to get the three points when on numerous occasions this season it has taken a change to get the desired result. And why play it against a team second from bottom in the league?

Still a win is a win and a remarkably clear run home including being on the M6 within 45 minutes of the final whistle has left me in a decent mood. Now if we can just start getting these results consistently at home…



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Player Ratings

Robert Green
One fine save, several routine ones. The rest was largely practice.


Julien Faubert
Good in spells though the final cross as ever needs a bit of work. Picked out Christie well for Piquionne’s goal!


George McCartney
Some solid if unspectacular defensive work but distribution wasn’t at its best.


Abdoulaye Faye
A good game despite the usually illegal attentions of Jukiewicz.


James Tomkins
£3million you say, Warnock? Jog on.


Mark Noble
Worked his socks off and ought to have had a penalty.


Jack Collison
Eased off the ball far too easily in this one. And as for that miss…


Kevin Nolan
Another matched that by and large passed the skipper by. One superb block at the end though.


Papa Bouba Diop
The game largely passed him by bar a couple of late but non-malicious challenges that saw him carded.


Sam Baldock
Not in the game much in the first half which, either by instruction or on his own initiative, he spent playing almost alongside McCartney. Improved a bit when playing up front.


John Carew
There were three reasons for Carew’s poor showing. 1) Playing him up front on his own gave him no support. 2) Refereeing – he was pulled up for fouls far too often without justification. 3) He had a poor game anyway.


Substitutes


Carlton Cole
(Replaced Carew, 46) His marks are as much for the impact he had on the game as anything. Coventry had little answer to his power. His shot may have been going wide but he made it happen. MOTM for his impact.


Frederic Piquionne
(Replaced Diop, 62) The old football cliché has it that when a player has gone so long without a goal all it takes is for a fluke to set the bandwagon rolling again. Hope so.


Joey O'Brien
(replaced Baldock, 80) Late replacement for Baldock. Did ok in the ten plus stoppage.


Marek Stech
Did not play.


Fred Sears
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: Keith Stroud.

Attendance: 20,524.

Man of the Match: Carlton Cole.

West Ham United

Robert Green, Julien Faubert, George McCartney, Abdoulaye Faye, James Tomkins, Mark Noble, Jack Collison, Kevin Nolan, Papa Bouba Diop, Sam Baldock, John Carew.

Goals: Carlton Cole 69 Frederic Piquionne 75                .

Booked: Papa Bouba Diop 20 Abdoulaye Faye 49 Julien Faubert 59      .

Sent off: None.

Coventry City

Joe Murphy, Cyrus Christie, Richard Keogh, Martin Cranie, Chris Hussey, Sammy Clingan, Gael Bigirimana, Conor Thomas, Gary McSheffrey, Lukas Jutkiewicz, Clive Platt.

Substitutes: Carl Baker (Gary McSheffrey 76), Richard Wood (Cyrus Christie 80).

Subs not used: Nathan Cameron, Chris Dunn, Cody McDonald.

Goals: Clive Platt (33).

Booked: Gary McSheffrey (41), Sammy Clingan (70).

Sent Off: None.

 
Gordon Thrower's Man of the Match: Carlton Cole


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