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Championship
Saturday, 17th December 2011

West Ham United 1
Barnsley 0

by Gordon Thrower


Did I hear the words 'bare bones'?

It was pretty much a full house at the Boleyn for this one, the availability of cheap tickets for both adults and youngsters gave those who wanted to avoid the nightmare of Christmas shopping the ideal excuse, thus keeping out of earshot of the “seasonal” muzak with which the shops have been assaulting our ears since July.

The team news actually changed between my picking up the teamsheet from the press room and my arrival at my seat. This is an unusual occurrence even allowing for the time it takes my dodgy arthritic knees to negotiate the stairs these days. It transpired that Abdoulaye Faye had suffered a calf injury during the warm-up necessitating a debut for Dan Potts. If there’s one thing more guaranteed than dodgy arthritic knees to make you feel old, it has got to be seeing another son of a player you watched for years making his debut. With Potts being pressed into service at left-back, McCartney was moved into the centre alongside Tomkins. Up front we went with all three of Cole Carew and Piquionne leaving us with a starting XI of Green, Faubert, Potts, Tomkins, McCartney, Nolan, Noble Diop, Piquionne, Carew and Cole.

Given the makeshift nature of the side in certain areas of the pitch, it wasn’t a bad start. Potts did his confidence a power of good with a good first challenge on Ranger. Noble’s early free kick from distance tested Steele – not unduly so but the ‘keeper had to be alert to keep the low drive out. Meanwhile there was an early reminder of the fact that the back four wasn’t exactly our first choice as Ranger was able to win a header from a corner, the effort thankfully providing little more than catching practice for Green.

I suppose if there’s one thing that will settle the nerves it’s going to be a goal so the arrival of the opener on 6 minutes was most welcome. It started with Cole’s run down the left from which he was able to force a corner. Noble took, Diop nodded home. That simple. It was the Wardrobe’s first goal for the club and his celebration was one of undisguised glee.

We might have doubled the lead a few minutes later. Faubert aimed a free-kick towards Carew and the ball fell to Nolan on the edge. For a split second he shaped to repeat his fine effort from the Derby match but the skipper elected to try a more side-on type of volley which went harmlessly into the crowd.

As the game settled down we began to sit back a bit more, though on the counter we were looking dangerous – none more so than young Potts whose fine defensive work was being complimented by a neat line in dangerous crosses from the left – an area that we’ve been lacking in of late. One such cross forced a defender to head behind. From the resulting corner the ball fell to Potts once more and his cross found Tomkins who headed over.

On 20 minutes we ought to have had a penalty. Some neat play between Piquionne & Cole saw Fred burst into the box. The defender’s challenge got all of the player and none of the ball. You’re unlikely to see a clearer penalty all season and Mr Mathieson’s decision to wave play on was dreadful. I suppose we may be being a bit previous in that he may be waiting to see what happens – whilst his attempts to apply advantage throughout the game were thoroughly laudable he did seem to have a habit of leaving it an awfully long time. Call me old-fashioned but I prefer to see these things dealt with within the “few seconds” suggested by the laws of the game rather than a few weeks later – what with the Christmas post delaying things and all.

Barnsley came as close as they got to scoring exactly halfway through the half. Top scorer Davies got the better of Tomkins and bore down on goal. Linda got across to deflect Davies’ effort wide of the post for a corner – I’m not too convinced that Green would have had the deflection covered had it crept the wrong side of the post as it looked like he had set himself up for the original trajectory of the shot. This spell was followed by a number of corners from the opposition which, by and large were dealt with competently by the defence.

On the half hour Carlton Cole had a chance the footage of which would serve as “Beginner’s Guide To Carlton Cole” were anyone wanting such a thing. Cole powered through onto the end of a ball from Noble, using some neat and tricky footwork to get the better of two defenders before taking it just a little too wide of the ‘keeper to make the angle comfortable, his resulting shot hitting the side netting.

Piquionne really ought to have made it 2-0 on 40 minutes. Carew got free on the right hand side of the box and played the ball into Fred on the edge of the six-yard box. A first-time effort would surely have brought dividends. Frustratingly Piq elected to take the touch which allowed Addison to get in to clear.

Half time: West Ham United 1 Barnsley 0


After the seasonal exchange of cards in our part of the ground ( I avoided the mince pies on the grounds that I can’t stand the bloody things) there were no changes at the resumption, despite Sears having looked likely at one stage to replace Carew, who had received the contents of a tin of magic spray on his back during the first half.

The first action of the second half saw Diop penalised for something or other. While we were waiting for play to restart, a cat, possibly enticed by the cheap tickets, sprinted in from the Bobby Moore end of the Chicken Run down towards the West Stand. It was probably the paciest thing we saw all afternoon and clearly “Tiddles” has a great future in sport. Probably as part of a tennis racquet.

The resulting free-kick was dangerous, Vaz Te finding the head of Edwards whose effort brought out a superb save from Green, diving low to his right to make a sharp one-handed block that was to prove vital it the wider context of the game.

Ten minutes into the second half Carew’s back finally got the better of him and Sears belatedly replaced the Norwegian, who hadn’t really impressed up to that point. The change prompted a slight reshuffle with Piquionne, who had been playing the deepest of the front three (in midfield if you like), pushing further forward with Sears playing more of a wide right role.

It wasn’t a classic – we were reasonably content to allow them possession though it has to be said that the midfield were getting through a prodigious amount of work to ensure that that possession was limited to areas of safety. As if to underline that fact, it seemed that what few chances came the visitors’ way seemed to be from free-kicks. One such infringement saw McCartney yellowed for a foul on Davies, with Vaz Te sticking the ball high into the crowd. That proved to be Vaz Te’s last meaningful involvement in the game as shortly after he was replaced. Also off at the same time was Ranger who had pulled up lame, requiring the assistance of two physios to get him off. Whilst all that was being sorted out we made our own second change. Faubert had had a decent match and didn’t seem to have any problems when Lansbury came on on 67 minutes. However, it later transpired that he’d been feeling the effects of a tight hamstring.

Nolan then got into good advanced position on the left. His cross was deflected up into the air and there seemed to be a hand in there somewhere as Cole battled for the loose ball. This eventually fell to Sears whose volley brought out a fine save from Steele, a save that was ultimately unnecessary as the ref had decided that the hand mentioned all that time ago had belonged to Carlton Cole and awarded a free-kick.

With 12 left Potts picked up a rather painful souvenir of his senior debut.Going in for a loose ball sub O’Brien caught the youngster with a horrible challenge that deserved some sort of caution – red being the standard for reckless challenges these days. That the ref saw it as a free kick but not a card was one of the more baffling decisions of the afternoon. After all if a challenge leaves you poleaxed and (as the old saying goes) counting ‘em rather than rubbing ‘em surely it must by definition be reckless. Thankfully the youngster – who, we should not forget was battling leukaemia a couple of years ago – seems to be bade of pretty stern stuff and once his voice had dropped back to a more masculine level he was able to resume his game.

Mr Allardyce was not a happy man with the referee at this point. His demeanour was not improved a few minutes later when, breaking from defence, Sears was unceremonially dumped to the ground by O’Brien while bearing down on goal. The only two things on the referee’s mind should have been whether contact had been made inside or outside the box (outside probably) and whether the resulting card should be yellow or red (yellow). The fact that the ref waved play on was a bit too much for the boss- understandably so as, apart from everything else O’Brien had now done enough to earn an early bath. A tray of plastic bottles bore the brunt of the boss’s frustration, “Tiddles” having long since disappeared. This prompted the 4th official to report the manager to the ref who, just in case we hadn’t already got the idea that he didn’t have a clue what was going on, removed all doubt by sending Allardyce to the stands.

Poor old Jem was then left with the poisoned chalice of having to announce that the sponsors had declared Kevin Nolan to be the Man Of The Match. I thought the boos were a little harsh myself. Although not my MOTM (wait and see for that) Nolan – like the rest of the midfield - did put in a lot of hard work in protecting a back four that, at the end, redefined the word makeshift.

We survived stoppage – including a late late corner that saw ‘keeper Steele pop up in our box for a look see – and the three points were ours. It was neither a classic nor the most overwhelming of victories. However, taken in the context of all the injuries and suspensions (the area behind Allardyce looked more like a crčche than a bench) the three points were well-won – especially after the little blip we’ve had. The holiday period means we’ve got a few extra days to work on the infirm and I’ll take second place one point off top for now. Sure beats this time last year anyway!

Merry Christmas all!



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Player Ratings

Robert Green
Not over-tested but the save at the start of the second half was a match winner. Collected crosses well and his awareness and command of the box helped settle an 'unusual' back four combination.


Julien Faubert
Was having a good match up to the point that his hamstring started complaining. A very different player this season.


Danny Potts
Good in defence and excellent going forward. Has a decent left foot on him, resulting in a succession of dangerous looking crosses from the left. Given the fact that he couldn’t have known he was going to start until quite late this was a fine and assured debut which earns him my MOTM award. He’d be too young to drink the traditional bottle of champagne so it’s just as well we don’t award one anyway.


George McCartney
Surprisingly good given that this was a highly unfamiliar position for Linda.


James Tomkins
The senior pro in terms of back four leadership, he bore the responsibility well. I see Newcastle are the latest to (allegedly) make enquiries as to his availability. If it were down to me I’d refer them to the answer given in the celebrated legal case of Arkell v Pressdram (1971).


Mark Noble
If Diop is a Wardrobe, then Noble was more like a bedside cabinet – like Nolan most of his work was the sort of stuff that often goes unnoticed.


Papa Bouba Diop
Immense in any number of ways. 'The Wardrobe' was a veritable rock in midfield and a provided a fine header for the goal.


Kevin Nolan
The boos were unmerited. He got through one Hell of a spell of work, doing the unspectacular hard miles required to protect the defence. Not his fault that the sponsors obviously preferred to have their post-match photos taken with the skipper.


Frederic Pqiuionne
Very frustrating. Got into a number of good positions which he then proceeded to squander, usually taking an extra touch when a first time shot was required. And vice-versa.


John Carew
Held the ball up well but never looked particularly mobile – with or without the back spasms.


Carlton Cole
Gave the Barnsley defence much to think about without much looking like scoring.


Substitutes


Fred Sears
(Replaced Carew, 56) Ought to have had a free-kick when through on goal. Perhaps might have been better served if he’d replaced Carew in the first half when the Norwegian first looked like coming up.


Henri Lansbury
(Replaced Faubert, 68) Not sure if right-back features heavily in his CV but he looked quite comfortable in the role when replacing Faubert. And it quite amuses me to have Linda and Angela in the back four!


Marek Stech
Did not play.


Callum Driver
Did not play.


Brian Montenegro
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: Scott Mathieson.

Attendance: 34,797.

Man of the Match: Danny Potts.

West Ham United

Robert Green, Julien Faubert, Danny Potts, George McCartney, James Tomkins, Mark Noble, Papa Bouba Diop, Kevin Nolan, Frederic Pqiuionne, John Carew, Carlton Cole.

Goals: Papa Bouba Diop 6                  .

Booked: None.

Sent off: None.

Barnsley

.

Substitutes: .

Subs not used: .

Goals: .

Booked: .

Sent Off: None.

 
Gordon Thrower's Man of the Match: Danny Potts