Saturday, 31st December 2011
Actually you can also add 'bloody cold' into the mix. Not the weather – which was one of those damp grey miserable Midlands days that make it difficult to tell whether you are in January or July in that part of the world. No, we risked hypothermia on our journey northwards thanks to Romford, who was feeling "a bit under the weather" having over-indulged the night before and therefore insisted on having the passenger side window of the Gnomemobile wound down all the way for the journey for the fresh air.
I finally managed to get the temperature up to something approaching zero as we came off the M1 pointing out that it was difficult to control the car with frostbite. I always wondered what sort of fool ever felt the need to wear driving gloves and I now know the answer – someone who has travelled with the big fellah!
Having parked in our usual favourite fireplace we met Upton Girlie for a restorative pint or two for Romford and a soft drink and bite for me in the Harvester before heading off to the match. Team news was that, with all the injuries & suspensions, I was apparently close to getting a place on the bench. However, the manager, with his usual mind for a good statistic, was aware that nobody had ever successfully come off the bench in a Championship match having picked up frostbite from an open car window during the journey up.
Mr Allardyce therefore elected to populate the 16 places with the 16 fit(ish) players already on the club’s books. This meant a first start for eight months for Gary O’Neil and a first start for a couple of months for Winston Reid, who was pressed into service in view of the absence of Faye through injury and that of McCartney through suspension.
There was also a rare start for Frank Nouble, recently returned from loan at Gillingham. Starting line up: Green, O’Brien, Potts, Tomkins, Reid, Noble, Diop, O’Neil, Lansbury, Piquionne, Nouble. The bench carried an unbalanced look about it, consisting as it did of no ‘keepers, no defenders, no (proper) midfielders and five strikers in the shape of Cole, Carew, Baldock, Sears and Hall.
You remember that disastrous Ashes tour a few years back where Harmison bowled the first ball of the first test at the Gabba so wide that Flintoff took it in the slips, thereby setting the tone for the whole series? Well the opening of this match was depressingly like this. From the kick off we contrived to play the ball into touch, putting us on the back foot from having possession in one easy step. Sadly much of the rest of the half was like this.
Less than two minutes had passed when we shot ourselves in the foot. A throw down our left was too high for Potts to deal with and the young left back got underneath it heading it back to Tyson. Reid failed to make a challenge, and if Diop’s attempt to win the ball was half-hearted, Noble's was quarter-hearted if you can have such a thing.
Ball’s turn and curled finish to put us one down were excellent but we had several decent chances to win the ball and failed to take any of them. At this point Derby joined our ever-growing list of muppet clubs that play music after goals. Points deductions and multi million pound fines – that’s all these people will understand.
Within ten minutes we contrived to put ourselves two down. Lansbury’s effort to prevent the cross coming in from our right was probably, on the scale we are currently establishing, three-sixteenths-hearted. Green got the wrong side of Potts to put a low header past his namesake. Cue the playing of “Glad All Over” – well I suppose if you are trying for Muppet club status, pinching a tune from Palace – possibly THE single most Muppet club of all – is a good way to go about it.
So ten minutes in and two down. A lousy year was clearly intending to have one last pop at us. We were probably there for the taking. However Derby seemed disinterested in pushing home the advantage seemingly being happy to play the stifling game in midfield. Which would have been fine had anyone on the pitch in claret and blue had the intelligence and guile to actually pick out a decent pass or to take on a player. Unfortunately nobody did.
There was one promising run from Potts where the youngster took on and beat several players, each of whom tried to foul him without success. The run came to a predictable end with Potts being upended. Noble’s free-kick ended up being placed softly into the one place where nobody had made a run, going out for a goal kick. Potts, meanwhile, presumably got a rollocking at half time for not hitting it high and long in the general direction of the front two.
Things started to improve, not that that meant much, and we managed to score. Tellingly (for most of us anyway) the goal came as the result of a series of quick passes rather than the lump and hope method to which we had become attached. Tomkins chip into Noble was headed across to Piquionne who laid it off to Nouble who shot first time low into the bottom left hand corner of the net. The home club added a few more Muppet points to the total by rather churlishly failing to announce the goalscorer’s name over what Mr Nicholas will probably tell me off for calling the "tannoy".
The second half was depressingly similar to much of the first. We “enjoyed” large amount of possession in our favour to back up the statistical illusion should anyone want to suggest that we dominated proceedings. The fact that our possession seemed to consist of passes across the middle and back, usually ending up with Reid laying it back to Green to lump forward or, more often, into touch before the whole process started again.
Things weren’t helped by the antics of select group referee Jon Moss who seemed to take great delight in giving perverse decisions for the sake of it. Yellow cards for Lansbury and O’Brien for fouls were one thing – though strangely Moss didn’t feel the need to punish similar home fouls in similar vein. However the yellows for Tomkins, Reid and Cole for dissent each followed decisions that the official must surely have known were 100% wrong. The fact that Moss made the select group this year caused more than a few raised eyebrows in refereeing circles and on this performance it’s not hard to see why.
Since the “system” wasn’t working as it stood the manager chose the hour mark to make changes. With Cole and Baldock stood on the side waiting for the break in play, Piquionne belatedly realised (just before the rest of us) that he was in the starting line-up and went on a decent run that saw him burst into the box before unleashing a shot so tame that it’ll probably appear on one of those “aren’t family pets funny” type clips programmes that seem to occupy over 100 channels on the box under the telly.
That was Piquionne’s last action in the match in the double substitution that also saw O’Neil replaced. O’Neil at least had an excuse for looking like he hadn’t sampled first team action for 8 months. Unfortunately any hope that Baldock might be used to his strengths by allowing him to have the ball at his feet and running at the Derby defence was a forlorn one in the extreme.
The time wasting didn’t help much either. Derby had started kicking the ball away as early as the 48th minute and were assisted by staff and ballboys who had as much interest in keeping the game going as the ref for whom the match was clearly some sort of vanity project. On one occasion they took so long to take a throw in that it used up about three times as much time as McCartney took over the free kick that got him his booking at Birmingham – including the time taken for the ref to caution him. Clough senior wouldn’t have stood for such gamesmanship and it’s a shame that his son seems to encourage it these days.
With ten left Hall replaced Diop – and provided one of the few bright spots in the match. He wasn’t on for long and touched the ball only a few times but with those few touches he seemed capable of taking on – and beating the opposition. In effect, whether by accident or design (my money’s on the former) we had stumbled across a possible plan B. Shame then that we waited until it was too late before trying it. Things might have been a lot more interesting had Hall been given free reign with more than ten minutes left.
The 4 minutes of stoppage time gave the game away as to how little idea the ref had of what was going on (After taking subs into account that meant the ref thought that about 90 seconds had been lost and it was taking them long to take every free-kick and throw in). Having worked out that they had a homer on board Derby spent stoppage time falling over and clutching shins every time they were challenged safe in the knowledge that Moss wasn’t going to give us anything and they happily cleared the ball anywhere for a few minutes until the final whistle went.
Things could have been worse I suppose – Boro’s failure to pick up all three points was a help after Bristol City had completed their double over Southampton. The boss will (probably already has by the time you read this) point to the injuries and suspensions that led to us using every fit player in the squad for this one. However, even allowing for that, it was somehow depressing to see us fall into the same old lack of basic football intelligence time and time again. The tantalising glimpse at the end of a player capable of doing something different just hammered that point home.
Still on the bright side the pre-match arrival of Deano meant that Romford was able to scrounge a lift home that was more convenient for all – meaning that I could travel home in comfortable temperatures with the windows shut.
So it wasn’t all bad news.
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No chance with the goals. His kicking was a bit erratic though. Kicking to touch for safety reasons was all well and good but he seemed to find the sidelines when he had time to do better
Joey O Brien
A bit of a ‘mare. Seemed unable to find a team-mate all afternoon.
Some good work was spoilt a bit by his involvement in the two early goals that cost us.
Probably wouldn’t have featured had Faye or McCartney been available. Looked rusty. Plus point – nearly all of his passes found a team-mate. Minus point, that team-mate was Green.
Probably the pick of a poor bunch on the day. Ludicrously booked after Moss ignored a blatant foul late on.
Got through a lot of running but to little effect.
Papa Bouba Diop
Ok when he stuck to what he is best at but guilty of over elaborating from time to time. Could have done more to prevent the first goal.
One of a number of players that I’d forgotten actually played in this one.
Gary O Neil
A couple of development squad matches after eight months isn’t really much preparation for a proper match. Another who wouldn’t have been included if things had been different.
Looked keen and the goal galvanised him but there was little other end product.
Poor. His layoff for the goal and a run that came when he saw the fourth official playing with the numbers board were his only contribution to the game.
(Replaced Piquionne, 61) Hustled and bustled but might it have been better had he been on from the start?
(Replaced Faubert, 68) No impression on the match. Another who looked rusty.
(Replaced Bouba Diop, 79) A cameo that suggested he might have been capable of causing havoc in the opposition defence had he been given a bit of time to do so. One to watch.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Referee: Jonathan Moss.
Man of the Match: James Tomkins.
West Ham United
Robert Green, Joey O Brien, Danny Potts, Winston Reid, James Tomkins, Mark Noble, Papa Bouba Diop, Henri Lansbury, Gary O Neil, Frank Nouble, Frederic Piquionne.
Goals: Frank Nouble 42 .
Booked: Henri Lansbury 24 James Tomkins 57 Winston Reid 66 Carlton Cole 90 .
Sent off: None.
Frank Fielding, John Brayford, Shaun Barker, Jason Shackell, Gareth Roberts, Paul Green, James Bailey, Craig Bryson, Jamie Ward, Nathan Tyson, Callum Ball.
Substitutes: Theo Robinson (Nathan Tyson 46), Ben Davies (Jamie Ward 73), Jake Buxton (Callum Ball 90).
Subs not used: Adam Legzdins, Tamas Priskin.
Goals: Callum Ball (2), Paul Green (10).
Sent Off: None.