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Championship
Saturday, 14th January 2012

Portsmouth 0
West Ham United 1

by Gordon Thrower


Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t have made this one. Not that I expect much sympathy from you lot but, having managed to pick up Preview Percy’s heavy cold during the week, I felt about as much like travelling to an away match as Paolo Di Canio often did.

However, the fact that Maltese Hammer had chosen Portsmouth away for his annual flying visit meant that the carcass had to be dragged into the Gnomemobile on Friday to Gatwick to pick up the splendid fellow. Thankfully the fact that the Gnome family homestead (Gnomestead?) is in Hants, a mere 40 minutes from Portsmouth meant that I could leave the fussing over our honoured guest to my folks while I got on with the important jobs of feeling bloody lousy and feeling sorry for myself.

After a trip to show Maltese Hammer HMS Victory (in case it was the only one we saw all day) and HMS Warrior (arguably the second greatest achievement of Thames Ironworks) we adjourned to meet the usual suspects. The pre-match cocktails were partaken of in the slightly strange surroundings of “The Jolly Sailor” in Southsea where it became apparent that I was not the only one feeling under the weather.

Romford, who had spent his journey sending us two-word texts bemoaning the state of our railway system (****ing trains), was also suffering. Taste and decency prevent me from going into details but, suffice to say we were considering buying a bottle of champagne simply in order to take advantage of the cork.

Team news was that we had gone 4-5-1 away from home again (it’s not a three – after a lifetime working with figures I can tell the difference) with a starting line-up of Green, O’Brien, McCartney, Reid, Tomkins, Diop, Nolan, Noble Collison, Faubert, Cole. Sadly, and it is with heavy heart that I announce the fact that a club with such a proud tradition as Pompey should do so, Portsmouth became the latest club to pick up a muppet point by listing “the fans” as their no.12 in their programme.

This was a match that started scrappily. And stayed that way. Accurate passing was very much the exception rather than the rule. In fact the most entertainment was to be gained from hearing Romford’s voice get fainter and fainter as the half progressed, his search for Immodium on the trip from the pub presumably having met with no success.

We had an early, well chance is probably too strong a word, let’s call it an “opportunity” as Faubert was upended by Mullins in good position. Noble’s free-kick was dealt with comfortably however. A similar challenge left Faubert on his backside in the box shortly after but the ref declined to intervene, though he had no option shortly after. Kitson’s challenge on O’Brien left the defender on the ground, the striker with a yellow card and us with a free-kick in the inside right channel.

Noble played the ball low into the box, Nolan cleverly back-heeled the ball into Reid whose plan to hold the ball up and lay it off was somewhat thwarted by Ben-Haim, who wrestled the player to the floor with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer applied to the back of the head (which pretty much sums up how I was feeling at that time). No question that it was a penalty, though we did get the usual half-hearted appeals that were 50% for the sake of appearance and 50% for the purpose of delaying the taking of the spot-kick.

Noble, restored to the role of penalty-taker, placed it to his left and, though the keeper guessed correctly and got something on the shot but was unable to keep it out as we took the lead. Meanwhile Pink Palermo’s celebrations were punctuated by his informing everyone within earshot how impressed he was with the quality of Nolan’s back-heel that led to the awarding of the spot-kick.

Noble might have doubled the lead shortly after bursting through from midfield. However, the midfielder pulled his shot a few yards left of the post.

Portsmouth came back into the match and forced a number of corners. We’ve not been at our best from set pieces of late but by and large the defence coped well with the travails. Portsmouth’s brighter spell had coincided with an enforced substitution on the half-hour as Mokoena hobbled off to be replaced by Huseklepp and their best efforts came towards the close of the half as Green was called on to make two fine saves, firstly from Lawrence who had been played in by Kitson, and secondly from Pearce as the half came to a close.

Romford had been silent for the last ten minutes of the half, I say silent, it was probably very noisy indeed in the general vicinity of the big fellah who had retired to the “comfort station” beneath the stand. Hull City fans due there on 4 February may like to make alternative arrangements to use the facilities at nearby hostelries pre-match. Personally I’d give it a season or two while the guys in the chemical protection suits do their work.

As it happened Romford elected to return home, presumably in his own personal train compartment with no windows and that was the only change in personnel during the interval. The second half started much in similar vein to the way the first had opened. Scrappieness was very much the order of the day. A weak Huseklepp effort was dragged wide and Green was given a bit of crossing practice bit it was, in all honesty, pretty turgid stuff from both sides.

The match needed livening up and a livening up it got a coupe of minutes short of the hour. Reid cut out a pass on the edge of our box and, with space in front of him he brought the ball out to nearly halfway before spreading the ball wide left, whereupon Norris came in with a late ugly challenge that fully deserved the red card that it got. Post-match their manager was predictably whiney about the whole thing. All I can say is best of luck with the appeal if you’re stupid enough to try one.

Well we did most of what you are meant to do against ten men. That is we kept possession and switched play from side to side with relative ease. The problem was that, having got the ball out to one or other of the flanks, we didn’t seem to have the ambition to push forward for the second that would have killed off the match. Sure there were a few half chances that saw us stick the ball high into the crowd. McCartney’s shot was the worst of those. Nolan’s was pretty awful, though Pink Palermo swore that the ball took a wicked bobble off a particularly tricky piece of pitch.

Collison came closest to doubling the lead, his curled shot from the right hand side of the box shaving a microscopic piece of paint off the metalwork. Otherwise it was a pretty successful, if tedious spell of keep ball that occupied most of the next 20 minutes. In fact the best thing about most of the second half was the welcome return of the song “Knees up Mother Brown” to the away support repertoire. Thankfully the little lapel badge on my coat acted as an aide-memoire to the song lyrics, though frankly the state of my throat and chest precluded much in the way of a hearty rendition from your correspondent.

With 15 left Nolan worked his way into the ref’s notebook. Quite what the underlying cause of it was I’m not quite sure but all of a sudden there was a crowd of players all up the other end all pointing and shouting at each other. When it all died down the ref called Mullins and Nolan over to issue yellow cards.

With nine minutes left on the clock Mullins left to be replaced by Benjani. Mullins was given generous applause from both home and away support. Benjani caused an immediate threat and Tomkins had his work cut out, particularly given the former Man City player’s habit of going forward to the floor irrespective of whether or not he’d actually been touched. One such incident resulted in a free-kick in dangerous territory that was wasted, Collison putting in the block.

With about 7 left Faubert left to be replaced by Lansbury who went on a diagonal run that looked promising but petered out just as things got interesting.

Portsmouth got another free-kick in dangerous territory when Diopwas adjudged to have raised his foot against Futacs, In fact any element of danger in the play was self-inflicted in the extreme, the player having gone to head a ball that was only a couple of feet off the ground. Cole blocked Huseklepp’s free-kick.

At this point timings were something of a mystery – if the 4th official had raised a board I’d missed it and there certainly hadn’t been any verbal confirmation of the amount of stoppage. So it was with some surprise that the final whistle came – I was still wondering when stoppage time would start! Maltese Hammer and I exchanged manly back-slaps – his away record coming over to see the Irons isn’t the greatest so he was happy to have seen us win. The Pompey announcer redeemed the programme “12th man” muppet point (which I’d only awarded reluctantly – rules is rules) by graciously thanking us for coming and wishing us a safe journey home, a sentiment he repeated when informing us that Millwall might have shipped a goal or six in losing at home to Birmingham.

Rather optimistically we picked up a black cab to take us back to the place where the Gnomemobile was parked – one really is spoilt by London cabbies who have “the knowledge”. We were fortunate that I’d spent my teenage years in Hants and thus have a decent knowledge of the geography of Portsmouth - unlike our driver. However, good as I was at locating the car park, finding the car within the car park turned out to be a bit trickier – though I’m sure the 15 minutes of walking about did us good.

As for a match summary – I’m probably not the one to ask for this one. I felt so lousy that 1970 Brazil v 1974 Holland probably wouldn’t have inspired me. Certainly a tiny bit more ambition in the second half might have seen us go two up and not relying on us blocking daft free-kicks at the end to take away all three points. And certainly our Maltese correspondent was less than inspired – though his comments were tempered by the statement that despite all that it hadn’t been quite as bad as he thought it would be.

Meanwhile if anyone is reading this at Waterloo station could you bang on the window of the train at platform 12 and tell Romford he ought to get off now.



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Player Ratings

Robert Green
Two important saves in the first half. Fewer tests in the second half. If he’s going at the end of the season SuGo will need to ensure funds are available for a decent replacement.


Joey O Brien
Ok ish defensively but his lack of forward ambition was occasionally both alarming and annoying.


George McCartney
Had a bit more about him going forward than O’Brien did – but one shot over the bar was embarrassing.


Winston Reid
Beginning to get back to the sort of display we saw before his injury.


James Tomkins
Another fine performance – though had Benjani been brought on earlier he might have been tested more. MOTM from a pretty average selection really.


Mark Noble
Pick of the midfield. Glad to see him taking the spot-kicks again – even if the ‘keeper did get something on this one.


Papa Bouba Diop
Got through a lot of the engine room work and put some good blocks in.


Kevin Nolan
Ok so the back-heel into the box that led to the penalty was fine. He got in a few good blocks late on in the first half as well. But has anyone actually worked out what he is for?


Jack Collison
Not bad. Came closest to scoring in the second half.


Julien Faubert
Not a bad first half in which many of his runs ended with an opponent upending him. Largely anonymous in the second half.


Carlton Cole
Failed to cause Portsmouth too many problems, largely as a consequence of his isolation up front – with nobody close at hand to bring into play the ball usually ended up coming straight back.


Substitutes


Henri Lansbury
(Replaced Faubert, 84) One good run but only given a few minutes to impress.


Abdoulaye Faye
Did not play.


Gary O Neil
Did not play.


Sam Baldock
Did not play.


John Carew
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: Kevin Friend.

Attendance: 18,492.

Man of the Match: James Tomkins.

West Ham United

Robert Green, Joey O Brien, George McCartney, Winston Reid, James Tomkins, Mark Noble, Papa Bouba Diop, Kevin Nolan, Jack Collison, Julien Faubert, Carlton Cole.

Goals: Mark Noble 24                  .

Booked: Kevin Nolan 74          .

Sent off: None.

Portsmouth

Stephen Henderson, Aaron Mokoena, Tal Ben-Haim, Jason Pearce, Greg Halford, Joel Ward, Hayden Mullins, David Norris, Liam Lawrence, Dave Kitson, Marko Futacs.

Substitutes: Erik Huseklepp (Aaron Mokoena 33), Adam Webster (Greg Halford 75), Benjani Mwaruwari (Hayden Mullins 83).

Subs not used: Jamie Ashdown, Ryan Williams.

Goals: None.

Booked: Dave Kitson (22), Jason Pearce (43), Hayden Mullins (73).

Sent Off: David Norris (57).

 
Gordon Thrower's Man of the Match: James Tomkins


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