Saturday, 4th February 2012
However a fantastically resolute and passionate performance meant that hoodoo could be put to bed and we could enjoy the luxury of a five point lead at the top of the table (if only for an hour or two).
There are big moments or games in a season that you look back on and realise how important they were, this win against the old enemy given the circumstances could just be one of those moments.
The decision from the police and the two clubs to impose a complete alcohol ban within the stadium and all pubs and off licences in the area meant I delayed my journey to Upton Park and headed straight into the Boleyn ground just ten minutes before kick off.
It was a chillingly cold early afternoon in East London but an electric atmosphere inside the ground. Following the embarrassing drubbing at the hands of Ipswich in midweek, we needed a response and what better incentive than to get one over the old enemy.
Despite the heavy loss at Portman Road, there was still plenty of optimism around the ground following the three deadline day signings and knowing a win would increase our lead at the top. The confidence of a result was probably increased knowing the form of Millwall over recent weeks. They had lost four of their last five league games, scoring just three times in the process. This slump in form had resulted in them sitting five points and just one place above the drop zone.
Therefore it was a game we went into wanting and expecting to take all three points but were more than aware that this was a big local derby, and of course in the knowledge that West Ham never do things the easy way.
I felt a little disappointed to see both Nicky Maynard and Ricardo Vaz Te on the bench as Big Sam stuck with the tried and trusted and offered the players who were present at Portman Road a chance of redemption. I must admit I thought Allardyce would go with Maynard and Cole up top but he kept faith in his preferred 4-3-3.
We went with Greeno in goal, a back four of OíBrien, Faye, Reid and McCartney, and a midfield three of Tomkins, Noble and Nolan. Faubert and Collison were given the nod on the wing with Cole up front on his own. Given how well Tomkins had performed at the back this year I was shocked to see Allardyce play him in the holding midfield role and break the impressive partnership he has developed with Reid. However with the absence of Diop, we really were lacking a holding midfielder and I think Big Sam went for Tomkins due to his ability on the ball as well as being a big presence in there.
I donít think you could argue too much with Allardyce regarding the rest of the side he selected. Iím not too sure about Collison as a winger because of his lack of pace and he is always looking to play more central rather than get chalk on his boots. That being said Matty Taylor has just returned from a long layoff and got through 70 minutes at Ipswich so perhaps wasnít ready for a second start in four days. The West Ham bench was Taylor, OíNeill, Baldock, Maynard and Vaz Te. Allardyce once again opting against having a keeper on the bench, which is something that always worries me.
The game took time to really get going and chances were few and far between in the opening exchanges. Millwall had a couple of early corners which we dealt with well and all we could muster in the early minutes was a Cole header from a Collison corner that looped harmlessly over.
Just eight minutes in came the gameís first major talking point and skipper Nolanís final piece of action for the day. Initially it seemed an innocuous 50-50 challenge in the middle of the park between Nolan and Millwallís Jack Smith but referee Mike Jones saw otherwise and immediately brandished the red card. I must admit on first viewing the decision looked harsh and just seemed like a miss timed tackle from Nolan.
However after seeing a replay since, I donít think the ref had much option but to give Nolan his marching orders. In this day and age you just cannot go into a tackle with excessive force and with two feet, which is exactly what the captain did. It was reckless and given the situation and how early it was into the game, it was a silly tackle to make.
Despite the obvious disappointment of the early dismissal, it sparked a reaction from the claret and blue faithful as the decibel level went up a notch or two. It is often said that a red card can galvanise a side and this seemed to be the case here, both on and off the pitch.
We certainly didnít let the red card affect us and controlled the game almost as soon as Nolan left the pitch. Looking generally untroubled at the back, it took us until the 24th minute to create our first chance of note. Collison hooked the ball into the box, more in hope than expectation. Faubert leaped well to flick on to Cole, who in turn flicked it goalwards. Unfortunately Cole just couldnít generate the power as it rolled into David Fordeís arms.
Despite being a man down and conceding plenty of possession to the visitors we were restricting them to hopeful crosses into the box and speculative long range efforts. Liam Feeney went closest with a well struck drive from 25 yards which was well held by the ever consistent Green.
Just before the half hour mark, West ham almost took the lead through the most unlikely of scorers. A pinpoint 40 yard pass from Mark Noble, who took over the captainís armband, found Joey OíBrien. The full back chested it down superbly as he came in from the right hand side and sweetly struck it from outside the area only to see it go agonizingly over.
From that moment we began to dominate proceedings and create a couple of dangerous openings. Faubert, again proving a great outlet on the right, managed to get to the byline after good work from OíBrien, but his low cross was well cleared. Just minutes later McCartney put in a sublime cross from the left, but unfortunately the on rushing Faubert could only divert the ball wide.
Five minutes before the break and another half chance came our way. A hopeful Noble long ball was brought down excellently by Cole, who ran his socks off and caused the Millwall backline no end of problem all day. Cole held off the two defenders brilliantly but sadly he scuffed his shot wide.
The fact that we had been playing with ten men for almost the whole half, I was very impressed by the way West Ham went about the game and continued control the game. Tomkins, who looked a little out of place in an unfamiliar holding midfield role early on, grew in confidence as the game went on and began to play some nice stuff in the middle of the park. Defensively we were looking extremely solid, with Reid and Faye winning almost everything that came their way.
The only slight criticism as we entered first half stoppage time was the lack of clear cut chances being created. Cole was at times a little too isolated up top but when you have ten men it would be silly to attack with too many numbers.
However as it looked like we would be entering half time deadlocked, we found the net for the third time is as many games just before the half time whistle. Noble whipped in a cracking free kick from wide as Reid flicked it on. The ball appeared to deflect off a Millwall defender following the Kiwiís knock on and looped into the danger area. Carlton Cole reacted brilliantly, out jumping his marker and heading powerfully past Forde. It was a cracking finish, a real strikers finish, and hopefully a real confidence boost for the recently goal shy Cole.
It was a massive boost just before the break and sent an already vocal Hammers crowd into delirium. Unfortunately due to the alcohol ban, we couldnít enjoy the goal and first half performance over a half time pint but we could look forward to the second half with much more optimism.
Big Sam opted to bring Matty Taylor on for jack Collison at half time. It would give us a bit more width and pace down the left with Taylor out there and Collison had been largely ineffective in the first half.
We started the second half the way we finished the first and took just five minutes to create our first chance. After some neat work down the left hand side, McCartney put in an inviting ball which was attacked superbly by Faubert. The Frenchman outleaped the much taller Millwall centre back only to see his brilliantly measured flick on hit the bar and bounce back out. Perhaps it was moments like this that caught the attention of the likes of Real Madrid a couple of years back.
Again West Ham were continuing to look very solid at the back as the Millwall attempts on goal were very few and far between. If you had begun watching the game ten minutes in you would have been forgiven for thinking that Millwall were the team with ten men.
With that being said 1-0 is always a dangerous lead and with West Ham being West Ham, you never really feel completely confident until the game is well and truly over. And soon those fears were realised.
Abdoulaye Faye, who was a man mountain at the heart of the West ham defence all game, made one mistake 65 minutes in and it proved to be costly. The Senegalese defender tried to shepherd the ball out of play in his own area to win a goal kick but really should have just cleared his lines. Henderson managed to hook the ball back into the danger area before the ball had gone out of play and found Liam Trotter just 12 yards out. In fairness to Trotter, he controlled well and finished the chance quite brilliantly, leaving Greeno with no chance.
From being in complete control and looking like heading for a fourth home win in succession, all of a sudden it was 1-1 with just over twenty minutes left. Add to this the fact that we had been down to ten men for around an hour, legs would understandably begin to tire and after their goal Millwall would be full of confidence.
However this pessimism was very short lived as the Hammers reacted to conceding a goal brilliantly. We were level for just three minutes following our controversial second goal. Firstly a Matt Taylor corner was met by the head of Tomkins, only for his effort to be cleared of the line. However with hardly enough time for the Hammers faithful to draw breath, OíBrien hooked the ball back in with the players still in and around the Millwall box following the corner.
The high ball was punched away by Forde, before the keeper was clattered by the onrushing Faubert. Much to the amazement of the majority of people inside the stadium, the ref didnít blow up as the ball dropped to Winston Reid, who unleashed a thunderous strike into the top corner of the unguarded net.
As the Kiwi wheeled away in celebration, it took a second or two for the realisation of the West Ham fans that the goal had actually stood. For me it was a definite foul by Faubert on the keeper but I was certainly not complaining. And foul or not, take nothing away from the strike of Reid, whose effort looked fitting of a centre forward.
From then on, it was really a case of what we have we hold. Understandably being a man down Big Sam instructed the side to sit in there and hit Millwall on the break.
Despite a few nervy moments in the final twenty minutes, Millwall, who it must be said were poor throughout, created very few clear cut chances and we looked comfortable. Alan Dunne unleashed a rasping drive from 30 yards which went just wide of Greenís post and the same player produced a top save from Green with five minutes to go from just 12 yards out. Sandwiched in between the two efforts was a West Ham counter attack but Faubert, who was put through by the tireless working Cole, blazed over the bar.
It was not until the 88th minute when we caught the first glimpse of one of our new boys. Ricardo Vaz Te replaced Carlton Cole, who put in an incredible shift up top and held the ball up quite superbly when often totally isolated. It took two or three players to deal with Coleís power throughout the game, almost making the fact that we had ten men irrelevant.
As for Vaz Te, the main talking point was not his brief appearance and one effort that he scuffed wide, but in fact the bizarre hairstyle our new centre forward was sporting.
Somehow the ref and his assistant found five additional minutes and almost another minute on top of that at the end but West Ham remained resolute and solid and in all honesty, never really looked like conceding a late equaliser.
A huge cheer greeted the final whistle as we had finally got one over our bitter rivals and more importantly taken another big step towards the Premier League. I certainly feel the early Nolan dismissal galvanised the side and we were impressive all over the park. The work rate was exceptional and the determination and commitment shown throughout the ninety minutes was admirable. It was a game we controlled, dominated and fully deserved the three points.
Following the nightmare at Portman Road, beating Millwall, in the manner we did, and with the performance we gave, will be a huge confidence boost and hopefully we can take this into the coming games.
There is still a long way to go in the season but we may just look back on this performance as a turning point and a result that set us on our way to Championship glory. Letís certainly hope so.
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Solid as ever, dealt with everything that came his way. Made one good save from Dunne in the final 15 minutes to keep us ahead.
Joey O Brien
Didnít put a foot wrong defensively and worked well with Faubert down the right. Was unlucky not to score a screamer in the first half.
Consistent as ever. Defensively sound and put in a couple of superb crosses.
Scored the winner with a rasping drive. Continues to impress at the back and becoming one our most consistent performers.
Immense throughout barring the one mistake that led to the Millwall equaliser. Won everything in the air and would have been my MOTM but for the error. Good to see heís a more than able replacement for Reid and Tomkins.
Took over the captaincy when Nolan was dismissed and led by example. Didnít stop running and was very tidy in possession throughout. Drove the side forward.
Considering he was played in a position completely alien to him, he grew in stature as the game went on.
The less said the better. A reckless, naive tackle so early on in the game when there was no need to go in the way that he did. The ban may just be a blessing in disguise given his recent form.
A largely ineffective 45 minutes before being subbed for Taylor at half time. Still think he is much more suited to a central role rather than being played out wide.
Consistently inconsistent. Frustrating but always puts in a fantastic shift and his pace caused Millwall problems.
Fantastic performance. Often isolated up top but held the ball up brilliantly and the Millwall backline couldnít deal with him all game. Didnít stop running and took his goal exceptionally. MOTM.
(Replaced Collison, 46)
Battled well and put in some excellent deliveries from wide and set pieces.
Gary O Neil
(Replaced Faubert, 80)
No time to really have an impact but made a couple of decent tackles late on.
Ricardo Vaz Te
(Replaced Cole, 89)
Had one chance but after a couple of step overs screwed his shot wide. Looks a big presence up top. Bad hair day.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Referee: Mike Jones.
Man of the Match: Carlton Cole.
West Ham United
Robert Green, Joey O Brien, George McCartney, Winston Reid, Abdoulaye Faye, Mark Noble, James Tomkins, Kevin Nolan, Jack Collison, Julien Faubert, Carlton Cole.
Goals: Carlton Cole 45 Winston Reid 69 .
Booked: Abdoulaye Faye 83 Carlton Cole 86 .
Sent Off: Kevin Nolan 9 .
David Forde, Jack Smith, Alan Dunne, Darren Ward, Scott Barron, Liam Feeney, Liam Trotter, Nadjim Abdou, Shane Lowry, Darius Henderson, Andrew Keogh.
Substitutes: Scott Barron (Harry Kane 56), Liam Feeney (Ryan Mason 81).
Subs not used: Josh Wright, Ryan Allsop, Dany N'Guessan.
Goals: Liam Trotter (66).
Booked: Darius Henderson (49), Shane Lowry (52), Darren Ward (68), David Forde (76).
Sent Off: None.