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Championship
Saturday, 4th February 2012

West Ham United 2
Millwall 1

by Gordon Thrower


One day you play the 4th bottom side and get walloped 5-1 with a performance every bit as poor as the scoreline suggests. Four days later you play the 4th bottom side and win 2-1 with a performance as good as the previous one was bad. Go, as our American cousins are fond of saying, figure.

The omens weren’t great for this one. The team selection was somewhat baffling on paper with Reid, Tomkins and Faye all listed alongside O’Brien and McCartney giving rise to speculation as to whether we would actually be playing with five across the back or whether one of the three (ostensibly) central defenders would push up to play either in midfield or, more likely, play somewhere between the two.

Of more concern to me personally was the prospect of seeing Carlton Cole playing alone yet again up front. Whilst I appreciate that the new signings had only had a few days at the club, my own thoughts were that that should not have precluded the inclusion of, say, Baldock alongside Cole. However, one up it was to be leaving us with a starting line-up of Green, O’Brien, McCartney, Reid, Faye, Tomkins, Noble, Collison, Faubert, Nolan, Cole.

Prior to the match our Jem read out a eulogy to the late Ernie Gregory who passed away recently, the tribute being marred somewhat by the delightful chanting of the visiting support who showed all the knuckle-scraping class of which they are stupid enough to be proud of.

The initial exchanges weren’t promising. A fairly tame effort from Henderson in the opening seconds took a deflection off McCartney and Green made a complete hash of his attempt to save the corner. Dunne got a free header from the corner that, thankfully, was well wide.

Things settled down a bit and after O’Brien had forced a corner of our own Cole was similarly unmarked, the delivery being slightly behind him the striker did well to divert the ball goalwards though he failed to keep the ball down enough to force the save. Back up the other end Jack Smith’s first time effort from a headed Tomkins clearance was woefully wide, suggesting that he should have stuck to the recording career that gave us the record that dear old Bill Remfrey used to play first every home game (link: http://youtu.be/zQQ5sEOhbjQ)

Good work between Noble & McCartney forced a corner from our left. This caused a spot of mild discomfort in the visitors’ defence as Tomkins and Faye both made partial contact, the ball falling to Faubert who failed to make proper contact on the loose ball which floated harmlessly through to the ‘keeper.

Then things went a bit pear-shaped. Nolan & Smith contested a 50-50 ball, Nolan won it but was adjudged to have gone in two-footed. In the current climate anything two-footed is automatically considered to involve “excess force” – irrespective of whether excessive force is actually used.

Nolan’s challenge was one of those on the borderline between reckless (yellow) and excessive (red). Thus the dreadfully poor ref Jones – who should never have been given a match of this importance in the first place - can point to the current edict to back up the red card that he produced with almost indecent haste. However, applying the laws properly and honestly has never been Jones’ strong point and we saw worse challenges that escaped sanction throughout the afternoon.

So we needed to regroup. And, strangely, we did. Tomkins, who’d taken a little while to settle into the “in front of the back four” role had to move into a more formal defensive midfield position and, as the half wore on you’d have been hard pushed to tell that we were the side with ten. Ref Jones was causing big concern though.

His positioning was so poor that he seemed to be marking Tomkins and Carlton Cole came in for appalling treatment from the official who gave him nothing and frequently awarding baffling free-kicks against the striker. One particular “infringement” saw Cole pulled down with a defender’s arm around his neck only to find that the ref’s warped little mind had decided that Cole was, somehow, the offender. You may think that it is less than coincidence that this particular official seems to have a track record of enjoying the spotlight in matches that are live on the box. I could not possibly comment.

It has to be said that the longer the half went on the poorer the visitors became. With the exception of one decent shot from Feeny, which brought out a deceptively difficult-if-unspectacular save from Green which he made look a lot easier than it was, they looked by and large the struggling side that they are. The only other vulnerable point came just short of the half-hour when Collison lost possession on the edge of the box and as the break developed we found ourselves short of numbers. However, Green was alert and smothered well at the feet of Henderson.

O’Brien then took a diagonal ball on the right, his chest control taking him past a defender before unleashing a shot that wasn’t too far over. We then won a free-kick for a late challenge from behind on Noble that seemed to satisfy the criteria for a yellow – reckless, through the player, late. Unsurprisingly no yellow was forthcoming. Nothing came of the free-kick.

Noble then fed McCartney on the left and Faubert was inches away from getting on the end of the low driven cross that resulted. Millwall won a rare corner after Henderson shoved Faye though the ref did redeem himself by spotting a far from dangerous high boot.

Cole, despite having two defenders and the ref on his back, was for once doing a fine job of the lone striker role and created a chance for himself with five left on the clock. Controlling the ball on his chest he turned the defenders before pulling a shot wide across the face of goal. He appeared to be claiming the corner but it didn’t look like one from where I was.

Another having a decent game was Faubert whose clever flick saw O’Brien in decent position. JOB got the better of Barron only to have his progress halted by a sly cynical trip that fully merited the yellow card Jones inexplicably failed to give.

With one minute of the two added we saw a minor miracle. Cole was fouled and the free-kick was actually given. The correct way. Reid performed some sort of contortionist act to flick the ball towards the centre of the box from Noble’s free-kick where Cole somehow managed to get enough neck muscle on the dropping ball to power a header past Forde from the six yard box. I would say that the goal silenced the visiting support but frankly they’d been largely silent anyway. That was just about it for the half which had seen an excellent performance from the ten men, the goal being the icing on the cake.

Half time: West Ham United 1 Millwall 0


The discussion at the interval was whether we’d change anything. The general consensus was that the only player for whom it wasn’t happening was Collison, who, not being a natural wide player, was drifting in from the left too much for our liking. If a change were to be made it was agreed that Taylor would be a good player to bring on. Clearly the manager had our seats bugged, as that was precisely the switch that was made at half time.

If proof were needed that this particular ref has no place in the professional game it came early into the second half. Taylor was on the end of a horrible nasty deliberate high kung-fu kick from Lowry that was twice the red card that Nolan’s ever was. The fact that the ref had incorrectly decided that Taylor had fouled a second before was irrelevant. This was a challenge deliberately calculated to injure an opponent and the fact that Jones decided that no punishment was necessary was disgraceful if sadly not unexpected.

Henderson should have walked too, his elbow into Reid’s face would normally have merited a red from a less self-obsessed camera-conscious official. I suppose we should be grateful that it even got a yellow under the circumstances.

We nearly doubled the lead on 49 minutes. Tomkins played the ball down the line, Noble’s clever dummy saw McCartney in good position. Linda’s cross was superb, Faubert’s header – not by any means the first he’d won all day – was excellent and deserved so much more than the rebound from the metalwork that resulted.

Reid then stepped out of defence to intercept andfed Faubert. Bursting forward, he used Cole’s run as a decoy and beat Lowry who derailed the TGV with a cynical trip that merited the yellow card that, amazingly, it got. Taylor’s free-kick failed to beat the wall.

So, this being West Ham and with us playing well with ten against twelve what do we do? We gift an equaliser. It was our old friend the “let’s try and let it run out of play even though it probably won’t go” tactic that cost us yet again. Faye was the culprit this time on 65 minutes, allowing Henderson to hook the ball into play where Trotter was able to volley past the helpless Green. Decent finish that should never have been allowed to happen.

Ref Jones then decided to abandon any pretence at sanity. Firstly he booked Ward for a late reckless challenge on Cole that used excessive force – it was easily second worst challenge of the day after Lowry’s on Taylor. Not a red apparently. Having had the advantage allowed (I suppose we should be thankful for small mercies) Tomkins headed goalwards from the resulting corner, his effort being cleared of the line. The ball found its way out to McCartney who nodded over to O’Brien who played the ball back into the box.

Forde bottled the save, electing to punch rather than collect and Faubert, basically, clattered the ‘keeper. Reid, wisely playing to the whistle (a lesson for you youngsters out there) buried a fantastic volley straight back into the net. Let’s face it there is no question that it was a foul by Faubert. The fact that, in a game full of pretty disgraceful refereeing, we finally got one brainstorm go in our favour shouldn’t disguise the fact that this clown shouldn’t have been allowed anywhere near this match in the first place.

The goal prompted chants of “you’re going down with the (name of Premier League manager currently on trial at Southwark Crown Court omitted for legal reasons ;-))” This was met with the customary slience. Perhaps Saturday mornings are usually the time they have their reading lessons and we were interrupting them or something.

Just in case those watching at home hadn’t noticed him the ref then jogged over 30 yards to delay a corner to ensure that Noble had correctly placed the ball, something that ought to have been obvious from 30 yards away. Cole then got on the end of a through ball and held the ball up for Faubert who possibly took one touch too many before blazing the ball high and wide.

That was Faubert’s last involvement in the match. He’s had a fine game and with ten left on the clock he left to a merited ovation to be replaced by Gary O’Neil. Faye then took one for the team pulling at Henderson’s leg as Green’s poor goal kick momentarily threatened to put us into a spot of bother. The ref made great play of marking out the ten yards only to find that the wall was in exactly the right place anyway. Sub Kane’s free-kick was just one of the worst ever seen at the Boleyn going harmlessly ten yards wide.

There was still time for the ref to give Cole a hard time – with two arms around him and a sly kick from behind he was adjudged to have somehow been guilty of I know not what. Green then rather unconvincingly parried a shot from Smith, the ball coming back off Faye into his waiting arms. Cole then got pulled out of the way by a defender. The ref obviously gave the free-kick to the opposition and cautioning Cole into the bargain which, in the context of the match, was little short of a travesty.

The visitors forced a few corners as the clock ran down but these were dealt with pretty effectively. With two left Cole left to be replaced by Vaz Te. You’ll have worked out that I’m not a fan of having Cole play up front on his own. However, in this match he showed exactly how it should be done and again his ovation as he came ashore was definitely well-merited.

Presumably enjoying his afternoon in the spotlight the ref decided that we should have a baffling five minutes of stoppage to enjoy his magnificent refereeing skills. At the start of this period the bizarrely-coiffeured Vaz Te got onto a wayward pass and, after a few stepovers pulled a weak shot wide. The effort was fair enough as he was, understandably, fairly isolated at that point. Vaz te nearly played O’Neil in but the Irishman was a tad unlucky with a ricochet as he went into the box.

Millwall tried one last hurrah with Tomkins conceding a corner after Henderson had blatantly nudged him in the back in full view of the ref. Forde came up for the corner which by-passed him. And that was just about it. Some idiot – I know not whether home or visiting supporter - lobbed a firework down at the corner of the West & STB stands. Significantly, it was the loudest noise heard all afternoon from the STB end.

I guess we’ll never know exactly what would have happened had we kept eleven on the pitch. However, notwithstanding the refereeing decision that effectively granted us the winner, nobody should be in any doubt that this victory was thoroughly deserved. We were by far and away the better side throughout and there were a number of outstanding performances all over the pitch. The other results in the league were far from shabby as well. Ipswich? Forgotten it already!



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Player Ratings

Robert Green
Although barely tested there were still a few iffy moments dotted throughout the match.


Joey O Brien
One of his better matches – combined well with Faubert on the right.


George McCartney
So-so start that improved as the game wore on, particularly once Taylor had replaced Collison.


Winston Reid
Even ignoring the goal this was a fine game. I lost count of the number of attacks that were broken up by his anticipation in stepping out of defence.


Abdoulaye Faye
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 he’s a more than able replacement for Reid and Tomkins.


Mark Noble
Outstanding. A performance of incredible work rate, intelligent passing and no little maturity. Given his background and the number of sly little digs that were aimed his way off the ball throughout the match he kept his cool and bossed the midfield. For once the sponsors got MOTM spot on.


James Tomkins
Though his distribution was sometimes a bit off, this was probably a consequence of the unfamiliar role that he was asked to play. It didn’t help that the ref kept getting in his way – so much so I thought he was having a man to man marking job done on him. Made some telling clearances helping out his mates at the back.


Kevin Nolan
I know what you’re thinking – “oh he’s having a pop with that mark”. However, in the ten minutes he lasted I can’t recall him doing anything of note other than getting sent off. The red might have been a bit harsh – it certainly wasn’t the worst challenge I saw all day – but he did give the ref the excuse.


Jack Collison
Failed to provide width – understandably perhaps given he was a right footer on the left, something that gives a natural tendency to cut inside. Got caught in possession a couple of times.


Julien Faubert
Excellent. Caused problems on the right all afternoon and got up well to support Cole as an auxiliary striker, which, when you’re playing only one proper striker up front, is exactly what is needed. Deserved a goal with the header and never touched the ‘keeper honest guv :o)


Carlton Cole
Possibly the best I’ve seen him play in a “one up” role. Helped by support coming through from Faubert, he held the ball up superbly and, battling against the usually illegal attentions of the defenders and the usually incomprehensible attentions of the ref, he thoroughly deserved his goal.


Substitutes


Matt Taylor
(Replaced Collison, 46)
A much more effective replacement for Collison on the left.


Gary O Neil
(Replaced Faubert, 80)
Given ten to provide a more defensive right side of midfield.


Ricardo Vaz Te
(Replaced Cole, 89)
A couple of nice touches. Daft haircut though.


Sam Baldock
Did not play.


Nicky Maynard
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: Mike Jones.

Attendance: 27,774.

Man of the Match: Mark Noble.

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    .

Millwall

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.

 
Gordon Thrower's Man of the Match: Mark Noble


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