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Championship
Wednesday, 22nd February 2012

Blackpool 1
West Ham United 4

by James May


What a night. What a performance. What a win.

After completely dominating a first half in which we could have been out of sight, a soft Kevin Phillips goal brought the hosts back to 2-1, and following Rob Green’s sending off just five minutes into the second half leading to midfielder Henri Lansbury going between the sticks, we could have just imploded and ended up losing a game we were in complete control of. But not this West Ham team, we have got more about us than that, more spirit, more guts and more passion.

It was a night where every hammers supporter was proud to be West Ham. The football played, which can be rarely said about us under Big Sam this season, was at times a joy to watch last night and the team spirit and commitment from the players in claret and blue was quite outstanding.

The most satisfying thing about last night was the way, whether with ten or eleven men, we completely controlled and dominated the game against a team on top form and genuine contenders for promotion.

From start to finish we simply looked a cut above Blackpool, playing with confidence and class going forward and once again defending so resolutely. Every West Ham player out there deserves huge credit, not just for the way they performed but for the commitment to the cause. Big Sam has certainly got them playing for the shirt.

We are beginning to get used to, and dare I say, enjoying this ten men lark for large parts of games. Three red cards in three games and we have produced three of our best performances this season. As the chant went last night ‘We only need ten men’. Still it would be nice to keep a full quota of players on the pitch from time to time.

We went into the game fairly confident after some strong performances of late. The thrilling draw against Southampton at Upton Park last Tuesday was a very good result given that we had Matty Taylor sent off just 15 minutes in. We knew a win against the Tangerines would have put us back above the Saints and into top spot, which is always a big incentive.

Blackpool, at least we thought before the game, were not going to be any pushovers. Despite being knocked out of the FA Cup by Everton on Saturday the Seasiders were on a seven match unbeaten run in the Championship, winning five of those. They certainly could not be taken lightly.

I felt the team selection from Allardyce was positive and had a nice attacking feel to it. He went with Green in goal, a back four of McCartney, Faye, Reid and O’Brien and a midfield three of Tomkins, Noble and Collison. Julien Faubert and Ricardo Vaz Te occupied the wings while Nicky Maynard made his first start for the club up front. The bench consisted of Lansbury, O’Neil, Baldock, Potts and Carlton Cole.

The biggest talking point regarding team selection had to be Big Sam’s decision to play Maynard over Cole up top. I feel Cole, as frustrating as he can be, has being playing very well in the last few weeks with his powerful display against Millwall being particularly memorable. Perhaps Allardyce felt Maynard’s pace could really trouble the Blackpool backline.

Unfortunately the man mountain Bouba Diop was missing once again with that niggling hamstring of his so Tomkins once again deputised in defensive midfield. It was pleasing to see Vaz Te get another start after a reasonably impressive debut against Southampton. Vaz Te is very direct and offers much more pace down the flanks then say a Collison, who proved last night why he is much more effective in the middle of the park. I think the rest of the team really picked itself given performances over the last couple of games and as the game kicked off I had confidence that the eleven men out there could bring the three points back to East London.

Much like the Southampton game, West Ham got out of the traps quicker and started very brightly. Within just six minutes we should have been ahead. Firstly Faubert released Maynard and after a neat turn his shot was deflected wide. From the following Mark Noble corner, Faye headed over from six yards when he really should have found the back of the net.

We continued to dominate proceedings in the opening twenty minutes. It was very refreshing to see us get the ball down and play some real quality football. The only negative would be, despite all the neat passing we were struggling to really create clear cut chances. Tomkins shot well wide from 25 yards after battling brilliantly to win the ball in the middle of the park and Faubert probably should have done better when he blazed over a Nicky Maynard knock down after 25 minutes.

Credit to our defensive display, all Blackpool could muster in the opening 25 minutes was a Lua Lua bicycle kick from around 20 yards, with Green in no man’s land following a poor Joey O’Brien header. Luckily the effort was well wide.

It was in the 28th minute when our good football and relative domination was rewarded. Mark Noble swung in a quite delicious free kick from the right hand side that was just asking to be attacked. And attacked it was as Tomkins leapt highest and powered his header home from about eight yards sending the traveling West Ham fans into raptures. It was a bullet header that was made possible by an inch perfect Noble cross.

From then on we really had our tails up and doubled our lead just four minutes later. Following some neat passing down the right hand side, O’Brien rather fortuitously found Collison at the byline just six yards from goal. Collison coolly dragged it back and Maynard showed his striking instinct as he reacted first and slotted past the helpless Blackpool keeper. It has been a genuine goalscorer that West Ham have been lacking but based on the evidence of Maynard’s goal, we may have found one.

Two-nil up with just over half an hour played and the chant of ‘we are top of the league’ could be heard all around Blackpool. We were playing with a real swagger, every player wanted the ball and we had the confidence to get the ball on the deck and play. The host’s simply had no answers at this point and Ian Holloway was forced into bringing Kevin Phillips on inside 35 minutes to try and stop the constant waves of West Ham attacks.

Initially the sub had very little impact. Maynard so nearly got on the end of Faubert’s cross following some great skill from the ever improving Frenchman. Faubert himself was inches away from getting his head to a Noble cross following a classy back heel from Vaz Te. We were beginning to showboat.

However West Ham being West Ham never make things easy. Just as we were about to go in at half time two goals to the good and in cruise control up stepped Kevin Phillips. For the first time in the game we switched off, allowed a cross to come in and Phillips, one of the smallest men on the pitch, headed home unchallenged from eight yards out. It’s hard to criticise a defence that was outstanding all game and has been for the past couple of weeks but they simply went to sleep. I’m not sure if it was Faye or Reid who was meant to be picking Phillips up but they will both have to take responsibility for the goal.

There was hardly enough time for West Ham to kick off before the ref blew for half time. It was a real deflating blow to concede in the manner we did and at the time we did. Before the goal we simply didn’t look like conceding and it took the shine off what I would argue was our best half of football this season. Still as I reflected at half time, we were leading and dominating a side just five points behind us, we would have taken that at the start for sure.

HALF TIME: BLACKPOOL 1 WEST HAM UNITED 2

Blackpool, understandably were given a second wind with Phillips’ goal, started the second half brightly. John Fleck put the ball comfortably over from the edge of the area after some good work from Lua Lua.

Then, 52 minutes in, came that all too familiar talking point with West Ham at the moment, the red card. Roman Bednar was put through on goal after a defence splitting pass. Greeno flew out of goal, fully committed himself to the challenge, but unfortunately got all man and none of the ball. There is certainly no question as to whether it was a foul or not but was it a red card, I’m not so sure. From my angle it was not easy to tell but I felt Bednar’s touch past Green was too heavy and he wouldn’t have got there but maybe that’s me looking at it through my claret and blue tinted glasses.

Referee Oliver Langford, surrounded by a swarm of Blackpool and West Ham players, had no hesitation and gave Green his marching orders. In fairness to Langford, if he felt Bednar would have got to the ball, then he would have had an open so Green had to go.

At this point it looked as though Allardyce’s theory of not having a goalkeeper on the bench was going to backfire terribly. The gloves were given to Henri Lansbury and we still had 40 minutes to hold on. At least holding on with ten men was something we were getting used to but usually we would have our ever reliable keeper between the sticks, not a creative midfielder on loan from Arsenal.

At this stage I feared the worst and could feel a tangerine onslaught on our goal and makeshift keeper. Incredibly it was anything but an onslaught. Lansbury was hardly tested at all, and whenever he was called upon, he was faultless with his claims from crosses and long hopeful balls into our box.

Despite Ian Holloway’s men having the lion share of possession in the second half, we were the side who looked most likely to score and increase our lead on the counter attack, and soon we did.

James Tomkins once again rose highest to meet another superb Noble corner but this time his header was blocked by a Blackpool defender. However the ball bounced out to the edge of the area to Gary O’Neil, who had replaced the injured Abdoulaye Faye half way through the second half. O’Neil struck it sweetly as the ball found a route through the bodies and into the bottom corner.

It was a crucial goal with just over 15 minutes left and certainly calmed the nerves. The goal killed Blackpool, who in truth were very disappointing all night. Take nothing away from West Ham though, the goal was fully deserved and the effort and work rate was admirable.

Maynard very nearly made it four but put it just wide after being released by O’Neil. The Blackpool defenders simply couldn’t handle the pace and sharpness of Maynard all night. He caused havoc and certainly looks a fantastic signing for the club as we enter the crucial part of the season.

Kevin Phillips almost made it an extremely nervy last ten minutes when he hit the post from 20 yards after finding Lansbury well off his line. From then on, we could breathe easy.

Ricardo Vaz Te then put the cherry on the cake in injury time with a wonderful solo effort. The Portuguese winger ghosted past two Pool defenders before finding the back of the net from the edge of the area, with the help of a kind deflection.

The goal sent the Hammers fans into delirium and summed up what had been a fantastic night. The large travelling West Ham support was once again superb and as vocal as ever. And the players responded quite brilliantly with an almost faultless display.

There appears to be a real togetherness within the side at the moment which is crucial at this stage of the season. They are playing for each other and for the shirt and we are even beginning to play to play some attractive football. The players are all playing with plenty of confidence; we once again defended brilliantly barring the Blackpool goal and we our back on top of the Championship tree with just 15 games to go. We can’t ask for much more than that.

It will be very interesting to see what happens in our next game on Saturday against Crystal Palace with the return of Kevin Nolan. In my opinion we have played much better without him and I for one will be disappointed if he walked straight back into the side.

It will also be interesting to see what happens with the goalkeeper situation on Saturday but at least now we know why Big Sam doesn’t put a keeper on the bench. Henri Lansbury – England’s next number 1?



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Player Ratings

Robert Green
A spectator for most of the first half and could do nothing about the Kevin Phillips goal. Made misjudgement for red card and in hindsight shouldn’t have committed himself to the challenge.


Joey O Brien
A very solid performance. A decent option going forward in the first half and defended well in the second.


George McCartney
Exceptional display from the left-back. Impressive both defensively and going forward and simply didn’t stop running all night.


Winston Reid
Faultless once again. Growing as a player every game, becoming a key man of the side. Solid as a rock.


Abdoulaye Faye
Another sound defensive display before going off injured midway into the second half. Hopefully the injury isn’t bad as he and Reid our building a good understanding at the back.


Mark Noble
Another all action display from Noble. Probably playing his best football right now. His delivery from dead ball situations was superb.


James Tomkins
Looked like he had been playing defensive midfield for years. Won countless amount of tackles and was a driving force in the middle of the park. Great header for his goal. MOTM.


Jack Collison
Classy performance from the Welshman. Was exceptional ball and was the main reason behind some of the good football we played. Set up Maynard goal with neat drag back.


Ricardo Vaz Te
Put in a fantastic shift and was rewarded with a fine solo effort late on. Perhaps gives the ball away too often but tries to make things happen and puts himself about.


Julien Faubert
Was sacrificed early in the second half following Green’s sending off but once again a battling, passionate display. Always provides a good outlet.


Nicky Maynard
Exceptional (full) debut from the from the former Bristol City frontman. His pace and liveliness caused the Blackpool defence no end of problems and took his goal well. Looks like a natural goalscorer and could play a key role in the final few months of the season.


Substitutes


Henri Lansbury
(Replaced Faubert, 54)
Probably didn’t expect to play the majority of the second half in goal but didn’t concede and dealt with every cross that came his way. In fairness he was rarely tested, thankfully.


Gary O Neil
(Replaced Faye, 66)
Took his goal extremely well. Always does a job when he comes on, gets himself about and tidy on the ball.


Carlton Cole
(Replaced Maynard, 82)
Very little time to effect the game but looked sharp and was involved in the Vaz Te goal.


Danny Potts
Did not play.


Sam Baldock
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: Oliver Langford.

Attendance: 13,043.

Man of the Match: James Tomkins.

West Ham United

Robert Green, Joey O Brien, George McCartney, Winston Reid, Abdoulaye Faye, Mark Noble, James Tomkins, Jack Collison, Ricardo Vaz Te, Julien Faubert, Nicky Maynard.

Goals: James Tomkins 28 Nicky Maynard 32 Gary O Neil 74 Ricardo Vaz Te 90            .

Booked: Winston Reid 58 Gary O Neil 89        .

Sent Off: Robert Green 53    .

Blackpool

Matthew Gilks, Alex Baptiste, Craig Cathcart, Ian Evatt, Stephen Crainey, Ludovic Sylvestre, Barry Ferguson, Chris Basham, Matt Phillips, John Fleck, Lomana Tresor LuaLua.

Substitutes: Kevin Phillips (Chris Basham 34), Nouha Dicko (Ludovic Sylvestre 46), Roman Bednar (Lomana Tresor LuaLua 46).

Subs not used: Neal Eardley, Danny Wilson.

Goals: Kevin Phillips (45+2).

Booked: John Fleck (73).

Sent Off: None.

 
James May's Man of the Match: James Tomkins


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