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Championship
Saturday, 25th February 2012

West Ham United 0
Crystal Palace 0

by Gordon Thrower


Nice day; shame about the football.

Glorious sunshine and decent temperatures meant that young Jonjo Heuermann had pleasant conditions for the end of his walk from Wembley (two words Jonjo – Jubilee Line). Meanwhile those of us limping along Green Street with dodgy knees were intrigued to note that for the first time in ages (November I believe) we were unchanged from the XI that started up at Blackpool, something that saw us return to the experiment of playing a specialist ‘keeper with Lansbury dropping back to the bench. This left us with a starting XI of Green, O’Brien, McCartney, Reid, Faye, Tomkins, Noble, Collison, Vaz Te, Faubert, Maynard.

The first half came direct from the less well cared-for parts of the planet scrappy. We seemed leggy and looked every bit like a team whose players had spent the majority of the past few matches doing the extra running required by playing a man short. This was exemplified by the non-challenge put in by Reid on half way. Nobody had the urgency to pick up the loose ball so Zaha nipped in and brought it forward, pulling the ball square for Ambrose who, thankfully, hadn’t quite gotten round to switching his satnav on, curling his shot wide. Less than 30 seconds had gone and already it wasn’t looking good.

Things settled down a little and a superb ball into the Palace box found McCartney unmarked. Whether Linda’s little dinked effort was meant as a shot or a cross only he will know. However the effect was much the same same either way and the ball drifted harmlessly wide.

Reid hadn’t learned the lesson of the first 30 seconds and another tired-looking challenge saw Easter bear down on goal. Thankfully Faye was still awake and put in an excellent block, leaving us thankful that it had been the ponderous Easter on the ball rather than someone with a bit more pace.

Tomkins then had a bit of a scare as Jedinak went through him (with no little use of the forearm as well). This occurred right in front of the ref who, no doubt would have been quick to brandish a red card had a safe but two-footed challenge taken place anywhere else on the pitch. However, a challenge dangerous enough to cause actual – and potentially serious – injury wasn’t even deemed worthy of a free-kick. Remind me to look up the meaning of the word reckless one day – it’s clearly changed recently.

Tomkins was down for some considerable time and it looked as if Cole would be the one to replace him as those little canoe things that pass for stretchers these days was brought onto the pitch. However, Tomkins had other ideas and, possibly recalling the old one-liner often attributed to former Partick boss John Lambie on being told a concussed player didn’t have a clue who he was (“tell him he’s Pele and send him back on”), the medical staff decided that Tomkis was fit to continue after taking a couple of aspirin and promising to call the doc in the morning. And I’m sure that Tomkins really appreciated the slap on the head with which Noble welcomed him back to the pitch.

As the match resumed Reid stuck a lazy leg out to trip Zaha. Ambrose’s free-kick from about 30 yards out was woefully high but the incident was pretty indicative of Reid’s game thus far. Shortly after Zaha somehow escaped caution for a rather poor dive having lost out to Linda on the left. It wasn’t the only time in the match that Zaha went down a bit too easily. However ref Salisbury’s attentions were on more important things, like ensuring that free-kicks were taken from a precise blade of grass.

On 25 minutes Green had to be alert to keep out a 25 yarder from Martin. Actually the save itself was pretty routine but Green probably got too firm a palm on it and had to be quick to prevent any damage coming from the loose ball before it got away from him.

O’Brien had a go up the other end after good work from McCartney saw Faubert feed the ball back to the right back. The applause that came was more for the build-up than the final shot which was high and wide.

Green was in action again a few minutes later. His save to turn away Martin’s initial effort from outside the box was decent, if routine. However the defence didn’t really cope with the rebound and Zaha was given time and space to tee up a shot which deflected off Tomkins, bringing a superb reaction save out of Green to tip the ball over. The defence was barely awake from the corner either, as Jedinak was given a free header which we were grateful to see him get underneath to put into the crowd.

Jedinak again was on target from distance as Green got down well to tip another effort from outside the box away, though the save went far enough away from goal for the defence to clear properly.

We survived five minutes of stoppage with only a Martin effort that was pulled well wide to concern us. The teams left to a few boos – audible but hardly representative.

Half Time West Ham United 0 Crystal Palace 0

After the half time refreshments were consumed it was clear that changes would be required – the putative arrival of Cole as a replacement for Tomkins in the first half was evidence that the Manager shared this view. In the end it was Faubert who failed to reappear for the second period to accommodate Cole’s arrival.

Things looked more promising in the second half – we were as dominant territorially speaking as Palace had been in the first and wit five of the half played we could have taken the lead. A misplaced pass in midfield fell to Maynard who fed Cole. Cole’s first touch took him away from the defender but his low shot didn’t have enough curl on it to creep inside the post.

Vaz Te was next on the chance list a minute later. A crisp one-touch passing move between Collison, Maynard, Noble and Cole saw Cole feed Vaz Te whose first touch was far too heavy, allowing Parr to get back at him before he could get a shot away.

Palace were causing nowhere near as much threat as they had been in the first half, though a long clearance from the back required Faye to be at his best to keep out Easter.

Vaz Te then had another go, cutting in from the right to make space for a shot which lacked any sort of meaningful power enabling Speroni to save easily at his left hand post. For the opposition McCarthy had a lot to be grateful for when Maynard got caught with the follow through of a studs-up challenge. Admirably, the striker made nothing of it but it would have been interesting to see what the reaction of the ref would have been had Maynard gone down clutching his leg for dear life like many others have done. Especially since the ref didn’t think it had been a free-kick.

With 13 played of the second half Vaz Te left to be replaced by O’Neil. RVT had failed to impose himself on the game – possibly as a result of having had to play a deeper midfield role in the two previous matches, the extra running possibly taking its toll as it had done with others.

On the hour Tomkins fed McCartney out wide. Further progress being blocked McCartney pulled the ball back for Maynard whose shot from 25 yards was cleanly struck but had too much height to bother Speroni.

Collison then won a free kick on the left after Cole had rescued an all too wayward pass from oblivion. Noble’s free-kick caused a few problems, eventually coming back to the skipper on the left. His deep cross found Tomkins but the defender/midfielder failed to keep his header down.

If Maynard’s admirable refusal to play-act had meant to serve as an exampleto others, it was an example that Parr singularly failed to follow as O’Neil made a challenge for a ball running out of play. Parr did the standard rolling about in agony thing and a challenge which was scarcely a foul suddenly became a yellow card as a result of the defender’s histrionics the “pain” from which lasted barely long enough to see the card produced. Parr was also at the forefront when, having tugged Cole’s shirt for the umpteenth time he threw himself to the ground having failed to win the ball somehow getting a free-kick from a decision that stunk as much as Cole’s holding of his nose indicated.

With 18 left Maynard was replaced by Baldock and the change nearly paid immediate dividends. Noble clever curved through ball saw Baldock in on goal albeit from a tight angle. Balders’ first time effort was hit straight at Speroni who had stayed up and the ball rebounded to safety.

Three minutes later Baldock had another chance. Noble headed a loose ball into the edge of the box. Cole’s clever layoff found Baldock who again shot at Speroni who again allowed the ball bounce off for a corner. Noble played Baldock in once more with yet another decent through ball but McCarthy was back to get the block in.

Four minutes of stoppage was the verdict of the ref- probably the standard three plus one for some none-too-subtle timewasting that the visitors had seen fit to indulge in during the second half. That left time for one more decent chance. Cole was fouled once more and, for a change, the ref actually gave it the right way. Noble cleverly played in Collison as all around waited for the cross.

Collison’s ball in fell to Reid on the edge and, whilst the Kiwi’s body shape was similar to that formed as he scored the winner against Millwall, the shot had none of the power of his previous effort. The partially-blocked shot came through to Tomkins who could do little other than shake a weary leg at the loose ball as it ran through to the ‘keeper. And that was basically that.

There was a little booing at the conclusion – not much, just a barely audible rumble from those who probably boo every time we don’t win. So it was a bit naughty to suggest that the crowd had booed the team off in a manner that suggested the participation of 30,000+ home fans. It simply easn’t like that.

The result was a bit disappointing in some ways. After a poor first half we were by far the better side – especially when playing two proper strikers rather than one. In the second half I reckon had we scored one we’d have probably gone on to get a couple or more. That said we were poor enough in the first half to render the result just about right.

That Peterborough match is looking a bit interesting, isn’t it?!



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Player Ratings

Robert Green
Some fine saves in the first half kept us in the game in the first half. It was a measure of how things changed in the second half that he was largely unemployed in the second. Probably edges MOTM on a day where it was difficult to really single anyone out.


Joey O Brien
An ok match in general but his passing wasn’t great – something he was not alone in in this match.


George McCartney
Solid enough and provided some otherwise lacking width going forward.


Winston Reid
Improved as the game wore on after an opening ten minutes in which he had all the appearance of someone who hadn’t been told the match had actually started.


Abdoulaye Faye
Had to deal with our opponents almost single handed in the middle until Reid turned up. Some fine defending, though I’ll admit to having slight panic attacks when he elects to play the ball out of a tricky spot rather than lamping it one.


Mark Noble
Given the sponsors' MOTM award, he had a fair game though he was definitely one of those whose recent efforts were definitely showing.


James Tomkins
That he lasted the full ninety after the blow to the head he took was impressive, though it was hardly surprising he looked a bit groggy throughout.


Jack Collison
Bit of a ‘mare for young Jack – whether it was the effects of tiredness or just an off day in general that was responsible I don’t know but it was one of those days when virtually nothing he tried came off.


Ricardo Vaz Te
Needs the ball played out to him to give him the chance to run at players. We either didn’t give him the ball or, if we did, we delayed it long enough to have defenders double up on him.


Julien Faubert
Not one of his better days. Did win some clever headers – he does time his leaps well – but gave the ball away far too often, something that led to his half-time substitution.


Nicky Maynard
Someone did inform me that he’s no stranger to the lone striker role having been utilised in that manner on occasion at Bristol City. If that’s the case I’m sure the ball was played to his feet a lot more – especially against a pair of lumbering ox centre halves. Whatever his past clearly we weren’t playing to his strengths by using him on his own.


Substitutes


Carlton Cole
(Replaced Faubert, 46)
Given no help from the referee and it appeared to get him down. Presumably Mr Salisbury threatened him with a yellow if he allowed any more defenders to grab him around the neck again. Shame really because he gave the Palace defence something to think about, something that Maynard had failed to do.


Gary O Neil
(Replaced Vaz Te, 58)
Not sure quite what he was supposed to bring to the proceedings but he failed to produce it anyway.


Sam Baldock
(Replaced Maynard, 73)
Added much-needed movement and pace to the attack and on another day might have had a couple.


Danny Potts
Did not play.


Henri Lansbury
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: Graham Salisbury.

Attendance: 34,900.

Man of the Match: Robert Green.

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: None.

Booked: Gary O Neil 71          .

Sent off: None.

Crystal Palace

Julian Speroni, Paul McShane, Patrick McCarthy, Anthony Gardner, Jonathan Parr, Wilfried Zaha, Kagisho Dikgacoi, Mile Jedinak, Darren Ambrose, Jermaine Easter, Chris Martin.

Substitutes: Sean Scannell (Darren Ambrose 63), Glenn Murray (Jermaine Easter 74), Owen Garvan (Chris Martin 82).

Subs not used: Lewis Price, Stuart O'Keefe.

Goals: None.

Booked: None.

Sent Off: None.

 
Gordon Thrower's Man of the Match: Robert Green