Saturday, 10th March 2012
This day started badly with all attempts to get to the general area of E13 in time to indulge in a pre-match cocktail being thwarted by a Post Office queue reminiscent of one of the poorer suburbs of Soviet-era Moscow after the spreading of a rumour that the local branch of GUM had taken delivery of a potato. By the time the person in front of me had finished bothering the one person working with their desire to purchase a book of first class stamps, a fish licence and to change nationality, the journey to the club would have left me with a neat 15 minutes to have a drink before leaving to do the usual pre-match stuff at the ground, including obtaining the team details. So I didn’t bother.
Which was just as well as the selection was a bit confusing even without the consumption of alcohol, to be honest. Whilst I’m used to seeing tactical innovation, we seemed to have selected a side without a right back, with neither O’Brien nor Faubert to be seen anywhere on the team sheet. Lots of head scratching in the press room later and a quiet word with those in the know provided the information that McCartney would be co-opted to play on the right with Taylor moving back on the left leaving us with a line-up of Green, McCartney, Taylor, Tomkins, Faye, Noble, Collison, Lansbury, Nolan, Vaz Te, Cole. On the bench there were first appearances for Ravel Morrison and the on-loan Danny Collins.
To say we started brightly wouldn’t be doing the first 12 seconds or so justice. Vaz Te got on the end of a through ball from Nolan to put us one up. Unfortunately Chimbonda’s theatrical dive when being breathed upon by Vaz Te was enough to give ref D’Urso the excuse to disallow the goal. D’Urso is a poor enough referee even before you take into account the personal gripes he seems to have with the club that should preclude his involvement in any game affecting us. There used to be a rule that referees could not officiate in matches in their own area and, after yet another perverse performance from D’Urso, perhaps they ought to have another look at whether Billericay (where D’Urso claims to be based) should be put on the out of bounds list.
Cole was next to go close, Collison’s lay off finding him in space in the box only for the striker’s left foot effort to come back off the crossbar. However, we didn’t have to wait that long to take the lead. Lansbury tried to get a shot away from the edge of the box only for the shot to be blocked out wide, where it fell to Vaz Te. The official verb to use for Vaz Te’s cross to the back post is “dinked” (a word with no known use outside the confines of association football). The dinked cross found Tomkins whose downward header was parried by the ‘keeper. Cole had a tentative stab at the ball before Nolan put the ball away by the post.
With nine on the clock and us dominating proceedings to a level that would have seen a boxing ref step in to spare further unnecessary punishment, this should really have signalled the start of a walloping. It didn’t. Although we continued to look dangerous going forward, there appeared to be a problem with Vaz Te. When a player clutches the back of his thigh in that manner it can only mean hamstring and off he hobbled on 24 minutes to be replaced by Baldock. As Vaz Te trudged off down the tunnel, with him disappeared our sole creative outlet capable of running at an opponent.
D’Urso was doing his best to influence matters – particularly in his dealings with Noble who was penalised on a number of occasions for tackles from the side that took the ball cleanly. Worse still was the shout for a penalty in which a red hand clearly played the ball but D’Urso wasn’t in the mood to give us anything. As usual.
The change in personnel saw us start to sit back and we received a warning shot across the bows on 34 minutes when Green had to be alert to tip Coppinger’s shot from distance around the post.
The remainder of the half was spent in trying to play the ball in the general direction of Cole, a tactic that failed to work for the following combination of reasons: 1) He was beaten in the air fairly; 2) He was fouled, with D’Urso either electing to ignore the foul or, scandalously, electing to penalise Cole for being held; 3) He won the ball fairly but was penalised by D’Urso for doing so; 4) He won the ball but there was nobody within 20 yards of him to lay it off to.
Still, with the exception of D’Urso, this was all stuff that could be sorted out with a quiet word or two in the interval couldn’t it?....
As I found myself saying on numerous occasions under different management, “I don’t know what he said to them at half time but I really wish he hadn’t”. Instead of reverting to the system of playing the ball through midfield, a tactic which had frightened the bejeasus out of the opposition, we carried on as we had done in the latter stages of the first half. And this rather played into the hands of our opponents who were revelling in the fact that we didn’t have the nous and guile to revert to Plan A, which had looked to be working so well early on.
We had warnings again. Barnes had what was to all intents and purposes a free header which he planted wide and the same player looked dangerous from the edge of the box, Tomkins getting a fine block in. El Haj Diouf repeated the Barnes header experiment with much the same result.
In the meantime all that was happening going forward was, well not very much. Something had to change and just shy of the hour Lansbury came off to be replaced by O’Neil. It was hard to see what the move was meant to accomplish unless Lansbury was feeling the effects of something or another. Either way there was little change, no addition to the list of ideas & inventiveness and definitely no sign of plan A. Or plan C. Which meant we stuck with plan B, which was just giving D’Urso whistle practice.
The crowd were getting restless – and understandably so. There’s only so much baiting of the racist spitting thug El Haj Diouf that can be expected to divert attention from the fact that we are not playing very well and that point had long since been passed.
The equaliser came with about 15 minutes left to play and it was a total shambles from start to finish. Nolan, making what was probably his only contribution to the game other than the goal, made an intervention in an attempt to, well, lord knows. This computer is slow enough without my occupying its circuits in trying to work out what he was trying to do. The ball went to Diouf who, had the ball been played by a team-mate, would have been a mile offside. Diouf loped forward and Faye seemed mightily reluctant to trouble him with anything so bothersome as a spot of closing down or a challenge. Diouf played a long diagonal ball into the box. Barnes slid in and the ball came back off him slightly fortuitously into the path of Coppinger to level the scores.
The problem with sitting back in a match is that if you’ve been doing it for ages in a match it’s nigh on impossible to reverse the process. The momentum is all against you. Six minutes after the goal (three of which had been occupied by Doncaster’s Cup Final goal celebrations and by Diouf’s lying down in the corner pretending to be injured after the goal) we made our final change.
The appearance of Collins on the touchline did not inspire. In a match that was being drawn with something different being looked for, it’s probably fair to say that the sight of a centre back on the touchline is not particularly high on the list of things one wants to see. On the other hand there have been a number of occasions this season when the appearance of the no.4 on the red half of the substitution board would have been more than welcome. So off went Nolan, and on went Collins. The change saw Collins take over at left back, Taylor move up into midfield and Baldock move further forward.
The change took a while to have any effect – and this was time we didn’t really have. Worse still we could have left with nothing at all. With seven minutes left Diouf got on the end of a cross from Chimbonda and his shot from 12 yards looked goalbound. Green, however, managed to get down and tip the ball wide of the post. The save was more remarkable for the fact that the ‘keeper had had to make ground across virtually the full width of the goal.
As the clock turned 90 Beye grabbed Cole around the waist and threw him to the floor with a fine tackle that wouldn’t have been out of place at Twickenham. On a proper football pitch however it was worthy of a free kick though quite why D’Urso thought it should be awarded against Cole is anyone’s guess. I mean it wasn’t as if there had been a forward pass all afternoon.
We had one final chance to pick up the undeserved extra points. A Noble free kick took a deflection and landed invitingly at the feet of Collison twelve yards out. Rovers’ boss Dean Saunders later quipped “at that point I closed my eves”. Unfortunately, it appeared that Collison did the same and his shot screwed harmlessly wide and that was about it.
The failure to adapt to Vaz Te’s injury reflected poorly on both players and management. Ok so Baldock is a different type of player to RVT and so the idea of him taking on and beating players in the same manner was never going to happen. However, playing him deep then watching him by-passed betrayed a lack of intelligence by those on the pitch. This is something that ought to have been sorted out at half time either with instruction to revert to playing through the middle or, if this wasn’t the preferred option (and why ever not if it was working?), further instruction to Baldock to push further forward to play nearer to Cole. As it happened we just plodded on playing into the opposition’s hands and got what we deserved.
Oh well, at least we’re away next week.
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Little chance with the goal but saved the point with the superb second half save.
Ok but playing on the “wrong” side curtailed the storming runs that we’ve seen of late.
The enforced playing of McCartney on the right meant a full-back slot for Taylor until his belated push into midfield. This was something of a waste.
Steady Eddie as usual – though the sponsors’ MOTM award was pushing it a bit.
By and large he had an ok game but he really should have done a bit more to close down Diouf for their goal.
Inspirational in recent weeks he seemed to be labouring in this one. Not helped by D’Urso’s insistence that perfectly legal tackles were fouls.
The good work of his tap-in for the goal was somewhat countered by the dreadful ball he played that led to their goal.
Got through a lot of hard work but really ought to have scored at the death.
When he had RVT to pass to he looked ok. Without him his influence waned.
Ricardo Vaz Te
It was all going so well until he disappeared. Hamstring? That’ll be at least 3 weeks then.
Hit the bar but his somewhat tentative prod towards goal that was put away betrayed a lack of confidence. Another who suffered from D’Urso’s poor performance.
(Replaced Vaz Te, 25)
Looked like a fish out of water playing deep and didn’t get close enough to Cole late on.
Gary O Neil
(Replaced Lansbury, 57)
No discernible influence on proceedings.
(Replaced Nolan, 80)
Did ok in his short spell at left back which allowed Taylor to push on.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Referee: Andy D Urso.
Man of the Match: Robert Green.
West Ham United
Robert Green, George McCartney, Matt Taylor, James Tomkins, Abdoulaye Faye, Mark Noble, Kevin Nolan, Jack Collison, Henri Lansbury, Ricardo Vaz Te, Carlton Cole.
Goals: Kevin Nolan 8 .
Sent off: None.
Carl Ikeme, Pascal Chimbonda, Shelton Martis, Habib Beye, Tommy Spurr, Kyle Bennett, Giles Barnes, Simon Gillett, James Coppinger, El-Hadji Diouf, Mamadou Bagayoko.
Substitutes: John Oster (Mamadou Bagayoko 60), Sam Hird (Shelton Martis 75).
Subs not used: Fabien Robert, Herita Ilunga, James Hayter.
Goals: James Coppinger (73).
Sent Off: None.