Saturday, 3rd November 2012
Team news wasn’t brilliant as James Tomkins had pulled up lame with a groin problem in training the previous day and had failed a fitness test on the morning of the match. Joey O’Brien came in at right back to replace, leaving us with a starting XI of JJ, O’Brien, McCartney, Reid, Collins, Noble, Diame, Jarvis, Benayoun, Nolan, Carroll. The visitors had a late change to the starting line-up with Milner doing himself some sort of unspecified mischief during the warm-up, Barry replacing late on.
With this match being our closest home game to Remembrance Sunday the traditional wreath-laying ceremony took place pre-match. Members of the armed forces were accompanied by former City favourite Mike Summerbee and Sir Geoff Hurst for the ceremony which was followed by a minute’s silence. As ever the silence was immaculately observed by those who had taken their seats, though there was a bit of distant noise from those outside the main arena on the City side of the STB. I have absolutely no doubt that those involved wouldn’t have dreamt of making a noise had they been aware that the silence was taking place. It’s just a shame there’s no way of conveying what’s happening to those outside to avoid such issues. As it was a lone shout of “shut up” seemed to do the trick.
With bruvver Geoff made up by the fact that he’d seen the player after whom he was named, the match started and, yes, our start was bright in nature. In fact as early as the fourth minute we had the ball in the net. Carroll controlled a loose ball in the middle but was brought down by Toure (Y) as he turned away from his marker. Noble chipped the resulting free-kick forward and Nolan allowed the ball to drop over his shoulder before burying a superb first-time volley past Hart. Nolan was two-thirds of the way through completing the chicken dance before noticing the linesman’s raised flag. Now my gut feeling at the time was that the player nearest the West Stand – Dzeko I believe – had been too deep for the skipper to have been offside. My suspicion was confirmed after my mobile phone started buzzing with texts from just about everyone I knew watching the match on the box. File another one under “ref let down by assistant”.
Despite the setback the team seemed to take heart from the fact that they’d seen the net bulge and we pushed forward with purpose. On 12 minutes Diame did extremely well to fashion some space for himself on the left hand side of the box before unleashing a powerful drive that was only a couple of feet the wrong side of the bar. Then Jarvis found some room on the left and played a cross into the box. Benayoun’s volley was even better than Nolan’s had been and Hart did really well to tip the ball onto the crossbar. Sadly, ref Webb didn’t see it like that and, as everyone started to ready themselves for the corner, he gave the goal kick. The crowd’s irritation was stoked up by the big screen replay showing Hart’s save.
Just to add to Webb’s status as pantomime villain, he then gave a soft free-kick to the visitors about 20 yards out, a decision that prompted a chant enquiring as to the precise quantum of the official’s remuneration package from the visiting team. Thankfully Carlos Tevez was on hand to take the free-kick and, mindful of where he made his name, he elected to play the ball straight into the Bobby Moore stand.
The visitors, as apparently has been the case for much of this season, seemed a bit out of sorts and, though they did create the odd effort from time to time these were more of the half-chance variety rather than anything to give JJ much to worry about. Toure (Y)’s effort on 18 minutes was a case in point. Allowed to push forward without challenge he then sliced an effort wide from 25 yards. Up the other end a minute or so later Carroll was much closer when, having managed to make a bit of room on the edge following good work from Benayoun, his low powerful drive missed by but a few feet.
City’s best spell came in the few minutes either side of the half hour. Another soft free-kick on the left hand side was taken by Tevez who, worried that if he delivered the ball to someone decent they might score against his former club, played the ball in to Balotelli who was having one of those bovine rear-end/stringed instrument interface failure days. Barely six yards out the amateur pyrotechnician volleyed over when, perhaps, a diving header might have produced greater dividend.
Some City fans – who were a lot quieter in the ground than they had been in the pub – thought they’d scored as the half came to a close when Toure (Y)’s shot from the right hand side of the box hit the back of the net from the outside, the shot having gone well wide. The optical illusion caused some excitement from a certain angle. We’ve all done it but that doesn’t mean it’s not funny when it happens to the opposition. There was just time for Balotelli to place an acrobatic effort well wide before the ref blew for oranges.
We were treated at the interval to the unusual sight of the opposition manager coming out for the second half a good five minutes before either team. Mancini sat there in the racing car seats all alone with his thoughts which, as the temperature dropped on such a clear night, might well have strayed to wondering how warm it is on the Med this time of the year, say, for example, in the Monte Carlo area. Whatever the reason for the strange move, it looked even weirder a few minutes later as David Platt came out and ignored the seat next to his boss and sat a couple of seats away much as one distances one’s self from the nutter on the train when commuting to work.
There were no changes in personnel during the interval, though there was a slight reshuffling in the seating arrangements in our part of the ground caused by Geoff’s desire to sit next to his big bruvver. As one might have expected the visitors came at us a bit more in the opening minutes and little bruv was concerned enough to keep shouting “get a tackle in” to whoever was nearest. We weren’t keeping the ball too well and were being forced back. Still we could always rely on Balotelli who added an air-shot to his list of misdemeanours for the evening. Possibly more worrying was the state of Collins who was having one of his “they shall not pass” games putting his frame on the line time and time again to get important blocks in. One block on Tevez resulted in the player hobbling around with what looked like an ankle twist, one of those knocks where the pain involved is often out of all proportion to the amount of actual physical damage involved. A spot of spray sorted out the problem.
City forced a corner on their left. Tevez elected to play the corner safely to JJ, presumably to cover the (admittedly unlikely) possibility that Balotelli might accidentally score. However, possibly as a result of surprise at the nice easy cross that had been delivered for him, JJ made a complete Balotelli of the catch, the ball squirming through his hands to be smuggled out for a corner on the other side. A few minutes later Ginger Pele went into the book for making sure that he didn’t get out of the way as Dzeko burst into our half. Subtle it wasn’t.
It was then our turn to have a little spell and we fashioned a couple of chances in as many minutes. Benayoun found Nolan with a fine cross but, despite being unencumbered by marking, the skipper planted the free header wide when, in all honesty, he ought to have least forced Hart into a save. We came even closer shortly after. Linda found some space on the left but the quality of his cross was poor. Carroll had other ideas though and connected superbly with an overhead kick that was goalbound, the ball rebounding of Clichy who knew as much about it as a Take That fan knows about music.
Benayoun was next into Mr Webb’s book as his untidy challenge floored Tevez. No complaints – it was late and clumsy. Tevez was unharmed enough to make sure that he was on hand to put the ball safely over the bar when fed by Balotelli. We then survived a major scare as Tevez’s ball was controlled by Barry’s arm only for the midfielder to put the ball wide from the edge of the six-yard box. Webb looked to have been well-placed to spot the infringement – actually the infringement was so obvious that you’d have had to have been watching the fireworks outside the ground to have missed it – but the official gave only the goal kick, leaving us thankful for Barry’s ineptitude in front of goal.
With a shade over 20 left to play Balotelli, who presumably had an appointment with a Roman Candle, left to be replaced by Aguero who, rather mystifyingly, had been left on the bench. This caused me mixed feelings. Aguero is a hell of a player who I could watch all day – it’s just that I’d rather us not be the opponents at the time. There was also the probability that he wouldn’t be as wasteful in front of goal as the player he replaced.
We made our own first substitution shortly after, Gary O’Neil replacing Diame who, unsurprisingly under the circumstances, was looking a bit knackered. Things didn’t change much, with the visitors having much possession but being denied by resolute defence. Collins’s efforts were notable in that respect, first blocking an effort from Clichy then doing the same to Dzeko’s follow-up, though if he knew much about the second effort I’d be amazed.
With just under 15 to play Jarvis found Carroll in a rare sortie forward only for the striker to put the ball well over. This was to be Carroll’s last contribution to proceedings as Carlton Cole came on to replace him. Despite this brief respite we were still under pressure and the one worry for me was that all the hard work could be undone by a daft lapse in concentration. This fear was made all the more real when O’Neil’s snapping at the heels of Nasri proved too much for Mr Webb. The resulting free-kick was taken quickly whilst the defence was taking its time to get organised and Aguero found himself in acres of space. Thankfully JJ was equal to the shot and the lesson was learned.
Given that he’d thrown himself about blocking just about everything that could be thrown at him I suppose there was some sad ironic inevitability that any injury to Collins would come from something unrelated to the impacts he was putting himself through and, sure enough, just after Linda had picked up a yellow for ending a break by Barry, Ginge hobbled off with what turned out to be a damaged hamstring. The change saw young Spence come in to right back with Joey O’B. moving across to the centre.
At the same time as Ginge’s departure, City replaced Tevez with Garcia. Tevez left to generous applause which the player acknowledged – in fact he was so busy waving to the home support that the cursory wave back to the City fans looked very much like an afterthought.
Despite the enforced changes in the middle of defence the back line stayed resolute – in fact Joey O’B actually looked quite comfortable alongside the quietly impressive Reid, making a number of defensive headers as if he’d been playing in that position all season. We saw out the introduction of Scott Sinclair for Nasri and the following three minutes of stoppage time to gain a well-deserved point.
As mentioned at the start this was an enjoyable game of football and, whilst it has been said that the champions haven’t been firing on all cylinders this season, that shouldn’t take anything away from a fine team performance that saw whichever eleven players were out there at the time working their socks off for their team mates.
The draw was definitely the right result (despite Mr Mancini’s subsequent protestations to the contrary) and the team can take great heart from their efforts in this match as the tough run progresses. The injuries in defence are a worry, mind!
Finally a quick word of thanks on behalf of little bruvver, including Upton Girlie for sorting him out the ticket and to everyone who made a fuss of him in the press room before and after the match – he still had the grin on his face 24 hours later. The final word on the match should go to little bruvver who summed up the proceedings thus: “It was a good game and West Ham did some good tackles. I’m very proud and I liked the chocolate cake we had at half time”.
I think he’s after my job!
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A couple of decent saves though there was one “heart in mouth” moment in the second half.
Joey O Brien
Excellent at right back though his attacking options were limited by a tendency for Benayoun to move inside. Had a fine close to the game at centre-back.
Had his work cut out but stuck to the task. Had Carroll scored with the overhead kick he’d probably be claiming an assist!
Basically Ginge had decided pre-match that if the opposition were going to score it wasn’t going to be as a result of a failure on his part to put in a block. His best performance for a while. In a match that was notable for the strength of the team performance it’s difficult to give an MOTM but for me he just shaded it.
Another test in his Premier League education successfully negotiated. Showed excellent anticipation throughout.
The pressure placed on the team kept him quieter than usual as an attacking force but he worked his socks off and was another who had that “they shall not pass” air about him.
Got through a lot of running off the ball which, as with others, came largely at the expense of his influence going forward.
Unlucky with the “goal” he perhaps ought to have done better with the header he had in the second half.
A fine game and was unlucky not to score with a superb first-time volley in the first half. There were occasions though when JOB was on the ball when I’d have liked to have seen him give the right hand side a bit more width.
Drifted in and out of the game a bit – mainly because a lot of our play seemed to be going down the right. However, when he started to take on his marker it was a good battle.
Another who worked his socks off – whether it be giving his markers a hard time or popping up to help out the defence at set pieces. After the bad luck he’s had all season with brilliant efforts like the overhead kick in this game, what’s the betting that his first goal for us comes off his backside or something.
Gary O Neil
(Replaced Diame, 71)
Harried and snapped around the City midfield and generally made it difficult for them.
(Replaced Carroll, 77)
Carried on where Carroll left off for the last few minutes and got a couple of decent defensive headers in.
(Replaced Collins, 84)
Useful few minutes for the youngster.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Referee: Howard Webb.
Man of the Match: James Collins.
West Ham United
Jussi Jaaskelainen, Joey O Brien, George McCartney, James Collins, Winston Reid, Mark Noble, Mo Diame, Kevin Nolan, Yossi Benayoun, Matt Jarvis, Andy Carroll.
Booked: James Collins 56 Yossi Beanyoun 61 George McCartney 82 .
Sent off: None.
Joe Hart, Matija Nastasic, Vincent Kompany, Kolo Toure, Gael Clichy, Gareth Barry, Yaya Toure, Samir Nasri, Carlos Tevez, Edin Dzeko, Mario Balotelli.
Substitutes: Sergio Aguero (Mario Balotelli 69), Francisco Javi Garcia (Carlos Tevez 84), Scott Sinclair (Samir Nasri 90).
Subs not used: Costel Pantilimon, Pablo Zabaleta, Aleksandar Kolarov, Abdul Razak.
Sent Off: None.