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FA Premiership
Saturday, 13th August 2005

West Ham United 3
Blackburn Rovers 1

by East Stand Martin


A choice had to be made this weekend between watching the Ashes at Old Trafford or our return to the Premier League. I think you already know what I decided to do, and the thoughts you are about to read were composed on a train up to Mancsville on Saturday night.

Unfortunately due to enormous amounts of alcohol over two days of watching outstanding Test cricket with a bunch of reprobates I first met in South Africa, the normal ESM service has got somewhat delayed. Apologies but this is what happens when the cricket season and the football season coincide.

Incidentally, I did go down to the Theatre of Sh*te (or the “Toast Rack” as a Citeh fan of my acquaintance calls it) during lunch just to tell a Manc steward that the cockney boys would soon be back “doing the Barthez”. The thick northern c*nt had no idea what I was on about.

Turn to stone

After two years of purgatory in the second best league, who didn’t turn up Saturday with a slight feeling of unease? I have to say I was feeling quite queezy, although this could have also been down to a dodgy Friday night curry or being caught by the Medusa-like stare of Mr Terence Brown on page 7 of the programme. We are promised a “regular column”. I sincerely f*cking hope not.

Anyway, no West Ham fan of any standing could not have felt moved by the pre-match atmosphere. The hairs were up on the back of everybody’s necks as we all went through about three renditions of “Bubbles”. Top stuff and this is what it really is all about – turning our ground back into Fortress Upton Park, making it a place where the opposition fears to come.

Unexpected

The team line up was not what I was expecting as the non-arrival of Tom meant that there would have to be a different solution to the right side of defence. Dailly was put there in a somewhat unfamiliar role, while the rest of the defence was the expected Anton/Gabbers/Kondicksy combo. In midfield there was new signing Yossi down the right, Matty down the left and Mullins and Reo-Coker in the centre. As expected, the strikeforce was Marlon and Teddy. One of the biggest cheers today was for Carroll, closely followed by one for Shaka. It is good to know that we have some solidity between the sticks with those two.

Although the raucous support of about 32,000 Irons was a joy to behold, it probably added to the nerves of our newly promoted team, as the start all looked a bit manic and erratic. Kuqi, fresh from his transfer from Ipswich latched onto a ball in the very first minute, and Anton had to be alert to clear. A Blackburn free kick followed, but this was fired straight at the wall in unimaginative style.

Unleash the hare

On three minutes, Reo-Coker took command of a ball in his own half and laid off a superb ball which Marlon pursued like a man possessed. He got into the box on the right hand side, but skewed his shot wide when he really should have hit the target.

Yossi’s first touch of the ball on 7 minutes saw him get muscled off it and a minute later Reid made a wild long range speculative shot following a hesitant clearance by Daily.

Blackburn’s first real chance came on 10 minutes after a free kick was conceded by Reo-Coker in a central position about thirty yards out. Savage fancied a go, but his curling attempt was defended really well by Kondicksy, who headed behind.

Matty had his first run at a Premiership defence on 12 minutes, but he was closed down very quickly and could not get in a cross.

Dailly and dally

Dailly thought he would introduce Carroll to the NHS inspired school of back passes on the quarter hour, but our Ulster keeper came out very quickly to deny Kuqi who fouled him. Then a minute later, you could hear a pin drop after Blackburn defender Andy Todd converted a loose ball from a corner. ESM Jnr simply said, “You cannot afford not to clear loose balls in the box in the Premiership.” He’s got a point.

The loss of a goal immediately showed a side of the West Ham faithful that was not too much in evidence during the time in the Championship. Instead of the general berating of the team and instant recourse to the blame culture, the response was nothing but encouragement. Ironically, the return to the top flight has taken a weight of expectation off our players’ shoulders.

On 18 minutes, Yossi took a nice free kick down the right which Teddy flicked on in his customary style, but Friedel was equal to it. Then a minute later, Savage – the player we all love to hate but would really love to have in our side – took out Marlon and got a yellow card.

New improved Marlon

Marlon – who looks almost a yard quicker to me – latched onto a ball on 21 minutes and shot off like a rocket. He was almost too quick as his dangerous cross found no West Ham players in the box and a defender was able to nod safely back to the ‘keeper.

I could have rubbed my eyes and thought I was watching Julian with new knees as Konchesky went piling into Savage trying to retrieve a ball from Matty on 23 minutes. Take that you tw*t. Savage did not like that, bless him, but ref Alan Wiley decided that it only merited a word rather than a card.

Obviously a difference of opinion in the BML led to fisticuffs on about 27 minutes which was intriguing. It seemed to kick off again a couple of minutes later and you wonder what that was all about. Could it have been about criticism of the team from somebody who had been absent during the two years in the wilderness? No doubt someone will have the SP on that.

Anton, who looks more accomplished every game, did well to deal with a low cross from the right on 29 minutes. I just feel that he is going top have a big season for us.

Teddy the provider

The ball of the game to date was delivered by Teddy on 33 minutes and Marlon showed blistering pace to nick the ball away from the advancing Friedel. Unfortunately there were few options and the ball to the far post only led to an unthreatening header by Yossi which was gathered easily.

More rapid movement and precise one touch passing followed on 35 minutes, after a terrific chest down by Marlon to Teddy. He then found Matty who went on a run and returned the ball back to Teddy in space, but the veteran decided to try placement which was not good enough to beat Friedel.

Marlon won the ball brilliantly again on 36 minutes but the move came to nothing as Matty’s cross was put behind for a corner. Matty was really firing now though, as a minute later he sent in a dangerous cross which no-one was more surprised than Friedel to gather. It looked certain that someone would get something on it, but they didn’t.

Two minutes later, Teddy tried his luck again following a pass from Dailly. His curling chip from the edge of the box was audacious but overly-ambitious.

Pressure maintained

West Ham kept up the pressure on 40 minutes as Kondicksy managed another overlap down the left and sent over a good, low cross. A goalmouth scramble resulted, but no-one could get their foot on it.

Despite the strong end to the half, Mullins had to be very sharp to intercept a ball fired into the six yard box. The corner that resulted nearly saw Kuqi get a clean header. It was a close call, but it would have been rough justice if Blackburn had stolen a second after such a long period of dominance by the home team.

Half time and it felt that we were hard done by to be one down. Although I was pretty happy with the team’s performance I did have bit of a rant to people around me who would listen about the decision to play Dailly as right back. My argument was that Gabbers had played well down the right at Palace and Elliott could have been quite happily ensconced in central defence. Dailly or Mullins could then have played in the centre of midfield in the ball winning role.

This rant then sparked off another about Ward. This is the player that I reckon turned our season around at the away game at Wigan. I still have not seen that boy have a bad game in a West Ham shirt and he had eliminated Kuqi in both playoff games against Ipswich. I really do believe that he is unfortunate to be on the bench.

The equaliser

The players returned with no changes on either side, but West Ham carried on where they had left off and an equaliser came in the very first minute after the beak. Reo-Coker won the ball and surged forward. He found Yossi down the right and he made a lovely pass which bounced off a defender’s heel to find Teddy in the box who just does not spurn chances like that. He may be 39, but I reckon he’d still put those away at 49.

The goal really charged Reo-Coker up and he decided to take the game to Bellamy, winning the ball brilliantly on 49 minutes. Immediately after, Marlon made a fantastic body swerve to find space and he unleashed a powerful shot which went just wide of the left upright. Friedel looked mightily unimpressed with his defence.

Nigel scythes ‘em apart

Reo-Coker was now on an adrenalin rush and yet another rapid run forward on 50 minutes resulted in a move between Matty and Marlon which saw a cross go over everybody. Two minutes later, Reo-Coker was off again going forward without a care in the world and trailing the Blackburn midfield in his wake. Matty was released again and he sent over a wicked cross which Teddy could not quite meet with an outstretched foot, leaving Friedel very relieved to see the ball fly past his left hand post.

The disappointing Kuqi was replaced by Gresko on 54 minutes and the next move of note was by Blackburn and involved a last ditch header by Gabbers to concede a corner. From that corner, the ball was headed goalwards but the excellent Kondicksy was standing on the right hand post to clear.

Then Reo Coker made everybody’s day on 61 minutes with an early contender for goal of the season. He picked up the ball, ran forward and smashed a simply top class shot right into the top corner with Friedel flailing. It was fair reward for a scintillating performance. If he carries on like this, he must eventually come into contention for England.

Just four minutes after the goal, Reo-Coker was the provider again for Marlon, but he made a hurried shot which went scudding by the right hand post.

Both sides change it

Tactical changes were made on both sides on 71 minutes, with Dickov coming on for the defender Mokoena and Shaun Newton for Teddy.

With eleven minutes left, Marlon decided to go play keep ball by the corner flag but after losing possession, for some imponderable reason, the Blackburn defender decided to make a nice pass to Yossi. It was a diabolical error, but the classy Israeli coolly slotted a ball across to Matty who had the simplest of sidefoots into the net.

Utter pandemonium followed with ecstatic scenes all around. We were not only back but strolling it.

Virtually after the restart, Dickov tried some retribution in his inimitable style with a disgraceful lunge at Kondicksy. It was one of those fouls that can result in serious injury. Fortunately he was OK and the Scottish hooligan got his marching orders deservedly.

We are top of the league

It then dawned on a lot of people that we were top of the league. Now when was the last time you heard that being chanted at Upton Park?

Mark Noble came on to general acclaim on 83 minutes to replace Mullins, who had performed reasonably well. You do feel that he dwells on the ball too long sometimes and I have to admit I kept muttering “get and give” when he was near the ball.

Marlon showed that he still had a lot of energy left at the end of what had been a high octane performance when he used his strength to make a ball his with ease. His cross was cut out but from the corner which followed, Dailly just nodded wide.

Blackburn spurned one last chance with two minutes of ordinary time left, when Bellamy got free on the edge of the box but shot poorly wide. Extra time saw one last piece of cultured passing from Yossi to Matty, but the move broke down after Noble couldn’t get a shot away in the box. Matty tried again with another run just after, but Newton spooned over a shot from inside the box after the ball had been laid back to him.

Calm down

Let’s not get unrealistic ideas about what this game means. It was the first game, against a lacklustre opposition that looked pretty disjointed. What was really encouraging was the pace of our movement and passing. If we carry on in this fashion we will trouble a lot of teams in the middle or lower parts of the table. Our objective is to build a campaign that will ensure survival and today was the first small step in the right direction.

The backing of the fans is a vital ingredient as well, and didn’t we all turn up and deliver the passion that the team needs?

The team spirit appears to be very positive, nothing like that negative demeanour which affected us up to Christmas the last time we were in the top league. It really is time to recognise that the manager must have played a big part in instilling belief and dynamism in the team.

Let’s not expect to come away with anything up in the north east next Saturday, but on the strength of today’s performance, who’s to say we might not return southwards with a point. Now wouldn’t that be a Brucey Bonus?

(Player ratings by Gordon Thrower)



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Player Ratings

Roy Carroll
Not really tested other than by the occasional back pass from Dailly that went a little short for comfort. I think 88 minutes had passed when he had to make his first save.


Christian Dailly
Displayed a worrying lack of pace at times and I‘ll be happier when Repka’s fit enough to take over the right back spot. Battled gamely on though and got some decent challenges in as the game progressed.


Paul Konchesky
An impressive debut from the left-back and there were early signs that the Konchesky/Etherington partnership down the left might be useful. Nearly spoilt things with his late lapse in concentration to let Bellamy in but his shove on the annoying Savage will have endeared him to many fans.


Anton Ferdinand
The defence had a decent game for the most part – though the marking at corners may need looking at. In the battle against Kuqi and Bellamy Anton did exceedingly well and he is rapidly maturing into the player many observers thought he could be.


Danny Gabbidon
Another fine debut. Made a number of important challenges and looked accomplished throughout. He has a bit of pace about him too which is always useful.


Hayden Mullins
After a shaky start where he got caught in possession a little too much for my liking, he knuckled down to provide what turned to be a excellent performance in the middle.


Nigel Reo-Coker
A superb second half capped with a fine goal. AP reckons he really rates himself to do well at this level. Performances like this will have us agreeing. My MOTM.


Yossi Benayoun
Drifted in and out a bit and got bundled over a few times in the early rough and tumble. However despite his slight frame he was always keen to get stuck in to win the ball back and he played a vital part in the first and third goals. There’s potential there if someone could take him down to Nathans for some large helpings of pie & mash.


Matthew Etherington
Another who played in spells. Seemed a little overawed in the first half. Less so in the second when he set up a number of decent chances. Enjoyed the goal didn’t he!


Marlon Harewood
Caused Blackburn problems throughout and might have got the goal he possibly deserved had he been a little more composed in front of goal. First day nerves maybe.


Teddy Sheringham
The usual intelligent display from young Edward – especially in the second half when he seemed to be more on the same wavelength as his colleagues. Clever anticipation for the goal though the sulky nature of his departure was a tad unnecessary.


Substitutes


Shaun Newton
(Replaced Sheringham, 72) Steady enough 20 minutes or so though he might have scored late on.


Mark Noble
(Replaced Mullins, 84) Just time for a brief cameo of the youngster’s footwork.


Shaka Hislop
Did not play.


Elliott Ward
Did not play.


Bobby Zamora
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: A.Wiley.

Attendance: 33,305.

Man of the Match: Nigel Reo-Coker.

West Ham United

Roy Carroll, Christian Dailly, Paul Konchesky, Anton Ferdinand, Danny Gabbidon, Hayden Mullins, Nigel Reo-Coker, Yossi Benayoun, Matthew Etherington, Marlon Harewood, Teddy Sheringham.

Goals: Teddy Sheringham 46 Nigel Reo-Coker 62 Matthew Etherington 80              .

Booked: None booked.           .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Blackburn Rovers

Friedel, Neill, Todd, Mokoena, Matteo, Emerton, Savage, Reid, Pedersen, Kuqi, Savage.

Substitutes: Gresko (Kuqi 55), Dickov (Mokoena 62).

Subs not used: Enckelman, Tuguy, Flitcroft.

Goals: Todd (18).

Booked: Savage (20).

Sent Off: Dickov (81).

 
East Stand Martin's Man of the Match: Nigel Reo-Coker