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FA Premiership
Saturday, 1st October 2005

Sunderland 1
West Ham United 1

by Greg Mansell


Maybe two weeks ago, Sunderland away was a fixture that most West Ham fans looked forward to, given the Black Cat’s start to the season. How wrong they were. Everything we have had to be positive about this season disappeared at the Stadium of Light on Saturday afternoon. If I were Sunderland fan today, I would feel sick.

The speculation in the build up to the game suggested that Bobby Zamora might replace Teddy Sheringham in attack with Marlon Harewood. To much surprise, it was indeed, Sheringham, who turned out (as captain) alongside Harewood. This selection might yet have turned out to have been a masterstroke by our manager, Alan Pardew, had our veteran striker converted a pin-point, cross field pass, much like that of Marlon Harewood’s versus Ipswich in the play-offs to Zamora, from Tomas Repka, on the hour mark. The first touch from our leader was Teddy in his prime. The second and third, however, consisting of shin and then toe, stumbled embarrassingly wide.

This uncharacteristic incident had followed a consistent theme from throughout the afternoon. As early as the first five minutes, Danny Gabbidon, receiver of such warm praise so far this season (like so many players this season) allowed Sunderland forward Andy Gray the freedom of the six yard box, following a cross from the left by the lively Andy Welsh. But the former Sheffield United front man contrived to head the ball straight into Roy Carroll’s arms. His Sky-commentating namesake would probably have buried the chance.

Off the hook and only minutes later, Harewood fed Sheringham who slid a through ball into Benayoun. The Israeli just beat Sunderland centre-half, Steven Caldwell, to the ball, which in turn fed Harewood, who correctly hit the pass first time searching for the far bottom corner. Kelvin Davis, however, produced a fine, one handed diving parry to his left-hand side and the chance was cleared. This moment was, unfortunately, as good as it got for the travelling contingent. With rapidly increasing pace, Sunderland increased their home advantage upon the game and Harewood’s missed chance became a distant memory.

With all respect to any Sunderland reporter’s reading this piece (that’s you, SAFC); I feel your team will be relegated come May. The Black Cats were by far and away more deserving of the three points than your East London visitors but it is for that fact that we emerged with a unwarranted point that only confirms this belief. Mick McCarthy’s summer buys seem to have been of Championship quality for the Premiership and it showed. Stuart Elliott looks like he will become a player but the burden of scoring his side’s goals is one that he alone will not be capable of shouldering. Andy Gray is a bustling handful at best and will have nightmares for a long time to come of his header straight at Carroll with the goal gaping. And as far as Jon Stead goes, I’d be more confident on backing Kelvin Davis to score more after 38 games.

With half an hour gone, Welsh, proving a more than able deputy to Julio Arca, bought a comfortable yard, far too easily, from an out of sorts Tomas Repka; but his dangerous-looking cross was met by a flick from Gabbidon and ran through for a Sunderland throw in. As a spectacle, the football on display clearly lacked quality. Sunderland though, as expected, seemed buoyant having won away at North-East rivals, Middlesbrough, the week before. Yet for all their urgency and dominance, over a West Ham team seemingly devoid of the drive and imagination that had characterised their season thus far, Sunderland still had to penetrate a defence that had kept three clean sheets in their opening five games. If this were to happen, the second half seemed the more likely half after a free kick resulting from a Danny Gabbidon yellow card, having brought down Dean Whitehead, had come to no danger within minutes of the interval.

Justin Hoyte, on loan from Arsenal and playing left back, however, had other ideas. Perhaps inadvertently, Hoyte managed cut the ball back for Liam Lawrence from the left hand side of the penalty box. The player’s resulting shot could only be blocked by Roy Carroll and the rebound was gratefully hammered home into the roof of the net by former Ipswich man, Tommy Miller. The whistle for half time blew moments after and the lead was deservedly
Sunderland’s.

The only aspect missing from such an abject performance from Pardew’s men was being more goals adrift. If ever Pards’ needed to deliver home a half-time rollicking to his players then the fifth teen minute break at the Stadium of Light was it. Maybe this treatment was taken too literally by Paul Konchesky, who within ten minutes of the restart, produced his best impression of a Marco Boogers slide tackle, sending Christian Basilla’s replacement, Liam Lawrence, high into the air having gone straight through his standing leg. A more card-happy referee may well have show Konchesky his marching orders. Thankfully, the colour of the card was yellow.

The incident began a nightmarish ten minute period. Next came Teddy Sheringham’s best attempt to be the star of next week’s, Soccer A.M, ‘Taxi’ section of the show. If he does get the gig, it will be certainty harsh on Sir Edward, having showed great technique to even put himself in the position to carry out his double-kicked swing at the ball. Ruing our improbable chance to have drawn level, Stuart Elliott was soon bearing down on Anton Ferdinand at pace, faking to go right and then shooting with his left. Carroll, again, could only block and the rebound fell to Dean Whitehead following in. For all the world, it looked the like the curtain was about to come down on any chance of taking something back to London from such a lifeless display but Whithead’s goal bound effort was blocked by his luckless team mate, Andy Gray. The reality, however, was Gray had seemed to spare Whitehead the embarrassing sight of seeing the ball sail maybe a yard wide. With the pressure intensifying, Anton Ferdinand decided to crank it up a notch a minute later and sent a back pass back to Carroll a healthy thirty yards wide of its intended target and out for a corner. From the resulting cross, former Hammer, Gary Breen, headed over.

On 72 minutes though, the criminally under worked Kelvin Davis was picking the ball out of the net. Harewood helped the ball onto Zamora who then tried to flick it on to the on rushing Benayoun. The ball seemed about to cut out by Caldwell but bounced off the centre back and into the path of the Israeli who set off on a mad dash goal wards. This was to be our only chance to salvage a point from the game and Benayoun showed his undoubted class in finding the bottom corner and West Ham were inexplicably level.

The goal knocked the wind out of Sunderland’s sails and the final twenty minutes threatened to hand the three points to the visitors with Pardew’s triple substitution of Repka, Etherington and Sheringham for Christian Dailly, Shaun Newton and Bobby Zamora handing the team a much needed look of authority. Truth be told, it was too little too late and we struggled to fashion another credible goal scoring opportunity. The only other incident of note was Nigel Reo-Coker losing his cool in the final minute after Caldwell kicked at his heels sparking off handbags in the centre of the pitch. The spat seemed only to offer proof of the centre midfielder’s frustration of an under par performance.

It’s been a while since our side performed this badly but in true, un-West Ham-like fashion, we came out the other side with a point; as opposed to a crushing defeat and calls for the manager’s head. Such is our start to the season; this trip to the North East will go down as a blip. Next up, Citeh in Manchester: the next team attempting to break our undefeated away record. At half time, I didn’t think I’d be able to write that.



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Player Ratings

Roy Carroll
If anything, for his Schmeichel like rants at his below par team mates. Produced one or two smart blocks and can not be apportioned any blame for the goal.


Tomas Repka
Like many out there, this was bad day for Super Tom who was given a torrid time by relative unknown Andy Welsh. Pardew even elected for a defensive reshuffle in replacing him with Dailly in the second half. But, again, like so many of those out there, Tom’s been first class this year and also had the decency to acknowledge the travelling support when substituted.


Paul Konchesky
Really did endorse the Julian Dicks comparisons sending Lawrence (who he had a running feud with throughout) high into the air, with a crunching tackle that brought a booking. Full marks for commitment but Konchesky took his place alongside those who didn’t perform well.


Anton Ferdinand
Having began this year like a rock, the real Anton didn’t show up at the Stadium of Light. Just hope he wasn’t out on the jars with Re-Coker the night before. Hurried and scrappy thought, my lasting memory of Anton’s display will be that back pass going out for a corner.


Danny Gabbidon
What some might consider most worrying about the performance of our four defenders was it came against perhaps the league’s poorest forward line. Maybe they brought us down to their level. Either way, it wasn’t an easy day, on what looked to be our summer singing’s strongest physical test thus far, for Gabbers. Booked just before half-time.


Hayden Mullins
Largely anonymous without any glaring errors but his partnership with Reo-Coker came a firm second best to that of Miller and Whitehead.


Nigel Reo-Coker
Provided evidence of how influential he is to the team. So much of what is good in our play comes through Nigel but he was below average here and we suffered. Lost his rag in the final minutes having taken several kicks to the legs from Caldwell and received a booking.


Yossi Benayoun
Stepped up to the plate when we needed it and have him to thank for the point. Also making a mockery of those who said he would not be able to hack the physical side of the game and seems to enjoy getting stuck in as much as the next man.


Matthew Etherington
When will last year’s Matthew Etherington show up? It’s been widely acknowledged that Etherington has not started this season particularly well but this was the worst yet and was completely bereft of attacking influence. Must be tempting Pardew to drop him for Newton and stick Benayoun on the left.


Marlon Harewood
Like Teddy, had one chance but Davis produced a smart save. Apart from that Marlon struggled and was starved of service in our poorest performance of the season so far.


Teddy Sheringham
Surprised to see Teddy start and could have very nearly scored having superbly brought down Repka’s cross field ball. Apart from that, the game largely passed Teddy by and seems more suited to the game when playing at Upton Park.


Substitutes


Bobby Zamora
(Replaced Sheringham, 61) Does what Bobby Zamora does well - came on and distributed the ball economically, often with his back to goal. Also had a hand (albeit inadvertently) in the goal. Must have been miffed that he did not start.


Shaun Newton
(Replaced Etherington, 67) Although it would force a bit of reshaping to the team, for my money, 10K is offering a real alternative to Etherington. Offered a threat when he arrived on what was a largely un-taxing day for Sunderland’s defenders.


Christian Dailly
(Replaced Repka, 67) Solid. Offered much needed steel to a wobbly display from all four of our back line.


Shaka Hislop
Did not play.


David Bellion
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: M.Atkinson.

Attendance: 31,212.

Man of the Match: Yossi Benayoun.

West Ham United

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

Goals: Yossi Benayoun 70                  .

Booked: Danny Gabbidon 44 Paul Konchesky 52 Shaun Newton 73 Yossi Benayoun 79 Nigel Reo-Coker 90  .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Sunderland

Davis, Hoyte, Nosworthy, Breen, Caldwell, Whitehead, Basilla, Miller, Welsh, Elliott, Gray.

Substitutes: Lawrence (Basilla 36), D.Murphy (Welsh 87).

Subs not used: J.Murphy, Collins, Le Tallec.

Goals: Miller (45).

Booked: Caldwell (90).

Sent Off: None sent off..

 
Greg Mansell's Man of the Match: Yossi Benayoun