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Premiership
Saturday, 14th January 2006

Aston Villa 1
West Ham United 2

by Gordon Thrower


Normal service resumed! It was a long old day all in all. Although a trip to Brum isn’t exactly the longest awayday we have to face, my agreeing to drag my 45 year-old carcass around a football pitch for the Internet Hammers side against the Birmingham supporters’ side meant silly start time for yours truly in order to meet the minibus at Redbridge.

An uneventful trip up the M1 (well I slept through it anyway) saw us arrive early whereupon we were able to inflict a 5-4 defeat on our hosts. I came on for a 20 minute spell at left back where I found myself up against a 12 year old forward. It was a hiding to nothing – if I inflicted my full weight on the lad in a tackle I would be a bully, if I didn’t he might score. I decided to use the benefit of my 40 or so years of playing experience and went into each tackle is a manner that suggested I might be going to inflict grievous bodily harm on the lad. It worked. The lad looked petrified as he sped past me time and time again and I could tell that he was really worried that I might catch up with him at some stage.

The first part of the win double accumulator safely gathered under the belt, we decamped back into the minibus to the other side of the city and parked up at one of those clubs that you end up in from time to time on trips up the M1. As I may have mentioned in previous reports, these establishments always, and I mean always, have an old guy on the door who is there to collect your 50p day membership fee. The old bloke is always invariably about 90 years old and is usually the son of the bloke who first did the job when the club opened its doors in the 1890’s, having had his encyclopaedic knowledge of the club’s rule-book passed down to him from his dad. Having been admitted in accordance with Regulation 42, subsection 3 paras 6-9 we availed ourselves of a quiet pint before taking a leisurely stroll down to the ground.

There had been a few injury worries over the preceding week. Carroll and Yossi had been rted as doubtful. In the end the ‘keeper was fit enough to start whilst the midfielder was rated as fit enough for the bench giving us a starting line-up of Carroll, Repka, Konchesky, Gabbidon, Ferdinand, Newton, Reo-Coker, Mullins, Etherington, Harewood, Zamora.

We had a goodish start and really ought to have taken the lead in the first couple of minutes. Some good work down the right saw Zamora dummy a low cross in. Etherington really ought to have scored but pulled his shot back across the face of the goal into the grateful arms of Sorenson.

The early scare seemed to wake up the home side who proceeded to create a number of half chances prompted by our somewhat worrying habit of backing off as people ran at us. Thankfully these chances tended to end up in the same way, with shots from the outside of the box being blocked.

On 12 minutes Villa were forced into a substitution. Bakke, who seems to have spent most of his life on one treatment table or another, limped off to be replaced by Hendrie. I think it was MCann who then went close from the edge of the box whilst Mullins headed over from a corner but it was the sub who opened the scoring with half an hour on the clock. Milner fed Samuel down our right hand side. Samuel’s near-post cross was met by Hendrie’s glancing header which looped past Carroll into the far corner.

From that point, though we had a lot of possession, our passing wasn’t all it ought to have been and, though the corner count was well in our favour, we were making hard work of it. A Zamora effort went wide and Mullins, presumably buoyed by his goal at Norwich last week also had an effort blocked but, in truth, chances were few and far between and we went in at half-time one down.

Not for the first time this season we needed something of a comeback – and not for the first time this season we got one. We were quick out of the blocks and full of pace and energy in a way that made a mockery of the first half performance. We forced a number of corners and, whilst we’re not noted for creating much from such set pieces, Villa did look concerned.

On the hour Konchesky received the ball on the left and attempted a cross that Hendrie, a few yards away blocked with his hands. Konchesky took the free-kick himself and the home side’s attempted offside trap failed woefully, leaving Zamora with a simple header to put past Sorensen for what I believe is his 8th of the season, all of which have been scored on the grounds of opponents.

Villa went forward in an attempt to regain the lead from the restart and I’d barely had time to text news of the equalizer to the lovely Margot (who prefers the delights of Seville to those of Birmingham at the moment) when Carroll was forced into a save. Following a slip from Tommy a cross was pulled back and Hendrie’s header from the edge of the box pulled a save out of the Irishman that looked it had come out of a coaching manual.

Villa’s effort was the exception rather than the rule during this spell of the game though and we continued to press forward. Coming out of defence we looked more confident than we had in the first period and Harewood’s burst found Newton in a good position only for 10K’s low shot to be saved by Sorensen low to his right. Konchesky, who was putting in his best performance for a while, stormed down the left on a few occasions, cleverly winning the odd corner as he went.

Just before the hour we took the lead. Yet another corner on the left was played deep to the impressive Gabbidon. Gabbidon’s header back across the goal found Mullins who brought the ball down and hit a powerful shot towards goal only to see his shot blocked by a fine save. Unfortunately for the home side that save came from Delaney rather than the ‘keeper and ref Dowd pointed to the spot. After the usual gamesmanship from Delaney of delaying the penalty for as long as possible, Marlon took his usual two-step run-up before putting the ball into the corner opposite to the one toward which Sorensen had dived to put us 2-1 up.

The goal prompted a change from the home side with the introduction of Angel for the largely anonymous Moore. Angel got involved fairly early on in an interchange of passes around the box that required a block from Tomas to prevent Baros from equalizing. However we continued to press forward. 10K who, as Irritating Bloke correctly observed, was frightening Villa every time he ran at them, went on another run just managing to get a cross in that Sorensen saved at the near post.

Unfortunately this was to be Newton’s last meaningful contribution to the match as he ended up clattering into the advertising boards. Of course ref Dowd, one of the more fussy officials on the circuit, had to provide his own moment of farce. At the next stoppage, with Newton injured, AP tried to bring on Yossi. Dowd refused permission, insisting that the throw should be taken despite the readiness of all concerned, including the fourth official to make the switch. So the ball was thrown in and promptly kicked out again.

This time we were allowed to make the switch, though Mullins comments on the issue earned him a yellow card, a situation wholly of the ref’s making. Dowd has never been the most competent of officials and one would have thought his time might be better spent in familiarizing himself with the existing 17 laws as they stand, rather than making up his own amendments to them mid-match.

We should, I suppose be eternally grateful that the substitution of Katan for Zamora was allowed through first time. Yani’s first contribution was to incur the wrath of Dowd, gaining a yellow in clipping a Villa player who had got away from him and shortly after Marlon was cautioned after Dowd had awarded yet another free-kick for a non-existent infringement.

With us defending deep during the closing stages, Football Genius came on for Matty. Marlon gained a free-kick for another of those imaginary fouls that Dowd seems so fond of spotting. Katan’s effort wasn’t bad, bringing another decent save out of the home ‘keeper and suggesting that he might be useful chap to have around for future set pieces.

Up the other end Dowd adjudged Tommy to have fouled though it looked to be another refereeing howler to most observers. The resulting free-kick was laid off to Milner who shot wide. With 3 minutes added all we had to do was run the clock down while Villa gave away a number of free-kicks, possibly not the wisest of moves given the whistle-happy nature of the official concerned.

After the final whistle – a good few minutes after, a kid ran onto the pitch. Now I have no idea how old the kid was but he looked a lot younger than the lad who had given me the runaround in the supporters’ match earlier on. In other words we’re talking about a youngster not some acne-ridden adolescent fresh in from vandalizing some cars. The kid ran up to Tommy who gave him his shirt. All very heartwarming I’m sure you will agree. So quite why the jobsworth stewards decided to give the lad and his Dad such a hard time on his return lord alone knows. Those of you familiar with the works of the late, great, Douglas Adams will be aware of Vogons – a race of ugly, ignorant, bureaucracy-loving, petty-minded civil-servants. I’m certain that Adams, although not known as a football fan, must have visited football grounds in the West Midlands area whilst researching The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy because the resemblance between these guys and the Vogons is too close to be mere coincidence. Well apart from the green skin obviously.

I suddenly realized that, in a number of years of coming to Villa Park, I’d never seen us win here, thus making the victory even sweeter. If I were in nit-picking mood I might moan about the last ten when we reverted to the defending deep policy that always worries me so much but that would be churlish really. We deserved the points on the day end of and it was a happy, if tuneless bunch of Internet Hammers that sang their way back through Spaghetti Junction.

Thanks to Gary for sorting out the minbus, fixture, sandwiches, navigation and, most importantly, for spotting the chippy on the outskirts of Brum. Thanks to the other Internet Hammers for the company and last, but not least, thanks to Paul Aldridge and the ticket office staff at WHUFC for sorting out tickets for those players without away seasons thus making the supporters’ fixture possible. Cheers guys!



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Player Ratings

Roy Carroll
A couple of good saves but not really under much pressure for much of the game – though he was caught a bit flat-footed for their goal.


Tomas Repka
Good and solid. Seems to be enjoying his football now his future’s been sorted – I even saw him smile on the big screen during one replay. His absence over the holiday period shows how much he will be missed when he goes home and it’s imperative that we get a replacement in ASAP.


Paul Konchesky
Getting back to his best after one or two less accomplished performances. Spot on cross for Zamora’s goal.


Anton Ferdinand
Distribution went wrong a couple of times in the first half but a generally solid performance. Always looks at his happiest with Gabbidon as his partner.


Danny Gabbidon
Outstanding. The fact that the recent dry run occurred whilst he was absent through injury is definitely no coincidence.


Hayden Mullins
Another good battling performance in the middle. After his goal against Norwich he seems to have got the taste for goals as well – one goal-bound effort was blocked in the first half whilst his second-half effort resulted in the penalty.


Nigel Reo-Coker
Didn’t have the greatest of first halves but was excellent in the second period.


Shaun Newton
Worked his socks off and the Villa defence never quite came to terms with his running.


Matthew Etherington
Looked quite dangerous when going forward but really ought to have put us one up early on.


Marlon Harewood
Another one who had a game of two halves. Not much to write home about in the first half but caused Villa all sorts of problems in the second.


Bobby Zamora
Another away match, another goal. Not a spectacular performance but there was a lot of running involved, often without reward.


Substitutes


Yossi Benayoun
(Replaced Newton, 71) Came on at a time when we had just started to sit back a bit so we saw him working hard defensively rather than his usual free-flowing style.


Yaniv Katan
(Replaced Zamora, 74) Put himself about a bit and there is the slightest suggestion that we might have picked up a free-kick specialist.


Christian Dailly
(Replaced Etherington, 81) Came on for the closing period to get a foot in but barely had enough time to register.


Shaka Hislop
Did not play.


Clive Clarke
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: P.Dowd.

Attendance: 36,700.

Man of the Match: Danny Gabbidon.

West Ham United

Roy Carroll, Tomas Repka, Paul Konchesky, Anton Ferdinand, Danny Gabbidon, Hayden Mullins, Nigel Reo-Coker, Shaun Newton, Matthew Etherington, Marlon Harewood, Bobby Zamora.

Goals: Bobby Zamora 51 Marlon Harewood 60                .

Booked: Hayden Mullins 72 Yaniv Katan 77 Marlon Harewood 79      .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Aston Villa

Sorensen, Delaney, Hughes, Mellberg, Samuel, Davis, Bakke, McCann, Milner, Moore, Baros.

Substitutes: Hendrie (Bakke 12), Angel (Moore 60).

Subs not used: Taylor, Ridgewell, Gasdner.

Goals: Hendrie (27).

Booked: Mellberg (36).

Sent Off: None sent off.

 
Gordon Thrower's Man of the Match: Danny Gabbidon