Monday, 23rd January 2006
It’s been an interesting week all in all during which I’ve kept bumping into famous people. On Friday morning whilst on a business trip to Glasgow I bumped into “Sir” Alex Ferguson in the lift in Glasgow Hilton. “Good morning” he said. “Don’t you bloody well ‘good morning me’ – and while we’re at it what was all that rubbish about keeping us waiting for nearly an hour at the post-match press conference before deciding you were too important to talk to us you jumped-up whingeing excuse of a human being”. Ok what I actually said was “Good morning” but I did grunt it and I’m sure the withering look of disdain I gave him as I looked down my nose told him all he needed to know.
I was more impressed with meeting Geoff Pike as I picked up my pre-match team sheet before this match. Younger readers may be unaware of Geoff’s Hammers career but he performed the role that Eric Cantona used to disparagingly refer to as “water carrier”. In other words he would quietly and (usually) effectively run up and down the pitch all day allowing the more talented (and I’m sure Geoff would be the first to admit that) likes of Brooking and Devonshire perform the crowd-pleasing stuff.
Enough of the old and in with the new and pre-match we were introduced to our new £7m signing Dean Ashton. Now I’m not one of those who likes to criticise our pre-match announcer on every occasion. Jeremy seems a decent enough sort to me and I know for a fact that many of the things he has done in the past that seem to annoy some of you have been the direct result of orders from above. However the “Bobby Moore Stand give a cheer” bit was a tad embarrassing. Thankfully nobody from Fulham had turned up to watch the match and hopefully it all occurred during an ad break so that nobody outside was any the wiser.
Ashton’s signing came too late for his inclusion in the squad so there was but one change to the starting line-up which, for the last time, included T Repka esq, giving us a starting XI of Carroll, Repka, Konchesky, Gabbidon, Ferdinand, Reo-Coker, Mullins, Benayoun, Etherington, Zamora, Harewood. Some guy called Edward Sheringham was on the bench, though I have no idea if he is any relation to the bloke of the same name who used to play for us years ago. Geoff Pike came on to gve him an award anyway and, much as happened every week on the West Side Terracing 25 years ago, the bloke a few rows behind me shouted “Stupid Boy” at Pike with the self-satisfied air of someone who thinks they are the first to make that particular joke.
The visitors started the brighter of the two sides as we struggled to string anything more than the odd pass together. Thankfully Fulham were somewhat profligate in their finishing as McBride managed to put one over from 12 yards. Helguson, with whom we were supposedly linked for a while in the summer, then missed the best chance by putting his effort against his own man - Boa Morte I believe it was. Having survived the early skirmishes we then started to put some play together and Yossi started to pull a few strings as the game settled down. However the first goal, when it came was simply breathtaking. Yossi’s corner came in and Niemi managed to get a punch on the ball despite an apparent lack of communication between him and his defence which saw the former Southampton ‘keeper hampered in his efforts by his own player. The ball landed on the edge of the box where Harewood got his head to the loose ball. Ferdinand somehow swivelled on a sixpence and got a marvellous volley in all in one move sending the ball screaming into the top corner for one of the best goals you’re ever likely to see. Once things had calmed down a bit I smugly pointed out to my neighbours that, just before the corner had been taken I’d predicted an “Anton goal here”. Quite rightly they ignored me. The goal was infinitely better than the little dance that Anton does when he scores – though a two-yard tap-in would probably be good enough for that!
Well you know how it is. You wait forever for a “Goal Of The Season” candidate to pop up then all of a sudden two arrive at once. A mere ten minutes after Anton’s ‘ammer, Yossi got in on the act. Receiving the ball from Matty he turned Bocanegra one way then the other before chipping Niemi who had advanced to the edge of his 6-yard box. It was a goal of sheer beauty and class. Had he been at the match – indeed I expect him to call any minute to say so – my Dad would have said that Niemi should have been on his line. Dad is in no way a grumpy old man – he just doesn’t like seeing ‘keepers off their line - but frankly, such was the subtlety of the chip, comments of that nature would simply be churlish and I’ll admonish Dad on your behalf when he calls.
For the remainder of the half Fulham looked like they’d had all the stuffing knocked out of them. To be fair, I suppose that, if you have two goals of that quality scored against you, it’s probably not going to do you much good confidence-wise. We dominated the remainder of the half without quite quite hitting the peaks of the two goals, though Niemi had to be alert to keep out another Benayoun effort. Marlon did go on one burst out from the middle that ended up in him going in ever decreasing circles as bemused Fulham defenders looked on. As Gosport Hammer aptly put it, it looked like that scene where Tom and Jerry chase each other round in circles getting faster and faster until Jerry steps out of the chase leaving Tom to run around in a blur. Thankfully none of the Fulham defence were armed with a frying pan.
Much has been made in recent weeks of the turnaround in the side’s form in the second halves of matches we are losing. Well in this case we did it in reverse and the second half was an edgy affair. It needn’t have been like that though.
Early doors Zamora latched onto a long clearance and would have been clear through on goal but for being unceremoniously dumped to the floor by Bocanegra. Not only did this denial of an obvious goalscoring opportunity not meet with the statutory red card for such an offence, it was, amazingly, not even considered to have been a foul at all. Sadly nobody (with the obvious exception of those in authority with responsibility for improving refereeing standards) is in the least bit surprised these days when Uriah Rennie (for it was he) makes a gratuitously controversial decision – especially when there are live cameras involved.
Though they hadn’t shown much, Fulham gained a lifeline on 51 minutes. It was a goal that was the textbook example of “route one” football. Niemi’s goal kick was nodded on by McBride. The normally reliable Gabbidon made a complete pig’s ear of the ball letting in Helguson whose low, powerful drive went in off the post.
The goal seemed to inspire what I can only describe as panic in the side. Whereas we’d earlier been passing reasonably well, we now couldn’t get the ball out of defence – even from goal kicks. A poor Carroll clearance fell to Konchesky who took far too much time on the ball getting robbed by Helguson in the process. Konchesky’s desperate challenge looked like a penalty to me and I can only assume that Rennie used the incident to clock up another talking point for the video scrapbook he no doubt keeps at home. That or he wanted to make amends for his earlier decision not to dismiss Bocanegra. Either way it was poor refereeing. Thankfully.
Radzinsky came on on the hour in place of Malbranque and, with what was probably his first touch of the ball pulled off a superb volley that met with an even better save from Carroll.who threw himself to his right to tip the goal-bound effort wide. Carroll then entered a purple patch making a couple more saves including one low to his right from Boa Morte.
To counter the opposition pressure AP withdrew Marlon from his striking role and played him on the right and we started to create the odd chance of our own. Zamora beat the offside trap and bore down on goal. However he decided to over elaborate and a corner was the best he could rescue from the situation. Shortly after Zamora found Matty with an excellent ball and got on the end of Matty’s cross only to see his header hit the base of the post before going out for a goal kick. It was to be just about Zamora’s last meaningful contribution to the game before he was replaced by Football Genius, who received a mixed reaction to say the least. Dailly’s first contribution to events was to pick up a yellow for a pull back when he had got the wrong side of his man.
Katan then came on to replace his compatriot Yossi with five left on the clock and quickly showed the home fans some of his repertoire of skills. A jinky run on the right hand side saw Yani pull the back for Dailly only to see Dailly’s shot get nearer the upper tier of the Bobby Moore stand than it did the goal. This pleased the boo-boys no end of course.
Jeremy then solved the mystery of what had happened to all the missing Fulham supporters. Announcing that the District line was suffering from signal problems, our MC helpfully informed the crowd that the service was suspended in both the northbound and the southbound directions. This must have confused the poor Cottagers fans who, like me, had always believed that the green one on the map ran from East to West. No wonder none of them turned up!
Injury time saw the standard 10K for Matty swap. The added time of 2 minutes was somewhat baffling – there’d been a lengthy stoppage after Gabbidon had gone down after a suspiciously late challenge not to mention 5 substitutions – but I guess that Rennie’s video tape must have been coming to an end. Either that or he had a northbound District Line train to catch. Either way we held on without much further fuss and the second double in two weeks was secure.
Tomas left to a hero’s ovation – the traditional post-match rendition of “Bubbles” descending into a full blooded outpouring of “Super Tom”. The people behind me had spent much of the match in confusion, mistaking the crowd’s exhortation to “shoot” every time Tomas got the ball for booing. Lord knows what they made of Dailly’s reception.
It wasn’t a vintage performance – though the goals were worth the price of admission alone – but we’ve had a few matches recently where the result didn’t match the team’s efforts (yes I’m talking about you Newcastle) so I’m happy to take the three points and ninth place. Only 8 more points to go before we hit that legendary 40 mark and 15 matches left in which to get them. Now does anyone know if Ashton can play at right back?
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Some excellent saves when we needed them most.
So farewell then Tomas. You were never everybody’s favourite but in recent years when you kept your head you were capable of some good solid performances. Like this one.
Picked a poor evening to put in a dodgy one what with Aston Villa’s next manager watching in the stands.
Generally solid but caught napping a bit for the goal.
Excellent in defence and as for that goal……..
Similar to NRC in performance though he possibly had a slightly better second half.
Good in spells, especially during the first half but looked edgy in the second spell.
Patchy – but not given much service in the second half when we were under the cosh a bit.
There were times in the first half when he threatened to take Fulham apart single handed. Not as dominant in the second period.
Didn’t really look like scoring as an attacker but chased the ball down well and worked hard when withdrawn to the right hand side.
Battled gamely and was unlucky to see a header come back off the post before a knock curtailed his evening.
(Replaced Zamora, 80) Wasn’t nearly as bad as people were making out, though the shot that he ballooned over was a bit embarrassing.
(Replaced Benayoun, 86) Showed some nice touches in the short time he was on.
(Replaced Etherington, 90) Not on for long enough to make an impact.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Man of the Match: Anton Ferdinand.
West Ham United
Roy Carroll, Tomas Repka, Paul Konchesky, Danny Gabbidon, Anton Ferdinand, Hayden Mullins, Nigel Reo-Coker, Matthew Etherington, Yossi Benayoun, Marlon Harewood, Bobby Zamora.
Goals: Anton Ferdinand 17 Yossi Benayoun 28 .
Booked: Yossi Benayoun 80 Christian Dailly 83 .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Niemi, Rosenior, Knight, Bocanegra, Bridge, Elliott, Legwinski, Malbranque, Boa Morte, Helguson, McBride.
Substitutes: John (McBride), Radzinski (Malbranque),.
Subs not used: Warner, Goma, Jensen.
Goals: Helguson (52).
Booked: None booked..
Sent Off: None sent off..