Saturday, 4th February 2006
The surreal experience continued as just before the game a load of American cheerleaders turned up on the hallowed turf. These girls actually laid to rest a belief I have held for many years, namely that Yank women have a genetic predisposition to having big arses. This is not an unfounded view; it is based on field research going back many years. It stemmed from when I went round Europe about 20 years ago and witnessed many a solar eclipse resulting from an ex-colonial tourist rear.
Anyway, marvelling at this unexpected array of skinny arises cavorting on the pitch I came to the conclusion that the regimented approach of US cheerleading was not really my cup of tea. Call me old fashioned, but I like to see a mistake or two and a lack of co-ordination, not this military display.
Having spent over 7 million big ones on Dean Ashton, it was almost obligatory to give the boy a start and someone was going to have to sit it out. Marlon – wrongly in my view – got the short straw. Scaloni – or Lenny as I now call him - came in at right back and I was truly gobsmacked that he had the audacity to turn up in the fashion conscious East End with a ‘rockabilly’ haircut.
Good Golly Miss Molly
I won’t hold this against him, but for f*ck’s sake someone in the style police in the West Ham dressing room has got to have a word: “Lionel, don’t take this the wrong way, but you look like Little Richard, get down the barbers and sort it out.”
When you’re chin deep in the sh*t, the pressure comes off a bit and Sunderland started the game with a degree of intent, winning a free kick in a dangerous position and then an early corner on 5 minutes. From this corner, Reo Coker – who looked awesome away at Arsenal – burst forward brilliantly from inside his own half. He finally got wrestled to the ground unceremoniously just outside the left hand side of the box by Stephen Wright who got a yellow card from stand in ref Rob Styles.
The first real chance of the game fell to Sunderland on 9 minutes after Le Tallec made a nice flick to set Kevin Kyle free on a run. He got forced a little wide, but still managed to get a shot on target, which Shaka held comfortably down at the foot of his post.
Wright sees red
A lot of scrappy play followed, until Reo Coker won a ball on 21 minutes and made a nice pass to Matty who went off at speed down the left. Ill-advisedly, Wright decided to take him out and deservedly received a second yellow.
Two minutes after the dismissal, Konch made a fine run down the left and whipped in an excellent cross which just evaded the oncoming Zamora.
Down to ten men, McCarthy, the bluff Yorkshireman who no longer features on Roy Keane’s Xmas card list, decided to make a change and brought on Nosworthy for Le Tallec. This meant just one up front and no doubt the rest behind the ball in their own half.
The main threat from West Ham continued to be down the left and Konch was there again to put over a wicked cross on 28 minutes with a Sunderland defender just beating Anton to it at the far post. When Konch gets going, you feel that he is probably the best crosser of the ball we have in the team.
Sunderland were pretty much hemmed into their own half, and on 31 minutes Arca took a hopeful pot shot at the West Ham goal which had the look of a desperate move to relieve pressure rather than score. Two minutes later, Whitehead scythed down Matty and got a yellow for his trouble.
The quiet Israeli
Yossi, who’d been pretty quiet, tried a long ball forward on 35 minutes which was headed back by Anton towards new signing Ashton, who looped his header at keeper Kelvin Davis.
It was yet another yellow for Sunderland on 38 minutes, this time for Caldwell as he cynically fouled Zamora.
The final action of an underwhelming first half was on 39 minutes when Ashton went on a good run down the left, cut inside making a move parallel to goal but could only get a half shot away which was easily held by Davis.
As he has done on quite a few occasions this season, Pardew clearly gave the orders to raise the tempo in the second half. Teddy came on to start the half in place of Z-man.
We started with some good energy but it was taxi for Sheringham two minutes in as he made an air shot at a ball which had been knocked down by Ashton on the edge of the box. Teddy’s contribution was also similarly ineffective on 49 minutes after Ashton won a free kick in a good position about 21 yards out, just to the left of the D. Teddy couldn’t get it over the wall.
Lenny got his first booking in the Premiership for a professional foul on 51 minutes, and three minutes after that there was a pretty one-two between Teddy and Matty, but the latter slightly overrun the ball into the box and Davis was able to gather.
Lenny – who looks like he knows how to cross a ball – forced Davis to punch out on 57 minutes with Yossi picking up the clearance and weaving into the box. He was finally blocked out by a defender.
On the hour, Sunderland created a decent opportunity as Nosworthy found some space down the right and sent in a good cross, but the shot on the edge of the box was smashed way over.
Ashton was brought in to bring aerial presence and heading prowess to get onto our generally effective crossing from the flanks, and on 66 minutes, he showed exactly what he can offer, when Reo Coker sent over a fine cross which the ex-Canary tried to glance past the keeper. Davis made a fantastic save, tipping it over at full stretch.
Despite being down to ten men, Sunderland hadn’t given up the ghost and were defending doggedly. Their tactic was to sit back and then take the occasional break. On 69 minutes, Mullins gave away a free kick down the West Ham right and Shaka had to be alert to collect a header in the box.
It felt like we had missed the pace and bustle of Marlon to unlock the Sunderland defence and on 72 minutes he just had to be introduced for Mullins to try and force the breakthrough. He immediately looked like a man on a mission and just two minutes after arriving on the pitch Ashton gathered a ball knocked forward and managed to get a good shot in across the keeper which could only be pushed out into the path of Marlon. The ball was slotted home easily but Marlon – quite wrongly from where I was sitting – was ruled offside. He was fuming.
On 79 minutes, Marlon was at it again as he went storming into the box and couldn’t quite get it past the keeper. Again Marlon was complaining – rightly again in my view – as it looked like he had been impeded by the defender running forward.
Marlon wins it
A minute later and Marlon did change the game when he powered down the right, nicked the ball past a defender and shot powerfully across goal. In a flagless carbon copy of the Ashton move a few minutes earlier, Davis could only palm it out into the path of our new multi million pound striker and he passed in calmly into the net with the keeper helpless. He looked absolutely delighted taking in the raucous plaudits of the Bobby Moore Lower. What a great start to his Hammers career.
Two minutes later he nearly made a brace on his debut after Matty made a perfect lay off to Konch who shot down the wing, cut into the box and passed the ball towards the waiting Ashton. He looked a little static and couldn’t quite adjust his feet quick enough to divert the ball into the goal, hitting the side netting instead.
Ashton went off to a big ovation on 83 minutes to be replaced by Dailly and at the same time Stead came on for Lawrence to see if he could nick a late equaliser.
Rather than Sunderland pulling it back, though, we sealed the game on 86 minutes after Konch picked the ball up 35 yards out, ran in and tried what looked like a fairly speculative shot some distance outside the box. It turned out it was well worth a try as the ball squirmed under the hapless keeper’s body and rolled agonisingly into the corner of the goal.
6 in a row
This was not the prettiest game of football I have seen this year, but it was the 6th win in a row for the mighty Irons. This is truly magnificent and leaves us on the edge of Premiership survival with 13 games left. The team is just oozing confidence and we have real options. I am confident that Pardew is going to be able to manage the options we have and keep the players on his side.
I refuse to talk about Europe at the moment, because to be honest I am just f*cking ecstatic with what has been achieved of late. I would love to go on tour next season, but if this doesn’t happen it will be no setback.
It only seems the other day that Sunderland turned up at our place last year and strolled into the Premiership by turning us over. I wouldn’t want to be in their position now, but hats off to their fans who always turn out in numbers and seem keep the faith. I have to say I was pissing myself on the way home when I heard a group of them singing “Oh the Premiership is upside down, the Premiership is upside down. We’re going to Europe with the ‘Boro and Chelsea’s going down”. Fair play to you, boys.
(Player ratings by Gordon Thrower)
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Largely unemployed for most of the match. I was tempted to pop down and see if he wanted to borrow my coat.
A tentative start – unsurprising really given that he’s probably only had two days training. Settled down and put some tantalising crosses in. Sterner tests are to come.
A nice gentle match after Wednesday night’s battle. He’ll probably sit down in 30 years time and regale his family with tales of how his 35-yard screamer burst the back of the net!
Like the rest of the defence he was able to have a bit of a rest for much of the match.
Dealt with what little Sunderland produced in his usual accomplished style.
The usual solid performance. Probably single-handedly responsible for breaking up what few breaks that Sunderland were able to muster.
At the heart of most of what was created. Continually pushing forward in an attempt to stir things up.
Occasional glimpses of flair but we required more of his creativity to break down the ten men.
Having a much better second half of the season than he did the first. Confidence is up at the moment.
A couple of nice touches early on but Bobby seemed to be suffering the effects of his midweek efforts more than most.
Had a better second half. The introduction of Sheringham meant that he was no longer plying the same channels as Bobby and he put away the goal well.
(Replaced Zamora, 45) A couple of nice touches but rarely troubled the Sunderland defence.
(Replaced Mullins, 73) Made all the difference. Ran at the opposition, a tactic that caused all sorts of problems. Disgracefully denied a goal by the officials, his hard work provided the all-important breakthrough for Ashton.
(Replaced Ashton, 83) Only on for a few minutes at the end so not much time to influence things.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Man of the Match: Marlon Harewood.
West Ham United
Shaka Hislop, Lionel Scaloni, Paul Konchesky, Anton Ferdinand, Danny Gabbidon, Hayden Mullins, Nigel Reo-Coker, Yossi Benayoun, Matthew Etherington, Bobby Zamora, Dean Ashton.
Goals: Dean Ashton 81 Paul Konchesky 87 .
Booked: Lionel Scaloni 51 .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Davis; Wright, McCartney, Breen, Caldwell; Lawrence, Whitehead, Bassila, Arca; Kyle, Le Tallec.
Substitutes: Nosworthy (Le Tallec 24), Woods (Arca 73), Stead (Lawrence 83).
Subs not used: Murphy, Leadbitter.
Booked: None booked..
Sent Off: None sent off..