Sunday, 23rd April 2006
Straight into the car after the post match celebrations to make the kick off in the West Midlands. The problem was that the vocal chords were shot away even before arrival at Villa Park (yes, I am the original nightmare ‘competitive dad’ that embarrasses his son regularly by ranting at the ref and leaping around on the touchline), but I was convinced that the first victory of the day was an omen.
First pisstake of the day was the £10 that was demanded in the official car park close to the Perry Barr dog track. I told the skanky brummie that he was having a laugh through gritted teeth. Second pisstake of the day was on entering Villa Park. Naturally I struck up a conversation with the first fan I met to find that the c*nt wasn’t even a West Ham fan, but some Villa f*cker who had blagged a ticket. This is what is wrong with football today, the real fans getting their tickets nicked by ar*elickers. Third pisstake was on arrival at our £55 seats to find that they had been doused by the sprinkler system. Cue several visits by Hammers fans to the bog to get some paper to wipe their seats down. A bill for our services is on its way to Doug Ellis.
Undeterred by all of this, we settled down for the start of the game. I don’t know about you, but I felt pretty calm about this match. It was nothing like the tension of that playoff final – it had to be because this was a major bonus on the season that we had all been expecting. I’d go further, it felt almost surreal – how the f*ck did we get this far?
The starting lineup was pretty much as expected, the main change being the decision to put Anton in a right back in place of Scaloni, leaving Gabbidon and Collins in central defence. The minute’s silence for Johnny Lyall soon became a loud celebration of the man’s great contribution, with several choruses of “Johnny Lyall’s claret and blue army”. Most fitting and much like the celebration of George Best’s life earlier on in the season. That didn’t stop certain w*nkers suggesting later on the radio phone-ins that this was ‘disrespectful’. Boll*cks was it, we were united in tribute to one of our own.
It was obvious from the start that Boro’ had some cunning tactical plans for the game as they set up 3-5-2 to our 4-4-2. It did mean that we looked a little outnumbered in the middle and it gave the Teesiders a little more width which they exploited a couple of occasions in the opening minutes down the left.
On 6 minutes, Collins did a great John Terry impression by charging down a Hasselw*nk shot and Shaka had to be alert to save after that. Two minutes later our goalkeeper made another secure save to his left from Rochemback after a quick expansive move.
Down with the ship
The first quarter of an hour had us all pretty worried. It was West Ham that looked more like the team that had only recently come back form a tough game in Rumania. It was hard to explain why – maybe we were struggling to cope with their system or maybe our young team was slightly overawed by the occasion. My thoughts were more of that disastrous 2004 playoff final and the image of that was not helped by seeing one West Ham fan wearing a hat with ‘2004 playoff final’ emblazoned on it. Why wear that, for f*ck’s sake? It’s the equivalent of wearing a t-shirt with ‘Titanic crew, 1912’ written on it.
Reo-Coker got himself booked on 18 minutes after a late tackle and a minute later Marlon gained a bit of a respite by going on one of his trademark power runs which left Southgate floundering. A corner was won but it came to nothing.
On 26 minutes, Yossi showed some invention by receiving a nice through pass by Reo Coker and getting round the back of the Boro’ defence for the first time in the game. The cross was dangerous but it was put behind by a defender. The corner created real problems and a shot was fired against the bar, but play was halted for a West Ham infringement in the box.
Boro’ remained threatening and they seemed to have a lot of space in and around the centre circle. They were probing dangerously around our box, and you felt that a breakthrough might be forthcoming. It nearly happened on 35 minutes as Queudrue was allowed a completely free header which he mysteriously failed to put on target.
The next incident of note on 37 minutes was a challenge on Schwarzer by Ashton where it looked like the striker’s arm got looped over the keeper’s shoulder. It appeared innocuous but he stayed down and after several minutes treatment walked off the pitch holding his cheek shaking his head. Bradley Jones came on to replace him.
West Ham’s best move on the half came on 43 minutes as Konchesky and Yossi combined effectively down the left. The ball bounced around rather wildly in the Boro’ box and it fell to the Israeli who disappointingly could not keep down his shot from just around the penalty spot.
Five minutes were added on largely due to the Schwarzer injury and three minutes into this Rochemback spurned another good opportunity after picking up a loose ball just outside the West Ham box. He attempted to curl it into the top corner, but got it wrong.
The whistle was somewhat of a relief to the West Ham team and fans as we certainly looked second best for much of the half. We needed the break to try and regroup.
It was immediately apparent from the outset of the second half that the ‘rocket up the ar*e’ treatment had been applied in the dressing room. We had a much higher tempo and no doubt Pardew had pointed out that the opposition were bound to tire as the game went on given their recent fixture demands.
Marlon had the best early chance on 54 minutes as a ball was knocked over the top. Unfortunately he appeared to panic a bit and sliced his shot. This led to some around me slagging him off in the way which some have been consistently doing since he joined us. I still fail to understand how anybody can do this. He is our top scorer. He is our most improved player. He has played most games and his workrate has usually been excellent. I voted for him to be Hammer of The Year the week before.
Two minutes after the Marlon chance, Konchesky won a corner and from this, Ashton got on the end of a great delivery and headed onto the bar. On 61 minutes, Reo Coker tried to break the deadlock with a great run along the edge of the penalty box to find space for a shot which flashed across the face of the goal.
Left foot wonder strike
Although West Ham were very much back in the game and having long periods of possession, there were few clear cut chances. The move which eventually changed the game came on 78 minutes after Ashton managed to flick on a ball from a long pass forward. Marlon was alert to this and took a sublime first touch which bought him enough space to fire a rocket of a left foot shot past the helpless Jones. To say the striker was pleased by this would be somewhat of an understatement as he rushed over to the corner flag and threw his shirt down on the ground in triumph. We all went mental in scenes reminiscent of that last gasp header at Sh*te Hart Lane earlier in the season.
Boro’ were clearly flagging and tried to respond by the introduction of Maccarone. His first contribution was to take out Matty, and he got a deserved yellow card. Yakubu had been pretty anonymous and it was indeed fortunate that the fat Aussie w*nker was injured as he always seems to score against us. They really lacked something up front.
Hasselw*nk tried to turn things around and he did make a very threatening run through the centre on goal on 83 minutes, but Collins managed to take his legs away just as he ran into the box. The Dutchman was crying out for a penalty, but the Welshman’s intervention, although a foul had been expertly judged. You would take a yellow for that every time.
The resulting free kick was well struck by Queudrue as it beat the wall, but Shaka was on hand to make a great block to his right.
Ashton came off for Z-man on 85 minutes and two minutes later, Matty went on a great run down the left and put over a half cross, half shot which had to be turned over by the keeper.
Hasselw*nk beat Collins down the left side on 88 minutes, but his cross was dealt with by the defence. We then played out a nervy four minutes or so of added time, when the chance of half fell to Chris Riggott in the box. It was fortunate that it fell to a defender as surely a chance like that for Hasselw*nk in the box in space would not have resulted in the dragged shot across the goal.
The final whistle saw ecstatic celebrations on and off the pitch. We all embarrassed ourselves dancing around badly to various tunes like ‘Hi Ho Silver Lining’ and it was hard to tell whether we were at a football match or a wedding reception. It wasn’t quite as classic as that semi final against Everton in 1980 when Frank scored the ‘f*cking winning goal’ but it was no less sweet. Like many times this season, we seemed to get our act together after a half time chat with the management team.
We now face the Mickey Mousers in our third end of season trip to the Principality. It will be a great day out and the manager and the team fully deserve the success of this fantastic first season back in the Premiership. The final will be a big test, but we were written off prior to that game against Arsenal in 1980, when Sir Trev stooped down to make that unlikely header that broke Liam Brady’s heart. Who says we can’t do it again, but if we don’t there’s still something they can’t take away from us, as the joyful Irons sung on the exit from Villa Park – “We’re all going on a European Tour”.
(player ratings by Gordon Thrower)
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Some uncertain handling early on. Kicking not at its best but saved well when Boro’ finally got a free-kick on target.
They targeted him in the absence of much protection from Yossi but he coped quite well.
Good and solid defensively. Got into some promising positions going forward but the final ball was lacking.
Another good battling performance. Stuck close to his man and restricted Boro’ to efforts from distance.
Most improved Hammer anyone? Hasselbaink & co got little change out of Ginge.
Defended the space in front of the back four with his usual diligence.
Battled gamely throughout. Came close to scoring.
Came into the game a lot more in the second half after a patchy opening 45.
A few good runs formed part of an “in and out” game for Matty.
Caused constant problems for the Boro’ defence. Magnificent finish for the goal.
A constant thorn in the side of the Boro’ defence. Great set up header for the goal.
(Replaced Ashton, 85) Some intelligent running as the clock went down.
(Replaced Etherington, 89) Spent injury time getting behind the ball.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Man of the Match: Marlon Harewood.
West Ham United
Shaka Hislop, Anton Ferdinand, Paul Konchesky, Danny Gabbidon, James Collins, Hayden Mullins, Nigel Reo-Coker, Yossi Benayoun, Matthew Etherington, Marlon Harewood, Dean Ashton.
Goals: Marlon Harewood 78 .
Booked: Nigel Reo-Coker 19 Dean Ashton 68 Marlon Harewood 80 James Collins 83 .
Sent Off: None. .
Schwarzer, Parnaby, Queudrue, Riggott, Southgate, Taylor, George Boateng, Downing, Rochemback, Yakubu, Hasselbaink.
Substitutes: Jones (Schwarzer 42), Parlour (Rochemback 75), Maccarone (Taylor 80).
Subs not used: Ehiogu, Bates.
Booked: Rochemback (47), Maccarone (82).
Sent Off: None.