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Premiership
Sunday, 17th December 2006

West Ham United 1
Manchester United 0

by Gordon Thrower


They don’t hang about these Icelandic chappies. No sooner than one can say “three defeats” then the manager gets removed. So, cleverly saving on part of the cost of a new name plate for the manager’s office, we have a new boss.

Pre-match in the Wakefield the general concensus was that this match would be all about the performance. Given the visitors’ position at the top of the league few were expecting much in the way of points so that the main focus would be on how those who had underperformed so spectacularly over the course of the season would fare. The other talking point was the drunken idiot who decided to pick a fight with half the population of the smaller bar in the Wakefield. So typical of Manchester United – so many “supporters”, so few brain cells.

Team news was that Curbs – as I believe I must call him – had gone mostly English. The one exception from the starting line-up not from these shores being Spector. Zamora and Mullins having passed late fitness tests we lined up as follows: Green, Spector, Konchesky, Ferdinand, Collins, Bowyer, REO_Coker, Mullins, Etherington, Harewood and Zamora. Ronaldo was, predictably booed whilst Carrick and the other Ferdinand brother were greeted by generous applause.

They came at us, much as you’d expect. A cross from the right found Giggs in space on the left hand side of the box but, with a piece of work that was to become quite familiar over the course of the match, Spector got a superb block in. This was with as few as thirty seconds gone. Clearly it was going to be a long afternoon.

However, signs of a better West Ham were beginning to show. We were passing the ball, something that has been missing in recent weeks and Matty’s run and cross caused, well if not panic, then some minor consternation in the visiting defence. Mullins had a nice interchange with NRC but put a shot well over & wide.

A pattern started to develop. A fair bit of possession for the visitors matched by a lot of very hard work by the home side. A few nice passes ended up with Rooney shooting well over from distance but, in truth he looked a shadow of the player who tore us apart in the corresponding fixture last season. Well, not literally, he’s still as rotund as ever but he caused few problems overall.

Saha was a different matter and a good run and cross saw Rooney put the ball wide though in what was the first of a number of baffling decisions from Mr Dowd Collins was adjudged to have conceded a corner which led to another. The other Ferdinand popped up at the far post but nodded safely back into the hands of Green. Green then had to be alert to cut out a Heinze cross that had Rooney loitering inside the six-yard box like a fat bloke outside a brothel.

We should have taken the lead on ten minutes. A well worked series of passes saw Konch in space on the left. Curbs’ best mate sent in a cross that required a good clearing header from Heinxe which found Bowyer wide on the right. Bowyer’s return into the box found Etherington unmarked but Matty, not a man noted for his heading skills put the free header well wide. “Darn it” I think the bloke behind me said.

The visitors then worked the ball round the right hand side and Carrick’s cross was superb. Spector’s covering header was even better and the visitors made a complete hash of the short corner routine much to our amusement.

A further half chance went our way when Matty got a dangerous cross in. Zamora was bundled off the ball as was Heinze by Bowyer. Sadly, only the latter infringement was punished. Better still was Harewood’s turn on a loose ball that went not that far over.

Saha then brought a fine save out of Green with a low shot from outside the box which saw the kee’er get a good hand on the ball low to his left with Collins on hand to clear up. There was a lot of hard work going on out there – and not necessarily from the usual suspects. Typical was the run down the visitors’ right from Ronaldo that came to an end with a fine tackle from Konchesky that owed everything to Etherington’s diligence in tracking the Portuguese diver back over the course of a 40-yard run.

Heinxe then picked up the first yellow of the game by fending Bowyer off using the time-honoured “hand into the face” gambit. From the resulting free-kick Zamora was flattened by one of the most blatant pushes that you’ll ever see. As ever, when you get star-struck referees you don’t get that sort of decision and Mr Dowd seemed more star-struck than most. As if to underline the point identical nudges on Harewood and Zamora moments later were ignored in identical fashion.

Ronaldo then had a run at Konchesky but his shot was weaker that a cup of tea out of the machine in my office. Trust me that’s weak. Meanwhile Harewood’s strong run saw the ball get fed out to Matty but, not for the first time this season, Bowyer failed to get good contact on what was a fair cross.

We were then treated to a little of what the visitors are famous for, A Ronaldo run was unceremoniously ended by a dive. Everyone in football knows that this player likes a dive. Even his picture on the “wallbangers” ad looks like it’s about to fall off the wall. 35,000 people inside the ground knew it was a dive. Including, I suspect the ref who gave the free kick anyway. Giggs’s free-kick was headed clear for a corner from which Vidic finally got penalised for pushing at only the fourth time of asking.

We had another gilt-edged chance when Zamora got on the end of a long ball from the back. The other Ferdinand had a tug but Zamora remained strong and won the six of one battle remarkably easily only for his shot to be aimed at too comfortable a height for Van Der Sar who pulled of a fine save.
The visitors then broke away from a scramble resulting from an Etherington free-kick which saw Ronaldo feed Rooney (something Rooney is obviously no stranger to!) who in turn found Saha in acres of space only for Etherington – who seconds earlier had been up the other end taking the free-kick – to get the block in when we were just about to curse our luck. From the resulting corner Matty fed Zamora who inturn released Harewood whose promising run was cynically ended by a blatant trip by a combination of Scholes and Carrick. Neither player received the caution that the challenge merited according to the laws of the game but then again getting the cards out might have prevented Dowd getting his heroes’ autographs after the match.

The resulting free-kick was interesting, the defensive wall being forced back all of six or seven yards before Dowd was satisfied. Scholes got the block in having been all of three yards away at the time the ball was played. I know it’s a bit of a cliché that Man Utd always get the rub of the green with referees but in all honesty this one seemed to be bending over backwards to assist them in any way possible.

A Ronaldo cross was then deflected unkindly into the path of Rooney whose header span just wide. Funniest moment of the first half then occurred when Anton got the better of big brother somewhat illegally. Another attack was then set up by virtue of Vidic’s palming the ball away from Harewood when the striker was in a promising position to set up an attack, something that used to be illegal back in the good old days. Thankfully the visitors’ passing was awful and Green gathered another back pass from Giggs quite comfortably. Green was slightly more tested by a curling bobbling effort from Saha that he palmed wide.

Then, for once, another refereeing cock-up worked in our favour as Giggs was in a good position only to see play pulled back by Dowd who hilariously failed to play the advantage after a minor foul on Carrick. Dowd was to spend the rest of the match making up for that particular transgression. Saha then got a shot in on the turn that Green dealt with easily and that was about that for the half.

Upton Girlie’s half-time Kit-Kats were, as ever, gratefully received and the general mood was one of cautious optimism brought on by the much improved performance. The cautious bit was prompted by the knowledge that Chelsea’s result earlier would mean the opposition would be piling on the pressure.

There were no changes at half time and the second period started fairly quietly though a Ronaldo free-kick moved in the air and bounced awkwardly in front of Green with the ‘keeper gathering at attempt no.2. Some nice work between Mullins and Etherington then saw a strike from distance from Zamora go wide. Finally Vidic picked up the yellow his persistent foul play deserved for a lunge through the back of Harewood, though it took the intervention of the linesman to rouse Dowd from his prolonged spell of gazing adoringly at Ronaldo. Matty’s free-kick came to naught.

The visitors started to come forward. Giigs cut in from Konchesky and Green again took the sting out of the shot rather than gathering it first time, though I suspect he knew what he was doing. Then an uncharacteristic slip from Mullins allowed the ball through to Ronaldo whose low curling effort was certainly goalbound until Green got down to pull off the save of the match to turn the ball around the post for a corner. Marvellous goalkeeping of the highest order. The visitors then forced a couple of corners but the pressure was released as Neville put the ball into the back of the centenary stand.

We did put a spell of pressure of our own together and a ball fell out to Konchesky whose low drive wasn’t all that far away – though a shot to the back post might have reaped bigger dividends.

Just on the hour young Edward replaced Zamora who was beginning to look a bit tired. This was shortly followed by the standard comedy penalty appeal whereby Saha drove the ball at Ferdinand from half an inch and, forgetting that he wasn’t at Old Trafford, appealed. Dowd, who I suspect might have given it had Ronaldo been involved, turned it down and rightly so. Ronaldo’s pull back for Giggs then saw the part-time Welsh international trying to find the same row of the Centenary Stand that Neville had hit earlier on, only from a lot closer in. I think he managed it.

The visitors then claimed another penalty when Vidic was picked off by a sniper somewhere in a move that might have seen him red carded for a second yellow had the ref a) seen it clearly and b) stopped gazing longingly at Ronaldo for long enough to remember the laws of the game.

Vidic then fell over within a yard of Harewood which was sufficient to earn the striker a talking to from the ref before some pinball defending saw us play ourselves into trouble before the impressive Spector sorted things out.

At this point whilst we had conceded a lot of possession there was still enough about us to restrict the opposition to shots from distance. Harewood again was penalised for having the temerity to challenge Dowd’s heroes before Rooney burst into the box, Bowyer’s superb intervention prompting a petulant little foul by the lardy one.

With 20 minutes left.Yossi replaced Mullins pushing Bowyer into the middle. A promising run from Harewood was blocked by a clear body check which, given how many times Harewood had been penalised for very little, must have felt insulting in the extreme. NRC then picked up a yellow which, whilst deserved, was for a challenge that was the equal of that for which Scholes had escaped scot-free earlier.
Rooney failed to find the same spot in the Centenary Stand that his colleagues had seemed so fond of earlier on, but it didn’t appear to be for the want of trying. Sheringham then picked up a yellow for, well I’m blown if I know. Vidic went down clutching his face though the only contact seemed to be his customary push into the small of Teddy’s back. Baffling and stupid Mr Dowd. Still it gave the chance for the visitors to bring on Solskjaer who replaced Giggs who had failed to impress. Ronaldo then tried to chip Green, an effort that made Green look tall and Ronaldo look silly.

Then glory upon glory we scored. Some good possession saw Yossi feed Teddy on the right. Teddy held the ball and appeared to nutmeg Carrick with the ball going through to Harewood on the byline. Somehow Marlon found the space to put the ball across the six-yard box for NRC to slot home from close range. Apparently NRC did the cupped-hand-to-ear thing in his celebrations in front of the Bobby Moore. I didn’t see it as I was too busy high-fiving (or in Tomas’ case low-fiving) everyone within a 10 yard radius of seat N217. Oh yes life was particularly sweet at that moment and text messages to the lovely Margot who is spending Christmas in Perth (the nice one in Australia) were duly dispatched.

So 15 plus stoppage to go and the visitors would surely come at us with all guns blazing? Well yes and no really. Tons of possession and pressure but nothing that really worried me to be honest. Ronaldo hit a shot wide before Etherngton, who had got through an impressive amount of work, was replaced by McCartney who slotted into the defence with Konch pushing on a bit to counter the space that Neville had been getting as Matty had tired.

Of course desperate times meant that the visitors had to resort to desperate measures. Well not really. They just upped the dive quota slightly and whilst this was good enough to win them the odd free-kick in the middle, Rooney’s effort was probably the most disgraceful – though there’s a lot of competition for that title. No free-kick but also no yellow for which Rooney can thank himself lucky.

O’Shea then replaced Carrick who left to applause as generous as he’d been given on arrival. Sheringham then got flattened with a full two-handed push in the back from Vidic which resulted in the visitors getting another soft free kick from the increasingly mad Dowd. Ronaldo tried another part of the Centenary before Park replaced Heinze to the usual humorous greeting of “DVD”. Harewood then chased down Van der Sar who sliced his kick very luckily to safety. Collins then won any number of high and hopeful balls in the air before the 4th official signalled 4 minutes of stoppage. We then won what I think may have been our first corner. We tried that keeping it in the corner thing but the manoeuvre was rendered pointless by the linesman’s flagging for yet another imaginary free kick because, well it’s Man Utd isn’t it so we’ll give them a hand.

McCartney upended Ronaldo, who, mindful of the time, waived the usual rolling about in agony to place the ball for the free-kick. Having made the visitors retreat six yards earlier, Dowd made up for it by adding the missing four yards to our wall, which consisted of Konchesky. Bowyer’s excellent defensice header earned him pats on the back all round. Van Der Sar popped up for the corner but Bowyer won out again, though the ball eventually came back for another corner. The defence remained strong. Dowd decided to caution Ferdinand, well for the hell of it presumably there being little worthy of a yellow in the challenge. Another 14-yard wall was set up for Ronaldo’s free-kick which he hit straight at the wall prompting an appeal that the wall wasn’t back the full twenty yards that Man Utd like to see on these occasions. Green got the better of the other Ferdinand as the ball was cleared out and Rooney put the ball into touch under pressure from Spector and that was that.

This was a fine performance – yes there was pressure but we were strong in defence and there was a hunger, a desire, call it what you will that ran throughout the side. Maybe we should sack the manager every week?! Of course we’ve seen false dawns in the past but the initial signs are encouraging even if the greying figure of Mervyn Day does look disconcertingly like Alan Pardew from above! We just need to make sure that the effort is replicated. The final word goes to young Tomas. “We always beat the bigger teams and struggle against the smaller ones” he commented as we left. Tomas is 7. Amazing – I think I was nearly 10 by the time I worked that out!



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Player Ratings

Robert Green
The save from Ronaldo was breathtaking but there was a lot of unspectacular stuff going on as well. Solid.


Jonathan Spector
With Ronaldo and Giggs swapping over at will he had a tough time but coped with everything admirably. Mugging Ronaldo who was trying to shepherd the ball out for a corner was one of many marvellous moments.


Paul Konchesky
I can’t believe that Konch had his best game in ages purely to send out a message to Curbs. Frankly I don’t care. More please.


Anton Ferdinand
Excellent. Saha was tricky and Anton had his work cut out but he stuck to his task well and wasn’t found wanting.


James Collins
Won just about everything. Got blocks in. Got Tackles in. Rooney? Who?


Hayden Mullins
Not 100% but still got stuck in and wasn’t overawed by the (so-called) illustrious opposition.


Nigel Reo-Coker
Did everything you want to see him do and deserved the goal. The celebration, understandable as it was, was a bit childish though.


Lee Bowyer
Lots of effort and came in with impressive number of vital defensive headers.


Matthew Etherington
The amount of hard work he got through on the left was amazing. Not surprisingly he looked knackered when subbed. Would have opened the scoring had he been able to head a ball!


Marlon Harewood
Hustled and bustled and made a right pain in the backside of himself up front. Keep it up.


Bobby Zamora
Tried his heart out and whenever he lost the ball, which was a tad too much for my liking, at least battled to win it back. Ought to have scored.


Substitutes


Teddy Sheringham
(Replaced Zamora, 58) Lovely nutmeg contribution for the goal and held the ball up well to relieve the pressure on midfield.


Yossi Benayoun
(Replaced Mullins, 70) A minor role in the build up to the goal but was pegged back to perform a defensive role for the period he was on.


George McCartney
(Replaced Etherington, 77) Linda came on to shore up the defence in the closing minutes and performed admirably.


Roy Carroll
Did not play.


Carlos Tevez
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: G.O'Dowd.

Attendance: 34,966.

Man of the Match: Robert Green.

West Ham United

Robert Green, Jonathan Spector, Paul Konchesky, Anton Ferdinand, James Collins, Hayden Mullins, Nigel Reo-Coker, Lee Bowyer, Matthew Etherington, Marlon Harewood, Bobby Zamora.

Goals: Nigel Reo-Coker 75                  .

Booked: Nigel Reo-Coker 72 Teddy Sheringham 73 Anton Ferdinand 90      .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Manchester United

Van Der Sar, Neville, Heinze, R.Ferdinand, Vidic, Carrick, Scholes, Ronaldo, Giggs, Saha, Rooney.

Substitutes: Solskjaer (Giggs 73), O'Shea (Carrick 84), Park (Heinze 88).

Subs not used: Kuszczak, Silvestre.

Goals: .

Booked: Heinze (26), Vidic (52).

Sent Off: None sent off..

 
Gordon Thrower's Man of the Match: Robert Green


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