Saturday, 20th January 2007
Even before the game, I was unsure what the following hours had in store for West Ham. Following their cup capitulation in midweek, Newcastle were either going to come out of the traps fast, with a high tempo and fluidity to their game; that or looking disjointed and short on confidence. A draw would have been a reasonable result.
Things change. Two up shortly before half time, the Irons were cruising. Rightly so: the performance was very impressive. The phrase ‘a lack of chances were created’ sits on my clipboard so I don’t have to type it out each week. Sitting there is where it remain today – going forward everything that has been lacking this season, especially away from the Boleyn, was there for all to see.
Even more encouraging was the fact that a lot of our best chances arose from central areas. Ever since Aston Villa stifled our wing play back in September, we have looked rather clueless going forward. Two goals away from home are never a cause for great concern, either. The opener had been coming; gradually pressure on Shay Given’s goal was going to break the shabby Newcastle defence. Quashie seems to have been practising deliveries from dead balls, his corner was perfect for (old) new boy Davenport to flick on. For the second time in three weeks, Carlton Cole looked like a predator. Here he was at the back post, tucking away his chance with apparent ease.
On his day, Harewood is an absolute handful. Ask Peter Ramage; Marlon had already turned him once before he scored, only to be denied by Given at the time. Sure, the defending for the goal was hardly sound, yet the striker looked assured as he lost his man and tucked the ball into the net. Dreamworld.
We all know what happened after this. The incompetent man-in-the-middle Uriah Rennie single-handedly ruined West Ham’s chances. Going two goals up had silenced the Geordie faithful, already discontented with what some of them saw on Wednesday night (20 odd thousand? Best support in England they are not). The boos would be ringing out at half time, no early goal in the second period leads to a mass exodus before the eightieth minute, the ‘sack the board’ chants would come out as they seem to whenever Newcastle lose.
What on earth the referee was doing letting Milner’s goal stand still baffles me. Over-riding his linesman, who has a far superior vantage point, shows what a self-important man he really is. My game ticket stated ‘Newcastle – West Ham’, no mention of a refereeing companion show. The goal stands, the home side went in at half time to a raucous noise, hardly deserved for their lack of performance in the opening period. Whilst I cannot blame him for awarding the penalty, his general inability to oversee a football match astonishes me. The disallowed goal only adds to my case; from my vantage point, the goal looked fair. Replays only confirmed my suspicions. Relegating him (again) is not the answer. Holding him to far greater account for his ineptitude is needed.
I was a worried man once the scores were level again. The momentum was right with the home side; the crowd were unsurprisingly re-finding their voices too. The last away day at Reading was a test of the team’s mental strength after going behind so early on. They failed that miserably. Three weeks on, I can’t speak high enough of their character. They battled and fought, particularly in the middle of the park. Still they attacked, creating a couple of half chances. Etherington’s miss must haunt him. It’s playing continuously in my head, anyway.
The win had gone, which would have been great at this stage in the season. The flipside of that is knowing West Ham did not throw it away. Rennie aided Newcastle, and even at two all the Irons did not crack under pressure. (Two) goals away from home are what we have lacked for months. The same can be said for creating chances.
One point was collected on Saturday; I take more heart from the display that I saw. Defensively, more of the battling spirit that is required was on display. Carroll made several top-drawer saves, and I can only sympathise with his despair at their first goal. Being an ex-Sunderland player, perhaps it was inevitable that McCartney would have a good game at left-back. When he goes forward, I think he offers the side a real attacking outlet.
We might not be seeing Dailly again for a while if Neill moves to East London; I can only thank him for his passion and resolve. What he may lack in terms of skill, he makes up in being a model professional. Ferdinand and Davenport really looked strong in the middle; the latter could be the most critical signing made by Curbishley so far.
The midfield pair of Quashie and Reo-Coker cannot be faulted either. Nigel Q was right on the pace, his tackling and passing less erratic than last week. The skipper, someone oft-criticised here, was brilliant. If he plays like this every week, he could be the hero in this battle. (Then Arsenal will come in from him again………and we’ll be on the vicious circle once more!).
On a day where Benni and Boa disappointed, the emergence of these two in the middle was much needed and more than welcome. Presumably either Cole or Harewood will make way for Tevez when he returns, yet they both played their part in the draw. Competition for places is needed; their two goals surely can only help us.
Overall, the trip to Newcastle certainly ranks as one of the better away days this season. Many positives have come out of the display and result – something that has to be built upon. Wigan’s dismal run continues, Charlton winning at Pompey keeps them afloat. This relegation fight may turn out to be very interesting. Slowly, I’m starting to believe that we may just get out of this mess. I just hope Wigan keep on losing.
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Best game since he returned to goal earlier on this month. Some impressive saves; his kicking appears to be improving too.
Gave his all, working tiresomely up and down the right flank.
Possibly his best game in a Claret and Blue shirt. Going forward he looked dangerous, and was sound defensively.
Came straight in and looked the part. Strong in the air, his assist led to the opener.
We need Anton to get up to 100% fitness, him and Davenport could really be the best pairing at the back.
The doubters will hopefully see how he played on Saturday, and begin to warm to him. Similar to Mullins, unassuming, but never afraid to get stuck in.
What we’ve needed from Nigel this season. He was clearly motivated for the game and it showed. More of the same, please.
Rather quiet; disappointing considering his performance last weekend.
Luis Boa Morte
Going forward he failed to offer a significant threat. Unnecessary handball.
Impressive performance. Newcastle struggled to get to grips with him, and his goal showed the poacher’s instinct that we need.
Took the goal brilliantly, and his overall display showed again that, on his day, Marlon is a real handful.
(Replaced Cole, 73) How did he miss? Got into some great positions, yet never capitalised on them.
(Replaced Ferdinand, 85) Used to provide fresh legs in the final moments. Did everything he needed to.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Man of the Match: Nigel Reo-Coker.
West Ham United
Roy Carroll, Christian Dailly, George McCartney, Calum Davenport, Anton Ferdinand, Nigel Quashie, Nigel Reo-Coker, Yossi Benayoun, Luis Boa Morte, Carlton Cole, Marlon Harewood.
Goals: Carlton Cole 17 Marlon Harewood 22 .
Booked: Roy Carroll 45 Anton Ferdinand 45 Christian Dailly 89 Marlon Harewood 90 .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Given, Solano, Ramage, Huntingdon, Carr, Milner, Parker, Duff, Martins, Dyer.
Substitutes: Edgar (Ramage 30), Harper (Given 67).
Subs not used: Pattison, Carroll, Luque.
Goals: Milner (45), Solano (52).
Booked: Martins (54), Milner (71), Dyer (88).
Sent Off: None sent off..