Saturday, 28th April 2007
All rather dodgy, but this job involves him sitting watching various football matches and speaking a bizarre code system into his mobile ‘phone, saying things like “Home Safe” when the ball is in the opposition’s half.
I have visions of a load of villagers in rural Viet Nam hanging on Wicks’ every word crouched around an ancient radio. That, my friends, is what globalisation is all about.
Anyway, the point of relating this story is that Wicks has seen most Wigan home games this season as a part of his strange little earner, so meeting up with him prior to the game seemed to be a good idea to gain some intelligence.
The problem with these new stadia is that they are usually in the middle of nowhere surrounded by anodyne retail parks. Proper pubs are nowhere to be seen, and the nearest boozer was the Seven Sisters about 10 minutes walk away from the JJB. Normally, I would not frequent a hostelry of that name as it has an immediate association in my mind with that open sewer in London, N17. However, it was the nearest and where Wicks was to be found lurking.
“You’re gonna stroll this today, Wigan are sh*t. Their defence is f*cking rubbish”, said the insightful trainee hack. “Hold on, Wicks”, I said, “You didn’t see the pile of pony we had to watch in Sheffield the other week.”
Just like up at Bramall Lane it was a nice sunny day, yet there was an almost surreal atmosphere, given the previous day’s strange events at the Premier League with their £5.5 million bill for Mr Magnusson. I’ve already given my thoughts on that little episode of deceit, greed and incompetence, but it did seem just a little odd that the little geezer that cost us £5.5 big ones was happily strolling out on the pitch to play as if nothing had happened.
In fact the starting lineup was exactly the same as the week before with the exception of somebody else that had cost us £5.5 million, Luis Boa Constrictor. Hmmmm. Eggy’s fine to the FAPL or the purchase of LBM. What’s been the better value? I’ll leave you to decide that one.
Wicks and his prediction of home defensive frailties seemed to be pretty accurate as there was panic at the back by Wigan in the very first minute as a ball got pumped forward to find Zamora in the hunt. Then Boa was fed a nice ball out left, but he stumbled on the edge of the area in a good position.
Hmmmmm. FAPL fine or LBM? You decide.
It should of course be noted that the turnout and impact of the travelling Irons was spectacular. What a noise and what a party – the usual depleted ranks of the home fans looked demoralised from the start. To underline the suspicion that the home fans might have got their dates mixed up, we told ‘em that they “could stick their rugby up your ar*e”.
You can take the East End up the M6 and you don’t even have to issue t-shirts with embarrassing slogans on them like ‘Operation Ewood’. We went north and we didn’t get the t-shirt.
I don’t know when the Charlton fans we saw looked more stupid, on the way to the game or on the way back. I’ve decided. It was definitely on the way back, for what kind of muppet sees their team lose 1-4 away and still keeps the t-shirt on advertising how you are going to turn the match. Operation Ewood my ar*e, Sadam’s invasion of Kuwait was more successful.
Back to the game. West Ham’s newest loan signing was not helping Wigan’s nerves as he began to run around all over the shop, trailing terror in his wake. On the edge of box, 12 minutes in, he cut in and had a shot blocked. Zamora picked it up and got into a similar position to the one where he scored against Everton, but this time his finish was not so clinical.
Alan lives on
Mark Noble seems to be flying around with the energy of the man whose passing on we all applauded at the beginning of the game. Alan Ball may be gone but his legacy lives on in Noble. There was a delicious little threaded ball through on 17 minutes by the talented midfielder to LBM who was waiting in the box, but he took too long and got closed down.
Hmmmmm. FAPL fine or LBM? You decide.
The ball was being passed around with real flair by West Ham and it was clear that we were never going to get a repeat of the Sheffield debacle. Confidence was oozing out, but we could have all done without Robert Green deciding to beat a Wigan attacker in the box with a swift turn.
Luck always plays a part in football, and like the premature replacement of Andy Johnson the week before, it was good news to see Wigan’s defensive lynchpin De Zeeuw go off after 24 minutes. Two minutes after this, however, we had a massive scare as the now underrated Heskey rose above our central defense and nodded down alarmingly close to Green’s right hand post.
West Ham sucks
Tevez was not deterred by this and on 29 minutes he cut into the box on the right hand side and unleashed a shot which went just wide of the left hand post. This seemed to spark even more tempo amongst the claret and blue and within a minute, Lucas Neill chipped a beautiful ball forward out of defence which bounced once and LBM somehow beat a defender to it with his left foot. The ‘keeper was in no man’s land and it looped over his head, seeming to take an age to bounce into the open net. I swear a couple of thousand West Ham fans were individually sucking that ball into the goal.
Neill has got a knack for passes like that – it was The Emirates all over again. I repeat again that I think he is one of the best signings we have made for years.
Hmmmmm. FAPL fine or LBM? F*ck it, I’ll take £11 million the pair. What a bargain.
Two minutes after the goal, it should have been 2-0, as Tevez laid off a precision pass to LBM in the box. He went to the dead ball line and put across a perfect ball to find the waiting Zamora on the edge of the six yard box. Somehow his shot was blocked out. It looked a certain goal.
Then on 38 minutes the play of the half as Tevez mugged a defender with a Di Canio-like nutmeg inside the box. This is what was missing from the Argie’s game earlier in the season, the belief to take on defenders. He advanced menacingly on goal and curled a shot which went agonisingly past the left hand post.
It was not the last chance of the half as yet another sweeping move by West Ham tore open the Wigan defence. First Zamora tried a shot and then the ball came to Tevez who came steaming in just to see his shot partially blocked. For one second it looked that the ball would spin over the line, but it was grabbed by the ‘keeper.
Half time and there is only one thing to do at Wigan. Get a pie down your throat. A sensational little meat and potato number was pure nectar and Oxford Fred was gutted that he missed out on that, being marooned somewhere up the back of the stand. ESM Jnr and I spent at least half an hour on the way back taunting him with descriptions of the luscious golden pastry and the juicy filling.
We had run that first half and no doubt Paul Jewell was doing his pieces in the Wigan dressing room. They were bound to come out with a rocket up their backsides, and we all knew that the next twenty minutes would be crucial.
West Ham were not going to play with any fear today, however, and the first real opportunity came as Reo-Coker burst down the right just two minutes in, but his cross was just too high for the waiting Zamora.
Wigan were trying to ramp up the pressure, but had to commit more resources in attack. Next it was like the West Ham of last season, deadly in the counter-attack. A Wigan set piece broke down on 57 minutes and Tevez was on hand in the centre circle to use his low centre of gravity to shield the ball and send George McCartney on his way down the left flank.
The speedy defender set off like a train and then passed across the edge of the 18 yard box to Zamora who turned on a sixpence and helped the ball on to Yossi, waiting unmarked in the box. He checked, and fired a textbook shot across the keeper and into the goal off the post.
Earlier on in the season, that would have hit the post and bounced out. Not today. The force was with us.
Seven minutes later, it was another exciting counterattack which left Wigan looking very sick indeed. Tevez has to be one of the most dangerous players in the Premiership when he is advancing towards the box. He went piling into the box, changed direction slightly and fired in a shot which hit the post. The loose ball was there for the taking, but somehow Reo Coker’s shot was cleared off the line.
The return of the missing Marlon
Halfway through the half and Zamora went off for a man who has not been seen around much lately, Marlon Harewood. ESM Jnr has not forgiven Marlon for that penalty against Watford, but I have always defended him as I like what he does. Zamora also deserves a lot of credit for his tireless work over recent weeks. He may be carrying an injury but he puts himself on the line all the time, trying to pick up very single ball that comes his way.
Wigan were trying to find a way back, but our defence was solid. James Collins has been fantastic of late and ginge has the look of John Terry about him in the way that he flings himself around on the edge of the box to block shots. Towards the end of the game, he took a knock, but that did not stop him getting his body in the way to deny a Wigan strike on goal.
Anton, too, seems to back at his best, finding renewed confidence. I’ll take you back to what was crucial in the final run-in to promotion from the Championship. It was the solidity of the central defence which gave us the belief and the momentum. It feels the same again, but this time we have the sheer industry of George and the silky calm of Lucas. They are compact. They work as a unit. The horrendous leaking of goals which sees us with the appalling goal difference which still might send us down seems a distant memory.
9 minutes left and we broke again with real pace. Tevez again was the creator as he slotted a lovely little pass down the right flank to find Reo-Coker. He decided on an early ball and sent this through a defender’s legs to find LBM in acres of space. My mind immediately turned to the golden chance that was spurned at Arsenal, but this time, although looking slightly hesitant, he stabbed a pass out left to Marlon. It looked that he had underhit the ball, but Marlon leapt on it and passed into the back of the unguarded goal.
The biggest win of the season and we never looked in danger against a poor Wigan side. There were delirious scenes of manic celebration amongst the fans, but the players were more muted. Quite right too, as we are far from safety and we could yet have all our hearts broken in classic West Ham style. There’s little point in doing the permutations, we all know that we have got to beat the now managerless Bolton at the Boleyn next Saturday. F*ck knows how I’m going to sleep before the trip up to Old Trafford if there’s going to be another one of those ulcer-inducing final day showdowns.
Yet the bizarre and unique goings-on of this truly crazy week in the history of West Ham United FC took one final twist as we were about to leave the JJB. Standing around at the away supporters exits, I suddenly saw this freaky-looking diminutive man strolling purposefully through the ranks of the travelling fans punching the air. It was the Icelander, having his bald head tenderly fondled and caressed by any West Ham fan in touching distance.
What a week he's had. What a week we've had.
We may still go down, but I can say that the spectacle of our Chairman going radio rental with the fans marks a new and hopefully better future for our great club. The dark days of Brown are behind us. The lies. The deceit. The incompetence. The small-mindedness. We buried it this week.
(Player ratings by Jacob Steinberg)
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The saves he had to make were simple enough, but he did often alleviate pressure with simple catches.
Composed at right back and provides high quality distribution.
A solid performance was capped by his drive forward which prompted the second goal.
He dealt with the Wigan strikers well and appeared to be in the correct state of mind.
Despite being a tad slow on the ground, his aerial ability is invaluable in this kind of fixture.
His passing is of high quality, but his willingness to get stuck in is commendable. The youngster had no second thoughts about winning one tackle moments after winning another.
One of the biggest influences on such a poor campaign was one of the biggest influences on today, as he physically dominated Wigan's midfield. It would take a cynical man to say he is playing for a move. I'm a cynical man.
Where was a display like this at any other point in the season? He even came out best in 50-50s.
Luis Boa Morte
He cost as much as West Ham's fine yesterday. They weren't deduced points though and his goal could be just as important.
Only one real chance which was blocked. He set up the second goal and was involved in many of West Ham's best moments.
(Replaced Zamora, 67) Perhaps there is more to come from him this season, although some moments were less than convincing.
(Replaced Tevez, 82) No comment.
(Replaced Reo-Coker, 84) No comment.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Man of the Match: Mark Noble.
West Ham United
Robert Green, Lucas Neill, George McCartney, Anton Ferdinand, James Collins, Mark Noble, Nigel Reo-Coker, Yossi Benayoun, Luis Boa Morte, Carlos Tevez, Bobby Zamora.
Goals: Luis Boa Morte 29 Yossi Benayoun 56 Marlon Harewood 81 .
Booked: George McCartney 48 Nigel Reo-Coker 67 .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Filan, Boyce, De Zeeuw, Jackson, Baines, Kilbane, Skoko, Landzaat, McCulloch, Camara, Heskey.
Substitutes: Unsworth (De Zeeuw 24), Scharner (Landzaat 46), Aghahowa (Kilbane 53).
Subs not used: Pollitt, Taylor.
Booked: Camara (42).
Sent Off: .