Saturday, 5th May 2007
I spent the pre-match session in the pub doing my usual on the fence job of avoiding making a prediction before the match. The main reason for this is that I’m rubbish at them – as my fellow members of the prediction league will attest. I do vaguely remember muttering something about Bolton being a “bloody difficult team to beat” when pushed. Another duff call.
Team news was that it was “as you were” following the victory at Wigan, that other bastion of North Western ignorance. We lined up thus: Green, Neill, McCartney, Ferdinand, Collins, Noble, Reo-Coker, Benayoun, Boa-Morte, Tevez, Zamora.
I was late for the start having had to hang on for a late arrival needing to collect tickets. To this was added a spot of car-park confusion which resulted in the possibly comical sight of yours truly trying to break some sort of land speed record on crutches. On taking my seat I was informed by my temporary neighbours in the lower tier that it had been a quiet and tense start, thereby preventing my use of the traditional cliché “we started brightly”. Me? I didn’t have the chance to tense up. A few short minutes after I’d taken my seat a Tevez run was ended in a crude hack. The positioning was similar to the spot from which the newly-crowned Hammer Of The Year had scored against Spurs. The result was identical as Tevez’s perfectly placed curling free-kick sailed gloriously into the top left corner.
The relief of tension can only be compared to the relief one gets after a skinful having broken some sort of land speed record on crutches in a happily successful attempt to reach the smallest room in time. I expect. Certainly the goal seemed to galvanise the players who were knocking the ball around with the pace and intelligence that have been missing for so much of the season. Bolton did get a free kick of their own in dangerous territory but they lacked anyone with the subtlety of a Tevez to do anything other than hammer it straight at the wall. And there in a microcosm was the difference between the two sides, a difference that was to be highlighted a few minutes later.
The hard-working Reo-Coker and Noble pairing won the ball in midfield as Bolton tried in vain to break forward. Noble’s ball inside the full-back found Boa-Morte in acres of space the winger’s ball inside to Tevez was buried past the unprotected ‘keeper. At this point I’d like to give out some free advice to you all. Call it a public service announcement courtesy of KUMB if you like. The advice is this: If you are part way through recovering from an operation to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon on no account should you try to jump up to celebrate a goal, no matter how good the build up or how important the goal is. The fact that I’m still in pain some 24 hours after the goal was scored should give you some idea as to the consequences.
Once the applause had died down, the usual comments along the lines of “I’d feel happier if we could get another” were to be heard. So, ten minutes or so later, the team duly obliged. The starter of the move was Zamora who, despite not getting his name on the scoresheet, had a fine game. This was exemplified by his winning a tackle in a central area to feed Tevez. Tevez taunted his marker for a second or two before picking out Noble with a peach of a cross that just sat up and begged to be volleyed home, something that Noble did with undisguised glee. It was a magnificent goal and takes its place in the file marked “best goals I have ever seen at the Boleyn”.
Well this was unbelievable. We were not just beating the so called “difficult to beat” Bolton (yeah don’t remind me) but we were playing them off the park. Their sole tactic of lumping it long and high in the hope that the home defence might suffer damaged neck muscles was looking every bit the desperate ploy that it was and, despite all the national side’s undoubted failings in recent months, I made a mental note of thanks that the recently departed Allardyce had not been given the England job.
We continued to press forward and Tevez was denied the hat-trick his performance deserved when his deflected shot was parried away by the ‘keeper (note to editor – you want the ‘keeper’s name in this report you bloody type it in!). Zamora may have had a bit more time than he thought but the defence got back to block and Tevez just failed to get anything on a clever pass over the top from Neill.
We went into the interval with a deserved 3-0 lead. Being bereft of cocoa-based comestibles again I whiled away the interval by taking a call from my valued friend Maltese Hammer who, being apparently unable to believe the performance being served to him by way of outer space television, thought he’d call someone actually at the ground just to make sure that they weren’t showing a repeat or something. I also got a text from the Editor In Chief of this very website with a request to “pinch him”. He’s a strange lad and I’m rather glad that I won’t be sharing a room with him during next week’s trip to Old Trafford!
So the second half. Well after such an exhilarating opening spell I suppose it was inevitable that the second period would be a bit quieter. We were treated to a spell of watching protracted bouts of head tennis and aerial bombardments as the visitors competed with each other in a “who can kick the ball up in the air the highest” competition. Ref Riley decided to liven things up my making some decisions that couldn’t have been more incomprehensible had they been delivered in a mixture of Welsh, Afrikaans and Klingon. Strangest of these was the caution delivered to Zamora, whose “crime” of holding on to a defender who had just fouled him was deemed to have been more worthy of sanction than the left hook delivered by the same defender. Nolan eventually picked up a yellow card for his constant whining, the major surprise being that it had taken Riley so long to discover that the irritating noise in his ear wasn’t a radio malfunction.
We’d sat back a bit since the interval so maybe it was inevitable that the opposition might pick up a chance or two. Just before the hour Anelka’s shot was superbly turned around the post by the otherwise unemployed Green, an effort which should have been taken as a warning. A few minutes later a knackered-looking Zamora was replaced by Harewood to appreciative applause but shortly after we conceded.
Noble appeared unaware of the presence of a Bolton player and lost the ball though it did appear that a nudge in the back had been involved. The ball broke through to Speed who put his shot through Collins and past the possibly unsighted Green.
For a few minutes the tension was back in the air again. However as the game moved on it became obvious that Bolton were not a side capable of capitalising on any nerves that the home side may have been having. Indeed if there were more goals to come it looked certain that we would get them. Tevez got on the end of Benayoun’s long ball but shot wide having gone maybe a little too wide in his attempt to make room for the shot.
Spector replaced Boa Morte with 12 minutes to go. Yossi and Tevez then did some clever mickey taking of a bewildered Bolton defence, interplay which resulted in Marlon making some clever space in the box before unleashing a surprise shot low to the near post which nearly caught the ‘keeper out. Mullins replaced Reo-Coker for the last five minutes and the last real chance of the game came by virtue of a break from the back by Yossi and Tevez, who played a teasing ball across the box invitingly towards Marlon only to be foiled by a fine tackle from a Bolton defender. Inevitably Riley gave a goal kick, presumably delivering the decision in that clicking language used by dolphins just to make it even more baffling.
We saw the game out and major cheers were raised at Boro’s 1-0 defeat of Wigan, major eyebrows raised at Fulham’s 1-0 victory over Liverpool’s reserves. Incidentally, Wigan are expected to lodge an appeal against their result on the grounds that the assistant referee’s flags weren’t the required size or something.
After the press conference I eventually made my way over to the Wakefield, a long and somewhat painful journey during which I made no attempt to break any land speed records. The party was in full flow with plastic footballs a-plenty on show. Which would explain, in part, why I woke up this morning with a plastic ball in my camera bag. The football attracted the attention of the Metropolitan Police who, somewhat unsportingly, ordered the pub to stop serving for a bit. I was at this point indebted to Bonzobonkers who, not only became the first person to realise that I didn’t have a drink, but also went and fetched me a nice comfy chair so I could rest my aching limb and plaster cast. The party went long into the night and, being sat out of the way a fair bit I was able to perform the role of “irritating git with camera” that I perform so well (yes I know I can do it equally well with or without camera but this time I had the camera with me ok?). On my arrival home this morning I was greeted by a number of private messages and emails from worried drinkers not wanting their indiscretions made public. Not being one to land people in it unnecessarily I’d just like to point out that I accept sterling in used non-sequentially numbered notes. Instructions for delivery will be sent soon. Blackmail may be an ugly word but it’s a marvellous way of paying the bills!
And so to Old Trafford. Prediction? Nope. I’m rubbish at them. Mind you it just so happens I actually got this one right in the prediction league! The season just gets stranger and stranger…
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One fine save. Unsighted for the goal. Held onto just about every cross but wasn’t really tested.
The vibes from the ground are that he will be staying whatever the outcome of the relegation battle. Hope so. A good solid game.
A decent run as part of a settled defence has done wonders for both his form and his confidence. Much improved and got forward well.
Beginning to build a nice partnership with Ginge and coped surprisingly well with the aerial onslaught. Another beneficiary of the arrival of a settled back four line-up.
Another good strong match from our resident Swan Vesta impersonator who looked like he enjoyed every minute.
Being caught in possession for the Bolton goal was the only real blemish on another fine performance. And what a goal. Hopefully now a fixture in the side.
Another much-improved performance. Got stuck in well and his distribution is beginning to get better as well.
Another who is finally beginning to attain the level of form he reached on occasions last year. Watching him and Tevez in tandem is a delight.
Luis Boa Morte
After an uncertain start in claret & blue he’s now beginning to do the things that he was signed to do. His role in the second goal was similar to that in the third up at Wigan – a short but ideal pass to enable a better placed team-mate to score.
Marvellous. With all the nonsense that been spoken about him over the past few weeks he’s just got on with his job and displays like this a joy to behold. Mind you as Curbishley pointed out it probably helps that he doesn’t speak the language!
Didn’t score but this was a performance full of heart and running. The crowd recognised it too as the generous applause on his departure confirmed.
(Replaced Zamora, 67) Caused all sorts of problems in the half hour he was on. Unlucky not to score.
(Replaced Boa Morte, 79) A solid if unremarkable few minutes.
(Replaced Reo-Coker, 86) Another solid if unremarkable few minutes.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Man of the Match: Carlos Tevez.
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: Carlos Tevez 10 Carlos Tevez 21 Mark Noble 29 .
Booked: Bobby Zamora 55 Mark Noble 90 .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Jaaskelainen, Michalik, Meite, Campo, Gardner, Thompson, Speed, Teymourian, Nolan, David, Anelka.
Substitutes: Sinclair (Thompson 57), Vaz Te (Teymourian 64), Giannakopoulos (Gardner 75).
Subs not used: Walker, Tal.
Goals: Speed (66).
Booked: Thompson (), Gardner (), Nolan (), Davis (), Speed ().
Sent Off: .