Saturday, 11th August 2007
There I was less than 24 hours before kick-off with my eyes streaming, sore throat, and a nose doing a passable impersonation of Niagra Falls. I’d therefore just like to thank the makers of Sudafed for getting me through the day of the game. I was told that it’s not the greatest of ideas to mix the stuff with Fosters but if that were the case they’d say so on the tin wouldn’t they? We don’t get sponsored for doing all this at kumb but if anyone who has a product mentioned here wants to send me some please feel free. (No I didn’t mean you Sudafed).
Well you know what it’s like pre-season. Having finished the previous year so strongly, and given that this was the current regime’s first opportunity to start a new season without the albatrosses from the previous mob circling overhead, there was double cause for optimism. “New beginnings” was the mantra and the phrase is plastered all over just about every bit of literature printed by the club.
Of course saying that something is new is easy (as the makers of Coke found out to their cost). As we have seen some things never change. There has been a long tradition of West Ham signing players who get injured before they start. Richard Hall, Simon Webster, Neill & Upson last year, the list may not be endless but it’s a long one. Add to that Faubert and Parker and the alarm bells ought to be ringing. Ashton was deemed to be a few games short of a starting place which left us with a starting line-up of Green, Spector, McCartney, Ferdinand, Upson, Ljungberg, Noble, Bowyer, Boa Morte, Zamora Bellamy.
It was a poor start. One side contained a bunch of players some of whom the manager had only watched on video prior to signing. Another had a unit that ought to have had a pre-season under their belt. Sadly it was us that looked like we’d just been introduced to eachother and the goal of stringing more than three passes together was one that seemed beyond us. City may not have had much time to gel but given our tactic of giving the ball to them as much as possible then backing off while they decided what to do with it, they were quite capable of making it up as they went along. They weren’t much of a threat – the first 15 minutes were spent giving the occupants of Row Z in the Bobby catching practice- however giving the ball away so much meant that we were putting ourselves under pressure all the time.
Bowyer in particular seemed confused by the new kit. He was also lucky not to pick up a yellow card early on for a challenge that, had it occurred a few more minutes on into the season would probably have seen him carded – certainly similar challenges later on in the match were deemed worthy of sanction by the inconsistent Mr Walton who also seemed to have something against Zamora who was hilariously punished for having a central defender’s arms around his neck on more than one occasion.
If you back off like we did you’re going to concede eventually and so, with sad inevitability, all the pre-season optimism went out of the window on after 18 minutes. The ball was given away yet again by Zamora and Elano was allowed to wander past the defence like they weren’t there. His effort from the edge of the box was probably a shot if he were to be honest but since nobody could be bothered pick up Bianchi at the far post it was the easiest of tap ins that sent us 1-0 down.
The response was, well nothing really. Zamora got power and no direction on an effort from distance. Bellamy went on some promising runs down the left – presumably since Boa-Morte had better things to do. One of these ended by Bellamy being thrown to the floor by a blatant forearm shove that ref Walton couldn’t have been better placed to see. Clearly one thing that isn’t new this season is the poor standard of refereeing in this country. Still if you will employ Keith Hackett as your referees supremo what the hell do you expect?
Petrov then had a shot well saved by Green who then recovered to gather at the second attempt to deny Bianchi. Boa-Morte then realised he was on the pitch and started on a promising run in the box but ran into traffic before the half petered out.
Something had to change. Frankly some of the first half performances had been so poor that any number of changes could have been justified. Nobody would have been too disappointed, however, by the absence of Boa-Morte for the second half. Well that is if anyone had noticed. Bowyer too had been far from impressive. Etherington and Mullins were the replacements.
Things were better for the first 20 minutes of the second period. In Etherington we had somebody who at least wanted to run at his defender and we did actually create a number of half chances from that source. The leftovers from one cross ended up on the edge of the box where Mullins and Zamora got in each other’s way. The ball fell kindly for Zamora who screwed his shot wide. Another Etherington cross was inches away from being converted by Ljungberg and there was cause for a few minutes for cautious optimism. However what followed was, tactically speaking, a little baffling.
We’d all been expecting Ashton to appear and his prolonged warm-up suggested that this was going to occur sooner rather than later. Zamora was having a terrible match, most of which consisted of losing the ball and giving away needless free-kicks in his attempts to regain possession. The stage was set for the obvious switch. Instead Curbishley made the decision to remove Linda from left back pushing Matty back to left-back and pushing Bellamy out on the left. Thus, whilst we’d been denying City space by having Matty keep their right-back busy, the change meant that we conceded territory. As if to reinforce the point, the best chance we had fell to Ashton who volleyed over from close range from an Etherington cross on one of the few occasions that he got forward.
Having conceded the left hand side it was not much of a surprise that the goal that clinched the points for City came from that source. Freed from having to deal with Matty, Onuoha waltzed down the wing without being inconvenienced by much of a challenge before pulling the ball back from Geovanni who shot home through Ferdinand’s legs.
It could have been even worse. Shortly after Ashton had headed wide from close range, Ferdinand gave the ball away, again, and seemingly couldn’t be bothered to try to win it back. Geovanni was clean through but Green got a strong hand to the shot to turn it wide and prevent a 3-0 scorline that, bad as we had been, would have flattered City.
And so a disappointing afternoon came to a close. The new beginning looked worryingly like a lot of the old stuff that we’d seen for much of last season. That time the current management had the not unreasonable excuse that they’d spent much of the time trying to clear up the mess left behind the previous lot. Now that the manager has fashioned his own team the buck has to stop with the boss. Bright spots? Well the new kit looks ok I suppose. And, at time of writing, with two matches yet to be played in the Premier League, we could still go up two places by Sunday night. At the end of the day though I wished I’d stayed in bed – after all it looked like the players did.
Oh well. See you at Brum.
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Not really tested much. No chance with the goals.
Distribution was poor. Caused an unintentionally hilarious moment in the second half when he thought he was Ronaldo and pushed the ball one side of a defender whilst running around the other side. Unfortunately half way round he remembered he was Spector.
Was just beginning to combine well with Etherington when he was replaced.
Some players have a languid, laid-back style that is deceptive. Not this one. Lost the ball far too many times and seemingly wasn’t too worried too much about getting it back.
The total lack of challenge for the first goal was par for the course. Won a few headers that invariably landed at the feet of the opposition.
At his best when he keeps it simple. Spent too much time trying to find that killer ball or to beat players when the simple pass was on.
A couple of good touches but appeared short of pace.
Luis Boa Morte
Some promising runs down the left in the first half but being played out of the position for much of the second he faded from view.
There’s no middle ground with Bobby. He’s either a world beater or poor. Today was poor.
(Replaced Bowyer, 45) An improvement on Bowyer anyway.
(Replaced Boa Morte, 45) I’m not his greatest fan but it looked like, if we were to get anything out of the game, it was going to come through him. So we moved him to left back and handed back the initiative to City.
(Replaced McCartney, 62) A couple of chances gave a hint of what might be to come. Short of sharpness. Dodgy barnet.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Man of the Match: Robert Green.
West Ham United
Robert Green, Jonathan Spector, George McCartney, Anton Ferdinand, Matthew Upson, Mark Noble, Lee Bowyer, Freddy Ljungberg, Luis Boa Morte, Craig Bellamy, Bobby Zamora.
Booked: None booked. .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Schmeichel, Richards, Corlunka, Dunne, Garrido, Hamann, Johnson, Petrov, Elano, Ireland, Bianchi.
Substitutes: Bojinov (Bianchi 60), Onuoha (Corlunka 61), Geovanni (Elano 79).
Subs not used: Hart, Gelson.
Goals: Bianchi (18), Geovanni (87).
Booked: Garrido (23, unsporting behaviour), Ireland (30, unsporting behaviour), Elano (73, unsporting behaviour), Geovanni (88, unsporting behaviour).
Sent Off: .