Saturday, 11th August 2007
Given what happened in the summer, cue the inevitable Thai jokes about whether the tuk-tuk journey with the shemales down from Audenshaw had been comfortable. There was even a far eastern DVD seller in the Duke of Edinburgh as well to add to the ambiance. “Got any porn?” inquired the Manc. “Only these”, came the reply as a fistful of fisting flicks were pulled out of a bin liner.
Human rights abuses and root vegetables
As much as you give a load of banter out to the City boys, “How does it feel to be owned by a mass murderer and led by a turnip?”, they take it all in good heart. The fact is that we have a lot in common with the blue half of Mancsville and if I had been unfortunate to have been born a Hovis-reared, tripe-breathed northern monkey, I like to think that I might have been a City fan.
Only a few short weeks ago they seemed right down in the dumps. I met a load of ‘em in Vegas where they turned out in style for the Hatton bout. They were loving the Hitman’s performance but miserable about their team’s prospects with the memory of the 2006/07 £50 per goal Eastlands season ticket still fresh in their minds. On the other hand, all was looking rosy in the West Ham garden. Money. Signings. His Grace the Right Honourable Sir Eggy. Dean Ashton back. The Tevez debacle fading away.
The fact is though that we have been rubbish consistently against City of late. Those who had the misfortune to witness the away game last season will know what I’m talking about. They got two of the ten goals they scored all season at home against us. What’s more that useless Greek waste of space Samaras got a brace.
Surely we were not going to have to suffer again this time – after all, the City team had only just been cleared through customs.
Nothing to declare
Unfortunately from minute one, they looked much better than us. Unlike us, they had the shape, the ball to feet passing and the drive and made us look like we were the side that had just been put together off Easyjet. The magic of Sven, maybe. Like it or not the Swede knows how to manage a football club.
The rot set in from the outset in midfield. Now it is here where I have to confess I am troubled. Here’s the deal. We lost both a combative attacking midfielder as well as the creative playmaker in the close season and we look like we’re exposed. The City five in midfield were having a lovely time of it, whilst Bowyer and Noble made a series of poor passes which conceded possession.
Step forward Petrov, who looks just like the creative force which we are lacking. He was all over the place and nearly scored just 12 minutes in after he went on a tantalising run into the box. The first 15 minutes just looked ominous and it was no real surprise when we were caught by an incisive break which saw the Brazilian Elano make our left side defence look clueless as he found space to send in a lethal ball into the six yard box to find the poacher Bianchi waiting to slide home.
You hoped that the goal was a wake up call, and it did at least spark a few positive moves by West Ham. Zamora tried a speculative 25 yard shot which sailed over the bar on 19 minutes, and then three minutes later it looked certain that we would score after the tricky Ljungberg won a free kick but the ref blew up for an infringement.
Petrov was a constant threat though and he was happily cleaning up poor passes – one gifted via Bowyer on 25 minutes which ended up with a raking shot to the left of the post nearly made it 0-2.
Lack of width
It was only late in the half where we seemed to find any width, the lack of which can be added to the current deficiencies in a Boa-Noble-Bowyer-Ljungberg set up. Width has to be the key to beating the 4-5-1 setup and it was two moves involving Boa and Ljungberg which showed the potential here. Boa’s effort saw a good cross go in – the first of the half on 35 minutes, but Ljungberg ballooned over a difficult loose ball. Freddie’s move involved a good run and cross but this was cut out by a solid-looking City defence.
The frustrations of all of this saw the classic response of the hoofed long ball, but Zamora was having a torrid time with a physical and lofty central defence combining Richards and Dunne. The former had a commanding game which left us looking pretty ineffectual through the middle.
The vacuous first half performance did elicit a positive move from the manager with a double substitution. The lacklustre pass-weary Bowyer was replaced by Hayden Mullins (a fan behind me remarked, “It was that bad out there that you feel relieved to see Mullins”) and a true wide player in the shape of Matty was introduced for the largely absent Boa.
It made an immediate difference as just four minutes in McCartney set Matty off down the left. A dangerous cross was sent in which Bellamy failed to flick on, but Ljungberg managed to retrieve the ball and lay it off centrally where Zamora and Mullins did nothing more than get in each other’s way. Zamora eventually got a harmless snap shot away well wide of the right hand post.
On 15 minutes, there was a similar piece of approach play as Zamora did well to win a ball and then chipped a great ball over the top of the defence to find the waiting Matty. He rifled a first time shot cum cross across the six yard box which evaded the lunging Ljungberg much to the anguish of the fans behind the goal.
The crowd wanted Ashton on and the manager gave everybody their wish on 62 minutes, but the resulting tactical rearrangement was inexplicable. All the danger so far in the half had been coming down the left with Matty, yet the manager made a decision bordering on the inept to relegate our most penetrative player into left back duties, sacrificing McCartney. It was at that point that I felt that there was no way back for us.
So it proved and the irritation with the tactics was deepened when the only real chance to get an undeserved draw came when the emasculated Matty managed to get into an advanced position and get over a great cross with just under ten minutes left. Ashton was waiting in an offside position - although he didn’t know it at the time - and on another day his volley might have bulged the net, but you feel that he needs quite a few more matches under his belt to get back right on tune.
It was game over on 86 minutes when Zamora lost the ball badly to allow a bursting run forward from Onuoha who laid off a pass to his fellow substitute Geovanni who smashed the ball past Green. In fact, were it not for a superb one handed save, the Brazilian would have had a second following an atrocious ball giveaway by Anton Ferdinand in time added on.
It was the first game of the season, but using that as an excuse for this poor performance does not cut much ice. The manager said as much himself afterwards, and the reality is that the pressure is on from the outset. We all know that a good start is crucial as it sets the scene for the season. We all know what happened last year and quite frankly the early fixtures had given us a real chance to begin on the right foot. The next two games, away at Birmingham and home to Wigan need a response from the team or the struggle might start again. Let’s not panic either, and I am not one of those who runs off to Talksh*te as if we have just dropped down a bottomless chasm.
Just one thought on next week’s game in Birmingham. I have not forgotten what Mr Steve Bruce said in the lead up to the final game in the season we last went down, when the chubby little Geordie ars*wipe was talking about ‘payback’ for the time we stopped ManUre winning the league. I shall be giving fatty a little bit of ESM ‘payback’ when I visit if I can get within earshot. Do feel free to join in.
Player comments by Gordon Thrower
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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: .