Saturday, 1st September 2007
Now you know how that doris from Sky felt outside the gates of the Boleyn Ground for her midnight assignation. All dolled up but the poor little mare gets stuck with Nobby Solano and Henri Camara. Easy like Sunday morning. F*ck it, I’ll call a taxi.
Forget the transfer window, let’s get to Reading to see if we can lay to rest the appalling record of recent years. Somehow West Ham seems to hit rock bottom at the Madejski. Fortunately I was in the convict colony and missed that New Year’s Day debacle, although I do recall taking a huge amount of sh*t at the Sydney Cricket Ground, walking around in the claret and blue. I didn’t miss that game in the Championship when it looked that the 1-3 defeat had ended our playoff chances. Mullins in central defence having a howler, if I recall correctly.
The lineup looked familiar. A start at last for Ashton alongside Bellamy, but apart from that no change from the last game. No sign of Zamora on the bench, though. Carlton Cole was the reserve striking option.
Reading came out the blocks better than we did and there was a real competitive tension. Lita and Neill got in a tussle early on and Lita reacted by trying to push over the Australian. A further incident followed with Lita going over easily to win a free kick on the edge of the box near the byline, but Green was alert and punched away.
About 5 minutes in and the Reading fans could not resist a chorus of “6-0” as if we needed reminding. But their little taunt almost immediately backfired, when Bowyer did well to win a tackle near the centre circle and then made an excellent pass through to send Bellamy on his way. He made a brilliant run to the edge of the box and fired a precision shot across Hahneman into the right hand corner of the goal.
It was clear what the game plan was from the outset – punish Reading with rapid counter-attacking play. 11 minutes in and Matty tried his luck with a break down the unfamiliar right. The move ended up with a corner and the ball being floated right to left towards the waiting Ashton who could only hit a volley harmlessly into the ground.
Reading were trying to turn up the heat and a probing move saw Harper with space on the edge of the box. Fortunately his shot was deflected wide. The pressure was resulting in a number of set pieces for Reading in the run up to the quarter hour, but the West Ham defence was looking very solid.
It was Matty on the move on 16 minutes as he again showed great pace down the left and a decent ball across to find Mark Noble lurking on the edge of the box. He let loose with a powerful first time shot but it was always rising over the bar. A minute later, Neill tried one of his trademark killer passes out of defence, but the ‘keeper just beat Bellamy to it.
The reborn and revitalised Etherington showed his heels again on 21 minutes and he found his overlapping pal McCartney who put a dangerous cross into the box which nearly ended up with Matty pouncing on a spilled ball.
Lita the cheater
At the other end, Lita was falling all over the place at every opportunity and moaning like f*ck to ref Howard Webb who wasn’t at all impressed with his antics. It was a good sign that we were frustrating the Reading play.
A quick free kick was taken by Reading down the West Ham right on 29 minutes which led to a deflection in the box and the ball ending up looping over the bar. Two minutes later, Mullins made a tremendous last ditch tackle after the ball went loose in the West Ham box.
Ashton was generally looking heavy-legged, but he managed a good run through the centre on 33 minutes, foxing a few defenders. His eventual shot was blocked.
It was at this point that the travelling Irons decided to pass comment on the 1920’s style prohibition that had been placed upon them in the bars as a punishment for having the temerity to stand up in the stadium last season. “sh*t ground, no beer”.
With ten minutes to the break, Reading were asking a number of questions with a succession of corners, but the recent chronic set piece frailties of the past appear to have been cut out of West Ham’s play. Upson is key to this from what I’ve seen this season.
West Ham won a corner on 39 minutes and the ball ended up being laid out to Lee Bowyer who had a fair amount of space, but shot poorly wide. Then Reading carved out their best chance of the half after the ball went free to Hunt following a corner. He spun a shot from the edge of the box onto the top of the crossbar with Green beaten. A more driven shot would have surely seen an equaliser.
Hayden Mullins showed once again that he fully merited selection on 44 minutes with a superb tackle in midfield. When he plays like this he looks every inch a Premiership player.
The final action of the half was a corner for West Ham and Bowyer slotting a pass to Noble on the left hand side of the box. He shot low, but it looked like the sting had been taken out by a defender getting in the way and Hahneman gathered.
It was a promising 45 minutes characterised by well-organised defending and incisive counter-attacking play. Reading had tried to ramp up the pressure through high tempo play, but we looked largely comfortable in the knowledge that we could dispel their attacks and then hit back on the break.
That’s not entertainment
We then had to suffer the half time ‘entertainment’. Why is it that certain clubs feel that they have to put on something during the break? Maybe it’s because half the Reading fans get bored just watching football. Cue some MC who was a right tw*t with three Reading fans who all looked like they had caught the ugly virus, including some geezer that walked just like Shaggy in Scooby Doo. It was a bizarre game of ‘Play your cards right’ with shirts and the inbred-looking contestants trying to guess higher or lower. “What do you think, South Stand?” “That you’re a proper annoying pr*ck”, I muttered.
Bellamy was out during the interval doing a fitness test, no doubt seeing how his injured groin was coping, but he emerged with the rest of the team to start the second period.
Barely four minutes in we were celebrating again after an outstanding piece of play breaking out of defence. Matty latched onto the pass out and then found Bellamy who sent the ball out wide to Mullins. He passed to the edge of the box where Matty and Bellamy had a brilliant one-two to allow the former to get free and smash a shot past Hahneman.
See you soon
The goal sparked a loud taunt aimed at Nicky Shorey, “You should have joined West Ham”, followed by “See you in January”. I’m not sure that I go along with this. You tell me if George McCartney has put a foot wrong at the end of last season and the beginning of this. Why waste money when we have a quality left back in place already? I would have hated to have seen the underrated George lose his place to the overrated Shorey.
Green got a yellow on 55 minutes for taking too long waiting for Ashton tying his boot laces and three minutes after this Anton dealt with Lita yet again as he tried to shoot in the box. The lack of success up front then led to Coppell trying three strikers with the introduction of Kitson for Fae on 61 minutes.
Just a couple of minutes after this change, Bowyer missed a sitter following an excellent through ball by Craig Belamy. He could not find the far corner and shot wastefully wide of the post from inside the box in a one on one with the ‘keeper. We all hoped that this would not prove expensive later.
Carlton Cole came on for the spent-looking Ashton on 65 minutes. He looked well short of match fitness but it was good for him to get more minutes under his belt.
Matty was off again on 68 minutes after he had been sent on his way by a great pass from Cole. He ran into the box, looked up but his shot was placed rather than smashed like his opener and the ‘keeper was able to save down low.
The Argie is gone but not forgotten
It was time to have a word with the glum-looking Reading fans. “Going down”, we all said. “Should be down”, was their riposte. “One Carlos Tevez”, we countered. That shut them up.
Reading had not given up and Kitson had looked lively since his introduction. On 73 minutes he ran down the West Ham right and managed to get a cross over which the ineffective Lita could only slice horribly wide. He was taken off two minutes later to be replaced by Convey to boos from the travelling support for his theatrical falling around for most of the game.
Then with about a quarter of an hour left, Green failed to beat Kitson to a ball in the box and a penalty was awarded. It looked as if the ball was going off for a goal kick but it was the same decision as we had received at Birmingham two weeks earlier. Doyle stood up to take it, but England’s No. 1 guessed the right way and saved to his left. It was a scramble but the ball was finally cleared. Given the tribulations of English goalkeepers of late, you wonder why Green isn’t being given a chance for his country.
It was a crucial save, but still Reading tried to find a breakthrough and get an unlikely draw. Doyle turned on a sixpence on 78 minutes, but he shot wildly across the face of goal. Four minutes later, after Spector had come on for Bowyer, McCartney covered brilliantly to clear in front of his own goal.
McCartney was on hand again on 85 minutes to make an excellent run forward and measured pass to Bellamy who in turn slotted a perfect ball to Cole on the edge of the box. It was a great one on one opportunity but the striker failed to bury his shot. Two minutes later Matty broke again but his cross to the waiting Cole was cut out.
Reading were beaten and frustrated and Hunt appeared to try and slap Bellamy down near the corner flag. It was handbags and the Welshman laughed it off.
4 minutes was added on and there were two incidents left in the game. First, it looked a certain Reading goal as a scramble took place in the West Ham box. Two shots came in and it looked like Green made a superb point blank reflex save. But West Ham’s consistent response in this game to Reading attack was to go on the counter. Cole picked up the ball as it came out of defence and made a good first time pass to send the tireless Matty off one final time. The Cornishman was not going to spurn another one on one and fired perfectly into the far corner in an almost carbon copy of Bellamy’s opener.
All in all, this was one of the best performances away from home for a long time. It was convincing and we got the tactics absolutely right. We buried that humiliation of New Year’s Day and as a result we have had a very encouraging start to the season. We will cause a lot of problems on our travels if we adopt the same approach elsewhere. Matty Etherington is a revelation at the moment and Bellamy has fitted into the team perfectly. Our defence looks assured and our goalkeeper is in a rich vein of form. Who couldn’t be optimistic at the moment, despite the bad luck with injuries and the unexciting last minute transfer window signings.
(Player ratings by Gordon Thrower)
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Generally solid though a knock seemed to restrict him a bit in the second half. Fine penalty save – if only he hadn’t given it away to start off with!
Another good one from the skipper who could easily have found himself wound-up by Lita’s antics – but didn’t.
An excellent match from Linda who defended well and got forward on the break to support the attack. The chant of “you should have come to West Ham” aimed at Shorey should have contained a line referring to the need to be Linda’s deputy on this form.
Outstanding. Just shows what one can do with a bit of concentration and the intelligence to deal with things as simply as possible. Won just about everything against Lita.
Is this a defensive partnership I see developing before me? Hope so. Won some important headers.
Another one of those unsung hero performances that, whilst they don’t catch the eye, are so important for the side.
Circumstances dictated a more defensive role for the youngster today. Not found wanting – though he ought to have had a goal in the first half.
One of the few disappointments on the day – fine ball for the first goal but little else that he tried subsequently came off. Another who should have scored.
Two fine goals after a goal-free spell that lasted over a season. Bonehead is convinced he won’t get another this season. A pint says he will!
Lots of running and at the heart of most that was good about our play on the break. Fine goal.
The only other real disappointment on the day – not quite ready yet but the minutes under his belt will help.
(replaced Ashton, 64) Surprisingly half-decent run-out – though he perhaps ought to have bagged a couple.
(replaced Bowyer, 81) Solid enough in replacing Bowyer.
Luis Boa Morte
(replaced Bellamy, 90) Not really on for long enough to register on the radar.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Man of the Match: Anton Ferdinand.
West Ham United
Robert Green, Lucas Neill, George McCartney, Anton Ferdinand, Matthew Upson, Hayden Mullins, Mark Noble, Lee Bowyer, Matthew Etherington, Craig Bellamy, Dean Ashton.
Goals: Craig Bellamy 6 Matthew Etherington 48 Matthew Etherington 90 .
Booked: Robert Green 55 .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Hahnemann, Murty, Shorey, Ingimarsson, Duberry, Fae, Harper, Gunnarson, Hunt, Lita, Doyle.
Substitutes: Kitson (Fae 61), Cisse (Gunnarson 69), Convey (Lita 75).
Subs not used: Federici, Bikey.
Booked: None booked..
Sent Off: None sent off..