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FA Premiership
Saturday, 15th December 2007

West Ham United 0
Everton 2

by Gordon Thrower


I’ll own up. It’s my fault. Whenever I have my Dad and bruvver up to town for a game we seem to lose. That’s probably not true if I were to actually look at the results but it’s one of those things that always seems to be the case – a bit like Maltese Hammer’s (happy Christmas mate!) habit of turning up to matches in which we don’t actually score.

Actually, having witnessed the turgid display on Wednesday that was the Carling Cup match I was in two minds as to whether to suggest Dad cancelling the trip – after all that game was so poor that the opposition’s late winner almost came as a relief meaning that we wouldn’t have to endure another 30 minutes! In the end though my brother Geoff (the county cricketer) discovered his surprise and would have been disappointed to miss out on a trip to the Boleyn so we went ahead as planned.

Team news was that, whilst a number of previously cup-tied possibilities (Nobby, Camara) were available for selection, the injury list was now beginning to assume a length of Errol Flynn proportions with. Gabbidon was absent with post-traumatic shock syndrome following the late mix-up with Green earlier in the week and LBM had also failed a fitness test meaning a reprieve for Ljungberg who had been less than inspiring in the cup. Starting Line-up: Green, Neill, McCartney, Collins, Upson, Parker, Mullins, Ljungberg, Solano, Cole Ashton.

Well it was a more interesting start than Wednesday I’ll grant you. Parker caught Neville early on in a challenge that had the usually so happy-go-lucky Moyes up in arms. Thankfully the ref applied the same standards as the rest of us and applied the “it’s only Neville” rule.

One of the features of Wednesday night had been that, without Solano, we were taking corners about as well as Richard Hammond in a rocket-powered car. The return of Nobby was therefore encouraging as an early corner put Howard (as opposed to the first defender) under a bit of pressure. On the resulting break Piennaar appeared to take the ball well into touch but was allowed to continue to play a ball in for Osman who overran the ball – the theatrical dive being treated as a joke rather than as an attempt to win a penalty. Osman then pulled a shot wide after a spell of passing that had us on the run for a bit.

Cole then did superbly well on the right, something tha appeared to surprise Ashton who failed to capitalise on the resulting cross. The corner that followed had Howard in trouble and Ljungberg fed Ashton wide on the left but the striker’s shot/cross was dealt with comfortably by Howard.

On the quarter hour we really ought to have taken the lead. A fast-paced move full of one touch football, most of which centered about assorted mdfielders pinging passes into Solano, ended up with the ball finding its way into the path of Ljungberg free on the right hand side of the box. Ljungberg’s shot got under Howard’s partial block but the ‘keeper recovered to complete the save. Ljungberg shouldn’t have given him the chance.

A further chance came our way midway through the first half. Parker – who I thought had an excellent match – bravely stuck his head in to retain possession. The ball was fed out to Nobby who found Ashton with a peach of a diagonal lofted pass. Ashton’s first time lob was close but not close enough and I think if he looks at it again he might just realise he had a smidgeon of more time in which to control the ball. Parker would have known little about it lying as he was face down on the pitch courtesy of the proverbial boot wrapped round his head which had been his personal reward for his efforts.

Everton had created little though one Yakubu run did make Collins look foolish, Yakubu’s weak and ill-advised shot being juggled a bit by Green, possibly in surprise at the poor quality of the Everton striker’s effort.

Ljungberg then decided on a spot of wing-play, officially becoming the 5,000th player to nutmeg Neville in the process since the creation of the Premier League. Probably. Ljungberg’s run came to naught as he stumbled in trying to keep the ball in play but it was a sadly all too brief example of what he might be able to do.

Ljungberg then won a free kick on the left that Lescott ended up having to clear for a corner from Ashton’s flick. The corner found Collins totally unmarked only for the Ginger Pele to get it horribly wrong with his shot – if you can call it that – heading back in the general direction of the corner flag.

So, having had by far and away the better chances against a team who had done virtually nothing we did the old West Ham thing of conceding, Arteta crossed from the left, Cahill headed back and Yakubu, who had been left totally free by Collins, nodded past the stranded Green. The Everton fans started singing. The phrase “sing when you’re winning” seems to be taken as an instruction on Merseyside these days as, much as they had done on Wednesday night, they had watched the game in silence only being roused by a goal. Either that or they’ve extended their usual self-indulgent grief culture to the extent that they are holding a silent vigil because somebody’s hamster has died or something.

It was a sucker punch and even the most ignorant of Scousers will have been hard pushed to use the word “deserved” in any summing up of the half but if you don’t take chances as good as we were given that’s the sort of thing that will happen and we went into the interval 1-0.

Half-time discussions centred around things that were missing. “Where exactly is Zamora?” was question 1 (Answer: I don’t know but given the presence of a smashed-up canoe in the water near his Docklands flat, I’d be checking out estate agents in Panama). The second question “Where have all the kit-kats gone?” was of more interest to Dad who is fond of the occasional bar of chocolate.

The second half saw a personnel change. Cole had tried his heart out but, having been a doubt for the match following the knock he picked up in the League Cup match, he was clearly not fit and he did not reappear for the second half, Camara being the replacement.

Everton are a team in the image of their manager. Workmanlike and dour they thrive on getting ten men behind the ball and defending a lead. It’ll never replace football but they are quite good at it and that’s what they did for the next 45 minutes. The half began in surreal mode with the linesman flagging for an infringement by Collins that simply didn’t happen. You have to love these officials who make it up because they’re bored. Whilst the free-kick was being sorted out Ashton and Yobo indulged in the usual bout of penalty area shenanigans involving pushing and shoving. The ref missed all this until he appeared to notice it occurring on the Centenary End big screen whereupon he proceeded to deliver the standard headmasterly lecture that referees think is demanded on these occasions. No cards were issued but someone one day will get a red from being spotted on camera in this manner, which will bring an interesting football legal question into play as to whether refs are able to dispense justice if they only saw it on screen. Of course it’ll probably just end up being standard policy as now for refs to lie through their teeth and claim to have spotted it all along but one day they’ll be found out.

The free-kick when it came was cut out by a diving Green punch with the resulting piledriver from Carsley being cleared by Upson.

Talking about the missing there were two more notable absentees. One was a sense of creativity as we fell back on the old “lump it at Deano” ploy. When you’re playing a defensively-minded set-up as Everton’s that’s rarely going to work. Then there was Camara’s first touch. This was spectacularly poor. On one occasion his attempt to control the ball was so bad that it turned into a five yard pass to Solano!

Just short of the hour we saw Solano replaced by Noble. This seemed a strange one. I understand that it was a tactical move and it may be that Nobby was knackered but, if not, it seemed wrong to be taking off the source of what little width we had, especially as Solano had been the only one on the pitch capable of putting in a decent cross, let alone a dead ball. The crowd certainly weren’t happy and greeted the change with boos.

Noble started strongly and a decent run into the box set up Mullins whose shot got deflected wide for a corner – though it looked to be going wide anyway. Parker then went on a good run down the right but, much as had occurred to Carlton Cole in the first half, nobody thought he was actually going to get the cross in and so one of the few decent crosses of the day went to waste. Parker then got into a promising position only to slightly overhit his pass to the overlapping Neill, though there was a suspicion that the Aussie may have given up on the pass a bit too early.

As ever, Everton had little ambition other than to keep hold of the lead though a Yakubu run on goal needed to be thwarted by Green, the only appeals for a penalty coming from the away support who promptly returned to silence once someone had said ssh.

Collins then had a mad moment. A long ball from the back found Cahill in an offside position. Collins stopped expecting the flag to go up. However, because Cahill was running away from play he was, in current parlance, deemed to be inactive. Osman ran from deep into the wide open space left by Collins and calmly put the ball wide. The decision to play on was, under the current interpretation issued by FIFA, the correct one but, given that FIFA change their guidelines as often as Steve Gerrard dives (about eight times a match on current estimates) it’s understandable- if not actually forgivable- for Ginge to be confused. At the end of the day, if in doubt play to the whistle – even if the bloke blowing it is one of the Premier League’s appalling “Elite” group.

A rare Everton break saw Upson’s header go awry, as if it had come off the head of Kryten out of Red Dwarf. The ball found its way to Piennaar whose cross found Yakubu. Green was, however, equal to the header. Green was also credited with a save as Carsleys drive went over though the ref was the only person ion the ground who thought he’d got a touch.

Mullins, who had been fairly solid was then replaced by Reid who, much to my amusement has been on the bench with Wright for the last couple of games. This came with about ten minutes left and appeared to be a belated effort to give a bit of width.

It was a fairly standard second half. Lots of possession without ever really looking like we were going to break them down. A Parker shot got deflected over whilst Camara should have done better from the resulting corner. In all honesty, though, it didn’t look like we had the guile or creativity to break down the packed defence and cross after cross went over or wide to be followed by a few minutes of Howard time-wasting that was so blatant it deserved a yellow.

The last few minutes saw 21 players camped in the Everton half so it was no surprise when the visitors managed to get a second goal. Upson failed to deal with a clearance and headed into the path of sub Johnson who had an easy lob into an empty net to give the visitors a flattering 2-0 scoreline. The visiting support woke up again and celebrated as if one of their own had been released from Walton for Christmas. Johnson picked up a yellow for having no sense of shame in celebrating an easy lob like he’d done something special and that was effectively it.

I think this was the match in which the injury list finally caught up with us. Up front we lack options and Bellamy’s absence has removed a whole dimension from our attacking play – chasing balls into channels and running at players not really being the forte of Cole or Ashton. Having said that, I am concerned about the lack of creativity in midfield. We do not appear to have much in the way of intelligence or guile in the middle four. Now part of this may be a result of injury – Faubert may for all I know be the player we’re looking for but I have a suspicion that the sort of player I’m thinking of may not to be the boss’s taste – look at the club’s apparent lack of concern over Benayoun’s departure despite the blatant tapping up that Liverpool seem to have carte blanche from the authorities to get away with all the time. Still it’s nearly time for the January sales so it’ll be interesting to see who we go in for – especially now that our chairman has got a tighter rein on the purse strings.

In the meantime thanks to everyone who made a fuss of Geoff on Saturday – especially the chap in the Wakefield who Geoff thought was his best mate! Have a happy and safe Christmas everyone!



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Player Ratings

Robert Green
Juggled one in the first half but left exposed for both goals.


Lucas Neill
Lacks effectiveness going forward in the absence of Bellamy as the Welshman is usually his “out” ball.


George McCartney
Steady in defence but going forward he clearly misses Etherington – one of a number of partnerships disrupted by injury.


James Collins
Good in parts but had a couple of aberrations at either end.


Matthew Upson
Not his usual steady self. A few headers went astray and he clearly misses Gabbidon – can you see the theme developing here?


Hayden Mullins
Did all the quiet donkey work in the middle as is his wont.


Scott Parker
Ran himself into the ground and didn’t deserve the result. MOTM.


Nobby Solano
Was in and out of the game but looked like our best hope of a decent cross before his mysterious substitution.


Freddie Ljungberg
A couple of good moments in the first half. Went to Panama in the second. Should have scored.


Dean Ashton
Got nothing out of the four players marking him and was penalised every time he went for the ball. Should have scored.


Carlton Cole
One decent run in the first half but clearly this was a game too much for his injury.


Substitutes


Henri Camara
(replaced Cole, 46) First touch was shocking at times. Put a decent chance over the bar.


Mark Noble
(replaced Solano, 59) A few good runs shortly after arriving on the pitch but faded from view thereafter.


Kyel Reid
(replaced Mullins, 79) Brought on to add a bit of width and balance to the left but failed to take his marker on and put over one terrible cross.


Richard Wright
Did not play.


Jonathan Spector
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: S.Tanner.

Attendance: 34,430.

Man of the Match: Scott Parker.

West Ham United

Robert Green, Lucas Neill, George McCartney, James Collins, Matthew Upson, Hayden Mullins, Scott Parker, Nobby Solano, Freddie Ljungberg, Dean Ashton, Carlton Cole.

Goals: None.

Booked: Freddie Ljungberg 91          .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Everton

Howard, Neville, Yobo, Jagielka, Lescott, Arteta, Osman, Carsley, Pienaar, Cahill, Yakubu..

Substitutes: Johnson (Yakubu 87).

Subs not used: Wessels, Hibbert, McFadden, Gravesen.

Goals: Yakubu (45+1), Johnson (90+3).

Booked: Yakubu (85).

Sent Off: None sent off..

 
Gordon Thrower's Man of the Match: Scott Parker


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