Saturday, 29th December 2007
After the failure to break down Reading on Boxing Day, the opponents for this one were likely to present a different challenge resulting in a change of formation, Dean Ashton being the one to drop to the bench to accommodate an augmented midfield. This left us with a starting line-up of Green, Neill, McCartney, Upson, Spector, Ljungberg, Parker, Noble, Mullins, Solano and Cole.
Following a generous spot of applause for the returning Carlos Tevez we started brightly – no really we did. Solano nearly capitalised on a spot of hesitation in the defence before Neill almost got in on the act, his low curling shot from outside the box going harmlessly wide. As a statement of intent it laid down a marker. We were going to give it a go and we ought to have taken the lead on 7 minutes. Cole cleverly laid the ball into the path of Mullins who had continued a forward run into the box. Mullins’ effort was good enough to beat Kuszczak (take that spellchecker!) but not the bar. The ball came out to Noble who I thought had the time to do much better than ballooning the ball over the bar.
So, having started brightly and had the better of the early exchanges we then went one behind, very much against the run of play. Good goal though. Tevez pulled Neill inside before laying the ball off to Saha who found Giggs in the now-empty right-back position. Giggs’s cross for Ronaldo was perfect and the Portugese international stayed on his feet for possibly the only time in the match to bury the header past the helpless Green.
For a few minutes the goal seemed to give us a hangover as if we’d given it our best shot for all of 14 minutes and still found ourselves behind. However, after a few minutes of taking stock we started to dominate again and shortly after the half hour we had two glorious chances to make amends.
That old enemy of the game Dean firstly got in on the act, deciding that a blatant trip by the other Ferdinand brother on Solano was, somehow, despite the Laws Of The Game, not a penalty. Dean proves on an almost weekly basis that he lacks even the most basic skills to referee matches – this week he could not even be bothered to ensure that his shorts and socks didn’t clash with those of the visitors – so given a cast-iron penalty decision to make we should not be surprised that he took his usual option of deliberately flouting the laws for his own devices. You can bet your last penny he’d have given it up the other end though – though I wouldn’t recommend using the gambling website that Dean used to be involved with to make such a bet!
Having been denied by “plankton for brains” Solano had another go. Again this sprang out of another poor decision with Dean playing advantage when there had been none after a foul on Ljungberg. As the ball ran to Solano he was confronted with two opponents and nobody to pass to. Some advantage. Solano decided to spare Dean’s blushes by losing the two markers with some neat footwork before letting fly with a 30-yard dipping chip that brought a superb save out of Kuszczak. Dean is probably patting himself on the back for letting play continue but the truth is that Solano bailed him out of yet another dreadful decision. Nothing came of the corner – well it never does does it? Then Cole nearly capped a long spell of possession when rising unmarked only to head over what was not to be Noble’s last cross of the day. One of those that he might look back on and feel he might have done a bit better.
Having had the better, territorially speaking, we nearly shot ourselves in the foot a few seconds before the interval when a Kusczcak mis-hit clearance was turned into a good one by Ronaldo who cut inside but turned the ball wide.
Half-time came and the team left to applause rather than boos as the effort put in was recognised by the home crowd. The interval was spent consuming birthday cake as well as the traditional Kit-Kats as young Tomas celebrated his 9th birthday (Thanks Jeremy for the name-check!)
The second half started a bit quieter than the first. The first item of any note was a free-kick from Solano that curved just wide. This was to be Nobby’s last contribution of any note as shortly after he hobbled off clutching the back of his leg in the time-honoured method used by players the world over to signal an injured hamstring. We are really going to need a new stadium sooner rather than later as the treatment room in this one must now resemble one of those charity stunts beloved of 60’s students where they used to try to cram as many students as possible into a Mini. Solano was replaced by Pantsil who moved in as a direct replacement on the right.
Shortly after Pantsil’s arrival we were forced into another change as Parker found himself unable to continue. Ferdinand’s arrival prompted a wholesale reshuffle at the back with Spector effectively moving to left back, pushing Linda up into a sort of left midfield/wing-back position. Enforced as they were, neither change seemed to me to be particularly inspiring at the time they took place – though I was obviously to be proved spectacularly and gloriously wrong.
Pantsil was everywhere. Tracking back to put in a tackle here, pushing forward there. He even found time to pick up a yellow for a late lunge on Evra that, no doubt, had Evra’s “banned from the touchline” boss jumping up at the injustice of it all.
Ten minutes later Dean reminded us exactly why he was wearing the same shorts and socks as the visitors by giving the softest of soft penalties against Spector. Spector, straining to reach a harmless looking cross from a rare away foray into our half had an arm out as he went for the header. It appeared to be a ball played arm situation rather than vice-versa and there was serious doubt as to whether or not it actually occurred inside or outside of the box. Dean of course wasn’t going to waste the opportunity to make himself look big and pointed to the spot, in the process exposing his earlier decision not to award a penalty for the trip on Solano for the blatant piece of bias that we’ve come to expect from this sad little man.
Still as we now know you can never beat Green from a spot-kick. The Portuguese diver pulled his low kick wide – though Green had guessed right and might possibly have made the save had the kick been more accurate. No doubt he’ll claim it as his fourth penalty save of the season – that is unless Jimmy Walker claims it for him in his next column!
The miss got the crowd going. With about 20 on the clock Ashton replaced Ljungberg – the ref no doubt taking the Deano chants as a ringing endorsement of how well he was doing. There again he probably felt that the Argentina chants from the away support were somehow in his favour. They weren’t. They were just another example of how most of the visiting support would probably sell their own country down the line if it meant they could somehow bask in the glory of a Man Utd win.
We continued to press forward and a taste of what might be to come came when Paintsil was fouled by Giggs. The foul was identical to one that had earlier earned Mullins a booking but, mindful of upsetting Ferguson or more likely just being stupid and inconsistent, Dean just gave the free-kick. Noble’s cross was inviting and Upson got a decent header on which was smuggled away for a corner. The first corner was deflected round for a second from the right hand side. Noble’s delivery was spot on and the “just in case” convict haircut of Ferdinand rose high in the box to bury a superb header past Kusczcak to give us a more than deserved equaliser on 77 minutes. As I said a few paragraphs ago, our corners never come to anything do they?!
If the crowd had been ecstatic for the first goal the joy reached new heights four minutes later. Pantsil was fouled again by Evra in a similar position to where the earlier, and similar, foul from Giggs had occurred. Noble stepped up once more and delivered yet another perfect cross for Upson to rise even higher than Ferdinand had done earlier to stick the ball into the top corner for his first goal for the club. It was no more than both player and team deserved – Upson had been immense at the back and the team had kept the visitors penned into their own half for much of the game.
Well with nine minutes plus stoppage time plus whatever Ferguson wanted to add on to come, we were worried that we’d face an onslaught – especially given our recent predilection for conceding late goals. However, despite a bit more possession, the anticipated avalanche did not come and we saw out the remaining minutes fairly comfortably – though I’m fairly sure that the Gnome blood pressure (which requires daily medication at the best of times) had a comma in it by the end of the match.
I suppose it’s not giving too much away to suggest that this was our best performance of the season. Quite why we’ve struggled at home – that was our first home win since Sunderland – lord alone knows and anyone who has seen us dragged down to the level of the likes of Reading will be scratching their heads in disbelief.
The only down side of the game was the injuries to Solano and Parker. The treatment area now occupies three different postcode districts and an expansion into a different time zone cannot be too far behind at this rate.
So half-term and, despite all the injuries, the indifferent home form and all the other stuff that hasn’t helped things this season (yes Anton that means you) we somehow find ourselves in 9th position at time of writing – and only 3 wins and two draws from the mythical 40 point spot. At the start of the season we at Kumb Towers get a lot of requests from newspapers and magazines for pre-season previews. Since the editor-in-chief is usually on his yacht moored somewhere off Barbados at that time of the year, I usually field these requests. I was asked time and time again what I wanted from the season. Time and time again I asked for something a little less, er, interesting in comparison to the previous season which somehow resembled a particularly poor episode of Dream Team (Sky’s late and unlamented football soap). I think it’s fair to say that we’ve had that. After all the previous season’s shenanigans we’re now in a comfortable mid-table slot and things seem a lot more stable. Some of the football may not have been at its most inspiring but I’m prepared to accept the injury excuse for that – for the time being. If I had one New Year’s wish it would be to see a bit more flair in the side – something that was being cried out for against the likes of Reading for example. I have no idea who such a player might be but I’d like to think that, having steadied the ship, the boss might find room for someone to get the crowd on its feet.
I would like to leave you with a final insight into the small and petty mind of the visiting manager. I would recommend a quick peek at the post-match interview he gave to Sky. It started well enough when, through gritted teeth, he conceded that his side had been beaten by the better team. However, being the sour-faced whinger that he is, he couldn’t resist a little comment along the lines of “it was their biggest game of the year”. Well having turned them over three times in a row now I’d just like to say: “not any more Fergie, not any more”.
Happy new year everyone!*
*Season’s greetings not applicable to anyone called Dean, McCabe, Whelan, Hackett, Defoe or Lampard Junior!
* Want to submit your match reports to KUMB.com? More details here ...
No chance with the goal but not really bothered otherwise. Will probably claim to have sent Ronaldo the wrong way for the penalty kick!
Good solid performance – was pulled inside for the goal by Tevez who was otherwise anonymous – which should give you some idea as to how good the defence was today.
Started off in his usual left-back position and finished further up in midfield. Apparently before this match he had the record for most throw-ins taken this season. The significance of this statistic eludes the writer for the moment.
Generally solid though sticking his hand out in that girly manner gave Dean the excuse he’d been looking for. Moved over to the left in the second half as part of the reshuffle.
Another stormer from the defender who couldn’t get out of bed without injuring himself eleven months ago. If anyone deserved a goal it was him.
I lost count of the number of times he got a vital foot in to stop a through ball. Ought to have scored though.
Seemed to be doing ok until his untimely departure due to injury.
Unlucky not to have scored. Unlucky not to get a penalty. Unluckier still to do his hamstring.
A fair bit of chasing about with little result as such. Which sums up his season really.
Showed great character to recover from the early miss following Mullins’ effort that came off the bar. His delivery for the goals was superb.
Ran his legs off and held the line well. Gave the other Ferdinand brother an awkward time throughout.
(replaced Solano, 49) Without a shadow of a doubt his best game in a claret & blue shirt. Was everywhere and fouls on him led to the first goal (indirectly) and the second (more directly).
(replaced Parker, 55) Fine performance defensively. Cracking goal up front.
(replaced Ljungberg, 70) A bit more running than of late but failed to cause too many problems.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Man of the Match: Matthew Upson.
West Ham United
Robert Green, Lucas Neill, George McCartney, Jonathan Spector, Matthew Upson, Hayden Mullins, Scott Parker, Nobby Solano, Freddie Ljungberg, Mark Noble, Carlton Cole.
Goals: Anton Ferdinand 77 Matthew Upson 81 .
Booked: John Paintsil 58 Hayden Mullins 66 .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Kuszczak, Brown, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Ronaldo, Hargreaves, Fletcher, Giggs, Tevez, Saha.
Substitutes: Anderson (Tevez 64), Nani (Hargreaves 80), O'Shea (Brown 89).
Subs not used: Heaton, Pique.
Goals: Ronaldo (14).
Sent Off: None.