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FA Premiership
Saturday, 29th December 2007

West Ham United 2
Manchester United 1

by East Stand Martin


Three weeks I was stuck in a confined space with the legendary Midnight Al in Sri Lanka following the mighty England. Midnight is an old school Manc, so named because he only recovers from the previous day’s hangover at around Midnight.

6,000 feet up in the tea gardens of Nuwara Elliya, Midnight was ranting and raving over bottles of Lion Stout (8.8%) as his beloved United took on the team which he despises more than anything on this planet – the dirty, thieving Scousers. What the locals made of him is anybody’s guess as the spittle rained down every time the hated opposition touched the ball.

In your northern slums

But after seeing off Liverpool, things went downhill. First he got a monumental dose of the sh*ts, leaving our room radioactive from the toxic splashback. The spray hit places it had no right to reach. Then the mossies took a liking to him and he was bitten to f*ck. To cap it all, on the way back from Dubai, the day before the West Ham v ManUre game, they lost his suitcase. He should have come back with me to Gatwick instead of flying direct to Mancsville. That’s a lesson for all northern monkeys coming back from their holidays – go to the Capital first before returning to your slums.

It was a sign, a portent in the Shakespearean tradition of another Irons win over the current champions. Let’s just rewind over a few of those glorious days out. Di Canio, 70th minute. 10,000 go radio rental. Defoe, up at the far post, a header as sweet as a nut. Tevez, little jink and we p*ssed all over their chips on their celebration day. Marvellous.

And how we paid tribute to that little Argie wizard as he came back like the prodigal son. Arms crossed like hammers he showed his appreciation of probably the most raucous welcome to one of our departed in recent memory. “We love Tevez more than you”, we taunted. We most certainly do.

We have nothing to fear but fear itself

4-5-1 at home and I was not too impressed. What did we have to fear from this lot? Why isolate Carlton? But the tactical nous of our manager began to show straight away as a magnificent midfield set about their task of getting in Manc faces.

7 minutes in and we saw the double miss of the season after Cole laid off a peach of a ball to Mullins in the box. He lifted it over their keeper but it struck the bar. Waiting for the scraps was the returning Mark Noble who inexplicably put t over with the goal at his mercy. It was one of those “I hope we don’t live to regret that later” moments.

We were running the show, but pure quality from the Mancs saw us behind on 13 minutes after an exquisite pass from Saha sent Giggs on his way. His cross was inch perfect from the left and Ronaldo left the foundering McCartney in his wake as he headed past Green. Against the run of play, but the game is about clinically dispatching chances and that’s what they did.

We lost an Argie magician but we got a Peruvian one instead. He may be knocking it on a bit but Nobby oozes class and they couldn’t handle him. Terrier-like, he won a ball in the middle and then went piling into the box, furious that he hadn’t won a penalty after it looked like his boot had been trodden underfoot.

Always believe in your soul

And then on 35 minutes, he was at it again. The magnificent Carlton Cole – what a revelation this guy has been - made a telling tackle on Tevez and off went Solano. Weaving through the middle, he showed sublime awareness as he unleashed a shot which the keeper only just managed to tip over. The corner that followed created chaos, but we were lacking the killer touch in the box.

What we lacked in the final third was compensated for by the sheer tenacity in the middle third. I lost count of how many times we kept winning back the ball when it went loose. 50/50 balls had our name written all over them. Never say die was the order of the day and we followed that to the letter.

Noble was having a quiet half in comparison with the midfield dynamo of Solano, Parker and Mullins, but he found space on the edge of the box with four minutes left and chipped a great ball forward to find the unmarked Cole but he completely misdirected his header, the one error in a fantastic performance by the striker.
It only takes a few seconds to undo all the good work, and Ronaldo nearly did it again in time added on as he took a pass down the West Ham right and skipped inside of Lucas Neill. Fortunately his way was blocked and he fired a shot wide of the right hand post.

Five or four

We truly did not deserve to be losing the game, but the difference was in the finishing. One chance for them and it’s in and maybe the lack of two strikers to accommodate the system had cost us. You did wonder given the mentality and commitment of the team whether we will still would have dominated the midfield with four against their five. It’s a debate, but maybe the manager was right on balance.

First minute after the restart and Hargreaves sent Mullins flying for a free kick about 28 yards out. Up stepped Nobby inevitably but it was probably just a bit too far out and after the shot flashed by the right hand post he was clutching his hamstring. Typical, the bloke pulling the strings had errr pulled his own string. The boy Pantsil came trotting on but it hardly seemed like a fair swap. Mark Noble immediately tried to fill the breach and sold a couple of defenders beautifully but his deep cross did not reach the waiting Freddie.

Having lost Nobby, Parker was the next to leave the field of play to be replaced by Anton. Two of our most influential players of the first half gone in the first 10 minutes and no West Ham fan could have felt anything but foreboding. Then, just after Tevez went off to a standing ovation, disaster struck as a chipped ball forward landed on the arm of the stumbling Spector just inside the box.

Mass shock

Ronaldo strolled up to take it. Inexplicably the usually flawless spot kick taker just scuffed the ball wide of Green’s right hand upright leading to scenes of wild jubilation and an array of smacked ar*e faces in the away end. I swear the f*ckers were all in shock, having never seen twinkletoes make such a balls up. Mr Capello, pure logic must dictate the choice of England goalkeeper – he’s psyched out yet another penalty taker. He has magical powers.

That miss raised the temperature more than just a few notches up the scale. 25 minutes left, could we make something happen? The manager decided that the time was ripe to introduce Ashton and revert to 4-4-2.

Amok

Funny enough it was not to be the strikers that would turn the game on ts head. Step forward a man who I thought would never be seen again in the claret and blue, John Pantsil. Whatever he was on, I want some of it. In right midfield, he was running amok and the Mancs couldn’t handle him. Giggs had to tug him back on 75 minutes and following the free kick down the right, we won two corners in a row. Noble ran over from one side of the pitch to the other to take both, and a wicked delivery saw Anton rise like a salmon – a bit like that glorious time at Sh*te Hart Lane in the final minute – and launch a downward header into the net.

The crowd erupted and the mild mannered geezer who sits opposite me was transformed into one of those zombies in 28 Days Later. He was wailing triumphantly like a banshee and hugging me like a long lost relative. You tell me if there is a better f*cking feeling in this whole wide world.

Pantsil was trying to win the game on his own and it looked like he had been taken out in the D on 79 minutes as he surged forward but the ref wasn’t interested. He got up and before you knew it had won yet another free kick on 81 minutes. Noble took the set piece again and once again sent in a fantastic ball which Upson rose to meet. His header was sensationally directed inch perfect into the top left hand corner of the net.

Adrenalin rush

This provoked even wilder ecstasy. Rarely have I seen the normally sedate East Standers in such sheer mad celebration. Imagine the drunkest wedding reception you have ever been to combined with the most rampant sex you have ever enjoyed. It wasn’t as good as that. Intense and spectacular.

It was a nervy last ten minutes or so, but the Mancs didn’t have one of their Harry Houdini escapes up their sleeve this time. There was one scare when Evra latched onto a looped ball in the box, but he only succeeded in scuffing a shot on the turn.

Three times in a row we have done them now. We are their nemesis. The breakers of Manc hearts. Up in Mancsville, the hapless Midnight had just got his luggage back from Dubai, and he got it with both barrels. His response was predictable, pointing out the void in our trophy cabinet compared to the array of silver in theirs. At that moment in time, I swear that I wouldn’t have swapped al l those honours for that feeling. Who’s to say that we won’t make it 12 points in a row when we go up to the northern wastes? Perhaps we’ll even deny them the league championship. Again. Yep, remember that, Mr Bruce?

(Player ratings by Gordon Thrower)



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Player Ratings

Robert Green
No chance with the goal but not really bothered otherwise. Will probably claim to have sent Ronaldo the wrong way for the penalty kick!


Lucas Neill
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.


George McCartney
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.


Jonathan Spector
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.


Matthew Upson
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.


Hayden Mullins
I lost count of the number of times he got a vital foot in to stop a through ball. Ought to have scored though.


Scott Parker
Seemed to be doing ok until his untimely departure due to injury.


Nobby Solano
Unlucky not to have scored. Unlucky not to get a penalty. Unluckier still to do his hamstring.


Freddie Ljungberg
A fair bit of chasing about with little result as such. Which sums up his season really.


Mark Noble
Showed great character to recover from the early miss following Mullins’ effort that came off the bar. His delivery for the goals was superb.


Carlton Cole
Ran his legs off and held the line well. Gave the other Ferdinand brother an awkward time throughout.


Substitutes


John Paintsil
(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).


Anton Ferdinand
(replaced Parker, 55) Fine performance defensively. Cracking goal up front.


Dean Ashton
(replaced Ljungberg, 70) A bit more running than of late but failed to cause too many problems.


Richard Wright
Did not play.


Henri Camara
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: M.Dean.

Attendance: 34,966.

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.     .

Manchester United

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).

Booked: None.

Sent Off: None.

 
East Stand Martin's Man of the Match: Matthew Upson