Saturday, 5th January 2008
This week alone we’ve heard from some nonentity boasting that he didn’t give “two ****s” about the competition which, given the chances of him ever winning the thing, was a statement right up there with my announcement a few years back that I would be retiring from international football (though I’m convinced that even with the dodgy Achilles I’d have been a better bet for England than the lot who played Croatia). So, whilst this match was far from being a classic, it was at least enjoyable for the fact that it featured two teams that actually wanted to win the cup.
After picking up yet another injury (Ljungberg) up at the New Library on New Year’s Day, the boss must have been dead chuffed to see Etherington and Bowyer available for selection once more following long spells out through injury. In the end only Matty made the starting line-up with Bowyer making the bench. A return to 4-4-2 saw Spector drop back to the bench leaving us with a line-up of Green, Neill, McCartney, Ferdinand, Upson, Etherington, Mullins, Noble, Pantsil, Ashton and Cole. A less welcome name on the team sheet was that of referee Styles who managed to live down to expectations.
The early exchanges saw us sitting back conceding territory but moving out swiftly on the break. Both teams had chances, most of City’s coming down our right hand side. Our first proper effort came on five minutes when Etherington did well on the left to force the corner. I say corner, with the lino on the Dr Martens side well up the other end, Noble’s placement of the ball well outside the quadrant made it more like a free-kick. Upson got his head on the ball without any real power or direction resulting in a goal-kick.
Up the other end Petrov was giving Neill a hard time with a number of runs causing concern though the busy Etherington was also giving it a go – a promising run deserving better than the well-wide shot that finished it. The clearest chance of all in the early period went to debutant Castillo who ought to have done better when he got the wrong side of his marker in the box only to balloon the ball into the Bobby Moore.
It was heart in mouth time just after the quarter hour when a promising run into the box by Petrov appeared to result in the Bulgarian being upended by Ferdinand. I say “appeared” – there was no question really. It was a foul and it was a penalty. Thankfully for us we had the legendary incompetence of Mr Styles to thank for the bizarre decision to play on. There can be only two explanations for such a strange decision. The first is that Styles believed, (somehow without the ingesting of mind-altering chemicals), that Petrov dived, in which case I must assume that the statutory yellow card for “simulation” was just forgotten in the heat of the moment. The second explanation is that Styles is a useless buffoon. I’ll leave you to decide.
The game opened up and we forced a couple of corners which looked dangerous without ever quite causing too many problems. The impressive Petrov still caused problems and a deep cross to the far post found Ireland (the former Cobh Ramblers player as opposed to the country) whose full-blooded volley brought a superb tip-over out of Green. It is worth reflecting that across town at that point Paul Robinson was pulling the ball across his own goal-line for an own goal. Just in case Mr Capello has learned enough English to read this.
The resulting corner was cleared and Ashton broke away down the right drawing a foul. Noble’s effort from the free-kick was high and wide. Mullins then finished a decent right-side run with a cross that found its way to Etherington whose low near-post effort brought a fine save out of Hart.
With 35 on the clock Ashton drew another foul in a similar position to the earlier one that Noble had earlier wasted. Noble and recent cult hero Pantsil positioned themselves over the ball but it was Noble who prevailed to put in an excellent curling effort that produced another fine save from Hart.
City had another shout for a spot kick turned down as Vassell went down but, to be fair the shout came from the crowd rather than the players and the tumble appeared to result from a tangle of legs as opposed to a deliberate trip. The half ended with both sides pushing forward but lacking the proverbial final ball.
The interval was Kit-Kat less due to our usual purveyor of half-time confectionary being laid-up in hospital. Some people have no consideration do they! Get well soon chum. Meanwhile a perusal of the match day programme provided the amusing information that we had in fact beaten Reading 2-1 on Boxing Day. Well we must have – the caption to the photos of the match said so!
The first half had been entertaining if not thrilling but the main concern had been the space that was being given down our right hand side. However, it was (for a change) injury rather than tactical reasons that prompted the non-appearance of Neill for the second half, the skipper apparently suffering from a tight hamstring which prompted his precautionary withdrawal. Spector was the replacement.
The first incident of any note in the second half occurred about five minutes in. Pantsil was caught outside the box by Hamann. Ashton decided that it was his turn to have a dig but wasted the opportunity by thumping his kick straight at the wall. Cole did better shortly after with a low effort from the edge of the box that forced Hart into another save. Ashton then tried to find Cole but the ball drifted wide.
It was then City’s turn to attack, Ireland (the ex Cobh Ramblers player etc etc) had a stinging effort parried away by Green and the defence smuggled the ball to safety. Up the other end it was Spector’s turn to trouble the good people of the Bobby Moore stand, hitting Cole’s clever pass well over.
With 20 minutes left on the clock it was time for our second substitution and Etherington, playing his first game in ages and visibly tiring was replaced by Reid.
We then survived a scare when Richards got on the end of a Petrov corner only to see it cleared off the line. The resulting clearance found its way back out to Petrov whose resulting cross drifted on to the top of the net before swinging back on to the pitch.
At this point I will admit my attention wandered a bit. Thankfully this had nothing to do with the match, which had been interesting if not actually “thrill a minute”. I received a text message from my brother asking me to call him urgently. Now I’m quite capable of ignoring texts from my brother – mainly because he insists on using that rubbish text speak that the “kidz” use these days. However, when I received this text it bore all the hallmarks of there being some sort of emergency. Happily it was merely the good news that sister-in-law is now expecting a central defender partner for my 1 year-old nephew. This news was something of a major and unexpected bonus given the hell they went through before. So if you were in the DMU wondering why some idiot was jumping up and down as if we’d scored, it wasn’t one of those “let’s pretend we scored a goal” moments, it was me in chuffed mode!
Shortly after my good news Bowyer came on for Mullins as both sides exchanged attacks resulting in aimless crosses. Pantsil then tried to find the one person who hadn’t been hit by the ball in the Bobby Moore stand before the best chance of the game fell to Ashton who was in a good position to get in a header from Reid’s cross. Hart saved well again but you had the feeling that Ashton had better areas of the goal at which to aim.
We then had a penalty shout of our own to moan about. Cole went up for a header and, apparently, the arm of Corluka (which sounds like a particularly poor 1960’s B-movie horror film) was responsible for diverting the cross away. I was too far away up the other end to see for sure but the players certainly looked aggrieved. However, as he has proven time and time again Styles couldn’t spot a real penalty if it was delivered onto his front lawn in a luminous orange portable temporary building structure of indeterminate manufacture with a big neon sign on the top flashing the words “This Is A Penalty.”
In fact it was likely that Styles was simply evening things up after his earlier aberration. Here’s an idea referees: if you made a sensible attempt to get things right in the first place you wouldn’t have to cheat the public simply to earn brownie points with your bosses. Just a thought, like.
The game petered out leaving us scratching our heads as to the last time we saw a 0-0 at the Boleyn. I’ve seen worse 0-0 matches, in fact I’ve seen plenty worse games that actually had a goal or two. Mind you if the match day programme is anything to go by, when we see the photos we will be pleasantly surprised to see that we actually won 1-0.
The draw was the right result – both teams wanted the win but neither quite had enough to make the breakthrough. Mind you given the ever lengthening injury list I’m not sure that a replay was exactly what the doctor ordered – though there are encouraging noises regarding Faubert and Bellamy. Even somebody called Zamora made an appearance in the programme this week – putting paid to the rumours that he had disappeared off to Panama or somewhere to claim on the insurance or something.
Earlier this week comments were attributed to the manager along the lines of “we’ll only go into the transfer market if things get acute”. Given the vast numbers of players absent at the moment I did wonder what would have to happen for things to get “acute”. If nothing else we do appear a bit short in the striking department – Bellamy is still to recover from his problems, Ashton still seems a long way off his best and Camara has yet to make any contribution to the cause and will probably be off to the African Nations in any case, so one would have hoped that we’d at least be looking in this area. I wouldn’t bother with any two-bob player that doesn’t give “two ****s” for the cup though. They obviously have better things to do!
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One fine save and did the rest of his job well. Capello please note.
Had a torrid time against Petrov and his tight hamstring probably came as some sort of blessed relief.
The return of Etherington meant gave him more options going forward than of late.
Steady enough but that challenge was definitely a penalty whatever Styles says.
Rarely beaten in the air and laid off some nice oases with his head.
Usual steady performance but was a bit wayward with a couple of passes.
Fine game. Took on responsibility well in the absence of Parker.
Not as dominant as against Man Utd, got through some hard work nevertheless.
Provided an outlet on the left for Linda and gave some much-needed width to the midfield.
Clearly he is some way from his best. Seems to realise he needs to chase a ball down about a second after the rest of us. The impending return of Bellamy might see him on the bench in the coming weeks.
Always busy, he kept the City defence busy without ever really looking like scoring.
(replaced Neill, 46) Seemed a little happier against Petrov than Neill had been. One horrible shot in the second half.
(replaced Etherington, 69) Didn’t quite seem to get the pace of the game. Got one cross over for Ashton late on but by that time the game was nearly over.
(replaced Mullins, 75) Glad to see him back though he didn’t really add much in the short time he was on in this match.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Man of the Match: Robert Green.
West Ham United
Robert Green, Lucas Neill, George McCartney, Anton Ferdinand, Matthew Upson, Hayden Mullins, Mark Noble, John Paintsil, Matthew Etherington, Dean Ashton, Carlton Cole.
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Hart, Onuoha, Ball, Richards, Dunne, Ball, Corluka, Ireland, Hamann, Petrov, Castillo, Vassell.
Substitutes: Etuhu (Ireland 66), Gelson (Castillo 72), Bianchi (Vassell 79).
Subs not used: Schmeichel, Garrido.
Booked: Corluka (90).
Sent Off: None.