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Premiership
Saturday, 12th January 2008

West Ham United 2
Fulham 1

by Gordon Thrower


Game of two halves? This was more of a game of four quarters and we weren’t all that good in all of them.

There were a few changes this week caused by the non-availability of players such as Pantsil (African Cup Of Nations) and Neill (another flipping injury). Thankfully there was better news on the positive side of the injury balance sheet as the starting line-up included Ljungberg whilst the bench contained the likes of Boa Morte, Bowyer and pre-season signing Faubert of whom much was expected. Line up: Green, Spector, McCartney, Upson, Ferdinand, Ljungberg, Mullins, Noble, Etherington, Ashton and Cole.

I’d like announce that the first 25 minutes or so of this match were amongst the worst I’ve seen at the Boleyn. I mentioned this to the lovely girlfriend on my return home post-match just so she realises that I’m not always out enjoying myself. There was a strange lethargy about the place – both on and off the pitch. This manifested itself on the pitch by the strange reluctance of either Ferdinand or Upson to get a challenge in early on to allow Dempsey to volley a Healey lay-off about ten yards over.

Off the pitch it was as if everyone was exhausted following a hard first week back at work. The somewhat slapdash approach of the defence did not bode well and on 7 minutes the worst of our fears were realised. A supposed foul by Spector on Healey (who, as we know from past encounters, likes a dive) was given by ref Riley. Davis curled it in and Green appeared bamboozled firstly by the acres of space that Bocanegra had to run into, and secondly, by the fact that Bocanegra failed to get so much of a touch on the ball which carried straight on its way uninterrupted past Green’s far too late dive to put the visitors one up.

This was not in the script and for the next 20 minutes the most notable thing to happen was Ljungberg’s doomed bid to head a ball that was quite happy being kicked by an opponent at the time. This resulted in Freddie trying an ill-advised Leslie Ash impersonation – though to be fair he did get the lips spot on. For a moment Fulham looked as if they might start to play and Konchesky linked up well with Healey, Green thankfully being equal to the task. The keeper’s first instinct was to send Etherington on a run down the left. Matty took on and beat two opponents – including a Baird nutmeg – before succumbing to the team’s perennial failing, that of being unable to deliver a decent cross.

The spell of play was poor. Neither side seemed to have it in them to string any passes together and giving the ball away was par for the course. Mullins in particular seemed to have some aversion to passing to anyone in claret & blue – though I suppose he may have been confused by the lack of a number on Ljungberg’s back,. The Swede had been forced into a change of kit by the fact that he’d got a different type of claret down the front of his shirt.

So, playing poorly, and with no sight of a goal, we got a goal. And it was a good one too. There seemed to be little on as Ljungberg received the ball out on the Chicken Run touchline. However, once Freddie had sorted his feet out he went past Konchesky like he was, well, Konchesky and put over a superb cross. Ashton, with a move of anticipation that has been lacking from his game since his return to injury, got across his marker to direct a superb glancing header into the bottom corner. Coming as it did from the first bit of football either side had been able to muster all afternoon, the goal seemed out of place – as if the director had reviewed the first cut of his film and edited in some stock footage of a really good game to make the final cut more interesting.

The game improved no end from this point. Ferdinand got on the end of a corner but the required save barely tested Niemi. We’d spoken pre-match about the Finnish ‘keeper’s habit of playing a blinder whenever he plays against us and so it proved once more. A clever header from Cole saw Ashton bring Etherington into play. Matty’s first low cross was low and blocked. His second effort found Ashton who had the time and space to chest the ball down and volley goalwards only for him to find Niemi in fine form, the ‘keeper’s tip onto the bar being well worth the generous applause it got from all four sides of the ground. Damn him!

We started to play fairly well and, for once, we were actually looking to use the flanks and both Etheringon and Ljungberg were getting involved. Cole & Ashton were beginning to link well as well. A Cole flick on sent Ashton wide of the goal. There didn’t seem to be too much danger as Ashton manoeuvred himself back to the corner of the box but suddenly he found the space to send a curling effort that brought another fine save from Niemi who tipped the goalbound shot over the bar. Damn him! The resulting corner from Noble caused a few problems but Fulham scrambled clear.

Etheringon then went on another storming run down the left, leaving Volz behind as if he were, well, Konchesky. Once more the final ball into the box lacked quality and was cleared away. Then Cole should have put us into the lead. A Spector pass took a flick off a defender and Cole was able to muscle Hughes out of the way – not that it took much muscle to be honest. However the forward shot straight at Niemi whose save was infinitely easier than it ought to have been.

Well for all the fact that on clear chances we should have been 4-1 up the close of the half saw a defensive slip that could have seen us go into the break 2-1 down. It was as if the mythical film director had said – “this picture needs a comedy moment here” and Ljungberg was the man to provide it. Ten out of ten for coming back to help out the defence but minus several million Freddie for deciding to bring the ball back into your own box instead of putting it into the Chicken Run. Healey got the block on and the ball ran agonisingly across the face of the goal, Ferdinand finally sorting it out for a corner, which was comfortably dealt with for the last meaningful action of the half.

After the welcome return of the Kit-Kats (and, more importantly the confectioner) the second half started quietly with Noble getting away with a bit of a petulant shove on Dempsey having shepherded a hopeful ball out for a goal-kick. Noble then went up the other end and had a powerful, but possibly wayward effort blocked for a corner. Noble took the corner himself and found McCartney at the back stick but Linda’s goal-bound header was rightly ruled-out due to the Irishman’s use of a defender to give him a lift-up.

Ljungberg, being one of the lucky few to actually find a shirt of the correct size in the club shop, had now got one with name and number on the back, and thus no longer resembled the bloke in every Sunday pub team that has a shirt that is almost, but not quite, totally different from those worn by his team mates. Armed with the new shirt, he then proceeded to ensure that as many of the Fulham left-hand side got a good view of the name and number on the back as he went down the right flank. A clever early ball found Ashton in between two defenders only for his hook on to drift wide, Cole not having got far enough forward to get on the end of the shot or pass depending on your point of view.

The pressure started to slowly build up as Cole fed Etherington whose attempted cross was blocked for a corner. Noble’s corner was cleverly nodded towards goal by Cole only for Knochesky to clear off the line. Fulham didn’t clear properly and Etherington’s lofted cross found Upson who glanced wide.

Just after the hour Boa-Morte replaced Cole who had seemed a bit out of sorts. Fulham hadn’t created much and were relying on being given the ball – Noble being the culprit on one occasion by dwelling on the ball for a move that saw Healey force a corner – LBM’s first action being to head clear.

Such forays into opposition territory were rare for the visitors and even when they did cross the half-way line we looked pretty dangerous on the break. Ljungberg and Spector combined to rob Davies and Spector sent Freddie down the line on the overlap. The cross found LBM who made enough room for the shot which was blocked. The ball fell out to Matty whose shot was also blocked.

Ljungberg then combined with LBM to force yet another corner. The corner was cleared as far as Mullins whose header wide looked like it a bit too much on it. Well it looked that way to everyone but Noble who managed to not only keep the ball in but, in doing so, provided the perfect pull back to Ferdinand to bury a first time effort from 12 yards out into the roof of the net to send us 2-1 up with about 20 minutes to play. Another fine goal.

The heads were up now. Ljungberg cut inside to have another shot blocked and each time the ball came out of the Fulham defence it went straight back in. Clearances into the Chicken Run of the sort that Freddie had earlier failed to use were the order of the day. A long ball from Mullins was headed back across goal by Ljungberg where only a last-ditch tackle by Stefanovic prevented Ashton from doubling his tally. Riley, of course, called it a goal-kick. Bald refs called Mike. The theory holds.

Of course winning 2-1 in a game we could have been 5 or 6-1 up in always raises the possibility that something stupid will happen. Healey was given far too much time and space on the right and Upson was forced to clear with Green stranded. This prompted a couple of corners, the first of which was cleared by Mullins. The second found Dempsey whose free header fortunately found Noble on the post to clear. Upson then gave away another free-kick for a foul on Healey who threw himself unconvincingly to the ground with minimal contact. Old habits die hard I suppose. Murphy’s free-kick found Baird totally unmarked in the box but thankfully the header was well over. Etherington left with ten minutes to go to be replaced by Bowyer on his return from injury.

LBM then got a free-kick given against him for being fouled by an opponent – one of a number of baffling decisions by Riley. Former Hammer Bullard teed up the shot, but, ever-thankful towards the club that gave him his football education, he wisely elected to plant the ball into the back reaches of the Centenary Stand.

With two minutes left on the clock Ljungberg, who had probably played his best game in claret and blue was replaced by Faubert, both receiving generous applause – the latter also receiving the accolade of the newly resurrected “Julien” chant not heard since the retirement of the similarly-named Mr Dicks.

Two minutes of stoppage were added during which Ashton had a lazy volley from a Green clearance go wide, and Bullard had a shot blocked right at the death. The resulting corner was the last action of a match that had started poorly and improved into a surprisingly entertaining match. It was pleasing to see us get through 90 minutes without seeing three players hobbling off towards the overflow section of the physiotherapy department. It was also good to see some of the recent casualties return to action, even if, in Faubert’s case, it was just a case of popping on to the pitch for a couple of minutes as he was passing!

So a 2-1 win and another three points. Whisper it quietly but it would appear that we’re now only 8 points away from the magical 40-point mark which is generally taken to be the first target for any club aspiring to safety. That’s two wins and a couple of draws. I reckon we’d have settled for our current position this time last year – I know my blood pressure is well down on 12 months ago. Now if we can just get a few more players back…



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Player Ratings

Robert Green
Probably to blame for the goal and his kicking wasn’t too impressive today.


Jonathan Spector
He comes in, plays wherever he’s asked and gets on with it. Solid game.


George McCartney
Fairly decent run out. Funny how we all thought he’d be our back-up on the left of defence. Shorey must be kicking himself.


Anton Ferdinand
Another good run out – again after a dodgy start. Finished the goal well.


Matthew Upson
Skipper for the day he turned in his usual dependable performance – after a shaky start.


Hayden Mullins
Some good Mullins-esque interceptions but his passing was a bit off-target today.


Mark Noble
Honours even in a fascinating midfield battle with Murphy. Worked wonders for the winner.


Freddie Ljungberg
Was the source of much that was good on the right hand side – one dodgy moment defensively but had a fine game. Perhaps we should kick him in the head before every game.


Matthew Etherington
Some excellent runs only let down by the final ball into the box which was all-too-often either wayward or blocked.


Dean Ashton
Better, much better. The half yard of anticipation that has been missing of late made a welcome return as evidenced by his goal. Still not quite there yet but well on his way.


Carlton Cole
Not quite at the races today. Should have scored in the first half when bustling his way through as he does best.


Substitutes


Luis Boa Morte
(replaced Cole, 65) Some good work both in attack and later in a more defensive role.


Lee Bowyer
(replaced Etherington, 83) Looked ok but wasn’t really on long enough to get a mark.


Julien Faubert
(replaced Ljungberg, 89) If Bowyer can’t have a mark, neither can he – though it was good to discover that he actually exists and isn’t really a fictional character designed to deflect attention away from the fact we haven’t signed anyone lately!


Richard Wright
Did not play.


James Collins
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: M.Riley.

Attendance: 34,947.

Man of the Match: Freddie Ljungberg.

West Ham United

Robert Green, Jonathan Spector, George McCartney, Anton Ferdinand, Matthew Upson, Hayden Mullins, Mark Noble, Freddie Ljungberg, Matthew Etherington, Dean Ashton, Carlton Cole.

Goals: Dean Ashton 28 Anton Ferdinand 69                .

Booked: None.

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Fulham

Niemi, Baird, Stefanovic, Bocanegra, Konchesky, Volz, Davis, Murphy, Davies, Healy, Dempsey.

Substitutes: Hughes (Bocanegra 14), Bullard (Volz 77), Smertin (Healy 78).

Subs not used: Warner, Ki-Hyeon.

Goals: Davies (8).

Booked: Konchesky (81).

Sent Off: None.

 
Gordon Thrower's Man of the Match: Freddie Ljungberg