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Premiership
Saturday, 9th February 2008

West Ham United 1
Birmingham City 1

by East Stand Martin


Pussy ping pong in Pat Pong. With the promise of that as pre-match entertainment, who could say that Scudamore is that wide of the mark with his plans to take the Premiership overseas?

After all, we already get a taste of Thailand most weeks in the Duke of Edinburgh with the dodgy porn DVDís on sale. I really canít see why everybodyís getting so upset.

Take todayís game against the Brummies. Bit of a non event really, especially now that crooked-nosed Geordie freak has gone to manage elsewhere. Put it on in Bangkok though and you canít tell me that it doesnít become more interesting. Messy and sordid, but much more interesting.

There was a slim hope Bellamy might have showed up today, but the midweek rumours that he might have broken down again looked like that had some truth in them after all. Noble was also sidelined, so it was Ashton and Cole up front with Bowyer, Mullins, Ljungberg and and Matty in midfield. The back four is pretty much picking itself, although I did wonder if a 24 hour flight back from the convict colony was the best preparation for Lucas Neill.

Freddie first

The first action of note in this game was a goal for the Irons after a long throw was launched into the box. Carlton Cole managed a deft flick on and waiting alone at the far post was Ljungberg who pounced on the loose ball and kicked it into the roof of the net. It was his first goal for the Irons and itís been coming given his recent performances.

West Ham were dominant and just two minutes after the goal, a neat array of passes in the final third saw Bowyer side foot the ball just wide from a promising central position just outside the box.
George McCartney Ė possibly West Hamís most consistent performer this season Ė had to be on hand to head away a dangerous cross from the left on 9 minutes, and then we were all impressed with Matty running around the pitch chasing balls down like a man possessed.

A decent chance was created on 13 minutes as Neill and Ljungberg combined well. A looping ball from Mullins arrived with Cole who tried a shot on the turn, but it was scuffed well wide.

Touch your toes

Just when everything looked under control, it all went tits up on 14 minutes as Neill seemed to be giving McFadden a full body search in the box. Ref Clattenburg didnít hesitate and there was little protest as he pointed at the spot. Green has been a revelation this year in penalty situations, but he didnít even get near McFaddenís perfectly placed kick, even though he chose to dive the right way. Perhaps another save would have made the watching England manager Ė Big Sam Capello as I call him Ė rethink his decision to leave him out of the reckoning for the national goalkeeping jersey.

Matty was looking lively down the left and he created a good opportunity on 20 minutes which ended up in a shot being blocked. Then another break forward by Matty four minutes later saw him get into the box, but he was denied by the keeper.

A nice ball over the top on 28 minutes enabled Matty to slide a pass into the waiting Bowyer, but he could only divert the ball to the keeper at full stretch.

Despite creating chances, West Ham were nearly mugged on 34 minutes as a cross to the far post by McFadden gave Forsell a free header which he nodded poorly straight at Green.

George McCartney showed great awareness on 37 minutes to intercept a pass but he hit a poor shot after running rapidly into space in front of goal. Almost immediately afterwards, a terrific exchange of passes saw Ashton male an excellent side pass to find Matty in Space. He unleashed a powerful shot at goal but Maik Taylor made a good save.

Taylor almost undid his good work with a disastrous throw out which went straight to Lucas Neill. He had acres of space but his cross flashed across the face of the goal.

Down again

A break forward by Birmingham on 39 minutes saw McFadden go down in the box looking for a second penalty, but this time his only reward was a corner. Two minutes later, Mullins did well to pick up a clearance and then tried a swerving shot which Taylor held well. The final move of the half was also West Hamís as expansive play saw the ball moved from left to right, offering Cole the chance of a volley which pinged around in the box with the ball eventually spinning to the keeper.

It was an entertaining first half, with West Ham dictating much of the play with some truly eye-pleasing one touch football. But if the expectation was that we would go on to victory in the second half, this was to prove unfounded.

It was a scrappy and disjointed start after the interval with a lot of misplaced passes. One example was a lamentable pass along the halfway line by Lee Bowyer. We were trying to find some invention, but we continually looked lacking in the final third.

Mullins went probing outside the box on 59 minutes but a lay off saw Ashton blast wildly over. Then some excellent approach work by Ljungberg Ė who had a terrific game today Ė resulted in an inch perfect pass to Ashton who took the ball inside and then dragged a shot wide when there were options to his right.

Whoís he taken off?

The first West Ham change of the game came on the hour when Faubert was brought on for Cole. This did not please sections of the crowd and just prior to this I had suggested that Bowyer should have been the player to take off.

Faubert almost immediately had a chance to score two minutes after his introduction following a dangerous ball in from the left by McCartney, but a defender got there first and put it behind for a corner. Then on 68 minutes, McCartney put in another great left side delivery with Faubert again the intended target, but he fluffed a volley. A further ball into the box to Ashton also saw him make a complete hash of a dangerous position.

West Ham won a number of free kicks throughout the game Ė usually as a result of fouls on Llungberg Ė but the team missed the set piece skills of Noble. One of the better executions came on 73 minutes as Etherington curled in a fine ball which Upson met but could only head into the hands of Taylor.

No showcase

Ashton was not giving Capello much of a showcase of his undoubted talent, although he showed a rare piece of skill on 74 minutes as he brought down a clearance and tried a first time shot which went wide.
Just after this, we were close to falling behind after McSheffrey fed a pass to Forsell with Upson trailing in his wake. Somehow, Forsell sent his shot just wide of the far post with Green looking on helplessly. That was the Finís last contribution before his replacement by Jerome.

Ashton won a free kick 25 yards out in a promising central position on 76 minutes which led to a conference between four West Ham players. The chat didnít achieve anything as a short free kick saw Ashton slam his shot against the wall. Llungberg was also on hand to run back and recover the loose ball.

The final roll of the dice was to replace Matty with Camara with about 8 minutes of ordinary time left, but the game really fizzled out after this apart from the inexplicable decision of Clattenburg to red card Bowyer on 87 minutes. The missed tackle before Bowyerís looked worse and you got the impression that the ref had been influenced by that rather than the one which was punished. No doubt an unsuccessful appeal will follow.

Scapegoat

A miserable afternoon was capped for Ashton during the four minutes added time when he was booed off as Spector was introduced as a time-depleting tactic. No doubt part of this was motivated by general frustration with the team, but it was true that the striker had not had a good game. In fact, itís been some time since heís had a decent performance, but booing him is neither justifiable or any help to a player that appears to be still trying to shake off a debilitating injury.

Although it is always disappointing not to take all three points against a struggling team at home, we should all cast our minds back 12 months and look at where we were. We have made progress and we need to have some patience. The problem with the mentality of some is that instant and prolonged success is demanded. F*ck me, we have an injury list longer that the casualty unit down my local MRSA-ridden hospital. Europe is a target, but letís not start pulling our hair out if we donít make it. We could be Newcastle fans, after all.

(Player ratings by Gordon Thrower)



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Player Ratings

Robert Green
Nothing to do really. Surprisingly let in a penalty.


Lucas Neill
I would never suggest that a player should avoid playing for his country (well apart from Heskey perhaps) but Curbs will have to look at whether he is really up to playing for us after such a long journey. Conned for the penalty.


George McCartney
Steady enough though not really tested much.


Anton Ferdinand
Another fine match. In front of Capello too.


Matthew Upson
Got caught a bit too tight on Forssell the one time the striker didnít dive but otherwise another good run-out.


Hayden Mullins
Did the foot in stuff as usual.


Lee Bowyer
Some good late runs in the first half but faded as an influence in the second half. The sending off was a complete and utter joke.


Freddie Ljungberg
A constant thorn in the side. A proper referee (as opposed to one who appeared to have been recruited from the classified pages of ďThe Idiotís Gazette) might have afforded him some protection. Deserved the goal.


Matthew Etherington
Like Bowyer had a decent first half but seemed to be bypassed in the second as we went route one.


Dean Ashton
Got into some promising positions but failed to capitalise.


Carlton Cole
Ran around a lot to no avail.


Substitutes


Julien Faubert
(replaced Cole, 62) This sort of player thrives on service. He got little.


Henri Camara
(replaced Etherington, 83) Canít remembering him touching the ball.


Jonathan Spector
(replaced Ashton, 90) I think he touched the ball


Richard Wright
Did not play.


Jack Collison
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: M.Clattenburg.

Attendance: 34,884.

Man of the Match: Freddie Ljungberg.

West Ham United

Robert Green, Lucas Neill, George McCartney, Anton Ferdinand, Matthew Upson, Hayden Mullins, Lee Bowyer, Freddie Ljungberg, Matthew Etherington, Dean Ashton, Carlton Cole.

Goals: Freddie Ljungberg 7                  .

Booked: None.

Sent Off: Lee Bowyer 88    .

Birmingham City

Maik Taylor, Kelly, Martin Taylor, Ridgewell, Murphy, Larsson, Muamba, Johnson, McSheffrey, Forssell, McFadden.

Substitutes: Jerome (Forsell 76), Parnaby (McSheffrey 87).

Subs not used: Doyle, Nafti, Zarate.

Goals: McFadden (pen 16).

Booked: Johnson (33), McSheffrey (58), Muamba (72), Jerome (90), M.Taylor (90+2).

Sent Off: None.

 
East Stand Martin's Man of the Match: Freddie Ljungberg