Saturday, 1st March 2008
A pleasant evening at an AFA dinner the night before had ended up with the arrival of a bottle of port at precisely the time when just about everyone else was going home and Geordie mate Craggsy’s comment of “it’d be a shame to waste it” assumed the mantle of “famous last words.” It was therefore a very tired correspondent that made his way to the now traditional Breakfast with Bonehead. I should have known it was going to be a bad day when I was defeated by the size of the fry-up and even an attempted livener couldn’t wake me up. I was hopeful that the football would do it for me. Oops.
Team news was the starting line-up was that which had started at Fulham with the welcome addition of Bobby Zamora to the bench, the striker having been missing since August. Starting line-up: Green, Neill, McCartney, Ferdinand, Upson, Faubert, Ljungberg, Noble, Boa-Morte, Cole.
Well for about 15 minutes we were doing ok. Chelsea had got the ball in the net from an offside effort by Anelka – this following the first of the day’s dives after only 50 seconds – a new low even for Chelsea. We were holding your own though. However you know what you are going to get with Chelsea and that is a bunch of players who will go down in the lightest of breezes if they think a penalty is in the offing. So what you don’t do is stick a hopeful leg out in the box anywhere near one of the cheats because as sure as eggs is eggs one of them is going to go down. I would say they teach diving in their academy but since their academy exists only to provide Sky with another reality programme rather than actual players it’s difficult to say.
Ferdinand broke the cardinal rule and a look at the replay shows that Kalou was well on his way down before any contact was made. The ref fell for it and the obnoxious Lampard – who incredibly went into print on the subject of respect this week – no, really – stuck the spot kick away and went on his badge-kissing celebration in that rather sickening way that Chelsea supporters will cringe at when he disappears next season to whichever foreign club is stupid enough to pay for the self-obsessed mummy’s boy.
That was where the problems started. From that point the midfield went missing. Considering that we should have had numerical superiority across the middle I was baffled by where they had all gone. Things went from bad to worse three minutes later when nobody got anywhere near close enough to Joe Cole whose fine half-volley might have been ruled out had a clearly offside Kalou got a touch on it. Next time Lampard wants to issue lectures on the subject of respect he might like to take a look at Joe Cole’s celebration and compare it with his own.
If the midfield had been hiding before, they went deep underground for the next few minutes and the defence joined them as Ballack had all the time in the world to measure up a first time effort for the third – though McCartney could have some justification to complain that he had been blocked off from challenging the shot.
So then, belatedly, we decided to turn up. On the half-hour a Cole knock down found Noble whose shot was tipped over by Cech, a save that was easier than it looked. Sadly but predictably nothing came of the corner.
Cole then had a cast iron penalty case turned down as Carvalho all but removed his shirt. In what turned out to be only one of a large number of completely wrong decisions, ref Walton somehow decided that having your shirt pulled off is a foul and punished Cole.
Then came the game’s only real highlight. Boa-Morte, who had been kicked from pillar to post, was upended once more. Bizarrely, ref Walton gave the free-kick against LBM as, having been tripped by the fat one, he landed on the ball with his arm. Lampard then raked his studs up LBM’s back adding a stamp on the foot and a shove to floor for good measure. Having cocked-up the original decision, ref Walton had the lino to thank for actually spotting the kick and off trundled the fat one. Ballack too could have walked for getting involved in a shoving match but the ref bottled it and only issued a yellow. The ref then called the skippers together, presumably to warn them as to their players’ future conduct. What actually happened was that, as usual, Terry did all the talking, a whinging harangue that he was to keep up throughout the rest of the match, Carvalho taking over the whining whenevber Terry paused for breath. Terry eventually picked up the yellow card his constant moaning deserved for pulling Cole back – though this decision merely prompted another moan from three other Chelsea players.
Hopes that we would capitalise on the extra man were sadly misplaced as Kalou, Joe Cole and Anelka all had efforts saved, put wide and put over and wide respectively. We forced the occasional corner but Noble’s delivery was not up to scratch, Cech invariably gathering under little or no challenge.
It was a subdued half time though the traditional Kit-Kat did give a much-needed, if temporary boost to my blood sugar levels. Things didn’t improve for one poor soul whose girlfriend took advantage of leap year to propose to him on the pitch. Poor bloke obviously felt he had to accept in front of 35,000 people. Of course the club will benefit since both engager and engagee are employed as stewards on matchdays thus ensuring that there will be at least one future generation of people with orange-jackets who don’t know what to do when your season ticket card doesn’t work.
The interval saw a change – LBM had been unable to remove the schoolboy-prank style “kick me” notice from his back and was replaced by Ashton as we changed to a 4-4-2. The net twenty minutes were spent camped in the Chelsea half as we tried I vain to break down the defence. Whenever we looked close, a pass in the final third would be over-hit or played behind a player. The one time we looked like pulling one back unfortunately coincided with the one minute that Terry had his moaning gob shut. The thankfully former England captain clearing Cole’s lob from under the bar.
The away side’s time-wasting wasn’t helping much. Ref Walton felt the need to point out to Cole (A) that he had now warned him three times about taking ages over throw-ins, pointing out the precise location of each warning for good measure. A strong ref – and let’s face it you need one when dealing with this lot – might have considered a card to be appropriate after one warning let alone three.
A strong ref might also have had something to say on the subject of Makelele’s disgraceful challenge on Faubert, a vicious, deliberate, over the ball stamp that deserved a red followed by a long suspension. It would have seen Wenger demanding the reintroduction of the death penalty had it happened to one of his players but, having been softened up by the constant moaning of Terry and Carvalho, the ref decided that a free-kick was sufficient punishment. The ref had bottled most decisions in favour of the away team all day and this was by far and away the worst example.
We were always going to be vulnerable on the break and so it proved to be. Cole (J) was found in acres of space just after the hour. His drilled shot across the goal was well-saved by Green but the ball found its way out to Cole (A) who put the ball in from an acute angle, Neill seemingly not being bothered to block the shot. The scorer went running round with all the air of someone with a mobile phone vibrating in an orifice usually reserved for blue flags.
From this point the game effectively petered out. We’d keep the ball for a few minutes put a pass astray, they’d go forward and put the ball into row z. On 65 minutes we did try a double substitution with Solano and Zamora replacing Faubert and Cole respectively. This was, by this point, akin to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic and nothing really changed. Zamora in particular slotted into the team well, misplacing his passes in exactly the same way that everyone else had been. Since the game was effectively over by this point many took advantage to cut their losses and leg it home much to the delight of the away support who, having been quiet for much of the match finally found their voice in that way that only the truly ignorant tend to do. Me? I stayed to the bitter end as I always do – I find it easier to do match reports if I am actually at the match.
This defeat hurt because it came about purely and simply because we didn’t compete in the middle until the game was gone. It’s hard to remember when so many had an off day at the same time during that 20 minute spell in the first half Derby would have probably given us a tough game let alone Chelsea.
And what of Chelsea? Well they may brag that they are back after losing the Carling Cup to the Spuds but having seen them twice now I’m fairly sure that the Premiership won’t be going to Stamford Bridge. It will, no doubt, be a major consolation to Chelsea supporters that the title will probably go to the Man Utd team that most of them were supporting before roubles started buying them trophies. Unfortunately we don’t have that luxury at West Ham – unlike Chelsea we’re stuck with our team.
Midweek sees a trip to the Liverpool team that vie with Chelsea for the title of biggest divers in the league. We’ll need to see a major improvement if we’re to get anything out of that one for the first time since I was three. We’ve had one thumping from an average side this season. I don’t want to see another thank you very much.
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Not at fault for the goals – let down by those in front of him.
Constantly caught out of position. Needs to buck up his ideas.
Not his usual self. Failed to close down Ballack for the third but being blocked off didn’t help.
Don’t stick your leg out Anton – you know they’ll dive. His daft moment started the rot.
A rare off day – though he dealt with Anelka quite well at times generally reducing the sulk to throwing himself to the floor at every challenge.
Disappeared completely in that first half spell.
Tried but his passing and set play delivery were short of the mark today.
Maybe he knows what his role is when we play 5 across the middle. I’m damned if I can work it out from his play though. He never seemed to be where he ought to be.
One good cross in the first half and was lucky to escape without a broken leg after Makelele’s disgraceful assault. Otherwise anonymous.
Luis Boa Morte
Had obviously upset the primadonnas who kicked him all over the place. They needn’t have bothered really.
It said a lot about the so-called international class of Terry that he was reduced to bear hugging Cole every time the ball was played to him. Unlucky not to get a penalty.
(replaced Boa Morte, 46) Misplaced pass after pass.
(replaced Faubert, 66) Slightly livelier than Faubert but that wasn’t difficult.
(replaced Cole, 66) Good to see him fit again. Bad to see him misplace pass after pass.
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, Freddie Ljungberg, Julien Faubert, Luis Boa Morte, Carlton Cole.
Sent off: None.
Cech, Ferreira, Carvalho, Terry, A Cole, J Cole, Makelele, Ballack, Lampard, Kalou, Anelka.
Substitutes: Essien (J Cole 69), Alex (Makelele 84), Malouda (Kalou 75).
Subs not used: Cudicini, Drogba.
Goals: Lampard (pen 17), Cole (20), Ballack (22), A.Cole (64).
Booked: Ballack (36), Terry (47).
Sent Off: Lampard (35).