Monday, 17th March 2008
The word on the street and on the internet leading up to the match was that Matty Upson could be making a return to action, having missed the clash at White Hart Lane the previous Sunday. However, as I was enjoying a Dr Pepper outside the ground about 45 minutes before kick off, my mobile phone 'hammers news' update (it's only 12p, cheaper than the official club update and with better punctuation and more accurate) informed me that it would be Jonathan Spector who would be partnering Anton in central defence. However, the good news was that Nobby Solano would be starting for the first time since his hamstring went in the win v Man United in December. With no Boa Morte, Ljungberg started on the left, with Ashton and Bobby Zamora making his first start at Upton Park since the game against Wigan on August 25.
West Ham looked like a team on the back of three 4-0 defeats in the opening ten minutes, and Blackburn won a number of corners, largely off Spector, who looked out of place in the heart of the defence, and Public Enemy No.1 if you're from Lancashire, Lucas Neill. After five minutes, one flew across our box, and a sharper Roque Santa Cruz could have put Blackburn ahead. Our lads seemed unwilling to run at the Rovers defence in the early stages, despite the crowd urging them to. Lucas Neill was playing a captain's role, with the crowd, encouraging his team mates to break down the centre, and joining the attack. However, his presence in the firing line left a gaping hole down the right channel, and coupled with the balance of the play, heavily in Blackburn's favour, it was no great surprise when Rovers took the lead through Santa Cruz from a Pedersen cross, on 18 minutes. Chants of 'we're gonna lose 4-0' were clearly audible in the home end.
That goal seemed to shake the Irons up, and they started to push forward with real conviction this time. However, the killer pass was always somewhat lacking, and Ljungberg didn't seem to be posing any threat to the Blackburn rearguard. An over-zealous referee, often pulling up the play for incidents of minor contact, didn't really help either.
Despite this, we kept pressing, gradually having more of the play, eventually getting our reward when Ashton was put through by Parker to round Friedel and slot home his sixth league goal of the season with five minutes to go till half time. For the first time since the January 29 defeat of Liverpool, the crowd didn't boo as the Hammers went in at half time.
A cheese and onion pie, with the digestive aid of a large packet of wine gums was just what the doctor ordered at half time, and a loud chorus of 'Bubbles' was heard as the teams came out of the second half. Blackburn obviously felt that our late flurry at the end of the first half was enough evidence to suggest that their best hope of getting anything from the game was by scraping a draw, so the attack-minded right-back Emerton came off and the more defensive Khizanishvili came on.
West Ham started the second half well, and at last we seemed to have found a smooth passing rhythm, with Parker and Mullins knocking it about in midfield well. Mullins even had a chance to score, managing to force a corner when he closed down Friedel. He stood on the penalty spot and gazed into the upper reaches of the Centenary Stand as if he couldn't quite believe his current location. We had several other chances, and Ljungberg started to get into the game more, but often the final ball was poor. However, we were on top for the whole of the second half, and eventually, when Curbishley took Parker off and put Noble on and replaced Bobby Zamora with Freddy Sears for his first team debut, we got a result, with nine minutes to go.
Ashton, who seemed to complement Sears' game well, put him through on Friedel, admittedly leaving him with a tight angle against a hugely experienced and enormous goalkeeper. Sears made the right decision, shooting at the little space Friedel had surrendered at his far post, but then when that was parried, he followed up with his head and the rot was stopped.
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Had a good game. One crucial stop from McCarthy five minutes from the end all but sealed the win.
Not bad. Always seems to do well against his former club, but strayed out of position for the goal and offered little attacking threat. Excellent distribution though.
Another good performance. Solid at the back, distributed well and offered Ljungberg good support down the left channel.
Struggles without Upson and was given a torrid time by Santa Cruz & co.
Looked edgy throughout, completely out of his depth at centre back. Good interceptions in second half however.
Hard to call between him and Parker, but Parker just edges it for the attacking threat he posed. Mullins was far from anonymous though, and good to see he's got over his fear of shooting from the edge of the box.
Excellent passing in midfield, held it together well. We may well have gone into the break two or more goals down if it wasn't for his interceptions in midfield. Posed a dangerous attacking threat too.
Bit quiet in first half. Put in a number of telling crosses in the second however, gave Khizanishvili a few problems.
Good in first half, went missing in second and passing a bit sloppy. Looked short of match fitness.
Needs to get some games under his belt. Held the ball up well and laid it off well until replaced by Sears on 75.
He really looks like he's back to his best. Has looked sharp in last two games but his turn and shot today really proved it. Must hold on to him in summer.
(replaced Parker, 76) Can't see why Curbishley keeps dropping him, he's the best central midfielder we have. Held it together well when he came on.
(replaced Solano, 76) What can you say? What a debut, absolutely unbelievable. His finish was reminiscent of a young Tony Cottee's.
(replaced Ljungberg, 85) Had his name sung throughout the game by fans, is popular as ever. Kept the ball well when he came on.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Man of the Match: Dean Ashton.
West Ham United
Robert Green, Lucas Neill, George McCartney, Anton Ferdinand, Jonathan Spector, Hayden Mullins, Scott Parker, Freddie Ljungberg, Nobby Solano, Bobby Zamora, Dean Ashton.
Sent off: None.
Friedel, Emerton, Samba, Ooijer, Warnock, Bentley, Reid, Dunn, Pedersen, Roberts, Santa Cruz.
Substitutes: Khizanishvili (Emerton 46), Derbyshire (Dunn 71), McCarthy (Pedersen 89).
Subs not used: Brown, Mokoena.
Goals: Santa Cruz (19).
Booked: Bentley, Dunn, Reid.
Sent Off: None sent off..