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Premiership
Saturday, 3rd May 2008

Manchester United 4
West Ham United 1

by Gordon Thrower


Old Trafford 3 May 2008. A West Ham win and thousands of 'soccer' fans from Surrey will have to pretend they are upset for a bit to preserve the fiction that they are real football supporters. A defeat, and, well much the same really.

An early Saturday kick-off to please Sky meant either a stupidly early start or a trip up the night before and a night in a hotel. The “night before” option was made even more welcome by the prospect of having to do battle with the traditional railway shutdown on whatever line happens to serve the town or city we happen to be playing in. The offer of a lift door-to-door in the Upton Girlie Porsche clinched the deal.

A spot of confusion – our usual hotel had changed its name and by the time we found out what it was called it had become fully booked and so we ended up booked into a funny little place called Chesters. Starving on arrival we hit the last sitting in the steakhouse restaurant where a half-decent collection of music was playing. A spot of Beach Boys, Costello, even a bit of prog. So why they had to change the damned CD to some sort of disco queen compilation God only knows.

It was an error that Casio was to live to regret as Upton what appeared to be a painfully extended remix of that dreadful dirge. Whilst it was word perfect, the same could not be said about the melody. Casio’s comment to the effect that “we have never heard a voice like yours here before” was most emphatically not a compliment. It was alright for him he could at least escape to the kitchens. I had to put up with an equally painful encore involving Lisa Stansfield’s “All Around The World” which, for reasons best known to Upton Girlie herself, involved the use of an ornate candelabra as some sort of pretend microphone.


Apparently she can’t find her baby (It was parked outside if you’re worried)

On retiring for the night I discovered that the second floor of the hotel has a worrying problem with creaky floorboards. I therefore barely dared to breathe in case the floorboard movement kept Upton Girlie & Tomas awake in the next room. In the end I decided that my snoring would do the job perfectly well on its own and got a decent night’s kip.

Breakfast was served on the strict understanding that on no account was Upton Girlie to sing at any member of staff and we were joined in the pleasantly quiet bar by Briano of the Dublin Hammers and a few hangover cases. The trouble with these early kick-offs is that just as you get pleasantly settled in a comfy chair with a few pints you have to get up and go to the game. I’ve said it before that no game involving real supporters should ever kick-off at a time when you can still taste the toothpaste – that way Sky can put on Chelsea v Man U every year at lunchtime and those of us who actually like football can get on with our lives in a sensible manner.

Having manoeuvred our way past the home supporters (who have an irritating habit of stopping dead in front of you to consult a map of how to get to the ground just like tourists at exits from the tube) we took our seats to find out which eleven players were fit enough to stagger out for the start. We discovered that the following were all just about ready to start: Green, Pantsil, McCartney, Neill, Tomkins, Parker, Mullins Noble, Boa-Morte, Zamora, Ashton. The home side could of course count on a fully-fit (physically if not mentally) Mike Riley who has a history of being, shall we say, slightly generous to any team playing in red at this venue.

Now call me old-fashioned but I’d like to think that if my team had made the Champions League final and were looking for a win to try for the Premiership I might just make a bit of noise to get behind them. Not this lot. There was barely a murmur in the third minute as Neill’s slip proved fatal and Mullins and McCartney failed to close down Ronaldo whose shot would have been covered by Green but for a fortunate deflection that beat the ‘keeper at the near post.

We came back well though and came close to equalising when Tomkins’ header across the box was turned goalbound by Zamora only for the other Ferdinand brother to clear off the line. Play went up the other end and Ronaldo went down in a dive so embarrassing even the tourists enjoying their “Soccer Experience” seemed reluctant to get too excited. Even Riley didn’t think it was a free-kick though, as ever, the home side’s special dispensation from the laws of the game meant that Riley failed to issue the statutory yellow card that such blatant behaviour is supposed to receive.

Riley further justified Fergie’s selection a few minutes later. Ashton’s nod-on found Zamora running on only to be thwarted by Brown’s palming away of the ball. Riley “saw” a push from Zamora in the same way that an alcoholic “sees” imaginary pink elephants. Riley is a poor enough ref at the best of times but making up imaginary infringements is just a step too far in my opinion.

We were not playing too badly at and a goal at this juncture would have made a hell of a difference but, unsurprisingly given his history of bent decisions in favour of the home side none was forthcoming. Ferguson was apoplectic the other week – “you never get any penalties at Barcelona” was his claim. Given that there was over 10 years between away penalties at the The Theatre Of Plastic this has to rank as one of the most hypocritical statements of all time.

On such things matches change. If you are away at Old Trafford you need strong referees who are not afraid to do what is right. You do not need hand-picked homers like Riley who, having been the fourth official at Stamford Bridge the other week, should not have been anywhere near this match.

A few minutes later Riley got his desire with a second home goal. If the first had had an element of good fortune to it the second was a combination of sheer fluke and crap defending. A cross from the attacking right flank eluded Tomkins and Pantsil had gone to sleep as the ball hit Ronaldo who knew less about it than anyone as the ball rebounded off his midriff inside the unguarded far post.

Two nil down we at least were trying to go forward at this point but the opposition’s one decent goal of the day was not far behind. Tevez pushed forward and hit a screamer from 30 yards that moved all over the place and gave Green no chance.

Now I’m not afraid to say I applauded this goal. There has been comment to the effect that anyone who did so isn’t a true supporter. Well I’m willing to hold my credentials up to anyone (ooer missus) and I am willing to applaud sheer excellence wherever it comes from.

I was always brought up to applaud goals as good as that and always thought that such things were what separated us Hammers from the likes of the muppets who populate Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge each week. So if my applause offended anyone, tough. Go away, get some therapy, grow up and don’t tell me what I can and can’t do. Tevez’s celebrations were admirably muted, something which in itself, was probably worthy of applause.

Then came the best bit of the game. A ball from deep out wide was completely messed up by Brown (who surely would have precisely zero international caps had he played for any other side). The ball fell nicely for Ashton whose overhead kick under pressure from the other Ferdinand was perfect in all but one respect. Deano’s fall as the ball hit the net added him to the injury list and, for the remainder of the game until his second half substitution, he remained a virtual passenger.

Then came the funniest bit of the game as the ball was cleared out from an attack. Neill and Nani had an altercation which resulted in Nani headbutting the skipper. Nani, in typical home side style feigned injury which may have been good enough to fool Riley but, unfortunately for Ferguson, the lino saw all and the disappointment on Riley’s face as he had to produce the red card said it all. Riley gave Neill a yellow by way of compensation, presumably in the hope of finding some excuse to give him a second one later on.

McCartney picked up the next yellow – a deserved one – for a trip on Ronaldo whose apparent life-threatening injury mysteriously disappeared in seconds. All the while the ball kept appearing to follow the hobbling Ashton. It always happens that – I remember trying to play on years ago with what turned out to be damaged ankle ligaments and I probably touched the ball more in the five minutes after picking up the injury than I had in the hour immediately preceding it. Cole stood on the touchline waiting to come on but the ball was reluctant to go out of play and the half ended with the switch unmade and the away support remarking in song on just how much like the Emirates the ground had been.

The second half began and, with a decent attitude and a desire to go forward, another goal would have made things very interesting. Unfortunately we seemed to be happy with 3-1 and there seemed to be little desire to go forward. Zamora remained in the withdrawn extra midfielder role that he had been in for most of the match and we sat back and invited the opposition in on us. On 51 minutes Boa-Morte was replaced by Solano and, a few minutes later, Ashton succumbed to the inevitable and came off to be replaced by Cole and shortly after that we went 4-1 down.

The “tactic” of backing off when someone is running from midfield is something that has cost us a number of goals this season. So much so that you’d think that, if those of us who go to matches every week have noticed it, surely someone on the club – the coaching staff or management perhaps – might have twigged by now. Apparently not. Carrick was allowed to go forward further and further and, although once more the goal owed an awful lot to a deflection that stopped Green making what would probably have been an easy save, I couldn’t help but think that had we blocked the scorer twenty yards further up the pitch we’d not have conceded.

Scoles then went in on Cole with an ugly two footed lunge that escaped the inconvenience of a free kick let alone a booking before Ronaldo picked up what would have been his second yellow card had anyone else but Ferguson’s pet referee been in charge. I suppose that we are supposed to be grateful that we even got a free-kick for the wild hack at Pantsil.

The game petered out with the home support waving their scarves around their heads in the way that they’d been told to do. One effort hit the post and a Zamora shot from distance kept Van Der Saar awake but, on the whole, it appeared as if both sides had settled for stitching Chelsea up. Zamora picked up a ridiculous booking for handball – given Riley’s earlier decision involving Brown this booking was little short of a disgrace. Sears came on for Mullins with 15 left but, with little service other than the ball hit at him he was unable to make much of an impression.

The match finished with a rare win for the home side over their betters. It was noticeably noisier inside the ground post-match as I weaved my way past people having conversations like “which one was number 7 – I liked the way he deliberately hit the ball off that defender for the first goal”. I couldn’t help think that they had missed a marketing trick by not clearing the ground immediately then charging people another £50 to go back in and cheer their “heroes”. Surprising really since the whole set up there is geared around separating currency from gullible tourists who believe their airbrushed histories that strangely omit any mentions of match fixing and local authority corruption.

I went back to the hotel bar where we had a swift pint to say our farewells to the Dublin & Peterborough contingent –the Dublin lot were particularly looking forward to their “five in a room” experience in a Scouse hostel! I am very concerned that the free “Dublin Hammers” shirt I have been promised is a new design in a colour described as “pink”!

A fairly swift trip down the M6 later we got home an hour or so before the coaches carrying the home support back to their Chelsea supporting neighbours.


Says it all really

The Premier League? – not fussed either way. One side has made its way to the top by conning and intimidating referees whilst the other has done exactly the same. I’d rather have won this one, I want us to win every game but the fact that our defeat naused-up Chelsea did give us some sort of consolation.

One more to go then and a bit of work to do if we are to stay in 10th where we have been becalmed for what seems like all season. Unless of course the Scousers do us a favour – and do you trust them? Nah me neither!

Special thanks to Upton Girlie for all the driving, the beers and the company and for sorting out the hotel (eventually!). But not the singing obviously!



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Player Ratings

Robert Green
Strange one really. They had five or so real shots (if you count Ronaldo’s deflection that Sky are probably claiming as genius). No chance with any of them and barely a save to make otherwise.


John Paintsil
A couple of good runs but has this habit of giving the ball away far too often. At fault for Ronaldo’s second.The cult hero thing is funny but not that funny.


George McCartney
A bit of a mare on his side really. Not a match he will look back on with much fondness.


Lucas Neill
Booked for being headbutted. Slipped over for the first. Backed off way too much for the fourth.


James Tomkins
One missed header that contributed to Ronaldo’s second but otherwise continues to show maturity at the back.


Mark Noble
Too many misplaced passes undid some good work.


Scott Parker
Got his foot in well though he fell foul of Riley’s law – free-kicks for clean tackles being the usual exchange rate.


Hayden Mullins
The game passed him by really.


Luis Boa Morte
Some contribution down the left in the first half but anonymous in the second before substitution.


Bobby Zamora
A lot of hard work in both his midfield and forward roles without creating much attack-wise. The booking was a complete and utter joke.


Dean Ashton
Superb goal and worked hard despite the injury obtained in putting the ball away.


Substitutes


Nobby Solano
(replaced Boa Morte, 52) Since we didn’t show-up as an attacking force in the second half we failed to give him the service that would enable him to contribute.


Carlton Cole
(replaced Ashton, 56) Put himself about a bit to little effect.


Fred Sears
(replaced Mullins, 75) His introduction was too little too late – we had already settled back into defensive mode.


Jimmy Walker
Did not play.


Jack Collison
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: M.Riley.

Attendance: 76,013.

Man of the Match: Dean Ashton.

West Ham United

Robert Green, John Paintsil, George McCartney, Lucas Neill, James Tomkins, Mark Noble, Scott Parker, Hayden Mullins, Luis Boa Morte, Bobby Zamora, Dean Ashton.

Goals: Dean Ashton 28                  .

Booked: George McCartney  Lucas Neill  Bobby Zamora       .

Sent off: None.

Manchester United

Van der Sar, Hargreaves, Brown, Ferdinand, Evra, Nani, Carrick, Scholes, Park, Ronaldo, Tevez.

Substitutes: Giggs (Park 61), Fletcher (Ronaldo 64), O'Shea (Scholes 72).

Subs not used: Kuszczak, Anderson.

Goals: Ronaldo (3, 24), Tervez (26), Carrick (59).

Booked: Ronaldo.

Sent Off: Nani (37).

 
Gordon Thrower's Man of the Match: Dean Ashton


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