Saturday, 16th August 2008
It didn’t totally disable me for the ballgame later that day in Oakland, mind. No doubt American correspondents can put me right, but I got a real affinity with the A’s, who somehow came back from being 0-3 down in the first innings against the White Sox, the division leaders, turning them over in the ninth and final innings 6-4. It was like doing the Mancs at home last year. Well maybe quite not, but the A’s could easily adopt our club anthem. Fortunes always hiding, I told a Yank near me.
Big ears and trunk
When you visit septic stadiums, you do understand how we get taken for mugs. F*ck me they even had a breakdancing elephant that had some top moves. The big eared f*cker even had his own vehicle and driver. Now that’s what I call a mascot, that clumsy embarrassment Herbie the Hammer can barely touch his toes. Check the the nosh, too. You name it, they’ve got it and plenty of it. But it was when the dude turned up dishing out the beer in the stands that I realised that the p*ss is being taken out of us in dear old blighty, although they had to go and spoil it by sticking a slice of lemon in my lager. “What the f*ck is that?” I enquired, with all the dignity I could muster.
Baseball is one thing, but the start of the English football season is something else, and I don’t like missing it. Fortunately Fox Sports had our game on, although on time delay. I had a delicious little appetizer watching the Spurts getting turned over at Boro’. Big club, my ar*e. But as much as I always feel a little schadenfreude when the lillysh*tes get turned over, the real deal is always our game.
The game is down the flanks
The team looked a bit strange, particularly with Davenport starting and Neill at left back, but being old school, I do like to see two genuine wingers in the team. I hope that we start with Faubert and Etherington for many games this season, although with our ongoing injury jinx, I don’t suppose that will happen too often.
Encounters with Wigan at home are not often happy affairs and the stats show that they were unbeaten in the last four at Upton Park, winning three of those. On the other hand, Wigan are also clearly a cold starting outfit, having only won 5 out of the last 30 season openers.
But it didn’t take long for the season to start with a bang as just three minutes in, a superb turn in midfield by Noble enabled him to feed Faubert right side who put a great ball in to Ashton. It was a sublime one touch turn by the striker which left Scharner for dead and he smashed the ball into the roof of the net. It must have impressed the watching Capello. Although, it’s anybody’s guess what goes through the Italian’s mind.
Despite the early setback, Wigan tried to respond and Noble was able to get just enough of a challenge on Zaki as ball came in from the left, putting him off and forcing him to shoot over the goal.
Technical toys out of pram
It got even better with just ten minutes gone as the second goal for the Irons came from a corner down the left after the ball came off Cole and Davenport did well to swivel and turn it back to far post leaving a simple tap in a far post by poacher Ashton. It was as very shoddy defending by the visitors and the bent nosed Geordie freak looked like he was throwing a tantrum in the technical area. Meanwhile, Curbishley was looking very inscrutable and didn’t even celebrate the second goal. It looked like all part of a classic ‘crisis, what crisis?’ show of defiance from the manager.
Neill was looking somewhat uncomfortable on the left side and he gave the ball away horribly just outside box on 13 minutes. Kapo couldn’t believe his luck but shot poorly wide.
A minute later Etherington did well to win a corner and Wigan’s defensive frailties allowed Cole a free backward header from a Faubert delivery which was tipped over from under the bar by Kirkland. Despite the two goal cushion, we didn’t look too composed at the back and there was panic in the box on 17 minutes after Wigan won a corner. The marking was poor centrally and Cole did superbly well to leap up almost under the crossbar to clear.
On 22 minutes Davenport did well to clear for Wigan’s third corner as ball was fizzed in from left. A good counterattack followed and the ball was just taken off Ashton’s foot as the ball was sent into the box from the left.
Behrami showed good awareness on 27 minutes to take a quick free kick and play a one-two with Noble. The Swiss international sent in good ball to edge of the six yard box where Cole stretched to toe it in but just failed.
Figueroa had a good chance two minutes before the half hour but hit a poor strike from the left corner of the box after Parker conceded a free kick. There was a committed double close down by Parker and Etherington on the half hour which left leaves both on the floor and in need of treatment. Matty looked to have come off worse and left the pitch to get his foot bandaged.
Parker was in the mix again on 39 minutes but got a yellow as he followed through clumsily on Palacios on the edge of the box. The resulting free kick was cleared for a corner which came to nothing.
With two minutes of ordinary time left Behrami went down under a challenge and gave a fantastic Di Canio-like nostalgic display of finger wagging at the ref. What I would give to see the mad Italian back at Upton Park.
2 minutes were added and in the first of these, Etherington won a free kick which should have been given for a foul on Cole moments before. A pretty free kick came in from Faubert – who looked promising all game in dead ball situations – and a flick on by Davenport nearly let in Ashton for his hattrick at the far post.
It was a half characterised by a great start with five shots on goal by West Ham to Wigan’s 1. There was little doubt that Steve “I want my revenge over West Ham” Bruce would have been fuming over the basic defensive mistakes which were the main difference between the two teams.
It was almost another dream start to the second half as a great cross from the left by Etheringon almost put in Ashton for a volley at the far post. But reality struck just two minutes in as a typical Wigan goal resulted from a long throw launched into the box setting up an unequal aerial battle between Heskey and Parker. Zaki was on hand to pick up the scraps and volleyed powerfully into net at close range. It was a quality strike equal to that of Ashton for the first goal.
The goal came at a bad time and we were immediately on the back foot. On 49 minutes, Davenport was booked for a professional foul on Zaki just on the edge of box. He was lucky to avoid red as it was touch and go as to whether he was the last man. The blasted free kick by Kapo which followed was fortunately deflected wide off the wall.
Carlton Cole did well to lose his marker in the box on 53 minutes after a ball was whipped in by Matty, but he looped header over. A minute later, a dodgy clearance by West Ham allowed a volley by Figueroa from outside of the box which whistled about a foot and a half over.
Midfield goes missing
The best passing move of the game by West Ham came on 57 minutes as Faubert took a return pass from Behrami but shot rather poorly over from a good position just outside the box. From this point onwards it became very noticeable that Palacios was causing real trouble in the centre of the park with Noble and Parker looking a bit absent. Wigan had upped the tempo considerably and were on our case, closing down at every opportunity.
On the hour, Palacios nicked the ball off a lacklustre Noble and ran forward strongly to latch on to the end of a pass but fired over. Six minutes later, there was a real chance for Wigan as Kapo chipped in an excellent cross from edge of box but Zaki made a right hash of a free header which should have been directed back the way the ball came in for a certain goal. A minute later, a long throw caused real problems again but Zaki took a wild swing from close in after a flick on and smashed the ball wildly over.
A rare respite was achieved on 68 minutes as Cole was taken out by Palacios earning him a yellow. The 35 yard free kick was taken by Ashton. It was lamentable and he injured himself in the process – it looked like calf strain. Another prolonged absence would really take the biscuit.
The Ashton injury led to Sears coming on for him on 73 minutes and Mullins replacing Parker who was struggling to cope with the Wigan midfield.
Cole gets a nine count
Just a minute after the changes, more injury woes seemed to have fallen upon us as Cole had an awkward landing after winning a header. He needed touchline attention as he looked like a KO’ed boxer in a crucifix position on the canvas. Cole came back on and the stoppage was vey welcome given the Wigan pressure.
Palacios weaved brilliantly on edge of the box on 76 minutes leaving Neill stranded. He unleashed an excellent swerving shot that led to the save of the game from Green, tipping the ball over acrobatically.
The 78th minute saw a decent effort by Faubert as Noble fed through a good pass from a Cole flick on. The Fenchman maybe could have taken more time – his shot went about 6 feet wide of the left hand post.
Davenport did well to head away a dangerous cross from Palacios in from the right with eight minutes of ordinary time left and just afterwards Wigan tried changes with De Ridder and Koumas for Melchiot and Scharner.
Sears provides relief
The first decent break by West Ham in the second half on 83 minutes saw Sears break into box but he fired his shot against a defender. Sears did well to hold up the ball following his introduction and drew a couple of useful free kicks, taking time out of the game. He was also behind some good movement on 85 minutes which allowed angled ball out to Faubert but off balance he sliced his shot wide.
The final changes came on 86 minutes with Sibierksi on for Cattermole and Boa Morte for Faubert. The Frenchman is still yet to complete a full 90 minutes for West Ham and Boa was sent into an unfamiliar left back position, reminiscent of the puzzling move last year when the manager put Matty there, although on that occasion we were chasing the game.
Sears was lively again on 87 minutes, winning a corner and which led to Davenport nearly sealing it with header that just went wide. The next move saw Boa Morte showing that maybe he could be a defender with a great sliding tackle by Boa.
The fairly relentless pressure saw the visitors win three in a row in the last minute. It looked ominous, and we could have hardly complained if an equaliser had resulted. However, the industrious Cole cleared the first and the third really well by Cole, the last with a nonchalant back kick. Undoubtedly, Cole made the best all-round contribution of the day by a West Ham player.
3 minutes were added and Wigan had not given up the ghost. Far from it. In the last minute of added time, Zaki found himself unmarked in box had a golden chance to get the deserved equaliser, but his volley flashed wide as ball was sent in powerfully from the left side of box.
It was just the start that we needed to the season, but even the most diehard of West Ham fans could argue that we were anything but fortunate. We had won ugly, and there were some very obvious weaknesses in the team, particularly in the centre of midfield. Although the red top Sunday tabloids are bound to rate Ashton the man of the match for his brace, the real hero for me was Cole who worked his heart out for the cause both up front and in defence. Faubert looked dangerous in flashes – and useful at free kicks and corners - while Davenport had a very solid game which was good to see given his injury problems. Sears also did well to take the heat off of the team towards the end.
The performance was not convincing, but credit is due to Wigan who look like they might have a half decent team. Palacios was the best player on the park by some distance and showed something that we are lacking – a player that can run menacingly through the middle and create chances. More clinical finishing would have seen us off.
(Player comments by Gordon Thrower)
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Rarely bothered – unlike the back of the stand – but pulled off a fine save when required.
Looked good going forward but our defending deep policy curtailed his forages forward.
Looked a little better on the left than he had done in pre-season but I’ll be happier when Linda’s back.
Battled well – the odd lapse of concentration such as the one that led to his booking will have to go though.
Excellent and I make him MOTM for his calmness under the aerial onslaught.
Gave the ball away a bit too often for my liking.
An ok first half was tempered by his failure to show any authority in the second.
Got forward well but his final ball needs a bit of working on.
Lively first half but disappeared from view in the second.
Took the goals well in an impressive first period though he was given little of the ball in the second period before he succumbed to injury.
Worked very hard throughout though it is perhaps notable that his most telling contributions came from defensive work.
(replaced Parker, 73) Didn’t really register in the spell he was on.
(replaced Ashton, 73) A couple of good runs and won the ball off defenders a few times.
Luis Boa Morte
(replaced Faubert, 85) Not on for too long but tracked back superbly for one run to break up a promising Wigan break.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Referee: Steve Bennett.
Man of the Match: Matthew Upson.
West Ham United
Robert Green, Valon Behrami, Lucas Neill, Calum Davenport, Matthew Upson, Scott Parker, Nark Noble, Julien Faubert, Matthew Etherington, Dean Ashton, Carlton Cole.
Goals: Dean Ashton 3 Dean Ashton 10 .
Booked: Scott Parker 39 Calum Davenport 49 .
Sent off: None.
Kirkland, Melchiot, Figueroa, Palacios, Boyce, Scharner, Cattermole, Valencia, Kapo, Heskey, Zaki.
Substitutes: De Ridder (Melchiot 83), Koumas (Scharner 83), Sibierski (Cattermole 85).
Subs not used: Pollitt, Kilbane, Brown, Bramble.
Goals: Zaki (47).
Booked: Palacios (68).
Sent Off: None sent off.