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Premier League
Sunday, 24th August 2008

Manchester City 3
West Ham United 0

by Gordon Thrower


I nearly didn’t do this one. Plans for a looooooong weekend away kept altering and with the crumbling rail infrastructure making any sensible journey difficult by public transport I’d resigned myself to enduring the match on the V. Then young Tomas had a football tournament cancelled, Upton Girlie became free and a door to door lift became available so I decided to brave the north. How I wished I hadn’t bothered.

On the bright side the hotel was nice enough I suppose and the look on Upton Girlie’s face as we boarded “public transport” was a picture – though her request to be seated in the dining car was a little embarrassing sitting as we were on a Bury-bound tram.

Fed and watered we arrived at the ground to discover, unsurprisingly, that we were unchanged from the eleven that started against Wigan, namely Green, Behrami, Neill, Upson, Davenport, Faubert, Noble, Parker, Etherington, Ashton, Cole.

Well the lesson of the second half of Wigan game obviously hadn’t been learnt as we decided to sit back and invite them onto us. Behrami was particularly out of sorts and appeared to have a worryingly shallow grasp of the first principles of playing at right back – something that Petrov was all to keen to exploit. The first incident of any note was a blatant dive by Elano that earned the rightful contempt of referee Webb who sadly did not have the bottle to give the yellow card that such offences demand. On 8 minutes Faubert got into a decent position on the right but sent the most wayward of crosses behind the goal. This was followed by a spell of keep-ball that ended up in a wasted ball behind for a goal kick.

With 11 gone City forced a couple of corners the second of which caused a bit of chaos. The ball eventually went a good two feet over for what would have been a goal kick had Webb spotted it. He didn’t and the ball came out to Ireland whose shot was nodded away by Davenport. The first time shot from Ben-Haim came off Davenport’s thigh and flicked onto the bar. Corluka played the ball back into the box where Davenport was flattened by Richards, a foul that left the defender requiring lengthy treatment. The home support – well the few that had turned up anyway stared to aim a chant suggesting that Davenport was a soft southern b*stard, something that had a nice sense of irony about it given the nature of Davenport’s injury, and I’m sure being called “soft” by the campest supporters in Europe – the crowd resembled a Village People fan convention- won’t be too much of a worry to the defender.

Neill then got caught with an arm in the face by Ireland– an offence spotted by Webb but deemed worthy of no more than a free-kick by the official. This prompted another injury delay as Cole became the next to go down having been body-checked by Ben-Haim who had made no attempt to play the ball. The unpunished foul seemed to cause Cole some back problems and the forward hobbled on.

City then won a free kick when again Elano went down as soon as a defender entered the same time-zone. Petrov’s resulting free-kick came back off the post. Petrov was the next to dive but, cleverly throwing himself into the back of Behrami it was the Swiss defender that was cautioned as a result.

We started to sit back deeper and deeper but the game settled down into a spell of general scrappiness. On the half-hour Cole finally gave up the ghost and hobbled off to be replaced by Sears. Then came the moment of shame for Webb. Noble fell over and stuck a hand out to stop the ball running free. Webb’s card came out faster than you can say “the assessors are watching you”. Frankly, in a neutral area of the centre of the field it was never a caution in a million years. Or, if it was, it was about the tenth that Webb should have issued on the day. A sensible ref worrying more about the good of the game than of his own standing within it might have had a quiet word. Unfortunately Webb is not that man.

Having issued the yellow what happened next was inevitable. Noble lunged in with a late, cautionable but hardly malicious tackle and Webb came out with the second yellow and the red. Respect for referees? Sorry not any more. I’ve done the job and know how hard it is but frankly its now getting beyond a joke. Any display of common sense in a referee is marked down so that they are afraid to actually referee the match properly. You end up with a group of robots, incapable of independent thought taking their lead from their leader which wouldn’t be quite so bad if the leader wasn’t Keith Hackett – simply the stupidest person in football.

Well we lasted until half time without much further ado, bar one superb save by Green diving down to his right to turn the ball wide in stoppage time and the half ended without us having created a chance.

Half-time was awful. The stadium announcer, presumably knowing the thousands of Graham Norton fans in the home support would love it, played Build me Up B*ttercup, a crime for which no punishment is too small. At time of writing there are strong rumours that City will face “fit and proper person” investigations over their ownership. Any club that plays that record should face an automatic 30 point deduction and have their stadium licence revoked. It’s the only way believe me.

Well with City having been given a boost by Webb’s spot of auto-pilot the second half had a sad inevitability. The luckless Sears was sacrificed during the interval in favour of Mullins and, frankly, he was better off out of it. At least he had the excuse of not being on the pitch. Those who did appear for the second half might as well have not been there.

The first incident of note was a worrying-looking injury to Micah Richards. Tellingly none of our players was involved in the incident which involved a clash of heads between Richards and Ben-Haim with our nearest player probably in a different postcode area at the time. The delay was lengthy and some of the equipment on show from the medical staff suggested something quite serious was amiss. Thankfully it seems that much of the treatment was precautionary in nature and, at time of writing again, Richards appears to have ended up with little more than concussion – bad enough in itself but not as serious as it might have been.

The eight minute delay was probably our best spell of the second half in all honestly. What was more annoying is that, with a bit of self belief it needn’t have been that way. There were signs of sloppiness in the City defence but instead of trying to get something positive out of the game we felt sorry for ourselves. We saw things like Faubert trying to beat three people in his own box for example. We saw players incapable of playing a three-yard pass to feet. We saw eleven players, but no team.

One goal was going to be enough to see us collapse and it came on 64 minutes. Behrami failed to cut out a cross from the right, Upson’s clearance was barely worthy of the word and Sturridge took a touch before burying the ball into the net as everyone stood and watched.

We could and should have equalised seconds later. Ashton fed Faubert who should have borne down on goal. Instead he tried to be clever and backheel the ball to Etherington. Such was the day the ball went behind Etherington and with it our last chance of getting anything out of the match.

On 70 minutes Ireland got in around the back. Green went walkabout leaving Elano a largely open goal to put the ball into to double the lead.

With 73 played it was time to rearrange the Titanic’s deckchairs and Boa Morte found himself being booed by the opposition supporters for once – having put himself about a bit in last season’s corresponding fixture. The change delayed the third goal by, oh, almost a minute. Neill got done for pace by Ireland who pulled the ball back for Elano to hit his second of the match.

That was it basically. There was gallows humour amongst the travelling support as congas were danced and imaginary goals were cheered. This seemed to confuse the City support but it was kind of them to sing us a song about where their gay village was. I’d guess it was pretty close by from the number of home supporters who left the ground holding hands.

We did win a free-kick for a trip on Boa Morte – the trip not receiving a yellow because it wasn’t as serious an offence as, say, the major crime of putting your hand on the ball. Ashton’s free-kick dipped over, thankfully without the attack of cramp that accompanied last week’s similar effort. In stoppage time Boa-Morte was pulled back by Corluka – the decision not to caution making the Noble booking look the stupid decision it was. Faubert’s free-kick was rubbish and that was it.

Post-match we considered trying to find Manchester’s straight quarter – apparently there is at least one bar that doesn’t have “YMCA” on a permanent loop in the jukebox. However, the risk of hearing Build Me Up B*ttercup again was simply too high and Upton Girlie had already been accosted by a woman wearing an “I’m seeking Little Miss Naughty” T-Shirt, so we decided to play safe and have a bite to eat in the hotel and an early night.

I’m not one who usually says this but I will say it now. I felt totally let down by this match. Let down by the players who showed no desire to play for the shirt. Let down by the referee whose actions ruined any possible chance of a decent match and let down by a club that can only keep playing the “injuries” excuse card for so long. I spend a fair bit of cash following my team and I don’t ask much. I’m a realist and I know we’re not going to win so-called Champions’ Leagues year in year out but there are certain things that I should be able to take for granted. A team that battles and tries its heart out is one. A team that has players playing in their correct positions rather than a makeshift outfit with right backs on the left, midfielders at right back and a balanced strike force rather than the comedy act with two straight men that we currently have is another.

I also have the right to see a match decided by the merits of the two teams on the day, not on whether or not the ref obeys some edict issued by an incompetent. At the moment I’m not getting these things. If we have positions where we are going to be missing players for the foreseeable future then we need to bring them in now before it’s too late. It’s time for the Club’s owners to show how serious they are about owning a Premier League team because if we don’t change things now they may be exchanging their club for a Championship one sooner rather than later.



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Player Ratings

Robert Green
Solid enough and – one save in the first half apart – not really tested. The second goal found him on walkabout however.


Valon Behrami
Not a right back for me. Given a rough time by Petrov.


Lucas Neill
Everyone knows he’s not a right back. Not a bad first half but mugged twice in the second for goals. Get well soon Linda.


Calum Davenport
Battled bravely but distribution was poor.


Matthew Upson
Battled well but clearances from crosses on our right left a lot to be desired – see first goal for details.


Scott Parker
Kept bringing the ball out of defence. Kept losing it.


Nark Noble
Guilty of stupidity really. If you have a ref who is going to book you for a soft handball, diving in to a challenge a few minutes later is not sensible.


Julien Faubert
Turned promise into despair far too often.


Matthew Etherington
The players stayed in he same hotel as us. We were trying to work out who had had our rooms before us. My room showed no signs of anyone ever having stayed there before. There was no tell-tale sign of presence whatsoever. You’d never have known anyone had been there at all. I presume I had Etheringon’s room.


Dean Ashton
Didn’t look particularly inspiring even before his day became one big hiding to nothing.


Carlton Cole
Ran down a few blind alleys. Lost the ball a few times. Got injured. Went Off.


Substitutes


Fred Sears
(replaced Cole, 31) Andy Warhol once said something very profound about everyone being famous for 15 minutes. That was all the time Sears had (though it’s safe to assume that Warhol did not have a short run out in Manchester before being sacrificed at half-time in mind when he made his statement).


Hayden Mullins
(replaced Sears, 46) Replaced Sears to share the second half’s “bringing the ball out of defence before losing it” duties with Parker.


Luis Boa Morte
(replaced Etherington, 74) Showed more presence in his few minutes than Etherington had all match. Unfortunately that wasn’t too difficult a task.


Jan Lastuvka
Did not play.


Jordan Spence
Did not play.


Lee Bowyer
Did not play.


Kyel Reid
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: Howard Webb.

Attendance: 36,635.

Man of the Match: Robert Green.

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: None.

Booked: Calon Behrami 23 Mark Noble 33        .

Sent Off: Mark Noble 38    .

Manchester City

Hart, Corluka, Richards, Ben Haim, Ball, Ireland, Kompany, Johnson, Petrov, Elano, Sturridge.

Substitutes: Hamann (Richards 54), Etuhu (Petrov 77), Evans (Elano 77).

Subs not used: Schmeichel, Garrido, Fernandes, Calcido.

Goals: Sturridge (65), Elano (70, 76).

Booked: None.

Sent Off: None.

 
Gordon Thrower's Man of the Match: Robert Green