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Premier League
Saturday, 30th August 2008

West Ham United 4
Blackburn Rovers 1

by Gordon Thrower


Funny old game innit. Six days ago there was I bemoaning the fact that I’d done a 400 mile round trip and £150 in watching a team that couldn’t have looked less interested in proceedings had they been a Party Political Broadcast. Seven days on, there’s two wins, eight goals for, only two against and even the sun has come out!

Ok if we’re honest neither of the 4-1 wins was as convincing as the score suggests but those of us who were in Manchester last weekend will gladly take any improvement we can get after that performance. The day had started badly though – our breakfast haunt seemingly now refuses to open for breakfast and a further change of venue was required when the barmaid steadfastly refused to believe that Chalks’ lad Tommy was in fact an 18 year old person of restricted growth and not, as appearances would have it, still at primary school. There I was thinking that we’d moved into the 21st century and away from the days when kids were abandoned with a bottle of pop and a packet of crisps on pub doorsteps. Still our departure reduced that pub’s population by 90% so it wasn’t us that lost out.

On arrival at the ground it was an unchanged (league) side that took the field of Green, Behrami, Neill, Upson, Davenport, Noble, Parker, Etherington, Faubert, Cole and Ashton. On the bench there was a welcome return for Craig Bellamy who was joined by Linda who continued his rehabilitation from some sort of viral infection, having had a run out in the midweek cup match against Macclesfield.

The first half chance went Blackburn’s way when a Santa Cruz effort was blocked on the edge of the box. New signing Grella then decided to announce his arrival to English football with a late over the ball challenge on Parker that left the midfielder requiring treatment and gave Riley the first chance to show the yellow card that he loves so much

On 12 minutes we took the lead. It was a simple goal, Faubert’s fourth corner of the day being buried at the far post by a Davenport header whilst Robinson dithered as to whether or not he should come for the cross. (That’s Robinson, the ‘keeper with a load of England caps by the way).

Blackburn came back and earned a free-kick in decent range. Pedersen’s effort, though only a foot or two wide, was well covered by Green. We were then treated to a spell of Riley at his worst as Cole received a number of pushes from defenders but, in his usual manner, Riley punished Cole each time. It happens a lot with Riley and perhaps the authorities should take a look at why Riley seems to target certain players for such treatment. I suspect they wouldn’t like the answer though.

The lead was doubled on 20 minutes. A fine ball inside the left back from Noble found Faubert out wide. The winger pulled the ball back for Noble who didn’t catch his shot with the cleanest of efforts but Samba took a wild swing that connected to divert the ball past Robinson. Originally it appeared that Ashton had got the final touch but closer examination showed that Samba was the culprit.

Blackburn reduced the arrears shortly after. Behrami’s clearance as lazily flicked by Parker, the loose ball falling to Roberts who turned Davenport to finish cleverly inside the far post.

Roberts’ next contribution to proceedings was to become the next entrant into Riley’s book. A foul on Behrami met with a pretty mild expression of dissent which Riley punished with undisguised glee. The sarcastic applause that followed from Roberts was, if anything, probably more worthy of punishment.

Samba was having a bit of a mare in the Rovers defence and gave away a needless corner when Cole had no chance of getting on to a through ball, the defender electing to hoof the ball behind rather than place any trust in Robinson, despite the latter’s England caps. The corner caused mild discomfort in the Rovers defence but was eventually lumped clear.

Just before the half hour Santa Cruz, who had been hobbling from an awkward landing, was replaced by Derbyshire who nearly levelled the scores but was harshly adjudged to have got just too far in front of Davenport from Samba’s head down. The one thing in the lino’s favour might have been Derbyshire’s left boot which may just have been off but it was a mighty close thing. The free kick was taken quickly and Etherington beat Oojier for pace before being unceremoniously upended to earn the defender a deserved yellow.

We pushed forwad again and Faubert won a free-kick out on the right. His delivery was crying out for a touch but eluded everybody. Etherington then finished off a strong run down the left with a decent cross that Cole got on the end of but couldn’t direct.

Riley was making the usual fool of himself – Samba went right through the back of Ashton to put the ball out. Somehow the result ended up being a Rovers throw – the one decision that it should have been impossible to give. Blackburn then added to the comedy value. Faubert cleared well to give them their first corner. The forwards and midfield got into a strange huddled formation reminiscent of a rolling maul in rugby. The formation broke iperect tii worthy of the Red Arrows as the ball sailed harmlessly out or a goal kick 30 feet above their heads. Bet it worked a treat on the training ground though

Riley then proved that whatever problem has with Cole it simply has be personal. Samba’s judo hold and throw to the floor came straight out of the Olympic manual but Riley just shrugged his shoulders. Stoppage passed without further ado and an entertaining half came to a close with us deservedly in the lead.

The big shock at half time was that there were NO KIT-KATS. To our part of the ground this is every bit as horrible as a pub running out of beer and, I have to say that in the absence of any breakfast, personally-speaking it constituted a major blow. However, Upton Girlie redeemed herself by coming up with some chocolate mini-rolls which kept the hunger pangs at bay for a while.

Blackburn made some switches during the interval with new signing Andrews replacing new signing Grella in the middle. Barely had we had a chance to digest our mini-rolls when we found ourselves staring down the face of a penalty. Faubert gave away a free kick outside the box. Cole jumped on the end of the wall with hands aloft. Riley pointed to the spot. A penalty, sure, but I’d still like to know how many of those Riley has seen in his career and how many he has given against players that aren’t called C Cole. I suspectthat we all know the answer to that one.

I suppose we’ve been spoilt over the past few seasons by the heroics of Green between the posts but another penalty save was really more than we dared to hope for. But we got one anyway. True it wasn’t the hardest-struck spot-kick you’ll ever see but Green got down superbly to his left to push the ball away, even recovering well to pounce on the loose ball. One of the ‘keepers on show in this match has a lot of England caps. Clearly it’s the wrong one.

The match continued to entertain. Emerton was next to incur the wrath of Riley as an over the ball studs-up challenge got its just reward, Faubert being the lucky recipient of the imprint of studs on his shinpads. Etherington then got a dangerous-looking cross from the left but Cole was unable to get direction on the header and one can only presume that Ashton, who was following in, failed to alert his team-mate of his presence.

Roberts then laid out Behrami with a forearm to the face that required lengthy treatment. Noble in particular must bewondering how he got sent off the previous week when Roberts escaped punishment. I reckon that we can be thankful it wasn’t Cole what was on the end of the assault – once he’d come to Riley would have given a penalty for bleeding.

Ashton then got on the end of a long ball out of defence crashing his shot against the post. However, the flag had once more gone up for offside though a look at the stripe of the pitch suggested once more that the lino had been premature.

On the hour we made our first change. Faubert had faded from the game in the second half and was replaced by Linda. Neill moved over to right back with Behrami pushing up one into midfield. This move instantly gave the side a slightly more balanced look. Etherington in particular seemed to welcome his old partner back and again got to the by-line, putting over a decent cross that Behrami forced Warnock into putting behind for yet another corner. The ball eventually fell out to Upson who played a marvellous pass out to the right where Davenport had stayed up. The defender brought the ball down well and, clearly with the taste of goals still fresh in his mind, drilled a half volley just wide of the far post.

Emerton then fed a suspiciously offside-looking Derbyshire. Green stood up well and forced the Rovers striker into an effort that hit the roof of the net from the outside. The same striker then tried a curling effort from distance but the ball was straight down Green’s throat. Emerton then escaped a second yellow for another late two footed lunge on Noble that once more left noble wondering how he’d got a ban the previous weekend. With 68 on the clock Ashton left to be replaced by Bellamy. Riley continued his vendetta against Cole by pulling him up for a foul on Samba, a player he was three feet away from. In Riley’s defence Cole was closest. Well second closest anyway.

The end-to end stuff continued. Behrami got round the back only to pull the ball back behind everyone. Derbyshire’s cross from the resulting break eluded Linda and Emerton’s first time effort brought a fine reaction save from the ‘keeper without too many England caps to his name. Oojier then took out Etherington on the touchline. Riley avoided the second yellow – and therefore the red- the challenge deserved by the simple expedient of pretending it never happened. Stupid man.

Green then had to be on his toes to keep out a Reid effort from distance that moved a hellofa lot in the air. Cole then fed Behrami whose pull-back found Bellamy who was unlucky to be on the receiving end of Robinson’s one bit of decent goalkeeping for the week.

Riley’s victimisation of Cole then plumbed new depths as the striker managed to get another save out of Robinson despite Nelsen clinging to him like an All-Black making a last ditch rugby tackle. I suppose we can consider ourselves fortunate that we got a corner out of it. Following the corner Davenport showed why he shouldn’t entertain too many thoughts of a move up front with a curling effort that was awfully high and wide.

With 10 left Mullins replaced Noble to tighten things up in the middle. Blackburn tried their “rolling maul” thing without much joy and Green underlined once more why he ought to be in the England squad by claiming a long cross to relieve the pressure.

Roberts then got a slight touch to a cross from their left that just eluded the post before Riley gave a free kick against Bellamy for nothing much, compounding his stupidity by adding a yellow for having the gall to ask the question “why?”. Even worse the resulting free-kick was taken nowhere near where Bellamy had been in the first place.

5 minutes of added time were announced – most of that resulting from the treatment required by Behrami. A couple of minutes in Sambatugged back Davenport and, whilst he was still moaning to Riley in a manner that had sen others cautioned, Neill played a quick free-kick over the top to Bellamy who allowed the ball to bounce twice before thumping the ball past Robinson to put the match beyond all doubt.

More was to come. Cole missed Etherington’s cross. Bellamy kept the ball alive and Behrami did even better, winning the ball from Warnock and getting round the back. His pull back was pushed goalwards by Parker and Cole stuck it away from 6 yards to claim a deserved goal, much to Riley’s displeasure no doubt. Chants of “Incey what’s the score” were rapidly replaced by chants of “Judas what’s the score” presumably on the rounds that the word “Judas” is ever so slightly less camp than the word “Incey”.

That was yer lot – there was barely time to restart before the final whistle went to send us (temporarily) up to 3rd place.

OK so the final margin of victory was slightly flattering but we were good value for the win and, more importantly, we were trying to play football throughout, something for which those of us who endured the horrors of Eastlands were highly grateful. Six out of nine apparently represents our best premiership start in donkeys’ years, a fact that might just relieve some pressure on our beleaguered boss who must have thought of giving a journo or two some stick over his treatment in the tabloids.

So to the transfer window and international break and we appear to be in rude health. I’d still like to see one or two arrive – and no departures - before Monday night but there was at least cause for optimism after this performance – and that’s something I didn’t think I’d be writing after last weekend.



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Player Ratings

Robert Green
Excellent – and that’s without even taking the penalty into account. On past form he can look forward to a week off thanks to Cappello’s strange insistence on having crap ‘keepers. Oh well England’s loss….


Valon Behrami
Much better in midfield, he found time and space to get round the bak a lot, something that contributed to the last goal.


Lucas Neill
Another who improved on his form once he was moved back to his preferred position. Set up Bellamy for the third.


Calum Davenport
The departure of Ferdinand sees him move up the pecking order in defence. Celebrated the fact with a fine game and a goal.


Matthew Upson
A good solid performance that’ll see him have a nice holiday in Barcelona and Zagreb whilst the inferior Terry will somehow be skippering the national side.


Scott Parker
Decent run out for the midfielder who had more than a passing involvemet in the fourth goal.


Mark Noble
Pulled all the strings, particularly in the first 45.


Julien Faubert
Good start in which he helped set-up two goals but his distribution deteriorated as the game wore on.


Matthew Etherington
Usually disappears when taking a kick. This time Ooijer’s foul seemed to galvanize him into action.


Dean Ashton
Not quite the force he can be, which may be enough to keep him at home this week.


Carlton Cole
First touch sometimes lacking but battled constantly despite being the victim of sometimes appalling refereeing from Riley.


Substitutes


George McCartney
(replaced Faubert, 60) Looked a little rusty but improved the balance of the side when he came on.


Craig Bellamy
(replaced Ashton, 69) Possibly the most welcome return of all – he is key to any desire we might have to play football.


Hayden Mullins
(replaced Noble, 81) Steady run out that tightened things up in the closing stages.


Jan Lastuvka
Did not play.


Luis Boa Morte
Did not play.


Kyel Reid
Did not play.


Fred Sears
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: Mike Riley.

Attendance: 32,905.

Man of the Match: Robert Green.

West Ham United

Robert Green, Valon Behrami, Lucas Neill, Calum Davenport, Matthew Upson, Scott Parker, Mark Noble, Julien Faubert, Matthew Etherington, Dean Ashton, Carlton Cole.

Goals: Calum Davenport 12 Christopher Samba (og) 20 Craig Bellamy 90 Carlton Cole 90            .

Booked: Craig Bellamy 90          .

Sent off: None.

Blackburn Rovers

Robinson, Warnock, Ooijer, Nelsen, Samba, Emerton, Reid, Grella, Pedersen, Santa Cruz, Roberts.

Substitutes: Derbyshire (Cruz 29), Andrews (Grella 46), Treacy (Pedersen 66).

Subs not used: Brown, Mokoena, Villanueva, Simpson.

Goals: Roberts (22).

Booked: Grella (7), Roberts (27), Ooijer (30), Emerton (52), Nelsen (90).

Sent Off: None.

 
Gordon Thrower's Man of the Match: Robert Green