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Premier League
Saturday, 1st November 2008

Middlesbrough 1
West Ham United 1

by Gordon Thrower


Travel to away matches is never quite as straightforward as it ought to be. One single ticket to Hartlepool. Shouldn’t be that difficult should it. What with this interweb thingy and all. Not with Trainline.com – whose current advertising campaign implies that if you book a ticket with anyone else you are stupid.

Well Trainline, that might be the case if your systems were slightly more stable than an Arsenal player looking for a free-kick. Unfortunately they are not and your irritating habit of outsourcing your call centres to somewhere on the Indian sub-continent using people who have clearly been trained to disbelieve everything a customer says is of no help whatsoever. However, hats off to the improbably-named Wayne Wigley of Grand Central who sorted out the problems caused by the useless Trainline including a refund and a first class upgrade, thus ensuring I arrived at our now-traditional Grand Hotel base bang on time and suitably relaxed, the journey being helped immeasurably by the “random” function on the mp3 jukebox being in particularly fine form in its selection of tracks for my listening pleasure.

Om arrival I was greeted by Romford and Fionn who formed the advance party having arrived 24 hours earlier. The existence of a 3 for 1 deal on vodka in the bars of Hartlepool had clearly taken its toll on the less-than-dynamic duo who were in the bar being told by Colette, our barmaid for the day, exactly what it was they had got up to the previous evening. I barely had time to dump my bags off in the room before we were back on the road to Boro (the film Hope & Crosby strangely never quite got round to making). This meant that there was absolutely no time to go and search for “something nice” in the shops to take back to the lovely girlfriend – her instructions on the matter being quite clear – “come back empty handed at your peril” being the precise words.

On arrival we meet Bill & his son in the Star & Garter pub. One of the best things about away trips is that pubs actually selling proper ale (which, for the record does NOT include anything whose extended name includes the word “creamiflow”) are still fairly abundant. Thus it was that I am able to sample the delights of something by the name of Cockahoop and the slightly darker Braithwaites XXX. The downside to this of course is the tendency to develop a reluctance to actually leave the pub and, not for the first time in my life I find myself wondering if a 20 minute walk into the cold rain that always seems to be falling in these parts was really going to be the best plan of action what with the XXX going down so well and all.

As usual the football wins out and after, 20 minutes of listening to Romford whining about how far away the ground was, we arrived having already received the team news courtesy of Upton Girlie’s text service. The side was partly dictated by injury and partly by the ludicrous suspension of Carlton Cole (any referee who thought that was a red card really should consider whether he should actually be doing the job). However the introduction of Sears for a start at the expense of Di Michele was clearly a reflection of the Italian’s failure to make much of an impression in recent weeks. Line up: Green, Neill, Ilunga, Upson, Collins, Faubert, Mullins, Collison, Boa-Morte, Bellamy and Sears.

It looked like a more traditional 4-4-2 for us as the match started with the rain chucking it down. Boa-Morte nicked a ball through to Sears who bore down on goal before pulling his shot across the goal a couple of feet wide. Sears came close again a few minutes later when some good work on the right between Bellamy and Faubert saw the Frenchman’s low cross only just cut out by the outstretched leg of Riggot. The early good form continued as the home side struggled to string passes together, though Neill had to be alert to cut out a pass that might have seen Alliadiere in a good position.

Bellamy and Sears were combining well but it was an unusual source through which we took the lead on 21 minutes, though Bellamy played a major part in setting up the goal. A move seemed to have petered out on the right hand side but Boro’ were sloppy in clearing their lines and Bellamy nicked it, Collison fed Boa-Morte who didn’t panic and pulled the ball back to Mullins whose first shot was an hilarious miskick that actually turned into a marvellous if accidental touch for the midfielder to smash the ball into the top of the net via the slightest of touches off Sears’ head and a slightly more substantial thump off the bottom of the crossbar. In time-honoured tradition the hardy bunch who had made the trip up to the North East sang the “Pigbag” tune that Boro’s match-day announcer feels necessary to play every time a home goal is scored just to rub it in – as one does.

We could have doubled the lead a few minutes later when a free-kick was won just outside the box. Bellamy laid it off to Collins and Ginge’s powerful drive wasn’t all that wide. Another free-kick on the edge of the box saw Ginge thwarted by a last ditch defensive clearance. Bellamy was also thwarted by the outstretched hand of Turnbull though the linesman’s flag had gone up – possibly prematurely.

As the half wore on Boro’s form deteriorated and a shot from the home side that ended up going for a throw almost level with where the shot had been taken summed it up. The booing had started well before they created their first real half chance. Alliadiaire got down the left and pulled the ball back to Alves whose shot was as underpowered as a website run by the Trainline.com and Green was able to gather easily. Green had to be a little more alert late on before the break when tipping a Downing cross behind for a corner with a forward in close attention.

Wheater was replaced by Hoyte at the interval but for the first 10-15 minutes of the second period it was business as usual as we continued to press forward. However it has been a recent failing of ours that we have not been able to take chances when they have come our way and this has cost us results and a move on 52 minutes was to later come back to haunt us. Sears got down the left and crossed to Bellamy whose deft cushion header was superb. Collison burst into the box but made a mess of the shot and Turnbull was able to save with his legs when, in all honesty, we should have been 2-0 up. We continued to press forward and a Bellamy shot from distance was deflected for a corner that caused a few scary moments for the home defence before going harmlessly wide.

If the match had a real turning point it probably came with the introduction of Arca and wit 25 minutes left on the clock when the largely anonymous Alves was replaced by Mido. The Egyptian gave the Boro’ attack a focal point that had been lacking and we started to revert to our old bad habit of defending far too deep. We survived a scare shortly after the substitution when O’Neill’s shot from distance was parried away by Green.

With 10 left on the clock it was scare time again as Taylor’s driven shot was headed in by Hoyte who was denied by the lino’s flag. From the other end it was impossible to see but to be fair to Green he had already stopped for the whistle and I’d like to think that more of an effort would have been made to make the save had the flag not gone up. Having now seen the effort again I would point out that if any part of the body that can score a goal is offside then the flag should go up. However it was mighty close and if the flag had stayed down we could not have complained.

The respite was, however, only temporary. Mido put a free header over when he should have done better. Then Collins was adjudged to have fouled Mido though the Egyptian was as guilty of initiating what minimal contact there had been with Collins. Strangely, ref Marriner, who had been so fussy about Collins’ challenge, failed to apply the same criteria to the full blooded and obvious two-handed push on Ilunga that contributed to the disintegration of the wall as Mido’s shot went straight through to give Boro’ the equaliser.

Inconsistency between different referees is bad enough, but the same ref not being able to make the same decision twice running is yet further indication of how standards are plummeting to sub Trainline.com levels. The goal was also a surprise in that we discovered that Boro’ have changed the music played after goals to the Fratellis – it seems “Pigbag” is only for pre-match these days. Either way, the playing of music after goals is, along with Keith Hackett, something that has no place in the game and, come the glorious day, I shall ensure that the practice is banned up and down the country – though clubs will be permitted to play a brief blast of “Happy days Are Here Again” once Hackett is sacked.

Bowyer replaced Boa-Morte after the goal but Boro’s tails were up and Green saved well from another Mido effort. However, to our credit we started to play again and the closing stages were highly watchable as both sides went for the extra two points. Etherington, who had replaced Sears with 15 left, got down the right and his dangerous looking cross got deflected past the near post with the keeper possibly wrong-footed had the ball been a few inches inside.

Bellamy then picked up a yellow for being within three feet of Downing’s rather pathetic dive – a case of Marriner refereeing the player rather than the actual situation. Another cross from the left saw what was either the coolest or the luckiest bit of defending you’ll ever see from Taylor as the ball came off his chest to the ‘keeper.

Then we could have won it. Bellamy, who chased everything for 90 minutes, got on the end of a lost cause and held the ball up well. Faubert had acres on the overlap and delivered a fine ball into the box. Turnbull did brilliantly to deny first Bowyer and secondly Collison from close range and the applause for the ‘keeper from both sets of supporters was well deserved.
At the end the draw was the right result – we’d probably been on top for two-thirds of the game but if you don’t take your chances………

We returned to our meeting point where we were fortunate enough to get a cab back to Hartlepool where we were to take turns in getting ready for the night’s entertainment. Unfortunately the room seemed to have a 33.333333% deficiency in the bed department – there were three of us and only two beds. A quick word with reception sorted things out and my second upgrade of the day took place as a single room was procured thus saving Romford and Fionn from the multi-decibel level of my snoring that has upset so many over the years.

We left for what turned out to be an entertaining night out. Hartlepool is one of those comedy place names that make people laugh for no apparent reason. However the Romford brigade have been going there for donkey’s years now and it really is better than the image suggests. However a warning to the Hartlepool Tourist Board (should such a thing exist) – I have asserted my right to be identified as the author of the phrase “Hartlepool – It’s not as bad as you might think - honest” and the copyright will cost you. We moved between music bars that were playing a surprisingly eclectic range of music to an appreciative audience – though personally I thought that Dolly Parton’s “Nine To Five” – which seems to be Hartlepool’s National Anthem – was possibly a step too far along the road called “irony”.

Funniest moment involved a young lady asking me why Romford was called Chas. A fair enough question I suppose given that his real name is Martin. However the supplementary question of “is it because he’s a Chesney Hawkes fan?” was a moment of sheer brilliance – though I wasn’t quite sure what was more disconcerting – the idea that Romford might be a Chesney Hawkes fan or the fact that there are three women in Hartlepool who are still able to sing all the lyrics of “The One And Only”.

The saddest part of the evening though was the discovery that the world’s least busiest bar – The Wonkey Donkey – is no more. On our previous visit, on a very busy night in Hartlepool, we found ourselves to be the only people in the bar. The bar is still there but now goes under the bland name of “Bar Eleven”. It was still empty as we walked by – though this didn’t seem to be deterring the DJ who was still giving it large to an apparently indifferent audience of bar staff.

We ended up in the Nexus club for a few nightcaps before returning to the hotel where we realised what we’d been missing all evening was the “women in dodgy police uniforms” that we’d seen so many of on our last visit. In addition to the naughty policewomen costumes, one group of women had dressed for the evening in what appeared to be items from the Ann Summers catalogue. For a fleeting moment I had an idea for a present for the lovely girlfriend but, probably wisely, I decided that the knee in the groin I would receive as a result was not worth the effort.

Having ticked the naughty policewomen off the spotter’s list in our copy of “I-Spy Hartlepool,” some of us retired for the evening, though Fionn seemed to be getting the life story of some woman who, by the look of her, had a fair few years of tales to relate. I decided that Fionn was big enough to look after himself – though the look of fear on his face suggested that he was missing the 3-for-1 vodka deal that might have made the ordeal a little less onerous.

The journey home was uneventful save for the presence of a highly irritating woman whose take on 20th and 21st century history managed to be both ignorant and offensive at the same time. We were mightily glad when the poor sod she’d been talking at got off at York – the look of horror he gave when she said she hoped to “see you in Hartlepool some time” spoke millions. Unfortunately she had a mobile down which she insisted talking at a level even louder than my snoring and Romford and I resigned ourselves to having to turn our MP3 players up to 11 just to drown her out and I bemoaned the fact that she’d obviously bought her ticket on the one day that the Trainline.com happened to be up and running.

Thanks as ever to those involved in organising the trip – Romford, the guys at the Grand Hotel Hartlepool, Wayne Wigley and the customer service people at Grand Central Railways for sorting out the travel and last but not least the makers of Krispy Kreme doughnuts for having a shop at London Bridge Station thus ensuring that I didn’t return home empty-handed and was able to present “something nice” for the lovely girlfriend. Thank God we’re at home next week!



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Player Ratings

Robert Green
Made some good saves – let down by the collapse of the wall for the goal.


Lucas Neill
An improvement on Faubert at right-back. Made at least one telling interception.


Herita Ilunga
Some have expressed concern about Cheri defensively but I thought he did ok today.


James Collins
A decent performance – the free-kick that led to the goal was harsh and he was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet from a first half set piece.


Matthew Upson
A solid display at the back – looks more comfortable with Collins alongside.


Hayden Mullins
Had a fine first half – if you ignore the air-shot that led to the goal. Perhaps guilty of defending too deep after the interval.


Jack Collison
A decent showing from the youngster who constantly sought the ball. Should have scored though.


Luis Boa Morte
Not a spectacular performance but he got through a lot of hard work in the same way as Faubert didn’t.


Matthew Etherington
I know he likes the new free role but sometimes he does still need to be out wide and he needs to remember that.


Fred Sears
Caused problems a-plenty for the home defence in the first half but faded a bit in the second.


Craig Bellamy
Full of running he was chasing defenders down right up to the end of stoppage time.


Substitutes


Craig Bellamy
(replaced Di Michele, 54) Better than the player he replaced – just.


Lee Bowyer
(replaced Boa Morte, 85) Another who got through a fair bit of work and was unlucky to find Turnbull in good form.


Jimmy Walker
Did not play.


Walter Lopez
Did not play.


James Tomkins
Did not play.


David Di Michele
Did not play.


Diego Tristan
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: Andre Marriner.

Attendance: 25,164.

Man of the Match: Craig Bellamy.

West Ham United

Robert Green, Lucas Neill, Herita Ilunga, James Collins, Matthew Upson, Hayden Mullins, Jack Collison, Luis Boa Morte, Matthew Etherington, Fred Sears, Craig Bellamy.

Goals: Hayden Mullins 21                  .

Booked: Lucas Neill 39 Jack Collison 61 Luis Boa Morte 80 Craig Bellamy 89    .

Sent off: None.

Middlesbrough

Turnbull, Wheater (Hoyte 46), Riggott, Pogatetz, Taylor, Aliadiere, O'Neil, Digard, Downing, Sanli, Alves.

Substitutes: Hoyte (Wheater 46), Arca (Digard 56), Mido (Alves 67).

Subs not used: Jones, Emnes, Johnson, Grounds.

Goals: Mido (84).

Booked: Wheater (17), Riggott (33), Arca (64).

Sent Off: None.

 
Gordon Thrower's Man of the Match: Craig Bellamy


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