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Premier League
Saturday, 4th April 2009

West Ham United 2
Sunderland 0

by Gordon Thrower


Sometimes you know exactly how a match is going to go well before it starts. Sometimes you know that, with an injury list longer than a Blackburn throw-in and a fixture against a side scrapping against relegation you are going to see your team struggle. And sometimes, happily, you are wrong.

Pre-match the chat had all been about the unfortunate absence of Carlton Cole and the lack of goals in a possible replacement partnership of DiMichele and “Schnorbitz” Tristan. We also all agreed that, well as Tomkins had played in recent weeks, Zola was likely to recall a now-fit Ginger Pele to the starting line-up to counter the threat of Kenwyne Jones. That was something else we were wrong about. To Zola’s credit, Tomkins held his place in a much under-strength line-up that lacked Kovac and Parker in the middle, included skipper Neill in an unfamiliar centre midfield slot and gave a first start to Junior Stanislas. We thus lined-up as follows: Green, Spector, Ilunga, Tomkins, Upson, Neill, Noble, Boa-Morte, Stanislas, Tristan, DiMichele.

The first two minutes suggested we were in for a bit of a stormer. Stanislas certainly isn’t short on the confidence front if his use of the step-over is anything to go by and he looked bright from the off as we earned an early corner. Noble’s in-swinger found Tomkins left unmarked thanks to an oh-so-familiar lack of concentration from Ferdinand only for the youngster to head wide. Another corner saw Gordon forced to punch clear under pressure as we settled ourselves down for what was definitely going to be a half of one-way pressure. We were sure of that. Except it didn’t really happen like that. Upton Girlie, who had turned up late with Rose City Hammer, missed all the excitement of the first two minutes and, as if there was some plot to ensure she didn’t see the good bits, we started to sit back and play on the counter. This, in all honesty, didn’t make that good viewing, especially since our opponents seemed to possess all the cutting edge of one of those Gillette Fusion razor blades after a surprisingly low number of successful shaves.

The general pattern of play would be that Sunderland would have a fair bit of the ball before sailing a cross/shot/pass harmlessly into the arms of Green/high/wide before we’d have a foray forward only for the final ball to elude Schnorbitz or DiMichele. Light relief was obtained by watching former Hammers trainee Richardson mistake the corner flag (tall thin thing with a flag on the top) for the ball (spherical object), an error that resulted in the uprooting of said flag. Tomkins in particular seemed to be on a one-man mission to break up every single attack, something he managed quite well on the whole. Just to enliven things ref Jones gave the advantage law the afternoon off, infuriating both sets of supporters by pulling the play back for free kicks. Jones had been a late replacement for the absent Howard Webb, whose non-presence was unexplained.

The best chance of the half as far as we were concerned came to DDM whose clever turn and volley from about 20 yards was actually a lot closer than it first appeared.

So with the game heading for a half time stalemate we took the lead and, in a day of surprises, not only did it come from a corner (unusual enough for us in itself) but that corner was one of theirs. Cisse bore down on goal having been kept onside by Upson, despite Tomkins’ vain pleas for a flag. Cisse’s shot was probably going wide but Green made the save to be sure. Green then gathered a weak header from the resulting corner before releasing Boa_Morte with an intelligent throw. LBM tapped the ball on to Schnorbitz who played the ball along the line to DiMichele. DDM’s first-time flick was perfection as LBM beat Leadbetter to the ball before moving into the box. Then came the clever bit. Boa-Morte just gave himself a half second to allow Stanislas the opportunity to pull out round the back of the defenders, before playing the perfect square ball across the six yard box for Stanislas to score from close range.

There’s something a bit special about seeing one of the lads who have come through from the academy scoring their first goal – those of us who were present at the Blackburn match last season when Sears bagged his first will remember the warm glow that accompanied the post-match walk to the pub. It’s a great feeling that Chelsea supporters are never going to know. I feel sorry for them really.

The half closed much as it had begun with the goal breathing new confidence into the midfield. Noble’s clever pass inside found DDM whose attempted low curler inside the far post just caught a defender to go out for a corner. Some more clever work on the right saw Noble cross dangerously only for Stanislas to be denied a second by a late desperate clearance from Bardsley.

During the interval we were treated to the sight of God’s own cricket county Essex parading the Friends Provident and Natwest Pro 40 trophies around the ground, Alan remarking that the side had done well to win two trophies with the six players and a toddler that were on the pitch. Mr Moon also came and went and there was just time for your correspondent’s forthcoming birthday to get a mention from Mr Nicholas thanks to the gang before we were up and running again.

There were no changes at half time though we’d speculated as to the mysterious relegation to the bench of Jones who had caused so many problems in the corresponding fixture. It turned out that the striker had picked up a spot of jet lag during the international break, prompting memories of a certain McAvennie getting off the plane from Australia to score in a match for us, though it’s fair to say that the Scots striker might have had, how shall we put this, ahem, a little “help” with his recovery.

Sunderland had the first opportunity of the second period. Ilunga’s ball gave DDM no chance and, not for the first time in the match, Noble slid in when staying on his feet might have been the preferable option. Bardsley bore down on goal but Green kept the ball out comfortably at his near post for a corner. The break from the corner was swift and incisive with clever play from DDM setting Stanislas free on the left. The youngster’s run and step-overs were fine and it was an intelligent pull back too that, unfortunately, just had the wrong angle to play DDM in on goal. DDM then went on a dribble of his own that ended up with him being forced wide before curling a shot a few yards wide of the far post.

Then we doubled the lead and, again it came from a corner – though this time it was one of ours. Noble cut out a ball in midfield and fed DDM who in turn played the ball into the inside right channel (ask your dad) to Tristan. It’s fair to say that few expected much at this point from the striker but it was a decent and powerful effort from Schnorbitz that drew a decent save out of Gordon to produce the corner. Noble’s corner found Tomkins unmarked, (well actually he was being marked by Ferdinand, which amounts to much the same thing) and the defender headed powerfully down and just inside the post, Gordon getting a hand to it but being unable to keep it out. Another goal made in Chadwell Heath.

We continued to press forward and won a free kick on the right of the box. It was hard to say what was more inexplicable: Ben-Haim’s handball or the look of innocence he wore to protest about it. Noble’s free kick found Upson at the back and his header across goal was cleared by Gordon, with LBM’s follow-up cross being cleared for another corner. Tomkins again met this one and Gordon kept it out as he also did with LBM’s follow-up from 20 yards.

Green then touched away a dangerous looking cross with Richardson lurking before claiming the resulting corner and nearly setting Stanislas away with another quick throw. Tomkins gave away a free-kick on the edge. Cisse powered Richardson’s touch through the crowd but Green got behind it well.

Then came a rather sickening moment. Spector and Ben-Haim collided in mid air both going legitimately for the ball. Spector landed from a great height square on his shoulder and remained motionless on the ground. This is always a bad sign as is the sign of rotund medic Ges Steinbergs breaking into a sprint, though the comment that he still looked quicker than Schnorbitz was a tad unfair. Possibly. After a lengthy delay Spector was eventually stretchered off to generous applause - from both sets of fans. Latest reports indicate that the problem was concussion rather than a shoulder injury so fingers crossed Spector should be ok sooner rather than later.

The injury prompted something of a reshuffle. Collins came on for the unfortunate Spector and went straight in to the centre of defence alongside Upson, with Tomkins moving over to the now-vacant right back slot. Bardsley had another effort saved by green though it took a second attempt to gather the ball. Green then parried a cross from the Sunderland right with Neill being on hand to make a clearance for the corner. Green came for but missed the corner but so did everyone else and Upson was able to clear his lines with some comfort.

With 10 minutes of normal time left Dyer replaced DDM and could have been on the scoresheet soon after. Stanislas played the ball in towards Tristan whose dummy allowed LBM time and space to get a curled shot in. The shot was blocked as was Dyer’s effort from the rebound. Tristan then picked up the ball wide left and cut in before delivering a chip shot that cleared the bar by only a few feet. It looked good but there were players over and the nagging thought was that we’d have been better served by a pass rather than a shot at the end of the run.

With 8 minutes of stoppage to play Stanislas went off to a deserved ovation to be replaced by Lopez who was unlucky to see a goal-bound shot blocked wide for a corner. We got a few corners during stoppage time which we seemed intent on using to run down the clock. Now whilst I can understand the logic of such a tactic, it can be a bit infuriating when its used against a team that a) are playing as poorly as Sunderland were, and b) have spent all day showing everyone how not to defend corners, and I for one would have thought that a couple of proper delivery into the box was warranted. As for what Tristan was trying to do for one of the corners lord alone knows. I’ve now watched it half a dozen times and the best way of describing it is to say that he stood over the ball and got out of the way in favour of the defender.

There was just time for a late – and rather harsh – yellow from Ilunga and for Collins to spare Green’s blushes by clearing in front of the goal when the ‘keeper was stranded and another three points were in the bag.

There were big smiles on faces all the way home. The glorious spring sunshine, the win, the goal for the kid and, of course the day’s earlier result up at Blackburn all contributed to the pleasant air of euphoria. As for me, well the news that the Grand National had been won by the nag drawn out by me in the office sweep was simply the icing on the cake.

Sunderland? Well they’ll have to show a lot more in the coming weeks if they are to stay up and it’s looking a bit tight down there what with most of the North East taking up residence in the bottom chunk of the table. We need at least one of them to stay up though – I enjoy our weekends in Hartlepool and it’s really not that convenient a base for trips up to Wolverhampton or Birmingham!



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Player Ratings

Robert Green
A few good saves, a couple of wobbles some good distribution – including that which set up our first.


Jonathan Spector
Wasn’t having the most testing of days up to his unfortunate injury but was looking at getting forward more than of late.


Herita Ilunga
A quiet, steady game. Harshly booked towards the end.


James Tomkins
Preferred by Zola to Collins, the youngster fully justified his continued selection. If he looked a little less confident when moved over to right-back after Spector’s injury, he compensated for that by keeping it simple. Deserved the goal and could have had more.


Matthew Upson
Another good performance from the England man and another who could have got his name on the sheet.


Mark Noble
In the absence of just about every other midfielder on our books he shouldered the responsibility well. If I have one criticism it would be that he went to ground in the tackle more than I would have liked – mis-time those and you have a red card on the way.


Lucas Neill
A decent performance in an unfamiliar role. Let nobody down.


Junior Stanislas
Impressive full debut. Not afraid to take players on and did his share of the defensive stuff too when required. The goal was an easy finish but none the less deserved for all that.


Luis Boa Morte
Best run-out in ages. Played on the right, he constantly caused Sunderland problems and his role in the goal showed both pace and intelligence. More please.


Diego Tristan
Probably his best game for us, for what it’s worth. Still lacks pace and a desire to work is sometimes conspicuous by its absence. An improvement, nevertheless.


David Di Michele
Lively and a bit unlucky a couple of times not to score.


Substitutes


James Collins
(Replaced Spector, 73 mins) Looked a little ring-rusty following his absence. Good clearance at the death to spare the keeper’s blushes though.


Kieron Dyer
(Replaced Di Michele, 81 mins) Looked sharp on his home return and did enough to suggest that a recall to the starting line-up might not be too far away.


Walter Lopez
(Replaced Stanislas, 90+1 mins) On for injury time he could easily have scored.


Jan Lastuvka
Did not play.


Josh Payne
Did not play.


Savio Nsereko
Did not play.


Fred Sears
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: Mike Jones.

Attendance: 34,761.

Man of the Match: James Tomkins.

West Ham United

Robert Green, Jonathan Spector, Herita Ilunga, James Tomkins, Matthew Upson, Mark Noble, Lucas Neill, Junior Stanislas, Luis Boa Morte, Diego Tristan, David Di Michele.

Goals: Junior Stanislas 42 James Tomkins 53                .

Booked: Herita Ilunga 90          .

Sent off: None.

Sunderland

Gordon, Bardsley, Ben-Haim, Collins, Ferdinand, Leadbitter, Whitehead, Malbranque, Richardson, Cisse, Murphy.

Substitutes: Jones (Murphy 54), Edwards (Malbranque 75).

Subs not used: Fulop, Nosworthy, Reid, McShane, Healy.

Goals: Andrews (51).

Booked: Whitehead (24).

Sent Off: None.

 
Gordon Thrower's Man of the Match: James Tomkins