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Premier League
Saturday, 15th August 2009

Wolverhampton Wanderers 0
West Ham United 2

by Gordon Thrower


I wish I had a pound for every time over the years that I nearly didn’t go to a match and ended up being glad I’d made the effort. This was one of those times.

A week in bed with flu – yes THAT flu – left me exhausted in the extreme not to mention deaf in one ear and, but for the promise of a lift in the Upton Girliemobile (think a Sherman Tank without the subtlety) I probably wouldn’t have bothered. The otherwise uneventful journey was enlivened by our discovery of young Tomas’s Achilles heel. It seems that the song “King of Rock n’ Roll” by Prefab Sprout is to Tomas what “Build Me Up B*ttercup” is to the rest of the right-thinking world. Which was a shame as it was on one of the compilation CD’s we listened to in the car.

Team news was that Tomkins was the first of what will no doubt be a large number of players to miss out through injury and that Dyer was preferred to Stanislas leaving a starting line-up of Green, Faubert, Spector, Collins, Upson, Noble, Parker, Collison, Jiminez, Dyer, Cole.

It was a bright start from both sides. The home support was understandably buoyant following their promotion. However, whilst it was no surprise that Wolves were keen to attack, it wasn’t exactly a storm that we had to weather and, though the home side had plenty of possession early on, it was noticeable that Green’s main source of work in the first half was getting the ball back from Row Z. Indeed it was Hennessy that was first called on to make a meaningful save. Collison latched on to a ball that had been kept live by Cole only to see his low shot saved by the ‘keeper at the near post. Tellingly the whole move had begun with a dangerous looking cross from Faubert on the right. It was not to be the last such cross from the Frenchman.

Perhaps not surprisingly the game was quite open as typified by Green comfortably claiming a cross and trying to send Cole clear, the kick-out being headed somewhat nervously out for a corner by a defender who had one eye on Cole. Defence to attack in seconds. Wolves failed to clear the corner and the ball fell out to Faubert whose dangerous looking ball was inches away from being converted by Cole.

If Faubert was looking good going forward he was a bit of a concern at the back. A lack of positional sense saw most of Wolves first half attacks come down that flank and a cross from those parts found Halford whose knock-down to the otherwise useful-looking Keogh deserved better than the air-shot that resulted. Shortly after, another cross from that flank found Ebanks-Blake unmarked but the striker was unable to keep the header down. Keogh then made some more space for himself on the edge of the box but, under pressure from Collins, lifted his shot well over.

We took the lead on 22 minutes. Cole held up play wide on the right and fed Noble inside. There seemed to be no immediate danger but Noble steadied himself to curl a 25 yarder into the top left hand corner. It was a fine first goal of the season and one that stunned the hitherto vociferous home crowd into silence – though to be fair to them I noticed significant numbers applauding the excellence of the strike, something that is always good to see.

It would have been nice to have seen the goal replayed on either of the two big screens they have at Molineux. However nobody seems to have worked out how to switch them on. The things us pampered modern supporters take for granted eh?!

Wolves were not knocked out of their stride by the goal and continued to push forward. Keogh’s dangerous-looking run found Jarvis in space but Collins’ challenge was enough to ensure further work for the occupants behind the goal.

We should have doubled the lead. Noble played a sweet ball in from the right. Cole pulled out all the stops to control the pass and managed to retain enough balance to get a shot in. The shot failed to beat Hennessy but Dyer’s effort from the rebound evaded the ‘keeper’s despairing dive only for Craddock to clear off the line. Noble’s corner found Ilunga whose goal-bound header wad tipped over – admittedly with some comfort – by Hennessy. The resulting corner caused a spot of mayhem with Ilunga’s shot finding Dyer whose attempted back-heel was cleared by Hennessy.

Another decent passing move saw Faubert finding space on the right. His cross found Collison who had a lot more time than he appeared to think that he had as evidenced by his decision to try a knock-back header rather than to control the ball in dangerous territory.

Wolves came back and the impressive Milijas had a low shot from the edge of the box take a slight deflection for a corner that was dealt with comfortably. Wolves then had a fans’ claim for a penalty turned down when Jarvis pushed the ball past Fauber and went over far too easily. Referee Foy generously decided that Jarvis’ own momentum had taken him over rather than brandishing the yellow card for the dive that might have been given had the match been played later on in the season. Either way the incident cemented Faubert’s place as pantomime villain of the week to the home support, the Frenchman having endured a number of ludicrous shouts of “handball” from the crowd having had the ball driven onto his legs from close range on several occasions. Foy – and notably the Wolves players – remained unimpressed by the appeals though it does make you wonder about the standard of refereeing in the Championship these days if the fans felt it worth their while to shout.

The half came to a close with Mancienne being slightly late on Parker, again later in the season the challenge might have resulted – quite wrongly in my opinion – in a yellow card but a free-kick was the only sanction on this occasion. Noble’s free-kick was cleared and an entertaining 45 came to a close.

During the interval Wolves old boy Ron Flowers picked up a World Cup winners medal for his participation in the West Ham squad of ’66 that won the trophy. And some poor sod got engaged on the pitch just before departing for a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Good luck to the bloke. On both counts.

If we had only had to weather squally showers in the first half, the first few minutes of the second half qualified as a fully qualified storm. And at the eye of that storm was Mr Robert Green. Firstly Milijas pounced on a defensive clearance. His shot from just outside of the box took a slight deflection off Faubert and Green was on hand to help it over the bar. The corner was only partly cleared and Green had to be alert to push away a shot from a tight angle from Craddock. A few seconds later Milijas again hit a powerful low effort from the edge of the box which seeme to come through a crowd of players. Green got down well to make his third vital save in as many minutes.

After the frantic start things calmed down a little and we ought to have taken the lead on 53 minutes. Collison read another dangerous ball in from Faubert rather better than Craddock who misjudged the flight completely. Collison did all the hard work by taking the ball round Hennessy only for his shot to find Foley on the line to clear. In truth Collison had the time and space to pick a spot and give Foley no chance.

Though we were looking more composed we still needed to be alert. Milijas again went close with a drive a foot over the bar. Halford’s shot from distance then took a deflection off Parker for a corner. Green was then called into action to make his fourth superb save of the match as Milijas’s fine ball inside Collins fed Ebanks-Blake. Green always looks good on one-on-ones and he was equal to the Championship player of the year’s effort.

Ilunga then came off worst in an aerial challenge with Foley. Clearly concussed he had all the air of a boxer who, when asked the question, “how many fingers am I holding up” gives the answer “Thursday”. The injury was serious enough for him to play no further part in proceedings and he was replaced after treatment by Spector.

Shortly after the substitution we doubled the lead and, though he had nothing directly to do with the goal itself, Carlton Cole ought to be able to claim some sort of assist. A long clearance from the back ended up with Wolves sub Stearman. Cole chased him down, harried and generally made a right pain of himself to the extent that the defender was happy to give away the corner. Noble’s corner found a woefully-marked Upson who had the simplest of headers to make it 2-0.

Dyer lasted another five minutes before being replaced by Stanislas before a break out involving interplay between Parker and Cole ended up with the ball being played to an unmarked Jiminez whose shot had power but lacked direction as Hennessy saved. To be fair to Jim, Parker’s final ball in lacked pace and there was an element of having to dig the ball out to get the shot away.

Jiminez then knocked the ball down for Cole whose shot was deflected away for what should have been a corner but wasn’t much to the astonishment of everyone in the ground.

Wolves, though clearly disheartened, then broke down the left where Faubert gave away a foul. The cross found Keogh whose header found Green strong enough to make his fifth decent save of the match, which was probably about that for Wolves. Well apart from the bizarre events from the resulting corner. Halford headed wide of the left hand post. Everyone jogged back to take up position for the goal-kick whereupon ref Foy decided that it was a corner after all, a corner that he elected to have taken from the right rather than the left. Baffling.

We saw out the surprisingly short 3 minutes of stoppage – Ilunga’s injury had taken at least that without adding in all the other substitutions – fairly comfortably, the only item of note being the introduction of Frank Nouble for the last 38 seconds in replacement of Carlton Cole who had been limping for quite some time and that was that.

It had been a decent game of football all round and the difference between the two sides had been in finishing. Wolves won’t want too many matches to go like that though. It had been a much better performance from us than I had been expecting when I dragged my flu-ridden carcass out of the front door that morning and an away win always makes the motorway miles go faster. Unless of course you happened to be Tomas, the mother of whom had “The King of Rock n’ Roll” on “repeat” for a while, forcing the lad to promise to take the washing in when he got home on pain of having to hear the track again. Social Services have been alerted.

The opening results being what they were it would have been nice to have been playing Villa in midweek to keep the momentum going. However, having seen Cole limping at the end maybe it’s a good thing that we have the extra time ahead of Spurs. A couple of new strikers between now and then please.

So a win, 3 points down 37 to go before we relax a bit. Happy days or, in the words of Paddy McAloon: “Hot dog, jumping frog, Alberquerque” (Sorry Tomas!)



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Player Ratings

Robert Green
Five fine saves made a difference.


Julien Faubert
Not quite the world-conquering performance some were saying post-match – he was caught out defensively a few times in the first half. However, it was without a doubt his best performance to date for us and he always posed a threat going forward.


Herita Ilunga
Decent runout until the head injury left him looking a trifle unsteady.


James Collins
Won just about everything in the air. And on the ground.


Matthew Upson
Fine performance at the back capped off with a goal. Somebody hide him behind the sofa until the window closes.


Mark Noble
Quality performance – maturing nicely. Let’s hope he continues to keep his head next weekend.


Scott Parker
Good calming influence in the middle.


Jack Collison
A quiet game – and really ought to have scored.


Kieron Dyer
Good to see him start – showed some nice touches.


Luis Jimenez
Another one who had a quiet start – though there were signs that he will be a useful addition once he gets used to life in the Premier League.


Carlton Cole
Got stronger as the match wore on – despite developing a worrying limp in the second half. Can claim some credit for the second.


Substitutes


Jonathan Spector
(Replaced Ilunga, 65 mins) Caught in possession too often for my liking.


Junior Stanislas
(Replaced Dyer, 73 mins) Came on and posed a different sort of threat than Dyer had previously. Keen to run at his defender.


Frank Nouble
(Replaced Cole, 90+3 mins) What can you say about 30 seconds? Er, big lad isn’t he.


Peter Kurucz
Did not play.


Danny Gabbidon
Did not play.


Josh Payne
Did not play.


Zavon Hines
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: Chris Foy.

Attendance: 28,674.

Man of the Match: Mark Noble.

West Ham United

Robert Green, Julien Faubert, Herita Ilunga, James Collins, Matthew Upson, Mark Noble, Scott Parker, Jack Collison, Kieron Dyer, Luis Jimenez, Carlton Cole.

Goals: Mark Noble 22 Matthew Upson 69                .

Booked: None booked           .

Sent off: None.

Wolverhampton Wanderers

Hennessey, Foley, Craddock, Mancienne, Ward, Halford, Henry, Milijas, Jarvis, Keogh, Ebanks-Blake.

Substitutes: Stearman (Mancienne 66), Vokes (Foley 75), Edwards (Milijas 80).

Subs not used: Hahnemann, Elokobi, Surman, Jones.

Goals: None.

Booked: None.

Sent Off: None.

 
Gordon Thrower's Man of the Match: Mark Noble