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Premier League
Saturday, 15th August 2009

Wolverhampton Wanderers 0
West Ham United 2

by Andy Stansfield


Well I never want to sit through a match like that again; possibly the worst experience watching a Hammers game in more than 40 years...

I have a friend who supports Wolves and has for some time been promising me a drubbing by them; unfortunately for him we've either been in different leagues most of the time or away or whatever, but as soon as the fixtures were announced this season he promised me tickets for myself and number one son. Last week he informed us he'd successsfully obtained two - so it was game on.

He did warn us that we'd be sitting in seats obtained via his season ticket, and he suggested that we meet at about 11am so that the football widows could get together and we all meet up and enjoy the delights of Wolverhampton. Personally I thought this early but the missus was keen so off we went. We met and parked up at a local park that has car parking all round it (free!) and set off to the ground for a look round. It was only about two minutes' walk away, which was pretty good. It's an ok ground; a bit past it and not quite up to Premier League status but let's be honest, it's a club with a past so plenty of atmosphere.

We went in the shop; not particularly interesting but if you changed the Old Gold colour scheme to claret and blue it was just a bit smaller version of ours, I suppose. It was at this point that my brother decided to ring me to talk about the match; the sound of the predictable bubbles ringtone got me one or two looks but as I was with a family covered in Wolves kit it was all fine (and a reminder to change the ringtone for the match!)

We were unable to find any retail interest so went to the town centre which is just a few minutes' walk. Unremarkably ordinary town centre but I liked it (mind you I live in Milton Keynes); the ground is very much part of the community; they've been able to build and apparently a few streets were knocked down around the ground to allow a large car park (and an Asda) to be built there. The town centre is given over to the club - orange balloons everywhere and lots of signs saying "We are Premier League" which is as grammatically correct as "We are Wolves" as stamped on the ticket. It's fairly compact and had plenty of Wolves shirts in evidence (no surprise there!).

We got some lunch and at last time came to go to the ground. At this point we picked up our tickets and I discovered that my son and I were sitting well away from my friend and his family, and what's worse, separately. So when we got to our seats we discovered that we were not in plain view of each other and totally surrounded by the increasingly bilious Old Gold shirts. I checked my ringtone again.... I'm happy with my arms located in the traditional place and not re-assigned up my backside stump side in.

They are noisy. Unintelligble, but noisy. There was the usual build up - they had Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin (for our younger readers - a popular rock band with people my age) who had composed what may have been a nice little speech but the crap PA cut out half of every third word so what came out was as sensible as what the crowd around me was yelling. I think the word "Wolver'ampton" was in there, but I'm not sure what else. What a whiny accent the Wolverhapton accent is - it's like a whiny version of Brum. Which is really whiny.

And, if you're sitting there in your deliberatley non-claret and blue clothes but you're the ONLY person (except my son) in the entire stand NOT wearing an Old Gold shirt it's beginning, at this stage, to be ever so slightly intimidating.

Did I mention they were noisy? To be honest I remember when it was that noisy at Upton Park - it sure as hell isn't these days. Or maybe it's just that noisy when you're surrounded by people screaming stuff you can't understand. When the game kicked off (at last - some football!) they went mental. It was tinged, I thought, with desperation; they so want to succeed but you got the impression early on that they're hoping against hope that this time they'll stay up.

This extended to every time someone got the ball within 30-40 yards of our goal; the entire crowd would start shrieking "Shoot" (or variations such as "Shoot - you knob!") as if we had no goalkeeper.

They were on top for the first period - but at home, fresh from promotion that's what you'd expect. It soon became clear that they lacked quality both up front and in defence; up front we were fortunate that they coudn't cross and couldn't shoot. I thought that once we got going it was clear that we should be able to contain them.

This meant I could concentrate on not being a Hammer. I've never been in the position I was in before, and had thought that my biggest problem would be how not to leap in the air yelling if we scored. Not so. My greatest fear was how I might react if THEY scored, and was very aware that generally containing them comfortably might not be true for a full 90 minutes. When Faubert made a poor pass I tutted and muttered "shit" but no-one noticed and I got away with it. However generally it was ok - I was able to clap and applaud our fine defence when they attacked as they were all applauding the attack, and vice versa at the other end.

Applauding decent Hammers moves was trickier; these had to be greeted by silence as they refused to acknowledge that we could play. Mind you, one of their early chants was "Who are yer? Who are yer?" which is a bit stupid considering we have a string of well known players including three who'd been on the telly during the week (I know Upson didn't play, but you know what I mean). They were totally silent when in the second half Collison played a peach of a 40 yard cross-pitch inch perfect pass to Dyer whose touch to bring it to feet was also first class. I'm pretty sure that if we saw opposition do something good (so long as it isn't scoring a goal) we applaud, however grudgingly - we like decent football. Fortunately on that occasion a guy behind me just said "fuck" in that deadpan "shit-they're-good" sort of voice which made me smile (inside).

Anyway, after 20 minutes or so Noble got the ball and as I was in line with Green right at one end I had a perfect view of his options and it was clear where the ball was going to go. It was beautifully stroked into the top left hand corner and we were 1-0 up. Comparing notes at half time with my son we reacted identically. Looked down, blank look, inside screaming our heads off. Looking down at the claret and blue faithful who were free to go mental we just wanted to be a tier down with them.

First impressions: we looked ok in midfield; our tidy and accurate passing showed Wolves up. They gave the ball away much more than we did and their ability to hold the ball and play their way out of trouble was nowhere near the mark we'd set.

Faubert was doing ok but his distribution was often poor - he'd hook the ball and it would invariably go to the opposition - but more about him later. I was wondering why they kept booing him so much but my mate told me he'd clattered one of their guys early on and they don't like it up 'em, apparently.

Jiminez is a busy bee, buzzing around and generally I was happy with him; once the team start to understand who does what it'll gel - I think he looks fine. Dyer needs more matches and again, to work up some understanding - at one point Noble received the ball from him and expected a 'give and go' - he played it beautifully into the space Dyer should have gone for only he'd stopped dead. At least he acknowledged his error. Cole looks a bit languid but he takes two or three of their defenders out - they were scared stiff of him and his strength.

Wolves seemed to think Ilunga's side was the one to attack for but their winger couldn't cross to save his life. Nor on their left; the delivery into the box was generally poor. After 10 minutes they got a decent cross in but the header was poor; on another occasion their forward had a great chance but fresh-aired it. It all helped me relax, anyway!

Once we scored they quitened down a bit and we could hear the claret and blue faithful - lots of 'Bubbles' and 1-0 to the Cockney Boys, which was good to hear. At one stage the locals sang "You've only got one song" - back like a shot came "We've only got one goal" - classic.

At half time my son (let's call him Jonny, after all it's his name) and I met up but our hosting family didn't show! I was grateful - it would have been really hard to preserve the anonymity. I listened to a lad phoning someone and saying "We're all over them but they've got a goal.... it's really unlucky...". I decided against explaining to him why they were 1-0 down.

I have to admit that they came out of the traps like greyhounds second half; and for five minutes or so they had some reasonable chances - but frankly any Premier League goalkeeper should have saved them so Green duly did. I didn't like the way they were getting so many shots on target though.

In fact the second half was similar to the first in that we took the wind out of their sails in classic fashion by scoring again. This time Cole out-muscled a defender and got a corner right down in front of me (home crowd incensed but never a foul - just too strong) and from where I was sitting Jiminez rose very high for a short fella and got a debut headed goal. Frankly "Upson" and "Jiminez" sound exactly the same in Woverhapton accent on a dodgy PA so it was only later that I realised Matty had scored. Either way it was a pretty free header and frankly they were out of it from then on.

I don't think I've ever seen us see out a match so comfortably. They did get a corner late on but that was the extent of it. The crowd went gradually more quiet and five minutes before the end started leaving in droves. Our fans were in full voice and at one stage even offered to sign a song for the now silent Wolves fans. The guy behind me even stopped swearing at both sides and began to discuss dinner with his girlfriend who came to life for this section of the afternoon's entertainment. As far as I'm concerned it's three points we should have got but we have a habit of slipping on banana skins. I thought we'd get a point so three - that's cool.

Stanislas came ontowards the end, and Cole was replaced by Nouble but thereafter the game pretty much petered out. The Wolves supporters started to post rationalise: "Well, they've got the England goalkeeper" and "England striker" and of course "We're still without our best players" - but for my money I predict they can add a third "we are" to their list; "We are Premier League", "We are Wolves" - and now "We are going down".

For us; we could have had at least three more; Jiminez and Collison were the worst offenders of hitting defenders when the back of the net seemed easier, and Dyer should have had one too. I kept thinking at times it was a good job the opposition was so poor as a better team would have given us more trouble at times, but you can only play who's in front of you and it was a textbook away game; soak up whatever they send and score on the break or from a set piece.

The final whistle went and our fans continued singing. I filed out with the rest in silence but caught Jonny's eye as we queued to get out and if anyone had seen they'd know! Grins couldn't be contained and I hope we were magnanimous with my friend and his family who'd clearly had their hopes dashed at this level. And my friend's son had a mate join us who's a Wolves fan who is a student in London - I hope his trip back on the train was ok!

But I never want to watch a match again and not be able to get involved. Sitting in silence doesn't come naturally to me at the best of times and Saturday was sheer torture.

I see this morning Collins could be off to Stoke. I'd rather lose him than Upson but I'd rather not lose him at all. Between him and Upson we were pretty fireproof in the air. Still, Tomkins is coming through so it's not like we're short in that area.

Final word - Faubert. I watched the game again on Sky's Football First and I was wrong; he had a good game. It just goes to show that watching through the filter of your prejudice is not always helpful and I'd agree with Zola that it's the best match he's played in claret and blue. His distribution is still a bit wayward though!

And oh yes - WE NEED ANOTHER STRIKER!



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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.

 
Andy Stansfield's Man of the Match: Mark Noble