Saturday, 6th February 2010
So next time you’re singing about going “down t’pub and drinkin’ 10 pints” if you see a bald speccy bloke grinning nervously and trying not to drop in any rounded vowels and remembering the flat Essex “a” of his youth (“ remember Chapman, it’s West ‘Aaaaaaaam”) that will be me.
But I am one of you. And if Nelle Harper Lee taught us anything, it’s that all men are born equal. Although, as George Orwell noted, some are less equal than others… Spurs fans for example…
And in case you’re wondering about the literary references, we do actually have books up North, and some of us can even read them (which we have plenty of time to do, given that you lot shut down the mines)… although naturally we can only read them during daylight hours given that we’re still waiting for the introduction of electricity beyond Watford...
I tell you this, because Burnley away should be exactly my sort of tie. And since the collapse of the Yorkshire and North-East powerbases, one which is becoming less frequent as the years go by.
This time, I was to be accompanied by my Chicken Run season ticket holding step-brother Seb. Once Seb had adjusted to the altitude of being more than a county’s length north of Essex and armed with an inhaler to combat the smog withdrawal, we set off over the north peaks and moors to Burnley. Yes, I know that East London (East London) is wonderful (is wonderful…etc) but if it’s a choice between the Snake Pass and the A13, I know which I find more aesthetically pleasing.
However, after about an hour, the close proximity of Coronation Street-style terrace housing (that one naturally expects Michael Palin and 400 offspring to be heel-clicking their way past in homage to Monty Python’s Meaning Of Life) was a sure-fire indicator that we must be nearing an old school football stadium.
And Turf Moor is nothing if not old school… And by old school, I do of course mean an antiquated, decrepit, crumbling shit hole. I’ve seen portaloos with better facilities. In fact, a few portaloos wouldn’t have gone a miss.
But that said, I kind of liked it. There’s something genuine and nostalgic about those old lower league grounds that you just don’t get at the DW Reebok Emiratedome.
And let’s not kid ourselves here, nothing about this club is built for the Premier League. I wish the club no ill (not when there are Boltons and Blackburns that could conceivably go down) but even my Burnley mates spend most of their time stumbling about Premier League grounds with a baffled expression, much like a Polar Bear who’s just clocked the “Welcome to the Maldives, please drive carefully” sign. It doesn’t know how it got here, it sort of knows it shouldn’t really be here, but it can’t help wondering what might happen if it tried hanging around for a bit.
A Burnley mate of mine had suggested the best away-friendly drinking establishment was the bar at the cricket clubhouse. Or prefab shelter, as it resembled. This was a smart move as it seemed to have become Little East London for the day. There we partook of some pleasant refreshment served in a genial manner at an, umm, northern pace…
Here the conversation turned to the match. Seb was confident, noting that Burnley hadn’t won a league game since some time in the mid-70s or something and having appointed a manager so bad that he flunked his first year at the Glenn Roeder College of Management Incompetence this had to point to an Irons victory. “And besides, who the hell is Danny Fox…?”
At that point I gave the kind of glare that can only be given out by sports fans spotting a gigantic demonstration of hubris. The equivalent, if you will, of the “nothing can go wrong now” line.
Personally, I was more cautious. I had a Hammers win in my accumulator, but being a statto I was aware that Brian Laws’ record was nowhere near as bad as some had suggested under the circumstances in which he was operating. Also, up until very recently, Burnley had a highly impressive home record, and as for our away record…
But all that considered, you looked at the firepower we had just bought in, plus a now fit Carlton Cole and surely this would be the point where we’d finally click into gear and start our ascent up the table?
On the way to the stadium we were escorted through some kind of cold war nuclear shelter… until it became clear that this was the stadium. Still, at least the colour scheme was homely…
The team news supported our pre-match theory that McCarthy would start in a 4-4-2 formation meaning that Diamanti would be the most likely to miss out. So it proved, but most worryingly was the conspicuous absence of Quello Pazzo dal Prato on the bench. Whether he’s had he shooting boots on or not throughout this season, the Livorno Looney has consistently provided an alternative option and usually looks our most likely to change a game.
So that left us with a starting line-up of Green – Spector, Upson, Tomkins, Faubert – Collison, Behrami, Parker, Noble – McCarthy, Cole. New signings Mido and Ilan made the bench, along with Stech, Stanislas, Illunga, Da Costa and Kovac to give us a fairly aggressive-looking set of subs.
The opening stages seemed to indicate a rather lackadaisical approach from the team, perhaps it was adjusting to a relatively unfamiliar 4-4-2, but Burnley appeared infinitely more settled and comfortable with play.
However, for all the scrappy approach work, the opening exchanges caused little concern to us travelling fans camped behind Rob Green’s goal.
That was until the Clarets’ new signing Danny Fox (yes, remember him from earlier…?) punted a lofted ball from the left back position for Rob Green and Matthew Upson to deal with calmly between them…
…except that was what you imagined would happen. Yes, even with our defence.
What actually happened was that Upson seemed to call for the ball and then inexplicably let it bounce. He then lost all coordination for what might happen to the ball after it bounced (clue: continue its trajectory goalwards) leaving him scurrying as fast as his legs would carry him (not very) in an attempt to keep out the onrushing David “Goalmachine” Nugent.
Green had initially opted to come for it and then, presumably on his captain’s call, decided not to, leaving him marooned in no man’s land, offering no more than a sort of flailing Riverdance waft in the general direction of the ball as Nugent gratefully nipped in round the tradesman’s entrance to prod the ball over the bemused keeper.
There is something horribly sickening about being lobbed by the opposition at the end you’re standing. Everything seems to happen in slow motion as the ball takes an age to loop ominously into the stratosphere before dropping down out of orbit and nestling into the back of the net.
This wasn’t exactly a catalyst for a full-on assault, but it did kick a little bit more life into the team.
Jonathan Spector and Julian Faubert seemed to oscillate between making some surging progress and then misplacing a pass while both Noble and Parker started stringing together some useful interchanges in the centre.
Collison drove straight at Mears, McCarthy spooned an effort nearer the corner flag than goal, and Cole tamely tapped a token shot in the general direction of a grateful Jenson. But at least we were getting forward.
Then shortly after the half hour mark it looked like we were about to get back on parity. McCarthy picked up a lovely through ball and jinked round the keeper, and with the empty net beckoning he serenely side-footed the ball with minimal effort towards goal to pick up a debut score. Leon Cort seemingly had other ideas though, as he somehow made up the ground to throw himself in the way and scythe the ball clear. Had McCarthey opted to apply anything more than candle-power to the shot, it would have gone in. As it was, Cort probably had enough time for a cup of tea with Rob Green at the other end before making the clearance.
Apart from that, there was little to report. Burnley seemed perfectly content to sit back and never looked particularly interested in going forward, while the only thing of note was that McCarthey seemed to be walking with a limp, presumably an injury sustained in putting all that power and velocity into the previous shot!
And so that was that. Half time, a goal down, seemingly a man down, and having failed to really spark, especially at the opening. Even the half time entertainment which consisted of a game of “how many cockneys can you fit into an inadequately sized urinal in 15 minutes” failed to lift spirits. Still, we were without doubt creating the better opportunities. In fact, we were creating the only opportunities. So with luck, we could press home and overturn the deficit in the second half.
The start of the second half saw a change for us up top, with McCarthey crocked, it gave Mido 45 minutes to earn this week’s £1000. I had originally assumed that we’d signed Mido to help Rob Green shore-up defence by lying the Egyption across the goaline facing towards the net so that his ample rear end could be used to negate any chance of the opposition getting a ball past. But Zola instead opted for the more orthodox role up front. I guess that’s why he is a Premiership manager on £1.8m a year and I am not.
The new man nearly made an instant impact drilling a forceful shot narrowly wide of the similarly plus-sized Brian Jenson’s right hand post. A good positive sign of intent none-the-less.
However, it was the home side who struck next and again, I was left glaring at Seb for his verbal folly. Jack Collison stupidly bundled over Tyrone Mears on the right hand side of the pitch not far from the edge of the penalty box. It was Fox that opted to put his left boot around it with no little gusto.
What followed was a highly impressive effort, but you have to wonder whether Green might have attempted to even up the contest somewhat by attempting to go for it, rather than just admiring it. I’m not saying he’d have got there, but he would almost certainly have had a better chance by actually attempting to do so. It’s either that, or he was attempting the unconventional tactic of using Jedi mind tricks to divert its path. On reflection, my guess is that the dive would have been more effective.
It is always deflating to know that you’ve had the better opportunities and have fallen foul of two sucker punches, pretty much the opposition’s only attempts on goal. This also brought about the unwelcome element in the West Ham faithful who seem to exclusively exist to abuse their own players. Call me old fashioned, but I’ve never fully understood this. Sure, there are players that we prefer and those we think less of, but the pub is the place for those conversations. Not loudly directed at the player himself who is normally doing their level best to try and get some confidence and turn things around.
Regardless, if the predicted response was that we would curl up and die, the opposite was true. And for that we can certainly read something into that tired management cliché of “taking the positives”.
The full backs, Faubert in particular, got forward a lot more, and started to pepper the balls in to variable effect, but at least we were playing the law of averages.
Collison, who had done little, gave way to Stanislas around the hour mark and that seemed to provide yet more momentum that West Ham were in the ascendency. The final roll of the dice came when the ineffective Noble was replaced by Ilan (who still sounds like a feminine hygiene product to me) to give us a seriously attacking-looking formation.
Stanislas whipped in an ambitious free kick that was only a whisker away from doing to Burnley what Fox had done to us previously. Then finally it looked as if we had got a goal back when Cole (whom Burnley had little idea how to deal with) bundled home at close range after Jensen had spilt the ball, seemingly after colliding with his own player.
The Hammers fans were incensed to see the goal disallowed, presumably for the challenge with Cole as the infringement had taken place between two Burnley players. However replays later proved that Cole had been marginally offside, and therefore the goal was right to be chalked off.
We did finally make it onto the score sheet with debutant Ilan drilling home a loose ball following good harrying work from Cole. This set up a barnstorming finish with West Ham piling forwards in an unorthodox 1-1-lots formation, and the bravery nearly paid off with Mido, who had looked threatening all half, striking a shot against the post which looked to all the world as if it would salvage a point for the Irons at the death.
But alas, it was not to be and Burnley held on. General consensus in the pub afterwards with the plethora of Clarets fans that we met (who were gracious and welcoming all) was that they felt extremely lucky to have come away with all three points, and it was difficult to make a case against this. The Irons had virtually all of the chances, with Burnley having only two meaningful shots on target to which they scored both.
It is difficult to draw much analysis as to where the endemic problems are, other than just giving away stupid goals. However, sometimes the most pragmatic thing is just to acknowledge that occasionally things just don’t go your way. Probably won’t garner much support on the MOTD sofas where every minutia detail needs an application of absolutist retrospective opinion, but occasionally, you just don’t get the rub of the green.
Sometimes you’re not robbed by a biased ref, or a cheating opponent, or a dubious penalty. Sometimes you’re just unlucky. It’s just that we are now running out of opportunities for the luck to change. In the last great escape it was a moment of monumental good fortune where Zamora’s shot at Blackburn was adjudged to have crossed the line, despite being nearer the penalty spot than the goal after it cannoned of Tevez (who obligingly left into the goal to confuse matters). But it was enough to start the revival.
Who knows what the catalyst will be, but we can only hope that it arrives. Call me hopelessly optimistic, but I believe that if we carry on playing like we did for the final 25 minutes of this game, and we will play our way out of this mess. I hope I don’t come to regret those words, but keep the faith.
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Looked reassuringly comfortable coming for crosses, but partially at fault for the first, and despite a quality strike looked clueless for the second. Not his finest 90 minutes.
The leap in quality this season has been seismic. Is yet to fully stamp out the infuriating errant passes, but they are becoming less frequent. Is enjoying getting past his man and the crosses look more threatening as the weeks go by.
Does everything that is asked of him, and his application is never in question. Another perfectly adequate shift in an unfamiliar position.
Principally at fault for the monumental cock-up that resulted in Burnley’s first goal. Apart from that, looked assured and comfortable, but it’s the one moment of madness amidst the 90 minutes that ends up costing you a game.
Starting to look more the part as the games go on. Despite conceding two goals, perversely he had little to do, such was the bluntness of the opposition attack.
Always looked our most likely player to create something out of nothing in the absence of Diamanti and seems to create opportunities through sheer bloody mindedness at times. Quality throughout.
Never really came to the party. A couple of decent interchanges here and there, but never really seemed involved. The harder he tries (which is not in doubt) the less seems to come off for him. Either needs a goal or a rest to sort his mindset out. Either is likely to see a vastly improved player.
Covered every inch of grass in his normal small yappy dog style, but with marginally less effect than normal. Faultless effort as usual mind.
One shot that cannoned into a defender and a stupid foul that lead to the second goal were his most notable “contributions”. Looks some way short of his highly promising early form.
A fair way off the pace, but looked willing. Fluffed his lines after doing the hard work in the easiest chance of the match, then limped off at half time. Not a classic debut. But not quite a Tomas Repka debut either.
A massive bonus having him back in contention. Not quite back to top form, but even a semi-fit Cole is a huge asset. The Burnley defence frequently looked bereft of ideas when it came to dealing with his presence. Welcome back!
(Replaced McCarthy, 46 mins) For quite a while in the second half he seemed the most likely to score. Made a constant nuisance of himself and looked keen as mustard. Nearly on the score sheet twice. Encouraging start.
(Replaced Collison, 62 mins) Seemed to be the catalyst for the final push. Full of running and another to nearly get on the scoresheet. Created much-needed width in a game seemingly absent of any presence on the wings.
(Replaced Noble, 77 mins) Came on and scored a goal. Can’t argue with that really. Almost got a second too. Not really on long enough to suggest whether he in the “fox in the box” West Ham have been missing since Bellamy, or arguably even Defoe, but seemed to have a natural striker’s positional sense which bodes well.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Manuel Da Costa
Did not play.
Did not play.
Referee: Howard Webb.
Man of the Match: Scott Parker.
West Ham United
Robert Green, Julian Faubert, Jonathan Spector, Matthew Upson, James Tomkins, Scott Parker, Mark Noble, Valon Behrami, Jack Collison, Benni McCarthy, Carlton Cole.
Goals: Ilan 81 .
Booked: Scott Parker 90 .
Sent Off: None sent off .
Jensen, Mears, Fox, Carlisle, Bikey, Cort, Elliott, McDonald, Nugent, Blake, S Fletcher .
Substitutes: Edgar (Fox 86), Thompson (Nugent 88 ) Paterson (Blake 73).
Subs not used: Weaver, Eagles, Duff, Cork.
Goals: Nugent (14), Fox (55).
Booked: McDonald (52), Fox (64).
Sent Off: None sent off.