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Premier League
Sunday, 21st February 2010

West Ham United 3
Hull City 0

by Gordon Thrower


You wait forever for a win then two come along at once!

This was another of those “must win” matches according to the papers, so it was good to see a number of players returning from the injury list. In amongst all the hubbub surrounding the new arrivals up front, Franco’s absence has been forgotten to a large degree. The Mexican/Argentinean (Margentinian?) striker was given a start ahead of Mido and Ilan whilst experience was preferred across the middle leaving Noble & Collison on the racing car seats. The starting line-up: Green, Faubert, Spector, Upson, Tomkins, Behrami, Parker, Kovac, Diamanti, Cole, Franco.

We got off to the proverbial bright start. In fact, as the song puts it we “had to wear shades”. Faubert was upended by the obnoxious Hunt in the first minute or so going down the right. Diamanti took the kick and, not for the first time this season, opted to shoot from an unlikely angle. Myhill had left a gap at his near post but recovered to pull off a decent save.

Diamanti combined with Parker for the corner before crossing for Upson who couldn’t quite get enough on the header to overly trouble Myhill. Myhill threw the ball across his goal to the left hand side – something that keepers are always warned against. Dawson played a ball inside to Cairney who was a bit flat-footed. In fact the last time I saw something that immobile it was awaiting embalmment. Kovac robbed the youngster, Behrami took the loose ball forward and played it in to Franco whose uncharacteristic spot of loose control turned into the perfect return pass for Behrami to finish superbly. Two minutes gone and one up – I’d say that’s a bright start.

The goal brought confidence to the side as the visitors looked shell-shocked. Cole forced another corner on the right. Kovac had a free header but got well under it. Hull’s main hope was the baffling inconsistency of ref Atkinson who seemed incapable of deciding what was and what wasn’t a foul. In the end he appeared to be operating on a “give one, get one free” basis – Upson was penalised for a challenge that seconds earlier had been perfectly legal up the other end. Vennegoor Of Hesselink got on the end of the free-kick but his header lacked venom and Green gathered comfortably.

The match was not without a spot of niggle. Franco got into a bit of a contretemps with Paul McShane at a throw-in. McShane has shed a few pounds and dyed his hair since leaving his role in rubbish sitcom “Hi-De-Hi”. He’s still about as funny though. A ballboy bravely stood between the two bigger boys to break it up – though on closer inspection the peacemaker proved to be Zola. The incident ended with a ticking off for the two players without formal sanction from the ref. As an afternote, once the throw came in McShane hauled Franco over, something that was as predictable as an episode of rubbish sitcom “Hi-De_Hi”. So quite apt really.

We started to up the pressure again. Faubert’s deep cross was met at the far post by Diamanti’s first time volley, the ambition behind which deserved a better result than the near-decapitation of one of the patrons in the lower Sir Trevor. Though frankly the girly way in which the spectator tried to get out of the way should embarrass him. Diamanti again burst forward down the middle but powered his shot over the bar. I didn’t see where it landed but I expect that particular spectator made more of an effort.

Behrami, having got one, was also looking for more. He robbed Dawson in similar territory to the position from which the first goal had started. His shot was turned round the post by Myhill. Known as Boaz, it makes you wonder what his parents called their dog when he was a kid. Either way he was beginning to emulate his teammate Duke who kept the score down to single figures in the corresponding fixture from 2008/09. Unusually, Diamanti’s delivery from the resulting corner failed to beat the first man and nothing came of the move.

The first yellow of the day came on 25 minutes. Parker played the ball down the line and, with all the timing of a Southeastern train between Hither Green and London Bridge (trust me they’re always late), in came Fagan to clatter Parker into touch. The yellow was deserved, not that that stopped Fagan having a few words to say about it but for the life of me I can’t see what he had to moan about.

Cole, who was having a quietish game, then got in a shot from the right. He didn’t get anything like the required power behind it and Myhill saved easily. Then came Myhill’s finest moment. A quick free-kick found Diamanti free on the left. He taunted McShane before sending over the most perfect of crosses to Behrami on the far post. Pep headed back towards the far corner where, somehow, Myhill managed to twist round to palm the ball out. A superb save. Damn him.

We then had a spell where we sat back a bit and let them into the game. This spell started with a spot of diving, Hunt and the rather chubby Zaki being the two main offenders. For the most part Atkinson waved play on but, as is the usual case with referees these days, the thought of actually punishing the offence with a yellow card terrifies them. Which is why so many players continue to do it.

Zaki was particularly guilty, going over on a number of occasions in an apparent attempt to perform a pike and a couple of twists into the “Olympic-sized swimming pool” that they were always banging on about in rubbish sitcom “Hi-De-Hi”. Given his size, a belly flop would probably have been more apt. Another touchline tangle between Zaki and Behrami ended up with another ticking off for the protagonists. Hull then got a free-kick in dangerous territory.

Faubert was then guilty of undertaking a challenge during the “give one” cycle of Atkinson’s mindset, the “get one free” having come during an identical challenge on Franco a few seconds earlier. Parker blocked the ball for a corner which Green came for and punched, gaining good distance with the clearance.

Just as the half was beginning to peter out, Boateng pounced on a headed clearance from Upson, chested it down, took a touch then hit a powerful shot towards the corner, Green pulling off a superb save to maintain the lead. The corner was wasted, with Zaki being spotted by the ref making illegal use of his not inconsiderable weight as the ball came over.

The half time interval was spent with a chat with boxer Kevin Mitchell, our Jem manfully resisting the temptation to ask whether Mitchell would be prepared to go and give a demonstration of his punching power using the obnoxious Hunt as a punchbag. Also, and I know these details are important to you, the half time confectionery consisted of what I still like to refer to as a Marathon bar.

About seven minutes into the second half we saw a sending off. Craig Fagan was the culprit, having lost the ball to Diamanti his sly tug back was always going to meet with only one result. I’m not sure what was more stupid, the foul in the first place or the player’s decision to interrupt his departure to debate the decision with the ref – aided of course by the obnoxious Hunt. Either way, his manager will not have been happy – especially if the FA decides that there is a “failure to leave the pitch in a prompt manner” to consider.

Of course given our history of playing against ten men we started to worry. Our mood was not lightened by the mysterious yellow card awarded by Atkinson to Parker for a foul that was so innocuous, consistency would have demanded another twelve red cards by the end of the match. However, we settled down and actually started to use the space the extra man gave us – using the width for once – and on the hour we doubled the lead.

Faubert picked up the ball on the right and played a wonderful ball down the right that beat the defender. Cole watched Myhill commit himself before clipping the ball wide of the advancing ‘keeper to make it 2-0. It’s the sort of position from which we’ve seen Cole miss in the past but his improvement over the past 18 months was there for all to see.

However, the goal was all about Faubert’s pass. The words “inch-perfect” really don’t do it justice and, though I am loathe to use the metric system, I feel that “millimetre-perfect” is just about the correct degree of tolerance to go for on this occasion. The beauty of the pass was not lost on Faubert’s team mates, many of whom made the right-back their first port of call in celebrating the goal. Quite right too!

We continued to press forward. Cole, whose goal had woken him up, burst forward but put his shot from distance wide before we made our first change of the day. On 62 minutes Ilan replaced Franco who was beginning to show understandable signs of a lack of match fitness. Franco enjoyed the walk back to the racing car seats with just about every player getting a hug en route, the journey being capped off with nice spot of badge-tugging.

Two minutes later Hull made a triple substitution, something that caused Jem a few problems as fourth official D’Urso struggled with the board. In the end the changes turned into a spot of “substitute bingo”. When the dust had settled Cairney had been replaced by Altidore, the obnoxious Hunt, by Barmby and the portly Zaki by Olofinjana, whose name Mr Nicholas made a creditable attempt at. Zaki went off to the sound of “Are you Lampard in disguise” – he’d certainly been bulking up on the pies (or the Egyptian equivalent thereof) in his absence from English football.

With 20 minutes left Diamanti made an audacious bid to write himself further into West Ham folklore. Picking up a loose ball 10 yards inside his OWN half he tried a shot that caught Myhill off his line. The ‘keeper got back in time to divert the ball wide for a corner. It was one of those sublime moments that gets you on your feet and the standing ovation the shot received was well deserved – so much so that it would be churlish to point out that it was probably going wide. So I won’t.

Rather unfortunately for Diamanti he had to take the corner himself so there was a bit of a delay as he caught up with the ball. Upson got on the end of the corner but Cole couldn’t quite connect on the loose ball. Tails were, undeniably up at this stage.

Faubert played another superb ball down the line. Cole held it up, then fed Ilan who brought Faubert back into play. Faubert slightly overhit his push forward but won the race to the ball to gain a corner off Dawson who ended up with a bang on the knee for his trouble. Whilst this was not the severest of injuries, the pain certainly affected his movement for the remainder of the match, and he might have gone off but for the fact that all three subs had already been used.

With Hull down to nine men as Dawson received treatment, Diamanti took a corner finding Parker on the edge of the box. Parker’s low ball in was cleared out as far as Diamanti who made room for the shot which, sadly, cleared the bar, denying the Italian the goal his performance had deserved. Shortly after Hull got what was their last real chance, Altidore getting just the wrong side of Upson, whose presence nevertheless was enough to see the hapless American pull his shot wide.

A Diamanti pass In the general direction of Cole was easily cut out, though its significance lay more in the fact that Cole’s efforts to get to the ball were being hampered by injury. Cole left on 78 minutes to be replaced by Mido, whose first contribution was to win a corner. Upson, once more, got on the end of it but the ball was cleared from in front of the ‘keeper by a defender. The ball ended up in the crowd at which point the figure of Gardner was seen laying on the floor in the box.

It transpired that he had landed awkwardly after going up with Upson for the earlier header and the fact that he was lying still gave the game away that this was a potentially serious injury. Gardner was stretchered off to generous applause that I doubt will get reported in any of the papers tomorrow. The extent of the injury is unknown at the time of writing but Phil Brown was heard to mention the words “tibia and fibia” at the post-match press conference, which suggests that the news is not good.

When all had died down Diamanti left to a well-deserved ovation to be replaced by Collison. In stoppage time Hull’s misery was complete. Faubert picked the ball up on the right and, accepting the invitation to push forward from the Hull defenders, he buried a shot from the edge of the box to give the score a not unflattering look. Faubert’s celebration included a spot of pointing at the sky, presumably a reference to his mother who passed away a few weeks back. It must have been heart-warming for him to hear the old “Julian” chants resurrected from the Dicks era as well.

That was about it. The other results went in our favour pushing us up to 13th (in advance of Wigan v Spurs). Given the opposition over the next few weeks, nobody is getting carried away at the moment. However, with the return to fitness of key players, there is a balance to the team that was lacking earlier in the season. A look at the bench with the likes of Noble, Collison, Mido and Ilan all present suggests that there is genuine competition for some places now which can be no bad thing. Another clean sheet – a record equalling fourth on the trot at home – is not to be sniffed at either.

Keep it up boys!



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Player Ratings

Robert Green
Always difficult to judge a ‘keeper when he’s had so little to do. However, during that short spell in the first half when Hull did their spot of threatening he looked confident on crosses and pulled off that marvellous save from Boateng.


Julien Faubert
A fine game. The ball through for Cole’s goal was perfection and the goal wasn’t bad either. MOTM.


Jonathan Spector
Following on from the decent half he had against Birmingham he had another good 90.


Matthew Upson
The better of the centre backs on the day.


James Tomkins
Appears to have gone “back to basics” – opting for safety first on every occasion. There are occasions when he is capable of doing more with the ball – suggesting a lack of confidence at the moment maybe?


Scott Parker
Yet another good performance from somebody who is captain in all but name. One worry was the ludicrous yellow card issued by the inconsistent Atkinson, which leaves Parker one card short of a two-match ban just ahead of a period when we are likely to need him most.


Radoslav Kovac
Possibly the one weak spot on the day. Although his tenacity led to the first goal his distribution through the rest of the match was dreadful.


Valon Behrami
Took the goal well and put in a decent shift in midfield – unlucky not to have got a first-half hat-trick.


Alessandro Diamanti
The sort of player who gets you off your seat. Comparisons with another Italian are quite apt – even if he isn’t quite as bonkers. Got the sponsors’ MOTM award and I’ll admit he came very close to getting mine.


Guillermo Franco
Controlled the ball well and brought others into the game. Unsurprisingly, he faded a bit in the second half after his month or two on the injury list but it was good to see him back and, in amongst all the new arrivals up front, he laid down a marker to suggest that he won’t be ousted easily.


Carlton Cole
On his own admission, his overall performance was not the greatest – however, the finish for his goal was excellent. Hopefully the groin niggle that saw his early departure is nothing too serious.


Substitutes


Ilan
(Replaced Franco, 63 mins) A couple of touches but didn’t really get into the game much.


Mido
(Replaced Cole, 79 mins) His appearance was more about clocking up game time and match fitness.


Jack Collison
(Replaced Diamanti, 85 mins) The game was effectively over by the time he arrived.


Marek Stech
Did not play.


Manuel Da Costa
Did not play.


Mark Noble
Did not play.


Junior Stanislas
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: Martin Atkinson.

Attendance: 33,971.

Man of the Match: Julien Faubert.

West Ham United

Robert Green, Julien Faubert, Jonathan Spector, Matthew Upson, James Tomkins, Scott Parker, Radoslav Kovac, Valon Behrami, Alessandro Diamanti, Guillermo Franco, Carlton Cole.

Goals: Valon Behrami 3 Carlton Cole 59 Julien Faubert 90              .

Booked: Scott Parker 55          .

Sent Off: None sent off     .

Hull City

Myhill, Gardner, McShane, Dawson, Mouyokolo, Fagan, Boateng, Hunt, Cairney, Zaki, Vennegoor of Hesselink.

Substitutes: Barmby (Hunt 65), Altidore (Cairney 65), Olofinjana (Zaki 66).

Subs not used: Duke, Kilbane, Zayatte, Garcia.

Goals: None.

Booked: Fagan (26).

Sent Off: Fagan (51).

 
Gordon Thrower's Man of the Match: Julien Faubert


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