Tuesday, 23rd March 2010
“So tell us who you’re going to be tonight Rob”
“Tonight Matthew, I am going to be Gianfranco Zola”
“Fantastic, and how long have you been a fan of Gianfranco Zola’s Rob?”
“Well, fan is a strong word Matthew, but you could say I’ve been following his work closely for the past couple of years”.
“And what are you going to be performing?”
“Well Matthew, Zola has so many favourites, so it was a tough one. There’s the classic “I Think We’ve Turned The Corner”, the tearjerker “We Need To Learn From Our Mistakes” and then there is of course that frequently heard “This Is A Massive Game For Us” with its huge introduction, completely at odds with the finale that is actually completely flat... However, I’ve decided to go for one Zola’s all-time greatest hits. Tonight Matthew, I am going to be performing “We’ve Got To Take The Positives From This Performance”.
Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand…. Back in the room.
Actually, now I think about it, I am completely fed up of We’ve Got To Take The Positives From This Performance/Defeat/Failure/Humiliation/Spanking/Comprehensive-Unremitting-Utter-Shafting. I would far rather he took the Negatives from the game, and then actually did something about them. The positives, by nature, are already positive. So leave them as they are. It’s the negatives that are causing the problem.
That said, in the spirit of the infuriatingly likable minute grinning gargoyle, I shall briefly summarise the positives from my £52 + travel evening in East Ham. I shall do this now, so that those of you who like to take a warm and fuzzy feeling away with you from your football can then draw a line under this report and look no further. So here we go:
• Without Behrami it would have been worse
• Parker never gave up
• Diamanti showed glimpses of his prodigious talent, albeit after over an hour of mediocrity
• Franco’s finish in injury time was a thing of beauty, and in general he injected class and urgency
• Err… it was a lot warmer than the last evening game against Brum…?
• The bizarre ladies-fan-come-Millwall-brick that were left on our seats made a surprisingly effective tool for repeatedly beating one’s own head against
• On the walk back to Upton Park tube, depressed and dejected, my iPod selected a remarkably fine selection of tunes including The Clash, Magazine, Bowie, Blockheads, early B-52s and Cardiacs. In fact, this was the best thing about the evening actually. Hearing songs that I already own, and can play any time, any place, for free.
And that’s it.
Right, now either eject here, or brace yourself, because everything else is going to make Ken Loach look like The Chuckle Brothers.
Here we go then:
The team selection was encouraging, albeit with the odd worry.
Faubert was back, which given his recent Lazarus-like return to form was good news. Diamanti also started, as did Cole, and more ominously McCarthy. With Illunga still out, Daprela kept his position at left back, with Tomkins returning to the centre.
This gave us a starting line-up of Green – Daprela, Upson, Tomkins, Faubert – Diamanti, Kovac, Parker, Behrami – Cole, McCarthy. The bench was perhaps a more interesting indictor of how things might progress, consisting – as it did – of Jonathan Spector and 47 attacking players including Mido, Noble, Stanislas, Ilan, Franco, Hurst, Peters, Brooking, Cottee, McAvennie and Eamon Dolan…
You may need to double check those last few. I may have my notes mixed up…
Now, many people would look at such an attacking bench and think it was a positive move. But, to the seasoned conspiracy theorist such as myself, that basically smacks of “we are going to try and not lose, but we will probably concede, so at least we’ve got options”.
That certainly seemed to be the plan, judging by the way the match started. In fact, “plan” is probably generous, given that we seemed to have all the consistency and shape of a raspberry jelly on the receiving end of a 2005-vintage Michael Vaughn cover drive.
Parker and McCarthy combined well in the opening stages, before Diamanti threaded an enticing looking ball along the line to absolutely no one. That pretty much summed up the initial exchanges.
Conversely, Wolves appeared well-drilled and sharp, breaking with speed and purpose down both flanks.
Around 8 minutes in, the bloke in front of me muttered that “Zola’s tactics seem to be all about not conceding” at exactly the point that Doyle comfortably beat Upson in the air to glance on a great ball for Foley whose vicious diagonal shot from the right of the box rattled our crossbar, and in doing so almost provided a textbook example of irony.
A couple of minutes later, Parker who was looking comfortably our most industrious threat, robbed Manciene, before embarking on one of his trademark charges towards the box. The shot that followed was disappointingly scuffed wide.
Parker aside, it was back to hoofing it towards Cole with varying degrees of ineffectiveness.
Around the quarter hour mark Behrami and Faubert combined well, but the latter’s shot was similarly skewed wide. Shortly after we had our first moment of genuine quality, the mostly anonymous Diamanti won the ball and chipped a lovely pass into Cole, whose skilful back-heel allowed Parker to play what looked a fantastically enticing ball forward. Alas, the pass was designed for someone with more mobility than your average industrial skip, and as only Benni McCarthy was nearby, the attack broke down.
A minute later, Behrami was getting stuck into another challenge and came away with the ball to feed Parker. He in turn threaded it through to Cole who skinned his man to play it to Diamanti via a nice lay-off from McCarthy. The cross looked enticing, but the defender was able to get in front of the onrushing Behrami who was looking to finish off the move he started. The corner was wasted.
Another surging run from Parker ended in a precision slide-rule pass to McCarthy who found Cole who promptly fell over.
Around 25 minutes in, Kovac gave the ball away needlessly in the middle and it needed a beautifully timed tackle from the promising Daprela to cut out the danger as Zubar broke forward with purpose.
Moments later, Henry scythed down Diamanti from behind. Apparently this is no longer a yellow card offence. I must have missed that press release…
Just before the half hour mark, and much without warning, we deployed the classic West Ham tactic, and hit the self-destruct button. A harmless punt forward seemed to be well within the reach of Tomkins. However, he badly misjudged it under (commendable) pressure from Doyle and having seemingly got the ball stuck under his right foot, panicked and wildly slung his left at it in an attempt to get it back to Green. I imagine it would still be trickling its way there now, were it not for the fact that Doyle was able to pounce on it with ease before bursting forward and finishing smartly with some assistance from the far post.
Clearly this was a body blow, but to their credit the crowd stuck with the team. Tomkins is a cracking talent, and these things will happen from time to time. However, it’s at times like that where you need your captain to put an arm round you. The absence of natural leadership on the pitch was all too evident once again though, as Upson seemed to be on sabbatical from the ‘team motivation’ department.
Less than five minutes later we could have been level. Parker sent a weighted chip into McCarthy who used his natural strength to hold off the challenge and turn the ball round to Cole. Unfortunately, with players in the way, Cole went for placement and made a bit of a mess of it, chipping it tamely into the grateful arms of Marcus Hahnemann.
That seemingly brought about an end to the fleeting fight back as at the other end we looked at sixes and sevens, lapsing into the worrying tendencies of earlier in the season. Wolves sent a tame-looking daisy cutter into the box, but inexplicably both Parker and Tomkins left it, as did the surrounding attackers, leaving it to cannon off the bemused-looking Upson’s heel before looping out for a corner. A concerning lack of communication and coordination.
Things nearly got even worse as Kovac mindlessly bundled over the hard-working Jones, who despite having put in a decent shift so far, posed absolutely no threat whatsoever at that time. You get the feeling that anywhere else in the box that would have been a foul. Mercifully Phil Dowd waved play-on. Perhaps he’d had visions of what was to come and was showing some form of benevolent mercy?
A couple of minutes later, and with the Irons having barely got out of their own half for the past 10 minutes, Jones shot wide after more confusion in the West Ham defence. At this point, the first boos of crowd discontent were audible. Never a good sign.
A couple of minutes later, under absolutely no pressure whatsoever, Upson cannoned his header some 90 degrees west of where he had intended and out for a throw. There was a collective mutter of irritation.
Finally, into the last minute of normal time, we decided to try attacking. What with being a goal down and all, someone had obviously twigged this might be an idea. Daprela chipped a lovely ball into McCarthy. Despite the defender doing his best to test the strength of fabric used on the South African’s shirt, he turned and was able to tee-up Parker surging forward. Parker bombed towards goal before unleashing a vicious drive against the foot of the post which cannoned back towards the left-hand by-line. Where most others would have given up, Parker somehow managed to get to the second ball and threaded an inch-perfect shot across goal that Hahnemann did astonishingly well to get back for and claw off the line for a defender to boot out for a corner.
And that was that for the first half. Still, at least there were 45 minutes to claw back the advantage, and although Wolves had looked an effective counter-attacking force, they seemed happy to invite attacks, so the game still seemed there for the taking.
The second half brought about a double change that you expect was 50% by design, 50% by necessity with Stanislas replacing the ineffectual Kovac and Spector stepping in for the unfortunate Tomkins who had picked up a foot injury.
Those expecting a blitzkrieg response were disappointed. An over-hit Parker ball for Cole aside, nothing much happened for the first ten minutes. Eventually, Diamanti picked up a weak clearance and turned to take a snap-shot. There was never enough on it to trouble Hahnemann, but at least we’d decided to start attacking.
It didn’t last, as a couple of seconds later Faubert caused an unnecessary panic with a suspect header back to Green; the ‘keeper eventually doing well to pluck it out of reach of the onrushing forward.
Just before the hour mark things took a turn for the worse, and given the lacklustre start to the second half, it wasn’t undeserved. A promising move broke down when Cole played a completely aimless pass inside to empty space. Wolves leapt on the free ball and drove forward winning a throw in deep into our half. Spector hoofed it clear, but only as far as Elokobi who played it on to Jones. Jones slid an incisive ball to the onrushing Zubar who finished emphatically from an initially unpromising angle.
At this point the atmosphere turned decidedly sour with chants of “you’re not fit to wear the shirt” beginning to ring around the stadium. Whatever effect our more militant comrades were hoping to achieve, their logic was clearly flawed as the team looked completely overawed.
This tactic spectacularly backfired less than a minute later when Wolves made it three, in yet another example of West Ham conceding goals in quick succession.
Cole – who’s head appeared to have gone down some time ago – was comfortably muscled off the ball in an attacking position, and Wolves broke again with a pinpoint ball from Elokobi to the influential Jones. The ball to Jarvis still left the attacker with a lot of work to do with Spector and Faubert still between the ball and Green, but a subtle shift of momentum inside by Jarvis left both defenders for dead and he was able to drive a fierce shot past Green once more.
It was too much for many as the exits started to fill up with disgruntled Irons heading for the doors, albeit not as many as might be feared given the rather toxic atmosphere.
Gradually we began to find our feet again, with Behrami continuing to put in the workload and Diamanti seemingly awakened from his activity hiatus, but the frustrations were evident. Cole appeared to have given up trying to win anything, and even Parker was looking like he was losing his composure.
Finally something positive happened. Diamanti clipped a delightful ball over the top for Parker to finish sublimely over Hahnemann’s head. However the whistle had already gone, and to be fair, the keeper had heard it and so we will never know whether he’d have got there or not. The bloke in front of me vented his frustration at Parker for being “miles offside”. I wasn’t so certain, and sure enough, watching it back on TV indicated that Parker was probably level, and therefore should have been given the benefit of the doubt. Still, when you’re down etc…
On 71 minutes, the largely anonymous McCarthy was replaced by Franco, as the Upton Park faithful let the South African know exactly what they felt about his efforts.
The replacement seemed to spark something though. Firstly Faubert had a half-hearted penalty appeal turned down as he drilled a low ball into the box which looked as if it may have just brushed Henry’s hand as it bobbled up. Behrami was too busy chasing down a lost cause on the by-line to pay much attention, his terrier-like work rate winning a corner that few had much right to expect at the outset. The corner eventually being headed over by Upson.
On 75 minutes, Franco fed Parker who appeared to have set-up Cole, only for the big striker to scuff his shot harmlessly.
A couple of minutes later produced the best football we’d seen all night. An absolute peach of a pass from Diamanti was met with a cheeky volleyed back-heel from Stanislas into the path of Franco. The Mexican jinked one way then another past two defenders before riffling a shot goalwards forcing an exceptional save from the American ‘keeper. Alas, the corner that followed was utter bobbins.
Another ambitious Diamanti cross-field pass picked out Stanislas on the wing who once again found Franco, this time the striker bothering row Z.
Franco’s presence and forcefulness was clearly having an impact as on 84 minutes after looking like he’d lost out on a challenge, he battled gamely back to win a corner.
Shortly after, a weak Stanislas free-kick was cleared out to Diamanti. The Italian took a touch before unleashing a vicious swerving shot goalwards. It was a good height for the ‘keeper, but the bend on the ball very nearly took it past him as he had to readjust to avoid diving past it altogether.
With less than two minutes to go it looked as if we were 3-0 up, not down, with Diamanti and even Parker trying all sorts of flicks and tricks that were actually having an effect, with Diamanti having another crack as the clock tipped over into injury time and a minute later Behrami having a forceful effort charged down.
There was time for one final flourish before Dowd bought about an end to the relentless misery. Behrami slid a smart ball through the middle for Franco to latch onto and clip a wonderful shot over the onrushing Hahnemann. There were suspicions of offside, but replays later showed that the Mexican had judged his run perfectly. An entertaining cameo, but not enough to paper-over the chasm-sized cracks. Alas.
And so that was that. A solitary party popper after a night of relentless house-trashing by bigger, fitter, meaner kids who knew exactly what they’d come for and didn’t leave until they’d emptied the drinks cabinet and pissed on the carpet, flicking the Vs on the way out.
But as a mate of mine always says “there’s always next Saturday”.
Still, “I Think We’ve Turned The Corner” and “We Need To Learn From Our Mistakes” and of course the next match “Is A Massive Game For Us”.
The next person to mention to get Must Win Game” shouts “house”.
Anyway, I’m off “To Take The Positives From This Performance”.
It shouldn’t take long. But as we’ve seen a million times, a season can turn on a sixpence, so keep the faith, and if we play like we did in the last 15 minutes we may just have a chance.
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As uninvolved as it’s possible to be when you concede three. Not directly at fault for any of the goals, but did little apart from pick the ball out of the net.
Looked good when he was given the freedom to go forward. Faded in and out of the game at regular intervals.
Did OK under the circumstances. Some smart tackling and distribution, but caught out of position on occasion.
Difficult to see what he actually does to justify the symbolic armband. A long way from the beating heart of the team that West Ham expects of its captain, and a pretty lamentable performance in general.
One almighty cock-up, but otherwise fine. A fairly catastrophic almighty cock-up though.
Ran with purpose all night. Looked like he was in desperate search of some teammates who might be up for the ride as well.
Won a header early on, thus bringing a premature end to his positive contributions for the evening. A worrying lapse into the haplessness of earlier games.
Worked his socks off and although he didn’t create all that much, his break-up play was utterly essential to save the result being even more embarrassing.
Showed moments of genius, but unfortunately these we spaced amongst great swathes of complete anonymity. Showed purpose towards the end, by which time we were chasing a lost cause.
Looked unfit and, bar the odd nice lay-off, pretty ineffectual in the first half. Completely AWOL in the second half until being unceremoniously hauled-off.
Gradually lost confidence – and therefore interest – as the game progressed. Some promising early hold-up play eventually superseded by a ghost of his former self ambling about the pitch aimlessly.
(Replaced Kovac, 46 mins) I’d forgotten he was even on the pitch until Diamanti started pinging balls in his general direction. As subs go, not a tactical masterstroke.
(Replaced Tomkins, 46 mins) Put in the traditional Jonathan Spector “ronseal” performance. Plenty of graft, not a great deal of quality.
(Replaced McCarthy, 75 mins) At last: guile, desire and application. A sublimely taken goal and one of the only players prepared to put his boot through the big round white thing (no, not Frank Lampard).
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Referee: Phil Dowd.
Man of the Match: Scott Parker.
West Ham United
Robert Green, Julien Faubert, Fabio Daprela, Matthew Upson, James Tomkins, Scott Parker, Radoslav Kovac, Valon Behrami, Alessandro Diamanti, Benni McCarthy, Carlton Cole.
Goals: Guillermo Franco 90 .
Sent Off: None sent off .
Hahnemann, Zubar, Craddock, Berra, Elokobi, Foley, Mancienne, Henry, Jones, Jarvis, Doyle.
Substitutes: Ward (Jarvis 71), Halford (Zubar 80), Guedloura (Mancienne 86).
Subs not used: Hennessey, Iwelumo, Milijas, Ebanks-Blake.
Goals: Doyle (28), Zubar (58), Jarvis (61).
Booked: Mancienne (29), Zubar (48).
Sent Off: None.