Monday, 7th February 2005
Whatever the reason, and it may be my imagination since I can’t be bothered to look at the stats involved, we never seem to be at our best when an early start is involved. There’s no reason why this should be the case really. I mean professional sportsmen ought to be able to handle an early start since, unlike the paying customer, they shouldn’t have been out all night having a beer. Of course one of the reasons that will inevitably be given for the early start will be the police’s desire to stop supporters gathering for a pre-match pint. Which is why a number of die-hards gathered at a ridiculous hour at a secret location in East London in the interests of pursuing a hair of the dog. Romford handily wore his bright orange, sorry tuscan terracotta, trousers so he was sent out to stand outside the front door and act as a homing beacon for those unsure of the location, thereby disproving once and for all that there is no market for clothing that looks like a traffic cone.
Liquid breakfasts dealt with, we ventured to the ground. Team news was that Repka’s suspension – and this must surely be the latest ever he’s had his first ban of the season - meant that we were forced into our millionth different defensive line-up of the season. The James Walker goalkeeping experiment was abandoned in favour of the return of Bywater giving a starting line-up of Bywater, Mullins, Powell, Ferdinand, Mackay, Reo-Coker, Fletcher, Noble, Harewood, Sheringham, Zamora.
The game pattern was set fairly early on. We had a lot of possession but we failed to create much in the way of meaningful chances, whilst Cardiff looked occasionally as if they might create something on the break. Bywater held a volley from Thorne fairly comfortably, whilst a harder shot from Inamoto took a little more effort to gather in. Inamoto’s shot followed some good build-up work from a vaguely familiar chap by the name of McAnuff.
Our efforts were mainly restricted to half chances. Teddy volleyed well over whilst the impressive Noble had a goal-bound shot diverted over and wide by the head of Kavanagh. Meanwhile Zamora was showing some improved form in his involvement in the link-up play, though his attempt at a “clever” quick free-kick is something over which a discreet veil should be drawn. Other chances, such as they were , fell the way of Mackay with a header and a Fletcher shot which was blocked by gabbidon who, along with Collins, had a fine game in the Cardiff defence.
Up the other end we suffered a few moments as Ferdinand’s hesitation led to his blocked clearance rebounding, thankfully, to safety whilst Lee caused problems on our right but his near-post shot was well covered by Bywater. Overall, however, it was a half of hard work and grit on both sides, if precious little in the way of flowing football.
As usual we were entertained – if that’s the correct word – by the Hammerettes all of whom appeared to be in dire need of a decent leg-shave (though their appearance may have been a deliberate attempt to the less sophisticated tastes in women that the average Welsh man seems to have)
If the first half had been a bit scrappy, the second period was even more so. For some reason we found ourselves unable to make the most simplest of passes. Time after time passes dropped short One such pass from Noble gave Mullins no chance. Lee’s subsequent run into the area ended up with Bywater making the save by sitting on the ball. Slightly more impressive was Bywater’s save from Langley’s shot from distance, a powerful shot that the ‘keeper did well to turn past the post.
A Harewood shot was blocked by Gabbidon, prompting a mini goalmouth , well scramble is probably overstating it, then Mackay got up well at the back post from a corner, only to be beaten by the angle.
The general concensus was that we lacked width and the ability to get a decent cross in. Something had to change and on the hour Zamora was replaced by Chadwick. Zamora, who has come in for a lot of stick recently, hadn’t had that bad a game and had certainly won a decent number of headers against two of the better defenders in the league. However we weren’t getting any service to the forwards in the areas that mettered and, with Harewood and Sheringham on the pitch Zamora was the one to be sacrificed.
Despite the change, it was Cardiff who spurned the chance of the match. In fact it was a double chance. McAnuff ended up with a ball given away by Mullins. The former Hammer pulled the ball back to Lee who missed his kick horribly from six yards out. The ball found its way through to Langley who screwed his shot across the face of the goal only to see Lee miskick once more and the ball span harmlessly wide.
Up the other end our main source of potential profit came from set pieces from the edge of the box. A burst through from Chadwick was unceremoniously terminated by a crude lunge. Sheringham’s free-kick produced a few “oohs” from the crowd but in truth the shot was a good distance wide. A second Teddy effort from similar distance and angle hit the wall and looped up into the air whereupon ‘keeper Alexander made a complete hash of things to give a way a corner from which Mackay again headed over.
With about 5 minutes remaining Rebrov replaced Noble as the game seemed to be petering out for a draw. However, it all happened in the last minute or so. A move on the break found Lee in acres of space and, had he scored, which he really ought o have done from 10 yards out, it would have been game over.. Fortunately Lee put his shot wide.
Within a minute we had the lead. The ball found its way to Rebrov who weighed up the options before laying it out wide to Powell. Powell’s cross was, for once, perfect. Fletcher’s run from deep wasn’t picked up by Cardiff and the header flew into the right hand side of the goal much to the relief of the home crowd.
The remaining four minutes of added time were dealt with comfortably enough and we gratefully banked the three points which keeps us one point outside the playoff zone. It wasn’t pretty by any stretch of the imagination but, the way things are I’ll settle for the three points first and worry about the looks later, especially as we might have two weeks off league action if we get past Sheffield United next week. In any case it was nice to get revenge for the rugby!
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Restored to the league starting XI he had a solid game and the save from Langley was excellent.
Repka’s enforced absence meant another run-out at right back. The opposition seem to target him there and it was significant that many of Cardiff’s chances came down that flank.
Solid enough defensively and got forward well. However, the final cross apart, his delivery into the box left something to be desired.
Recovered from a shaky opening period when he misjudged bounces and took extra touches in dangerous positions. In the second half he went back to basics and was all the better for it.
Won a lot in the air and kept it simple on the deck.
Other than the goal it was a fairly quiet match for the Welshman.
Continues to improve making it difficult for the manager to leave him out once a full squad is available.
Beginning to show signs of improvement following his absence through illness.
Some signs of improvement this week. His touch was a bit better and there were some nice lay-offs that suggested that he’s been spending some time watching Sheringham.
Some of the usual intelligent touches were there but he didn’t get a lot of service.
Marlon wasn’t in defence scaring mood today. A few good runs but failed to dominate like we know he can.
(Replaced Zamora, 61) Brought on to supply much-needed width. Did ok.
(Replaced Noble, 84) Given a 5 minute run-out at the end. Had a small role in the move that led to the goal.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Man of the Match: Mark Noble.
West Ham United
Goals: Carl Fletcher 89
Booked: None booked. .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Alexander, Weston, Gabbidon, Lee, Langley, Barker, Collins, Kavanagh, McAnuff, Thorne, Inamoto.
Substitutes: Vidmar (Weston 77), Ledley (Inamoto 86).
Subs not used: Warner, Bullock, Fleetwood.
Booked: Gabbidon (73).
Sent Off: None sent off.