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Sunday, 20th February 2005

West Ham United 5
Plymouth Argyle 0

by Gordon Thrower

Five goals, two penalties – one retaken, a red card, an own goal and three injuries – four if you count my own! If I don’t see the word “eventful” in the Sunday papers I’ll be very surprised!

The team news was that there was to be a rare start for Sergei Rebrov following a spell on the injured list. Etherington & Zamora joined Lomas on the “just coming back from injury section” of the bench alongside Nigel Reo-Coker. Our bench has been a funny place of late. Injuries meant that last week we had no spare attackers whilst this week defenders were something of a rarity. The starting line-up was therefore: Bywater, Repka, Powell, Mackay, Ferdinand, Fletcher, Noble, Mullins Rebrov, Harewood, Sheringham.

The best entertainment in the early stages was to be had from the 2,000 strong away support’s oh-so-original chant of “you’re not famous anymore”. Coming as it did from a club whose sole claim to fame would appear to be having ex-Labour Leader Michael Foot registered with the no.90 shirt it seemed a bit rich. (Obviously he was never going to get no.10).

Although it seemed to take quite a long time for the game to warm up, it was in fact as early as the 10th minute when we took the lead. The goal had an element of farce about it. A corner on our left was taken deep by Noble. Quite who the culprit was – some say Coughlan, some Gudjonsson – is a bit of a mystery. What is also a mystery is why whoever it was should have felt the need to play the ball with their hand at that point, but play it they did. The referee spotted it and, in stark contrast to last week’s shoot-out shenanigans, Harewood put the spot-kick away with the minimum of fuss.

Plymouth laboured to get back into the game but their efforts were really little more than shooting practice for Bywater and it was us who put the ball away next, albeit for a goal that was disallowed for offside. Noble’s shot was parried by ‘keeper McCormick, Sheringham’s follow-up was also saved with Ferdinand eventually putting the loose ball away. Whether or not it was Teddy or Anton that was offside I’m not sure but there was little complaint when the referee eventually spotted the flag.

We weren’t to be denied for long. Rebrov was beginning to revel in the space he was being given and, spreading the ball wide to the right he found Harewood whose cross was blocked for a corner. If the first goal had an element of farce about it the second by-passed farce and went straight to Sillyville. Rebrov took his corner to the near post where McCormick somehow contrived to bundle the ball into his own net. Hilarious – unless you’d paid a small fortune to First Great Western to come up from Plymouth to watch the game.

If there had been signs of improving confidence after the first goal, the second goal confirmed those signs. Amongst the midfield, Noble was particularly impressive, though Fletcher too was having an excellent match. Sergei too was beginning to revel in the space he was finding so, such is the luck that we’re getting at times this season, he promptly got a calf injury and had to come off on the half hour mark. Reo-Coker was the Ukranian’s replacement
The substitution caused a brief lull as the players got used to the new line-up. However Noble continued to impress and our main problem was getting people onto the end of crosses.

Plymouth themselves created little. However, having witnessed some comedy keeping at the other end, for some reason Bywater felt compelled to join in. A rare Plymouth attack broke down and, for reasons only he will be able to explain, Byawater raced out of his box to prevent a throw-in. In that respect he was successful. However, it was far from the brightest of ideas to play the ball up the line to the opposition whilst stranded out on the touchline. Thankfully the ball back into the box lacked any proper pace or direction and Repka was able to smuggle the ball away.

With five minutes left before half time we went 3-0 up. Powell’s cross from our left hand side was played on by Sheringham. Mackay got into the gap between two defenders. The word gap is a bit misleading here. You could have got 20 Frank Lampards in the space. Malky had enough time to lob past the keeper. To be honest he probably had time to do it twice. There were protests that Malky, celebrating his 93rd birthday, was offside but certainly the more central of the defenders seemed to be playing him on.

We continued to press forward for the fourth with Noble continuing to impress but there was no further goal scoring action and we went into the interval with a 3-0 lead. Being typical West Ham supporters, our half-time discussions revolved around past disasters against West Brom and Wimbledon and of how many more goals we’d need to make things safe.

We were forced into another change at half-time. Mullins, who hadn’t had the worst of games in the middle, had picked up a groin strain, heralding the return of Lomas to active service. Worse still was the departure of Noble a few minutes into the second period with a strained hamstring. It was particularly galling to see the youngster come off as he had run the match up to that point and it is to be hoped that the substitution was merely a precautionary measure rather than a sign of more serious damage. Noble’s departure signalled the arrival of Zamora

For a while the game went a little flat in the absence of Noble. Once more it seemed to take us a while to adjust to the changes. And Plymouth actually made a couple of decent chances. Bywater came out well to save at close range from the on-loan Blackstock. Up the other end Zamora, who was obviously out to prove a point, battled past the full back and did well to get a cross in only for Marlon to make a right pig’s ear of the attempted volley.

We then saw a return to the bad old days for Tomas. Fletcher had been scythed down in midfield by a tackle that went unpunished. Fletch recovered after treatment but Tomas had a touch of the red mists and, shortly after, in an apparent revenge attack he clattered through the back of a Plymouth player. The yellow card was deserved and Lomas spent some time reading the riot act to Tomas whilst the victim received treatment.

Bywater then made amends for his earlier aberration with a superb double save. Bywater did well to keep out Blackstock’s rocket from a couple of yards then recovered superbly to claw the loose ball away from the far post.

With 15 minutes to go we then got the goal of the match. An interchange of passes found Zamora whose turn and crossfield pass out to Fletch on the right were superb. Fletch’s cross was perfection and Teddy got in between the defence to bury a brilliant angled header. It was the sort of goal that I could watch time and time again.

Zamora, who had caused the Plymouth defence a number of problems, theb burst away but his angled effort was parried away by the keeper but the respite was only temporary. Teddy’s marvellous backheeled pass into the path of Reo-Coker saw NRC clean through on goal only to be hacked down from behind as the trigger was pulled. Doumbe was the culprit and he had to go, despite the somewhat pointless protests of his fellow defenders.

Well the penalty was interesting to say the least. Harewood and Sheringham appear to be operating a rotation system on spot-kicks so it was Teddy’s turn. Teddy hit the kick down the centre and the keeper managed to get a hand to the ball to make an excellent save. Argyle’s joy was short-lived however as the linesman had indicated an offence – presumably for the ‘keeper coming off his line. This was an offence that I thought had been abolished having seen Kenny advance to the spot last weekend. However it appears that the dispensation only applies to fat baldies and since McCormick looks nothing like Little Britain’s “only gay in the village” Teddy was able to take the kick again. He gleefully buried the second effort with venom. The keeper kicked the ball away in frustration and it was hard not to feel a little sorry for him. No that’s a lie – if I’m honest I didn’t give a monkey’s!

There was just time for Bywater to further frustrate the opposition with a final save before we declared at five.

It’s always difficult to judge a performance when the opposition don’t really turn up. Down at their place we were submitted to an aerial onslaught that put one in mind of the bad old route-one days of Wimbledon. This time they seemed devoid of ideas and confidence and I wasn’t surprised to discover that they hadn’t won since Boxing Day. Today we were quite good on occasion and I’d like to think that the winning margin might have been even bigger but for the enforced substitutions which, to me, caused temporary blips during the game as the players got used to the new personnel.

On a personal front I picked the wrong week to do my thigh muscle in. Having struggled up the stairs to my seat I found a position to sit in that didn’t give me too much pain. The only time it hurt was when I jumped up to celebrate a goal. Trust us to score five!

Every time I write something optimistic about our position following a win they go out and do something daft so, instead of boosting our own prospects this week I’ll merely point out that Reading, like Plymouth, haven’t won since Boxing Day and Sheffield United have the cup to think about at the moment. The next couple of weeks are going to be very interesting indeed.

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Player Ratings

Stephen Bywater
The daft rush to the touchline aside he made some excellent saves at times when a goal might have got the old nerves jangling.


Tomas Repka
Plymouth targeted Repka as a potential weak link and played Blackstock up against him. He had a tough time but stuck to his task fairly well. The yellow card was stupid and it would be a shame to see him undo the hard work he’s put into his discipline this season come undone.


Chris Powell
Good in defence and got forward to provide much needed width – his cross helped set up Malky’s goal.


Anton Ferdinand
A fine game. He is now benefiting from an extended run in his proper position and his confidence increases visibly with each game.


Malky Mackay
Battled bravely in defence and was a danger up the other end at set plays.


Carl Fletcher
Got his foot in well and played some excellent passes about the pitch. The cross for Teddy’s first was right on the button.


Mark Noble
Bossed the first half and his hard work provided the foundation on which the team’s overall performance was based. Always wanting the ball, always looking to be creative it was noticeable that the performance dipped for a few minutes after his unfortunate early substitution.


Sergei Rebrov
It was a real shame that his calf went when it did as he was revelling in the space Plymouth gave him.


Hayden Mullins
Did the simple things well. Got his foot in and laid the ball off well but was clearly struggling with his groin towards the end of the first half.


Teddy Sheringham
The first half was all about his link play – his lay-offs and passing were superb. Turned goalscorer in the second half though it should be remembered that it was also his marvellous backheel that led to the penalty.


Marlon Harewood
Seemed to perform well in little spells but I’d like to have seen him more dominant for longer periods.


Substitutes


Nigel Reo-Coker
(Replaced Rebrov, 31) Slightly disappointing – it seemed to take him an eternity to get the pace of the game though his run from Teddy’s backheel did win the penalty.


Steve Lomas
(Replaced Mullins, 45) Like Mullins was at his best when he kept it simple by winning the ball and laying it off. Good to see him talking to Tomas to calm him down.


Bobby Zamora
(Replaced Noble, 48) His first touch was still occasionally lacking but he did very well with the ball laid off his chest. Some good positive runs caused Plymouth a lot of problems and his pass across to Fletch for Teddy’s first was something of which Teddy himself would have been proud. The odd wayward pass/shot aside this was a decent, if, at times erratic performance.


Jimmy Walker
Did not play.


Matthew Etherington
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: K.Friend.

Attendance: 25490.

Man of the Match: Teddy Sheringham.

West Ham United

Goals: Marlon Harewood 8 Luke McCormick og 23 Malky Mackay 41 Teddy Sheringham 76 Teddy Sheringham 84          

Booked: Tomas Repka 63          .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Plymouth Argyle

McCormick, Doumbe, Worrell, Coughlan, Aljofree, Adams, Lasley, Gudjonsson, Buzsaky, Chadwick, Blackstock.

Substitutes: Capaldi (Gudjonsson 45), Norris (Lasley 45).

Subs not used: Evans, Taylor, Gilbert.

Goals: .

Booked: Capaldi (76), Chadwick (84).

Sent Off: Doumbe (82).

 
Match Report