Tuesday, 5th September 2000
Despite missing the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Freddy Kanoute and Javier Margas the Hammers were by far the better side on a warm Durham evening, and deserved to take all three points - and probably would have done so but for a couple of excellent saves from stand in keeper Jurgen Macho.
But in the end Harry Redknapp's men had to settle for a share of the spoils, which keeps us firmly rooted at the bottom of the Premiership - but on the evidence of this performance surely not for too much longer.
The 5-3-2 formation was firmly in evidence once again; Trevor Sinclair and Nigel Winterburn patrolling the flanks, with a reshuffled pack of Stimac, Stuart Pearce and Lomas in between. Back came Frank Lampard to join Joey Cole and Michael Carrick in a youthful looking midfield. Up front, Di Canio and Suker.
Once the pyrotechnics and Prokofiev's 'Romeo and Juliet' were over and done with the game was under way - and the Hammers so nearly suffered their own tragedy inside 45 seconds. A burst through the middle from former Hammer Don Hutchison culminated with a low drive that evaded the despairing dive of Shaka Hislop, and pinged off the inside of the post, before Kevin Phillips blasted the rebound high into the crowd. An early warning for the Hammers indeed.
But West Ham seemed to heed the warning sign, and began to take control of the game. A Michael Carrick drive on 16 minutes almost paid dividends, but keeper Macho was equal to it.
Back came the home side, and a Sunderland free kick from 20 yards brought out the best in Hislop who saved well from the low drive.
But he could do nothing to stop Sunderland's goal which came on 25 minutes. A Kevin Kilbane cross left Hislop flat-footed, and new signing Julio Arca, making his debut nodded in at the far post. Trevor Sinclair was handed a yellow card in the ensuing protests, which occured as Arca seemed to shove Sinclair to make way for the header (click here to listen to Sinclair's comments, Real Audio required). Still, referee Jones was having none of it and the goal stood.
This was the cue for West Ham to come out fighting, as that's exactly what they did. Di Canio had a scorcher tipped over on the half hour, before our just rewards arrived with the equaliser two minutes later. An innocuous Di Canio corner was fumbled by keeper Macho, and Suker swivelled to knock in one of the weakest goals you'll see all year from six yards.
The Hammers should have gone into the break in front, but Davor Suker wasted two great opportunities in the final minute of the half. Firstly, a brilliant turn on the edge of the box left him one on one with the keeper, but instead of carrying the ball he went for the lob which sailed over. Then, he found himself in acres of space down the left flank, but with Joey Cole screaming into the box unattended Suker could only find the arms of keeper Macho. 1-1 at the break.
The Hammers began the second half how they finished the first. On top, and in complete control over a Sunderland side who looked bereft of ideas. But the home side gradually worked their way back into the game, and had two good opportunities; a Quinn shot which Hislop did well to tip over, then a surging run from Phillips which ended in a Lomas tackle inside the box. The home crowd screamed for a penalty but the referee rightly ruled the tackle good.
Hislop was again called into action to make a great save from a swerving Phillips strike from 20 yards. Phillips was then booked less than a minute later for an unrelated incident.
Back came the Hammers; a quick break from Paolo Di Canio who set up Davor Suker down the right, but his low drive whizzed across the face of the goal to safety for the home team.
John Moncur replaced Davor Suker on 66 minutes. Suker had gone down heavily twice in his last ten minutes on the pitch, so whether this was a precautionary move or not remains to be seen.
What was baffling was Harry Redknapp's decision to revert to a 4-4-2 formation, with Joe Cole joining Di Canio up front. Cole had run the Black Cats ragged all evening, and was at the centre of all West Ham's best moves. But with the switch he was taken out of the game, and Sunderland were gifted the opportunity to push forward in search of a winner. Much has been made of Redknapp's apparent tactical deficiencies, and unfortunately this move only served to support such theories.
Despite the home side enjoying more possession the Hammers still came forward looking for a winner, and they had the two best chances of the game inside the final ten minutes. Firstly, Paolo Di Canio found himself free inside the box with only the keeper to beat. You'd have bet your granny on this one going in, but under the pressure of a challenge he could only steer the ball wide.
Then John Moncur, who was looking sharp once again following his long enforced lay off, hit a scorcher from 20 yards. It was heading for the top corner, but keeper Macho produced the best save of the night to somehow tip it round the post. It was the last chance of the game, and after one minute of added time referee Jones called a halt to proceedings.
So a lot of pluses for the Hammers, but once again you were left with the feeling that we should have taken three points. Redknapp will undoubtedly be pleased with the result, but if our European aspirations are to continue it's games like this that we should be winning. Sunderland will struggle this season; their route one football won't win them any friends this year, and if Quinn or Phillips become injured you wonder where their goals will come from.
A final word about the Stadium of Light. It really is a fantastic stadium, now capable of holding some 48,000 spectators. The atmosphere inside is tremendous, and should you have the opportunity to visit I would thoroughly recommend it. The best stadium I've visited in this country by far.
Now all it needs is a team that can truly do it justice ...
Hislop (9) Had a really good night did Shaka. Solid shot-stopping plus a couple of good tip overs. Back in form.
Winterburn (9) I cannot believe how much energy he has for a 36 year old. Was chasing the keeper down in the 90th minute. A real shining example to the younger players.
Sinclair (7) A quieter night for Sincs; solid without being exceptional. But it's good to have him back.
Stimac (9) Has a real tussle with Quinn all night, and just about got the better of him. His best performance so far this season.
S.Pearce (7) Solid, but had the tendancy to give away the ball unnecessarily at times.
Lomas (9) A great night for Norn Iron Steve. Played firstly at centre-half, then switched to the equally unaccustomed right-back - but didn't put a foot wrong all night.
Lampard (7) Played the link role well, but still lacking match fitness. Should have gone off instead of Suker when looking jaded.
Cole (9) My man of the match. Sunderland just couldn't cope with him. Criminal decision by Redknapp to put him up front for the last 25 minutes.
Carrick (9) A storming game for young Michael. Did the simple things superbly without trying to be too spectacular.
Di Canio (8) Had his moments, but should have scored at least once. Another player that Sunderland just couldn't defend against properly.
Suker (8) What is it about Suker? He has you pulling your hair out due to his refusal to make himself available and apparent laziness - then goes and scores a vital goal. The jury's still out.
West Ham: Hislop, Winterburn, Sinclair, Stimac, S.Pearce, Lomas, Lampard, Cole, Carrick, Di Canio, Suker
Subs: Moncur (Suker 66), Bywater, Peacock, Newton, Keller
Sunderland: Macho, Gray, Makin, Holloway, Thome, Craddock, Kilbane, Hutchison, Arca, Quinn, Phillips
Subs: Marriott, Foster, Williams, Rae, Roy
Booked: Winterburn, Sinclair, Suker, Hutchison, Phillips
Goals: Arca (25), Suker (31)
Your views (use the form below to send us your version of events)
"Thanks for your comments Matt. Re: Quinn, I've also seen them given for a lot less - but it still wasn't a penalty. As for the route one comment, I think you summed it up perfectly in your third paragraph, when you said: 'PR seems to have decided not to play wingers anymore, instead playing it through the middle'. From the reports I've read on the game this is the general consensus, not just my (biased) opinion.
Agreed about Phillips though, he definitely seemed lacking in match fitness."
"When you guys were at the SOL last year I though you were very unlucky not to get anything from it. This time, in my opinion I didn't think you played half as good - but got a point.
"Di Canio was quiet (for his standards) and Suker seemed to go missing for most of the game. Up front West Ham seemed to lack invention, with Cole running his socks off, but no one to finish it off.
"Sunderland - we played our usual way - everyone out of position, but our 2 new starters, Arca & Thome, were solid enough. PR seems to have decided not to play wingers anymore, instead playing through the middle.
"Phillips had a quiet night (not match fit yet?), as did Quinny, who had to put up with some pretty serious fouling/obstruction at times.
"Referee started OK, but second half completely lost the plot. By the end no-one from either team knew what he was gonna give.
"Your report is slightly biased (but I expect it to be). How can you see from the away end whether Quinny should have had a penalty. I was on the line with it, and I've seen them given for a lot less. Also, will away fans please stop insisting that Sunderland just 'hoof it up route-one to Quinny' and that 'we'd be nothing without Phillips'. We just don't play that way any more !"
Matt - Sunderland view
"Nice report Gray ! Good to hear us on Capital Gold outsinging them !"
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