Saturday, 26th August 2000
There have been some fantastic encounters at Upton Park between the two teams over the past decade. The times we denied them of the championship once and then did it again. And who could forget the comeback from 2-0 down in '96. Dicks' penalty and the pitch invasion that followed. Today's game proved no different and another one that will remain in the memories of those who witnessed it for a long time to come.
Last season we were 4-0 down after a short amount of time and this time round Man Utd were once again quick to get off the mark. Stimac, who in my opinion should be dropped went steaming in and made another unnecessary foul just a few minutes into the game. With Hislop not fully fit and Beckham stepping up to take the free kick 30 odd yards out everyone knew what was going to happen next. Whatever you think of him (and believe me, I don't think much) you cannot deny the talent he posses. He sent the ball over the wall, curving and dipping into the top corner of the goal. 1-0 to Man Utd. Beckham's placing of the ball wasn't perfect however and fully fit Hislop may well have turned it away for corner.
For the rest of the first half we took full control of the game. We had the privilege of witnessing Paolo Di Canio and Joe Cole linking up and it really was a privilege. Cole had his best game in a Hammers shirt so far in my opinion and Di Canio was outstanding.
The midfield and attack were excellent. Suker didn't look fully fit but overall we are definitely well endowed in those two areas. Only other complaint would be Lomas who although I appreciate some of the great ball winning abilities he possesses looked a bit out of his depth to be honest.
Plenty of chances came our way during the first half. Michael Carrick had a good one on the edge of the area when he was presented with a free shot after majestic skills from Di Canio and a cross which eventually fell to Carrick's feet. His shot was perhaps too weak and high though as the keeper turned it round the post.
Stimac and Cole both had good opportunities from headers which they failed to take full advantage of. Shortly before half time Lomas hit a great 30 yard dipping drive which Barthez only just managed to tip over the bar. If it had of been in one of the corners the keeper would have stood no chance.
Di Canio and Cole were simply ripping Man Utd apart. We were extremely unlucky to be 1-0 down at half time. We had played them off the park, plain and simple.
At the start of the second half Stimac should have scored from a header after a Di Canio corner but it crept just wide of the post. A 50 yard ball then provided Giggs with the chance to run at the defence before attempting to pass to Andy Cole inside the box. The ball hit Lomas' legs and still fell to Andy Cole who by this time had a half open goal (Hislop had come off his line) to poke the ball home and many would say kill the game at that stage.
A very, very lucky goal for Man Utd although our defence was trailing behind somewhat.
Suker once again showed signs that he wasn't fully fit (or just past it!) when Di Canio set him up with a great pass which he failed to reach until it was too late. Winterburn clearly had his legs taken away just as he was about to shoot and probably score on the edge of the 6 yard box but somehow the referee and linesman decided between them not to give a penalty.
We were still outplaying them but perhaps becoming more resigned to the fact we were heading for defeat. The atmosphere had dropped to almost no singing at all from both sets of fans and the game looked dead in the water.
New singing Basilla had come on for Ferdinand who had a good return in my opinion and the Frenchman was looking good on his debut. A good run from Cole down the left with just 4 minutes remaining saw him pass several Man Utd defenders as he fought his way into the penalty area before being brought down. Penalty West Ham. Slightly less blatant than the last appeal but still a foul and definitely inside the area. Di Canio took the spot kick and smashed it straight down the middle just passing the keeper's legs before hitting the back of the net to make it 2-1.
It appeared we had no time at all to get back to the game. It was already 4:45pm and anyway, surely we couldn't do it to them again? Surely not after Dick's penalty a few years ago? Last minute and Cole lays it off to Di Canio who brilliantly turns before executing a great cross which a defender touches on for Suker to meet with his head and send the ball into the net from next to the far post, Lomas touching it after it had already crossed the line. Madness - everywhere around. Grown men hugging each other, being thrown about up and down the stairs. Suker and his team mates jump into the Bobby Moore Lower and Upton Park has completely erupted. You'd have thought we'd won the league!
Celebrations finally ended and were followed by about the loudest rendition ever heard of "You're not singing anymore" from all areas of the ground directed at the Man Utd fans in the North Lower before an equally loud version of bubbles was belted out.
Just as we thought we'd rescued the game however Man Utd were on the attack again. Sherringham just failed to get a touch with his head on a long cross from a free kick which eventually ended up bouncing up and hitting the bar.
Giggs then provided a long ball to Beckham who was left completely unmarked inside the penalty area but he to smashed the ball against the far post. Not exactly very sound defending from what was left of our defence (Kitson had replaced Margas before the equaliser).
The final whistle came seconds after and was greeted with cheers from the home fans. We had done it to them again and even though we'd only come away with a point, even though we were still bottom of the table nobody gave a f*ck at that point. We had seen our team deny Man Utd yet again - we could see the look on Alex Ferguson's face as he glared into his stopwatch, we'd had the last laugh over Beckham and we'd slaughtered the champions for most of the game.
Paolo Di Canio came over to the Bobby Moore Lower kissing the badge on his shirt. It was simply one of those moments that make you feel so proud to be a Hammer.
It all turned out OK in the end then but there are definitely some issues that need addressing on the subject of our defence. Ferdinand is out injured again and it's yet unclear whether he will be back for the Sunderland game.
I'm really not sure if Stuart Pearce is as good as he was last season and Stimac is making f*ck ups left, right and centre. So far he's been solely responsible for at least 2 goals and an entire match against Leicester.
Margas has hardly been on superb form and whilst Winterburn has been playing well lets not go too over the top about his performances.
We need desperately to improve our back line. Lets hope Foxe gets his work permit and is as good as the hype suggested and lets hope Ian Pearce recovers to full fitness and is still the player he once was. Until we sort our defence out we will continue to underachieve as a team and our poor away record will go on.
We face Sunderland at The Stadium of Light on Monday week and I'm not at all confident yet we have the better side and should go there and win or at least come away with a point. With a solid defence we are awesome and one of the best teams in the Premiership. Without it we are going to continue leaking 4 goals here and 2 goals there.
* Want to submit your match reports to KUMB.com? More details here ...