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Saturday, 2nd December 2000

West Ham United 1
Middlesbrough 0

by Richard Osbourne

Due to popular demand, I have decided to take time from my busy schedule to write a report in my usual uninformative and dull manner. My reports have been likened to a cold Wednesday evening game of cup football, filled with promise, but never really amounting to anything (only joshing).

Left for the game at the usual time, allowing squillions of hours for South West Trains to mess us around in the normal fashion. The train arrived on time and got Sarah and I into Waterloo only five minutes late - the bunting was duly raised. With the Dome being a pound to get in, the Jubilee line was packed with children, bringing back the fading memories of Wednesday's cup clash with Sheff Wed, where it was 'Kids for a Quid'.

We arrived at the Boleyn ground at staggering 1:15 which must be a record, dodgy trains or not. Not being allowed in for a quarter of an hour, we simply stared at the imposing sight of our new stand and soon to be our new home. The Upper tier is so high that we are a tad worried about the players looking like dots when we take to our new positions. It will at least appease my suspicions that young Michael Carrick is losing it on top.

Lomas and Sinclair were doubtful due to Flu and Stimac was rumoured to have a poorly toe. Stimac did line up along with Psycho Pearce, Nigel Winterburn and the premiership debut of Rigobert Song. Tricky also made the grade passing a fitness test that morning to line up with the young pretenders Carrick, Lampard in midfield. Three up front with Diawara, Kanoute as attackers with Di Canio playing the roving role behind them. Not forgetting of course the legend that is Shaka Hislop looking composed and generally chilled between the sticks. The first Premiership game with Rio gone, it felt like a limb had been torn away from the happy family.

Boro like us have had an awful time with injuries. Six of their first eleven out saw a very depleted side who's lady luck has not been shining on them this season. Recently returning from injury, the bright young prospect Ehiogu took charge of their defence who Happy Harry hinted liking for 6m during the week. The Ex Hammer Paul 'Judas' Ince was also lining up and received the usual luke warm/cold reception from the Upton Park faithful.

The kick-off finally arrived and we launched into the game. Our home record this season has not been its best, generally failing to beat the lower end/league clubs. We needed a win today to show the 26 thousand adoring fans that there is life after Rio and to put us into contention for a European place next year.

Boro sat back from the start, willing to soak up the pressure and eek a nil-nil draw gaining a point away from home. Their entire game was played at a snails pace, taking time to take every throw in and goal kick with the hope that they could score on the break.

We threw everything at them during the first half, a Tricky shot went just wide of the mark and we had a hat full of chances blocked, sent wide or saved.

Their only chance in the first half came from a corner. We have become decidedly shaky at defending these, striking terror into any Hammer at the thought of even conceding one. Shaka came to the rescue showing exactly why he is still our number one.

The first half dragged with Boro's eleven men parked firmly behind the ball. A good through ball from Lampard was retrieved by Di Canio just outside the 18 yard box. Turning his man with one touch and in sight of goal, he firmly planted the ball beyond the reach of Scwarzer.

This was no longer going to be a nil-nil affair, Boro could not just sit back and hope for the one pointer they had set out to achieve. Their attitude saw Judas start to assert his authority in midfield. He was looking by far their most dangerous player, to the dismay of the onlookers.

Towards the end of the first half Tricky Trev Sinclair and Frankie Lampard ran into each other during an attack which resulted in a nasty clash of heads, blood being drawn on both sides. Both players soldiered on but looked dazed.

Moments later Stimac started hobbling, our injury crisis had just deepened. His afore mentioned toe had given up the ghost and he was switched with the much loved Pottsy.

The second half saw an immediate change with Lampard being replaced by Moncur. Lampard has had a tough time recovering from injuries, getting back to match fitness and finding his form which was exceptional last season.

Two minutes in saw what can only be described as a professional challenge on Judas. Moncur ran through the back of him like an express train with what looked like a career ruining challenge. This definitely shook the ex hammer, pretty much I expect, like it was supposed to. Moncur was only cautioned with a yellow card which in fairness should have been red. Yet again, the terrier is booked with minutes of entering the field of play.

Solid performances all round saw us fail to convert several more chances. Kaba Diawara was unlucky with his header in the closing stages due to an offside flag. Shots rained in from the likes of Carrick who is never afraid to have a go, to the delight of the crowd. Our defence looked solid (with the exception of corners of course) and Songy had an excellent game. Alot of pace, control, good tackling skills and can head the ball further than lower league players can kick it. Once he finds his feet with the trade mark Di Canio and Tricky runs, he will, I am sure, do us proud. Sarah and I seemed to be the only one who admired him from 2 seasons ago, when he was causing us no end of problems.

Another goal would have been nice, to be able to coast to the victory. Goals are something that we lack at the moment, but will come. The opposing teams of late have been exceptional in defending with their keepers pulling out the stops to deny us.

Another three points in the bag and we shot into 6th place. Four weeks ago we were milling around at the bottom of the table, but with confidences currently rising we are on a winning streak. If injuries keep at bay and we beat the Villains on Saturday, we could see us firmly lodged in at the top quarter of the table.

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