West Ham United 0 Cardiff City 1

Sunday, 7th August 2011
by Gordon Thrower

Remember last time we were here and every match was a cup final for the opposition? Get used to it guys.

Team news was that three of the five close-season signings had made it into the starting line-up with O'Brien, Taylor and Nolan all making their debuts. Faye's interrupted pre-season was reflected by his spot on the bench whilst the signing of John Carew had come too late for him to be considered both from an administrative point of view and also in terms of the player's fitness. The England trio of Green, Parker and Cole were all available for selection, the preference for Piquionne meaning that Cole started on the bench. This gave us a starting line-up of Green, O'Brien, Ilunga, Tomkins, Reid, Nolan (capt), Parker, Noble, taylor, Sears, Piquionne.

It was a bright start to the game Earnshaw shooting miles over from a long diagonal ball before Piquionne went on a bit of a run, got past Hudson with a combination of trickery and brute force before forcing a save out of Marshall for a corner. Nothing came of the corner bar a Noble effort that went well wide from the edge of the box.

Taylor was next to try his luck. A jinking run from Sears came to an unceremonious end as he was upended by a defender on the edge of the box. Taylor's effort from the resulting free-kick brought a save from Marshall that wasn't the most convincing you'll ever see. The resulting corner was cleared as far as Ilunga. Tomkins and Parker swapped clever passes and Parker's near-post cross was nodded over by Nolan from close range.

O'Brien was next to show us what he was made of. His run down the right started worryingly with him coming close to being closed down. However the defender's pace and strength took him past the initial challenge and a clever exchange with Noble saw the Irishman move into the box before his intelligent check saw him create the room for him to pull the ball back for Sears. Freddie, unfortunately, leant back as he went to shoot and the ball sailed harmlessly over rather than giving us the lead that we deserved at this point.

Cardiff had produced little up to this point but full marks should be awarded to Gunnarsson for the light relief provided by a comedy throw-in that went straight out for a goal kick. More Rory Mishap than Rory Delap. Of slightly more concern was the header from Cowie following an Ilunga error, Green saving well to turn the ball past the post for a corner.

O'Brien showed further promise on the right, tricky feet resulting in his being floored out on the right. Taylor's free-kick looked promising but Nolan failed to make contact and the ball was cleared long. Miller then endeared himself to neither side with an utterly pointless late challenge on Reid who had put the ball into touch. From the resulting free kick Taylor fed Piquionne whose cross was either missed or deliberately left by Sears. Either way the result was the same as the absence of anyone in the box to get on the end of the ball proved costly.

The efforts on goal continued to pile up. Nolan's effort taking a deflection off a team-mate for a goal kick. Ilunga then crossed deep and the Cardiff defence were far from convincing in clearing it for a corner. Parker then found Piquionne in promising position only for the striker to forget to put any power in his shot, an effort that Marshall gathered with ease.

No match refereed by Howard Webb is complete without a spot of the "look at me's" and this one was no exception. Webb's unilateral repeal of the bit of Law 5 that refers to "advantage" was annoying enough. Then a perfectly legitimate clearance from Tomkins was adjudged to have been dangerous, presumably on the grounds that, had an opponent been within a bus ride away, the ball been a bit higher and the opponent daft enough to stick his head in the way it might have hurt somebody. Worse still, after the ball was tapped sideways Parker's block from close range was ludicrously adjudged to have been deliberate handball. Whittingham took advantage of Webb's added generosity in moving the wall back far more than the required 10 yards and Green did well to get down to his left to push the ball round the post.

Half Time: West Ham United 0 Cardiff City 0

We'd had the bulk of possession and by far the better chances but a lack of composure - and numbers - in the box had proved costly thus far. There were no changes at the interval and, after an initial flurry when a ball from the back forced Cardiff to give away a corner, the match settled down into a scrappy period. Piquionne looked to have got the better of his defender but the linesman bafflingly decided that his challenge on Hudson had been in some way illegal, something that came as news to all those concerned, not least Hudson, who had that guilty look on his face that suggested that he knew full well he'd gotten away with something.

One of the better moments of the match came on the hour. Parker went down the right and laid the ball off to Taylor. Taylor came across and made himself a bit of space to unleash a low powerful drive that Marshall did well to keep out for a corner. We went even closer a couple of minutes later. Nolan made a neat interception on the edge of the box before sending Taylor away to put in a near post cross. Piquionne got on the end of it beating a couple of defenders to the ball only to see the ball come back off the post and go out for a goal kick.

Reid and Tomkins had remained largely untroubled by Earnshaw and Miller and the former was replaced by Rudy Gestede on 68 minutes. The size of the player suggested that he'd been introduced to rough up the central defensive pairing and so it proved, his initial challenge on Tomkins being made with obvious but unpunished use of the forearm at the player's neck. Gestede made a more legal contribution shortly after, getting across Tomkins to glance a header well wide.

With 20 left on the clock Taylor forced another corner. We have some little traditions in our part of the ground, one of which is that somebody (ok, usually but not always me) will say "I fancy Tomkins to score from this corner" at least once a match. Well it worked once. Though the initial effort was cleared Ilunga kept it live and, after Piquionne had caused a mild state of panic in the opposition defence Tomkins threw himself at the ball only to see Marshall claw the ball away for a corner. Nearly right.

Noble then had a promising run but elected to beat one extra player rather than unleashing the shot that the situation required, the Cardiff defence managing to smuggle the ball away. Piquionne then played a header just fractionally too long for Sears with the 'keeper having to be alert to gather.

By this time Ilunga was beginning to give cause for concern. Frankly, he'd looked knackered from about an hour onwards and with 15 minutes to play he gave the ball away. Green came out and headed clear for a throw-in. Collison had been stood on the touchline for a good five minutes waiting to come on but Cardiff took the throw quickly and Miller was able to get in a thankfully wayward shot. At this point Collison replaced Noble and the opportunity was taken to bring Cole on for Piquionne. A further substitution involved Green replacing his footwear with something more appropriate for the wet conditions but I don't suppose you're really interested in that.

Webb's one man blitz on the advantage law continued apace. Collison was scythed in half by a late challenge as he played the ball up to Cole, who appeared to trip over the ball before getting up and bearing down on goal. Only for Webb to bring the ball back to award the free kick that benefited nobody but Cardiff.

With ten on the clock we went close again. Taylor crossed from the left and Tomkins headed goalbound only to see Whittingham clear from the line using what appeared to be a knee. A few hands went up but from my distance and angle it was impossible to see how close it had gone to crossing the line.

The final throw of the dice came shortly after with Barrera replacing Sears. Worryingly though Cardiff started to create some rare chances, notably that which fell to Gestede whose header was well saved by Green. Breaking away a cross fell to Barrera who possibly had more time than he realised. His header back across the goal was netbound only for Marshall to make yet another save.

So, with a point looking to be the maximum we would get, we calmly threw even that away. Ilunga made a complete dog's breakfast of a ball on our left and was robbed by Gestede who played the ball in to Miller who put his shot past Green despite the 'keeper getting two hands on the ball. I suppose it was sort of apt that a player who hadn't had a kick all day should get what turned out to be the winner.

The remainder of injury time was played out with Barrera putting in crosses too close to the 'keeper and the daylight robbery was soon complete.

Full Time: West Ham United 0 Cardiff City 1

In truth there wasn't an awful lot wrong with the performance as such - there were elements of our game that will require work but that sort of performance will probably see us beat more teams than we lose to. Certainly some of the knee-jerk reactions I've seen in the immediate aftermath of the result have been a bit over the top. However, even at this early stage I do have one or two areas of concern. At the back Ilunga looked like he needed oxygen after an hour or so. This apparent lack of fitness meant that he couldn't get forward as much as he had done in the first half and tiredness was probably a contributory factor to the goal.

Up front we lacked the clinical finishing edge that we needed. Some of that we can put down to rustiness but my main concern is the general "sameness" of our attack. We have Cole, Piquionne and now Carew as our main strikers, all of whom you'd describe more as target men to a certain degree. Today we were crying out for a nippy little blighter who could attack from deeper, maybe take players on with a bit of pace. In fact we've been crying out for that sort of player since we sold Craig Bellamy. It's a shame we won't get him back because on today's evidence he'd make much more of an impact were he to join us that he would if he ended up at Cardiff. New signings have been promised by the end of the window but it remains to be seen whether that's the sort of player that will float the manager's boat.

Onwards and upwards then...

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Player Ratings

Robert Green
A couple of smart saves. Possibly might have done a bit better for the goal maybe.

Joey O Brien
Decent start from the Irishman, a particularly good run in the first half suggests that this might be one of the bosses shrewder signings.

Herita Ilunga
Looked ok - for about an hour. Ran out of steam alarmingly quickly and we'll draw a quiet veil over the goal shall we.

James Tomkins
Decent 90 for the centre half who will score from a corner one day proving me right. Sterner tests than today's will come however.

Winston Reid
Much better than some of his horror shows last season suggested. Again there will be harder matches for him this season.

Mark Noble
A bit in and out of the match. One fine run in the second half was spoilt by a reluctance to end the move with a shot.

Scott Parker
Much debate about the Footballer Of The Year's performance in this one. As suggested above he seemed to do better when Nolan was having a quiet spell. Can they do well together? I suspect it's not a question we'll have to consider for much longer.

Kevin Nolan
Decent first half. Faded a bit in the second half. Seemed to play well when Parker was having quiet moments and vice-versa which raises the question as to whether they can be effective together.

Matthew Taylor
Sometimes the sponsors select a man of the match in such a manner as to suggest that the corporate hospitality has been enjoyed in amounts that preclude rational decision-making. This was not one of those occasions, Decent Debut and was unlucky not to open his account.

Fred Sears
The fact is that I couldn't tell if he was supposed to be playing as a fifth midfielder or a second striker. The fact that he didn't seem to be performing either role particularly well was telling.

Frederic Piquionne
Looked interested in spells, bored in others.


Jack Collison
(Replaced Noble, 74 mins) Looked lively in the 15 minutes or so he was given.

Carlton Cole
(Replaced Piquionne, 75 mins) Put himself about a bit for a quarter of an hour but the threat wasn't much different from that provided by the player he replaced.

Pablo Barrera
(Replaced Sears, 82 mins) A couple of late touches but could have done better with his late header.

Ruud Boffin
Did not play.

Abdoulaye Faye
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Robert Green, Joey O Brien, Herita Ilunga, James Tomkins, Winston Reid, Mark Noble, Scott Parker, Kevin Nolan, Matthew Taylor, Fred Sears, Frederic Piquionne.

Goals: None.

Booked: None.

Sent off: None.

Cardiff City: David Marshall, Kevin McNaughton, Mark Hudson, Anthony Gerrard, Andrew Taylor, Don Cowie, Aron Gunnarsson, Peter Whittingham, Craig Conway, Robert Earnshaw, Kenny Miller.

Subs not used: Tom Heaton, Paul Quinn, Jon Parkin.

Goals: Kenny Miller (90).

Booked: Anthony Gerrard (78).

Sent off: None.

Referee: Howard Webb.

Attendance: 25,680.

Man of the Match: Matthew Taylor.