West Ham United 4 Portsmouth 3

Saturday, 10th September 2011
by Gordon Thrower

Itís never dull around here, is it!

It was a warm and sultry day which helped me sweat out the excesses of the previous evening when football of a more advanced level had been on the agenda as a few of the surviving members of Midland Bank FC's legendary mid '80s side met up for a few years. I would hesitate to claim that any of what I write in these reports comes anywhere near to qualifying as words of wisdom.

However, the following sentence contains some of the most valuable advice any of you will ever read in your lives. Namely this: Essex Beast (6.2 per cent) is a fine ale but is not one to drink as part of a session, particularly if it's been over a month since your last drink.

There had been much speculation as to which, if any, of the new boys might make the starting XI. Given Mr Allardyce's predilection for making sure players have a pre-season, even if that takes place halfway through September, meant that only "Angela" Lansbury made the starting line-up at the expense of the virally-challenged Jack Collison, though both Bentley and Badlock were on the bench. We lined-up thus: Green, O'Brien, McCartney, Tomkins, Reid, Nolan, Noble, Lansbury, Taylor, Faubert, Cole.

Portsmouth set out their stall quite early on as Nolan was left on the floor after an off the ball tackle in the opening exchanges. In something that became a bit of a trademark for the day, the referee Mr East, though giving no signs of having noticed the incident as it occurred, called the protagonists together - it may have been Lawrence but I'm not sure - and had a word. He would not be so lenient in future times.

So with all the optimism that was about the place I suppose that it was inevitable that it would be the visitors that would be the ones to take the lead though the goal was a combination of the sublime and the ridiculous. On seven minutes Lawrence took a corner on their right, the stepover was clever, admittedly, but quite how Varney's shot, which was heading off in the general direction of the Greengate, sneaked in I'm not quite sure.

A post match word with our Jem suggested that the guys in the video suite hadn't quite worked it out. Certainly they didn't show the replay and, with Carlton Cole favourite to have got the last touch that left Green stranded, Jem couldn't quite bring himself to announce the scorer. Still we didn't have long to wait for him to find his voice.

The ball was played up to Cole on the right side only for Pearce to flatten the player. Taylor's free-kick may have taken a slight nick off the wall but it still looked good as it flew in past Ashdown - the lead had lasted less than a minute.

So it was all square and let's start again shall we. The major theme of the next 15-20 minutes was yellow cards. O'Brien was first into the book, Ben-Haim just beat the defender to the ball and the lateness of the challenge sent the ex-Hammer flying. It was one of those that looked a bit worse than it was - certainly it lacked the intent of some challenges that we were to see during the match but the caution was understandable.

A far more serious challenge occurred a few minutes later as Noble laid the ball off only to be flattened by Mokoena as he went for the return by what I can only describe as an old-fashioned forearm smash. Play continued and the ball eventually fell to Carlton Cole whose curled drive was well saved by Ashdown.

Play continued for a good minute or so before going out whereupon Mr East displayed that he had grasped the concept of the advantage law by calling Mokoena over and issuing the player with the yellow that, in truth, was the very least the challenge deserved. Reds have been given for less.

It seemed to be open season on Noble who was immediately upended by Varney and Lawrence was next into the book, the ref again applying the advantage before issuing the caution for a horrible over the ball challenge. Good as the ref was being with his application of advantage it was clear that he was placing rather a large amount of trust in his assistants, which is fine if they happen to be any good.
Unfortunately we seemed to have been lumbered by the Chuckle Brother that the others are too embarrassed to mention in front of us on the West Stand. The simplest of tasks such as awarding a throw-in in the right direction seemed to be beyond this official and the ironic cheers from the Bobby Moore when he pointed in the right direction for a goal kick said a lot.

We survived a bit of a scare on 37 minutes as a corner came across. Pearce got on the end of it and there was a bit of a goal-line scramble before Green emerged with the ball. Varney impeded Green as he tried to get a throw away, only partially blocking the clearance which eventually broke to Nolan whose shot lacked power. Once more, when the ball had gone out, Mr East issued the statutory yellow that applies for offences such as Varney's.

The remainder of the half was spent exchanging shots, none of which particularly bothered either 'keeper. For the record Lawrence, Huseklepp, Benjiani and varney all had efforts that failed to cause much concern, whilst Taylor and Nolan both had shots that looked more spectacular than they actually were.

Half Time: West Ham United 1 Portsmouth 1

So half time came and with it the welcome of the return of the half time confectionary mistress from her holiday in Minorca. Certainly the plain chocolate Bounty (the only sort to have of course) came as a much needed boost to the post night-out blood sugar levels.

There were no personnel changes for either side at the interval though I did notice the unusual way we lined up. Unlike Portsmouth, who set themselves out in classic Subbuteo style in straight lines across the pitch, we sort of had a rugby line up with a diagonal from left to right, perhaps in tribute to England's stunning (not) win in the egg chasing jamboree down in the antipodes.

I expect we've been doing this all season and I just haven't noticed what with being unobservant at the best of times, never mind after Essex Beast the night before. Which I suppose is something of a handicap for someone who writes match reports really.

The first action of the half was the entry into the referee's notebook of the name Nolan. He'd had lumps kicked out of him from the start and a few of his own challenges seemed to have an element of retribution about them. Varney was the recipient of the skipper's ire and he can't really complain at the resulting yellow,

Eight minutes into the second half we took the lead. Linda played a cross deep to the back post where Faubert got on the end, nodding back to Lansbury who had made a late run. Angela's shot took a wicked deflection as Ashdown dived the other way, lying helplessly on his back as the ball trickled into the other side of the net. Although there was an element of fortune about the finish the goal was well deserved for the on-loan youngster who was enjoying a fine debut.

It'd been a bit quiet on the yellow card front, a situation rectified on 57 minutes when Mullins wiped out Faubert on the run to pick up a deserved caution. However, the lead lasted only a few more minutes.

It was a silly goal to give away too as (I think) Varney was allowed to bring the ball far to far out of defence before playing the ball out to the left. The cross was excellent from Huseklepp hit the ball goalbound. Reid appeared to make a hash of the clearance and may have carried the ball over the line but Norris was on hand to head the rebound in to strangle the debate at birth. Goalscorer? Well I thought it was over first time from Norris but others disagree. Opinions eh, like slightly fire-damaged flat screen televisions in Tottenham, everyone's got one.

Just after the hour Bentley made his debut, replacing Faubert, who had put in a decent shift and it was the sub who was at the centre of the incident that saw things go a wee bit pear-shaped for the visitors, but frankly they had only themselves to blame. Lawrence's studs up late challenge from behind was fully deserving of the second yellow that it received despite the protestations of both Lawrence and his team-mates.

Now we've struggled in recent years against ten men so it was far from a foregone conclusion that we would take advantage, so I'm glad to be able to report that take advantage we did. Some nice interplay on the right saw Lansbury on the right side of the box. His clever flick hit then rolled along Pearce's arm. The ref may not have had the best view but the linesman who did immediately signalled (a bit harshly in my opinion) for the spot kick giving the ref no option but to award the penalty. Noble dispatched the 12-yarder sweetly to send us 3-2 up.

Four minutes later the lead was doubled. Taylor's long diagonal cross found Cole completely unmarked in the box, and the striker's header was perfection into the top right corner to give him a well-deserved goal. The people operating the video scoreboard got a little carried away and credited us with a 5-2 lead for a bit. I suppose they were struggling to pick a number between 1 and 36 for the roulette wheel on the online casino.

Cole was replaced by Piquionne with five minutes left on the clock and as we went into the extra five added on for the stop start nature of the game occasioned by the visitors' niggly attempts to disrupt the flow of the game Lansbury nearly made it five (or six if you were operating the video scoreboard) capping a flowing move with a shot that went wide.

The aftermath of the incident saw the end of Piquionne as Halford, a renowned cheat, clutched his face in agony in reaction to a light shove to the chest. I say light, it was about one millionth of the power of the whack around the ears that Upton Girlie gave me in celebration of the fourth (or fifth if you operate the video scoreboard) and I venture to suggest that had the cheat been hit with anywhere need such venom he'd now be in Newham General's intensive care unit wired up to a little machine going "ping" with people playing him CDs of his favourite songs to try and bring him round.

Unfortunately we were at the mercy of the care in the community linesman for this one and the referee's trust in his assistant was once again sadly misplaced as a straight red was issued for the laughable crime of violent conduct. Given that the push wasn't higher than the chest any appeal ought to be successful though Halford will sadly escape punishment for his rather tawdry antics. Still what do you expect of someone who spent time at Brammall Lane.

There was time for more shenanigans, Ben Haim, taking his lead from Halford went down like a sack of spuds under no challenge at all and the ref - without any assistance this time - gave the penalty. Halford put the penalty away with the last kick of the match to give the score a slightly misleading look.

Ok this was not perfect but to grind out a win against a side that had come with the sole intention of bullying their way to a point was satisfying in the extreme. As the boss later pointed out we're not firing on all cylinders yet but we're still tucked in nicely, one win off top spot with a nice quiet away trip to come next week. I think I'll lay off the Essex Beast on Friday though.

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Player Ratings

Robert Green
One decent save, no chance with the goals, not really tested otherwise.

Joey O'Brien
Solid again. Showed exactly how you should play if you've picked up an early booking.

George McCartney
Another decent if unspectacular ninety. Beginning to look a bit fitter.

James Tomkins
Looking good. Even the late introduction of another beanpole striker didn't seem to disrupt his afternoon.

Winston Reid
Already looking at picking up 'most improved player' plaudits. A little less assured this week but stuck at it well.

Mark Noble
MOTM for me. Showed Nolan how to ignore being constantly fouled. Tigerish but fair in the tackle and the penalty was well taken. It was almost as if the departure of a certain person had freed his mind.

Henri Lansbury
A fine debut. Deserved the goal and impressed throughout. Much better off with us than sticking around Arsenal's relegation battle.

Kevin Nolan
Not quite as influential as he can be, he was a yellow waiting to happen as he was rather cynically targeted from the opening seconds. Calmed down after the card eventually came.

Matthew Taylor
Always a threat from dead balls, well-taken (albeit deflected) free-kick and it was his cross that led to the fourth (or fifth if you were operating the video scoreboard.

Julien Faubert
When you look at it this is probably the first time that Faubert has had a proper run in his usual position in the side. The benefits are there for all to see.

Carlton Cole
A fine example of the target man's art. Held the ball up well throughout and took the goal well.


David Bentley
(Replaced Cole, 68) Nice cameo, better is to come.

Frederic Piquionne
(Replaced Cole, 85) A couple of good touches but was desperately unlucky to see red after Halford's antics.

Ruud Boffin
Did not play.

Abdoulaye Faye
Did not play.

Sam Baldock
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Robert Green, Joey O'Brien, George McCartney, James Tomkins, Winston Reid, Mark Noble, Henri Lansbury, Kevin Nolan, Matthew Taylor, Julien Faubert, Carlton Cole.

Goals: Matthew Taylor 9 Henri Lansbury 53 Mark Noble 72 Carlton Cole 76            .

Booked: Joey O'Brien 14 Kevin Nolan 48        .

Sent Off: Frederic Piquionne 90    .

Portsmouth: Jamie Ashdown, Aaron Mokoena, Jason Pearce, Greg Halford, Tal Ben-Haim, Liam Lawrence, Hayden Mullins, David Norris, Luke Varney, Erik Huseklepp, Benjani Mwaruwari..

Subs not used: Stephen Henderson, Ricardo Rocha, Nwankwo Kanu.

Goals: Luke Varney (8), David Norris (60), Greg Halford (90+6).

Booked: Aaron Mokoena (20), Liam Lawrence (27), Luke Varney (40), Hayden Mullins (57).

Sent off: None.

Referee: Roger East.

Attendance: 0.

Man of the Match: Mark Noble.