Premier League
Crystal Palace 1 West Ham United 3

Saturday, 23rd August 2014
by Gordon Thrower

Sssh everyone. Let's see how long it takes for our wonderful football press to notice we're playing football.

All the talk pre-match was of the fact that the starting XI would include Zarate ahead of Nolan. It transpired that Nolan had picked up an injury to his shoulder during the week, a knock that is likely to keep the skipper out for "3-4 weeks".

The news arrived as I was enjoying a pre-match diet Pepsi (driving duties precluding my sampling of the interesting selection of ales on offer) in one of those secret locations that Romford sorts out for us on awaydays. It's fair to say that the selection of Zarate met with pretty much universal approval.

Other good news was that Tomkins had recovered from his hamstring issue to replace the suspended Collins and that new boy Sahko's pre-season with Metz had been of sufficient quality to persuade the boss that he was fit enough to join the bench. Team: Adrian, O'Brien, Cresswell, Tomkins, Reid, Noble, Kouyate, Vaz Te, Downing, Zarate, Cole.

The pattern of the game was sorted from the start - much as we often do Palace had elected to sit back and try to counter on the break, a tactic that is fine as long as your opponents don't have players who can run at your defence and break through the lines. Which in the past (arguably since the departure of Bellamy) we haven't really had. Only we have now. It was pleasing to see Zarate receiving the ball with back to goal, turn and beat players and there were a number of these promising runs in the early exchanges.

It would be amiss of me not to mention one negative point that occurred on the 20 minute mark. As play developed the ball went out to enable O'Keefe to receive treatment. I, like everyone within the ground, hadn't seen what had caused the injury and it was only seeing the highlights on MOTD (complete with 1973-style graphics) that I discovered that the player had been left poleaxed by a nasty looking late one from Zarate.

It was a dreadful challenge which, had the equally dreadful Clattenburg (who had a poor game all round) seen it, might have resulted in a shorter than anticipated afternoon for the Argentinian, which, in the light of his overall performance, would have been a shame. Hopefully a strong word will be had.

As the game progressed we grew more and more into it, though all the corners gained seemed, annoyingly, to be used to give Speroni catching practice. We were getting closer though, with Cole and Kouyate headers both requiring Speroni saves and Cresswell pulling a shot wide.Zarate also had an effort saved though it lacked power to really test the 'keeper.

The opener came on 35 minutes. A corner on the left found Vaz Te and Noble combining and Noble's effort from the edge of the box was blocked sailing up into the bright sky. Zarate had hung back on the edge of the box and as the ball returned to Earth hit sweet low volley that flew in low in the bottom right hand corner. Superb technique and a splendid way to open an account.

Almost immediately Joey O'Brien had an effort that was pulled wide but we didn't have long to wait for the second. As a tentative Palace foray to the edge of our box broke down we played the ball out of defence with som neat one-touch football (yes, really) in a move that saw Kouyate feed Downing on the right. Downing cut inside and, with nobody from Palace doing anything so tiresome as to close him down he let fly a low shot from the edge of the box the placement of which was perfect - a few inches inside the left hand post. If anything I'd say it was the better of the two goals thus far.

It's often said that the Palace support is all choreographed and there's no interaction with the game unfolding in front of the so called "Ultras". Well they reacted this time. Silence was the order of the day and even the rather boring drum didn't get much of a response. I suppose the mickey taking adoption of one of the more tedious Palace chants by the away support didn't help their mood.

The remainder of the half was seen out safely despite Clattenburg's attempts to influence the game. Zarate was upended without sanction and, as the ball went forward Reid was penalised for an identical foul on Chamakh. Inconsistent or incompetent? Both actually. Just before the interval Tomkins was similarly sanctioned, again earlier transgressions of asimilar nature having gone unpunished.

The resulting free-kick looked like it had been worked on in training. Actually it looked like they had been working on it in training when the bell for lunch had gone halfway through on a day when it had been something good on the menu, Bolasie's shot when it came smacked of "I dunno what to do now" and went harmlesly wide.

Half Time Crystal Palace 0 West Ham United 2

At the interval the clubs supporters were introduced to their new sponsors, a company whose name sounded like Nutella but wasn't actually that. The largely inaudible sound system (that'll be useful in an emergency) mumbled something aboout the company and they may have had the chief exec there or something - it was impossible to hear. If he had been there I suspect his first comment might have been "can I have my money back?"

The second half started initially as it had begun. We forced a corner which Tomkins got on the end of under not the most difficult of challenges, only to see the ball come back off the angle of post and crossbar, rebounding safely into the arms of Speroni. I say Tomkins, it is a feature of the archaic Arthur Wait Stand that the roof is held up with pillars, one of which obscured my vision of the incident so it could have been the Archbishop Of Canterbury for all I could see. I understand that they charge extra for those seats to home fans.

Of course where we are concerned we can never go through a 90 minutes that are totally comfortable and, shortly after Tomkins' miss the home side reduced the deficit. We went to sleep on our right hand side and the ball was played inside to Chamakh who Reid and Tomkins were too slow to close down, allowing the striker to drill a low shot just inside the post low to Adrian's right.

The Ultras woke up at this point - much to the amusement and ridicule of the visiting support. Of more concern was the possibility that we might lose our shape and throw away the lead our domination had deserved, though for all their possession over that ten minute spell it was notable that Adrian was called upon only the once, a comfortable save from an effort from distance by Bannion being his only employment during this spell.

Of further concern was, again, the somewhat inconsistent efforts of ref Clattenburg who seemed happy to dish out yellow cards to light blue shirts for one off transgressions whilst ignoring the persistent and cynical tactics of the home side who had adopted the Liverpool plan of giving away free-kicks on and around the half-way line whenever anything promising looked likely to develop. In particular, Zarate and Kouyate were the victims of a number of crude challenges designed purely to stop play developing. Clearly Pulis's influence will take a while to disappear.

Noble was caught in one such run and once Clattenburg had finished not issuing the yellow card to the perpetrator, the skipper took the free-kick. His flat delivery was only partially cleared by a defender and Carlton Cole pounced on the loose ball and drilled home a low shot to restore the lead to a more realistic level with 61 on the clock.

The goal shut the so-called ultras up once and for all. Even the really important idiot with the drum gave up the ghost. A few minutes later Cole was replaced by Sakho (or as the almost certainly not digital PA put it : "garble whabble garble garble").

After O'Brien had picked up a yellow for an innocuous challenge Sakho forced a save out of Speroni who clawed the striker's header round the post.

Zarate left to a deserved ovation with seven left on the clock to be replaced by Poyet who, as the song goes, "tweets what he wants". In the 88th minute Clattenburg finally realised that it was possible to issue cautions to players of either side when Jedinak was given a much overdue yellow for a foul on Vaz Te. This was followed by our final substitution as Downing was replaced by Diame, who may have been making his last appearance for the club.

At the start of stoppage Murray worked himself some space on our left but Adrian showed that the long spells of watching the match like the rest of us hadn't dulled his concentration any and the 'keeper stood tall to block what would have been an incredibly flattering second for the home side. The rest of the four minutes of stoppage passed uneventfully and silently amongst the home support, most of whom were well on their way towards Norwood Junction and Selhurst by the time Clattenburg finally blew for time.

Full time: Crystal Palace 1 West Ham United 3

Lots of pleasing stuff about this one. It was a thoroughly professional performance with decent passing and no little creativity. Zarate's presence gave us something that Nolan, for all his hard work on the defensive side of things, hasn't got in his armoury.

Before the game I received a text from that fine fellow Maltese Hammer (always a pleasure, Boutros Boutros) suggesting that the injury to Nolan might be the 2014 equivalent of the 1985-86 early-season injury to Paul Goddard which saw McAvennie and Cottee paired up up front.

It's obviously a bit early to see whether the enforced change will have that much of an influence over the season to follow, but there has been much to be pleased about over the two matches played so far.

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Player Ratings

Adrian San Miguel del Castillo
Largely untroubled but solid when called upon.

Joey O'Brien
Caught napping a bit in the build up to their goal but otherwise fine.

Aaron Cresswell
Another good run out. Looking very comfortable at thiis level so far (albeit against two average sides so far).

James Tomkins
Fine defensively - had his header gon ine in the second half we'd probably have run up a cricket score. Nd not an Indian one at that.

Winston Reid
Arsenal can do one as far as I'm concerned - get that contract sorted guys.

Mark Noble
Pivotal in linking between defence and attack - it was his goalbound effort that fell to Zarate for his goal.

Cheikhou Kouyate
MOTM. Quite simply the opposition had no legal way of countering him. Are we allowed to call him Wile E.?

Mauro Zarate
Splendid first half but faded in the second. Excellent finish for the goal but I'd rather not see a repeat of the awful challenge on O'Keefe.

Stewart Downing
Fine display. Looked to be enjoying himself and his goal was superb.

Ricardo Vaz Te
Possibly the one weak link in the side - better than he was against Spurs but we could do with better down that side.

Carlton Cole
Got nothing out of either Clattenburg or the Palace defence but took the goal well.


Diafra Sakho
(Replaced Cole) Some good chasing down in the 20 minutes he was on. One header saved. Promising.

Diego Poyet
(Replaced Zarate) A tidy 7 minutes plus stoppage for him.

Mo Diame
(Replaced Downing) Did ok in the few minutes o stoppage that were available to him.

Jussi Jasskelainen
Did not play.

Guy Demel
Did not play.

Ravel Morrison
Did not play.

Enner Valencia
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Adrian San Miguel del Castillo, Joey O'Brien, Aaron Cresswell, James Tomkins, Winston Reid, Mark Noble, Cheikhou Kouyate, Mauro Zarate, Stewart Downing, Ricardo Vaz Te, Carlton Cole.

Goals: Mauro Zarate 34 Stewart Downing 37 Carlton Cole 62              .

Booked: Winston Reid 40 James Tomkins 45 Joey O Brien 76      .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Crystal Palace: Julian Speroni, Martin Kelly, Brede Hangeland, Damien Delaney, Joel Ward, Barry Bannan, Mile Jedinak, Stuart O'Keefe, Yannick Bolasie, Marouane Chamakh, Fraizer Campbell.

Subs not used: Wayne Hennessey, Adrian Mariappa, Patrick McCarthy, Adlene Guedioura.

Goals: None.

Booked: None booked..

Sent off: None.

Referee: Mark Clattenburg.

Attendance: 24,242.

Man of the Match: Cheikhou Kouyate.