Premier League
West Ham United 2 Manchester City 2

Saturday, 23rd January 2016
by Gordon Thrower

Still being careful what we wish forů

Much as I dislike the messing around with my Saturday routine for the benefit of tv, there is one notable plus to a 5:30pm kick-off in January, that being you get a bonus match under the lights at the Boleyn, and, with so few matches left at the old place, every chance to take in some of the old fashioned soul of our surroundings is to be savoured.

Team news was that Tomkins had failed a fitness test, Jenkinson was preferred to new boy Byram, who was on the bench. This left us with a starting line-up of Adrian, Jenkinson, Cresswell, Collins, Reid, Noble, Kouyate, Song, Payet, Antonio, Valencia.

Well you know how, as a running gag, I often insert the phrase "we started brightly" into these here reports? Well we did. Little bruv - in attendance as a birthday treat - had barely finished his tuneless rendition of "Bubbles" when we took the lead. Song won a loose ball which ran to Kouyate. Kouyate surprised Toure by taking him on before pulling a cross back across the face of goal. The ball took a deflection off the backside of a defender and fell invitingly for Valencia who put his foot through it to send us one up. 53 seconds I reckon.

Well the visitors have a squillion quid's worth of talent at their disposal and so you'd have expected a reaction and, though it was relatively muted they did get themselves back into the game. There was a warning on 6 minutes as Aguero cleverly lobbed Adrian only to see the ball come back off the post. Reid's subsequent chest back to Adrian was pure class. Interestingly, had the ball gone in from Aguero's lob it ought to have been disallowed - the free-kick that fed the Argentinian was moving. It's one of those things that referees always seem to spot when it's not important but never when it is. The effort should have served as a warning but didn't.

Aguero bore down on Jenkinson and is not one to turn down the chance of going over an invitingly dangled leg with the sadly inevitable result of a penalty. Aguero got up to convert the spot-kick to level the scores. We hadn't had 10 minutes by this time mind.

Jenkinson lasted less than a minute after the restart having come off worse in the incident that led to the penalty. Treatment was to no avail and he left to be replaced by Byram. Nice one to ease yourself into then!

The visitors had decent amounts of possession but we always looked dangerous on the break. Kouyate's breakout was crudely ended by Toure's wild lunge, something that, incredibly, ref Pawson thought was legal despite his having a good view of the hack. Once the ball had been Collins gave the ref the deserved earful that he ought to but won't be getting from his bosses on Monday morning.

We got the first yellow of the evening on the half-hour. Payet's reverse pass on the turn set Antonio free and was, in itself a joy to behold. Antonio left Demichelis for dead, the defender's crude hack bringing the attack to a premature close. The yellow received by Dimichelis was the least he deserved, the presence of a defender in the middle probably saving him from a red card, though I'd have said that the chances of preventing Antonio from getting a shot in were slim in the extreme.

Payet took the free-kick which looked goal-bound only to be denied by a breath-taking one handed save from Hart, who managed to tip the ball round for a corner. It was a good bit of football all round really. There is, probably some deep philosophical point to be made out of such a beautiful passage of football arising from something so ugly as Demichelis' "tackle" but, on balance, I think it'll keep for another day. Though the corner was partially cleared the visitors were having major problems dealing with Payet's footwork and we soon earned another free-kick, Navas's trip being equally as cynical as Demichelis' earlier effort had been, though admittedly less violent in nature. Navas, however, escaped the deserved yellow.

It was proving difficult to keep Payet out of the action and the no.27 went close on 35 minutes with a mis-hit overhead kick that went wide after Antonio's throw had been nodded across goal. Noble then went into the book for a challenge on Navas that appeared to get some of the ball, unlike one or two of those perpetrated by Navas himself. Navas's agony disappeared shortly after his acting had got the yellow he sought.

We continued to press forward and some more footwork on the left from Payet saw Cresswell in enough space to get a cross in that had Hart scrambling. Byram was on hand at the back post but couldn't keep it in.
Three minutes of stoppage were added during which we were treated to the sight of Ginge doing a "Cruyff" turn (I wonder if the ailing Dutchman thinks of it as a "Collins Turn"? Probably not) after which a thoroughly entertaining first half came to a close.

Half Time: West Ham United 1 Manchester City 1

Little bruvver spent the interval being spoilt rotten (as usual) by Upton Girlie with lots of birthday cake. His verdict on the game so far was that it had been "very good".

There were no changes in personnel during the interval and the second half began much in the same way as the first had continued. Payet and Noble combined on the right for the skipper to send over an inviting cross. Antonio's header was inches wide. Delph then had a go at the other end, his scuffed effort clipping the heel of Byram on its way to the post. However, within seconds we were ahead. In hilarious style.

Antonio forced a throw-in on the right and, grabbing the loose ball, took a quick one into the box where Valencia had gotten the wrong side of Otamendi, leaving him the simple task of prodding home from close range. As if the defending didn't look "Sunday League" enough, the big screen replay showed Otamendi casually running his gloved fingers through his ludicrous haircut as the throw was being taken. An idea for an addition to the visiting goalkeeper's advertising portfolio has just sprung to mind!

Antonio departed shortly after Payet had played in Cresswell with one of those "look one way and pass the other" moves. Moses coming on to replace.

We were still looking good. Song went close with a dipping volley that Hart did not trust to be going the yard or so wide that it did. Sterling replaced Navas, which was noteworthy only for the humour potential arising from the removal of "Jesus" from the match just after Moses had been introduced.

Byram went into the book for one of those challenges he couldn't really get out of the way of. With 15 left Iheanacho replaced Delph for what would prove to be a decisive change. With ten left Iheanacho ran at the defence. An attempted ball to Aguero didn't quite work but, by virtue of a couple of streaky deflections - notably off Cresswell - the ball fell back to him to equalise.

Jelavic replaced Valencia with 4 left as we pressed for the winner - some lovely work by Payet saw Noble reach the by-line only to see the cross cut out with Jelavic looking threatening. The corner saw a spot of head tennis that ended with Jelavic having a shot blocked. The second corner was met by Jelavic but was going wide and was partially cleared before Pawson blew for a non-existent foul.

We were given three minutes of stoppage which seemed a bit stingy, partly because, with stoppages, there seemed to be more than that to add, and partly because it was an enjoyable game that one didn't really want to end. As if to underline the point Byram went down with a spot of cramp which ought to have added another minute or so to proceedings.

De Bruyne was then played into the box in dangerous territory but Reid's defending to marshal him wide before clearing was superb. The resulting throw caused a few palpitations as the ball ended up on the edge of the box at the feet of Aguero. Thankfully the resulting shot was both weak and straight at Adrian, the save being easily made and the visitors' chance at getting a couple of extra undeserved points was gone.

There was just one final twist to come. Adrian released the ball immediately and Moses burst into the visitors' half only to be felled by Fernando, who was booked for his trouble. Payet swung the ball in and it was met by Kouyate in similar manner to his opening day goal at the Arsenal, the only difference being that this effort clipped the bar, at which point the referee called time.

Full Time: West Ham United 2 Manchester City 2

There was the unusual site of some crown trouble in the lower tier of the game. Their support isn't what it once was quality wise and, having bravely waited until nearly all of the home support had left, the away section decided to try and take on what was left in chav corner. Funnily enough the bravery was bolstered by the fact that they had no chance of actually getting near anyone who might actually hit them. The stewards seemed to have it covered - though it didn't look pretty for a few moments. It seems that the success has attracted a few gobby kids to the club which is a bit of a shame - and you know full well that they'd be a little less "hard" without five yards of that no-man's land mesh stuff to protect them.

Back to more edifying matters. This was a fine game of football and, as many will no doubt have remarked, it is some measure of our progress that we've come away feeling hard done by only having picked up a point against a team costing about as much as the Greek national debt. All we need now is to make that sort of performance the norm (as opposed to that of the previous week up on Tyneside).

Europe? Couldn't give a monkey's at this point in proceedings - I'd say let's just try and get as high as possible and see where that gets us. If that's Europe - and I'd love another week in Malta - great. If not, so be it.

The final word must go to little bruv who, in between kisses and cuddles from Upton Girlie, said it had been a "Good Game" and, as a birthday treat, could he have a Chinese takeaway this time when we got home?

It seemed like a good idea to me!

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Player Ratings

Good performance. Commanded the box well.

Carl Jenkinson
I wouldn't have wanted to have been in the Jenkinson household when he got home to be asked "how'd it go dear?"

Aaron Cresswell
Decent game but was inadvertently the cause of the second equaliser.

Winston Reid
Loved that chest pass back to Adrian in the first half. Good performance.

James Collins
Did better than one might have expected against the trickery and pace of Aguero.

Cheikhou Kouyate
Storming performance - set up the first and nearly got us the winner with the last touch of the game.

Mark Noble
Fine runout from the skipper who didn't let the first half booking affect his game any.

Alex Song
Ok, he looks ridiculous in those "Bono meets Edgar Davids" specs and with his shorts pulled up like that. However, this was his best performance since his return.

Michail Antonio
Hard working in both attack and defence. Looked knackered when he came off - had earned it.

Dimitri Paye
MOTM. Was at the heart of all that was good in the match and was frequently a joy to watch. Got people on their feet in a way we haven't seen since, say, the era of Di Canio.

Enner Valencia
The early goal did his confidence the power of good. Beginning to look a little more like the player we were hoping for when we signed him. And at last there's a use for that god-awful Karma Chamaeleon tune inflicted on the world by the abomination to music that was Culture club.


Sam Byram
An accomplished debut. Ok, it's early days but on that showing I wouldn't have any qualms about him starting ahead of Jenkinson.

Victor Moses
Rumour has it that he's not too happy with his lot. Unfortunately for him Antonio has taken his chance and he'll have to look a bit better than this showing if he wants to be considered ahead of him.

Nikica Jelavic
Got a few minutes replacing the tiring Valencia and caused a few problems.

Raphael Spiega
Did not play.

Kyle Knoyl
Did not play.

Martin Samuelse
Did not play.

Elliot Le
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Adrian, Carl Jenkinson, Aaron Cresswell, Winston Reid, James Collins, Cheikhou Kouyate, Mark Noble, Alex Song, Michail Antonio, Dimitri Paye, Enner Valencia.

Goals: Manuel Lanzini 3 Mark Noble 29 Diafra Sakho 90              .

Booked: Mark Noble 38          .

Sent Off: Mark Noble 78    .

Manchester City: .

Subs not used: .

Goals: .

Booked: n/a.

Sent off: None.

Referee: Craig Pawson.

Attendance: 0.

Man of the Match: Dimitri Payet.