FA Premiership
Sunderland 1 West Ham United 1

Saturday, 1st October 2005
by Gordon Thrower

Nice weekend shame about the football!

It all started at 6.25am on Saturday. Having had a lousy night's sleep I was awoken by the lovely girlfriend who informed me that I'd obviously slept through the alarm. Given that my flight up to the North East was due to close at 7.45am time was going to be very tight. However, thanks to the lovely girlfriend's driving I made check-in with a couple of minutes to spare.

Most of the gang had gone up to Newcastle the night before and I arrived at the hotel to find that the room I was due to share with Romford was lacking in one vital respect - a second bed. Romford's idea was worrying - "You don't mind sharing a bed do you? I'll have to move my bags otherwise". Thankfully, before I had time to work out how to let Romford down gently, "Bendy" Sharon on reception had sorted us out another room - and even arranged to have our bags moved for us.

A quick visit to the hotel bar followed where we met Gent and Bonehead. The lovely Sharon - not the "bendy" one behind the bar was good fun but Romford continued to give cause for concern by quizzing the hotel manager about the location of Newcastle's "Pink Triangle". Much funnier was the manager's description of the hotel's night porter. A big chap not known to suffer fools gladly, apparently he has his own catchphrase of "I feel an eviction coming on". Look out for the future Viz character "Big Geoff - Nazi Night Porter".

Then followed a brisk walk to the Sports Caf? near the station during which my interesting comments on the rich architectural heritage of Tyneside so impressed my colleagues that they could only pretend to ignore me in stunned silence. We met up with some of the Sunderland fans who visit this very site including Splodge and, wearing a very dodgy Ivan Lendl Adidas top, Walesie. Not having had breakfast I decided to eat as did Romford who, having spent ?10 on a "Monster Burger" was gobsmacked to discover that they wanted to charge him a further 95p for some mayonnaise. In fact the shock rendered him speechless for all of half a second.

We then hopped into a cab for a swift trip down to Wearside. On the way our hosts helpfully pointed out the location of both the "Pink Triangle" and the local "dogging" site, the locations of which seemed to be of unhealthy interest to my roommate. On arrival in Sunderland we proceeded to a succession of pubs having a pint in each one. Poor old Bonehead was succumbing to a toothache, a matter that the brains trust considered for a nanosecond before advising that drinking heavily was the best answer.

The pubs were a mixed bunch. The main advantage was that when you were inside one you didn't have to look at Sunderland, which is not an attractive city. There was little of note to comment on architecturally-speaking much to the dismay of my companions. I expect. We quickly sussed out that the reason our hosts kept dragging us from pub to pub was to give themselves recovery time between pints, what with them being lightweight Northern monkeys and all. I was a bit worried about the last pub we found ourselves in which featured an unfunny comedian and a couple of blokes on stage who appeared to be taking their clothes off. Thankfully Romford was suitably distracted outside by the attractive Met WPC who seems to be our "spotter" on away matches this season.

Our hosts informed us that the stadium was about "5 minutes" away from the last pub. Twenty minutes walking later we arrived at the ground. This was my first visit to the Stadium Of Light and, though it's a decent ground, the convoluted explanations as to why it has that name all seem a bit iify to me. Yeah right like they'd have called it that anyway.

So to the match. It was a preferred first team line-up that took the pitch comprising of Carroll, Repka, Konchesky, Gabbidon, Ferdinand, Reo-Coker, Etherington, Benayoun, Mullins, Sheringham, Harewood.

It was a fairly even start. The first chance went to the home side. Welsh went down the left and crossed in for Gray. Fortunately Gray, who from six yards out and with no marking to speak of perhaps ought to have done a lot better, tamely headed into the grateful arms of Carroll.

A few minutes later it was our turn. Some clever work from Yossi fed Harewood who was through on the 'keeper. Marlon's shot across brought a save out of Davis and, though young Edward was following up it was former Magpie Caldwell who was first to the loose ball.

That was really about as good as it got for us during the first half as a large number of Hammers chose the day to have an off-day. Repka in particular seemed right out of sorts and, whatever footwear he was wearing, it was the wrong sort as Sunderland took advantage time and again of Tomas's inability to stand up for more than a few minutes without losing his footing. Thankfully the crosses that came over either lacked accuracy or, when they did threaten, found Gabbidon in good form.

Sunderland were hit by injury just after the half-hour when Basilla, who spent a spell on loan at the Boleyn a few years ago went down. It looked like a hamstring to me and the midfielder was replaced by Liam Lawrence.

It had not been a good half, if truth be told. Sunderland had been the better of two fairly average teams. However, things went from average to bad seconds before the interval. Not for the first time Welsh went down the Sunderland left and sent over a low cross that was met first time by Lawrence. Lawrence's first time shot was saved by Carroll but former Ipswich man Miller was on hand to hit the loose ball high into the roof of the net. This prompted the hilarious sight of about 15 8 year-olds giving it large at the away support who at least had the good grace to be grateful for the laugh it gave them.

The second half started and, if we'd been average in the first half, we were bloody awful for most of the second half. Sunderland had more than the lion's share of possession and our efforts to clear our lines were awful. The passing game that had served us so well for the first six games of the season was shot to pieces.

Repka had clearly not taken advantage of the break to check his footwear and yet another slip saw Elliott break into the box only to shoot tamely at Carroll. Konchesky then incurred the wrath of referee Atkinson with about 50 minutes gone when he sent Lawrence into the air out on the touchline. My initial thought was that he might have got something of the ball but nobody who saw the match on the box seems to have seen that and, given that the challenge was far from pretty - a little like Sunderland the city actually - a yellow card was probably the best Konch could hope for.

Shortly after we missed a chance that, in all honesty, we ought to have buried. Repka, having his only decent moment of the match, won the ball and sent a pass that must have been all of 40 yards diagonally into the centre where young Edward's first touch to take himself and the ball clear of the marking defender. Unfortunately Teddy's second touch was horrible, the ball squirting horribly high and wide of both the advancing Davis and the goal.

The home side then went back on the attack and our inability to hold onto the ball for more than a few seconds saw Sunderland gain a corner from which the ball ended up in the back of the net though the whistle had gone for an infringement before the ball crossed the line. Not sure what the foul was as I was too far away to see clearly. However it did get the 8 year olds excited for a bit.

Our failure to clear our lines saw Sunderland launch a number of attacks and Elliott was allowed to run at Ferdinand before gettins a shot in that Carroll was only able to parry. The ball came out to, well I'm not quite sure who but it was possibly Miller or Whitehead who shot towards goal only for the effort, which was possibly going wide, to hit a team-mate and rebound harmlessly wide.

Given that nothing seemed to be going right it was time for a substitution and Zamora came on for young Edward to inject some mobility into the attack. This didn't seem to have much effect and Sunderland continued to press forward, though it's fair to say that despite their domination of the possession, the home side seemed to lack the penetration to make it count. Typical of this was the home side's next effort - Elliott getting into a good position but failing to really test Carroll with his shot.

AP then rang the changes once more with Repka and Etherington coming off to be replaced by Dailly and Newton. Repka had had his poorest game for quite some time whilst the first time that many had realised that Matty had actually made the journey North was when he was substituted. The substitutions prompted a reshuffle with Dailly playing in the centre, Gabbidon moving to the right of defence.

With little more than 20 minutes left on the clock, and it has to be said somewhat out of the blue, we were level. The ball was played out of the back by Harewood on to Zamora whose flick header seemed to confuse the hell out of the sundrland central pair - though as we are all too painfully aware that's not difficult when one of the pair is G Breen Esq! Yossi ran on to the loose ball and his touch took him away from the defender and towards goal where his low angled shot was placed perfectly beyond the reach of the diving Davis and into the bottom left corner of the net sending 1600 freezing away fans wild with delight and shutting up about 15 8 year-olds.

The remaining 20 minutes were largely uneventful - both sides having shots blocked by last ditch defending. The only major incident of note being a mass outbreak of handbags when the ref punished NRC's retaliation to Caldwell's snapping at his ankles with a yellow, the Sunderland man receiving similar sanction. The final whistle went and we had nicked a point from what was definitely our least impressive performance of the season.

We retired to a local hostelry where bemused locals kept informing us that we'd gotten away with daylight robbery. We didn't argue. Indeed we thought it hilarious that we'd done so - especially in view of the fact that it's been done to us on so many occasions in the past so it was nice to not be on the receiving end of such a performance for a change.

Following a swift couple within the vicinity we got the Metro back to the more pleasant surroundings of Newcastle, though Walesie's "shortcut" to the Stadium Of Light Metro station left a lot to be desired involving as it did the climbing of a number of tallish fences.

Newcastle was busy - make that rammed. It looked like everyone within 30 miles had gone out for the evening. Many of the female population were highly attractive though there were a number that put one in mind of, well Sunderland actually in that they were not at all pleasing to the eye. One of those, who was most definitely not "bendy" proclaimed loudly to her mates that she wouldn't have anything to do with people not from "around here". Bonehead and I mused on the fact that such attitudes were the sort that inevitably led to inbreeding - something that the young lady concerned was clearly the result of.

In fact Bonehead, possibly affected by the large amounts of liquid medication he'd been taking for his toothache, decided to raise the matter with the young lady concerned, pointing out that if he was as fat and as ugly as she was he'd be glad of any attention wherever it came from. Ungentlemanly maybe but there are times when the truth needs to be told and there's no-one better to tell it than a drunk Hammer with a toothache!

A few bars later we alighted on Buffalo Joes, a short walk across the bridge. Gent stormed off with the hump having failed to attract the attention of any of the bar staff in five minutes at the bar - though it only took me two once I'd taken over the bar duties. I expect they recognised in my youthful good looks the sort of person who appreciated the architectural and engineering heritage of their city and wasn't just there to ogle the bikini clad cow-girls behind the bar. Though it has to be said that the pneumatic redhead was particularly pleasing to the eye.

Several large drinks and a kebab later I returned to the hotel. Gent fell foul of "Big Geoff - Nazi Night Porter" by bringing a carton of chips into the bar, though thankfully Big Geoff didn't "feel an eviction coming on" A nightcap and a ?10 win out of the quiz machine later I retired for bed passing out within a second of hitting the sack.

We left early on the Sunday having had a ridiculously large hangover curing greasy fry-up for ?3.50 in a little caf? around the corner from the hotel. Gent and Romford were grateful for the educational hints that I was able to give them - particularly on the impressive structure that is the Tyne Bridge. They were so impressed that they forgot to thank me for the improvement I brought to their mornings. I expect they'll remember eventually.

Another great away trip. Thanks to the lightweight Sunderland mob for the hospitality, thanks to Gent for the drive home, to Romford for not telling us too much about the coaches we passed and to the Premier Travel Inn for ensuring that I didn't have to share a bed with Romford.

Final special thanks to the lovely girlfriend without whose efforts I'd never have made it up there in the first place. Ta pet!

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Player Ratings

Roy Carroll
Had a long go at his defenders in a Schmeichel-esque rant. Despite the territorial domination by our opponents he wasn't really tested and dealt comfortably with the few shots that were thrown at him.

Tomas Repka
Poor by his recent standards. I can't remember seeing anyone fall over as much since the bad old days of David Kelly.

Paul Konchesky
Not as impressive as of late and may have been fortunate to remain on the pitch following the tackle on Lawrence.

Anton Ferdinand
Seemed to have his mind elsewhere - not as focussed as normal and his distribution seemed to have gone to pot for the evening. An off day.

Danny Gabbidon
The only defender to really seem comfortable on the night. Just as well given that his colleagues weren't at the races.

Hayden Mullins
Got a few tackles in but, by his recent standards, he was fairly subdued.

Nigel Reo-Coker
Had a frustrating 90 minutes and struggled to cope with the opposition midfield.

Yossi Benayoun
Tried and tried without ever really dominating the opposition. Superb finish for the goal though.

Matthew Etherington
Of late when he hasn't been giving the opposition a hard time he has at least been putting in the effort defensively, However he was largely anonymous both in defence and attack. Worrying.

Marlon Harewood
Another who huffed and puffed to little effect. Perhaps ought to have done better with his effort in the first half.

Teddy Sheringham
His one real contribution was to miss what by his standards was a sitter - though his first touch to set himself up was class.


Bobby Zamora
(Replaced Sheringham, 61) A lively run out without ever looking particularly dangerous.

Shaun Newton
(Replaced Etherington, 67) Good run-out and rarely lets us down when he comes on.

Christian Dailly
(Replaced Repka, 67) Football genius came on and calmed things down a lot during the closing stages.

Shaka Hislop
Did not play.

David Bellion
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Roy Carroll, Tomas Repka, Paul Konchesky, Anton Ferdinand, Danny Gabbidon, Hayden Mullins, Nigel Reo-Coker, Yossi Benayoun, Matthew Etherington, Marlon Harewood, Teddy Sheringham.

Goals: Yossi Benayoun 70                  .

Booked: Danny Gabbidon 44 Paul Konchesky 52 Shaun Newton 73 Yossi Benayoun 79 Nigel Reo-Coker 90  .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Sunderland: Davis, Hoyte, Nosworthy, Breen, Caldwell, Whitehead, Basilla, Miller, Welsh, Elliott, Gray.

Subs not used: J.Murphy, Collins, Le Tallec.

Goals: Miller (45).

Booked: Caldwell (90).

Sent off: None.

Referee: M.Atkinson.

Attendance: 31,212.

Man of the Match: Yossi Benayoun.