FA Premiership
West Ham United 2 Newcastle United 4

Saturday, 17th December 2005
by Gordon Thrower

Bah humbug! Yup its that time of year again when silly things happen usually due to alcohol. It was a bit worrying that the fixture computer threw this one at us at the start of the festive season I mean its not like my Geordie pals really need an excuse for a beer is it?

We met at our traditional meeting point at Whitechapel. Well some of us were on time anyway. En route to the ground we were informed that an accident on the A13 had caused traffic chaos in the area therefore delaying kick-off by 30 minutes. I understand that the accident was quite serious - our sympathies to anyone affected. Advantage was taken of the delay to pop into a packed Wakefield where, thanks to the miracle of modern technology that is the mobile phone I was able to sidestep the queue for beer by sending my pre-order in via a somewhat refreshed Romford, thus ensuring a pint was there on my arrival. I'm sure this is a service the big fellah would be delighted to extend to all who use the Wakefield so just ask me for his mobile number next time you see me.

The team news, once I'd arrived at the ground was that faith was being kept with those who had done so well up at Everton leaving us with a starting XI of Carroll, Repka, Konchesky, Ferdinand, Collins, Mullins, Fletcher, Benayoun, Etherington, Zamora, Harewood.

The pattern of the game was set very early on. We dominated. An early Fletcher effort from the edge of the box tested Given's handling. So, given that we were looking good, it was only a matter of time before a goal arrived. Unfortunately it came at the wrong end. Repka lost possession in the worst possible plabe, Owen ran down the inside left channel and put a shot through Carroll to send the visitors into the lead.

Well this season so far has been all about comebacks and the players didn't seem like they were about to be upset by a little thing like a goal against the run of play. It took us 15 minutes of domination but it came eventually. A ball was played from the left inside towards Zamora. Zamora dipped his shoulder and turned taking three Newcastle players out of the equation in the process. The ball eventually found its way out to Harewood on the right hand side. Marlon's cross into the box was delivered into the footballing equivalent that "corridor of uncertainty" that Geoffrey Boycott loves to talk about. Bramble successfully stopped the ball going through to Etherington but only by way of hammering it straight at Solano who saw the ball cannon straight back into the net. An own goal, yes but the equaliser was only what we deserved, given the almost total possession we'd enjoyed during that period.

We continued to press forward and might have taken the lead with what was possibly the best move of the match. It started with Harewood tracking back 20 yards into his own half to rob Ameobi. Running diagonally across the park with the Newcastle midfield seemingly content to simply get out of his way, Harewood found Zamora who made space from himself outside Bramble and shot low forcing Given to improvise a save with his feet. Further chances came our way and the best of these was probably a header by Ferdinand that might have produced dividends had it not been too close to Given.

Although we were by far the better side, referee Dowd was giving cause for concern. We'd had an early hint of things to come when Fletch had had the ball drilled at him from six inches, Mr Dowd deciding that the resulting contact represented deliberate handball. More worrying was the Dowd's apparent ignorance of some of the basic laws of the game. Take advantage for example. I'm all in favour of refs waiting for a second or so to see if advantage develops but really Mr Dowd, letting Newcastle play three passes then giving a free-kick when they lost the ball really wasn't on. Mr Dowd also turned down a penalty appeal when Yossi was upended in the box - why Mr Dowd turned it down I could not possibly say - stupidity? Possibly. Maybe someone had spiked his pre-match cuppa. Whatever the reason, had Dowd taken charge of his car on the way home in the same way as he officiated the match he'd be looking at points on his licence by now.

The visitors had cottoned on early on in the proceedings that Mr Dowd was a sucker for a dive - Boumsong and Ameobi in particular seemed to enjoy going to ground whenever the ball got out of control which was a lot. Zamora put pressure on Boumsong who made a complete mess of things and ran the ball out of play on our right hand side, theatrically and hilariously throwing himself down as if Zamora had caught him. The fact that Zamora was about a yard away made it all the funnier as the linesman correctly flagged for the throw. However Mr Dowd had seen something that nobody in the ground had seen - a non existent foul. Even the linesman shook his head. From the free kick the ball was played to Ameobi who, true to form, lost control and went down far too easily under pretty minimal pressure from Fletcher. Dowd gave another free kick which was played in and flew off the angle of Owen's head and shoulder to put the visitors 2-1 up. Carroll was sufficiently impressed with Dowd's refereeing to run 40 yards to tell him personally, an action that cost the 'keeper a yellow card - Roy mate never argue with an idiot - they drag you down to their level.

So there we were at half time 2-1 down to a side who'd barely got the ball out of their own half. We needed to come out at the start of the second half and get at them. The early part of the second half was, however, a bit scrappy as the passing game went a little astray. Yossi, however was beginning to show signs of his mercurial best and, on 51 minutes he went on a fine run through the middle that was crudely ended by a hack from Ameobi. Strangely, given his performance up to that point, the ref spotted the foul and gave the free-kick. My what an imposing figure Dowd cut as he bravely insisted the Newcastle wall retreat the full, er, six yards! Predictably the free-kick went straight into the wall.

Harewood then made space inside the box only to see Given save once more with his foot. Then shortly after a Newcastle clearance fell to Mullins. The skipper's low drive from 25 yards beat Given only to come back off the post. Next on the list was Collins who found his attempted diversion of a misdirected shot being cleared off the line by some desperate defending by, of all people, Alan Shearer. Repka then set up Harewood only for Marlon's shot to be deflected wide.

Just before the hour we were greeted by the sight of Shaun "10K" Newton preparing for action. He strode forward, "Our Jeremy" announced "substitution for West Ham United.........." then, well, nothing actually. Worryingly Yossi had jogged across to the touchline for a quick word suggesting that all was not well with the Israeli international. 10K went back to the bench and play continued for a bit. Eventually Bellion came off the bench and Yossi trotted off - AP later confirming that Yossi had a thigh strain.

As in the first half the visitors had shown barely anything as an attacking force so it was sadly inevitable that, five minutes after the substitution, they should add to their lead. Owen found himself in space in the middle and was given too much time on the ball to feed Shearer inside the box. Shearer finished well into the bottom left hand corner. Frankly if we were hard done by at 2-1, to be 3-1 down was simply daylight robbery.

To our credit we kept plugging away and about 7 minutes later we reduced the deficit. Fletch was scythed down by a horrible late challenge by Parker for which the former Charlton and, some say, Chelsea player justly received a yellow card in one of Dowd's more lucid moments. Konchesky played the ball into the box and Ameobi, presumably having partaken of the same hallucinogenic as the ref, strangely decided to palm the ball away rather than employ the more traditional "heading" method normally employed by outfield players. Dowd remembered the law that says that handball is not allowed, though the task of getting three decisions in a row correct proved well beyond the hapless official; the yellow card that would have resulted in Ameobi's dismissal remaining firmly in the ref's pocket.

Harewood took what appeared to be a worryingly short run-up for the spot kick but he buried it comprehensively to reduce the deficit.

With 15 left on the clock AP switched things around. Repka came off to be replaced by Aliadiere prompting a move to a back three with Fletch coming in alongside Collins and Ferdinand. We continued to press forward but, as time pressed on, this meant that we were increasingly finding ourselves short at the back. With five minutes left Bowyer found Owen whose downward header brought an excellent one-handed save out of Carroll.

I couldn't remember having seen the physio on so, in keeping with the general standard of refereeing, Dowd somehow found a staggering 4 minutes of added time to play. This prompted Collins going up to join the attack where he was joined at a corner by Carroll. As the ball was played back into the box one wag gave the helpful advice "for ****'s sake Roy don't catch it!"
As the game petered out and with everyone in the Newcastle half the visitors got a bit of a break on and, with Carroll scrambling back, Faye found Owen who was being played onside by Konchesky. The England man had the easiest of jobs to place the ball into the empty match to give the final score a totally unrealistic look. Etherington got booked for dissent, presumably for asking the officials if they were now happy with the score.

It had been a cracking game, one which I'd have enjoyed even more had I not supported either of the sides involved. The result was rough justice really but it should provide a valuable lesson for us in future - you really have to take your chances. Newcastle created virtually nothing but stuck what little they had away and that was the difference between the sides. Even Graeme Souness had the good grace to look slightly embarrassed at the post-match press conference - where the lovely Margot treated us to some sausage rolls courtesy of her chum Lorna. They were infinitely easier to digest than the result!

So we're coming up to half way and we're happily placed in the top ten. I'll admit that I didn't think we'd be so far up at this stage of the season but I'm damn glad that we are. We've played some good stuff since promotion and there's a sense that we are watching a real TEAM every week - that post-match huddle at Everton in midweek was a sign of genuine team spirit. There's a greater air of professionalism behind the scenes too. So the half term report has to be good. Now if we can pick up a striker capable of putting away some of the chances we keep creating during the forthcoming window who knows where we'll end up.

Happy Christmas everyone!

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Player Ratings

Roy Carroll
One fine save but strangely, given that we let in 4, unemployed for most of the game.

Tomas Repka
Possibly off in January the Czech full-back was at fault for, maybe, two of the goals.

Paul Konchesky
Another decent showing. Though he might have pushed up a bit for the 4th to catch Owen offside, in truth it was all over by then.

James Collins
A fair home league debut - unlucky not to score. Needs to concentrate for the full 90 though.

Anton Ferdinand
Kept Shearer fairly quiet. The experience is beginning to show - one bit where Shearer was looking to draw a foul only to find Ferdinand had taken a clever step back was particularly amusing.

Hayden Mullins
A fine performance in the middle. Dreadfully unlucky to see his shot come back off the post.

Carl Fletcher
A fair home premiership debut though a couple of times his inexperience at the top level showed.

Yossi Benayoun
Was looking quite tricky until the thigh tightened up. Should have had a penalty.

Matthew Etherington
More lively than earlier in the season. Talk of an England call up is far-fetched but he does continue to improve.

Bobby Zamora
Good first half, anonymous in the second. Sublime turn in the build up to our first goal.

Marlon Harewood
Probably has Boumsong's fingerprints around his neck. Caused problems throughout and video of the run back into his own half to dispossess Ameobi should be compulsory viewing to those who continually slate him for "laziness".


David Bellion
(Replaced Benayoun, 62) Eventually replaced Yossi but ran down too many blind alleys and lost the ball a few to many times for my liking.

Jeremie Aliadiere
(Replaced Repka, 76) Came on for Repka late on but failed to do anything of note.

Christian Dailly
Did not play.

Shaka Hislop
Did not play.

Sean Newton
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Roy Carroll, Tomas Repka, Paul Konchesky, James Collins, Anton Ferdinand, Hayden Mullins, Carl Fletcher, Yossi Benayoun, Matthew Etherington, Bobby Zamora, Marlon Harewood.

Goals: Nobby Solano og 20 Marlon Harewood 73                .

Booked: Roy Carroll 44 Anton Ferdinand 74 Matthew Etherington 90      .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Newcastle United: Given, Ramage, Elliott, Boumsong, Bramble, Faye, Parker, Solano, Ameobi, Owen, Shearer.

Subs not used: Haper, Gate, Luque, Chopra.

Goals: Owen (5, 43, 90), Shearer (66).

Booked: Bramble (32), Ameobi (52), Parker (72).

Sent off: None.

Referee: P.Dowd.

Attendance: 34,836.

Man of the Match: Hayden Mullins.