FA Premiership
Portsmouth 1 West Ham United 1

Monday, 26th December 2005
by Richard Osborne

I am shocked. I have been to a fair number of grounds in my life and have certain expectations. Gillingham and Brighton I can understand, but to go to a Premiership club and be seated in an uncovered stand similar to that of the Withdean or Prestfield is a downright disgrace. Twenty plus million they get from Sky each year and play in a hovel.

11 rows up just away from the post. It felt like we were part of the action. Our team were warming up with their usual knock about and then the famed shooting practice. I have never felt so involved with training before. The balls whistled into the stands to the shock and delight of the watching supporters. The ball was laid off, Etherington caught it well, the ball flew at pace towards me, my reflexes are good, my catching is above average, I stood there with determination and courage as it came over the bar, arms stretched ready to pluck the ball from the air.

Like a beach ball and travelling at about 30 miles per hour just a few seconds before it reached me the ball decided against the law of physics to dodge a ball's width to my right. Convinced I must be right, I knew my angles I knew my lines, I am a scientist, I was adamant that I was right. The shock of it hitting me in the chops was just incredible, I had been so wrong. How goal keepers manage to save these new things is beyond me, they must have second sight. It moved with no rhyme or reason. Indeed Carroll got one in the chops too in the first half under the same circumstances. Still it was light and as I readjusted my glasses and hooted wildly at least the side of my face was nice and warm.

We lined up with a familiar feel. Back line unchanged from the last which was nice to see. Carroll, Repka, Konch, Anton and Ginge. The midfield had a disjointed feel; Fletch had been dropped for the now fit and our captain Reo. Newton replaced the sad loss probably our most influential player Yossi. Ethers and Mullins remained along with Bobby and Marlene up front.

The game started and I think our players were still on the coach. Portsmouth hit us hard with wave after wave of attack down our left flank making Konch look like a Sunday League player. Robert, Silva, Lua Lua and O'Neil took it in turns to skin us and make a mockery of any efforts we showed. Our midfield was non-existent. Reo was rusty and off the pace and Newton likewise.

Our singing and chants were not heard. The home crowd were in fine form and our concrete platform with no roof was not conducive to making noise.

As they lay siege to our goal mouth we never got out of our half. Then the first disaster struck. Mullins took a knock and never recovered. The linchpin was taken from the field not to return. He was replaced by yet another rusty midfielder in the form of Fletch. So we were playing badly and one of our most influential players exits. Cue the worst possible scenario, Portsmouth with their tails up hit us yet again down the left flank and now the hole that Fletch was trying to get up to speed with in the middle was exposed and exploited for a very good and clean strike by O'Neil beating Carroll.

I convinced myself that it was a blip, we must settle and take control from back to front. We struggled lamely, giving every ball away and providing no movement. Players were frustrated with themselves as much as each other and it was spiralling out of control.

The hand of fate was to shine on Portsmouth yet again. Our players were not being taken as prisoners. The dirty Robert amongst others had spent the first half an hour kicking and maiming our players with no respite from the useless and ineffectual Adam Wiley. Repka was on the receiving end of a crunching challenge and uncharacteristically stayed down. We knew it was bad. We knew a second substitution was imminent further disrupting our efforts to clam play down and settle.

To the astonishment of the away crowd Danny Gabbidon entered the field. Why was he not on from the start if he was fit? Well he seemed to limp on quite literally from the start. A hard tackle doubled him over in pain within seconds and and it was clear that he was not destined to last five minutes let alone the rest of the ninety. Confused and angry I could not understand why an unfit player had been introduced. Pards now had nowhere to go. Dailly replaced him meaning that we had used all our subs within forty minutes.

We managed to struggle to half time to lick our wounds. Things had started badly and got worse. The start of a busy football period and our players were falling like flies. Very very bad.

West Ham United of late have decided that ninety minutes is a bit too long to play a football match. Leaving the first twenty to the opposition, perhaps conceding the odd goal then after carefully examining their finger nails, nonchalantly and arrogantly decide to play.

Extend that twenty to forty five minutes and you have an idea of what happened yesterday. Fletch decided to plug the hole in front of the defence. Newton and Ethers provided pace and width. Reo grabbed the midfield by the scruff of the neck. Anton and Collins tucked Silva and Lua Lua firmly in their pockets. Marlon and Bobby took the game to their defence.

>From the blow of the whistle commencing the second half we never looked
back. The rutted disgraceful pitch mattered not as the ball zipped from West Ham player to West Ham player. We sliced them open and they could not cope. Chances galore were spurned as we turned the screw. Free kicks were wasted as we need a set piece taker to exploit these situations to their full potential.

And then it happened. A corner came in the ball scuffled around. I saw the flaming red hair of our most lethal defender strike the ball. I rose with eager anticipation and was not disappointed. The ball seemed to take the bottom of the net with it as the players wheeled away in deserved jubilation.

Portsmouth's play became cynical and desperate. Harry was playing his usual tact of no substitutes to aid their cause. The result was a second yellow for Robert and their game was lost.

We managed to pile on the pressure but the final finish just eluded us. Wiley wrapped things up after two minutes of over time [thanks Motty] and we felt slightly aggrieved about not taking all the points but not too disappointed after the first half display.

Wigan is going to be tough. If we play like we did in the first half we will get spanked. Play like we did in the second and we are in for a thriller.

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Player Ratings

Roy Carroll
Solid and dependable. A few awry kicks but understandable given the bobbly pitch.

Tomas Repka
As bad as the rest of them until he left the field.

Paul Konchesky
Struggled at first then with help won the day.

James Collins
Wins every ball and is lethal in front of goal. No surprise he scored.

Anton Ferdinand
At one point he dragged the ball back to avoid a challenge. Pure quality.

Hayden Mullins
Didn't really get started. Then he stopped.

Shaun Newton
Was everywhere. Pace, vision, tackling, getting back. Going forward he cut in and provided the overlap. Not a Yossi in quality but on his day was very very good.

Nigel Reo-Coker
With the same size and build of Newton they must have despaired at these two running the second half yesterday.

Matthew Etherington
Came out in the second half with his ankle strapped. No matter he created havoc on their right flank.

Bobby Zamora
Full of running but never really a threat.

Marlon Harewood
Marginally better than Bobby.


Carl Fletcher
(Replaced Mullins, 12) Called into action early on after Mullins suffered an eye injury.

Danny Gabbidon
(Replaced Repka, 33) Injured with practically his first touch - question marks over the physios assessment?

Christian Dailly
(Replaced Gabbidon, 39) Thrown in at right-back to replace Gabbidon.

Shaka Hislop
Did not play.

David Bellion
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Roy Carroll, Tomas Repka, Paul Konchesky, James Collins, Anton Ferdinand, Hayden Mullins, Shaun Newton, Nigel Reo-Coker, Matthew Etherington, Bobby Zamora, Marlon Harewood.

Goals: James Collins 56                  .

Booked: Nigel Reo-Coker 64          .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Portsmouth: Ashdown, Primus, O'Brien, Stefanovic, Griffin, Taylor, O'Neil, Hughes, Robert, Lua Lua, Dario Silva.

Subs not used: Westerveld, Todorov, Karadas.

Goals: O'Neil (17).

Booked: Taylor (33), Robert (44), Hughes (63).

Sent off: None.

Referee: A.Wiley.

Attendance: 20,168.

Man of the Match: Shaun Newton.