West Ham United 0 Palermo 1

Thursday, 14th September 2006
by Gordon Thrower

European nights. Ah the memories. Eintracht Frankfurt, the collective sigh when we all thought Keith Robson had let the ball run too far. The eruption of noise when he went and put the ball in the top corner anyway. Matches under the lights. Yeah there were some fantastic times in the past playing against Johnny Foreigner.

Of course time does add a bit of a rosy picture to things and we often forget that there were often some strange things going on. As a kid European matches meant watching grainy pictures (admittedly usually of some other team), on the box with somewhat less than Dobly-standard sound. Somehow this all combined to make European matches even more exciting. There was also always a feeling that there was an anti-English undercurrent to European competition and the commentary always focussed on that element of the good sporting plucky English lads having to deal with the sneaky conniving-cheating-ankle-tapping tactics of your nasty Latin types, who were always assisted by refereeing that was, at best, incompetent (yes that means you Rudi Glockner) and at worst actually bent (though given Don Revie's habit of bribing opposing players to miss penalties, it was hard to feel too sorry for the Leeds side that lost out to a referee-bribing Milan side in the European Cup final).

This match was a bit of a throwback to those days. All the elements were there. Your wily continentals, the lights, your plucky (largely) English lads battling against a lack of interest from some officials of dubious quality. All that was missing was the dodgy sound quality, a grainy picture and Bill Remfry's attempts to address the visitors in their own language which probably resulted in weeks of work for the Foreign Office in trying to apologise for the hideous insults caused by his pronunciation of the Romanian word for "welcome."

Team news was that the two new lads were to start, Mullins and Harewood unsurprisingly being the ones to drop to the expanded Euro-sized bench. Tevez was given a wide role in a 4-5-1 that read Carroll, Mears, Konchesky, Gabbidon, Ferdinand, Mascherano, Bowyer, Benayoun, Reo Coker, Tevez and Zamora.

The die was cast fairly early on. Tevez received his first crude hack within the first minute. Yossi's effort from the resulting free-kick failed to clear the first man though and the promise was wasted. The ref set his stall out early on by failing to spot a 90 degree deflection off Ferdinand which ought to have been a corner following Bresciano's shot from distance. It was not to be his last howler though there was some promise when he carded Cassani in the 5th minute for what had already been the 3rd or 4th cynical foul of the night on Tevez. Not that Tevez was alone in being the target for some, er, robust tackling and Simplicio, who got away with murder all night, left his mark on Bowyer. There was some football in amongst all the fun. NRC fed a clever ball through to Zamora who laid the ball back to Konchesky. As the ball came across Cassani was all over Tevez but, unsurprisingly, the ref saw little wrong with the challenge.

Bobby it was again who got on the end of a clever ball inside from Konch to force a corner. Yossi cleverly made himself some space but again the final ball was lacking. We gained another free-kick when Tevez was clipped by Simplicio yet again. NRC was next on the receiving end as Caraccio's hack ended a semi-promising break inside. Bowyer put in one of those teasing flat free-kicks. Bobby's run across the trajectory nearly put the keeper off though the linesman had (incorrectly) decided that Bobby had strayed too early.

There was a bit of a scare for us on 18 minutes. Yossi over-elaborated out on the touchline and Di Michele made Anton look slightly foolish wit a nutmeg before prodding the ball wide under pressure from Gabbidon. As the ball was cleared downfield Tevez's lovely little flick inside was just a shade too far forward for Bowyer's clever run which was a shame as both pass and run deserved a better result.

As the game wore on the refereeing became even more eccentric. NRC gave the ball away but Mascherano, who was having a superb debut, won the ball back with what was not his first and certainly not the last excellent intervention of the evening. Well that's the way most of us saw it. The ref strangely decided that what was one of the sweetest tackles you'll ever see was in fact a foul.

Next a clever lay-off from Zamora was hit on the turn by NRC high and wide, though NRC optimistically claimed a deflection. Next on the hit list was Konch who fell prey to a lunge from Diana - who if he ever comes to play in England is gonna be confused as hell by the front Page of the Daily Express every Monday.

Though clear chances had been few and far between the bright spot had been Mascherano who had been at the heart of just about everything. He looked as comfortable as a favourite pair of slippers. However the refereeing still left much to be desired. Given the constant flow of petty and not so petty infringements from the visitors it seemed a trifle harsh to book NRC for a tackle that, whilst strong and committed, did actually take the ball though NRC had been done no favours by Konch's reluctance to go for a ball that should have been his.

It was about this time that Tevez was pushed up to join Bobby more fully in attack. We gained another free-kick which was notable for the Italians taking more than a minute to retreat the full 10 yards though this might have something to do with Johnny Foreigner's lack of Knowledge of the Imperial system of measurements what with their never having the now-defunct Metrication Board placing patronising adverts in their newspapers all throughout the 70's. "A metre measures three feet three, it's longer than a yard you see". I think that was one of Betjeman's. Konch's shot from the free-kick took a deflection and Anton ought to have done a lot better from the free header that he got from the corner.

Konch was not having one of his better nights and was seemingly having major problems with his passing. One false clearance found Bresciano who shot powerfully but his save was easily dealt with by Carroll. Di Michele's angled header also forced a save from Carroll though there was a large element of "just to be on the safe side" to his tip around as the ball seemed to be going wide anyway. Shortly before the interval there came two moments that effectively decided the match. Bowyer's fine ball out to the left was gathered by Zamora who put a marvellous cross into the middle. Tevez hit it first time but it was too close to the 'keeper who didn't know an awful lot about the save but made it nevertheless. Mears got up well from the resulting corner but the save was comfortable.

Then came the sucker punch. Let's face it the ball was out of play. Miles out. Had it been any further out of play it'd have been in my lap. And I sit in the upper tier. Diana didn't worry about such niceties on the understandable grounds that if the officials weren't bothered about the most basic and simple law of the game why should he bother and his cross came off Caracciolo to send the visitors one up. The linesman had a perfect view so quite what was going on only his psychiatrist will ever know. The officials left the pitch to well-deserved boos. In fact ritual disembowelment would probably have been too good for them but my legal advisors inform me that you're not allowed to do that any more. No wonder refereeing standards are falling.

The second half started much as the first had continued. Bresciano became the latest player to commit a yellow-card offence without sanction, his horrible late kicking of Mears being executed safe in the knowledge that no card would be forthcoming. Simplicio had a couple of hacks at Bowyer who let the covering defender know he was there with a fairly strong challenge of his own.

Konch's 'mare was continuing. The full back did well to take Mascherano's crossfield ball in his stride but, in a move that summed up his night, he sliced his cross terribly into the Bobby Moore stand. This latest failure to deliver a meaningful cross in prompted the introduction of Matty for Bowyer though not before Konch had wasted another promising position. About this time Carroll had to be alert to block a one-on-one effort from Caracciolo though the goalscorer's attempt to gain a penalty through theatrics was comical.

Ferdinand then got another header in from a corner but couldn't keep it down. Matty fed Tevez with a nice ball but the pull-back went behind Yossi who couldn't fashion a shot. Palermo were being pushed back but half-chances were our only reward, though there was a suspicion on occasion that we were a little shot shy.

With about 20 minutes left the game descended into farce. Gabbidon had mopped up an Italian break and cleverly released Matty down the left. Matty's ball into Zamora looked promising and Bobby appeared to have bought himself enough room to get in a shot but delayed a fraction and got crowded out, eventually doing well to work the ball back out to Matty. The ball was played in and ran loose with the 'keeper, Fontana getting to the ball first. The Italians had not been slow to go down under the slightest contact all night, and, as a method of disrupting the flow of the game the tactic had met with some success. Though Yossi may have just about touched the 'keeper there was absolutely no need for the mindbending (ho ho) show of agony to which we were treated. The 'keeper threw the ball over his own goal line presumably in an attempt to get some attention from his acting coach/physio. It was totally apparent that no treatment was necessary and, shrewdly Bobby worked out that, since no foul had been given, it must therefore be a corner. There then ensued a mass outbreak of pushing and shoving the first bit of which involved Bobby being shoved to the ground right in front of the ref. Tevez got involved in a manner that suggests he likes a bit of a ruck. 12-15 players seemed to be in there at one stage, with even Carroll sauntering up for a quiet word, though Gabbidon seemed a bit indifferent to it all, wisely electing to tie his bootlaces 40 yards away. The ref seemed unwilling to get the cards out though in a manner that suggested that he was expecting each card to show up on his hotel bill alongside the charge for "educational" movies. It would have been sweet in the extreme for a goal to have resulted from the corner but sadly it was not to be. As the ball came back Di Michele created some sort of record by fouling Zamora no fewer than three times in the space of two seconds, a deserved yellow card coming his way once the ball had gone out in the one piece of half-decent refereeing that we saw all night.

We survived a scare when Konchesky cleared a free kick from under the bar. Carracciolo put the corner wide. There being no obvious deflection, the ref elected to award another corner, thus proving the well-known link between watching "educational" movies and deterioration in eyesight. Carroll made a right mess of the cross but the ball fell kindly and was cleared. Tevez fed Yossi who cut in and saw his shot deflected and rebounding clear.

With 13 left there was a double change. Tevez and Zamora were replaced by Cole and Harewood and Marlon might have scored with his first touch, his first time effort on the turn from Yossi's cross coming back off the post with the keeper stranded. It wasn't the cleanest of shots but it and we deserved better.

The ball ran out to Matty who pushed the ball past a defender then dived. This was disappointing on a number of levels. Firstly, because I don't like to see us diving. We're better than that. Chelsea, Liverpool, Man Utd and Arsenal play eachother this weekend. Each of those sides have three or four players well-versed in the art of going to ground and if I want to see players diving there'll be plenty on show in those matches on the box. I do not want to see it from our players at the Boleyn thank you very much. Secondly, it was disappointing that Matty chose to dive when he'd made a bit of space for himself anyway. Thirdly it was disappointing to see the yellow card brandished. Not because it wasn't deserved - it was- but because there had been any number of occasions when the visitors had thrown themselves to the floor in unsuccessful attempts to gain free-kicks and had escaped similar sanction - the 'keeper's feigned "injury" being but the latest in a long line of incidents. I can only presume that the yellow was therefore some sort of comment on the quality of the dive - and it was rotten on every possible level.

We continued to press forward but time and time again the ball into the box was lacking in quality. We forced a couple of corners but failed to make anything of them. There was a further piece of farce before the end. Capuano threw himself to the ground under no contact whatsoever. Even the ref didn't buy it - though the yellow remained firmly in his pocket. Having failed to get the free-kick the Italians cynically put the ball out so that a few minutes could be wasted whilst the physio re-touched the payer's make-up. The ref correctly decided that the player was feigning injury - still a yellow-card offence but hey what's a bit of consistency amongst friends. We took the throw in and, much to the Italians' consternation we didn't give the ball back. I'm all in favour of returning the ball in times of genuine injury but this was cynical manipulation of the sort that has become commonplace since this practice has arisen - Liverpool being particularly cute exponents at exploiting such situations. So I was totally and utterly in favour of our retaining possession. If it makes them think twice in the second leg it will have been worth it.

We forced a corner from the resulting move and, whilst Gabbidon got in a header as the ball came back in, it lacked direction. Given all the slow substitutions, time wasting and multi-player shoving sessions there had been it should have been a surprise that the officials only decreed there to be three minutes of stoppage time. Frankly though, I'd ceased to be surprised by the antics of the Swedes in yellow shortly after about the 4th minute and the game petered out.

There were plusses and minuses to be gained from the match. The performance, especially second half, was vastly improved from that we'd seen against Villa and, with a decent ref, or even a one twentieth decent ref, we might have got the draw that was the very least I reckon we deserved. On the minus side we did seem to waste any number of good moves and possession by our lack of either a good final ball or by a strange reluctance to shoot. This is something that needs a bit of work.

In the meantime, due to work commitments I won't be visiting Sicily. I'll end up watching the match at home on my widescreen tv with six-speaker surround sound. Nice enough but the traditionalist in me almost wants the picture to be blurry, preferably in black and white with a commentary that sounds like David Coleman is sticking euro coins in the slot to avoid interruption from the pips. I think 8 pints should do it!

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Player Ratings

Roy Carroll
Uncertain handling on a night on which he was largely untested.

Tyrone Mears
Solid enough defensively but failed to add enough going forward in the way that a fit Pantsil might have done.

Paul Konchesky
A couple of good blocks - particularly the header from the free-kick. However his distribution was dreadful - if he found a claret and blue shirt in the second half I missed it.

Anton Ferdinand
Potentially embarrassed by a nutmeg early on he recovered to have a good game.

Danny Gabbidon
Back to something approaching his form of last season. Looked cool and calm throughout.

Javier Mascherano
A fine debut. Looked extremely comfortable on the ball in the same way that Mullins often doesn't. He won't catch the eye in the same way as his compatriot but on this showing he'll be a great acquisition.

Nigel Reo-Coker
A lot of hard running but the final ball or shot still needs working on.

Lee Bowyer
Good solid run-out in the light of no little stick from start to finish. Tired visibly before being replaced.

Yossi Benayoun
A good run out - caused problems with some of his mazy runs.

Bobby Zamora
Ironically, the first game he didn't score in this season was possibly his best match. Lots of running and endeavour as the lone striker and looked better for having Tevez push up later on.

Carlos Tevez
Showed enough to suggest that he can be a major crowd pleaser though we're still obviously trying to sort out his best role. Might be interesting to see him up against the somewhat inconsistent Bramble at the weekend.


Matthew Etherington
(Replaced Bowyer, 59) Ran into too many blind alleys and the dive was not something I want to see from him.

Marlon Harewood
(Replaced Tevez, 78) Unlucky to see the shot that would have done so much to rebuild his confidence come back off the post.

Carlton Cole
(Replaced Zamora, 78) Didn't really get involved.

Robert Green
Did not play.

Hayden Mullins
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Roy Carroll, Tyrone Mears, Paul Konchesky, Anton Ferdinand, Danny Gabbidon, Javier Mascherano, Nigel Reo-Coker, Lee Bowyer, Yossi Benayoun, Bobby Zamora, Carlos Tevez.

Goals: None.

Booked: Nigel Reo-Coker 31 Matthew Etherington 79        .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Palermo: Fontana, Cassani, Zaccardo, Barzagli, Pisano, Diana, Parravicini, Simplicio, Bresciano, Di Michele, Caracciolo.

Subs not used: Agliardi, Brienza, Tedesco, Dellafiore.

Goals: Caracciolo (45).

Booked: Cassani (5), Pisano (48), Di Michele (71).

Sent off: None.

Referee: S.Johannesson.

Attendance: 32,222.

Man of the Match: Javier Mascherano.