Portsmouth 2 West Ham United 0

Sunday, 15th October 2006
by Gordon Thrower

HMS Warrior. It stands right next to Portsmouth Harbour station you know. Thames Ironworks built it in 1860 and we have an ever-so-nice model of it in the foyer at the club which, we are assured, cost a mere fraction of the amount for which it is insured. It was also just about the only interesting thing I saw on a day that came after an incident-packed week that saw one player arrested, another refused entry to the country, the departure of our assistant manager, more takeover talks and all sorts of other stuff going on.

Team news was that, Pantsil was either fit or unfit depending on which paper you happen to read. Either way the intervention of the Immigration Service rendered the whole question academic, that particular branch of the civil service presumably having fine tuned their skills since the days when Arsenal players used to import players with passports written in crayon. Tevez was also unavailable for the more orthodox reason of having done his knee in whilst on international duty leaving us with a line-up of Carroll, Spector, Konchesky, Gabbidon, Ferdinand, Benayoun, Reo-Coker, Mullins, Etherington, Sheringham, Zamora.

It was a brightish start. By that I mean we had a fair bit of the ball but, as has seemed to be the case so often this season, we lacked width and the final ball was nowhere to be seen. The Sheringham/Zamora "partnership" was particularly disappointing as time after time passes went astray. Possibly the most amusing incident of the early exchanges involved Carroll whose scuffed goal-kick barely moved a few feet. Poll correctly ordered the free-kick to be retaken much to the annoyance of the home crowd thereby proving that yes, it is possible to find someone who is even more ignorant of the laws of the game than Graham Poll.

So, just as there were signs that there might be a strengthening of what this season has been at best a fragile confidence, we gave a goal away. A long cross from the Portsmouth right found Ferdinand the wrong side of Kanu who headed past Carroll who might have actually saved the thing had he been more concerned with trying to save the header than protesting against Kanu's foul on Ferdinand.

The confidence drained and things got niggly as Poll did his usual trick of getting involved at all the wrong occasions. Both reo-Coker and Sheringham got yellows for nothing challenges whilst incidents perhaps more worthy of sanction escaped punishment. In amongst the "Look At Me I'm A Referee" show Kanu should have doubled the lead when pulling a loose ball wide whilst Konchesky also went close-ish.

Etherington was next to go into Poll's book following an O'Neill dive that was every bit as bad as the one that Portsmouth had had to endure the previous week at Sp*rs, though presumably they won't be complaining too much this time round and that was really the last incident of note in a half in which we'd promised much but failed to deliver.

The second half continued much in the same vein. A fair share of possession all too often wasted as stringing together more than two passes seemed beyond us. The best move we put together involved Etherington actually getting some width and putting in a near post cross that Campbell cleared winning near post the race with Sheringham. From the resulting corner Konchesky's 25 yard effort brought a fine save from James who, predictably had the home crowd cahnting for his reinstatement as England's No.1. I'd like to think that the chants were ironic as I'd hate to think there were that many "Care In The Community" cases all out at the same time.

Sadly the lesson that width might equal a goal appeared lost on us and chances were few and far between, though Mullins did cause James to concede a corner which we promptly wasted by plonking it straight to James. Carroll then dealt with a Taylor free kick with a fair degree of comfort. The resulting corner saw all sorts of consternation in the defence though it must be said that much of this was caused by Poll's turning of his usual blind eye to a solid two-handed shove by Campbell into Ferdinand's back enabling a spot of pinball to take place. Strangely a far more innocuous nudge from the same player was punished from the corner that followed. Poll then cautioned Konchesky for his reaction to Johnson's crude lunge though, thankfully, the lunge itself was also punished.

Cole and Harewood then replaced the ineffectual Sheringham and Zamora and Reo-Coker was next to rue the fact that James was having one of his better days, the skipper's snap shot off a loose ball seeing the ex-England 'keeper save down to his left.

Somewhere in all this we had Graham Poll's holy grail moment. It must have been his ambition for years to come up with a decision that was so wrong that it annoyed BOTH sets of supporters at the same time and here he finally managed it. A long ball played out from the back fell to Gabbidon whose first touch was a tad heavy. This left Benjani with the chance to nip in but Gabbidon recovered to lay the ball out wide just beating the Portsmouth player to the ball to play it out wide and set up an attack.

Poll was having none of it, ignoring the advantage and punishing the challenge which, whilst a nanosecond late, contained not the smallest iota of malice from the Portsmouth man. To a man (or woman) the crowd rose as one in indignation at the sheer perversity at the decision - even the moron with the bell was silent for a minute. It was Poll's finest hour and I suspect that his only regret was that he wasn't able to do it at the World Cup where his incompetence was more accidental than deliberate. Well done Mr Poll!

The game was wrapped up with 8 minutes left on the clock when, despite having lost the ball, Cole was allowed to recover to roll the ball past Carroll into the bottom corner. Sloppy is the word that leapt to mind as the game petered out to its inevitable close and we'd lost again to another team that we'd somehow managed to make look better than they probably are.

Everyone and his dog has a theory as to what's wrong at the moment. To some lazy tabloid journos, who like to have everything nicely compartmentalised, it's a nice easy diversion to point the finger at new signings and takeover talks. It saves them time in between ghost writing sessions for wife-beating has-beens. The truth is probably more complex. We lack conviction, especially in the wide areas which were the source of so much profit last season. Where there was confidence there appears to be fear. It's not an insurmountable problem but it needs to be sorted sooner rather than later.

It was a fairly depressing walk back to the station. Things were not helped by policing from the stone age, the local constabulary seemingly having received instructions to leave anything resembling a sense of humour behind at the nick. Boarding the train I decided to stick on some music on the personal juke box. Pressing the "random" function the first track to arrive was Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds". "Don't worry 'bout a thing, 'cause every little thing's gonna be alright".

I hope so Bob. I flipping well hope so.

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Player Ratings

Roy Carroll
Barely tested but found wanting, especially for the first goal where he ought to have made an effort rather than protest at Poll.

Jonathan Spector
Looked okay defensively but I'd like to see him get forward a bit more to support in attack.

Paul Konchesky
Patchy. The Konchesky/Etherington axis (which sounds line one of those groups on the Fast Show's "Jazz Club) hasn't got going this season. Had two of our best efforts on goal.

Anton Ferdinand
Allowed Kanu the wrong side for the goal though Poll might have given him a "get out of jail free" card by awarding the foul.

Danny Gabbidon
Not really troubled but his touch looked a bit dodgy on occasion.

Hayden Mullins
Did his usual solid thing in the middle and was another who might have scored.

Nigel Reo-Coker
Some signs of improvement on recent form - though that's hardly the biggest of boasts. Another who was unfortunate to find James in competent mood.

Yossi Benayoun
Rumours of his fitness suggested he was a doubt for this match. His contribution, or lack of it, suggested that the rumours might be true.

Matthew Etherington
Got over one half-decent cross in the second half but failed to try to repeat the exercise. Harshly conned into the book by O'Neill's dive.

Teddy Sheringham
Poor. Just about every pass or lay-off went astray. Got nothing out of Poll with whom he had a constant running argument. Booked when Johnson writhed in agony after a fairly innocent looking challenge.

Bobby Zamora
Didn't link up at all with Sheringham and won little out of Primus whose methods were often somewhat suspect.


Carlton Cole
(Replaced Sheringham, 70) Won a couple of headers but they went nowhere in particular.

Marlon Harewood
(Replaced Zamora, 70) If the idea was for him to get on the end of Cole's headers it didn't work.

Javier Mascherano
(Replaced Benayoun, 86) Not quite sure what his introduction so late in the proceedings was supposed to achieve but whatever it was it didn't appear to work.

Robert Green
Did not play.

Christian Dailly
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Roy Carroll, Jonathan Spector, Paul Konchesky, Anton Ferdinand, Danny Gabbidon, Hayden Mullins, Nigel Reo-Coker, Yossi Benayoun, Matthew Etherington, Teddy Sheringham, Bobby Zamora.

Goals: None.

Booked: Nigel Reo-Coker 22 Teddy Sheringham 26 Matthew Etherington 43 Paul Konchesky 76    .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Portsmouth: James, Johnson, Campbell, Primus, Stefanovich, O'Neil, Mendes, Taylor, Fernandes; Kanu, Mwaruwari..

Subs not used: Kiely, Pamarot, Davis..

Goals: Kanu (25), A Cole (82)..

Booked: O'Neil (17), Campbell (65), Mendes (73), Johnson (75)..

Sent off: None.

Referee: G.Poll.

Attendance: 20,142.

Man of the Match: Hayden Mullins.