West Ham United 1 Sheffield United 0

Saturday, 25th November 2006
by Gordon Thrower

And so a new era dawns and I finally know exactly who it is that will have their signature on the cheque for 4.21 that will no doubt be on its way to Gnome Towers in return for the one twenty-millionth of the club that I currently own.

However the driving wind and rain that drenched me on my walk to the Wakefield for pre-match cocktails was taking the idea of welcoming our new Icelandic chairman just a little bit too far. Irritatingly, as soon as I got indoors the rain stopped. Pre-match we were treated to a wave from the new boss who, it has to be said, looks a little bit scary. Mr Magnusson, who has changed a lot since his "Mastermind" days, also brought on his grandson onto the pitch. I'm sure social services have been made aware.

Team news was that AP had elected to start with the same XI that had started against Chelsea, namely Green, Spector, Konchesky, Gabbidon, Ferdinand, Bowyer, Mullins, Reo-Coker, Etherington, Tevez and Zamora.

Though the personnel involved were the same as at Stamford Bridge it became apparent early on that Tevez's role was to play in a more advanced spot alongside Zamora as the second striker and the Argentinian international had an early chance to open his account when Davis fouled Zamora 25 yards out. Tevez's free-kick clipped the wall and was cleared to safety. Shortly after, the lively Tevez brought down a long ball with excellent skill having got in behind Davis but was unable to get enough around the ball to disturb anything more than the side netting.

The game settled down. Sheffield United's main tactics were, as ever, to break up the play, a tactic that involved legitimate methods and some not so legitimate. The less legitimate methods included kicking the ball away at just about every stoppage - something that added to the overall scrappy feel to the match.

The one good chance that came the way of the visitors during this period resulted from a Gillespie corner which found Davis (pardon me whilst I pause at this moment for an immature titter - I mean a player called "Claude" - whatever next!). Davis's header appeared to be going wide but Konchesky on the post stuck out a foot just to make sure.

We then won an indirect free-kick for dangerous play on the edge of the box. Etheringoton's shot provoked a lot of oohs from the crowd but only an annoyed grunt from me. Riley's hand remaining aloft through the whole affair signalling the "indirectness" of the free-kick should have been a clue to Etherington that the one thing NOT required was a shot on goal. Professional footballers eh?!

Football was at a bit of a premium throughout and the usual passing game was being frustrated, though the defence seemed to be coping well enough with the "subtleties" of the opposition attack. However we should have taken the lead on 35 minutes. Zamora got the better of the left back and cut into the box. He seemed to have got himself into a good shooting position but elected instead to square the ball to Bowyer who allowed the defender to get a block in for a corner.

The visitors' relief was only temporary. Etherington's corner was flicked on at the near post by Ferdinand for Mullins to head home from close range. It was a goal that had a large degree of familiarity about it, being a carbon copy of the same player's goal a few weeks back against Blackburn Rovers.

A few minutes later we nearly doubled the lead. Etherington, who had moved over to the right, came in on Konchesky's cross and won the header which went wide. Interestingly this was only one of a number of headers won by the winger in the match - not a trait one normally associates with the no.12.

Etherington was also involved in the half's one genuine bit of football playing the ball in towards Tevez. Tevez's dummy was neat but Bowyer's return ball wasn't quite into his path and Tevez's shot, as a result, lacked enough to seriously trouble Kenny.

That was the last serious action of the half. Kitkats having been consumed all-round (thanks again UG!) Battle recommenced. We had an early scare. Zamora was fouled about 30 yards out and elected to take a quick free-kick. Ten out of ten for the idea but minus several million for the execution. His free-kick was played straight to a defender. Quinn took the ball down the wing and fed Law inside, the resulting shot being pulled weakly wide.

The most entertaining thing about the next few minutes was the baiting of the visitors' 'keeper. Kenny, as you are probably aware, got into a bit of a scrap the other week. The resulting damage to his eyebrow has, tragically, left him unable to express surprise. He appeared to take the taunts in good humour though. Bowyer then hit a long cross towards the bar post. The mono-browed one took the ball cleanly enough and Zamora's challenge was a bit unnecessary given that he had little chance of getting the ball, though the challenge was not nearly as bad as either Kenny's agonised death throes or "Colin's" subsequent reactions made out. Tellingly Kenny needed no treatment.

Being a goal down brought the visitors out a bit - though we did invite them on by sitting back a bit. Leigerwood forced a corner by the somewhat dubious method known as "shoving Konchesky in the back". Green appeared to be impeded but no free-kick was forthcoming. Eventually the ball broke out to Tevez who played a superb diagonal ball out to Zamora whose cushioned header back across goal found NRC in a decent position. However, the skipper cut back inside and his shot, such as it was, was easily blocked. Good work from Tevez then found NRC in another good position but, whilst this shot had power it was totally lacking in direction and sailed harmlessly wide.

Hulse & Gillespie then talked themselves into the book something that Colin mocked with ironic applause. Shortly after sub Nade seemed to have got the better of Gabbidon but the Welshman's recovery tackle was perfection itself. However a further spot of defending cost Gabbidon dear. A little shove from sub Kabba saw Gabbidon pull up with what looked like a hamstring.

The defender spent a few minutes receiving treatment off the pitch and while we were one short we could have been pegged back to level terms. Gillespies cross from deep was excellent and the unmarked Nade just failed to get enough on the ball as he slid in at the far post.

McCartney then replaced the missing Gabbidon but while we were still settling another Gillespie cross caused havoc with the ball stopping dead at the feet of Law who, had he got anything clean on the shot, would surely have scored. He didn't and we thankfully saw the ball screw wide for a goal-kick.

Then the controversy started. Kozluk took out Bowyer on the touchline. Before the free-kick could be taken Tevez was replaced by Sheringham. The substitution baffled many in the ground, not least Tevez himself who gave a "why me?" expression before departing to all-round applause, straight to his Docklands flat as it later turned out. AP later explained that the substitution had been made to give a bit of height in defending set plays in the absence of Gabbidon. Incidentally, nothing came of the free-kick.

Green then made a one-handed save at his post from a header Bowyer then forcing a corner from the resulting break. This annoyed Colin who then got a bit of a ticking-off from Riley for his trouble. The corner was eventually retrieved by Bowyer who took advantage of a defender's slip to send a ball across that sat up beautifully for Reo-Coker only for the skipper to give it an air-shot. In the resulting passage Mullins picked up a harsh yellow for an honest if late challenge on Nade who, having rolled about in agony for a bit then got up and ran after Mullins in a miraculous recovery of biblical proportions.

Mullins nearly got a second in stoppage time when played in by Sheringham's pass but he couldn't get an awful lot on the shot. Harewood, who had replaced Zamora, could, probably should, have put matters beyond doubt. Marlon exchanged a one-two with Teddy only to see his little dink over the advancing Kenny fade agonisingly wide.

There was still time for a twist in the tale. Reo-Coker was punished for an imaginary offence - he looked more fouled against than fouling. The ball eventually came in from the left and Geary's challenge was enough to put Green off with the ball rebounding to Kozlak to put into the net. However, Riley blew up the second Geary jumped and the goal was disallowed. Technically Riley was correct - Geary was guilty of the quaintly named offence of "jumping at an opponent". However, I've seen them not given and, given our usual luck with officials, over the years I'd not have been surprised to have seen the ref let it stand. He didn't and that was about it.

It wasn't pretty by any stretch of the imagination but it did represent a third win on the trot and the three points are very welcome. The game was hard work - both from the players point of view and for those of us who watched. The second half in particular seemed to drag no end. Hopefully now that the takeover circus has finally been sorted things will settle down a bit. In the meantime I now have to work out how to spend my ?4.21 - I did put in a bid for Millwall that might have been accepted but nobody had any change!

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Player Ratings

Robert Green
One good save, a few less testing ones but might be a tad lucky to have got away with the disallowed goal.

Jonathan Spector
Continues to impress on the right.

Paul Konchesky
Ok on the ground but lost out a lot in the air where he was targeted by the opposition.

Anton Ferdinand
Battled well and dealt with the route one stuff admirably.

Danny Gabbidon
Was playing well up to his untimely finish. Hopefully his hamstring problem isn't as bad as it looks.

Hayden Mullins
Another excellent performance capped with a deserved goal. harshly booked.

Nigel Reo-Coker
Got into promising positions on a number of occasions only to muff the shot.

Lee Bowyer
Seemed a yard off the pace and slipped over a lot - I know it was wet but other players didn't seem to have the same problem.

Matthew Etherington
A lot of hard work on both wings. Nice corner for the goal.

Carlos Tevez
Continues to improve and can consider himself unlucky to be sacrificed towards the end. May be a few grand out of pocket on Monday though.

Bobby Zamora
A lot of running and hard work but the time is approaching when that won't be enough - never really looked like scoring.


George McCartney
(Replaced Gabbidon, 64) Coped alright once he'd settled down alongside Anton.

Teddy Sheringham
(Replaced Tevez, 66) Some good touches and nearly set up Harewood.

Marlon Harewood
(Replaced Zamora, 73) Put himself about a bit but ought to have nicked the second when through on goal.

Gabor Kiraly
Did not play.

Yossi Benayoun
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Robert Green, Jonathan Spector, Paul Konchesky, Anton Ferdinand, Danny Gabbidon, Hayden Mullins, Nigel Reo-Coker, Lee Bowyer, Matthew Etherington, Carlos Tevez, Bobby Zamora.

Goals: Hayden Mullin 36                  .

Booked: Hayden Mulins 83 Lee Bowyer 86        .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Sheffield United: Kenny, Kozluk, Jagielka, Geary, Leigertwood, Davis, Law, Quinn, Montgomery, Gillespie, Hulse.

Subs not used: Morgan, Bromby.

Goals: .

Booked: Montgomery (29), Hulse (58), Gillespie (58), Kozluk (66).

Sent off: None.

Referee: A.Riley.

Attendance: 34,454.

Man of the Match: Hayden Mullins.