West Ham United 1 Wigan Athletic 1

Saturday, 25th August 2007
by Gordon Thrower

I suppose that given the recent history of away wins in this fixture we ought to be grateful to have come away with a point but in all honesty it seems like a couple of points dropped.

There was of course a notable absentee - Dave Whelan, the child slave-labour exploiting, price-fixing, wage-cap breaking hypocrite whose share dealings have recently come under some scrutiny from the Stock Exchange and whose role in the demise of the once-proud Orrell Rugby Union club left a nasty taste in the mouth. "Dave" decided that the moral high ground might have nicer weather in St Tropez.

This was a strange decision given that the weather was perfect in E13, which, of course has the major advantage of having fewer French people hanging around and, you know, I suspect Whelan might just have had other reasons for not turning up. Whatever his reasons it was jolly decent of him to take so many of the Wigan supporters with him, a selfless action which saw the away section possibly the emptiest it has been since our return to the top flight.

Team news was that there was one change from the side that started at Birmingham with skipper Lucas Neill having now recovered from his pre-season knock. Spector, although recovered from the injury that saw him substituted at St Andrews, was relegated to the bench leaving a starting line-up of Green, Neill, McCartney, Ferdinand, Upson, Noble, Mullins, Dyer, Etherington, Zamora, Bellamy.

To say we dominated possession early on would be a massive understatement. Wigan never really saw a sniff of the ball as we dominated the midfield. The problem was that cutting edge. For all the domination clear cut chances were very much at a premium. Wigan's main tactic seemed to be lumping it towards Heskey. Heskey's main tactic seemed to be to stick his hand up in the air to play the ball. I was aware of the recent campaign to get Heskey back in the England squad. Like most sane people I laughed but having seen him play I can see that the Wigan supporters may have a point, but only if you look on him as a possible replacement for Paul Robinson.

The chances that we did create were half-chances. Zamora made some space for himself with a neat turn only to get the shot so horribly wrong that it went out for a throw - possibly further away from the goal than from where it started. Etherington then did some good work down the left and, although his cross was cut out by a defender, Linda had moved up and shot wide from just outside the box. Bellamy was also getting through a lot of running and his block on a lost-cause clearance from Kirkland wasn't a million miles away from going in. Dyer then ran on to a flick on but was beaten to the ball by Kirkland's untidy but effective challenge.

Neill then won a free-kick on the inside right position. The curling inswinger from Etherington just eluded Zamora for Kirkland to gather. A nice link up between Bellamy and Dyer saw Bramble block for a corner. Noble's first corner was put behind for another. His second was blocked for him to put the ball over a third time. Ferdinand won the header well only to see the ball go just wide of the post with Kirkland stranded.

It was shortly after this that Wigan had their first effort - Koumas finding space on the left to cross for Scharner to get above Upson a little too easily for my liking, the header thankfully going wide. We should then have had a penalty. Matty's overhit cross was kept live by Zamora who played the ball back into the box. Noble's attempt to get anywhere near the ball was thwarted by the fact that he was being impeded by Granqvist.

When I say impeded, what I really mean is hauled to the ground in a manner that Whelan would have appreciated from his rugby league club. Ref Marriner bottled the decision and waved play on though I have no doubt he'd have given it outside the box. Refs moan about the stick they get but when they get basic stuff like this wrong week after week it's hard to defend them.

Shortly after we had the ball in the net, Bellamy finishing well from a through ball but the linesman ruled that he'd just strayed a fraction too soon. It was close. Bellamy then found space on the left and waited for support. It came in the form of Linda whose shot took an unlucky deflection for a corner. Linda got on the end of that too but his header lacked direction.

About this time Wigan lost Sibierski. Well he'd been on the pitch but had hardly featured so quite how he managed to do a hamstring is a bit of a mystery. Agahowa replaced and it was his break out that gave Wigan their best chance of the half. The subs shot was blocked and fell out to Koumas whose shot curled round enough to clip the base of the outside of the post. Heskey then showed us why he seems more comfortable playing the ball with his hand by blasting a half volley high into the crowd and we went into the (sadly confectionery-free) interval goalless.

There was a little more enterprise from the visitors in the early parts of the second half - not that there could have been less. However there were signs that we might be able to create something and Dyer was harshly adjudged to be offside when he appeared to have got back before being played in by Neill. Zamora put the ball into the net but to no avail.

Agahowa then got the wrong side of Neill only to see his touch let him down and he had one eye on the advancing Green as he lobbed harmlessly wide. Etherington's clever flick from Linda's quick throw saw Landzat flicking the ball away with his hand, something of a Wigan speciality. Ir was mightily close to being a penalty but the Wigan player was relieved to escape with a yellow and a free-kick outside the box. Noble's effort came back off the wall for the youngster to adjust superbly to volley just wide.

On the hour the hapless Zamora for whom little had gone right was replaced by Ashton who might have worn himself out from the warm-ups he'd been doing from the 10th minute.

Upson then picked up a yellow for not getting out of the way of Heskey, a card that looked a little petty given some of the challenges from behind on Etherington and, later, Ashton that were allowed without comment from the officials. The resulting free-kick caused chaos as everyone left it for everyone else. Green saved well from Agahowa with Melchiot heading the loose ball wide.

Bowyer then came on for Mullins, presumably to give a less defensive look to the middle. Dyer was moved across to the middle with Bowyer slotting into the wide spot. Bowyer's first action was to get Kilbane's boot on his elbow having beaten him to the ball. Ashton was showing some nice touches and some good link play with Bellamy saw him have a shot blocked. This was Bellamy's last action as he was replaced by Boa-Morte having picked up a knock - though I'm sure he wouldn't have wanted a spray on the particular piece of his anatomy that he was clutching as he went off.

LBM got involved immediately, winning a free-kick in a dangerous area on the right. Matty's effort was cleared for a throw. It was about then we noticed Melchiot's habit of foul throwing. Every time. We weren't the only ones - the linesman noticed. Once. However every single time he launched the ball forward his back foot was raised. Unfortunately the one thing that linesmen are supposed to look for at throw-ins this one didn't.

Once again the back foot was raised as the lino blithely looked the other way. The loose ball wasn't cleared properly, the defence having decided for some unknown reason to swap players to mark and Scharner finished with a spectacular overhead kick that wouldn't have happened had the official done the job he was being paid to do. Very basic stuff but I expect the linesman will still be in a job next week - it's not like anyone noticed is it.

So there we were one down in a match that we'd bossed. We needed to get back as soon as possible and we nearly got back immediately. A powerful and clever run down the left by LBM saw Bowyer put a difficult cross wide. However we didn't have to wait long for the equaliser. Ashton and LBM combined cleverly and LBM played Bowyer in to finish marvellously inside the post to cancel out Wigan's underserved lead. Bowyer celebrated as if Wigan's goal was a personal affront to him.

It was one way to the end. Matty's cross found Ashton who didn't quite get enough on the header. Bramble then hauled over Dyer in the box but once more it was the wrong side of the line for Marriner to give. Neill foyund Bowyer whose tantalising cross was just too long for Deano and three minutes of stoppage weren't enough for the winner to be found.

A game we really should have won and two points very much dropped. Still the recent trend in this fixture was broken. It's just an annoying thought that had the officials done their job properly we might be well up the table. Still spare a thought for Moan Utd who at time of writing are in the bottom three. If there's one consolation for all their fans in Torquay it's the fact that, in Tevez, they at least have a player with a proven track record of coming out of a relegation scrap unscathed!

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Player Ratings

Robert Green
Unemployed for much of the game he was on hand to make a vital save when required.

Lucas Neill
Fairly solid but there was the odd problem with his distribution.

George McCartney
In good form at present as he does his damnedest to prove to everyone that we don't need a new left back.

Anton Ferdinand
Kept Heskey quiet which is why the decision to swap with Upson for the goal was all the more mysterious and annoying.

Matthew Upson
Had a hard time on occasion against Agahowa having had a nice stroll in the sun alongside Sibierski.

Mark Noble
Another good run-out - though the toll of a hot day and a midweek international showed in the last few minutes.

Hayden Mullins
The usual water carrier performance that goes unnoticed. Sacrificed in the pursuit of a more attacking formation.

Kieron Dyer
A bit of pace but didn't add as much width as I'd have liked to have seen on the right.

Matthew Etherington
A bit in and out. Looked capable of causing problems one minute then invisible the next. Still an improvement on last season.

Craig Bellamy
Lots of running and is beginning to show a threat. Some nice link up stuff with Dyer.

Bobby Zamora
Just about nothing went right for poor old Bobby. We may be looking at a spell on the bench sooner rather than later.


Dean Ashton
(Replaced Zamora, 61) Beginning to show some good touches. I'd like to see him start games now - he'll get more match fitness that way.

Lee Bowyer
(Replaced Mullins, 65) Nicely taken goal and got into good positions on a number of occasions.

Luis Boa Morte
(Replaced Bellamy, 75) Had a fine spell. Linked up with Ashton well and set up Bowyer nicely for the goal.

Jimmy Walker
Did not play.

Jonathan Spector
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Robert Green, Lucas Neill, George McCartney, Anton Ferdinand, Matthew Upson, Mark Noble, Hayden Mullins, Kieron Dyer, Matthew Etherington, Craig Bellamy, Bobby Zamora.

Goals: Lee Bowyer 81                  .

Booked: None.

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Wigan Athletic: Kirkland, Melchoit, Scharner, Bramble, Granqvist, Valencia, Koumas, Landzaat, Kilbane, Sibierski, Heskey.

Subs not used: Pollitt, Hall, Folan.

Goals: .

Booked: Scharner (78).

Sent off: None.

Referee: A.Marriner.

Attendance: 24,961.

Man of the Match: Mark Noble.