West Ham United 0 Portsmouth 1

Tuesday, 8th April 2008
by Gordon Thrower

Can someone please hurry up and put this season out of its misery?

Most people have a nice night out on their birthday. Maybe a drink or two with some friends, a meal perhaps. Well I suppose I did that - although nice as the Black Lion's ham egg and chips was it wouldn't perhaps be my first choice of venue for a culinary treat. However if I'd had the slightest inkling as to how awful this match was going to be I'd have stayed in the office and celebrated the anniversary of my birth by reading back issues of Taxation magazine.

No match report is complete these days without reference to yet another injury. It's strange that injuries go through periods of being fashionable. When I was a kid no footballer was complete without a cartilage op. A few years back, metatarsals were in and at West Ham this is the year of the groin strain (or "abdominal problem" as the euphemism has it). Mind you, ever the one to spot a trend I note a new kid on the block. Hot on the heels of Freddie Ljungberg's premature departure from the Stadium Of Light with a hamstring injury, Mark Noble succumbed to a similar knock. Mind you it'll be touch and go to see whether the humble hamstring can dislodge the groin strain from the top of the charts before the end of the season - we're likely to run out of players first. Team: Green, Neill, McCartney, Ferdinand, Spector, Parker, Mullins, Boa-Morte, Solano, Zamora, Ashton.

Well I've managed to fill up a quarter of a page so far by talking about injuries and what I had for my tea. Now comes the difficult bit - writing about the match. Actually, did I mention that it was my birthday? Upton Girlie bought me a couple of presents. One was a set of post-it notes with a picture of a gnome on them. The other was a bottle of beer with an alcohol by volume content of 7.7% which I am saving for a special occasion. Yes I know this is dull stuff that you are having to read at the moment but trust me, a set of post it notes with a picture of a gnome on it is still infinitely more interesting than this match was. In fact, were it not for the fact that I have this match report to write, I would have gone as far as to open up the bottle of beer in the hope that the 7.7%'s worth of alcohol might wipe away the memory of this match.

Ok the list of things that happened in the first half of this match is as follows:

o A few crosses that we seemed reluctant to get anything on,
o A deflected Solano pass finding Zamora who rounded James before calmly slotting wide;
o A shot from the visitors going 5 yards wide, hitting the advertising hoarding and rolling along the back of the goal prompting the away support into thinking that they'd scored;
o An Ashton snap-shot catching James by surprise towards the end of the half;
o The renaming by the away support of the opposition as "Portsmouth City" in the vain hope that, since the renamed club now fitted the chant, we'd believe that they were indeed the greatest team the world has ever seen.

That was about it really. Still, the second half was bound to be better surely? Well no. Whereas we had strung the occasional pass together and put the occasional cross over in the first half, we utterly, utterly failed to do so in the second. There was a pattern of sorts to the match which went as follows:

o West ham win the ball;
o West Ham lose the ball;
o Portsmouth shoot wide/over;
o Papa Bouba Diop falls over on losing the ball rolling in agony as he does so;
o Papa Bouba Diop gets up as soon as the word "Physio" is mentioned.

With an hour or so on the clock Sears replaced Zamora and at least embarked on a couple of runs at the defence. However, the goal came shortly after the substitution. Perhaps lulled into a false sense of security by the wayward nature of every previous Portsmouth effort, nobody bothered to close Kranjcar down on the edge of the box and the Croatian buried a 20- yarder past Green who had no chance.

That was it as far as the game was concerned. Mullins was replaced by Cole who, bizarrely, seemed to spend his 17 minutes on the pitch out on the left wing. Paintsil replaced Solano who seems contractually obliged to come on or off the pitch with 10-15 minutes left. None of this really affected things though things might have been a little different if Sears had been able to capitalise on a David James mistake, the youngster just failing to keep the ball in play. Typically, just after the last sub was used, Neill picked up an ankle injury that saw him hobbling about for the last ten minutes.

There was one final moment that had everyone muttering "typical West Ham". In the (mercifully short) 3 minutes of stoppage we won a corner. Green went up for it only to see the corner sail woefully over his head towards the opposite touchline thus managing to fail to use the 'keeper's presence either directly or by virtue of his distraction value. It was the footballing equivalent of inviting two gorgeous and willing women over for the evening only to show them a DVD of the Antiques Roadshow.

The match did not so much as fizzle out as lie down and fail to wake up. The performance lacked any idea of creativity, guile or urgency. To be honest Portsmouth were little better though they at least had the excuse of having one eye on the Cup and the fact that, as far as I can remember, there were no bookings - or even the hint of one - will probably tell you as much as you need to know about this game. Reports today suggested that the boss has had to remind the players that their bonuses will depend on a top 10 finish. I suppose if appealing to the modern player's wallet doesn't work little else will, though I'd like to think that some sort of professional pride might at least come into play. There again you'd think I'd know better after so many birthdays (did I mention that?)

I went into print in several places at the start of the campaign asking for a boring season. What I meant was that, after all the shenanigans, trials and tribulations we faced last year, I'd really appreciate not having to face a last match showdown to ensure our safety. Thankfully we have that but now we are safe couldn't we just go for it a bit a few times between now and the end of the season. I've only managed to make the report this long by some inspired use of bullet points and I'll never get away with that again!

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Player Ratings

Robert Green
Barely tested and beaten by what may have been the only shot on target in the whole match.

Lucas Neill
A quiet game and now possibly injured.

George McCartney
Barely bothered by Portsmouth but would improve infinitely in going forward if he had a regular left midfielder in front of him. Whatever happened to the bloke Etherington who used to play there? Groin strain I expect.

Anton Ferdinand
Still ill at ease in the "senior" centre-back role. At least showed a small bit of willing to get forward from time to time.

Jonathan Spector
Poor. His first inclination whenever he got the ball was to play it backwards. Caught in possession far too much.

Hayden Mullins
Also poor. Lost possession too much and won little in midfield.

Scott Parker
Won a few tackles but constantly turned into trouble when there was an easy lay-off on.

Nobby Solano
A couple of half-decent crosses but failed to dominate a match that was crying out for a spot of creativity.

Luis Boa Morte
Better than of late though his failure to stick to the left side of midfield meant that McCartney's attacking opportunities were severely limited.

Bobby Zamora
Probably should have scored. Didn't.

Dean Ashton
One first half effort aside was fairly anonymous.


Fred Sears
(replaced Zamora, 58) Quite lively in spells though starved of service.

Carlton Cole
(replaced Mullins, 73) A few good runs down the left though you'd rather have had him in the middle.

John Paintsil
(replaced Solano, 82) Anonymous.

Jimmy Walker
Did not play.

James Tomkins
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Robert Green, Lucas Neill, George McCartney, Anton Ferdinand, Jonathan Spector, Hayden Mullins, Scott Parker, Nobby Solano, Luis Boa Morte, Bobby Zamora, Dean Ashton.

Goals: None.

Booked: None.

Sent off: None.

Portsmouth: James, Johnson, Distin, Hreidarsson, Campbell, Diop, Mendes, Mvuemba, Muntari, Kranjcar, Nugent.

Subs not used: Begovic, Lauren, Davis.

Goals: Kranjcar (61).

Booked: None booked..

Sent off: None.

Referee: L.Probert.

Attendance: 33.

Man of the Match: George McCartney.