West Ham United 2 Newcastle United 2

Saturday, 26th April 2008
by Gordon Thrower

At last some sunshine - both on and off the pitch. I’ve spent all season freezing my backside off getting drenched, snowed on and shivering my way around various grounds up and down the country so a weather forecast that contained the words “dry, warm and sunny” without also containing the word “Tenerife” was a most welcome addition to the morning paper.

At last some sunshine - both on and off the pitch. I've spent all season freezing my backside off getting drenched, snowed on and shivering my way around various grounds up and down the country so a weather forecast that contained the words "dry, warm and sunny" without also containing the word "Tenerife" was a most welcome addition to the morning paper.

One of my best mates is a Geordie - I'm not proud - and for the past 25 years or so we have traditionally met before this fixture at a Whitechapel hostelry known as the Good Samaritan. It's also a traditional early start for these meetings so it was a bit worrying to see the pub closed and shuttered up on our arrival at 11.40am. After a few minutes the doors opened and tables and chairs appeared. The landlady was adamant though, the pub would not open until mid-day.

Sensing our disappointment the landlady offered us a couple of pints while we waited. A pleasant couple of hours was spent in the company of the usual Geordie suspects, including Biffa, the Geordie equivalent of our own "Up The Junction". Biffa informed me that he'd recently had an interesting meeting with Chris Mort, the Newcastle chairman, who had been keen to find out the fans' point of view about how the club should be run. Interesting idea that!

A few pints and the world well and truly put to rights we left the dive-fest that was Chelsea v Man Utd poised at 1-1. On arrival at the ground the injury list was much the same as the previous week's with the exception of the return of Ashton in place of Sears who was given the week off. Starting line up: Green, Pantsil, McCartney,Tomkins, Neill, Faubert, Parker, Noble, Ljungberg, Zamora, Ashton.

We got off to the proverbial bright start. Where we had laboured and toiled against Derby, we showed no little enterprise and endeavour, including some neat crisp passing, the likes of which have been on show all too infrequently this season. Much of the good work came down the left hand side with Linda getting forward to good effect. The first chance of the match came after some good interchanges between Linda and Zamora which resulted in the full-back's run into the box being curtailed by a desperate lunge by Faye. Faubert took the resulting free-kick which went close, though given the angle, a cross might have been a more preferable option.

Zamora was involved a couple of minutes later as his clever first time flick ended up with Ashton though the striker couldn't get enough on the shot to trouble Harper. Zamora then beet the 'keeper to a McCartney cross but got too far underneath the ball which went out harmlessly for a goal-kick.

We took a deserved lead on 10 minutes. Zamora kept the ball live out on the left and again combined well with Linda who drove forward before getting a cross into the box. Although the ball was slightly behind him Noble was able to turn the ball on the swivel to beat Harper. It wasn't a totally clean finish but it was good enough.

Over the course of this season we have tended to sit back on a lead and hand the initiative to our opponents. Not this time. We continued to press forward though the weekly injury was not far away. Linda played the ball in to Ashton who managed to lay the ball off to Ljungberg before being unceremoniously upended by a defender. That wasn't the injury though. Ljungberg pushed into the box and laid the ball off to Zamora who lost possession. Ljungberg, in the act of passing, had stumbled in the box only for the feet of Taylor to land firmly on the Swede's ribcage thus curtailing his involvement in the match, and probably the season, it later transpiring that one or two ribs had been cracked in the process.

Then the silent majority spoke. Boa-Morte was the natural replacement for the Swede. His name had been booed pre-match and there were boos once more as Ljungberg was stretchered off. However, with the majority seemingly fed up by the booing, applause started and spread around the ground. This was followed by warm applause for every bit of effort put in by the beleaguered winger. The fact that LBM seemed to respond to the encouragement should give those who boo his name before he's even come onto the pitch at least a little to think about, though sadly for many I fear the leap of logic required might prove a thought too far.

Shortly after the lead was doubled. A Green clearance was nodded on by Zamora to Ashton who held the ball up in the box. There seemed little danger at first until Ashton, given it has to be said far too much space by the Edgar, turned and shot low into the corner through the defenders legs.

Further chances followed. Zamora fed Faubert who delayed his shot a fraction too long and the block came in. LBM rescued the loose ball and, having made room for himself, managed to get a shot away but it lacked power and was the easiest of gathers for Harper. Ashton then earned generous applause for his ultimately fruitless attempt to rescue a long and aimless pass into the corner.

Newcastle had been poor in the first half and, as usual, it's in the nature of things for a team that had created nothing at the Boleyn to score. Tomkins was caught a bit flat-footed by a long clearance and allowed Martins to get behind him for an easy finish with Green stranded. The goal had arrived on 42 minutes and worse was to come in stoppage time.

Getting the ball out of their own half for possibly only the second time in the match a Martins shot that was destined for the corner flag came back off Geremi and a second deflection off McCartney's shoulder removed what ghost of a chance Green might have had to make a save.

An entertaining half came to a close with most people scratching their heads as to how we were only level in a match that we had dominated so much. Still, there had been a marked improvement in the side's play over what we had been served in recent weeks so we were looking forward to more entertainment in the second half. What we had forgotten of course was the presence of the complete nightmare that is Uriah Rennie.

Rennie hadn't had much of a chance to make himself the centre of attention in the first half but boy did he make up for it in the second. His first bit of grandstanding was to ignore a deliberate and ugly stamp by Martins on Faubert then insisting that Faubert should have rolled off the pitch for treatment. Well Mr Rennie, I'd like to propose an experiment. You lie on the floor and I'll stamp on what commentators always refer to in an embarrassed voice as "the midriff". Let's see how far you want to move over the next few minutes as the pain recedes.

Just to add insult to injury, Paintsil was made to take the throw in twice because - well I can only presume that the cameras hadn't been on Rennie for a few seconds and his agent has probably suggested that he goes for as many close-ups as possible.

We pushed forward and both Ashton and Noble had shots blocked before LBM drove across the face of goal, Zamora just failing to get anything on the end of it. Faubert then picked up a yellow for exacting retribution on Martins - though the theatricals and the clutch of the right shin after what had been a straightforward push probably served to influence Rennie.

Faubert was on the receiving end yet again as Butt followed through after the ball. Play was allowed to continue and taylor blocked Zamora's shot with more than a suspicion of arm. Barton brought the ball out and was kicked up in the air by Pantsil who appeared frustrated that Barton hadn't used any of the three opportunities he had had to put the ball out. Pantsil picked up a yellow as did Butt for the original challenge. It was just about the last thing that Rennie got right all afternoon.

On 67 minutes Zamora, who hadn't been as involved as he had been in the first period, was replaced by Cole. We continued to press forward. A Linda long throw caused problems as Cole nodded on to Ashton whose volley on the turn had the wrong angle. Faubert wasted one opportunity by ballooning a cross into the Bobby Moore. Faubert did, however, redeem himself a few minutes later by putting in a dangerous cross that caused all sorts of problems in the box. Harper's punch hit a defender and the ball fell out wide to McCartney. Linda's shot however was high and wide.

With 10 minutes left on the clock we had our best chance of the match. A long ball from Pantsil was nodded down by Cole to Faubert. Faubert played a short pass into Ashton whose first time effort required a decent save from Harper - a foot either side and it was in.

We then got back to the irritating antics of Rennie at the corner. Faubert kept the ball live and put a cross in. the ball was cleared to Owen who needed a couple of touches with his left hand to control the ball, Any other ref, any other day it was a penalty kick without question. Indeed we've seen them given against us this season - Man Utd at home springs to mind - but frankly with this idiot in charge you end up being pleasantly surprise when he gives the kick-off to the right side. In conversation Rennie once admitted to getting some sort of pleasure out of booking or dismissing Alan Shearer because he found the striker "arrogant". Quite apart from the blatant "pot and kettle" comparisons that spring to mind regarding a referee that is so self-absorbed he was first ref to hire a publicity agent, one can only assume that he has some deep unrequited love for Michael Owen that enables him to overlook those little faults. Like handball. Rubbish decision from a rubbish ref.

We could have had another penalty a few minutes later when Ashtomn received a two-handed shove out of the way courtesy of Taylor. Rennie just looked bored. The ball fell to Noble who got the shot away but a slight slip robbed the effort of power and Harper gathered easily.

Newcastle's only real effort of the half came late on. Again Rennie had everything to do with it. Taking his lead from Owen, Martins had worked out that Rennie was not in the mood to penalise petty things like handball if the perpetrator was in a Newcastle shirt. First he charged down a clearance using both hands in a move that would not have been out of place at a rugby match. Having got away with it once he did it again, controlling the ball marvellously with his right arm before getting a shot in that Green did superbly well to save.

The last action of the match came with an accidental clash of heads between Cole and Edgar that left the defender unable to continue. This was followed by a moment of high comedy as Solano was brought on to replace Tomkins. A strange move one would have thought and one would have been right. A panic-stricken Mervyn Day quickly halted proceedings by informing the fourth official that it was 20 not 30 that was coming off and, once somebody had finally worked out that the no 3 is the one that looks like Jordan from above, Faubert left and Solano arrived for to applause from both sets of fans.

That was basically it. Whilst the second half hadn't been as enthralling as the first it had still been a decent match, though Rennie did his best to ruin it. I'd like to see the assessors' marks for Rennie. His performances week-in week- out are consistently below those that the paying public deserve. He's been relegated to the lower leagues before but nothing seems to change with him and you have to wonder why the authorities persist in giving him top flight matches when year after year he proves that he is not up to the task.

There again with that prize berk Hackett in charge nothing should ever surprise us. This particular fixture seems to be the one they give the dross to - the last three matches have been refereed by Styles, Riley and Rennie. Can you imagine Man Utd (who appear to be able to select their referees) putting up with that?

It was good to see the team attacking with purpose and drive, especially in the first half. Maybe it was the warm sunshine that spurred the players on. Whatever the reason I'd like to see it continue. Man Utd are next. Up there. Where it always rains. Oh well...

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Player Ratings

Robert Green
No chance with either of the goals and not tested for much of the match. Fine save at the end from Martins.

John Paintsil
Decent run out at right-back though his distribution left a bit to be desired. I'm still not convinced that he has what it takes long-term.

George McCartney
Fine match. Strong at the back and a constant danger going forward.

Lucas Neill
Worked well with Tomkins and kept both Owen and Viduka pretty quiet.

James Tomkins
Got slightly the wrong side of Martins for the first goal but this was one of the few blips in an otherwise fairly assured performance.

Mark Noble
Works well alongside Parker and this would appear to be the boss's preferred middle pairing. Lots of hard work and took the goal well.

Scott Parker
Was described pre-match by one of my Geordie pals as "a drill" because of his habit of going around in circles on the spot. Did that a lot less today and was all the better for it.

Freddie Ljungberg
Was looking lively before his untimely exit.

Julien Faubert
Continues to improve. Needs a bit of work on his crossing though.

Bobby Zamora
Had a decent first half but failed to carry that form over into the second period.

Dean Ashton
Always looked dangerous and was perhaps unlucky not to add to his goal.


Luis Boa Morte
(replaced Ljungberg, 21) Appeared to respond to the encouragement of the previously silent majority, especially in the first half. A quieter second half.

Carlton Cole
(replaced Zamora, 68) Not bad - some nice link-up play in the second half.

Nobby Solano
(replaced Ljungberg, 90+4) Barely put a foot wrong in the 30 seconds or so he was on the pitch. Really not on long enough to register but the boss needs a mark for his database!

Jimmy Walker
Did not play.

Hayden Mullins
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Robert Green, John Paintsil, George McCartney, Lucas Neill, James Tomkins, Mark Noble, Scott Parker, Freddie Ljungberg, Julien Faubert, Bobby Zamora, Dean Ashton.

Goals: Mark Noble 10 Dean Ashton 23                .

Booked: Julien Faubert 55 John Paintsil 57        .

Sent off: None.

Newcastle United: Harper, Beye, Enrique, Edgar, Taylor, Butt, Geremi, Barton, Martins, Owen, Viduka.

Subs not used: Carroll, Forster, Duff.

Goals: Martins (42), Geremi (45+2).

Booked: Bebe (41), Butt (57), Martins (72).

Sent off: None.

Referee: U.Rennie.

Attendance: 34,980.

Man of the Match: George McCartney.