West Ham United 2-2 Newcastle United 

Saturday, 26th April 2008
by Alex Shilling

The Hammers went into this game fearing the worst after their half-baked performance which nearly ended in disaster against Derby County the previous week, coupled with Newcastle's recent upturn in form, notably thrashing Tottenham 4-1 at White Hart Lane a couple of weeks ago and beating local rivals Sunderland 2-0 the previous Sunday.

The inclusion of Luis Boa Morte on the bench was met with boos by some, but, oddly, also applause by others. I say oddly because it's unusual for Boa Morte to gain any credit for his performances, not because he doesn't deserve it. Upson and Ferdinand were still out so young James Tomkins kept his place at the heart of central defence alongside renovated captain Lucas Neill. John Pantsil continued at right back.

Despite the pre-match nerves the Irons put on an impressive display of attacking football in the opening stages, quite unlike anything we've seen from them this season. One observation that I made in the opening quarter of an hour or so was that the Magpies' keeper, Steven Harper, was very dodgy on kicking under pressure. Three or four times he skied the ball into the upper regions of the East and Dr Martens stands when put under pressure from Zamora and Ashton.

The first real opportunity of note came when the Hammers won a free kick on the corner of the box, on the right hand side as I saw it from my seat in the Centenary Upper. Julien Faubert took it and it grazed the top of the angle between bar and post before flying into the away end.

It wasn't long before the second chance came and Mark Noble was more than happy to take full advantage of it. George McCartney's pull-back from the left channel finding him, and the England Under-21 star slammed it into Harper's bottom corner for his third goal of the campaign.

West Ham started to pass it about and even when the Geordies did win back the ball and mount an attack the defensive precision of the back four of Pantsil, Neill, Tomkins and McCartney was such that all searching through balls were snuffed out with ease.

The only interruption to this fluid movement came when Ljungberg was on the ground after missing a chance, and Newcastle defender Steven Taylor accidentally jumped on to him (as opposed to over him) and he had to go off with a suspected broken rib - which may mean he misses Sweden's Euro 2008 campaign. Boa Morte came on for him to less boos than usual, although Solano would have appeared to be a better choice.

Soon, however, the second goal did come and when it did, it was another good goal. Ashton received the ball just inside the six-yard box, held a defender off and shot home between the legs of Taylor. This scoreline was more than most of us could have realistically hoped for, particularly after half an hour, but sadly it wasn't to last.

A long ball from midfield arrived, and James Tomkins, who had been near-impeccable thus far lost out to Obafemi Martins (in the same manner that he had lost out to Yakubu at Goodison Park a few weeks ago) and the Nigerian international finished with ease to halve the deficit. A few minutes later Martins was involved again as his shot deflected first off Geremi, then George McCartney to equalise for the north-east team.

At half-time, I consoled myself at the Irons having lost a two-goal lead against Newcastle for the second time in 15 months with a packet of hugely over-priced Maynards Wine Gums and a Coke. The cost: ??3.74. I'm willing to lay odds that on the streets outside I could make an identical purchase for a third of what I paid for it inside The Boleyn Ground. The sweetness of the refreshment did nothing to quell my internal bitterness, both at the rapidly changing culture of the club and also at the lost two-goal lead.

Both teams came out for the second half with all guns blazing, but much of the work was done in the midfield, and there weren't any serious chances until ten minutes or so in. There were several cutting through balls provided by Parker, Noble and Faubert, but just as we had repelled Newcastle's attacks in the first half, which came via the ball down the middle, these were to no avail.

On the 70 minute mark, a ball down the middle found Martins, with Tomkins to beat. The Toon striker used his strength well, but found the young Hammer equally strong and although he managed to get a fierce shot away it was parried easily by Green.

The most notable chance for the Hammers came with about ten minute to go. Faubert, seemingly uncatchable all day, raced down the right wing. He got a peach of a cross in and Ashton hit it with all his strength, leaving it to Harper to turn it over the bar.

So the game ended in a draw and, as a reflection on the second half, I don't think either set of supporters could really complain. More importantly though, West Ham had rediscovered the way they used to play football.

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Player Ratings

Robert Green
Was there when he had to be. One very good save from Martins with about 15 minutes to go. Didn't really have a chance with either goal.

John Paintsil
The cult hero puts in another solid performance. In all honesty, I think I'd have preferred him there than the erratic Lucas Neill. Put in some very good tackles and made some good interceptions.

George McCartney
Did okay today, has looked a little out of sorts in last two matches. Linked up well with Ljungberg and later Boa Morte.

Lucas Neill
Did well at centre back, didn't stray out of position as he often does when at right back. Looked solid.

James Tomkins
Another very solid performance from JT, looked extremely capable, wasn't flustered under pressure. First goal not his fault.

Mark Noble
MOTM, played much like Parker today, distribution good, very good goal too.

Scott Parker
Did well in the engine room against his former club. Useful through balls, excellent distribution.

Freddie Ljungberg
Put in some decent crosses until carried off. Might have played last game for us.

Julien Faubert
Good crosses in first half, massive improvement on anonymous display last week v Derby. Faded a bit in second half and crosses often wayward.

Bobby Zamora
Not great. Like Ashton, held ball up well but to less great effect. Worked hard but not his dynamic self we saw last season.

Dean Ashton
Is improving every week. Held the ball up very well and fully deserved his goal. Helped to create a number of chances, unlucky not to score late on.


Luis Boa Morte
(replaced Ljungberg, 21) One of his better games. Did well down the left wing and fashioned several scoring chances.

Carlton Cole
(replaced Zamora, 68) Performed the same role that Zamora was playing but to greater effect. It worked in the last home game when Sears was replaced, it nearly worked here.

Nobby Solano
(replaced Ljungberg, 90+4) No time to have any impact. Received a warm reception by both sets of fans.

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: Mark Noble.