Premier League
West Ham United 2-1 Wigan Athletic 

Saturday, 16th August 2008
by Alex Shilling

The Hammers kicked off the new campaign today with no fewer than nine players out of action. Not quite a makeshift XI, nor down to 'the bare bones', but certainly an under-strength West Ham side that took the field this afternoon.

Calum Davenport, impressive in pre-season, took the place of Anton Ferdinand, who had been a major doubt before the game owing to a hamstring problem. Captain Lucas Neill switched flanks to fill in at left back in the absence of George McCartney, laid low by a virus. A full-strength midfield comprised Julien Faubert, Scott Parker, Mark Noble and Matthew Etherington, while Carlton Cole stepped up to the plate and partnered Dean Ashton while Craig Bellamy recovered from a hamstring injury.

Bright sunlight shone down onto the Boleyn Ground as the Irons kicked off, and the football soon began to match the weather. The Wigan full back marking Matty Etherington looked out of his depth early on, and Julien Faubert looked to be giving his opponent on the right side some problems, whilst linking up well with new boy Valon Behrami.

In the third minute, Faubert gained some ground on the Wigan player, slid a pass into Ashton's path, and the England striker turned centre-half Paul Scharner, and smashed the ball far out of Kirkland's reach into the roof of the net. The game was being taken by the Hammers to Wigan now, and all the action was in the Latics' half. Any attacks they ddi have were swiftly repelled by Calum Davenport and Matthew Upson, wearing number 15 after the club retired the number 6 shirt, once worn by Bobby Moore, in the summer.

It was only a matter of time before the second came, and just a few minutes later, Carlton Cole flicked the ball on from a corner, Mark Noble touched it on, Wigan failed to clear it, and Ashton was there once again, eluding Chris Kirkland and tapping the ball home.

'We are top of the league' was ringing out around Upton Park, and two nearly became three after Carlton Cole's dipping header from just inside the box was well tipped over by 'England's number nine', as the fans in the Centenary Lower were vociferously suggesting.

After that, Wigan started to get back into the game more, and fashioned several chances for themselves, forcing Cole to head the ball off his own line. The Hammers appeared to take their foot off the gas somewhat, as well. However, the half time score of 2-0 was thoroughly deserved.

One mountain of a half time refreshment queue later, and the north-westerners began the second half as West Ham had the first. Egyptian target man Zaki, a summer signing for Steve Bruce's men, hit a volley from inside the penalty area to halve the scores. Wigan then upped the pressure even more and began to force mistakes from their hosts, who had previously been comfortable to the point of complacency in possession.

However, the Hammers soon regained the initiative, and Julien Faubert tried his luck from 20 yards out, with a shot which was comfortably stopped by Kirkland. At this point, the game became more fluent from the perspective of both sides and both sides had good chances in the closing 25 minutes, most notably a shot from Lee Cattermole with about twenty minutes to go, which Green superbly touched over the bar.

Fred Sears was brought on in place of Ashton and a couple of good chances fell to his feet but he couldn't make the most of them. Hayden Mullins was always brought on, for Parker, and he contributed possibly most out of the whole team to making sure the lead stayed intact.

Wigan's final chance was two minutes into added time. A corner was floated into the box, and the mop-headed Zaki was on the end of it. Sadly, his shot reached the rows with two letters at the back of the Centenary Lower. A good all-round performance from the Hammers. Certainly something to build on.

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Player Ratings

Robert Green
Had a good game. One fantastic save midway through the second half saved the points. Dealt with virtually everything Wigan could throw at him.

Valon Behrami
Impressive debut. Linked up well with Faubert down the right hand side. A few mistakes in second half, but generally played well.

Lucas Neill
Much improved defensively on last season. Also offered decent attacking threat too and produced several good crosses.

Calum Davenport
Stood in for Ferdinand, and did remarkably well for someone who hadn't played a Premiership match for 18 months. Repelled many attacks in first half and got in some crucial blocks and headers at the death.

Matthew Upson
Solid. All that needs to be said really. As with Green, dealt with almost everything that was thrown at him.

Scott Parker
Did well throughout, competed well. If he can keep this up, we will have one of the best young English central midfielders in the league.

Nark Noble
Played well in first half but kind of went missing in second. Lacked energy after half time.

Julien Faubert
Looks every bit as good as he was in his last good game- away at Man City, in January. Caused the Wigan defence some serious problems and put in some excellent crosses.

Matthew Etherington
Electrifying in first half, anonymous in second.

Dean Ashton
Two excellent goals, will have impressed Fabio in the stands. Got to be a cert for Wednesday's England friendly.

Carlton Cole
A typically robust, hard-working performance from him. Competeed for everything.


Hayden Mullins
(replaced Parker, 73) Excellent when he came on. Competed for everything, got stuck in, everything you could ask of a substitute.

Fred Sears
(replaced Ashton, 73) Had little impact when he came on for Ashton.

Luis Boa Morte
(replaced Faubert, 85) Enjoyed the run-out.

Jan Lastuvka
Did not play.

Jordan Spence
Did not play.

Lee Bowyer
Did not play.

Kyel Reid
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Robert Green, Valon Behrami, Lucas Neill, Calum Davenport, Matthew Upson, Scott Parker, Nark Noble, Julien Faubert, Matthew Etherington, Dean Ashton, Carlton Cole.

Goals: Dean Ashton 3 Dean Ashton 10                .

Booked: Scott Parker 39 Calum Davenport 49        .

Sent off: None.

Wigan Athletic: Kirkland, Melchiot, Figueroa, Palacios, Boyce, Scharner, Cattermole, Valencia, Kapo, Heskey, Zaki.

Subs not used: Pollitt, Kilbane, Brown, Bramble.

Goals: Zaki (47).

Booked: Palacios (68).

Sent off: None.

Referee: Steve Bennett.

Attendance: 32,758.

Man of the Match: Dean Ashton.