Premier League
West Bromwich Albion 3 West Ham United 2

Saturday, 13th September 2008
by East Stand Martin

On the way up to the Black Country, ESM Jnr was working overtime on his ‘phone to sort out a flight back next month from Egypt after our esteemed sponsors went belly up. I was never happy with the deal myself. After all, who wants their chest size advertised on a replica shirt?

In years to come there will be a trivia quiz question about the identity of the sponsor-free game in the 2008/09 season. Someone had done a right bodge job covering up the XL, though. You would have thought that there would have been some shirts somewhere in the Boleyn Ground without that lurid logo. Oh no. Instead some material that wasn't quite the right shade of claret was stitched on by some seamstress down the road. Classy.

Let's face it though, it wasn't just about a defunct tour operator, it was also about the embarrassing debacle of our manager leaving just at the point when we'd made a half decent start to the season. You tell me the logic of bringing in an ex-Chelsea legend with no Premiership managerial experience. Talks a good game I hear. Nice.

Self-destruct button

Nah, this has been a frankly embarrassing and shotgun to the foot couple of weeks for West Ham United FC. I'm upset too that we the fans didn't perform like our Geordie friends. Curbs may not be the same sort of icon for us, but take a look and tell me that the circumstances at the two clubs are that different. This is about what is right and decent. We should be out there with the banners. How about 'Icelandic Mafia Out'?

Zola's not like that little scrote Wise, sure enough. He is a gentleman. Good role model. But is he a better bet than Curbs? Time will tell, but my instinct says not. The away support at the Hawthorns was not sure either as it was all quiet as the Baggies sang "Zola is a Chelsea fan". We better start working out a response to that 'cos we are gonna hear that a lot on the road this season. It will really begin to grate if things start going tits up.

Keen idea

The starting lineup looked odd for starters. Boa Morte instead of Matty. Behrami instead of Faubert. This right sided conundrum is going to run and run. Don't get me wrong, I like Behrami, but Faubert for me gives us a different dimension with his skills in dead ball situations. Maybe Neill should be the one sitting it out down the right? Later on there was even a stranger decision to leave Bellamy on the bench, maybe it was injury related.

Cold, cold start. New signing Ilunga looking somewhat at sea as the opposition progressed down our left. Chipped ball and virtually unchallenged header to leave us behind just two minutes in.

We got going, sparked by Cole and his muscular activities on the edge of the box. Heskey-like. Ashton with a speculative curler which was easily saved. But in that first 20 minutes we were getting caned. The reality was that we could have been three down if the finishing had been better. Green was our saviour as he beat out a one on one after we got carved apart through the middle by Koren. Our 'keeper was nowhere in sight though just two minutes earlier with Bednar heading wide of a gaping goal from a corner.

Saint Carlos

Things were not getting brighter with the withdrawal of Ashton who went down clutching his head. "He's not sending Bellamy on", said an incredulous ESM Jnr as new signing Di Michele got the nod, wearing the number of the Holy Tevez. Nothing to live up to then.

Cole was at it again on 21 minutes as a great ball over from Davenport gave him the chance to work it on the edge of the box. Boa Morte got the pass but was wriggling trying to find space and couldn't get a shot a way. Then three successive first time balls from midfield saw a chipped pass which was only just nicked off the foot of Di Michele.

The equalizer came on 27 minutes as the ball went from right to left and then back over to the far post by Davenport to find Di Michele with the right kind of downward header which Carson could only push back out to Noble who had a simple tap in. Just a minute later Di Michele had his first decent free kick opportunity just outside the box. He tried to curl it round the wall but it went wide.

Up but fleetingly

It was the Italian striker who was involved again on 35 minutes as a rebounded clearance gave him an excellent one on one opportunity which was saved at a good height by Carson. The resulting corner gave us the lead as a Noble delivery was headed back by Davenport to find the waiting Neill who smashed an unstoppable volley into the goal.

The scenes of celebration were short-lived though as only a minute after the goal, a free kick down the West Ham right led to Green apparently scooping over Barnett as he tried to retrieve the ball at his feet at the edge of the six yard box. It was a fumble by our keeper that caused the problem. Bednar hit the spotkick straight down the middle with Green diving despairingly to his left.

Carlton Cole tried to put things back on track on the stroke of half time, but his excellent strength and vision came to nought as Boa Morte couldn't finish a one on one. He made some amends though by chasing back to make a great saving tackle at the other end of the pitch.

Ham it up

West Brom had the first chance of the second half but Green did very well to make himself big in yet another one-on-one. The ball looped up vertically off his body but it was thankfully kicked away. Then on 57 minutes Cole threaded through a nicely weighted pass to find Noble whose shot was blocked and then sent over to the far post where Di Michele showed he was no Di Canio with a fluffed scissors kick. Two minutes later, Cole had a good shout for a pen as it looked like he had been taken out from behind.

Carlton doesn't seem to be able to get that 'penalty shape' to get the ref's nod. Maybe he's just too honest a player.

The corner that was given instead of the penalty saw Di Michele making an even worse scissors kick which then heralded a few irritating pieces f play by the Italian debutant. First, he bottled a tackle, then he made a pathetic attempt at a flick on which looked truly awful.

Keen tried something different with Faubert for Behrami and then Matty for Boa Morte, but the truth was that neither side created too much in the second half. The turning point came on 82 minutes as a West Ham corner led to a rapid counterattack. It was a classic mugging as the centred ball was too good for the toiling Upson trying to recover his ground. Brunt managed to shoot diagonally across Green and into the far corner. Maybe we should have had a bit more cover - I could almost see Curbishley motioning defenders back instead of them piling up for the corner.


The anguish for the Travelling fans did not end there, as in the first minute of the four added on, Scott Parker spurned a point blank chance at the far post as the ball was chipped in from the left. He stood half surprised with the ball at his feet with just the keeper to beat, but his shot was parried wide.

In some ways the outcome was not completely surprising given the post transfer window shambles. Hardly a masterclass in great preparation. We had an awful first twenty minutes, got our act together to then gift an equaliser and then did not create enough chances in the second half. Worryingly, the defence did not look any more solid than West Brom's. Ilunga did get better as the game went on, but I suspect that we will soon realise how important the quiet yet tidy McCartney was to the team.

Carlton Cole once again made the best all round contribution, but I think that we will need something better than Di Michele to get the goals we need. Maybe I'm being too harsh on his debut, but he doesn't look the real deal to me. I hope I've called that wrong.

* Player ratings by Graeme Howlett.

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Player Ratings

Robert Green
A couple of good saves but flapped at a cross or two. T'was never a penalty ...

Lucas Neill
Celebrated his return to the right-back slot with his first ever goal for the club. Still looking a little off the pace though.

Herita Ilunga
Seems to have a decent passing range and plenty of pace. However his positional play will need a little work.

Calum Davenport
Seems to be suffering with a touch of the Ferdinands (ie lapses of concentration). A reasonable performance on the whole but it's a worry when he has his back to goal facing an attacker.

Matthew Upson
Half-asleep for the opening goal and too slow to catch Brunt for the match-winner.

Scott Parker
One of our better players on the day although even he had a quiet second half.

Mark Noble
In the right place at the right time for the goal. Like Parker, he faded after the break.

Valon Behrami
Fairly anonymous, which wasdisappointing given that he wouldhave been uot to impress having been restored to his preferred wide midfield role.

Luis Boa Morte
Worked hard and make some important challenges at both ends of the pitch. Should have scored on the stroke of half time which would have changed the complexion of the game.

Dean Ashton
Barely involved prior to being forced off early on with a nasty cut.

Carlton Cole
Worked like a trojan as always, it's just a shame that his final ball is all too often lacking.


David Di Michele
(replaced Ashton, 19) An interesting debut. Had a hand in the first goal before embarrassing himself with two woeful overhead efforts.

Julien Faubert
(replaced Behrami, 65) Barely registered despite having a good half hour on the pitch.

Matthew Etherington
(replaced Boa Morte, 79) Lucky to have a job at all following last weekend's revelations. Contributed virtually nothing.

Jan Lastuvka
Did not play.

James Tomkins
Did not play.

Hayden Mullins
Did not play.

Craig Bellamy
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Robert Green, Lucas Neill, Herita Ilunga, Calum Davenport, Matthew Upson, Scott Parker, Mark Noble, Valon Behrami, Luis Boa Morte, Dean Ashton, Carlton Cole.

Goals: Mark Noble 29 Lucas Neill 35                .

Booked: Di Michele 74          .

Sent off: None.

West Bromwich Albion: Carson, Hoefkens, Barnett, Olsson, Robinson, Morrison, Koren, Greening, Brunt, Valero, Bednar.

Subs not used: Kiely, Beattie, MacDonald, Donk.

Goals: Morrison (3), Bednar (37 pen), Brunt (83).

Booked: Kim (71).

Sent off: None.

Referee: Lee Probert.

Attendance: 26,213.

Man of the Match: Carlton Cole.