Premier League
Sunderland 2 West Ham United 2

Saturday, 31st October 2009
by Gordon Thrower

A long trip up north returning with a point. So why was the experience less than totally satisfactory?

We were honoured for this trip with the presence of Elle, daughter and heir to the Up the Junction estate. She was accompanied by her father who had sportingly agreed to drive for what was Elle's first long away trip. Since I was also scrounging a lift, it seemed unfair to drag large portions of the Junction family out of their way to London to pick me up which is why I found myself heading out to South East Essex at the ungodly hour of 5.30am. Unusually for the site's owner, he was bang on time as he picked me up from his local station and, with reckless disregard for the convention that the site's senior editorial team shouldn't travel together, we headed north, hitting Hartlepool in record time.

The advance KUMB party had already arrived in Sunderland nursing hangovers following what had been described as a "messy" evening and, on meeting up it is fair to say that there were some very sore-sounding throats.

Team news was that the starting line-up showed one change from the Arsenal match with Kovac coming in to replace Parker, suspended following his ludicrous dismissal the previous week. This meant a second consecutive start for Franco up front giving us a starting XI of Green, Spector, Ilunga, Upson, Tomkins, Kovac, Noble, Behrami, Collison, Franco Cole.

Sunderland pressed forward early on and the first worry was Malbranque who seemed to have turned up playing in those old-fashioned plimsolls that those of us of a certain age will remember from our schooldays, such was his propensity to fall over at the slightest hint of contact. Behrami was his first victim as the unreliable Marriner gave a free-kick on the edge of the box. A minor scramble ensued with Collison eventually clearing.

The home side's best chance of the early exchanges came almost by accident. Jones got a shot in from outside the box. The shot was inadvertently blocked by Cana for whom the ball fell kindly inside the box. Cana measured a cross for Bent whose awful header wide showed exactly why we were so grateful that Spurs beat us to his signature a few years back when we had the cash to offer ?14m for a player. Or at least appeared to.

The game settled down a bit and both Noble and Cole got in shots that brought saves out of home 'keeper Gordon, though both saves were reasonably comfortable. There then followed the first of the day's disciplinary issues. Cana kicked Noble in the back with an awful challenge which brought a deserved yellow card. It shouldn't have been Cana's last of the day. Collison's free-kick was over-hit to Gordon. The ball went up the other end where Da silva was given time and space to hit a poor shot wide.

Cana then clattered into the back of Noble once more with his elbow, an offence that used to be a straight red card but in the eyes of Marriner was only worth a free-kick and a couple of words.

We took the lead on the half hour. Unusually for us this season there were no set plays involved and a decent goal it was too. Behrami's excellent pass saw Collison beat the offside trap. Collison sped into the box where Franco's run to the near post saw him well placed to convert Collison's low cross from a couple of yards. Good football all round.

Sunderland pushed forward for an equaliser and a timely interception from Upson prevented Jones from finding Bent after Noble had been caught in possession in midfield. However, we were starting to put together some dangerous-looking stuff and we nearly doubled the lead on 34 minutes. Noble combined well with Collison down the left. Collison played the ball inside to Cole whose first touch gave him the space to hit a powerful that was superbly saved by Gordon.

The respite for the home side was short-lived and we went 2-0 up on 35 minutes. If the first goal had been good the second was better. Some good work on the right from Noble saw him play the ball into Franco who flicked the ball into space. Collison burst forward and timed his forward pass to Cole perfectly. Cole took a touch past the defender and passed the ball into the bottom left corner. More good football and, at that point, no more than we deserved.

We pushed forward again and Nosworthy appeared to get little, if any, of the ball as Cole bore down on goal. However, things were about to take a turn for the worse. I'm not quite sure which was more disgraceful, Malbranque's dive or Marriner's decision that either Kovac or Ilunga had been responsible. Either way Marriner decided to compound his error by issuing a yellow card to Kovac. Whether the card had been for the non-existent foul or for the protest against the free-kick Marriner himself is probably too stupid to know. Malbranque's guilty look spoke volumes - it seems you can take the player out of Tottenham but you can't take the Tottenham out of the player. Reid's free-kick was inch perfect into the top corner but the fact remains that a combination of blatant cheating and inept refereeing had let the home side back into the match.

Then things got really silly. Firstly Turner went through Franco with a shocking tackle that ought to have seen a card of a different colour from the yellow that was shown. It was a horrible challenge that could have seen a broken leg. Then, in stoppage time, Jones tangled with Ilunga and pushed Cheri in the chin. Cheri's reaction was needlessly OTT - the ref had seen all and was going to issue the red card regardless of the reaction. Push someone above chest height and you get a red. However, Marriner decided that if you get pushed in the chin by an opponent you also get a yellow. Baffling in the extreme.

Half time was spent discussing the previous match in which we'd faced ten men for the second half of a match. We comforted ourselves that we must have learned our lesson from the Fulham match. How wrong we were.

Sunderland started the second half much the stronger of the two sides, encouraged in part by a strange reluctance on our part to take advantage of the extra man by stretching the play. Things weren't helped by Marriner's bizarre reluctance to punish Cana for a succession of dangerous two-footed lunges. Marriner's inaction merely served to encourage Cana. Indeed, if Jones' push on Ilunga hadn't happened right in front of the ref I'd suggest that Cana had been granted immunity from prosecution for grassing on his team-mate.

Mind you, the first chance of the half came our way. Noble did well to win a corner on the right. He took the corner himself and, for once the delivery was excellent. Franco got across his marker and powered a flying header goalbound which was well-saved by Gordon, Franco blocking a further clearance for a goal kick.

Such chances at this point in the game were, however, few and far between. Collison lost out in midfield and the ball was fed through to Bent, whose low shot was turned round the post by Green. Turner got on the end of the resulting corner and Green pulled off another fine save. Up the other end Franco got the better of his marker but his attempted chip, though ambitious, lacked height and was an easy save for Gordon.

Sunderland pushed forward again and a cross was blocked, the ball falling to Cana who, confused at having to kick something that wasn't a part of an opponent's anatomy, put the ball into the crowd. A minute later we lost the ball in midfield and Bent was clean through but again reminded us how lucky we were that Spurs got in ahead of us by blasting the ball a good ten yards wide.

Cole then went close for us. Controlling a ball from deep by Tomkins he controlled the ball, shrugged off two markers and burst into the box pulling his shot a couple of yards or so wide across the face of goal.

It was time for a spot more play-acting from Malbranque. Upson went in shoulder to shoulder and Malbranque went down clutching his head. Something for Bruce to consider perhaps before he opens his mouth again about Ilunga.

Cana then lunged in with another two-footer, this one on Cole. Frankly it was worth at least a yellow, as was the protest against the decision afterwards. Marriner's failure to take any action other than to award the free-kick was just sheer incompetence.

Sunderland then won a corner. Turner got on the end of it the ball falling to the Cana who, by this time should have been enjoying second use of the bathwater after Jones. The Albanian's header came back off the bar and green saved superbly from the follow-up header.

Zola then made his first change. Behrami, who apparently had run over seven miles during the Arsenal match despite being substituted before the end, went off to be replaced by Diamanti. Behrami appeared to have a slight knock as he left. This change was followed up five minutes later by the introduction of Hines for the flagging Franco. Hines' arrival was greeted by a foul on him by Cana who had, by now, worked out that Mariner was going to let him get away with absolutely anything.

The equaliser came with 13 minutes left. Bent got down the right and got a cross in that would have been gathered safely had it not flicked off Upson leaving Green stranded. Spector had criminally failed to track back with Richardson who bundled the ball into the empty net at the far post.

It was at this point that we started playing again. Sunderland were pushing forward and starting to leave gaps. Cole scuffed a shot wide. Diamanti's cross-field ball eluded Nosworthy and found Hines whose shot was only a foot or two wide. This was enough for Bruce who realised that the tide was turning and off came Malbranque to be replaced by McCartney. Collison and Diamanti combined and the Italian's effort from the edge of the box was only a foot wide. Spector then gave away a free-kick on the left. Reid's free-kick from the left looked dangerous but thankfully it was Bent who got on the end of it, his off-target header reminding us yet again... well you get the picture.

Marriner hadn't done anything daft for a few minutes so it no surprise what happened next. Kovac mis-controlled a clearance and as he went to put the ball forward, Bent nipped in from the blind side and got there first. Unable to pull out of the challenge, Kovac caught Bent for what was undoubtedly a foul but never in a million years a yellow. Unfortunately Marriner seemed more bothered by the prospect of upsetting the home supporters than actually doing his job properly and he produced the yellow card once Kovac had received treatment. This was the second sending off in two weeks that owed everything to refereeing incompetence but, given the awful standards of officiating these days, it was sadly predictable that Cana would go unpunished whilst Kovac ended up walking for what was basically an accident.

From the free kick Bent got in and, well, it was Bent and yes, we are still grateful that Spurs beat us to his signature. His efforts seemed to be getting further and further away from goal the more the afternoon wore on.

Up the other end we forced a corner which was taken short. Hines burst into the box and Noble latched on to a rebound curling a shot past Gordon only to find McCartney well place to clear off the line. McCartney went down the left but over-hit his cross. Henderson chipped back in towards Bent who, unmarked and 4 yards out, missed the header completely. By this time of course our gratitude to Spurs knew no bounds. The remainder of the 4 minutes of stoppage passed by without further ado, though given Marriner's past I suppose we should be grateful that he didn't add on more for luck.

We returned to Hartlepool for the evening's entertainment, with the boss adjourning to spend some quality time with his daughter, though given that she fell asleep fairly early we must take his word for it that he wouldn't have watched the X Factor had it not been for Elle.

Those of us without offspring in tow then took in some of the sights of Hartlepool which, on Halloween, were even more spectacular than usual. Amongst the usual fancy dress we saw some splendid efforts, though one pneumatically endowed woman's costume of a low-cut dress baffled me until I realised she'd come as a bicycle rack. Of course, being less than 100% fit at present meant that I had to forego the usual alcoholic pleasures that Hartlepool affords, though it was quite an experience watching others who were less than sober. After a while though the prospect of drinking yet another diet coke whilst surrounded by those more fortunate in the alcohol stakes began to wane so I returned to the hotel for a final glass of pop, just in time to watch the BBC's rather selectively-edited highlights on MOTD.

I suppose if we'd been told before the match that we'd get a point out of a match 280 miles from home against a team who'd won four out of five at home, we'd have taken it with open arms. However, we really need to sort out how to play against ten men because make no mistake, in the second half we were awful for all but the last 13 minutes. There was enough in the first half to suggest that we can get out of the mess we are currently in but doing so will depend on doing it for 90 minutes not just 45.

All in all a splendid weekend with a cracking game of football at its centrepiece, only the result letting us down. Thanks to UtJ and Elle for the driving, their fine company and for putting up with my snoring. Thanks as ever to Romford for sorting out the Grand Hotel and final special thanks to the Witch I met in Loons - it wasn't my fault I had to go elsewhere honest!

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Player Ratings

Robert Green
Looked a little flat-footed for the second, though earlier saves had kept us in the lead. Better than of late.

Jonathan Spector
Looked dodgy all day and his failure to track back rendered him at least partly culpable for the equaliser. If we are in a position to bring in a player or two in January, this is one position that should be a priority.

Herita Ilunga
Distribution left much to be desired and I've docked him a point for his unnecessary reaction to Jones' push - the Sunderland man was walking anyway.

James Tomkins
Usually so good in the air he struggled a bit in this one.

Matthew Upson
Battled against Bent - we can be grateful that it was Bent rather than someone useful.

Radoslav Kovac
Although hideously unlucky to be sent off, he had a poor game and looks as if he'd have difficulty finding a team mate in an all-West Ham training kickabout at the moment.

Mark Noble
Some good play on occasions but, as has been the case for much of this season, it's been sporadic at best. I still think he needs a rest.

Jack Collison
Excellent in the first half, he got caught in possession far too much in the second for my liking.

Valon Behrami
Got through a few more miles but was having to do a lot of chasing in the second half.

Guillermo Franco
Took the goal well and was unlucky not to add a second. Tired a bit too quickly though.

Carlton Cole
Caused Sunderland all sorts of problems. Picked up another ridiculous booking from a ref who, by that time, had clearly lost the plot.


Alessandro Diamanti
(Replaced Behrami, 72 mins) A few good passes and one half-decent shot.

Zavon Hines
(Replaced Franco, 64 mins) Should have been on earlier as he gave us an "out" where it had previously been lacking.

Peter Kurucz
Did not play.

Julien Faubert
Did not play.

Danny Gabbidon
Did not play.

Luis Jimenez
Did not play.

Junior Stanislas
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Robert Green, Jonathan Spector, Herita Ilunga, James Tomkins, Matthew Upson, Radoslav Kovac, Mark Noble, Jack Collison, Valon Behrami, Guillermo Franco, Carlton Cole.

Goals: Guillermo Franco 30 Carlton Cole 36                .

Booked: Radoslav Kovac 37 Herita Ilunga 45 Carlton Cole 60      .

Sent Off: Radoslav Kovac 87    .

Sunderland: Gordon, Turner, Da Silva, Nosworthy, Henderson, Richardson, Cana, Malbranque, Reid, Jones, Bent.

Subs not used: Fulop, Ferdinand, Bardsley, Healy, Meyler, Murphy.

Goals: Reid (39), Richardson (76).

Booked: Cana (11), Bent (25), Turner (40).

Sent off: None.

Referee: Andre Marriner.

Attendance: 39,033.

Man of the Match: Carlton Cole.