Premier League
West Ham United 1 Sunderland 0

Saturday, 10th April 2010
by Gordon Thrower

What a most pleasant weekend that was. Nice weather, pleasant company and three points. What more could a man want for. Oh, chuck in a Hull collapse and, for the sheer comedy of it all, an hilarious defeat at Wembley for Spurs and we have the makings of a decent few days!

Following the yellow card issued last week by the incompetent Howard Webb, Scott Parker was forced to sit out this one. Mido had a viral infection which may cause him to waste away - I give him no more than fifty years at his current weight. Ilan's fine goal last week earned him the honour of starting alongside Carlton Cole whilst DaCosta continued in defence leaving us with a starting line-up of Green, Faubert, Spector, Upson, DaCosta, Noble, Behrami, Kovac, Stanislas, Cole, Ilan.

It was a tentative start by both sides really. Though the visitors had much of the ball they displayed a strange reluctance to actually do much with it - possibly mindful of their lack of success on the road - their last away win came on the same day as ours did. The first chance came on about 10 minutes when a corner from the busy Malbranque eluded just about everyone before going out the other side for a goal kick. Bent then should have put us one down on the quarter hour when clean through. Green got caught a little in no-man's-land but Bent proved he can be equally as bad from open play as he can from the penalty spot by lobbing well over.

We were not without some chances of our own and, after combining well with Ilan, Behrami's low shot forced Gordon into a full stretch save. The disappointing Stanislas had failed to anticipate the save and Sunderland were able to clear. Kovac then chested a loose ball down before shooting in the general direction of Saturn.

Gordon had an eventful first half - and had we had a half decent referee in charge he wouldn't have been on the pitch for the end of it. Firstly Noble overhit a pass from midfield. Under some pressure from the approaching Cole, Gordon handled outside the box. Ref Jones was correct to only issue the yellow card that resulted - there was no obvious goalscoring opportunity denied. However, Gordon should have walked a bit later. A cross from the right saw the 'keeper fumble the ball and, as Cole went to put the loose ball away into the empty net, the 'keeper had no choice but to bring Cole down with a rugby tackle. This was a denial of goalscoring opportunity. However, faced with the prospect of sending off a goalkeeper Mr Jones bottled it with his spineless decision that Cole had fouled the 'keeper. This was weak refereeing at its worst.

We went into the break level having finished the stronger of the two sides and Jones got the chorus of boos that his appalling performance thus far had deserved. The news that Hull were drawing 1-1 with Burnley prompted a cheer though, as Jeremy rightly pointed out, it's come to something when a draw gets a cheer like that.

There were no changes during the interval and we nearly blew it straight away. Kovac's ludicrous pass back into his own box required DaCosta to be on his toes. The fact that Bent's sad claim for a penalty couldn't even fool Jones should tell you how bad the claim was. Then we took the lead. Ilan was bundled over for he umpteenth time out on the touchline by Myler. DaCosta played the ball high into the box, Cole nodded on and Ilan got on the end of the ball to bundle home from close range. Simple really. Jubilation and relief filled the air as high fives were exchanged throughout.

Of course, seeing out a match with 40 minutes to go was never our forte and there were always going to be a few nervy moments to look out for. Firstly, Cattermole combined well with Bent to pull a low shot just wide.

Most hilarious though was Darren Bent's comedy banana skin routine, slipping when clean through. There were a number of theories as to why this occurred, ranging from the use of flashy but ultimately useless footwear through to the hardness and amount of watering of the pitch. My take on it? Well I'm working on the angles at the moment and I'm not sure where the nearest book depository is located but if the patch of greenery beside the flats counts as a "grassy knoll" but if it does I'll have something to keep the conspiracy theorists busy for a while. Either that or Bent was staging his own Grand National day tribute to Devon Loch.

Then, shortly after Franco had replaced Stanislas, Noble and Behrami had a game of "after you". Richardson nipped in and threw himself to the ground - Behrami was about two feet away but Jones fell for the dive. Henderson nearly caught out Green at the near post from the resulting free-kick but the 'keeper did well to keep the ball out for what was the only real save he had to make all day.

Spector ventured up and went down to a sneaky clip on the edge of the box that deserved a yellow it didn't get. Noble's free-kick was dealt with easily by Gordon who then waved an elbow towards Franco. Gordon might have walked for his action but for Franco's over the top reaction to it, though the ref did spend some time talking to Gordon - no doubt pointing out that he'd already committed enough cautionable offences to have been sent off twice already.

As normal time expired Cole was put through by Spector but the striker's first touch took him a bit wider than he'd have liked and the shot went high and wide. Daprela replaced Ilan as the four minutes of stoppage commenced. Then, if anyone had any doubts as to the competence of the appalling Mr Jones, they would have been instantly dispelled at the death.

Faubert played a long ball into the box,Franco controlled on his chest not - as Mr Jones had somehow hallucinated - with his arm, and buried the loose ball. The celebrations were wild as cheers of relief echoed all around. However, Mr Jones had other ideas and pointed out that, whether the ball had struck Franco's arm or not he was giving a handball because, well he'd blown the whistle and had to give something. Sunderland, despite the undeserved let-off were upset as the ref wouldn't let them take the free-kick whilst half the home side were off the pitch. Predictably Bruce was up in arms about the refereeing, despite the fact that Jones' blunders had probably saved his side from going down 3-0. Strangely the ref failed to add any more time on for the incident and, one comfortably dealt with corner later, the whistle went to much relief.

This was not in any way shape or form a pretty win. However, the guts, determination and sheer bloody-mindedness of the side that had manifested itself so well up at Goodison were much in evidence again for this one. Noble and Behrami ran a marathon each and I lost count of the number of times that harrying from the midfield caused the visitors to go back to the keeper. If we occasionally we lacked a bit of cunning and understanding, the nous and tenacity were definitely there and that half of Ron Manager's infamous quartet are definitely needed when you're facing a relegation fight. I'd like to see the same self-belief up at Anfield next week - let's go up there and believe we can get something, rather than just hoping. That belief worked at Everton and their form is infinitely better than that of their neighbours of late.

Post match was spent explaining to those that had left as the second goal went in that we had in fact only won one-nil, and that Burnley had added a fourth in the 6th minute of stoppage time to add a bit of extra shine to the weekend. All we needed now were wins for Villa and Pompey and we'd be sorted. Well three out of four wasn't bad was it!

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Player Ratings

Robert Green
For all the visitors' comments to the effect that they deserved something out of the game, he had but one proper save to make all afternoon - from Henderson's free-kick.

Julien Faubert
Another decent run-out. Most improved player this season?

Jonathan Spector
Did well enough but had a couple of shaky moments.

Matthew Upson
Kept Bent quiet for the most part.

Manuel Da Costa
Benefiting from an extended run in the side but we'll draw a polite veil over the second half free-kick that ended up in Beckton!

Mark Noble
Probably edges Behrami for MOTM for me - some of the tackles he put in were earth shakers and, given that they galvanised the crowd, the example must have had a positive effect on his team-mates.

Valon Behrami
Ran and ran and ran. Sponsors' MOTM and, whilst I can see why, I'll stick with Noble for ours. I'm sure Behrami will cope with the disappointment.

Radoslav Kovac
Worked hard but when will he learn to pass?

Junior Stanislas
The one real disappointment of the day. Struggled to get into the game and his delivery from dead-ball positions was poor.

Not much in the way of a general contribution but took the goal nicely and I'm happy to settle for that

Carlton Cole
Caused difficulties for the visitors' defence without providing much of an obvious goal threat.


Guillermo Franco
(Replaced Stanislas, 74 mins) Scored what will be a close call for Goal of the Season when latching onto a fine delivery from Faubert with a diving header. Pushing his claims for a starting berth.

Fabio Daprela
(Replaced Ilan, 90 mins) Only on for the four minutes of stoppage.

Peter Kurucz
Did not play.

Jordan Spence
Did not play.

Danny Gabbidon
Did not play.

Alessandro Diamanti
Did not play.

Benni McCarthy
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Robert Green, Julien Faubert, Jonathan Spector, Matthew Upson, Manuel Da Costa, Mark Noble, Valon Behrami, Radoslav Kovac, Junior Stanislas, Ilan, Carlton Cole.

Goals: Ilan 51                  .

Booked: Jonathan Spector 33          .

Sent Off: None sent off     .

Sunderland: Gordon, Da Silva, Richardson, Ferdinand, Turner, Henderson, Meyler, Cattermole, Malbranque, Campbell, Bent.

Subs not used: Carson, Kilgallon, Bardsley, Hutton.

Goals: None.

Booked: Cattermole (26), Gordon (35), Campbell (84).

Sent off: None.

Referee: M Jones.

Attendance: 34,685.

Man of the Match: Mark Noble.