Leicester City 0 West Ham United 0
Saturday, 7th August 2004
Early morning and the lads turned up for breakfast at Sicknote's; hardly Tiffany's but I can rustle up a blinding bacon and egg sarnie (ladies take note).The four of us - me and Simon (from Amsterdam) in one car, Bonehead and Chalks in the other then set off to the sunny Midlands. This turned into a bit of a challenge as the M1 was looking iffy so via M40 then cross country to the M1 was the new route; Chalks and Bonehead won by five minutes even though we took completely different routes!
We turned up to find Romford's battalion plotted up in the Oasis bar on Narborough Road; good to see all the usual suspects out and about at the start of a new season. We stayed for a few hours then made off to the the (very bland) Walkers Stadium, with its Pepsi signs all over the front of the stands - even though we are now in the Coca Cola Championship. These 'warehouse-type' grounds all look and feel the same; this one looks like St Mary's in Southampton from the outside - inside too, except for red and white see blue.
Many clubs have experienced problems with their match-day atmosphere over the last couple of seasons; ours have been worse than most (although Upton Park picked up a lot last season). But grounds like the Walkers Stadium are more soulless than any of the redevelopments. In Leicester's case they used to enjoyed a cracking atmosphere at Filbert Street, but today we had approximately 100 or so fans to our top left who, to their credit, got going for most of the game, and a few to our right who were sporadically noisy. Yet they don't seem to have an end creating a real noise like the old two tiered stand behind the goal at Filbert Street used to. I hope they get that sorted.
Onto the game. It was hot - very hot in the stands, and must have been even warmer at pitch level. We went into the game lining up in a regular 4-4-2; Sheringham and Marlon started up front and Rebrov took over on the right of midfield. No Carrick as he's offski, so Hayden Mullins and the impressive Nigel Reo-Coker (do, do, do, Nigel Reo-Coker), filled the two central midfield roles. The back four featured Brevett on the left with Repka right - Dailly and Melville in the center, Matt Etherington started out on the left of midfield, and Bywater - favoured over new boy Jimmy Walker - kept the gloves in goal.
We started brightly enough; Etherington and Brevett seemed to be our main threat with Marlon and Sheringham benefiting most (although we failed to manage a single shot on target in this period). We hadn't looked threatened until Bywater lost a cross and the ball fell to Nalis who rattled the bar from some 20 yards out.
Soon after we had our first real talking point of the game - Dion Dublin, making his debut for the Foxes saw red following an altercation with Rufus Brevett. It wasn't clear what had occured down on the touchline, but Rufus received a yellow card for his part in the ensuing melee (and, at least, gave the Leicester fans a reason to make some noise for the rest of the game).
We'd dominated possession before this incident but with Leicester already playing with just Connolly up front, the effect defensively of being reduced to ten men was vitually nil. The Foxes were happy enough to start with the lone striker, who, it should be added, was a threat all game - skying one from about four yards out and hitting the side netting from an acute angle, both during the first half.
Etherington and Sheringham both had chances; Sheringham's was the best but his shot was aimed straight at Ian Walker (whose kicking was almost Hislop-esque).
Half-time saw a relay race with our kids up against the young Foxes. The blonde Hammer was lightening fast and recovered an early deficit after a shocking start by our first two runners; as he reached the half way line and passed the ball on to another boy he skillfully obstructed the onrushing Fox in order to gain a vital bit of time for the young West Ham lad to leg it and see us first over the line by a whisker. The blonde lad received a heroes welcome as he wandered back past us lot; I think he was a bit overwhelmed by it all!
Sadly, the second half was a much worse spectacle than the first (and the first wasn't exactly memorable). Leicester started a little better; Connolly forced a couple of decent early saves from Bywater as we surrendered too much ground to him, but fortunately the former Hammer was rarely supported by the Leicester midfield and was subsequently comfortably dealt with by our back four.
Leicester have always been a bit special at set pieces, yet today our defenders were switched on and moved out each time as the ball was delivered (after keeping the defensive line high up the pitch), allowing Bywater an easy claim virtually every time.
Our best chance of the game fell to Marlon Harewood who ran (and I use that term very loosely) on to a long ball over the top to find himself one-on-one with Walker. Once Marlon had finally got to the ball he seemed to have time to take a good touch and set himself up for a chance to slide it past Walker. However, he shot first time, Walker parried it -and no one was following up or anticipating the second ball. Sheringham did eventually get there - but at the same time as the recovering Ian Walker, A good chance wasted.
Another great opportunity fell to substitute Bobby Zamora, who had replaced Harewood mid way through the second half. Zamora latched on to a ball six yards from goal - but just couldn't get the ball from under his feet. The oft-criticised former Brighton striker also saw an injury time header fly just over the bar from no more than eight yards out.
With just minutes remaining Rufus Brevett received his marching orders following a second booking. The incident occured miles away from our corner; it looked a clumsy challenge so therefore a booking - but fortunately that's only a one game ban.
Debutant Sergei Rebrov was replaced by Jobi McAnuff, who looked far more effective at right wing. With Brevett sent off, young Chris Cohen then replaced the tiring Teddy Sheringham in order to keep the point we had. To be honest we'd all have taken the point before kick-off; some will say we should have taken advantage of the ten men, but Leicester packed their defence and midfield and will be hard for any team to break down this season. Connolly appears to be their lone threat; if he's marked out of the game the fans at the Walker's bowl will see their fair share of 0-0 scorelines.
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Player RatingsStephen Bywater
Did everything asked of him. Good distribution today; his only cock-up was the misjudged cross which led to Nilas hitting the bar.
Sound. Skied a couple of crosses but was never beaten by a Leicester player - and created some good stuff with both Rebrov and McAnuff.
Supported Matty Etherington well. Considering it was his first competitive game for some time, a sound display. Never mind the bookings.
Dailly and Melville worked worked as a pair and really only had Connolly to deal with who they marshalled well. If the whole back five can play like that every game we will win more than our fair share.
The partnership with Dailly held strong and the pair enjoyed a comfortable afternoon, with only David Connolly ever really threatening a resolute back line.
This was the best I've seen Nigel play. He continually broke up Leicester's play and created opportunities for our strikers to feed from. Looked strong until the last 15-20 minutes, and had a few decent efforts at goal. If this is how he will be taking games by the scruff of the neck he's going to win a lot of fans over. Man of the match.
The reason Leicester's midfield rarely threatened us in our area was down to Mullins mopping things up. Never really shone but did the job not many do well.
Stayed wide on the right, got paint on his boots and regularly had his arms up wanting the ball - although he never seemed to get it when he wanted it. Don't see him holding this position down for long; let's hope he doesn't have to.
Not one of Matty's best games but he still caused Leicester a lot of problems. Didn't get too many crosses in, but had a decent looping shot fly narrowly wide of the post in the second half.
Hard to judge Teddy today as the service to him was poor. Had a good flashing header from the edge of the box and the follow up to Harewood's one-on-one. Made some clever passes in and around the box though which will, one hopes, create further chances in games to come.
Looked off the pace today, but still looked our biggest threat. Should have finished things off when he had only Walker to beat.
(Replaced Rebrov) Lively when he came on, and caused the Leicester left back a few problems. May be a good idea to give him a run out against Reading?
(Replaced Sheringham) Not on long enough to earn a rating really, but we'll see a lot of him this season - starting on Tuesday night, as Rufus will be suspended.
(Replaced Harewood) Decent touches and showed desire when he came on; could have had two goals.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Match FactsWest Ham United: Stephen Bywater, Tomas Repka, Rufus Brevett, Christian Dailly, Andy Melville, Nigel Reo-Coker, Hayden Mullins, Sergei Rebrov, Matthew Etherington, Teddy Sheringham, Marlon Harewood.
Booked: Rufus Brevett 18 .
Sent Off: Rufus Brevett 85 .
Leicester City: Walker, Dabizas, Makin, Heath, Williams, Wilcox, Stewert, Nalis, Scowcroft, Dublin, Connolly..
Subs not used: Pressman, Gemmill, Blake..
Booked: Nalis (21).
Sent off: None.
Man of the Match: Nigel Reo-Coker.