Coca Cola Championship
West Ham United 1 Rotherham United 0

Tuesday, 14th September 2004
by East Stand Martin

I couldn’t quite work out why “Teenage Kicks” by the Undertones was played prior to the start of the game tonight, even though it is a fine recording. At half time all became clear. The lower concourse of the East Stand was full of teenagers posing. Kids for a quid. More like kids on the pull.

Good luck to ‘em though. If only I’d found a woman years ago who shared my love of West Ham. I’m afraid I’ve always been a sucker for the intellectual type that does not have the slightest interest in football. Maybe that’s why I’m so happily divorced.

Familiar pattern

This game eventually proved once again that the exciting nights when we used to see a goalfest and high drama under the floodlights are nothing but a fond memory. Even though Rotherham were propping up the table with a paltry three points, the opening exchanges revealed a familiar game plan by teams visiting the Boleyn Ground: 10 or 11 behind the ball and the hope for a breakaway goal.

In the year we took the drop, we saw the likes of West Brom and Southampton execute this strategy well, leaving us on the wrong end of 1-0 scorelines. It is now part of the Upton Park experience, although as the game wore on, it seems that the fans are now beginning to recognise this and be a little more patient. Part of the problem has been fans getting on the back of players as they have struggled to break down resistance. How this is changing was perhaps revealed by the absence of boos at half time when the score was 0-0. Last year, we would have been up in arms.

The team starting lineup involved all four of the recent additions to the team, meaning that Hayden and Rufus were left out. I have to say that this was the right decision as both have not been performing very well so far this season. Devo and Malky were in central defence and they look pretty intimidating as a pair, while Fletch – who I think is the new John Moncur (“without the Moncs turn” as one of my neighbours said) – set up alongside Reo-Coker.

The opening exchanges saw Nigel go on one of his bursting runs through the centre, which resulted in a free kick on 3 minutes in a central position. Teddy looked to repeat his goal at Sheffield, but the shot just looped over with the Rotherham keeper looking worried.

Teddy is our creative force

Throughout this game Teddy proved once again that he has a fantastic array of flicks and subtle passes which can open up any defence in this division. On 8 minutes, Marlon nearly latched onto one of these.

Chris Powell made some useful early contributions and he looked a lot more solid than Rufus has been of late. In fact, he reminded me a bit of how Rufus looked when he first joined us – calm and collected on the ball and making a number of solid passes.

Devo showed what a fine addition he is at set pieces on 13 minutes, when he got a great head on a corner, forcing a decent save from Pollitt. The corner which followed was met by Malky who just put the ball wide of the upright.

Rotherham were very determined in their defending and their 4-5-1 formation meant that there were always plenty of bodies between the ball and the goal. The system often meant that they had no outlet coming out of defence, meaning that the ball kept coming out to us. Tom was the recipient of such a ball on 20 minutes, but his powerful shot was blocked. Incidentally, Pardew’s response to the Rotherham tactics was to play Tom in an advanced role down the flank, and as Rotherham were so deep, he was often standing in space over the halfway line waiting for the ball.

Matty shows up

On 22 minutes, Matty made his first effective run down the left of the night. He got in a good cross and the clearance came out to the waiting Tom who hit a first time shot. Unfortunately this was blocked on the six yard line by a defender with the keeper beaten.

Another Matty run followed four minutes later and this time the cross found Chadders who hit a half shot, half flick which went wide of the goal.

Powell looked very consummate on the ball and on 28 minutes he made a good run forward and then a fine through ball to Reo-Coker who ran towards goal and unleashed a stinging shot which the keeper spilled down low. No-one was on hand to follow-up.

On the half hour, Matty featured again with a long ball which inevitably found the head of Teddy. Marlon almost picked the ball up, but it was kicked off his foot for a corner.

Despite all of this pressure and possession, the Rotherham game plan very nearly paid off on 38 minutes. In their first real assault on the West Ham goal, the ball was fired into the far post where ex-Gooner Paolo Vernazza slid in. He got his foot on the ball, but put it into the side netting when he probably should have punished us.

Marlon Di Canio

There were no changes on either side at half time, and the first action on 50 minutes saw Marlon engage in some sublime trickery reminiscent of Di Canio. After foxing the defender down the right flank, he put over a dangerous low cross into the edge of the six yard box. Teddy was waiting, but elected to push the ball away from goal in an attempt to set up an advancing player. No-one was there to slot home a sure goal.

Fletch then somehow brought the ball down in the box and rolled it over his shoulder two minutes later to find himself with a rare clear shot on goal. Unfortunately he shot poorly wide.

On 59 minutes, Marlon did another Di Canio, beating his man right on the dead ball line. This time the cross was not as good, but the clearance came out to the advancing Chris Powell who blasted the ball over the bar.

The left foot delivers again

Like at Sheffield, the game turned on a free kick. On 68 minutes, Marlon was bundled over in a central position. Like last Saturday a left foot strike followed, but this time not by Teddy. Matty made a superb curling strike which beat Pollitt hands down to his right.

Sergei came on for Chadders on 69, but his first touch a minute later was a diabolical pass 20 yards away from the nearest West Ham player. There was a noisy reception for the Ukrainian as we are all willing him to do well. The problem is that it is simply not happening at the moment, although you have to feel that he is never going to be comfortable playing in the right side of midfield. It’s that old problem of where to stick a striker in a 4-4-2 system, when you already have two strikers on the pitch.

Grinding it out

The rest of the half became pretty much all about defending the lead. Rotherham tried to up their game and rescue something, but made little impact. Richie Barker was stretchered off following a late tackle by Devo on 79 minutes.

Four minutes later Marlon had a chance to put the game beyond doubt after he was supplied once again by another Teddy flick. Unfortunately he was forced wide and his shot was saved relatively comfortably low down by Pollitt. There was one last move down the right by Rotherham which led to a long shot high and wide and then Marlon had another great chance during the 5 minutes of added time. He made a powerful run and fired in a great shot which was saved one-handed by the keeper. Maybe a cross to Teddy would have been more profitable.

The only other event of note was the injury time substitution of Matty for Mullins. Hayden did little to raise any question marks about whether he should have started the game instead one of the new boys. His first involvement led to a free kick in a dangerous position on the right hand side of the box which was thankfully cleared by Tom; and then a terrible pass was fortunate not to be punished because the ref blew up for full time.

You do wonder whether 4-3-3 or 4-3-1-2 might just work against teams employing Rotherham’s negative tactics, although Pardew’s ambition after taking the lead was clearly to defend it rather than consolidate it. This is always his instinct. Pardew is more Mourinho than Wenger, and we are going to see a lot of these ground out one goal margin victories. Three 1-0 victories at home already this season. You could say that it worked for Greece in the Euro Championships, so why can’t it work for West Ham? What’s more important to you – winning and securing promotion or watching attractive football?

(Following player ratings by Gordon Thrower)

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Player Ratings

Stephen Bywater
In truth he was given very little to do by Rotherham. Came for a few crosses and looked a lot more confident than he had on Saturday.

Tomas Repka
Again the lack of ambition showed by our opponents meant that defensively Tomas had a quiet night. This enabled him to get forward well and on no fewer than two occasions had shots at goal. One day one of these will go in and I can't wait to see what the goal celebration looks like.

Chris Powell
In for the somewhat ring-rusty Brevett, the on-loan former England had a tidy debut ?EUR" strong in defence and, like Repka he got forward well in support of the midfield.

Malky Mackay
Okay - so it was only Rotherham and it was hardly the sternest of tests but there were signs that his partnership with Davenport could be a major factor in how things develop over the next three months.

Calum Davenport
A few minutes into the second half he tried to let the ball run out and an opponent got the better of him. A mistake. I mention this only to prove the lad is actually human because up to that point he'd won absolutely everything and I was thinking of contacting the missing persons bureau on the planet Krypton to see if they were missing a centre back. If anyone wins a lottery jackpot this week and finds themselves with a few spare million please buy this player for the club and save him from wasting his life up Seven Sisters way.

Carl Fletcher
Quietly impressive. He goes in, wins the ball and lays it off. Only a few feet away from a goal you'd be seeing again and again on the box had it gone in.

Nigel Reo-Coker
A useful game if not quite as dominating as he can be.

Luke Chadwick
Some nice combinations early on, particularly with Sheringham but overall he seems to have lost the initial sparkle he had during his first few matches.

Matthew Etherington
In the first half he had a few runs and there were a few signs of the Matty of last season. However he was AWOL for most of the second half with the exception of the goal which he took with a marvellous strike.

Teddy Sheringham
Another clever match from Teddy and, as his team-mates begin to get on the same wavelength, more of the intelligent layoffs are beginning to pay off.

Marlon Harewood
Unlucky not to have scored, especially when denied by a fine save from the 'keeper. Two moments of breathtaking skill had people on their feet.


Sergei Rebrov
(Replaced Chadwick, 70) Replaced Chadwick on the right for the closing stages and played a few decent passes.

Hayden Mullins
(Replaced Etherington, 89) Came on for the last few minutes of stoppage time to bolster the midfield.

Jimmy Walker
Did not play.

Rufus Brevett
Did not play.

Adam Nowland
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Stephen Bywater, Tomas Repka, Chris Powell, Malky Mackay, Calum Davenport, Carl Fletcher, Nigel Reo-Coker, Luke Chadwick, Matthew Etherington, Teddy Sheringham, Marlon Harewood.

Goals: Matthew Etherington 69                  .

Booked: None booked.           .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Rotherham United: Pollitt, Stockdale, Gilchrist, Swailes, Minto, Sedgwick, Shaw, Vernazza, Garner, Mullin, Barker.

Subs not used: Montgomery, Scott.

Goals: .

Booked: Garner (73).

Sent off: None.

Referee: M.Jones.

Attendance: 26,233.

Man of the Match: Calum Davenport.