Coca Cola Championship
West Ham United 2 Stoke City 0

Tuesday, 19th October 2004
by Gordon Thrower

Two moments of superb finishing capped an improved performance in front of a 29,000 strong crowd at the Boleyn.

The visit of “The Potters” always marks the annual visit to the Boleyn of my good friend Bridget who hales from that part of the world where oatcakes are cosidered to be a delicacy rather than something you use for paving. An early start in the Wakefield was enlivened by a quick game of celebrity supporter trumps – Ray Winstone is normally good enough to beat anything – especially if the best you can muster is Nick Hancock. Despite warnings that it would not be a good idea Bridget decided to grab a bite to eat at the chicken place across the road from the pub. I expect the taste will remain with her until next season's match.

Team-wise there were some much-needed changes following the miserable Saturday we'd endured at QPR. Mackay returned to partner Repka in the centre with Ferdinand dropping to the bench. Brevett replaced Powell on the left. In the middle Etherington replaced Rebrov on the left with Chadwick moving over to his more usual slot on the right. Lomas continued in the centre and, despite the availability after injury of Teddy, Zamora started up front with Marlon.

The first chance came during the first minute when a run from Brevett found Zamora whose shot failed to test de Goey in the Stoke goal. Shortly after this Harewood, who had a fine game throughout, burst down what us people of a certain age like to refer to as “the inside-right channel”. As he entered the box he was clipped and had he gone down the ref would have had no option but to award a penalty. To Marlon's credit he somehow managed to remain on his feet only to be denied a last-ditch but legal tackle.

Harewood had a few more sighters but he appeared to have left the duracells out of his boots and the shots lacked power. Slightly more impressive was Zamora's effort from a long ball played from the left. Bringing the ball down from his chest he turned well only for his shot to lack power. Since shots from the forward line were lacking power, the full backs decided to get in on the act, and both Brevett and Mullins got efforts away that contained a bit more oomph. Brevett's shot from 25 yards or so took a wicked deflection that left De Goey stranded but sailed away for a corner. Mullins attempt broght a good save out of the Stoke 'keeper with the rebound eluding the chasing pack.

Stoke had failed to muster much of a convincing threat up front, their main tactic of lumping the ball in the general direction of Akinbiyi and hoping for the best failing to pay dividends. Akinbiyi, to be fair to him, had little support but his nuisacnec value came more from his repeated attempts to remove Repka's shirt – though an unpunished late challenge on Repka down by the touchline with studs showing was a bit naughty and left Tomas wagging his finger at the linesman for his failure to act.

Just after the half-hour we took the lead – and a fine finish it was as well. Etherington burst through the middle and fed Harewood who had his back to goal. Though he was surrounded in a packed box, Marlon's sublime first touch bought him the space for him to turn and shoot in the one movement, with his shot giving the 'keeper no chance in the bottom corner. Bridget, understandably, passed on the option of jumping up and down in celebration although she was forced to ruefully admit to the quality of the goal.

We then committed our usual sin of sitting back for a few minutes, though Stoke lacked the quality to punish us for it and we easily weathered what was not so much a storm – more of a spell of very light drizzle. The one really dark cloud to develop – if I might be permitted to extend the meteorological metaphor for a moment – came in the form of Etherington's injury just before half time – following treatment he returned to the fray for the closing minutes of the first half but didn't look at all happy.

The second half started much in the same vein as the first had ended with us enjoying the lion's share of possession. However, Matty's knock wasn't getting any better and after only two minutes he was withdrawn in favour of Sheringham. This prompted widespread reorganisation across the middle with Chadwick moving to the left and Harewood dropping back to the right to accommodate Teddy up front.

Akinbiyi continued to irritate and finally picked up a yellow card on 56 minutes. A long ball was played deep into the corner where Repka tried to let the ball run out. There was a flailing of arms and Repka went down. Brevett spent some time remonstrating with the linesman who then spent what seemed like an age discussing the issue with the referee before Akinbiyi was shown the yellow card.

We continued to look comfortable and just before the hour we doubled our lead. Zamora received the ball out on the left. His cross seemed overhit but a slight flick off a Stoke defender appeared to take a bit of pace from the ball and Harewood was able to retrieve the ball on the right side of the box. Marlon drilled the ball across – possibly a shot it must be admitted - to find Teddy whose backheel to score was sheer class.

The pattern of the game continued with us keeping the ball for long periods. One lengthy spell of possession ended abruptly when Chadwick failed to find Brevett when Rufus was free on the left – the number of passes up to that point must have been well into double figures and Rufus was looking well-placed to deliver a dangerous cross. The misplaced pass was to be Chadwick's last contribution to the proceedings and he was replaced by Fletcher with Rebrov replacing Zamora shortly after. This prompted a return to the forward line for Harewood with Rebrov nominally playing on the right but effectively having something of a free role.

Stoke's best chances came from our right hand side. Mullins failed to cut out a long ball aimed in the general direction of Asaba and Bywater, who had been largely unemployed throughout the second half, did well to save from close range. A few minutes later Bywater held on to a cross shot at full stretch from the same source but by and large it was a quiet evening for the 'keeper.

Up the other end a corner was headed across goal by Malky and Teddy just failed to get the ball from the right side of the post. Lomas hit an effort wide from distance and Fletcher brought another save out of De Goey following a move that took in Sheringham, Rebrov and Harewood. The game, which had effectively been dead as soon as the second goal had gone in, was then given the last rites with a succession of keep-ball sessions down by the corner flag.

Overall this was a much-improved performance over that which we'd had to endure at QPR. Admittedly Stoke never once looked like a side that had prompted the lovely Bridget to send me a “we are top of the league” text message several weeks ago. However, these sides still need to be broken down and disposed of and this is something we've been guilty of failing to do all to often over the past two seasons or so. We played a patient game and were rewarded for doing so. There were even some, admittedly brief, spells when we looked as if we might just be capable of taking the opposition apart. The trick now is to start linking those brief spells together and turning possession into domination. It's noticeable that whenever I attend the post match press conferences that opposition managers find the quality that is in our squad daunting. We need to turn that perception into reality. There were glimpses of that starting as the confidence amongst the players grew. Let's hope it continues.

A final word on the crowd. Apparently the 29,000+ (including 602 Stoke fans – or 603 as Bridget pointed out) was some 11,000 more than Juventus got for their Champions League match at home to Bayern Munich. Obviously Pie & Mash beats pasta hands down – though Bridget doesn't recommend the chicken burgers!

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Player Ratings

Stephen Bywater
Long spells of inactivity were punctuated by two good saves towards the end.

Hayden Mullins
Not a bad match but got caught out by the high ball a couple of times late on.

Rufus Brevett
A good strong performance and he might have claimed a goal when his deflected effort went wide.

Tomas Repka
Akinbiyi kept Repka and Mackay busy but they coped well.

Malky Mackay
A welcome return.

Steve Lomas
A solid performance with only the odd wayward pass.

Nigel Reo-Coker
Another excellent performance. Consistency personified.

Luke Chadwick
The occasional run aside he continues to fail to impress as much as he did in his early games for us.

Matthew Etherington
Was beginning to come into the game when his foot injury curtailed his evening.

Bobby Zamora
A few nice touches early on but he faded into the background alarmingly. Whereas Marlon seems to be inspired by Teddy's presence it's almost as if Bobby is overawed by being on the same pitch as the great man.

Marlon Harewood
Whether in midfield or up front he was a constant threat to the Stoke defence. Some of his lay-offs were almost Teddy-esque in their thought and it is nice to see some of Sheringham's influence rubbing off.


Teddy Sheringham
(Replaced Etherington, 49) Class again. The finish for his goal was wonderful.

Carl Fletcher
(Replaced Chadwick, 77) Another welcome return. Slotted in nicely in a left-centre position and played some excellent balls across to the right.

Sergei Rebrov
(Replaced Zamora, 80) Looked like a man on a mission. Took people on, laid off some nice passes.

Jimmy Walker
Did not play.

Anton Ferdinand
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Stephen Bywater, Hayden Mullins, Rufus Brevett, Tomas Repka, Malky Mackay, Steve Lomas, Nigel Reo-Coker, Luke Chadwick, Matthew Etherington, Bobby Zamora, Marlon Harewood.

Goals: Marlon Harewood 31 Teddy Sheringham 59                .

Booked: Steve Lomas 45          .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Stoke City: De Goey, Halls, Duberry, Thomas, Hill, Henry, Clarke, Russell, Hall, Noel-Williams, Akinbiyi.

Subs not used: Simonsen, Neal.

Goals: .

Booked: Akinbiyi (57), Thomas (80).

Sent off: None.

Referee: L.Probert.

Attendance: 29,808.

Man of the Match: Nigel Reo-Coker.