West Ham United 3 Gillingham 1
Saturday, 23rd October 2004
by Gordon Thrower
Three goals in a strong first half performance were enough to give us all three points against a spirited Gillingham side whose efforts at times belied their current precarious league position.It was a case of “ever had one of those days” for the opposition, who managed lose their recent acquisition from Cardiff, John Robinson, during the pre-match warm up. It was far from the last injury of a day in which the medical staff were kept busy. The good news on the medical front was that, despite the knock picked up in midweek, Etherington was fit to start with the aid of an injection. Rebrov started in place of Chadwick. Teddy's thigh meant that the mini bus driver who picks him up from the old folks' home had the day off meaning that we started with the following line-up: Bywater, Mullins, Brevett, Repka, Mackay, Reo-Coker, Lomas, Etherington, Rebrov, Harewood, Zamora.
It was a solid, if unspectacular start. An early shout for a penalty when Marlon appeared to be shoved over on the edge of the box was, as usual, ignored by the officials. However, it was the visitors who might have taken an early lead. A free-kick from the right found Cox in space but his unchallenged header came to naught.
The early scare dealt with, we started to play some half decent football. After a couple of early unsuccessful challenges in the air, Zamora won a header against the centre half. The effect of this one challenge was stunning. It was one of those moments that, had it happened in a cartoon, would have been accompanied by the appearance of a lightbulb over Zamora's head as if he'd suddenly worked out what he was doing wrong all this time. From that point onwards Zamora worked his socks off. He won balls in the air, he chased defenders down. More importantly he started to link up well with Harewood and there were signs that a genuine strike partnership might be developing. Harewood played the ball out to the right and Zamora, was only thwarted by a fine save by 'keeper Brown, who had been preferred in the Gillingham goal to ex-hammer Banks. Fine save though it was, it did come at what the commentators like to call “a comfortable height” and a lower shot from Zamora might have caused more trouble.
It was a lesson well-learnt. On 18 minutes Zamora won the ball in the air from a long clearance. The ball fell to Harewood whose clever lobbed pass put Zamora through on goal with only one defender to beat. A quick drop of the shoulder and a step over bought Bobby the space required and the finish into the bottom left hand corner was excellent. In celebration Marlon attempted to re-enact the League Cup final of a few years ago where Tony Adams lifted Steve Morrow into the air breaking his collar bone in the process. Thankfully, not least for Zamora, Marlon stopped short of inflicting the broken bone on his fellow striker!
Harewood wasn't to be outdone. He went close shortly after the first goal after a cross from Etherington was nodded down by Rebrov, and on 25 minutes he doubled the score. Brevett cleverly fed Etherington on the left. Matty fed Zamora who had made a clever diagonal run to the left hand side. Zamora's ball into the box was perfect for Harewood to bury his first time shot in at the near post. It was the sort of goal that rarely wins “Goal Of The Month” type competitions – the winner is always a 35 yard thunderbolt – but it was the sort of goal that ought to, involving as it did some fine crisp passing and a cool finish. Mind you the dodgy hokey-cokey dance in celebration wasn't to my liking – needs more work lads!
We could have gone three up shortly following a typical burst through from Reo-Coker. Robbing Southall in midfield Nigel went on one of his runaway train runs and shot narrowly wide from the right hand side of the box.
Shortly after this the medics started to get in on the act. Agyemang hobbled off having tewaked a hamstring and was replaced by Byfield who is one of those players who always seems to score against us. My worries on the substitution were immediately banished from my mind when we won a corner. Matty's deep cross found its way to Zamora on the far edge of the box. Bobby's shot – and surely it was a shot – fell straight to Mullins who was able to bundle home from close range at the left hand post. Marlon nearly added a fourth when turning well with the ball played into feet he nearly got the ball over the keeper who did well to hold on above his head.
Three nil up and deserving it. However, my concerns about the introduction of Byfield came back to haunt me. We failed to clear a corner and Byfield got between the defenders to loop a clever header back across goal with Bywater stranded to leave the score at half time 3-1.
Nigel Reo-Coker didn't reappear for the second half having picked up a knock to the knee during the first period. Carl Fletcher came on to fill in and a few minutes in nearly added to the goals for tally when his first time shot sailed narrowly wide. Lomas and Rebrov also had efforts saved or blocked and, for the first few minutes of the second half, it appeared that we might run riot. However, we failed to make the early pressure tell and Gillingham started to play their way back into the game.
A burst towards the box was thwarted by a superb tackle from Repka whilst Fletcher also put in a couple of blocks at dangerous moments. Gillingham managed to force a few corners but their finishing let them down – though Spiller could probably count himself a little unlucky to see his shot come off the woodwork when the ball fell to him unmarked in the box.
This let-off seemed to knock the stuffing out of Gillingham and we again started to force a succession of corners. Etherington was then replaced by Cohen, and shortly after Zamora was replaced by Chadwick. There then followed a fine passage of football. A crunching tackle by Fletcher fell to harewood whose turn and shot were sublime. Unfortunately the keeper was able to pull off a fine save to tip the ball over for a corner. Damn him!
Byfiled had continued to make a nuisance of himself and brought a good save out of Bywater before becoming the latest victim of the injury jinx affecting both sides. Given a little too much space by Rufus he tried to get a cross in down the Gillingham right. At this point I followed the ball and didn't quite take in what had happened but, by all accounts, the resulting collision with the advertising hoardings was nasty. Certainly Tomas and Rufus looked concerned. It later transpired that the collision resulted in a cut needing 16 stitches and it was a sad end to the match for the forward who had played well up to that point – as acknowledged by both sets of fans as he disappeared down the tunnel.
This injury resulted in Gillingham playing out the last 10 minutes with ten men, having used all their substitutes. However, any thoughts of capitalising on the numerical superiority went out of the window when Mackay started to struggle. This ended up with the Scots defender going up front for the last few minutes, though I think it fair to say that he was lacking in mobility at this point and the game petered out with those surviving fit players conserving their energies for future battles.
So a 3-1 win which, at one point, looked like it might be a cricket score. That it wasn't was down to a good effort from the opposition who, for a 15 minute spell in the second half did enough to cause no little worry. In the end though the victory was deserved and comfortable and it was pleasing to see Zamora in particular having a good game – hopefully the confidence boost will do him the power of good. Whisper it but the home record (if you ignore the Wigan aberration) is now beginning to look a bit tasty and if we can pick up a few points on the road we are handily placed to start making a real impression on this league. Keep 'em crossed!
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Player RatingsStephen Bywater
Solid and a couple of saves in the rain were probably a lot more difficult than they looked.
Kept it simple ?EUR" won the ball and laid it off. Took his goal well but didn't get off the ground for theirs.
Good in spells but looked a little uncomfortable during Gillingham's best spell ?EUR" the introduction of Cohen helped out.
Another good performance ?EUR" some excellently timed tackles came in handy at times when the opposition looked like they might come back into things.
Strong again though thankfully the game was effectively won by the time injury forced him to play up front.
Best performance for ages. Went in, won the ball and, generally laid it off well.
A good first period though he was obviously struggling towards the end with the knock that saw him stay in the changing rroom for the second half.
Useful in spells without dominating proceedings.
Was a constant worry to Gillingham until injury caught up with him in the second half.
A fine game ?EUR" you could almost see the confidence building up after he won an early header. Left the field to warm applause. He deserved it. Well played sir!
(Replaced Reo-Coker, 46) A good half. Strong in defence. Useful going forward. Unlucky not to score.
(Replaced Chadwick, 77) Bolstered up the midfield at a time when Gillingham were threatening our left hand side.
(Replaced Zamora, 80) Replaced Zamora for the last fifteen but was largely anonymous.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Match FactsWest Ham United: Stephen Bywater, Hayden Mullins, Rufus Brevett, Tomas Repka, Malky Mackay, Steve Lomas, Nigel Reo-Coker, Sergei Rebrov, Matthew Etherington, Bobby Zamora, Marlon Harewood.
Goals: Bobby Zamora 18 Marlon Harewood 25 Hayden Mullins 39 .
Booked: None booked. .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Gillingham: Brown, Nosworthy, Cox, Rose, Southall, Hessenthaler, Spiller, Hope, Crofts, Agyemang, Sidibe.
Subs not used: Banks, Johnson.
Goals: Byfield (45).
Booked: Nosworthy (30).
Sent off: None.
Man of the Match: Bobby Zamora.