Sheffield United 1 West Ham United 1
Sunday, 13th February 2005
by East Stand Martin
You know, something quite spectacular happened up in Sheffield yesterday. Needless to say, it wasn’t the football, but a terrific Sunday roast for £4.50 in a pub called The Abbey. As I said to a couple of Blades of my acquaintance, if it wasn’t for the backward lifestyle and the appalling fashions, I’d almost move up north to get value for money grub like that.This was the second trip this season up to the frozen north and was about as welcome as a turd in a hotel swimming pool. There was a good contingent of travelling Irons, but I could tell from the look on everybody’s faces that no-one really wanted to be there. In fact, we looked like a bunch of rookie soldiers on our first tour of duty in Iraq. By the end of the evening’s ‘entertainment’, I was really beginning to doubt our collective sanity.
Did you do the lottery this week?
You know what it was that dragged us up far away from our non-wife beating southern homes when the match was live on telly? A vain hope that we would finally be present at a match that might give us something to cheer about. Incidentally, if there’s anyone reading this that didn’t go up there for that reason, I can recommend a good therapist. You need help, and quick.
It’s almost like those people that religiously fill in their lottery slips each week with the same numbers. A fear that if you don’t do it, you might miss out and live to regret it. We’re not asking for a multi-million pound pay out, though, are we? Just a victory in the Cup so that we can go visit a Premiership ground in London for the second time this season. So what if the likely outcome was almost certain humiliation at the hands of a load of diving Frenchmen. We just wanted a bit of a release from the humdrum existence of a fan that supports a mediocre Championship side.
Do they get it? Apparently not
Maybe the players didn’t quite get that this was what we wanted. Maybe the manager didn’t want to get his own back on an adversary that he and half the adult population of this country considers to be a loud mouthed tw*t. These were the only conclusions that could be made from a first half performance by West Ham that must mark the nadir of this increasingly depressing season.
True, the team looked a bit depleted, with limited options on the bench, but that was a starting lineup which should have been up for it. True again, matters were not helped early on with Chadders taking a slow stroll around the touchline grasping his hamstring like he had been shot. But let’s face it, we conducted ourselves in that first half like we didn’t really give a toss about the outcome.
We could have been three or four nil down at the end of the first 45 minutes. Andy Liddell’s free kick on 7 minutes (did Fletch have to make such a stupid challenge when there was cover?) shouldn’t have been the only score from Sheffield as Tonge and Gray spurned some very good chances. One of these was a truly horrible backpass header on 20 minutes by Malky that should have been punished.
We were being outplayed and outpassed and the pace with which they played – especially on the break - simply made us look pedestrian. It took 33 minutes before we had a half chance when Mark Noble blasted over from a promising position outside the box.
Most of the time the trouble was coming down the flanks, with Liddell looking a particular threat. It was almost like they were rubbing our noses in the fact that we didn’t have a wide player on the park after Chadders had hobbled off with just a quarter of an hour gone.
Teddy had the best chance to square up the game on 39 minutes when he managed to retrieve a ball in the box and waltz round the advancing salad-dodging Kenny (just how much sh*t did he take about his weight in this match? It was the only thing that kept many of us going). It seemed like he had an eternity, but our soon to be 39 year old striker took the option of a shot when a deadly pass across the six yard box to the oncoming Reo Coker surely would have resulted in a goal.
The second half just had to be better and to give credit to the travelling Hammers, everyone did their level best to rally the team after a miserable rain-sodden interval. The noise was loud, but it revealed that we are all in denial about our manager. It’s actually no good singing “We are West Ham’s claret and blue army”, as if he’s not there. He is there, standing as large as life on the touchline. Look, there, the silver haired geezer with his arms folded.
Marlon was trying to raise the tempo and on 50 minutes his cross nearly let Teddy in. Nigel was trying to surge forward a bit as well, but we were relying on Tom to give us width but when he found space, no-one seemed to be able to get a pass to him.
The only likely source of a West Ham goal looked like it would be from a set piece. Teddy hit a wicked free kick from way outside the area which went just over fat Kenny’s bar, but every time we made a chance it was matched by Sheffield. Bywater had to come out quickly to foil Gray with his legs on 55 minutes.
The skipper gets red
We got the break which we hardly deserved on 62 minutes when Marlon got chopped from behind by Blades skipper Chris Morgan. Teddy expertly sent chubby Kenny the wrong way from the resultant penalty and we all had high hopes that we would prevail against the 10-man opposition.
The rest of this match, including extra time, proved that we were wrong about that. We had the best part of an hour to take advantage of that numerical superiority but simply failed to do so. We created only probably two real opportunities during ordinary and added time: elephant man Kenny made a good save from Marlon not long after the penalty and Hayden Mullins made a right hash of a free header in the box with 5 minutes left in the second half of extra time.
For most of the time, although Sheffield created few chances, they had a lot of possession, and it was difficult to believe that they were the side with ten men rather than us. They ended ordinary time stronger and maintained their control right up until the point that the ref blew up for the lottery which is the penalty shoot out.
It hardly seemed fair, this shoot-out as the gargantuan Kenny is about twice the size of the svelte-looking Bywater. Mourinho often talks about parking a bus in front of the goal, but here was the human bus.
Spot kicking masterclass
The usual scene played itself out. You convince yourself that the choice of the end where the travelling support was waiting was a good omen. Bywater looked relaxed. The team was doing the arms linked show of solidarity in the centre circle. Then reality bit as Teddy failed to repeat his earlier spot kick following the cool dispatch of the first Sheffield penalty by the excellent Gray.
What followed next had a degree of farce. A masterclass in penalty-taking it was not. Tonge made a right mess of his kick, but we failed to gain any advantage as Marlon stepped up and hit an identical penalty to Teddy which was saved in exactly the same fashion. Blow me down if Jagielka cocked it up as well and a calm looking youngster in the shape of Mark Noble then decided that it might be a good idea to try hitting a ball in the opposite corner to that chosen by Teddy and Marlon. 1-1 and maybe we had a chance, but after Harley slotted home and Fletch had made a complete ar*e of himself by blasting it several feet over, it just had to be Liddell who beat Bywater to his left.
Jubilation amongst the depleted Sheffield crowd and we were left standing there all rather numb in an air of self-resignation.
We didn’t deserve to win that game and you have to give credit to Sheffield for playing as well as they did with 10 men. This is what West Ham is about at the moment, we cannot even take advantage of a situation which has been set up for us.
We’d have been OK with a bit of width
The inevitable comment from Pardew post match was about the loss of width following the injury to Chadders and let’s get back to focussing on the league and getting some wins under our belt to challenge for promotion. Sure, it’s the right thing to say and no doubt many of us were driving back in our cars rationalising it all – “We do not need the distraction of a cup run.” We are kidding ourselves as there is nothing I can see in the spirit, motivation or guile of our team which suggests that we are on anything but a downward curve.
Past performance does not necessarily indicate future performance, but ask yourself these questions: When was the last time you saw a convincing West Ham performance (bear in mind that not many saw the Ipswich away game)? When was the last time you saw our team up for a fight? When was the last time you saw free-flowing creative football? Think about it and then tell me that Pardew is still the man for the job. Think about it mind and then maybe keep it to yourself, because we can’t be critical, can we, when there’s still half a chance we might yet make it out of this awful sewer of despair.
(Player ratings by Gordon Thrower)
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Player RatingsStephen Bywater
Some good saves kept us in the match.
Fairly solid. If he could cross a ball he?EUR(TM)d be dangerous going forward.
Recovered from a shaky start. The second half clearance from a dangerous cross was excellent.
I thought the youngster had a fine game ?EUR" especially when you consider his central defensive partner wasn?EUR(TM)t having the best of days.
Poor ?EUR" especially in the first half when his headers put us under a lot of pressure.
Anonymous early on as the midfield got overrun. Got a few tackles in as the game wore on, though the ridiculous free-kick decision against him wasn?EUR(TM)t one of them.
Like his fellow midfielders he wilted under the early onslaught but he kept plugging away and became probably our most effective midfielder.
Not really with it at all today. Not helped by having to switch position early on when Chadwick picked up his knock but since his illness he seems to have lost his early season form.
Injured before he could get into the game.
Failed to trouble the home defence much and ought to have done much better in the first half when the goal was at his mercy.
Not one of his better games, though he did force the penalty.
(Replaced Chadwick, 16) Came on for Chadwick and did little of note until missing a gold-plated chance at the end of extra time.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Match FactsWest Ham United: Stephen Bywater, Tomas Repka, Chris Powell, Anton Ferdinand, Malky Mackay, Carl Fletcher, Mark Noble, Nigel Reo-Coker, Luke Chadwick, Teddy Sheringham, Marlon Harewood.
Goals: Teddy Sheringham 63 .
Booked: Tomas Repka 40 Malky Mackay 86 .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Sheffield United: Kenny, Bromby, Morgan, Cullip, Harley, Tonge, Montgomery, Jagielka, Liddell, Shaw, Gray.
Subs not used: Thirlwell, Forte, Quinn, Cadamarteri.
Goals: Liddell (8).
Booked: Cullip (27), Morgan (53).
Sent off: None.
Man of the Match: tbc.