Coca Cola Championship
West Ham United 1 Crewe Alexandra 1

Tuesday, 15th March 2005
by Gordon Thrower

A draw – but it felt like a defeat.

Had there been a full squad to pick from, I rather suspect that the embarrassingly poor performance to which the travelling support were “treated” on Saturday would have resulted in widespread changes to the starting line-up for this game. As it was most changes were enforced on the manager, especially in defence where Harry’s favourite phrase containing the words “bare bones” leapt to mind. Thus Anton Ferdinand was rushed back from his recent hamstring problems to partner Elliot Ward who was making his league debut in the centre of defence. This represented our twenty-somethingth different line-up in the back four this season. Gavin Williams returned from a recent knock to replace the absent Lomas in midfield whilst young Edward Sheringham started in place of Zamora leaving us with a line-up of Bywater, Newton, Powell, Ferdinand, ward, Williams, Fletcher, Noble, Etherington, Sheringham, Harewood.

The start was fairly bright. Crewe being one of those sides that tries to play football we were able to see a more open game than we’ve been used to of late at the Boleyn. We saw more passing in the first few minutes than we had in the whole of the previous ninety at Reading. The one thing that appeared to be missing was a cutting edge up front. We got into a number of promising positions only to see the final ball go astray or for the final shot to lack conviction. Whilst we had the lion’s share of the ball at this point Crewe did have the odd break to keep things interesting at the back. One such break saw Bywater react in a very hesitant manner to a ball played beyond the back four and he was fortunate to see the forward’s lob go well over.

Such breaks were the exception rather than the rule and we pressed forward with Harewood causing all sorts of problems. However, Marlon seemed to have some sort of radar system failure and was guilty of the game’s most glaring miss. Having done the difficult bit by latching onto a through ball and taking the ball past the oncoming ‘keeper, Harewood somehow contrived to hit the post. It was obvious that Marlon was unaware of quite how much time he actually had. Had he been more aware he would have realised that he had enough time to sit down, read a paper and listen to all 23 minutes of the Genesis classic “Supper’s Ready” and still had time to roll the ball calmly into the empty net. Indeed, I’d be willing to bet that had Marlon had actually been trying to hit the post on purpose he’d have hit the back of the net more often than not.

Further chances fell to Williams, following some good work from Fletch, and again to Marlon who, following some strong work down the right hand side from home debutant Newton, could only head wide. Shortly before half time we were forced into an early substitution when Etherington went off. This was something of a shame since, for the first time in ages Matty seemed to have the confidence to get at his marker and had been meeting with some success. The injury followed one such run where his cross was blocked by a last ditch challenge from a defender. Matty immediately went down and stayed there having apparently twisted a knee in the fall. He returned after treatment but it was obvious that the return was more of an act of optimism than anything else and Chadwick replaced the injured winger with a couple of minutes left to the interval.

The second half continued much in the same mode as the first had been played. Large amounts of West Ham possession spoilt by weak efforts on goal and punctuated by the odd Crewe break. The main talking point at this point came in the form of a decent shout for a penalty. Harewood burst into the box and seemed to be shoved over from behind. Actually delete the word “seemed” – there was a shove which, somehow escaped the referee’s attention. Maybe Mr Thorpe was unsighted though that didn’t seem to be the case from my vantage point.

We continued to press forward and Williams got himself into a good position only for his shot to turn into a back pass. Harewood continued to cause the Crewe defence problems but his finishing semed to consist of hitting low shots across the face of goal – with nobody getting on the end of them.

With about a quarter of the match remaining Zamora replaced Williams at which point Crewe nearly scored from a rare sortie forward – Bywater doing well to push the ball round for a corner. Up the other end Noble brought a save out of the ‘keeper before, with about 15 minutes left on the clock and the odd nerve beginning to fray, we took the lead.

The goal followed some good work from Newton, whose run in from the right ended with his bursting into the box having played a one-two with Chadwick. Chadwick’s return ball was slightly overhit but, in laying the ball off he got caught by a late challenge which was well spotted by the ref who, quite properly, had waited that split-second commentators are always going on about, to see if any advantage was going to accrue. Sheringham’s free-kick into the top left hand corner of the net was sheer perfection and the relief in the crowd was there for all to see and hear.

The goal was to be Teddy’s last meaningful action of the match as, shortly after, he was replaced by Mullins. To say that this substitution did not meet with universal from the 26,000 plus crowd would be an understatement and Mullins entered the fray to a chorus of boos. Whether these were directed at the manager in criticism of the nature of the tactical change, or at Mullins himself was not particularly clear. Probably a bit of both.

Crewe themselves made a few substitutions aimed at trying to get something out of the game and the ball did end up in the back of the net. The linesman had raised his flag well before the final shot though.

With Crewe trying to press forward more the game became stretched and we had a number of opportunities to put the game beyond all doubt. A couple of these came from quick and accurate throws from Bywater finding Chadwick free on the left. One such break saw Chadwick come inside as the runs of Noble, Zamora and Harewood acted as multiple decoys. When Chadwick finally released the ball to Noble the youngster’s shot found only the keeper when the goal was really at his mercy.

Another of the breaks saw Marlon putting yet another ball into a dangerous position across the face of the goal where, yet again, no-one was advanced enough to put the ball in and Noble wasted another break when bearing down on goal he elected to chip the keeper. The effort lacked the height, direction and pace to cause the ‘keeper any problems. Harewood then shot when Zamora might have been better placed whilst Zamora, presumably in getting his own back, repaid the compliment by shooting wide when the ball to Harewood might have been the better option.

So, in a game in which we could – maybe should – have been two, three or even four up we suddenly found ourselves on level terms. In a last-ditch attack a Ward header fell out to the Crewe right. A long ball to the far post found Jones unmarked to bury a header to level the scores.

At the end of the day this was a match in which we had enough chances to win comfortably. That we didn’t was down to our finishing pure and simple. It didn’t seem to be a lack of confidence that let us down, more a matter of technique and sheer bad decision-making.

Inevitably the late equaliser made the result feel more like a defeat. However, despite the air of disappointment, we ended up the night slightly better off than we had been prior to kick-off. Rotherham’s 1-0 victory over play-off rivals Reading meant that we actually closed the gap slightly. Gillingham’s win over Stoke also helped. We do have that game in hand but, unless we can remember what to do in front of goal the whole thing might be academic by time we get to Stoke.

Looks like I picked the wrong time to give up biting my fingernails!

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Player Ratings

Stephen Bywater
One good save if a trifle hesitant early on. A couple of excellent throws set up late breaks that were wasted by those further forward.

Shaun Newton
Looked a lot better for having had a few more training sessions with his new team-mates. Some good runs going forward but was AWOL at the end when he lost Jones for the equaliser.

Chris Powell
Another solid performance. Benefited from having an improved Etherington in front of him.

Elliott Ward
An accomplished league debut for the youngster. In hindsight, this was an ideal match in which to give him a start since Crewe are more of a footballing side than many in this league so we were spared the usual aerial onslaught. Good to see.

Anton Ferdinand
Not sure that he?EUR(TM)s 100% after injury but he seemed to revel in the role of senior partner alongside rookie Ward.

Carl Fletcher
A solid game in the middle and some good passing as well.

Mark Noble
A hell of a lot of hard work and obvious enthusiasm marred only by a tendency to chose the wrong option when well-placed to score. It?EUR(TM)s a measure of how he has developed this season to realise how much we missed him when he was injured recently.

Matthew Etherington
A bit of a shame this one. For the first time in ages it seemed that Matty had the confidence to take on his defender ?EUR" and he was meeting with some success until he went and twisted his knee.

Gavin Williams
In and out of the match in little spells before being sacrificed in favour of Zamora.

Teddy Sheringham
The goal was superb but he didn?EUR(TM)t contribute as much during the game as he otherwise might have done.

Marlon Harewood
Back to finishing school. He caused the Crewe defence all sorts of problems only to be found wanting in front of goal.


Luke Chadwick
(Replaced Etherington, 44) Failed to provide much in the way of width.

Bobby Zamora
(Replaced Williams, 70) Some nice touches but failed to trouble the ?EUR~keeper.

Hayden Mullins
(Replaced Sheringham, 79) Mr Unpopular, his introduction allowed Newton to push forward but, like Newton, he was missing at the far post when the equaliser was scored.

Jimmy Walker
Did not play.

Nigel Reo-Coker
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Stephen Bywater, Shaun Newton, Chris Powell, Elliott Ward, Anton Ferdinand, Carl Fletcher, Mark Noble, Matthew Etherington, Gavin Williams, Teddy Sheringham, Marlon Harewood.

Goals: Teddy Sheringham 76                  .

Booked: None booked.           .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Crewe Alexandra: Williams, Walker, Lunt, McCready, Tonkin, Sorvel, Bell, Varney, Gary Roberts, Rivers, Murdock.

Subs not used: Wills, Higdon.

Goals: Jones (90).

Booked: Sorvel.

Sent off: None.

Referee: M.Thorpe.

Attendance: 26,593.

Man of the Match: Anton Ferdinand.