Coca Cola Championship
West Ham United 2 Leicester City 2

Friday, 18th March 2005
by East Stand Martin

I got approached by this old crone on the road to Cheltenham racecourse. “Some lucky heather, my dearie?” I ignored her. I can tell you that I will never give the bum’s rush to a vendor of floral good fortune again given what’s happened over the past 48 hours.

At the races on Thursday afternoon, it looked a dead cert for a classic each way bet - 30-1 and running in the sacred claret and blue. OK, so maybe it should have been called Eastender rather than Westender, but believe you me, it was just like watching West Ham. Never has a nag sported such appropriate colours. Maybe you backed it yourself. It led all the way until the last fence. I would have happily taken third but it got pipped at the post and ended up fourth.

Found wanting at the last gasp and it left me going through the same routine as I have after recent football matches. Were we unlucky, robbed or never really good enough?

Fancy a job?

I did stumble out of the back of the grandstand in stout-induced psychosis to see Peter Reid in his racing garb. It took extreme levels of willpower to stop myself falling to my knees and begging him to come and take over at Upton Park. “Peter, for f*ck’s sake, we need your scouse common sense to save us!” Yes, like all of you, I’m teetering on chasm of despair and falling prey to the most irrational thoughts.

Returning eastwards after a riotous St Patrick’s evening, the Queen’s Fish Bar had to be taken in pre-match to try and counter a lingering day long hangover. The banter in the extremely depleted East Stand was all about rumours and yet more rumours. Was it really true that Strachan was being lined up to come in? Someone else had heard “via a mate who knows a bloke who owns a kebab shop in Green Street” that there were people about looking to buy the club off Brown. All probably total bollocks, but I can tell you it cheered me up.

I have to say that I liked the look of the team, with Pardew sticking with the central defensive pairing of Anton and Elliot Ward. Newton and Powell were there again as well, but the midfield had Chadders down the left, Noble down the right and Reo-Coker and Fletch in the middle. Teddy and Marlon started up front with the promise of more firepower up front on the bench in the shape of Zamora and Sergei.

Noble style

The first West Ham player to show some style was Noble, who seems to be growing in stature with every game. On 7 minutes he made a great run and put a nice ball through to Teddy, but the move broke down.

Three minutes after Newton had to be sharp to clear a ball from his own six yard line on 8 minutes, Fletch found himself free, but like quite a few promising moves tonight, the final ball was lacking, going behind Marlon. A shot was managed on goal, but it was weak.

Leicester were looking to break quickly and the returning Connors – who should never have been sold by West Ham – was looking his familiar lively and industrious self. On 12 minutes, Ward was beaten to a header at the far post, but fortunately the opportunity was wasted with a wild shot over Bywater’s bar.

At the midpoint of the half, Marlon set off on a determined run, but not for the first time tonight, he chose the wrong option, electing to shoot when there we had an overlap down the left.

Explain that rule to me again

The very next move saw Connors convert a penalty kick in emphatic style as Bywater was caught in no man’s land after a ball was sent forward. He started to come to try and cut out the pass, but then went backwards, taking out Stephen Hughes with his feet as he went by him. Like the decision in the Derby game, the ref bottled it and decided it was safer to award a penalty and a yellow card. If that was not the denial of a clear goalscoring opportunity and a red card, then perhaps someone would explain the rule to me.

Not that I’m complaining, for if we had gone to ten men at that point, then we really would have been in deep doodoo. This is what I mean about trying to decide about whether we’re having bad luck or not good enough. If we’re honest with ourselves we were lucky that Bywater was still on the pitch and we had the chance to try and recover.

Classic Teddy

As it turned out, it ended up with us only being behind for 5 minutes, after Marlon went on a powerful run down the right and put over an excellent cross to pick out Teddy at the far post. He rarely misses chances like that.

Three minutes later, Marlon took the ball down perfectly on the edge of the box and he managed to turn and shot almost in one movement. That seemed to catch Walker on the hop, but he held the ball at the second time of asking.

We were ramping up the pressure and Ward had been clearly told to push up whenever possible particularly at set pieces. He managed to head down a free kick in the box on 32 minutes, and it took a real scramble for Leicester to clear their lines.

Chadders then decided to join the party on 35 minutes with a 30 yard run forward. He made a good pass to Reo-Coker, but his final ball was poor. Chadders had another one of his typical games tonight, drifting in and out of the game and looking prone to getting shrugged off the ball in 50/50 situations.

Goal of the season

I was thinking about that lucky heather again as out of nowhere, Leicester scored a second. A long ball came forward from Walker and Ward was just beaten to a header. The ball was volleyed first time by Gillespie, who has now got my vote for the goal of the season so far at Upton Park. He couldn’t have hit it better and it just bounced near the foot of the post and in. Bywater had no chance.

Noble had one last chance in the first half as a Fletch pass found him. He got a shot away in the box, but this lacked power, allowing Walker to save fairly comfortably.

We hardly deserved to be losing at half time and the support of the home crowd had been superb throughout, even when we had conceded the goals. It had an air of nights under the floodlights in the good old days, although abuse aimed at the Chairman did feature throughout.

Blimey, he’s going for goals

Pardew made the right decision at half time, deciding to make a change with the introduction of Sergei for Chadders. This was a statement of intent, and has to be one of the most adventurous moves our risk-averse manager has made this season. It had the hallmark of a man who felt that he had little to lose.
Sergei on and off

Sergei made an immediate impact with a lovely pinpoint crossfield pass to pick out Shaun Newton. But unbelievably – or believably if you buy my lucky heather theory – Sergei pulled up with what looked like a calf injury. He signalled almost immediately to the touchline that he should come off and he was replaced by Z-man.

Nigel Reo-Coker’s final ball was poor again on 58 minutes and he wasted a very promising run. A minute later, we were expecting to see the back of the net ripple, after Noble won a free kick down the left. He sent over a good cross which got nodded down into the zone where Teddy rarely misses. He snatched at it and blasted wildly over.

All was forgiven just after the hour, when Teddy showed real quality yet again. He won a header and then got the ball back to his feet. He made a little jink and then got his shot away which looked like it took a deflection into the net.

Joe is back

After a Leicester break which resulted in a comedy kick at fresh air, Teddy very nearly set up Noble with a beautiful little layoff on 67 minutes. It may be wishful thinking, but Noble reminds me a lot of Joe Cole and that move really deserved a goal, but he just fired wide of the post with a curling effort.

Z-man had been working hard since his introduction, even though he was the fourth choice striker. His touch – absent for the last couple of games – seemed to have returned and he used his chest brilliantly well to send Marlon on his way on 71 minutes. He managed to get exactly the right cross across the box and the ball ended up partially cleared to the feet of the advancing Fletch who somehow shaved the post with his shot.

Memories of Joe Cole returned again on 75 minutes as Noble employed great skill to completely outfox a defender with a turn. Terrific stuff and really encouraging that we have found some new talent who wants to give his all for the club. I said this when I saw Johnson for the first time, this boy will play for England.

Marlon proves he is no Brazilian

Zamora was still running around like a man possessed, and he managed to retrieve a ball which the Leicester defenders though would go out. He got exactly the right pass over, and there was Noble waiting, ready to become the hero of the moment. He hit a reasonably decent shot – although you felt that it should have found the corner – and it was only kept out by the hand of Dabizas. The ref saw that awarded a penalty and did not hesitate to brandish a red card and dispatch the Greek defender to the dressing room.

There seemed to be a moment of indecision as to who should take the spot kick. Noble looked keen to take it and most of us were expecting Teddy to stand up and complete a hat trick. However, Marlon got ready and adopted a stance – a sort of two step shuffle - which suggested an attempt to fool Walker. Instead of achieving that, he allowed the keeper to make an easy save to his left. It reminded me of his penalty in the shoot out at Sheffield. We needed less of an attempt at Copacabana beach football, more a Julian Dicks rocket.

This miss incensed the crowd and Marlon did get a lot of stick as a result. He has looked below par of late and is in dire need of a goal. His finishing looks totally bereft of confidence. I still like him, myself, and prefer him every time to Z-man, so everybody can now tell me that I’m mistaken about that.

Time runs out

It was a great chance to get what would have been a deserved win, but you felt that it was not to be. We had three more good chances to win the game in the last 7 minutes or some of normal and added time. Fletch seemed to do everything right with a little cushioned lay off but Z-man was beaten to it by a defender and the ball was put behind. Then Noble found another fantastic pass to supply Teddy and he slotted a dangerous pass across the box which Marlon met with a back heel. If I’d bought that lucky heather, that would have gone in rather than getting blocked. Marlon had one last chance in time added on following another Teddy lay off, but his fragile confidence saw a complete hash of a shot.

I’ll come back to my Cheltenham question. Were we unlucky, robbed or not good enough? We did actually play quite well, but we could not overhaul and outfit that was threatened with relegation. The harsh reality is that we have now only got 2 points out of 15. Perhaps we should have got at least 8 with a draw at Leeds and a win against Leicester and Crewe. Things would look very different now, but we can’t operate on ifs and buts, we are in the business of success. Pardew may be ruing his bad luck if does have his employment terminated now, but we have made our task very difficult with some pretty diabolical football.

No Mullins? It’s a disgrace, I tell you

The one thing that really disappointed me was that I had bet one of my friends in the East Stand that Mullins would have come on for Teddy if the penalty had been scored. Well, the thought amused me, if nobody else.

We now have a beak of two weeks, where we can either regroup under Pardew for an attempt a final onslaught on the playoffs or bring in someone else to try and do the job. If a change in management is gonna happen it has to happen now. Pardew himself says that he has “no doubt” that he will stay in charge. He must know something we don’t or he’s putting a brave face on it. I wouldn’t bet on it, but I reckon that he will be there when we all turn up at Wigan, who will be looking to pay us back in the same coin we gave them last year when we destroyed their playoff ambitions.

(Player ratings by Graeme Howlett)

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Player Ratings

Stephen Bywater
Whatever his manager thinks Steve was desperately lucky to remain on the pitch after the lazy challenge which led to Leicester's penalty. His confidence was hardly helped by the ridiculous chants of 'there's only one Jimmy Walker' immediately thereafter.

Shaun Newton
Despite not looking fully settled in (as one would expect after just two games) Newts gave an encouraging performance at right-back, and supported well in attack.

Chris Powell
Solid for much of the game. His 'Bambiesque' skip when running with the ball offered a little light relief.

Elliott Ward
Suffered an early wake-up call when he and Anton were left stranded for Leicester's first goal, but recovered well to give an accomplished performace. Although far from the finished article it's good to see home-grown youngsters like Elliott given a run out. After all the problems with injuries one can only hope that he can now become the kind of player who was being excitedly spoken of a year or two back.

Anton Ferdinand
A decent game for the rapidly improving Anton, who appeared to relish his battle with the ever-tricky Dion Dublin. Has a good chance to score the winner late on but he planted a free header into row Z of the BML.

Carl Fletcher
I have to hold my hands up and say I don't recall seeing an awful lot of Fletch last night. But that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Mark Noble
What a breath of fresh air this lad is during these troubled times. Full of energy and determination - as you would perhaps expect from a fresh-faced newcomer to the first team - but hugely encouraging nonetheless. And he's clearly better than Roy Keane ...

Nigel Reo-Coker
A better effort than in recent weeks but still let the game pass him by on occasions. Whatever is the problem with Nige needs to be sorted out quickly. A fully-functional Reo-Coker could prove an invaluable asset in the closing weeks of the season.

Luke Chadwick
One of those off-days for 'Chaddie' (what the?) who was replaced at half-time by Sergei Rebrov. There was no word on the injury from Alan Pardew post-match.

Teddy Sheringham
Did his job, scoring twice - although he really should have had three, but instead delegated the penalty to Marlon Harewood. The only downside was that his first touch let him down at times.

Marlon Harewood
Despite putting in a good performance all Marlon will be remembered for in this game is missing the penalty that would have won the game. It was shades of Freddie Kanoute v Arsenal all over again as his weak shot was easily saved by Ian Walker.


Sergei Rebrov
(Replaced Chadwick, 45) Replaced one crock and was crocked himself less than five minutes aftewr entering the fray. Alan Pardew was fairly scathing of his backroom staff who Pardew had promised would eradicate such silly injuries.

Bobby Zamora
(Replaced Rebrov, 51) Put in a fair amount of effort, and good to see him getting a fair bit of support from the crowd.

Jimmy Walker
Did not play.

Rufus Brevett
Did not play.

Hayden Mullins
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Stephen Bywater, Shaun Newton, Chris Powell, Elliott Ward, Anton Ferdinand, Carl Fletcher, Mark Noble, Nigel Reo-Coker, Luke Chadwick, Teddy Sheringham, Marlon Harewood.

Goals: Teddy Sheringham 28 Teddy Sheringham 62                .

Booked: Stephen Bywater 24          .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Leicester City: Walker, Kenton, Hughes, Dabizas, Tiatto, Gillespie, McCarthy, Gudjonsson, Maybury, Dublin, Connolly.

Subs not used: Hirschfeld, Moore.

Goals: Connolly (pen 25), Gillespie (44).

Booked: Maybury.

Sent off: None.

Referee: A.Marriner.

Attendance: 22,031.

Man of the Match: Mark Noble.