Mullins made it easy

  • by Staff Writer
  • Tuesday, 29th November 2022

He was the youngest captain to lead West Ham in an FA Cup Final, yet Nigel Reo-Coker has never enjoyed a happy relationship with United fans.

Back in 2006, when West Ham faced Liverpool in their last FA Cup Final appearance Reo-Coker proudly led the team out at Cardiff.

That was before he fell out with the club's fanbase, something sparked by an ill-advised 'cupping of the ear' after scoring against Manchester United shortly after the man who led the team to that Final, Alan Pardew, has been sacked by the club's then-new Icelandic owners.

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The dynamic duo in action for West Ham against future Hammer Luis Boa Morte

Reo-Coker's rise through the ranks saw the player slated as a potential England midfielder, yet he failed to fulfil those predictions as his career laboured following a 2007 move to Aston Villa. And one reason who that might have been was to the absence of a certain midfield team mate alongside him.

Unlike Reo-Coker, Hayden Mullins - who was Pardew's first signing for West Ham in 2003 - missed out on the 2006 Cup Final due to a suspension earned in the run-up to the Cardiff showpiece following a dismissal against Liverpool.

And speaking in an interview with Spin Genie this week Reo-Coker, now 38, revealed just how important the former Crystal Palace player was during his development at West Ham. Asked who he felt was the best player he featured alongside during his 16-year professional career, there was no doubt in his mind.

"I've played with so many top players, top players for different reasons," said Reo-Coker. "For example, you'd probably say that N’Golo Kante is a top player because of his defensive capability and his ability to get around the pitch - you're not going to say he's a top player for being a goal scorer. So, for me, I played with so many tremendous players.

"But partnership-wise I'd have to say Hayden Mullins was one of the top players that I played with because we worked well with each other. He loved the sitting role and I had more freedom to get forward and do what I did. There have been a few of them throughout my career. I really appreciate the beauty of football and some individual players because of what they do."

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The moment that cost Mullins an FA Cup Final appearance: sent off against Liverpool as Luis Garcia feigns injury

Mullins outlived his partner at West Ham by two seasons, remaining at Upton Park until 2009 when, after six years at the club and with 179 appearances under his belt, he made a move to Portsmouth before going on to represent Birmingham, Reading (on loan) and Notts County before retiring in 2015 having made more than 600 first class appearances.

After hanging up his boots the Reading-born midfielder moved into coaching before taking up the role of Under 23s manager at Watford. Two spells as first team caretaker manager in 2019 and 2020 followed before he landed the role of head coach at Colchester.

Unfortunately it proved to be a short-lived reign for Mullins at the Colchester Community Stadium as he lasted just seven months before a string of poor results led to his dismissal - his last position as head coach for now.

As for his former midfield partner, Reo-Coker - whose career led him to North America where he represented the likes Montreal Impact, Chivas and Vancouver Whitecaps and Norway (IK Start) before returning for the briefest of stints at MK Dons - is far more likely to pop up on television these days as a pundit rather than earning his crust on the training ground.

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