Sunday, 4th March 2012
This had all the potential to become one of those away visits that you wake up screaming about in the middle of the night in a cold sweat after the over-consumption of fermented curd. All the elements were there. The drive to Wales from the parents’ stately home (conveniently located about halfway between Gnome Towers & Cardiff) was undertaken in driving rain of the sort that makes visibility a complete sod. The journey made more interesting by the breed of BMW driver who seems to think that tailgating at silly speeds without lights is just the thing for a Sunday morning. The one pulled over by Wiltshire police was presumably being told to use a length of hosepipe if he really HAD to use his car to commit suicide in.
Thankfully there were few queues at immigration & customs, the procedure being that, like a dodgy provincial nightclub (“Taffy’s”?), for six quid they’ll let anyone in, throwing in a trip across the splendid bridge at the same time. This just left the ludicrous ticketing arrangements to sort out. Having arrived a precautionary hour before the advertised time, one faced the prospect of hanging around a motorway service area for an hour whilst the authorities got their act together, instead of sitting in some sort of hostelry where the food was hot and actually edible. Thankfully, using a burst of common sense not normally associated with Police Forces when dealing with football supporters, the powers that be elected to start dishing out the tickets early allowing people to go about their law-abiding business.
Team news was that, due to an unspecified illness, there was no sign of Faubert with Lansbury stepping in after his deliberate, and in no way mishit honest guv goal for England U21 in midweek. Nolan was back from suspension but Reid was still suffering the after effects of his bash on the bonce for New Zealand, leaving us with the following line up: Green, O’Brien, McCartney, Tomkins, Nolan, Noble, Collison, Lansbury, Vaz Te, Maynard.
The opening exchanges were fairly even. The first event of note came within the first five minutes as Miller crossed from the Cardiff right. Whether it was a matter of a loss of bearings, a lack of a shout from the defence or (most likely) a combination of the two wasn't clear but Green's palmed clearance was untidy and unnecessary. Tellingly it was Miller who made the cross with nobody in the box like, for example, Miller, to get on the end of it. Nothing came of the corner. Cowie then put an effort into the crowd which was no mean feat given that he was on the penalty spot. Miller's effort on 12 minutes was a bit closer, his 25 yarder clearing the post by a couple of yards.
We were equally as profligate. Vaz Te & O'Brien combined on the right and Collison met JOB's cross only to get right under it. The away support was in good voice as the presence of a somewhat rotund young lady prompted comparisons to “Nessa” and Charlotte Church. Comparisons, it has to be said, that were not entirely complimentary to the Gavin & Stacey character or the chanteuse. The home support's response was rather muted, not helped by the surprisingly large number of empty seats about the place. No doubt they made the usual complaints about Wembley allocations the previous week. Maybe they were just confused by the bright orangey thing that was up in the sky which had made an appearance, though sadly at the wrong angle to be of much use to us who were freezing our bits off in the shade.
As the game wore on we started to appear the more settled of the two sides and more composure in front of goal might have seen us take the lead earlier. A good sequence of passes saw Lansbury feed Vaz Te's clever run across the pitch but, although things were nicely open, the winger leant back in the act of shooting, putting the ball high and wide.
Maynard was next to miss, Lansbury's deep cross was nodded back by Collison with Maynard in space but, like everyone else on the pitch, he got underneath it. Which was a shame as it was a nice build-up. It was a tad worrying that we had so much possession without making it count, a point that was underlined by Gunnarson's low drive that went a couple of feet wide – a reminder that despite having the better of the match we needed to concentrate.
We finally took the lead with two left of the half to play. Following a couple of seconds where neither side seemed capable of finding a team-mate, Maynard finally got on to a loose ball and fed Nolan on the left hand side of the box and, showing composure where none around him had done so, the skipper passed the ball into the net just inside the far post. A splendid finish.
This prompted the arrival of the “we're winning away” chant which, and hats off to the wag who had the idea, soon transformed into “we're winning abroad”. Two minutes of stoppage were negotiated without any noticeable fuss and we went into the interval one up.
Half time was largely spent trying to keep warm, though much mirth was gained from Pink Palermo's slow regaining of memory from his exploits of the previous evening which, as he himself put it, “had nothing to do with football I was just being an idiot”. My decision to spend the previous evening at my folks rather than out on the lash in Wales seemed all the wiser in retrospect. Much mirth was gained from the news that Chelsea had sacked whoever was manager this week – well it's so hard to keep track with them isn't it?
There were no changes in personnel at the interval and we could have doubled the lead a couple of minutes into the second half. Faye's diagonal ball found Vaz Te in acres of space and the Portuguese winger beat Marshall to the ball pusing it one side of the 'keeper. Unfortunately a slight stumble as he rounded the 'keeper allowed a defender to get back and clear the home lines.
Vaz Te then capitalized on a defender's slip but he and Nolan weren't quite on the same wavelength and RVT's attempt to play the skipper in for his second went harmlessly through to Marshall. Nolan then played Maynard in but the striker seemed to have lost the chance at goal by delaying his shot. However, Collison kept the ball live and fed Maynard once more. Maynard made a bit of space for himself but curled his shot just wide. Maynard showed another side to his game by chasing back fully 40 yards to rob an unsuspecting Whittingham of the ball.
Maynard was truly in the thick of things as he latched on to a headed back pass from McNaughton of such suicidal proportions that even BMW drivers were heard tutting at the foolhardiness of it all.The striker delayed getting his shot away just a little too much and, fine as the save from Marshall was one couldn't help but feel it should have been 2-0 to the cockney boys by this point. Cardiff seemed to be trying their best to help us in our endeavours and, seconds after McNaughton's header, Whittingham got in on the act with another short back pass that got the BMW drivers writing to their MPs to complain. Marshall was awake to the danger and Maynard was just late enough for his challenge to merit the free-kick that was awarded.
Pink Palermo was beginning to give cause for concern at this point. Following a superbly-timed tackle and layoff from Noble PP announced “I think I shall go around to Mark Noble's house tomorrow morning and offer to wash his car” he announced to nobody in general as we all pretended he was with someone else. Noble then laid a free-kick off for Vaz Te who snatched at his shot and put it over. Surely we were going to regret these missed chances. An offside-looking Mason underlined this fact with a shot from a tight angle that was high and wide.
Just after the hour Cole came on for Maynard who had had an eventful if largely unproductive afternoon. Cardiff then fashioned another chance from a Gunnarson throw that had more than a touch of the Delaps about it. Hudson didn't really have much of a challenge on him but his header was well over, with Green well-placed had it dropped a few feet lower.
We survived our biggest scare with 67 on the clock. Mason went down under virtually no contact Foy awarding the free-kick presumably for want of something to do. Whittingham's free-kick beat Green but not the metalwork and we were able to clear.
We made our second change with 15 left, Lansbury leaving to be replaced by O'Neil. Shortly after, we went two up. McCartney kept a ball in by the touchline just inside his own half before embarking on a run down the left. He rode his luck a little getting a kind bounce as he bisected a pair of defenders before crossing into the six-yard box. The cross was cut out by a defender rebounding straight back to Linda who stuck a right boot in the general direction of the ball. The ball somehow finding its way into the back of the net at the far post as everyone watched in amazement – hitherto nobody had the slightest inkling that Linda actually possessed a right foot, let alone one with which he was able to actually kick a ball.
McCartney's goal celebration affected nonchalance, though the grin on his face and the laughter of his team-mates rather gave the game away on that front. You have to say that the odds on McCartney scoring at all would have given Ray Winstone's disembodied head on that bookie's advert a migraine in itself. Factor in the odds of such a goal coming from his right foot and poor old Ray's head would have exploded with the complexity of the required calculations. Mind you the odds were probably still shorter than those on Torres scoring for Chelsea.
That was just about it as the away support started to indulge in the traditional taking of the mick as the National Anthem was given an airing – the booing by those home supporters who bothered to stay to the end was a bit ungrateful given that it's the likes of me that pays for all the free prescription antidepressants that they all seem to need to live over there. Noble did something else that was quiet good that had Pink Palermo offering an extra coat of wax to the car wash as we looked the other way and talked amongst ourselves.
There was still time for a bit of daftness. McCartney tried his own BMW hack header. Mason pushed it past Green but Faye was on hand to nod back to Green. The final action of the two stoppage minutes saw Miller's header come back off the bar – one of the few efforts he'd had from inside the box – and that was that.
This was a fine away performance. We'd dominated and were well worth the three points though if one had to put a caveat on the whole thing it would be that we really ought to be putting away more of those chances. Still that was just a small point of churlishness to add to the events.
There's nothing like a good away win to put a smile on the face and even the full beam headlights plus foglamp combination that the BMW drivers on the M4 (which, by now was of course bathed in sunshine) couldn't dent the mood, especially as the car heater had thawed everything out. I just hope my failure to update my injections prior to crossing the border won't mean that I was exposed to some nasty foreign bug. In the meantime let's hope that next year's European tour sees us going up the road to Swansea (assuming they stay up!).
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A spot of uncertainty at the start but it was notable that he was barely called upon to make a save worthy of the name.
Joey O Brien
A good solid performance from the RB.
I'm too busy laughing at his goal to write anything meaningful here! A good all-round match.
Decent though his exploits in midfield have been he looked a lot more comfy back in defence.
Outstanding. If he missed anything I can't remember it. Superb.
Another fine performance – only the immense nature of Faye's performance today stopped him from getting another MOTM gong.
Pink Palermo couldn't stop raving about how he bossed the game. Maybe the sight of how well the team was doing without him bucked his ideas up but it wasn't a bad 90 at all from the skipper. Fine finish for the goal too.
A lot of good running off the ball but a few things didn't quite work for him.
Ricardo Vaz Te
Like Collison he was heavily involved but it was a bit hit and miss as to whether anything he tried would come off.
A few good passes in there without quite giving us the sort of eye-catching display we've seen at international (U21) level.
Got through a lot of running but really ought to have made the most of the chances that came his way.
(Replaced Maynard, 63)
Not much joy up on his own. Got fouled a few times without intervention from the officials. As usual.
Gary O Neil
(Replaced Lansbury, 75)
Can't remember him having much influence during the short time he was on.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Referee: Chris Foy.
Man of the Match: Abdoulaye Faye.
West Ham United
Robert Green, Joey O Brien, George McCartney, James Tomkins, Abdoulaye Faye, Mark Noble, Kevin Nolan, Jack Collison, Ricardo Vaz Te, Henri Lansbury, Nicky Maynard.
Goals: Kevin Nolan 43 George McCartney 77 .
Sent off: None.
David Marshall, Kevin McNaughton, Mark Hudson, Ben Turner, Andrew Taylor, Peter Whittingham, Don Cowie, Aron Gunnarsson, Joe Mason, Kenny Miller, Rudy Gestede.
Substitutes: Haris Vuckic (Rudy Gestede 35).
Subs not used: Filip Kiss, Craig Conway, Tom Heaton, Darcy Blake.
Sent Off: None.