Wednesday, 1st January 2014
I've not been as regular on the away circuit over the past 12 months as I once was. “Personal circumstances” and all that. However, with things changing at Gnome Towers a New Year's Resolution to get away from the Boleyn a bit more was given an ideal start with a trip to Fulham, a pre-match Bloody Mary providing the ideal livener following the previous evening's festivities.
Team news was that, in the absence of anyone resembling a central defender, Diarra came in to join Linda and Joey O'Brien in a three-man, central defender partnership with Taylor and Demel forming the remainder of the back five. On the bench there was an unexpected but welcome return for Stewart Downing, thankfully recovered from the scouse thuggery that put him in hospital.
Team: JJ, Demel, Taylor, McCartney, O'Brien, Diarra, Noble, Colison, Diame, Nolan, Maiga.
The scrappy tone of the game was set right from the start as Fulham gave the ball away from the kick-off. Maiga's weak effort was wayward. The opening goal was. However, not far away. Berbatov got caught offside. JJ's free-kick found Diame in the box and the midfielder's low shot on the turn eluded the 'keeper to put us 1-0 up.
The game reverted to its default setting of Fulham passing it about for a while before giving it away and us not holding onto it very much at all. Offsides, yup there were some of those at both ends but they were as memorable as a reality show winner and it was all a bit drab up to the 22nd minute. Fulham looked nervy in possession – the reason there were loads of passes in the first half was that nobody actually wanted to hang on to the ball so they got rid of it as soon as possible. A spot of closing down occurred to our midfield and Diame got a cross in which Nolan met just about perfectly. Stockdale did a Schmeicel-style star jump to keep it out.
So, 1-0 up against nervous-looking opponents. No problem. Of course this particular jalopy is West Ham and when the wheels come off it makes those clown cars they have in circuses look well-built in comparison.
On the half-hour Fulham forced a corner. At which point Mark Noble sat down. Given the atrocious conditions – you wouldn't have wanted to deliberately get a sodden backside - it was immediately apparent that he required physio assistance rather indulging in some sort of protest against something or other. On came the physio, up went the revolving hand signal, off went Noble, on came Rat, across came the corner, up went Sidwell, down stayed Linda, in went the ball. 1-1. They always say you shouldn't make a substitution just before defending a corner but in this instance Noble's knock left us no choice. Another injury. Just what we needed, Not.
It could have been worse shortly after. Taraabt gave himself a break from diving to send in a low effort that came back off the post. Joey O'B headed the loose ball on the floor and Diarra put the ball out for a corner.
So drawing 1-1 and one of our better performing players already off injured what else could go wrong? Kevin bloody Nolan, that's what. Amorbietta blocked off the (soon to be ex?) skipper and got a petulant kick for his trouble. Amorbietta milked it, sure – you don't usually see playacting of that calibre outside Anfield – but it was an act of purest stupidity by Nolan.
Clattenburg produced the red with undisguised glee and off went Nolan. You've probably seen it on the box which is just as well as I'm struggling for words to describe just how idiotic it all was. One thesaurus definition defines “idiotic” as “insanely irresponsible” adding, as a footnote, “see Kevin Nolan 1/1/2014”. Ok I may have made up that last bit but you get the drift.
The delay whilst Amorbietta received life-saving surgery added to the sending off and Noble's injury should have added several minutes to proceedings but Clattenburg was presumably as cheesed off with the lousiness of it all as the rest of us were and added a mere two minutes of stoppage and that was that for the match.
You'd expect an opposition to really go for it in the knowledge that they only faced ten men but, despite tons of possession, as in the first half Fulham seemed strangely bereft of ideas as to what to do with it in the second period. Yes they had a number of chances but you got the feeling that they weren't quite used to the expectation of suddenly cast in the role of “favourites”.
A case in point was the number of corners they wasted. You're playing against a team that are one down on the personnel front, who have a back five comprising of four full-backs and a midfielder and who have already shown themselves vulnerable at corners. Do you a) get the ball into the box to test out the makeshift nature of the defence; or b) mess about with short corners before overhitting a cross? Thankfully for us Fulham weren't at their most intelligent and went for option “b” at just about every opportunity.
We made a change on 55 minutes. Diame – noted for his ability to break up play – was replaced by Downing, who isn't. Whilst it was a welcome return for the winger after his kicking up at Anfield it's fair to say that the change didn't meet with universal approval from the visiting support whose chants suggested that the manager might not exactly be aware of what he was up to.
When you're down to ten men it is imperative that you keep hold of the ball for as long as possible as there are inevitably going to be long periods where you don't have the ball. We didn't hold on to the ball and, despite periods where Fulham seemed to be equally reluctant to keep hold of it, the panicky nature with which we treated the ball when we did win it back simply invited the opposition back on to us.
We were assisted with some wayward finishing – Taraabt saw his header dealt with rather clumsily by JJ and, instead of putting away the rebound the Moroccan's follow up from two yards went out – for a throw-in. Rat then came close to giving Fulham a penalty by upending Duff on the edge of the box but Clattenburg decided that the oul had take place right on the edge of the box rather than inside. Rat picked up a yellow for his troubles anyway. The free-kick came to naught.
There was a sad inevitability about both the arrival and nature of Fulham's second when it came. They lost the ball which was hacked away in the general direction of Maiga who, bereft of support and as a result of a subtle shove in the back, lost the ball again. The ball came in from the left to Parker who, uniquely amongst the Fulham midfield, had worked out that they had a man over and, spotting Berbatov in the same position he had occupied all second half, slipped the ball through for the lazy Bulgarian to tap home from close range.
Fulham replaced Taraabt with Bent, presumably realising that an overpriced journeyman who might stay on his feet might just stand a better chance of scoring than a talented player who falls over all the time. We made our third and final change shortly after with Cole coming on to replace Maiga. Cole did make a nuisance of himself I suppose – a booking for Amorbietta followed as Cole threatened to break free in promising position.
We only really started to have a go in the last ten or so, despite the home side's obvious nervousness. However, despite the sort of pressure that we ought to have been putting on them from the second we went 1-0 up it was all huff and puff. The sudden change of emphasis from containment to attack served only to get our hopes up, though I suspect that nobody in his or her heart of hearts really thought we were going to equalise. One was put in mind of the famous John Cleese quote from “Clockwise”: “It's not the despair. I can take the despair. It's the hope I can't stand”.
After a few half chances, well quarter really, that was it and after four fruitless minutes Clattenburg put us and the game out of our collective miseries.
“Diddy” David Hamilton – possibly the only 1970's DJ yet to have had his collar felt as a result of Operation Yewtree – played what we will always refer to as the “Christian Dailly Song” and, in response to his exhortations, nobody joined in.
A drenching walk back through the park didn't improve the mood and, though a restorative drink was probably called for, Romford's usual failure to respond to text or phonecalls meant that I had no idea where everybody was going so, with it chucking down I opted to get myself off home. Just to really rub it in, just before I got in Romford finally bothered to respond to one of the texts to inform me that they'd settled on the last hostelry we had visited en route to the game, which was a shame as that bloody mary had been by far and away the best thing about the day.
Still I shouldn't complain really. After all for forty quid I'd seen two rime reegation candidates for the price of one.
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A couple of good gathers in atrocious conditions when it would have been easy to spill the ball.
Gave the ball away too much in a series of panicky clearances.
Most of what they produced in the first half came down his side. Improved when moved forward after Noble's injury but not by much.
Failed to pick up Sidwell for his goal. Does his best in an unfamiliar role but...
Joey O Brien
Like Linda his unfamiliarity with the role he had to play stuck out a mile.
Generally ok but got caught wrong side a few times too much for my liking.
Was putting in a lot of hard work until his untimely exit.
Not sure I'd have taken him off unless he s injured – which didn't seem to be the case.
Chased shadows for much of the game without ever quite looking like he was going to apprehend any of them.
I don't give zeroes out lightly – this is possibly only the second I've ever done from memory. It's one thing reacting when you're getting kicked all over Anfield without protection from the traditional spineless refereeing you get up there, though still inexcusable. However, this was stupidity on a completely different plane. I'd take the armband away from him personally. If you happen to be reading this Mr Nolan, the day including ticket, refreshments and travel costs cost me something in the region of £70. In case you have a shred of conscience about your role in the day's proceedings.
No service, no support. Gotta feel sorry for him.
Gave the ball away too much. Close to conceding a penalty.
Showed some bright touches but I'm not sure he was the right sub at the right time.
Made a nuisance of himself of sorts but, like Maiga, until the end there was little in the way of support, meaning that we were relying on Clattenburg to actually give some of the fouls perpetrated against him. Fat hope.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg.
Man of the Match: Jussi Jaaskelainen.
West Ham United
Jussi Jaaskalainen, Guy Demel, Matt Taylor, George McCartney, Joey O Brien, Alou Diarra, Mark Noble, Mo Diame, Jack Collison, Kevin Nolan, Modibo Maiga.
Goals: Mo Diame 7 .
Booked: Guy Demel 59 Razvan Rat 63 .
Sent Off: Kevin Nolan 44 .
David Stockdale, Sascha Riether, Philippe Senderos, Fernando Amorebieta, John Arne Riise, Scott Parker, Steve Sidwell, Damien Duff, Adel Taarabt, Kieran Richardson, Dimitar Berbatov.
Substitutes: Alex Kacaniklic (Kieran Richardson 56), Darren Bent (Adel Taarabt 69), Pajtim Kasami (Damien Duff 78).
Subs not used: Aaron Hughes, Ashkan Dejagah, Marcus Bettinelli, Moussa Dembele.
Goals: Steve Sidwell (32), Dimitar Berbatov (66).
Booked: None booked..
Sent Off: None sent off..