Saturday, 18th October 2014
I went up a day early for this one, taking advantage of the relocation of an ex who really didn't think it through when moving to within a few miles of a Premier League ground to be nearer her granddaughter.
Thus a ten minute train journey on Saturday morning saw me meet up with the usual suspects at the Miners Club, the good management of which generously allowed us to stay in spite of the rather draconian advice given by the local constabulary, whose presence throughout the town seemed to be designed to make mountains out of molehills wherever possible.
As it happens the usual suspects, even had they been of a mind to cause trouble, barely seemed fit enough to continue breathing, it having been a bit of a night in Blackpool apparently. It was all they could do to summon up the energy to laugh at the Spurs game. Meanwhile I quietly enjoyed my £2-a-pint ale whilst trying to remember how long it had been since I'd paid so little for a pint.
Team news arrived early. Collins was in for an injured Tomkins (thigh). Noble returned to replace Zarate, whose absence from even a place on the bench was unexplained. Team: Adrian, Jenkinson, Cresswell, Collins, Reid, Noble, Song, Downing, Amlfitano, Valencia, Sakho.
The early exchanges belonged to the home side who, after Sakho had headed an early Downing corner wide, settled the better of the two teams. We lost the ball in midfield and Boyd was given far too much room to get a shot in, The shot came off the bar with Adrian beaten. We had another let off a few minutes later when Jutkiewiecz was another one who was given far too much room. His shot was pushed out by Adrian and Ings tapped in the rebound, the linesman's flag correctly curtailing the rarity of a Burnley goal celebration.
However, after the opening 20 minutes our opponents seemed to lose something of their spark and our own concerns changed from worrying about conceding the midfield to worrying about the final ball, which appeared to be letting us down. We had a lot of possession in the second half of the first half (if that makes sense) but all too often we weren't moving it wide enough quickly enough.
In a way it was starting to resemble some of the “rope a dope” matches of recent memory where we've watched sides string 20 passes together then hit them quickly on the break. Light relief was providd in my bit of the ground by the Scottish Hammer behind me whose accent made his instructions to “get the ball dooon” sound like one of those whalesong CDs much beloved of those “knit your own yoghurt” new-age hippy types.
Where we were getting the first inklings of joy was from the flanks and a glorious ball from Downing out to Cresswell saw the full-back's dangerous cross headed wide by Sakho. Our closest effort on goal came on the half hour when Downing came inside from the right with an effort not unlike that he unleashed at Palace, the ball hitting the far post rather than the back of the net this time around.
However, a reminder of the need to avoid sucker punches was not far away as Reid picked up a deserved yellow for a block on the halfway line that broke up a promising break, the caution being awarded in reflection of the cynicism of the challenge rather than for the violence of its nature.
The remainder of the half petered out in even fashion with ambitious efforts from outside the box being the order of the day for both sides. A Noble effort looked on target but was blocked whilst Amalfitano put one wide. Arfield up the other end did the same – one blocked and one wide. Referee Friend did that irritating thing of adding on a minute for stoppage where there had been none (if you ever watch European matches the sight of there being no added time is not uncommon) and that was that for your first half.
As the half-time whistle went something quite strange happened. The hitherto fairly quiet home support started to sing – it was as if they hadn't wanted to interrupt things up to that point. Of course further consideration brought up the fact that our manager had once managed Blackburn Rovers, our hosts rivals in the “Bald Men Fighting Over A Comb” derby, and, Turf Moor being one of those grounds where the players enter from one of the corners, Mr Allardyce was having to run the gauntlet of the home support in that corner.
The half time raffle was drawn by a former player and, with Burnley being a proper football club, he was acknowledged by the home support in stark contrast to that time we were at Chelsea when they didn't recognise Bobby Tambling who at the time was their all-time record scorer (and still is if you take dubiously-awarded penalties out of the equation). As an aside I really ought to clean the screen of this laptop as I've just spent a minute trying to delete an aberrant full stop which turned out to be a mark on the screen. Bet you don't get that level of detail from your newspaper.
In the past we have had good first halves and watched things unravel in the second 45. This time, whatever was said during the interval, it worked as we looked a different side in the second half.and within five minutes of the restart we were ahead.
Some slick passing saw Downing pushing forward in central midfield. A drop of the shoulder disguised a pass out to the left to Cresswell whose cross was perfection. Sakho had cleverly got himself a half yard of space to head home from inside the six yard box to make it six in six. Isn't it nice to have a striker who has that aura of one who almost expects to score every week. Sakho is clearly learning about the club – the Hammer sign making an appearance as part of the goal celebrations. Five minutes later it got even better.
Sakho again was involved having come back to give a hand in defence he burst out along the right wing channel before releasing the ball wider to Jenkinson. The full-back's cross was slightly behind Valencia but the Ecuadorian did brilliantly to jack-knife himself to power an unstoppable header past Heaton. The pace on the cross helped but nevertheless it was a simply wonderful header that deserved all the praise it got.
It was pretty much Valencia's last contribution to the match. Presumably suffering from the effects of his transatlantic wanderings on international duty he was replaced on the hour by Carlton Cole, whose first contribution was to nearly make it three, his header being cleared off the line by a defender. So, with us dominating and threatening to run riot, this being West Ham we are talking about, you know what is going to happen next.
Downing tried to be just a little too cute on the edge of the box and Burnley broke out of defence, the break coming to an end by Cresswell's intervention to give away a corner. As the cross came over Adrian was impeded by Ings but still ought to have held on to the ball – or at least that was the view of ref Friend who declined to give the free-kick that the challenge merited, Boyd buried the loose ball to give the home side a lifeline.
The goal boosted Burnley for a few minutes and a spot of smash and grabbery might have been on the cards had Ings been a foot or two more accurate with his header from Trippier's cross a few minutes afterwards, the effort going wide of the post with Adrian well-beaten.
However, as the first half had shown, when you do have a spell on top in this league you need to make the most of it because when the momentum goes it's difficult to get it back. It was a lesson not heeded by the home side as we started to become the dominant force once more. Cole was enjoying his rare half-hour in the sun and was causing no end of problems in the Burnley box, almost capitalising on a defensive slip in the box. He was not to be denied for long.
We won a corner on our left, Downing's effort being blocked and the ball spinning just the right side of the flag from our point of view. Downing delivered the corner, Sakho headed back across goal and Cole threw himself at the ball to head in from a few yards out. If they ever work out a way of charging football supporters royalties for public performances of the songs they sing (and I bet some bright spark is working on just such a project as we speak), Spandau Ballet will have made a few bob out of the subsequent goal celebrations from the David Fishwick Stand.
With seven left Nolan replaced Song who we keep getting told is still not quite match fit and there was still time for both sides to add t the goal count, Barnes hitting the bar for the home side whilst Nolan had an effort saved and Reid went close with his header from the subsequent corner. After five minutes of stoppage – Cole had required treatment not being quite as indestructible as the song suggests – the game ended and the three points were safely tucked up in bed next to all the others.
Post-match I returned to Nelson, via a swift one with the usual suspects in the Miners Club. We were grateful for the fact that we'd managed to miss the Simply Red tribute act that had been on a few weeks previously – at two quid entry it must have been a quality night's entertainment. Actually for two quid I'd probably want change if Mick Hucknall himself turned up.
I then had to evade the attentions of the local constabulary at Burnley Central who, I noted had decided to round up a harmless-looking West Ham supporting family group and take them to another of Burnley's stations irrespective of their travel arrangements, using the excuse “we want to keep you all in the same place”. Not being covered in club colours I kept under their radar and was able to make my ten minute journey a couple of stops up the line unhindered by the suspension of basic freedoms that seems to come with the territory of being an away football supporter these days.
The highlight of Nelson was the discovery that the social club opposite the ex's flat was called “The Old Brass Band Club”. I didn't venture within, though I couldn't help but be impressed at the enlightened philosophy that someone had set up a band for old brasses to give them something to do in their twilight years when their earnings potential, Wayne Rooney notwithstanding, is not what it once might have been.
Football-wise the league table looks quite nice as I write this on Sunday morning. By the time this hits the website that may have changed but I'll enjoy the fact that we're currently in a So-Called Champions League spot not so much for the prospect of European football (I'm not deluded to think we're going to finish in 4th spot just yet), but more for the fact that the likes of Spurs and Liverpool whose fans are thus deluded will be irritated to bits at the fact that we're sitting in their divine right position. And annoying them is always a good thing in my book.
As for our opponents, well even though they do that playing music after goals thing for which I would happily vote for a reintroduction of the death penalty, there are still any number of clubs near the bottom that I would rather see go down. The problem is that you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear and the difference between the two sides was there for all to see. When we dominated we took full advantage whilst they failed to make anything out of their dominant spell. I fear that too many ordinary players in the squad will see them making a swift return whence they came unless they can find some undiscovered cheap quality in the next window.
Before I get on my bike to get my train back to civilisation, thanks are due to Charlotte for the futon bed and lodging for the last couple of days and to the management at the Burnley Miners club for the application of some good old fashioned common sense. Now for a nice easy three points net week!
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Adrian San Miguel del Castillo
Apart from the first 15 minutes or so it wasn't his busiest afternoon, though, although fouled, he might have done better for their goal.
Had a fine game defensively and got forward to good effect well – particularly for Valencia's goal.
Isn't it nice to have a couple of full-backs you feel comfortable with. Superb cross for Sakho's goal.
Still not quite at the level we know he can play and had a difficult one against Boyd.
Kept it simple thus avoiding the banana skins to which he can become prone when he starts t take the “Ginger Pele” nickname at face rather than ironic value.
A bit guilty of allowing the Burnley midfield a bit too much of the game in the first half but improved as the game wore on.
Final ball was occasionally lacking but got through a lot of unheralded hard work as exemplified by his chasing down of a lost cause in the corner at 3-1 up in the 93rd minute.
Some good defensive work and he was usually the starting point for any breaks out of defence.
Unlucky not to score in the first half and he was often the inspiration behind anything good in the second half.
Scored one had a hand in the other two. If you get a moment also have a look at his movement off the ball – clearly an instinctive footbal brain is at work there. MOTM.
Battled gamely despite obvious signs of fatigue after his international efforts. Gloriously taken goal.
(replaced Valencia) Had a fine half hour. Caused problems and might have had more than the one he ended up with.
A cameo apperance in which he might have scored.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Ricardo Vaz Te
Did not play.
Referee: Kevin Friend.
Man of the Match: Diafra Sakho.
West Ham United
Adrian San Miguel del Castillo, Carl Jenkinson, Aaron Cresswell, Winston Reid, James Collins, Mark Noble, Morgan Amalfitano, Alex Song, Stewart Downing, Diafra Sakho, Enner Valencia.
Goals: Diafra Sakho 49 Enner Valencia 54 Carlton Cole 70 .
Booked: Winston Reid 34 .
Sent Off: None. .
Tom Heaton, Kieran Trippier, Michael Duff, Jason Shackell, Ben Mee, George Boyd, Scott Arfield, David Jones, Michael Kightly, Danny Ings, Lukas Jutkiewicz.
Substitutes: Ashley Barnes (Lukas Jutkiewicz 65), Marvin Sordell (Danny Ings 83), Nathaniel Chalobah (Michael Kightly 83).
Subs not used: Matt Gilks , Kevin Long, Ross Wallace, Stephen Ward .
Goals: George Boyd (60).
Sent Off: None..