Saturday, 13th August 2005
There are some Sundays I wake up and think “Oh God the editor’s expecting me to do a match report. I have to relive all yesterday’s horrors all over again”. Then there’s Sundays like this one which make one want to relive the previous day’s events again and again in glorious Technicolor in Dolby surround sound.
The general consensus of opinion amongst the KUMB-gnoscenti gathered for the ritual pre-match lubrication in the Wakefield was that this would be a season to which a relaxed attitude would be the preferred way forward. Certainly for the sake of my blood pressure anyway which at one point last year had a comma in it. I really must go back for that second test!
The team news contained an early surprise with the absence of Tomas Repka. It was later revealed that he had been “taken ill” on Saturday morning, presumably having eaten someone who disagreed with him. This meant a change of role for football genius Christian Dailly, whose pre-season had centred on his playing a holding role in midfield rather than the right-back spot he found himself in against Blackburn. Otherwise the team was much as expected from the pre-season matches, the starting line-up reading: Carroll, Dailly, Konchesky, Ferdinand, Gabbidon, Reo-Coker, Mullins, Etherington, Benayoun, Sheringham, Harewood.
A word about the atmosphere in the Boleyn. Now I know the first day of a new season is always special and most of us will have had that sense of excitement instilled into us from a very early age going back to when Shoot magazine used to give away those league ladder tables. However even allowing for the sense of anticipation, it seemed a bit special for this match. Bubbles was sung with that wonderfully echoey resonance that makes all the hairs on the back of the neck stand to attention. It created a positive vibe that, marvellously, continued throughout the match
In truth it was not the brightest of starts. For the first 20 minutes we seemed about half a yard off the pace, with the possible exception of Football Genius who seemed a whole yard short. Blackburn are a side who rely on closing the play down as much as possible and they did this well, though they were more than assisted by our tendency to take an extra touch on the ball. That’s not to say it was one-way stuff and we looked as if there might be cause for optimism on the break. On 4 minutes Reo-Coker found Harewood on the right hand side but Marlon managed to drag his shot across the face of the goal well wide.
Such breaks were the exception rather than the rule however and, though Roy Carroll wasn’t exactly over-employed it’s probably fair to say that the home defence were the busier of the two, and Konchesky’s header clear from a Savage free-kick was indicative of the way things were going up to that point.
On 17 minutes we were behind. A corner from the left landed in amongst a cluster of players including Gabbidon. There seemed to be a miskick and the ball squirted out to Todd on the edge of the box who put a low shot inside the unguarded far post.
Well I mentioned the atmosphere earlier on and what followed was a reaction that harked back to the Boleyn Ground of years ago. There was a short burst of silence. This was followed by the sound of 32,000 people collectively getting behind the team. It was a collective acknowledgement of the fact that, whilst the team had not exactly been on the pace, it hadn’t been through a lack of effort on the team’s part. It was a reaction that, having seen the crowd turn on the team in the past, I for one found heartwarming.
The crowd reaction seemed to spur the team and a Harewood break down the right wing came to an undignified end following Savage’s crude hack that resulted in a deserved yellow card for the Welsh whinger. Revenge was not long in coming. A ball down the left was running out when Konchesky shoved Savage in the back, the whinger ending up in the advertising hoardings in front of the Centenary stand. Savage’s career has been based on winding up the opposition and getting opponents booked and sent off and his reaction on this occasion was sadly predictable. However it seems that referees are beginning to wise up to this irritant’s antics as referee Wiley merely lectured Konchesky. This was ironic really since, had Savage shut up and got on with it, I suspect Wiley might have been more likely to issue the yellow card that the shove possibly merited.
The latter part of the first half saw things coming together a bit more. Sheringham fed Harewood who got forced wide and could only find Todd with his cross. Etherington then found Sheringham on the edge of the box but Teddy’s attempt to pass the ball into the net lacked power, Friedel saving comfortably down to his left. Friedel looked slightly less happy just before the interval when he spilled Konchesky’s cross from the left into the path of Sheringham only for Teddy’s shot to be scrambled away.
On half time the team were applauded off – another indication of a more mature attitude amongst the crowd perhaps. My view was that, given, we’d started with all the air of a startled rabbit caught in the headlights, the players had stuck with it and they hadn’t been outclassed so the applause was deserved. I was concerned with the way we were taking two touches on the ball where one was required but I’d seen enough to suggest that the game would not be beyond us if we could get back on level terms early enough.
I was disappointed with the start to the second half. I mean come on guys making us wait a whole 43 seconds for a goal? What were you thinking of? The goal came from a quick and incisive move on the break. Reo-Coker brought the ball out of defence and fed Yossi. Yossi’s diagonal run into the space given to him by Blackburn ended up with an intelligent pass into the box. The defender running across the box couldn’t deal with the ball and Teddy’s anticipation enabled him to place an early shot inside the right hand post to send 32,000 wild. It was just what the doctor ordered. It woke the crowd up from their half time slumber and it gave the team a confidence boost the likes of which no half time team talk could ever possibly replicate.
Of course being West Ham we so nearly threw it away right from the restart. Right from the off a long ball from the back caught Dailly the wrong side of Pedersen whose shot was thankfully high and wide.
The confidence factor began to show. Marlon cleverly allowed the ball to run across him on the edge of the box and his shot had power but sadly not direction.
Reo-Coker burst through the middle and drew a defender before feeding Etherington on the left. Matty’s cross found Teddy stretching and unable to put any direction on the shot which left the move without the goal its quality deserved.
Blackburn were clearly rattled and in a classic case of “the other guy blinked”. Blackburn boss Mark Hughes removed the ineffective Kuqi and brought on a defender in the shape of Gresko and, to be fair, it took a few minutes for the earlier momentum to be restored. During this spell Konchesky headed clear from Todd’s free header but normal service was resumed just after the hour.
And how! Marlon took a quick throw on the left finding Etherington. Matty cut in and slipped the ball to Reo-Coker who cleverly took Mokoena out of the game by allowing the ball across him. I’ve been a critic of NRC’s shooting prowess in the past - time after time we’ve seen promising bursts from the middle end with a weak effort. Not this time. NRC’s shot was drilled into the top right hand corner of the goal from about 22 yards for a marvellous – and well deserved goal. The cheers got louder with each replay on the big screen as the ground erupted.
Teddy was given a rest on 71 minutes. In truth he seemed less than happy at being taken off. In fact he seemed mightily cheesed off as he trudged over to the touchline to be replaced by Shaun 10K Newton (I know we had to pay extra but he’ll always be 10K to us). Teddy left to a well-deserved standing ovation.
The lid was put on the match with a shade over 10 minutes to play. Harewood found himself down in the right hand corner and tried to wriggle his way out of trouble only to lose out to Emerton. Quite what Emerton was thinking at this point lord alone knows – but frankly I couldn’t care less. His ball across into the box found Yossi in acres of space which were increased in size by a little shimmy that took another two defenders out of the equation. The Israeli international suared the ball across the six yard box to leave Etherington the simplest tap-in he’ll ever have to put away. The place was rocking and I reminded my neighbours of my earlier comment made at 2-1 that one more goal would see us top of the league!
My choice of T shirt for the day bore the legend “IQ 20” a reference to the brilliant band IQ and a purchase at their 20th anniversary gig a few years back. It could easily have referred to the result of any intelligence test taken by Paul Dickov as the Scot completely lost the plot leaping in with two feet in a crude lunge at Konchesky who was fortunate to escape serious injury from the assault. Wiley’s red card was instant, though savage, as usual, went running into the middle of things in a cynical attempt to try to even the numbers. Thankfully neither our players nor the officials were conned.
AP brought on Noble for his premiership debut in place of Mullins who had improved as the game had progressed and was another to receive warm applause on his departure.
The remainder of the match was fairly comfortable though a lapse from Konchesky might have proved costly had the largely anonymous Bellamy been on better form. Indeed Newton might have added to the total had his shot late on been more accurate. The final whistle came after 3 added minutes to prompt a standing ovation and another rousing chorus of Bubbles that they would have heard over the water at the New Den had there been anyone there to witness their latest home defeat.
All in all this was a splendid performance that was even more impressive given the somewhat uncertain start that the team had made. Nobody should be getting carried away though. Most people I spoke to are taking the sensible attitude that we should enjoy it while we can – and why not after all the stuff we’ve had happened to us over the past few years. I just hope we can keep getting the crowd behind the team in the same way throughout the rest of the season – if we can replicate that second half performance that will not be a problem.
Now has anyone seen my league ladders?
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Not really tested other than by the occasional back pass from Dailly that went a little short for comfort. I think 88 minutes had passed when he had to make his first save.
Displayed a worrying lack of pace at times and I‘ll be happier when Repka’s fit enough to take over the right back spot. Battled gamely on though and got some decent challenges in as the game progressed.
An impressive debut from the left-back and there were early signs that the Konchesky/Etherington partnership down the left might be useful. Nearly spoilt things with his late lapse in concentration to let Bellamy in but his shove on the annoying Savage will have endeared him to many fans.
The defence had a decent game for the most part – though the marking at corners may need looking at. In the battle against Kuqi and Bellamy Anton did exceedingly well and he is rapidly maturing into the player many observers thought he could be.
Another fine debut. Made a number of important challenges and looked accomplished throughout. He has a bit of pace about him too which is always useful.
After a shaky start where he got caught in possession a little too much for my liking, he knuckled down to provide what turned to be a excellent performance in the middle.
A superb second half capped with a fine goal. AP reckons he really rates himself to do well at this level. Performances like this will have us agreeing. My MOTM.
Drifted in and out a bit and got bundled over a few times in the early rough and tumble. However despite his slight frame he was always keen to get stuck in to win the ball back and he played a vital part in the first and third goals. There’s potential there if someone could take him down to Nathans for some large helpings of pie & mash.
Another who played in spells. Seemed a little overawed in the first half. Less so in the second when he set up a number of decent chances. Enjoyed the goal didn’t he!
Caused Blackburn problems throughout and might have got the goal he possibly deserved had he been a little more composed in front of goal. First day nerves maybe.
The usual intelligent display from young Edward – especially in the second half when he seemed to be more on the same wavelength as his colleagues. Clever anticipation for the goal though the sulky nature of his departure was a tad unnecessary.
(Replaced Sheringham, 72) Steady enough 20 minutes or so though he might have scored late on.
(Replaced Mullins, 84) Just time for a brief cameo of the youngster’s footwork.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Man of the Match: Nigel Reo-Coker.
West Ham United
Roy Carroll, Christian Dailly, Paul Konchesky, Anton Ferdinand, Danny Gabbidon, Hayden Mullins, Nigel Reo-Coker, Yossi Benayoun, Matthew Etherington, Marlon Harewood, Teddy Sheringham.
Goals: Teddy Sheringham 46 Nigel Reo-Coker 62 Matthew Etherington 80 .
Booked: None booked. .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Friedel, Neill, Todd, Mokoena, Matteo, Emerton, Savage, Reid, Pedersen, Kuqi, Savage.
Substitutes: Gresko (Kuqi 55), Dickov (Mokoena 62).
Subs not used: Enckelman, Tuguy, Flitcroft.
Goals: Todd (18).
Booked: Savage (20).
Sent Off: Dickov (81).