Sunday, 27th November 2005
Such was the fearsome reputation of the Northern Irishman that even a skinny 10-year-old kid was bound to be turned into a footballing superhuman by donning his boots. No chance, I turned the shot round the post and we won the game.
Today, the Boleyn Ground was turned into a vibrant thanksgiving for a special talent. No chance of a silent tribute, but a much more fitting prolonged round of applause with a bit of singing thrown in. It all seemed the right thing to do even though we were actually remembering a flawed individual who never achieved his full potential.
The one conquest he missed
George Best was up until last Friday a living tragedy, but no-one was going to be churlish enough to deny him some East End respect despite the fact that the media frenzy probably even surpassed what happened at the passing of that other iconic figure, Princess Di. Come to think of it how come those two never got it on together? Di and Bestie canoodling on some yacht – I would have loved to have seen that as they were made for each other.
Anyway, the emotion of it all created a great pre-match atmosphere. This is what being in the Premiership is all about. Man U at home.
The West Ham starting line up was unchanged from the game against the Lillysh*tes, except that Carroll had returned. Man U turned out pretty much as expected except that Park was playing instead of Ronaldo.
Good things happen to the pure of heart
Sometimes beautiful things happen and f*ck me if we didn’t get a dream start. Barely had “Bubbles” finished when Etherington picked up a lovely little header from Teddy. He went down the flank like a train and slotted over an inch perfect pass which Marlon hit brilliantly first time into the bottom right hand corner.
This seemed to rev the game up into even a greater tempo and it was clear that both sides were really up for it.
Tom, bless him, gave us the first comedy moment of the game on 6 minutes when he shoulder barged the flying Dutchman down the left after Yossi had lost the ball. Tom looked most surprised not to have been penalised and seemed to almost acknowledge this as if he had just won Strictly Come Dancing. It was sheer Czech poetry in motion.
On 10 minutes we were badly exposed by crisp, simple passing by the visitors after Noble gave away a free kick. Park laid off a really nice ball to Van Nistelrooy just inside the box. Carroll was alert though and managed to get a really good hand on a placed shot. Noble got booked just after this for another late tackle.
We were now beginning to look a bit shaky as just after the 11 minute mark, Park out-jumped Tom to set Scholes up who tried to score with the outside of his foot. Carroll made a sensational one-handed save, turning just around the left hand post.
The next five minutes or so, we hardly touched the ball, with Man U just passing and probing all over the pitch. Tom did extremely well to chest a cross back to Carroll on 17 minutes after a cross was whipped in from the right.
A minute later, there was almost a carbon copy of the move that created the goal after Teddy headed a ball to Matty who then passed – this time more centrally – to Marlon who got tugged back just on the edge of the box. Silvestre got booked for that. It was set up perfectly for Teddy, but instead Benayoun struck it and although he hit the free kick pretty well, it just glanced off the wall and wide of the right hand upright.
From the corner that followed the ball wasn’t cleared and Noble sent a ball into the box which Teddy tried to bring down. He didn’t quite control it but teed up Yossi instead, whose first time snap shot went flying high and wide.
Always on target
On 21 minutes, Gabbidon made a poor clearance straight to an opposition player allowing him to feed a ball through to Rooney who found some space just inside the box with Gabbidon trying to force him wide. Rooney, as usual, managed to fire a good low shot in and Carroll once again made a fine one handed save which parried the ball out to Anton who cleared.
Yossi did well on 25 minutes to retrieve a ball on the edge of the box under pressure from a defender. He laid the ball off to Teddy down the right and he hit a dangerous cross in which the Man U defence had to put behind for a corner. From the corner, Konchesky picked up the clearance about 25 yards out, but he sliced his shot way over the bar.
More patient play by Man U created another opening on 29 minutes after Park tried to thread a pass through to Rooney. Tom was magnificent though and managed to keep the Shrek lookalike at bay, although the precocious Scouser was hammering the ground in frustration as he was looking for a penalty.
My money’s on Anton
Van Nistelrooy was booked on 32 minutes after he made a pretty vicious late tackle on Anton after he had cleared his lines. They squared up to each other but it all calmed down pretty quickly.
Neville came on for Silvestre on 36 minutes and it was difficult to tell whether this was a tactical move or because the Frenchman was injured.
A minute later, Teddy was booked for a professional foul as he decided to take out Park who was flying forward down the left. It was one of those calculated fouls that some call cynical while others praise in certain circumstances.
On 40 minutes, Marlon set Teddy up for a shot outside of the box, but he couldn’t keep the ball down and it spun well over the bar. Immediately after, Rooney was found again in his usual predatory position just outside the box. The presence of four West Ham defenders breathing down his neck did not deter him or prevent him from getting a shot away which Carroll blocked, although he couldn’t hold it.
The final noteworthy move of the half was by Marlon who did very well with his back to goal to find a little bit of space on the left hand edge of the box. He got a nice curling cross over but Rio – who got a very warm welcome from the home fans today – was on hand to calmly chest this to Van Der Sar.
That was an absorbing half of football and once again we proved that we can play with real pace on the counter attack. Man U had created some good chances and had a great deal of possession. The next goal would be absolutely crucial and my fear – which I expressed to the Eaststanders around me was that we would lose the next goal and that Man U would go on to win two or three one. An optimist a couple of rows away said “Who’s to say that there will be another goal?” I gave one of my Frankie Howerd titters to that suggestion. No chance, I thought.
We all knew that the first fifteen to twenty minutes of the second half would be crucial, and Man U came at us immediately with intent. First, Gabbidon had to put the ball behind following a Fletcher cross in the 46th minute and then just a minute on from this Tom made a mistake trying to clear a ball, allowing Park to get a jinked pass through to Rooney who went past Gabbidon as if he wasn’t there to score. It was the worst possible start.
We were rattled and finding it difficult to even get a foot on the ball. When we did get hold of it we just kept giving it away. It also seemed like every time Neville got the ball a dangerous situation resulted. On 53 minutes a ball forward from the right back saw Scholes pick up a chest down and feed the ball to Rooney who unleashed a powerful shot which our defence did well to block. We did manage a good break after this as Yossi went off down the right and tried to curl a shot in after Tom had nearly opened up the Man U defence with a good pass. Unfortunately it did not trouble Van Der Sar.
Rooney now looked on fire and on 55 minutes he nearly scored again after picking the ball up ‘in the hole’ and running at the defence. It must be terrifying to see him run at you, but somehow Gabbidon managed to block his shot and concede a corner. Rooney took this himself and floated it in dangerously. Carroll looked like he was never going to get to it and O’Shea beat him to it easily with the goal at his mercy. It was a bit like the goal that Anton scored against the Sp*ds last Sunday.
We were really up against it now and my worst fears had been realised. We were just unnerved and passes were simply not connecting. We lost organisation in defence as well and on 59 minutes we allowed Van Nistelrooy to have a free header in the box because no-one had decided that he was their man. We were lucky he spurned that chance.
On the hour we picked up a free kick about 25 yards out after a handball was given by the ref Steve Bennett. Surely this time Teddy would hit it. Nope. Konch tried his luck and made a very poor effort which went about 5 yards over. It was slightly hard to comprehend why the old master had not been entrusted with such an opportunity.
We got carved apart again by sheer movement and pace on 65 minutes when Park found space yet again. He played a lovely weighted ball which was dummied and left to Rooney who was beaten to it by a defender. However the ball was not cleared and O’Shea blasted over from an acute angle.
Gabbidon had a moment of madness on 67 minutes when he tried and failed to shield a ball out. There is a mantra which is drilled into ESM Jnr’s head by his football coach. It was a simple rule which Stuart Pearce used to follow very diligently – “If in doubt, put it out”. Gabber’s decision not to do that allowed Fletcher to nick the ball and pass to Rooney in the box who probably would have scored were it not for a deflection.
On 69 minutes we were fortunate indeed again not to be two goals behind after Park made a brilliant flick towards Rooney who got the ball over to Van Nistelrooy in a crowded box. He turned, found a foot of space and made a wonderful little chip which beat Carroll hands down but which hit the cross bar full on.
Clearly it was time for a change as we weren’t at the races. Mullins and Teddy came off on the 70 minute mark for Dailly and Zamora. Marlon was sent out right as per the usual tactics.
Resilient but chasing it
We tried to raise our game, but we always looked susceptible to the quality of Man U. Carroll did well again on 74 minutes to save at the feet of Van Nistelrooy as yet another killer pass was threaded through from the centre of midfield.
We are a resilient side this year and we didn’t give up for one minute. Z-man laid off a nice pas to Yossi on the edge of the box on 76 minutes and he in turn found Marlon on the right edge of the box. He managed to get a shot away, but this lacked power and Van Der Sar gathered it easily.
We were chasing the game, but at least there was some intent, with Matty trying to open things up down the left and getting fouled for his trouble. With 12 minutes left Konch picked up a pass from Matty and sent a decent ball in which Yossi headed well over and then got taken out by Wes Brown.
Quickest salad dodger I know
We got caught on the break on 83 minutes after Rooney picked the ball up in his own half and went surging forward. Gabbidon did very well to stay with him and it al got a bit tangled up on the edge of the box. Rooney exploded and took a wild kick at Gabbidon for which he received a yellow card. “You’re fat and your bird’s a slag”, sang the Bobby Moore Lower.
Matty was still causing trouble down the left and he went darting into the box on 86 minutes, but his cross was blocked for a corner which came to nothing.
With two minutes of ordinary time left, Newton came on for Matty, although the point of that, given that Matty had been getting some openings in the closing minutes, was lost on me. Immediately after the change, we nearly got mugged with a counterattack where Neville found himself in acres of space down the right flank. He put over a very good cross to waiting Rooney who somehow contrived to glance the ball wide from about 8 yards out.
Van Nistelrooy came off for Richardson, but that was about the only other event of note in the three minutes of added time.
Stand up if you’re West Ham (Old School)
After the pure elation of last week’s game, it was disappointing to lose after taking the lead. Call me Old School, but I went away quite happy having been entertained by an exciting game of football. One of the enduring traits of West Ham fans is a love of quality football and also the ability to put our hands up when we've been shaded in a game (as long as it aint against T*ttsc*m).
There were times when we were outclassed, particularly in the second half, but we continued this season’s trend of giving a good account of ourselves. Don’t forget either that we’ve never beaten Man U at home in the Premiership.
On an emotional day, we were far from disgraced against an excellent side. Our boys kept going right until the end. Rooney was different class and a constant threat. Our defence will not face anybody better this season, that’s for sure.
We’re still in the top half of the table, and although there’s still a lot of hard work in front of us, we should all still be confident about our prospects.
(Player ratings by Graeme Howlett)
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A fine performance against his former employers sullied only by the attempt to claim the Rooney corner which led to the second goal.
A fair performance from Super although a moment of panic proved costly when Park intercepted the Czech's clearance to lay on the second goal.
Like Repka he rarely foraged forward and stuck to his defensive duties until we were chasing the game late on.
Turned inside out at times by Rooney and Horse but stuck to his guns nonetheless. Should have seen his adversary sent off when booted late on.
Like Gabbidon, he struggled against the foraging Red forwards although produced the game's most sublime piece of skill when he span on a sixpence in his own six-yard box to wrongfoot Van Nistelrooy.
Struggled to get into the game against a very efficient Red midfield. Given little time to settle on the ball.
Only his second ever Premiership start yet Noble has already come up against Davids and Carrick and now Smith and Scholes. Made little impression today (although his interception started the move for our goal) but the experience he is gaining will prove invaluable.
One of the few who really had a go at Manyoo's back four. Could have claimed his place in the Hammers hall of fame had an audacious 20-yard lob dipped under the bar rather than over.
Despite having rested in midweek Teddy rarely got involved and looked every one of his 39 years at times.
Brilliant in patches - such as when he provided the sublime pass for our goal - yet anonymous at times. The good news is that he lasted the full 90 and was still pushing on towards the end.
Gave the Man Utd back four a torrid time from the off and his goal was a real beauty. Had rather less joy once Silvestre - who he had tormented for half an hour - was replaced by the returning Gary Neville.
(Replaced Sheringham, 71) Introuduced in order to nullify the threat of the ever-dangerous Rooney whose ability to slip between West Ham's two lines of defence had caused untold problems.
(Replaced Mullins, 72) Again his introduction gave us a lift. Movement, pace and a willingness to challenge for headers (Marlon take note).
(Replaced Etherington, 89) Probably touched the ball no more than twice in the three minutes he was on the pitch.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Man of the Match: Roy Carroll.
West Ham United
Roy Carroll, Tomas Repka, Paul Konchesky, Danny Gabbidon, Anton Ferdinand, Hayden Mullins, Mark Noble, Yossi Benayoun, Teddy Sheringham, Matthew Etherington, Marlon Harewood.
Goals: Marlon Harewood 1 .
Booked: Mark Noble 11 Teddy Sheringham 38 .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Van Der Sar, Brown, Silvestre, R.Ferdinand, O'Shea, Fletcher, Scholes, Smith, Park, Rooney, Van Nistelrooy.
Substitutes: Neville (Silvestre 37), Richardson (Van Nistelrooy 90).
Subs not used: Howard, Ronaldo, Saha.
Goals: Rooney (47), O'Shea (56).
Booked: Silvestre (19), Van Nistelrooy (33), Rooney (83).
Sent Off: None sent off..