Wednesday, 30th January 2008
John Hartson and Eyal Berkovic scored and ESM Jnr sat there munching his crisps secure in the knowledge that he his old man was not talking bollocks when he said he was about to embark on the greatest journey of his life.
Ring of sh*te
He’s had one or two wake up calls since then, not least that catastrophe that engulfed us at the Millennium Stadium where the shell-suited Scallies sang “Ring of Fire” during their celebration. Every time I have heard that tune since I have broken out in a cold sweat. That was our cup and but they thieved it like a Ford Mondeo in a Liverpool car park.
But all has not been well in Giroland of late. There has been dark mutterings about the Yanks that own the club and talk of the fans raising the cash to send them back across the Atlantic. £500 million is a f*ck of a lot of drug deals and stolen TV’s.
The way to deal with ‘em of course is simple. Line up 4-5-1 or perhaps 4-4-1-1. Mullins, Noble, Bowyer and Ljungberg. LBM in the hole and Cole on his lonesome up front.
You know, it was the right way to line up, even though the attack-minded purists of the Boleyn Ground might beg to differ.
The early exchanges did not instil a great deal of confidence as Torres found some space in the very first minute and rifled a powerful shot low and just wide of the right hand post. Green also made a shocking sliced clearance a few minutes later, but the returning Yossi could only chip a weak ball over the bar.
The dirty Israeli
Incidentally, the Israeli took quite a lot of abuse during the match, all fired up no doubt by our manager’s pre-match statement that Yossi had done the dirty following his apparent agreement to stay in East London.
Things began to settle down for the Irons and on 17 minutes as LBM went hustling for the ball. He made a nice stop and turn and it was recycled to Ljungberg via Cole. Unfortunately, no-one was around to get on the end of a dangerous cross.
Four minutes later, we were all holding our heads as Boa contrived to scoop the ball up and over the bar from about eight yards following a long thrown into the box. It was very wasteful.
26 minutes in and Cole won a free kick on the left hand side of the box. Up stepped our increasingly dangerous set piece merchant, Mark Noble and he spanked in a shot which appeared to take a slight deflection and then twang back off the bar.
Liverpool were not at the races, being crowded out in the middle of the park. Mullins was having a particularly effective game putting himself about and getting his foot in. To think that I once wrote him off as a Championship player, he is much better than that. Torres was a lurking threat and you couldn’t fail to be struck by his pace, but on the rare occasion he had the football, Upson was hunting him down.
Come and have a go
Freddie was inviting tackles and winning free kicks which was good to see. He got the final free kick of the half which led to Noble’s ball in getting nodded behind for a corner. This in turn saw Bowyer pick up the scraps on the edge of the box but he fluffed his shot which Cole could only knock on against a defender.
It was a half of few chances, and it had a bit of a feel of the league game against Man City where we had the lion‘s share of possession but could not deliver the killer blow. But we stifled Liverpool, with Gerrard about as absent as a Scouser at a meeting with his probation officer. We were not troubled at all.
It was clearly Rafa rocket up the ar*e time at the interval, and Liverpool started with a much higher tempo at the start of the second half. The normally calm Upson hit a panicked back pass which for one minute looked like it was going in.
Meanwhile, our first move of the half five minutes in saw howls of despair from the Bobby Moore Lower as a long free kick saw the ball drop at LBM’s feet but he looked surprised and fluffed it. A good cross was sent immediately back in by the habitually solid McCartney, but Ljungbeg couldn’t get to the ball.
Boa was not deterred and managed to get the better of Hyypia coming forward. He whipped a nice ball in along the six yard box but there was tumbleweed blowing around in a deserted Liverpool penalty area. Noble was still full of energy and on 56 minutes he won a free kick 30 yards out on the right side. The delivery was good again, but once more LBM made a poor shot.
The manager decided that it was time for a change almost immediately after this, introducing Ashton and Etherington for LBM and Bowyer. Although he had been lacking in the shooting stakes, it seemed hardly fair to ironically cheer LBM’s removal. Once again the mob mentality got the better of sections of the crowd. Some people just want a villain to criticise. Carlton Cole was getting the same treatment at one stage but that’s all gone away for obvious reasons. People should get of LBM’s case.
4-4-2 no go
Although you could see that a tactical change to 4-4-2 just before the hour was worth a try as chances were few and far between, the change actually worked in the opposition’s favour. For the first time, Gerrard looked a real threat in that surging style of his. Fortunately, he seemed to lose the plot around the box and we managed to clear.
There was little sign of Matty or Ashton who had a disinterested demeanour and it took until the 70th minute before we even made the slightest threat with a scudded shot on the turn by Cole that was well wide.
Yossi had gone missing, maybe affected by his warm East End welcome and Babel was sent on in his place with 18 minutes left. Almost immediately after the change, Green had to get down quickly to make what looked like a point blank save.
Ashton made his first real contribution on 75 minutes, when he made a bustling run and fed a good pass out to Ljungberg whose shot cum pass was blocked out for a corner. Yet another Noble dead ball situation saw Lucas Neill this time with some space in the box and the ball at his feet, but he blasted wide under a challenge.
Three minutes later I was expecting a penalty to be awarded to Liverpool as Lucas Neill appeared to use an arm to block a goal bound shot. Fortunately the ref was not interested.
With ten minutes left, Curbs clearly decided that we had given 4-4-2 a go but that it had not worked in or favour. A shut up shop decision was made to send on Spector for Cole and again, you could see the logic of that. But just as the match looked to be fizzling out for a goalless draw, we broke away after a last minute Liverpool corner.
Matty did well to knock a pass over the top to Ljungberg who entered the left hand side of the box. Carragher made a blundering tackle that took Freddie’s legs and out the corner of my eye I saw Alonso hold his head just before the ref pointed at the spot.
It was high last minute drama and who should step up to take responsibility but Mark Noble. There is a bloke behind me that usually talks absolute garbage but in one of the few lucid comments I have heard him utter, he urged Noble to” do it for the FA Cup Final”. He duly obliged with an ice cool dispatch into the bottom left hand corner. That was pure quality given the pressure of the situation.
The hell pit
Although we caught the Scousers at a good time, this was a yet another example of how we have progressed since the trials and tribulations of last season. 12 months ago we had a paltry 19 points and were staring into the pit of Hades. Now, we seem to fear no-one and have given ourselves every chance of a European spot. The lack of activity in the transfer window seems a bit of irrelevancy in that context although we should never forget how we fell into complacency in strengthening our team during that fateful summer before we went down last time.
Let’s hope we can do our usual up in Wigan, where ESM Jnr will be attending his first away game without me, as I shall be lying face down in some gutter in Prague. Not a drop of alcohol has passed my lips during the entire month of January and my first session back on it is a radio rental weekend. Yep, it’s a schoolboy error.
(Player ratings by Gordon Thrower)
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Barely troubled all night – most dangerous opponent was the pitch that caused an early back pass to bobble.
Torres was a tough opponent but Neill stuck to the task admirably.
Steady enough performance that improved after Matty’s arrival.
Excellent. Has been a revelation since his return from injury/court. Maybe the close shave with the law has taught him a lesson. If so it has been well-learned.
Mr Consistent. The England call-up is well-deserved.
Was quietly effective without ever bossing the game.
Worked his socks off for the whole match. Nerves of steel for the spot-kick.
Excellent first half. I’d have liked to have seen him get at the already-booked Aurelio a bit more in the second. Brilliant contribution to the goal.
He's definitely had better games this season- there were glimpses here and there, but too many errors stunted his game.
Luis Boa Morte
Had a wretched night. The harder he tried the worse things got. Clearly the boss thinks he’s a better bet than Matty when playing five across the middle.
Battled gamely and caused his usual nuisance to the defenders without ever really looking like he was going to score.
(replaced Bowyer, 58) No real contribution when coming on as sub.
(replaced Boa Morte, 59) Didn’t get quite as involved as one might have hoped but his part in the break that ultimately led to the goal was excellent.
(replaced Cole, 81) A fresh pair of legs as we went to shore things up. Was on the plot when Ljungberg won the penalty.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Man of the Match: Mark Noble.
West Ham United
Robert Green, Lucas Neill, George McCartney, Anton Ferdinand, Matthew Upson, Lee Bowyer, Mark Noble, Freddie Ljungberg, Matthew Etherington, Luis Boa Morte, Carlton Cole.
Goals: Mark Noble 90 .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Reina, Finnan, Aurelio, Carragher, Hyypia, Gerrard, Alonso, Kewell, Benayoun, Torres, Kuyt.
Substitutes: Lucas (Kewell 61), Babel (Benayoun 72).
Subs not used: Itandje, Skrtel, Crouch.
Booked: Aurelio (38), Torres (71), Alonso (88).
Sent Off: None.