Saturday, 19th April 2008
We went into this match against what is likely to prove to have been (statistically anyway) the worst team ever to “grace” the Premiership on the back of three defeats on the spin so, in theory anyway, these were the ideal opponents to face for a team in need of a bit of a confidence booster. “In theory anyway” being the operative words.
A combination of injuries (surely not?) and possibly tactics meant no fewer than seven changes to the line up that had lasted unchanged for almost a minute up at Bolton, Ferdinand becoming the latest player to catch the hamstring virus that is doing the rounds. A full debut was handed to Freddie Sears whilst, in defence, we were treated to our 427th different central defensive pairing of the season as James Tomkins was handed a home debut alongside Lucas Neill. Pantsil came in at right-back and long-term injury victim Faubert had survived a few reserve outings unscathed to leave us with a starting line-up of Green, Pantsil, McCartney, Neill, Tomkins, Parker, Noble, Ljungberg, Faubert, Zamora Sears.
Well for much of the first half things went to script. Sort of. We dominated possession and Faubert won a free kick following a daft challenge from Miller. Tomkins couldn’t keep the header from Noble’s cross down though. Tellingly Stubbs was finding it difficult to challenge Zamora without climbing all over the striker and it was certainly the second, possibly the third of such challenges that led to the opening goal. Linda chipped in a the free-kick, Zamora’s marker failed to remain in the same postcode area and the glancing header gave ex-Hammer Carroll no chance to give us the lead on 20 minutes.
This should have been the signal to go for it. There was the odd sign that we might put some moves together, particularly on the break out of defence but, invariably, whilst the first two or three passes would look promising, the final ball was something that would let us down, Ljungberg in particular being guilty of more than one poor delivery when something looked on.
We did get the ball in the back of the net a second time with Noble’s clever lob finding Zamora in space only for the lino to rule out the effort – incorrectly in my opinion – for offside. However, we seemed to content to sit back on the lead and got a bit of a warning when Savage got between Tomkins & Neill to get in a header that Green tipped over.
When we could be bothered to go forward we always looked like we could get something, though that rather depended on us being bothered. Of course the final ball problem was another issue that required sorting – Ljungberg again being guilty of poor decision-making as a deflected pass found its way through to him. With acres of space in front of him the Swede made the mistake of electing to try to pass to Zamora, something that might have been on but for the less than sylph-like figure of Stubbs being placed in the way.
Faubert was next to have a go rounding off a 20-yard run with a 20 yard shot that was only 18 yards away from being 20 yards wide.
It was not inspiring stuff in all honesty. There was some entertainment to be had in playing “guess how long before the black balloon gets stamped on” – though it has to be said the Australian Pink Floyd Show’s choice of inflatable earlier in the week had been a bit more entertaining than a solitary black balloon:
Come on – how many other match reports bring you photos of 20ft tall pink inflatable kangaroos?
Parker was next to have a go – a 20 yard effort being diverted 20 yards wide by Ljungberg. Parker did at least force Carroll into conceding a throw but Zamora’s touch, which can be variable at the best of times, deserted him completely and the advantage was conceded.
Sears then got into a promising position only to see the resulting cross cut out and that was it for the first half.
After the Kit-Kat break we were nearly caught cold as Derby went down the left and Jones put in a dangerous-looking cross that nobody seemed bothered about. Maybe the Derby attack were worried about bursting the black balloon that was drifting across the six-yard box.
Derby, possibly sensing that our indifference might bring them a rare point – or even better, started to bring the game to the home side. A Ljungberg foul on the left side of defence brought the visitors a free-kick in dangerous territory. The free-kick came to naught and the ball broke to Noble who fed Sears out on the left. Sears ran at Mears and put a ball across the face of goal with nobody quite far enough forward to accept the invitation to bury the thing. Sears and McCartney combined well to feed Zamora whose clever flick nearly caught out the defender.
Derby looked slightly the more interested of the two sides and we had a warning on the hour as Mears found himself clear on goal but Green’s save was superb. However, it was a warning that went unheeded. A few minutes after this particular scare we won a corner. Stubbs cleared and Derby broke away. Mears found himself in the same place as previously and lifted the ball over the advancing Green for the equaliser. The away support had hitherto displayed a nice sense of irony by celebrating each corner as if it were a World Cup winning goal, so the arrival of a real goal prompted scenes reminiscent of those that must occur in the Prescott household when the man of the house finds an unopened tin of biscuits. From our point of view the sight of Tomkins lying injured in the opposition penalty area brought further concern.
The goal prompted further disquiet in the ranks of the home support and frankly it was easy to understand why. There had been little spells that suggested that we might be able to take a poor defence apart with just a little bit of effort and urgency. However effort and urgency seemed to qualities on ration. Strangely though, we seemed a little bit more interested immediately after the equaliser as a fine ball in from Faubert found Noble only for the youngster’s diving header to go straight at Carroll. Another decent-looking ball from Faubert just eluded Zamora’s despairing lunge. Zamora missed out again when McCartney put over a useful cross only for Zamora to mis-hit it completely leaving Carroll an easy save.
Ljungberg then has a strong call for a free-kick when a sly tug by Savage eluded the officials. Given that Ljungberg was clean through Savage was lucky not only to avoid the free-kick but also to remain on the pitch. There again Savage’s sending-off record (or lack of one) over the years is one of those statistics that amazes everyone – though given the appalling standards of refereeing in this country it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise really.
With 73 minutes on the clock came the first substitution with Sears going off to be replaced by Cole. This prompted chants of “you don’t know what you’re doing.” This seemed a tad unfair to me under the circumstances. Sears had struggled to make much of an impact and was clearly tiring. On the other hand Zamora’s touch had been poor throughout and my own preference would normally be for a little and large combination up front so I wouldn’t have been too surprised to see Zamora being the one to go. Either way the front pairing needed freshening up so the change had merit.
The move paid dividends within a few minutes. In one of the few examples of decent football of the game, Noble played a lovely return pass inside the full-back to Ljungberg whose cross across goal was turned into the roof of the net from close range by Cole.
A couple of minutes after the goal Solano came on to replace Faubert. Solano got a few interesting looking crosses in over the remaining ten minutes or so but at the end it was the visitors who had a couple of chances to equalise, a Savage free header going harmlessly over as the three minutes of stoppage time started. At this point Boa Morte replaced Ljungberg to a chorus of boos. Now I understand the principle that states you have a right to boo a player because you’ve shelled out your hard-earned to watch a match but booing someone before they’ve actually stepped onto the pitch seems stupid to me.
Another thing that saddened me slightly was the sight of McCartney trying to waste time in the corner. Now whilst there is a time and a place to do that sort of thing I’d suggest that finding yourself in a position to bear down on goal with acres of space is neither. Whenever we try to do that corner thing we always seem to lose it anyway and McCartney was in a good position to maybe put the match to bed so it was a bit galling to say the least.
As the clock ticked away we were treated to the stable door closing sight of Carroll coming up for a corner. Unmarked, he got on the end of it too, though his shot was harmless enough and the game came to a close with the sound of boos, mainly from the Centenary end, from those for whom only a 6-0 win was going to be enough.
We made hard work of this one. From time to time it was quite clear why Derby are where they are and it was irritating to watch us play a minute or two of football only to sit back and admire it for the next 15. On the bright side, Tomkins continued to show promise which, given the number of defenders we have on the treatment table, is no bad thing. Next week’s match against the Geordies will be a sterner test and we’ll need to show a bit more interest if we’re to get anything out of this game. Still an early start in the bar with my mates from that part of the world will probably mean I’ll be too numb to care – Comfortably Numb as the Aussie Floyd might have it!
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For long periods was bothered by little more than back-passes. However, he made two good saves when required.
Ok I do irony as well as the next man but the humorous “cult hero” thing doesn’t mask the fact that he’s not very good. Solid enough here but will be tested more over the next few weeks if he plays.
Ok but his distribution was a bit off-key from time to time.
Not too bad in his less-familiar central role but I’d hope that Upson might be fit sooner rather than later for the sterner tests that are to follow.
A couple of early passes aside this was a useful home debut. Not afraid to put himself about up front either when set pieces merit.
Busy ninety minutes for the youngster who at times ran the show in the middle.
Seems to have reduced his habit of turning back into trouble when there’s an easy ball on – though the once or twice that he did it today was still once or twice too many for my liking.
Early on he kept picking the wrong pass but he did improve as the game progressed and played a vital role in setting up the winner.
One shot and a couple of good crosses but disappeared from view for too long for my liking.
Nice touch for the goal. Horrible touch for the rest of the match.
Looked dangerous on the few occasions we played the ball to his feet or into areas to give him a run. Only we didn’t do that enough, so he spent much of the game hidden by the sort of invisibility field much beloved of rotten sci-fi writers.
(replaced Sears, 74) Made one very telling and important touch. And a few more ordinary ones.
(replaced Faubert, 78) A few good runs down the left though you’d rather have had him in the middle.
Luis Boa Morte
(replaced Ljungberg, 90+2) Not really on for long enough to make a contribution, though from the booing that heralded his arrival you’d have been forgiven for thinking that all that had been bad in the previous 90 minutes had been his fault.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Man of the Match: Robert Green.
West Ham United
Robert Green, John Paintsil, George McCartney, Lucas Neill, James Tomkins, Mark Noble, Scott Parker, Freddie Ljungberg, Julien Faubert, Bobby Zamora, Fred Sears.
Goals: Bobby Zamora 20 Carlton Cole 78 .
Booked: Mark Noble 80 .
Sent off: None.
Carroll, Mears, Stubbs, Todd, Leacock, Jones, Ghaly, Savage, Lewis, Sterjovski, Miller.
Substitutes: Villa (Jones 75), McEveley (Todd 82).
Subs not used: Price, Moore, Feilhaber.
Goals: Mears (65).
Booked: None booked..
Sent Off: None sent off..