Saturday, 12th September 2009
Nowadays we have bright shiny trains that tilt their way around the bends of the West Coast Main Line. The upside of such technology is that you wing your way to Wigan in dead on two hours. The down side is that young lads like Luke, whose breakfast appeared to consist of sweets and diet cola end up redecorating the lavatory facilities with the contents of their stomachs. Romford went into clean-up mode whilst Joyful’s maternal skills came into play with the suggestion that some left over Nescafe could be deployed to mask the smell, thus finally, after all these years, proving to me that instant coffee has a valid use.
So we arrived at Wigan safe in the knowledge that nothing more could go wrong. Well except for some idiot misunderstanding the ticketing arrangements. It’s like this: I have the away season ticket. I thought Romford was getting his own tickets. He thought I was getting his tickets. Happily the misunderstanding (my fault entirely) took place for an away match at Wigan, a club whose support is poor both numerically and in quality and paying on the turnstile actively encouraged so my blunder wasn’t crucial in the grand scheme of things. So, having lost some Americans, had one of our party go sick and with me forgotten to sort out the tickets, what else could go wrong?
The team news was that Zola seemed to have eschewed the diamond formation in favour of having both Parker and Kovac in the middle. Ilunga’s continued absence and Spector’s uncertainty as his replacement meant a left-back berth for Danny Gabbidon. New-boys Diamanti and Da Costa made the racing car seats alongside a fit again Behrami. Starting line-up: Green, Faubert, Gabbidon, Tomkins, Upson, Kovac, Parker, Noble, Stanislas, Hines, Cole.
It wasn’t the most inspiring of first halves. The vast swathes of empty seats in the home sections didn’t help the atmosphere much and what little noise there was came via the artificial means of a bloke with a drum and his six mates who informed us somewhat tiresomely that we were only there because we cheated. I thought about starting a counter chant pointing out that they were only there as a tax-loss for a convicted price-fixer and child slave labourer but to be honest I was struggling with the rhyming structure of the middle eight and in the end ditched the idea in favour of joining in with the more traditional “one Carlos Tevez” response.
On the pitch it was fairly dull stuff. Green dealt well with a couple of speculative efforts from distance from Gomez early and late in the half. However, the main talking points revolved around the worrying performance of ref Wiley. Wiley has a history of bottling important decisions but he does toe the party line, which ensures his continued selection in the so called “select group” by Keith Hackett. He was on typical form here as Hines turned his defender and burst towards goal where he was promptly brought down. Wiley had two decisions to make: had the foul taken place inside or outside of the box? (answer: probably just outside) and had the foul resulted in a denial of goalscoring opportunity? (answer:almost certainly yes). However, faced with the prospect of having to send somebody off, Wiley reverted to his usual dithering self and ignored the challenge completely. As if to confirm that the decision had little to do with the laws of the game and everything to do with Wiley’s desire to cover his backside, two seconds later a similar challenge on Hines in more neutral territory was given as a foul, safe in the knowledge Wiley would only have to give a free-kick.
The other talking point came at the very close of the half. Cole got on the end of a free-kick and headed over the advancing ‘keeper to put the ball into the empty net. Now it is entirely possible that the one minute of stoppage time expired at exactly the point at which Wiley blew the whistle. However, in view of his earlier apparent dishonesty over the Hines incident, and the general level of his performances over the years, it would not come as a surprise if the incident represented yet another self-promoting Clive Thomas-style moment from one of our oh-so-hard-done-by officials. I suspect we’ll have to wait for the book to find out.
Whilst we had looked comfortable during the first half I was concerned at what appeared to have been a lack of urgency on our part. One couldn’t help but think that if we’d made more of an effort to take the game to the opposition we might have had a more profitable 45 minutes. Still Zola would be telling them all this in the interval, wouldn’t he?
Unfortunately, if the players had been told to liven things up a bit, they had obviously decided that they would do it later and within 10 minutes we were behind. The problem came down our left where Gabbidon had failed to close down his man sufficiently. Melchiot’s low cross found Koumas whose shot was saved superbly by Green. Unfortunately, as was the case in the England match the other night, Green’s defenders were second to the ball and Rodallega was on hand to put the ball away from the edge of the 6-yard box. This, of course, prompted that refuge of the muppet club, the playing of “Tom Hark” over the PA to mark a goal. Of course the bloke with the drum and his six mates loved it.
Well the goal sparked a bit of urgency on our part at least and we had a number of chances to level and, indeed to take the lead. Tomkins should have done better with a free header straight after the goal. Then, on the hour, Parker’s half-volley from a Noble corner was tipped over by Kirkland. Tomkins again got away from his marker at the corner but again failed to put away the free header.
This prompted a double substitution from Zola. Off came Stanislas to be replaced by Diamanti and Kovac disappeared to be replaced by the heartening sight of Valon Behrami for his first game of the season.
The substitution nearly paid dividends. Hines burst through down the inside right channel (for the old ‘uns amongst us) and was upended by Figueroa, who picked up a yellow for his trouble. Diamanti stepped up for the free-kick and missed by a whisker with a curling effort that grazed the outside of the side netting.
Diamanti went even closer a few minutes later. Picking the ball up out wide on the right, he wriggled away from the attentions of the defender before curling a shot that came back off the angle of post and crossbar.
At this point I should make a confession. I left the ground just after this. I’m not one who usually departs early – I tend to hang on to the bitter end irrespective of scoreline. However Romford had managed to purchase train tickets on an early train that, had we missed it, would have seen us having to fork out another £60 apiece in order to get home. This was something that, personally speaking, was not an enticing prospect. So, reluctantly, I missed the last ten minutes of action. Having recorded the “Football First” version of events it transpired that a) Diamanti looks as if he might be a bit useful and b) we had other chances to equalise but didn’t take them. The final result was confirmed by the mobile internet (how did we manage without mobiles all those years ago?) and a pleasantly empty train. Despite (or maybe because of) the hastily obtained bag of chips from the shop by the station Luke managed to make the two hour journey back without any further delivery of pavement pizza and a day when just about nothing had gone right came to an end.
There seemed to be a bit of lethargy about the team for this one. It was as if the players were thinking that they were bound to score in a minute anyway so they might as well while away a few minutes until the goal came along. If that was the case they got the result they deserved against a poor side who won’t be hearing the strains of “Tom Hark” too many times this season. It’s all very well getting geed-up for the bigger matches but these are the bread and butter ones from which we need to be getting some return if we are to progress this season.
On the bright side, Diamanti showed enough to suggest that he may be a player with the skill and imagination that we’ve been lacking in the final third of late – though I am painfully aware that it’s early days (I remember Savio’s first 15 minutes being fairly impressive and look what happened to him). So it’s not all doom and gloom.
If I’ve learned one thing about the weekend however it’s to make sure everyone has tickets – we won’t always be going to grounds as empty as the Slave Bowl. In the meantime if you see three American women looking lost at Euston, tell them we lost.
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Some comfy saves in the first half. Unlucky with the goal.
Celebrated his HOTM and the more prestigious KUMB.com POTM awards with another improved performance.
Looked a bit out of position for the goal and, whilst he is no stranger to the left back spot, I’ll be a bit happier when Cheri returns.
Ok defensively but will be having nightmares over the two free headers that should have seen him mark his accession to first choice defender with a goal.
Steady enough at the back as he readjusted to life alongside Tomkins.
Held the middle well and was unlucky to see his half-volley turned over the bar by the ‘keeper.
This was the sort of game he ought to have been taking by the scruff of the neck but didn’t. Picked up a deserved yellow early on for a niggly little kick and was on a bit of a knife-edge thereafter.
I couldn’t quite work out what he was supposed to be there for. Unfortunately, it appeared that neither could he.
Failed to provide any significant attacking threat and faded into anonymity as the match wore on.
A decent full debut. Chased down the ‘keeper a few times and displayed a sense of urgency that few of his team-mates matched.
Not one of his better days. Failed to cause the defenders any bother.
(Replaced Kovac, 63 mins) Good to see him back. Too early to tell maybe but hopefully the long layoff won’t have affected him too much.
(Replaced Stanislas, 63 mins) Promising start. It remains to be seen whether the form shown in a 20-minute cameo will translate into something more tangible but fingers crossed eh?
(Replaced Noble, 86 mins) On for what is becoming his traditional few minutes at the end without really causing any trouble.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Manuel Da Costa
Did not play.
Did not play.
Referee: Alan Wiley.
Man of the Match: Julien Faubert.
West Ham United
Robert Green, Julien Faubert, Danny Gabbidon, James Tomkins, Matthew Upson, Scott Parker, Mark Noble, Radoslav Kovac, Junior Stanislas, Zavon Hines, Carlton Cole.
Goals: None .
Booked: Mark Noble 28 .
Sent off: None.
Kirkland, Melchiot, Bramble, Boyce, Figueroa, Thomas, Koumas, Gomez, Diame, N'Zogbia, Rodallega.
Substitutes: Scharner (Koumas 65), Scotland (Rodallega 72), Sinclair (Gomez 90+2).
Subs not used: Pollitt, Edman, Cho, King.
Goals: Rodallega (55).
Booked: Figueroa (69), Bramble (83).
Sent Off: None.