Sunday, 28th September 2003
And so to the much-anticipated match against the lot from over the river. Thanks to the presence of the lovely Charlotte, KUMB regular Chalks and I were able to get a lift to a secret location in East London where, thanks to the organisational skills of Romford, those in search of alcoholic sustenance were able to quench their thirsts at the ungodly hour of 10.35am (although it was a bit wasted on me as I enter my 6th alcohol-free month).
Team news was that we were reverting to a 4-3-3 featuring a midfield of Horlock Lee and Etherington. Local derbies rarely live up to the hype and this was no exception. Millwall had the earliest chance. Peeters picked up a ball on the left when looking well offside. His low ball into the box fed (I think it was) Cahill from whom James made a superb save from point blank range.
After the early scare we had the better of what chances there were. On about 10 minutes Mellor came close to his first goal for the club heading a cross from Repka past the post. Shortly after, Defoe was unlucky to see a goal-bound shot get deflected into the 'keeper's arms. An even better chance followed when Lee lofted a clever ball into the box towards an unmarked Connolly. Unfortunately DC failed to realise that he probably had enough time to chest the ball down and bury it and elected instead to try a first time header which Warner was able to deal with comfortably.
We took the lead on 25 minutes. Lee collected the ball in centre midfield and lobbed a ball through to Connolly who feinted one way then the other before putting away a fine shot into the bottom corner. It was a trademark goal and in truth was far better than the game deserved.
The lead could have been doubled shortly after when Mellor beat a defender to a ball out from the back. Having acres of space to run into, Mellor cut in from the right but shot straight at Warner when Connolly and Defoe were arguably better-placed.
Considering the highly charged build up to the match, events on the pitch had been fairly tame. However we were treated, if that's the word, to a silly few minutes shortly before the interval. Mellor broke free on the right and was crudely hacked down to earn the defender a deserved yellow. Shortly after, while awaiting a free kick, Connolly stupidly got involved with a defender and, after an interminable delay while the ref consulted his assistant twice, Connolly picked up his 5th caution of the season which will see him miss a match in a week or two.
Millwall had created little of note up to this point although James had to be alert to hold onto a header following a free-kick from the ever-irritating Wise whose habit of his foot in on just about every challenge went unnoticed by the officials.
Just before the break we had an even better chance to go in 2-0 up. Defoe latched onto a loose ball from a defender and took the ball to the side of keeper before chipping the ball towards goal. A defender managed to make a superb clearance. Connolly managed to keep the ball in and crossed only for Horlock's header to go over.
A half-time mercifully free of any songs containing the word "Buttercup" saw the Hammerettes performing a routine based on the 1930's aquatic movie spectaculars of Busby Berkley. Either that or someone forgot to tell them about the automatic sprinkler system. Either way they got wet.
The second half started with the substitution of Alexandersson for Mellor. If Mellor had picked up a knock then fair enough, however the reversion to 4-4-2 did us no favours as we ended up spending the second 45 hoofing the ball up to Defoe and Connolly. If you put them on eachother's shoulders they wouldn't have been as tall as Ward in the Millwall back 4. We still had the better of the earlier exchanges. A Defoe volley was blocked and rebounded to Etherington whose low shot came back off the post. Another run from Defoe ended up with a weak shot that went harmlessly wide.
However our lack of creativity in midfield meant that we were allowing the opposition a lot of possession, a crime compounded by our inability to string two decent passes together. Millwall's main chances fell to long-range efforts. The best of these fell to Ifill whose shot came crashing off the bar, although the Millwall man appeared to control the ball with his hand during the build up - this went unseen by referee Halsey for whom the offence was on the blind side.
The equaliser came with about 15 minutes left - I'd like to be more precise but the brand new stadium clock - in only its second match - had given up the ghost. Why do I have this strange suspicion that it was bought on the cheap? Anyhow Ifill broke free from the right and was allowed time to put a cross in for Cahill to head down and in to the delight of the hitherto silent travelling contingent.
From that point on Millwall were the more likely to score and in the final 10 minutes James pulled off three superb saves from various efforts. However right at the death Defoe's tunnel vision cost us again when the striker got behind the defence twice only to shoot when others were better placed.
The last of the action came when a free-kick was harshly awarded in response to a dive that would have embarrassed even Robert Pires. Wise shot low to James' left but the England no.1 pulled off another fine save for the match to finish all-square.
If I had to sum up the match in a short sentence or two (and I suppose I do) it would be that the match was identical to the Sheffield United match only with goals. We really miss the level of creativity that a fully fit Michael Carrick might bring to the side and we really need to drop this habit of reverting to long-ball tactics when we only have Defoe and Connolly up front. If we don't we may well have to play hosts to Millwall again which may be excellent news for the average Metropolitan Police bobby for whom the overtime must come in handy, but I'd rather not have to mess about with my matchday routine. This getting up early on a Sunday morning certainly doesn't agree with me and it was really difficult to keep my eyes open over my post-match diet coke in the Wakefield. Next time I'll make sure that I leave enough time for a bacon sarnie before I leave.
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Just edged Dailly out for my MOTM as he did more than most to keep us in the game at the end.
Ok but his lack of a right foot was embarrassing a couple of times when the ball came back to him on the right where he was taking corners.
Picked up a knock early on but struggled manfully on before being replaced by Ferdinand late on.
An excellent match - he kept the tree-like Peeters quiet for the bulk of the game.
A shrewd game from Reps who was quite clever at inviting the foul when necessary. Two words though Tomas - foul throw!
Got his foot in well throughout but was often guilty of getting rid of the ball as if it were raw sewage wrapped round a lump of weapons-grade plutonium.
Good first half, so-so second half.
A lot of unsung hard work off the ball didn't get noticed whilst the couple of misses did. If we're going to play it long he needs to be on the pitch.
A couple of class moments but his good work was often undone by his familiar trait of failing to notice anyone else on the pitch. Frustrating bearing in mind the sheer talent that the lad has.
Lively and his goal was another beaut. Sufferred second half from the switch to the long-ball and from Defoe's tunnel vision.
Okay in the first half when he did his share of tracking back but anonymous in the second when he developed this strange nervous affliction that led him to let the ball run under foot into touch on a few occasions.
(Replaced Mellor, 45) Failed to get involved in any meaningful way when he came on for the second half.
(Replaced Pearce, 80) Okay without setting the world alight for the 10 minutes or so he was on.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Man of the Match: David James.
West Ham United
Goals: David Connolly 25
Booked: David Connolly 43 Wayne Quinn 89 .
Sent Off: .
Warner, Cahill, Nethercott, Ifill, Livermore, Ward, Roberts, Wise, Dunne, Peeters, Craig..
Substitutes: Harris (Roberts 45), Lawrence (Dunne 45)..
Subs not used: Gueret, Whelan, Hearn..
Goals: Cahill (73).
Booked: Craig (39), Peeters (44)..
Sent Off: .