Wednesday, 15th October 2003
It's often hard to come up with a one or two-word description of a match to stick at the top of a report. Tonight's was easy. A game that was there for the taking was nearly blown thanks to a combination of poor finishing and an apparent lack of desire to take the opposition apart. Team news was that, in the absence of the suspended Connolly and Defoe, Garcia earned a rare start partnering Mellor up front. The usual back four was protected by a midfield comprising Horlock, Carrick, Etherington and Alexandersson.
We got off to an excellent start. A marvellous free-flowing move down the right involving Repka, Alexandersson and Garcia found Mellor in space on the right-hand side of the box. Mellor's low driven cross across the face of the goal left the defender Edworthy with the choice of either allowing the ball to run through to Garcia for a tap-in, or to complete the job himself. He elected for the latter course of action to put us 1-0 up after only 4 minutes.
We were unfortunate not to double the lead later when a cross from the right found it's way out to Etherington on the far post, his deflected shot being cleared by a combination of 'keeper and overhead clearance from a defender.
It could and should have been more. When we got relegated I was concerned that the standards of refereeing in the Nationwide wouldn't be as good as that in the Premiership - which face it wasn't exactly of a decent standard itself eh Mr Dean?. However, up to tonight I have in the main been fairly satisfied. Tonight's team of officials left a lot to be desired though. Firstly, Etherington had a cross blocked out. A 90 degree deviation in the path of the ball wasn't enough evidence for the linesman to give a corner. Worse still, shortly after this error Etherington turned cleverly in the box only to have his legs taken away from underneath him. It looked a clear penalty from my viewpoint and the defender certainly looked worried judging by his reaction. Neither ref nor assistant saw it. The referee didn't see Etherington's follow-up challenge either but felt sufficiently trusting in the assistant's eyesight to issue a yellow card on the strength of it.
The ref further endeared himself to the crowd by completely ignoring a disgraceful late lunge from behind on Garcia although he did find the energy to issue a yellow to Repka for an challenge on Huckerby, who has never previously needed much of an invitation to fall over. As if by some poetic justice, a few minutes later Huckerbay managed to fall over all on his own and did sufficient damage to require replacement at half-time. A further penalty claim fell on deaf ears, presumably on the grounds that the defender hadn't removed all of Mellor's shirt. Somewhere in the middle of this, the lively Etherington finished a run down the left with a shot that hit the side netting.
At half time (the presumably injured) Horlock was replaced by Lee. We had another lively start when Mellor's shot from distance brought an excellent save from Green low to his left. However, despite the lion's share of possession we lacked the pace up front to make it count and, this being West Ham that we are talking about, there is always going to be a chance that we might shoot ourselves in the foot and so it proved. In a mad ten minutes we not only threw away two points but were also fortunate not to come away with a defeat.
The equaliser came from a corner - one of ours. Quinn's corner from the right hand side was played back to him out on the wing. Lacking options with his left foot, and lacking a right foot of any use he lost the ball to a defender. The ball was played up the line where Lee made one tackle but missed a vital second to allow Norwich time and space to get the ball down to a crossing position. Now over the years the one thing I've noticed about Crouch (and let's face it he's hard not to notice) is that he rarely wins a header when challenged, which for someone of his height is a bit unusual. Unfortunately Dailly and Pearce elected to leave him unmarked and the striker was able to head back across James to equalise.
Worse was nearly to come two minutes or so later when, buoyed by their equaliser, Norwich started to show more adventure and were unlucky not to take the lead when some good approach work involving Crouch left Francis to hit the post with James beaten.
We continued to press forward ourselves, but where in the first half our passing had been accurate and incisive, our movement on and off the ball had become hesitant and panicky as we started to give the ball away far too often. We still created chances though. Mellor should surely have done a bit better with his header from Etherington's cross when unmarked only ten yards out. We created several other chances but our shots were either too wayward or too weak to cause Norwich any worry.
The match finished with Norwich content to play out time down by the corner flag. The late introductions of Hutchison (for Garcia on 75 minutes) and Ferdinand on 85 minutes for Etherington who had been caught by a late tackle which the referee missed despite being only two yards away and looking straight at the incident, failed to provide the needed spark although young Anton was keen to get down the line wherever possible. The game petered out into a tame draw, much to the delight of the large travelling contingent who seemed to be under the misapprehension that they had won a combination of the Champions' League, the Eurovision Song Contest and a tenner for mentioning the word "Jacuzzi" on live national radio rather than an away point at Upton Park.
Over the course of a season, certain recurring themes develop. This season's theme is that we take a lead whilst on top then fail to capitalise on our superiority and allow the opposition back into the match. We have a few 1-0 wins under our belt this season that could easily have been 1-1 or worse. Tonight's match saw what can happen when you don't press home while you can. A 4-0 win or better would have seen us go top on goal difference and our performance in the first half suggested that this should not have been beyond us. However our second half showing suggested that unless we pull our socks up we may have to be satisfied with a play-off berth unless we start killing teams off.
There, I knew I could do it. A whole match report without once mentioning "The Wakefield", "Jack & Sam" or "Build Me Up Buttercup". (This bit doesn't count ok?!)
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Generally solid but distribution left a bit to be desired on a couple of occasions.
A couple of silly moments detracted from a generally solid performance. Harshly booked but there were a couple of challenges that were more worthy of a yellow so the ref probably got it right by accident.
His lack of a right foot is a worry when he takes corners on the right hand side as, if the ball comes back to him he is stuck. This was the indirect cause of the equaliser.
Fairly solid but his habit of going over the top of forwards backing into him gives away free-kicks in dangerous positions.
A strong first half during which he must have picked up a knock.
Looked lively throughout the match although faded towards the end.
Not one of Michael's better evenings - still seems half a yard off the pace and a couple of times he seemed to avoid tackles rather than risk injury. I'm sure he will improve as his match fitness increases.
Lively in the first half but fairly anonymous in the second.
Caused Norwich problem after problem and seemed our most likely to score player.
Combined well with Mellor and it was nice to see a genuine attempt to forge a striking partnership for a change.
Seemed a little off the pace and his missed tackle contributed towards the equaliser.
Given a warm welcome when replacing Garcia but otherwise did little of note.
A couple of good runs down the right in the few minutes he was on.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Man of the Match: Neil Mellor.
West Ham United
Goals: Edworthy og 6
Booked: Matthew Etherington 19 Tomas Repka 40 .
Sent Off: .
Green, MacKay, Fleming, Edworthy, Drury, Holt, Francis, Harper, Huckerby, McVeigh, Crouch.
Substitutes: Rivers (Huckerby 46), Mulryne (Harper 76), Roberts (Crouch 90).
Subs not used: Lewis, Easton.
Goals: Crouch (63).
Booked: Francis (68).
Sent Off: .