Tuesday, 9th December 2003
Don't get me wrong, my dear friend Bridget is a wonderful person (for someone from Stoke anyway) and I was more than happy to treat her to a ticket to our match against our home town team for her birthday. However, I think it was just a bit much for West Ham to jump on the birthday bandwagon by adding a further gift of three points to the pressie pile in one of the most abject displays I've seen in years.
Almost exactly a year ago to the day we played a Southampton side who turned up late, created little and ended up legging it home having somehow nicked all three points. This was eerily like that match. The Stoke team, presumably delayed by traffic, only arrived at the Boleyn at 7.00pm and, as a result, the match kicked off about 10 minutes late.
It was, frankly, an awful match from start to finish. The only thing of note to happen during the early part of the match was an incident involving Akinbyi who elbowed Repka. This prompted a stern lecture from the referee – for Repka who had reacted angrily to having his face rearranged by a forearm smash. Akinbyi of course escaped even the slightest of ticking offs. Thankfully Repka chose to keep calm rather than go into headless chicken mode, for which Akinbyi should perhaps be grateful.
Other than that, little happened at all for nearly half an hour. Pearce had a header deflected over the bar from a corner, then Connolly hit the outside of a post from a free kick from just outside the box. Since this was our best spell of the match (to very much stretch a point) it was probably inevitable that something stupid would occur. Harewood lost the ball out on the right hand touchline being bundled over by what appeared to be a foul. The ball found its way to Akinbyi whose effort was blocked by Dailly only for the ball to find its way out to Richardson whose far from powerful shot somehow eluded James, entering the goal under his body. Harewood had a quiet word about the initial challenge with the ref but to no avail.
The team's response was to change the formation. Having started with a 3-4-1-2 formation using Quinn and Stockdale as wing-backs, the team reverted to a back four, Repka moving along to right back and Quinn dropping back to left back for the remainder of the first half. The effect was negligible. Whilst the wing backs had been used to give width in the absence of the injured Etherington, neither Quinn nor Stockdale seemed to have much idea of what to do with the ball once they received it and the ball was invariably played back to one of the back three to lump it up towards Deane. The change to four at the back removed what little width there had been and the hard working Stoke midfield were barely tested.
Half time came and, bearing in mind the lacklustre nature of the preceding 45 minutes I wasn't sure whether to be happy or sad that my lucky programme number was only one away from winning a signed football. AP made further changes. Repka was sacrificed in favour of Horlock in order to bring a more natural 4-3-3, with Stockdale dropping back to right back and Connolly pushing further forward. Unfortunately it was one of those nights when it didn't really matter which eleven players wore the claret and blue, the general malaise was that contagious. As if to underline the point Hutchison replaced Deane and, whilst Hutch got through a lot of effort trying to make things happen, effort was all he could bring to the party.
If you were to look at the possession stats I'd say we probably had the ball a good 60-70% of the time. Unfortunately it's no use having so much of the ball if all you do with it is give it away. Stoke were scarcely worried about holding on to the ball as, defending deep, they were happy to watch us mess about for minutes at a time until the attack broke down. Very occasionally, as if in an attempt to relieve the boredom of watching West Ham disappear down ever decreasing circles, Stoke would break out. One such move started with Pearce being nearly decapitated by a high boot. The ball went through to Asaba who, thankfully, wasted the opportunity with team mates better placed. Pearce, who was later pushed up front in a vain effort to make something happen, was justifiably annoyed at not getting the free kick for dangerous play and, in an echo of the earlier incident involving Repka, picked up a yellow card for his complaints.
Things could have got even worse with 9 minutes left on the clock when, during a rare foray into the West Ham half, Eustace hit a wickedly dipping shot from 25 yards which clipped the top of the crossbar. Up the other end a Hutchison shot from distance looked more like a back pass whilst on the (very) few occasions he ran at the Stoke defence, Harewood was guilty of failing to get any sort of meaningful shot in and the game tamely expired despite the addition of 3 minutes of stoppage time, most of which could be accounted for by the inordinate length of time taken by Akinbyi to leave the field when substituted – there again I suppose that it was in keeping with the pace that he showed throughout the match itself.
Looking at the team it's difficult to find one area in which we could glean any sort of hope for making the playoffs let alone getting automatic promotion. What hope there is probably rests with those players who weren't there rather than those who were. You can't help feeling that a fully fit Defoe running at the defence might have scared the life out of Stoke had he been available and the same might have applied to Etherington if in the mood.
If the players on display against Stoke have any professional pride at all they'll spend the next couple of days taking a long hard look at their performance and will hopefully decide that someone will suffer. Hopefully it will be Sunderland that will be on the receiving end. If not we can say goodbye to dreams of the Premiership.
The away match at Stoke will take place in April, shortly after my birthday. If you're stuck for something to get for me Bridget, I wouldn't mind the three points back please!
* Want to submit your match reports to KUMB.com? More details here ...
Had one real thing to do tonight. Failed to do it.
Perhaps slightly unfortunate to be sacrificed at half time in the formation change as there were any number of players that were worse than him on the night.
Simply didn't know what to do with the ball as a wing back and scarcely improved as part of a flat back four. Hurry back Rufus.
Defensively relatively ok but distribution was awful.
As with Quinn, he seemed totally at sea as a wing back, and was anonymous as a full back.
An absolute shocker from Michael. Wasted possession time and time again. Something's dreadfully wrong here – can whoever kidnapped the real MC please return him as soon as possible.
Won the ball a few times but, like most of his team mates, usually undid his own hard work by giving it away.
Tried hard but his limitations were there for all to see.
The best of the original back three, he was pressed into service as an extra forward towards the end with zero effect.
One or two promising runs but guilty of over-elaboration on several occasions.
Appears to be unhappy with his role just behind the front two. Got through a lot of running nevertheless.
(Replaced Repka, 45) Largely anonymous.
(Replaced Deane, 55) Tried valiantly to kick start a recovery but sadly was unable to effect any recovery.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Man of the Match: Tomas Repka.
West Ham United
Booked: Ian Pearce 67 .
Sent Off: .
De Goey, Hall, Taggart, Thomas, Clarke, Richardson, Halls, Eustace, Russell, Noel-Williams, Akinbiyi.
Substitutes: Asaba (Akinbiyi 61), Johnson (Noel-Williams 72).
Subs not used: Cutler, Commons, Neal.
Goals: Richardson (33).
Booked: Thomas (32), Taggart (70).
Sent Off: .