Saturday, 13th December 2003
We all know that over any prolonged period of supporting West Ham one will at various times be overjoyed, depressed, ecstatic, frustrated, inspired and mystified. However rarely does it happen that all of these feelings are provoked over the course of one 90 minute period.
Having started with variations of 3 at the back during the Stoke debacle, the team reverted to a 4-4-2 with Harewood playing wide out right behind Connolly and the back from suspension Defoe. Etherington returned from injury, replacing the injured Carrick.
We looked almost good over the first few minutes in which we might easily have taken the lead. A free-kick on the right of midfield was met by Horlock whose header was a hair's breadth away from the right hand post. However our early form was to prove a false dawn. Pearce failed to deal with a long clearance from the back and Stewart carried the ball forward to the edge of the box. James decided to come, changed his mind, changed his mind again and eventually failed to get any sort of challenge at all on Stewart who rounded the keeper and pulled the ball back for McAteer to gleefully drive low into the empty net. All confidence disappeared as bad memories of midweek resurfaced.
The remainder of the half was, basically, awful. Stringing two passes together was a task that appeared to be beyond us. Although a sharp turn from Defoe saw his shot come off the post and Harewood had a good shout for a penalty turned down, we created little and seemed to lack the most basic of techniques as player after player appeared unable to kill a ball.
As the rain teemed down things turned from bad to worse on the half hour. Stewart found space on the right hand side and hit his shot straight at James who spilled the shot straight back at Stewart. James lost out in the scrum for the loose ball which came out to Oster who buried the ball from the left hand side. We were 2-0 down and had been second to every ball.
The tensions within the side boiled over 5 minutes later. Harewood was fouled by Oster who appeared to stamp on Marlon whilst he was on the floor. The red mist descended in front of Repka's eyes as he remonstrated with Oster, who rightly picked up a yellow card. Repka's card was also justified. However he probably wasn't listening to whatever the ref had to say as he was engaged in a “frank exchange of views” with skipper Dailly. This seemed to involve lots of shouting and finger wagging, all of which took place whilst Repka's caution was being processed by the ref. In truth the Repka/Dailly argument was one of the few bursts of fight and passion that we produced in the first half, and it was, no surprise when Alan Pardew later revealed that the, er, 'discussion', had carried over into the dressing room at half time.
I was asked if I thought a comeback was on the cards. “I should be so lucky” I said. We'd been that bad for the bulk of the first half I simply couldn't see it happening. What do I know?
Don Hutchison replaced Quinn at half time with Horlock dropping back to left back, and, although Hutch put a fair bit of effort in during the early part of the second half, Sunderland had the better of things for the first few minutes after the interval, and we were very fortunate indeed not to go 3-0 down when Whitley found enough time and space to get a shot in that came back off the crossbar with James stranded. However, this stroke of luck seemed to represent a turning point, although it might be more accurate to say that the main change of fortune came on 55 minutes when Deane replaced Harewood. The results were instant. Dailly played a long ball from the left which Deane nodded down. Connolly challenged Poom for the loose ball which came out to Defoe to tap in. Deane's header was probably the first that had been won up front all day.
The goal galvanised both players and crowd and the during the next 10 minutes or so we played some exhilarating stuff. Six minutes later we were level. The goal was the best bit of football all day. Repka who, having calmed down a bit, was having a superb game at the back, brought the ball out of defence and played the ball to Deane, whose first-time pass inside the full back to Etherington was exquisite. Etherington took the ball on a few yards before playing the ball into Defoe who took one touch to control before burying a fine shot low into the bottom right of the goal. Not right in the head? I dunno about that but he's certainly right in the feet and I'll settle for that!
Sunderland were now very much on the back foot and, although Deane's presence caused them no end of problems it would be unfair to suggest that it was all route one and Deane himself was often to be found involving himself in some of the more intricate moves. Not that Sunderland were without chances – James making partial amends for his earlier errors with a couple of good saves. However Sunderland had effectively lost the initiative and Defoe was unlucky not to get his hat-trick when his shot from Connolly's pass was turned round the post by Poom. Sunderland's respite was short-lived however, and we took the lead with ten minutes left on the clock. A free kick was driven in from the right by Horlock. Poom may have got a finger to the ball which came back off the post to Pearce who tapped in from close range.
The last few minutes were enlivened by the debut of Chris Cohen who had replaced Etherington just before the third goal, He looks a big lad for 16 and the Sunderland midfielder who was on the receiving end of the tackle that earned Cohen a (deserved) caution would probably agree.
Although Sunderland pushed forward over the last few minutes the defence remained firm and, to much relief, we held out for the much needed three points which, amazingly, pushed us up to sixth place.
I'm still trying to work out exactly how we can play so badly and yet so well during the same match. Certainly the tactical changes made had an effect, but even allowing for those I couldn't work out how players who couldn't trap a bag of cement in the first half suddenly turned into world-beaters during the second half. Ok world-beaters may be pushing it a bit but you know what I mean. In the meantime I'm just glad that they did. My new suggestion to our manager is that he should engineer a disagreement between Dailly and Repka every week, perhaps getting them to disagree over who should be voted out of Pop Idol (whatever that is). Only please do it before the start of the match rather than at half time!
Happy Christmas everybody!
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Had a nightmare first half but improved in the second half, although still had a couple of dodgy clearances, albeit from shocking backpasses.
Despite his spat with Dailly had a fine game, especially in the second half.
An uninspiring performance that led to his replacement by Hutchison at half time.
Like so many others had a shaky first half but improved in the second. I'd love to know what was said between him and Repka and, indeed, if either one could understand what the other was saying!
A welcome return that added much needed width to the midfield. Was at least willing to take people on although met with mixed success in the first half.
Played in midfield, left back then back in midfield again without really shining in either role. Good delivery for the free-kick that lead to the winner.
Too often all at sea in the first half but improved in the second (do you notice a theme recurring here?!)
Simple first goal. Marvellous second.
Redeemed himself from an otherwise undistinguished performance by being in the right place at the right time for the winner.
Caused occasional problems for Sunderland, but suffered from being played in his less favoured right midfield role.
Tons of running and laid the ball off well throughout. Major contribution to the first goal.
(Replaced Quinn, 45) Another strong performance off the bench.
(Replaced Harewood, 54) I've never been a fan of Deanos to be honest. However credit where it's due. His introduction today changed the face of the game and Sunderland simply had no idea how to deal with him – not just in the air either. Well played.
(Replaced Etherington, 77) Came on late on to replace the tiring Etherington. Somewhat strong tackle got him a caution.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Man of the Match: Tomas Repka.
West Ham United
Goals: Jermain Defoe 55 Jermain Defoe 61 Ian Pearce 80
Booked: Tomas Repka 37 Chris Cohen 84 .
Sent Off: .
Poom, Wright, McCartney, Bjorklund, Arca, Oster, Thirlwell, McAteer, Whitley, Stewart, T.Smith..
Substitutes: Kyle (McAteer 61), Butler (T.Smith 78)..
Subs not used: Ingham, Babb, Quinn..
Goals: McAteer (4), Oster (30)..
Booked: Oster (37)..
Sent Off: .