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Nationwide Division One
Saturday, 17th January 2004

Sheffield United 3
West Ham United 3

by East Stand Martin

Tonight in desperation, I have been onto the National Schizophrenic Fellowship website to see what advice can be given about a split personality football team.

Not only was that a first half performance by a West Ham team that no-one would recognise if they had only attended home games this season; but the second half was yet another team again.

Apparently strictly speaking this is not split personality, this is multiple personality disorder. The only problem is that it’s me that’s on the medication trying to get over it.

But if we play as a different team home and away as well as a different team in different halves, I’m also struggling to keep up with the personnel as well. God knows how many different players and formations we’ve had this season, but you can’t tell me that all this chopping and changing is doing us a lot of good. If Ranieri is the tinker man, then Pardew must be the chopper man.

Incidentally, while we’re on choppers – did you know that Raleigh is to start producing the Chopper once again? I had one of these great bikes in the 1970’s although some scumbag (probably a Spu*s fan) nicked it. I did hear however that the new Chopper will not have the trademark centre gear stick console, apparently for safety reasons. I only recall going over the top of my Chopper’s handlebars once and that was due to the brakes not the gear stick. Some health and safety do-gooder has ruined a classic bike.

Anyway, back to the game. It’s actually getting confusing, and unless you follow the team closely you could well get caught out down the pub watching the game. “Who’s that playing left wing-back for West Ham?” you may get asked by an interested bystander. “Errrrm, I dunno. It certainly aint the geezer that was playing there last week.”

Here’s a somewhat sobering thought – Dailly was the only player on the pitch tonight that actually finished the game against Birmingham away when we got relegated. We all knew that relegation would mean changes, but had we ever realised it would be like this?

It’s so disheartening to suffer such a lack of continuity and see so many players leave. Maybe it was unrealistic to expect anything different when we have a board like ours, but the problem is that I get the feeling that the chopper man has unfinished work.

The first image of the game was of a rabbit in the headlights. You can imagine what he was thinking, “I’ve been waiting years for the chance to take this goalkeeping jersey, but sh*t, I wasn’t quite expecting it happening right now.” You could only feel for the bloke, but in fact he was to acquit himself reasonably well. But more of that later.

The first goal for the Blades came early on when we got caught out down our left side. You cannot imagine my joy when I heard that Quinn hadn’t even made the 16 man squad, but the same frailty down that side seemed to be immediately exploited. Here we go again I thought.

But wait, who’s this quality left wing back who’s linking up brilliantly with Matty Etherington? It’s the boy Harley. Almost his first run created a goal, but Connors did not have the touch in the box.

While we’re on Connors, I remain of the opinion I expressed after the Preston Game – he does not have anything like the quality of Defoe. This was shown again on 15 minutes when instead of shooting from just outside the box, he inexplicably angled a pass to the left. Defoe would have shot without a doubt; maybe it’s just a confidence thing.

But if Connors is no Defoe (and let’s face it, there are few anywhere that match Jermain’s quality), he has got to be one of the hardest working players we have on the pitch. If he’s had a spat with Pardew, then there’s absolutely no sign of that spilling over into his attitude which is never say die. I applaud him for this.

It was Connors who also made the brilliant first time pass to Carrick for our first goal. Carrick finished very well and he really did need that, having been goal-less since May of last year. In fact for a lot of the game, Carrick was to show signs of his old self, I only hope that he can now do the same at home, because it’s been very disappointing to watch him this season.

But it was down the left where things were really looking good. Etherington was causing havoc and then step up Harley with a really incisive run and fantastic curling shot into the top left hand corner which left Kenny rooted to the spot. That has got to be West ham goal of the season to date.

If Harley had only driven up the M1 the night before to join the team in the hotel, he was showing no signs of being jaded. It was another great ball from him through to Etherington who then put over an inch-perfect cross to Harewood who made a difficult finish look easy. 3 – 1, who is this team? I could scarcely believe my eyes.

Although this was a great finish, I have to say that I am still not totally convinced by Harewood. His performance was pretty much the way I saw it in the Preston game – for long periods you hardly noticed him on the pitch. It’s all a bit too languid for my liking and I still say that for a big bloke he struggles to win many balls in the air.

We were coasting it at half time, but you knew even then that the game was probably far from over. The terrible fact that 23 points have gone begging this season from winning positions is always lurking in the background. That, believe it or not, is the worst record in the entire football league. Imagine where we’d be today if we weren’t schizoid West Ham.

What was needed was a nice quiet 15 minutes of the first half and I’m sure as I can be that this was what Pardew was saying in the dressing room.

It seemed to be working, even though Dailly was making a good job of helping the opposition out with an awful challenge on the edge of the box. Etherington was still looking a threat and his willingness to take people on gave me the hope that we might get a fourth.

But a further goal was always going to be crucial, and unfortunately it fell to Sheffield. Warnock in fact made a great tactical change by bringing on Shaw – who looked a threat from the outset - and he squeezed home from close range. The replay showed that there was a clear foul on Ferdinand – he got kicked somewhere near shoulder height, but Durkin seemed uninterested. I’ll forgive him for that as he remains my favourite ref – mainly for two performances he made at Old Trafford when we went and won.

Up until that point Ferdinand had enjoyed a fairly solid game. I’m not a great fan of his, and the boy is always going to be in the shadow of Rio, which means that sometimes he gets judged harshly. However, what followed next showed why I have doubts about him as he made an appallingly naïve attempted tackle as Peschisolido was actually running towards the corner flag. Cast iron penalty.

I had little hope that Bywater would even get a sniff, but he actually made a stunning save. He guessed the right way and his hand was very strong to block a powerful shot. Surely this was a sign?

As earlier on in the half, Etherington was still proving to be a menace down the flank. He made one great run that surely would have sealed the match had he passed to one of the three waiting West Ham players in the box. A second good chance after a terrific through ball, but this ended in a weak shot as he had no passing options.

Matty looked spent and this probably explained why Pardew took him off. I have to say that I would have left him on, as he has got to be the best man to run it into the corners to waste time. Pardew thought different.

It was end to end stuff, but we were now defending for our lives. We looked incredibly edgy at set pieces and Bywater made yet another superb save to deny Sturridge at short range with three minutes to go.

It looked won, but then the fourth official decided that there was to be four extra minutes. Bywater tried his best to run down the clock by tying up his boot laces, which sent the Blades’ fans behind the goal into a frenzy, but we then failed to take the ball up to the opposition’s corner flag. The ball got delivered back from a free kick by Kenny which ended in a corner and then a goal where three West Ham defenders on the line couldn’t deal with a ball coming in. Bywater didn’t even get near the ball and was left in no-man’s land.

So, we can now say that 25 points have been spurned this season from winning positions and once again we witnessed two West Hams on the park. One, playing great one touch football with considerable pace and penetration; another looking ragged and susceptible to any half decent delivery from a set piece. At least we can say that when we were good, we were very good and that when we were bad, we were not as bad as we have been this season.

Unfortunately, its points that win prizes. On the other hand, we still look good for the playoffs, but as you all know in your hearts, that depends on keeping Defoe. OK, so some of you think I’m wrong. I can tell you that I’ve never been in two minds about that, unfortunately I do detect that Mr Pardew’s gone a bit schizo on Defoe. Time will tell.

(Following player ratings by Graeme Howlett)

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Player Ratings

Stephen Bywater
The good, the bad and the ugly. The good; the point blank second half save and the fantastic spot kick stop. The bad; letting the ball slip under him for Sheffield United's second goal. The ugly? Getting caught in no-mans-land allowing the Blades to grab a late equaliser.


Christian Dailly
Disappointing again today although the fact that he had a debutant either side of him may not have helped a great deal. Could well be facing a spell on the bench upon Tomas Repka's return next weekend.


Jon Harley
Having had just one session with his team mates Harley would perhaps be forgiven for having a stinker tonight. However, his attacking support was superb and capped by a truly fantastic goal (even he looked surprised) and an assist. Defensively average, at best. Encouraging signs though (unless your name is Wayne Quinn, of course).


Andy Melville
A solid enough debut and encouraging to see a centre-half taking control of the situation around him. He may be 35 but Melville is a wily old campaigner and certainly looked no worse than Ian Pearce has at any stage of this season.


Anton Ferdinand
Alan Pardew stated earlier in the week that Anton needs to play regularly before being seriously considered for the first team. That was plainly obvious tonight as he was caught out too often defensively. The penalty was simply clumsy.


Hayden Mullins
Getting better and better as the weeks go by. Has real fire in his belly this lad, and is beginning to justify all the plaudits that earned him a move to West Ham in the first place. Solid tonight.


Michael Carrick
Just about his best game of the season so far. Michael showed traces of his best form tonight, knocking the ball around with ease. Showed grit and determination for his goal, his first of the season. More please.


Kevin Horlock
Solid in the engine room as always but still fairly anonymous. Has to be considered as nothing more than a squad player these days.


Matthew Etherington
Once again, another good away performance from Etherington - who is clearly one who appears to choke at Upton Park. A great cross for our third goal, although his most memorable contribution was not passing to Brian Deane of David Connolly for a tap in when we were 3-2 ahead. A turning point, if ever there was one.


Marlon Harewood
Another fairly quiet game for Harewood, although it could be argued that he did his job by planting one in the onion bag - and a great finish it was too. Needs to improve on his physical side, big defenders have it too easy against him at present.


David Connolly
Connolly's work rate is often cited as one of the finer points of his game. Tonight he gave another 100% performance full of running and spirit, the kind of which if installed in all 11 players would surely have guaranteed three points here. The only thing missing was a goal. Will leave a huge hole in the squad if, as is strongly rumoured, he does leave for pastures new later this week.


Substitutes


Brian Deane
(Replaced Horlock, 78) Greeted by a chorus of boos, Deano was rarely called into action.


Robbie Stockdale
(Replaced Harewood, 82) Barely touched the ball in his 12 minutes on the pitch.


Neil Mellor
(Replaced Etherington, 89) Thworn on in unfamiliar territory for the final few minutes.


Rabi Shabaan
Did not play.


Chris Cohen
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: P.Durkin.

Attendance: 22787.

Man of the Match: David Connolly.

West Ham United

Goals: Michael Carrick 19 Jon Harley 22 Marlon Harewood 37              

Booked: None booked.           .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Sheffield United

Kenny, Jagielka, Kozluk, Morgan, Page , McCall, Montgomery, Tonge, Lester, Peschisolido, Allison.

Substitutes: Shaw (Lester 64), Sturridge (Page 78).

Subs not used: Wright, Whitlow, Rankine.

Goals: Peschisolido (5), Shaw (72), Jagielka (90).

Booked: None booked..

Sent Off: None sent off..

 
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