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Nationwide Division One
Saturday, 31st January 2004

West Ham United 2
Rotherham United 1

by East Stand Martin

The biggest surprise today in this game was at half time. I was queuing up with ESM Junior to get a cup of the £1.10 radioactive sludge that passes for coffee when there was a tap on my shoulder.

It was Clive, an old mate who I had first met on Corfu on holiday. A former season ticket holder and long-time Hammers fan, he had been away for a couple years working in Singapore. The first words he uttered to me were: “Don't tell me that you have had to put up with this every week.”

Imagine how strange it must have been for him - a club transformed from one which seemed to have some of the brightest talents in the Premiership, to one which he now barely recognised. The one player that Clive did recognise was in his words, “unrecognisable”– Michael Carrick. He said that he could not believe that Carrick’s distribution had deteriorated so much. I replied that in actual fact, he was now playing a bit better and that in comparison, today was not such a bad performance.

If the arrival of Clive was a surprise, West Ham - in ESM Junior’s words - were all too predictable. Just like many games at Upton Park this season, we started brightly enough. In fact, we should have taken the lead as early as seven minutes when Connors had a golden opportunity running on to goal with just the keeper to beat. What I am going to say next could also be called ‘ESM predictable’, but I am going to say it anyway: Defoe would not have missed that.

Despite this miss, all was well again on 14 minutes when Deano rose like a salmon on the far post from a corner to head home. As one of my East stand friends said when that went in: “Fu*k me a goal from a corner - the last one I saw down here was by David Cross.”

But in true West Ham style, from a position where we were bossing the game, we allowed Rotherham back into it with their first attack on 21 minutes. The ball came over from our traditionally weak left flank and there was a Rotherham player standing unchallenged. Bywater actually made a very good save to stop the downward header but the ball came back off the turf like Shane Warne's zooter, and Repka, looking like a fictional Torbay hotelier, could only help it into the net off the right hand post.

ESM Junior said he felt Repka should have done better, but he was still clearly groggy from a clash of heads a few minutes before. Repka scares the hell out of me at the best of times, but with that bandage around his head he looked like he had just scaled the walls at Broadmoor. When he finally hangs up his boots, I think he will have a long career in horror movies. Here’s an idea now for Hollywood: Tomas versus Freddy.

But who goes to Upton Park this season and doesn’t expect to see a goal from the opposition? The last clean sheet was against Wigan at the end of November. Before that it was against Palace at the beginning of October. We just do not seem to be able to stop teams from the lower half of the division scoring against us. Very worrying.

After they scored, West Ham were certainly running the show. Rotherham were pretty poor and one wag close to me said that he thought that their winger Richie Barker had “the touch of a rapist”. We had a lot of possession but did not seem to be able to make it matter in the final third of the pitch. Etherington, who is my Hammer of the Year to date, was everywhere, running after every ball and closing down opposing players.

The new boy Reo-Coker looked good as well. It struck me that he uses his body very effectively and won a number of good tackles. I wonder as well if Connors was playing a little too deep? It seemed to me that he was not far enough up the pitch to take advantage of the flicks from Deano.

But the main weakness remains our vulnerability down the left flank. Although Rotherham did not really have the capability of punishing us, I am not yet convinced that Harley knows how to defend. He looks good coming forward, but that is not what we really need him to do. On the plus side, we looked far more solid down the other flank with the return of Repka. Ferdinand really makes me nervous at times when the ball gets knocked over the top.

If our first goal surprisingly came from a corner, b*gger me if the second didn’t as well on 58 minutes. Matty put in a quality ball, which Christian Dailly dived onto giving their keeper no chance. While we are on Dailly, I think he had a very solid game today.

Matty carried on in the same vein as the first half with another excellent run and brilliant control in the penalty box, but he blasted wide. Pardew then decided that Marlon was not doing much and opted to take him off rather than take off Deano, who was putting in 100%. I have to say this yet again: Marlon is not doing enough for me at home. Yes, the goals are coming, but the work rate isn't.

The substitution of Marlon gave us the first view of Nowland. I have to say I was impressed. He looks very good on the ball, and managed to thread through a number of good passes. Along with Reo-Coker, he looks an excellent prospect. A couple of very good buys there, Mr Pardew.

Reo-Coker nearly made it a dream debut when after an excellent combination of passes he hit the bottom of the post with a snap shot eight minutes from the end. We had a great view of it from where we were sitting. Unfortunately, it was never going to go in. At the end of the game Reo-Coker looked like he was walking on air. He is clearly delighted to have joined the club and I reckon he could become a real fans’ favourite. Let’s hope that Old Man Brown doesn’t sell him just when he starts to really shine.

Despite long periods when we seemed to be in control, I had a nagging feeling that it would end up as a draw. We looked very shaky at times, when long throws were launched into our box, but we managed to see it out for a very valuable three points.

I am looking forward to the trip up to Bradford next week when I hope we can get another vital win. If there is no 11th hour approach for Defoe, he will be available. We all know that this is bound to create a team selection problem, and there are some that will make the case for starting him on the bench. I think he should start and that either Connors or Marlon should be on the bench. The reason I say this is that Deano deserves to start. This man is a consummate professional who is giving his all to our club and offers the aerial menace that will supply the best finisher that we have. Unfortunately, I think Mr Pardew might not go with that.

(Player Ratings by Graeme Howlett)

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Player Ratings

Stephen Bywater
His quietest day between the sticks since succeeding David James. Rotherham's first shot was their goal (and much debate has ensued as to whether Bywater should have done better with the header) but he was rarely troubled throughout. When put under pressure from corners in the second half he coped admirably, and looked far more assured than on his 'debut' at Sheffield United a fortnight ago.

Christian Dailly
A better performance than of late from the Hammers current captain - although the Rotherham attack hardly gave him cause for concern on too many occasions. In brief - scored a nice goal (can you remember the last diving header we scored at Upton Park?) but should have cut out the cross which led to Rotherham's equaliser. Alan Pardew stuck with him after a poor performance at Wolves last week; Dailly is likely to retain that spot despite the presence of the experienced Andy Melville.

Jon Harley
His third game since moving on loan to East London - and Harley is still yet to convince he's worthy of a permanent contract. Whilst he appears to look convincing going forward, it's in defence that he looks a little more than susceptible. On too many occasions he was caught out of position when Rotherham broke quickly, and better teams will punish us for this. Looks a little lacking in match fitness; hardly surprising perhaps for a player who has managed just 85 appearances in 7 years.

Nigel Reo-Coker
Hailed unfairly prior to his debut as the new Paul Ince, our recent acquisition from Wimbledon put in a gutsy and determined display in the heart of midfield to the delight of the Hammers faithful. Most pleasing to see was his constant talking - not surprising perhaps when you consider the Dons made him their captain at just 19 years of age. He also gives us added bite in the middle of the park, winning as he did far more challenges than he was entitled to .Unlucky not to mark his debut with a crafty lob reminiscent of the Dalglish goal which won Liverpool the European Cup against Bruges way back in 1977 (one for the fellow oldies out there!) Roundly applauded the fans at the end of the game - for which he was roundly applauded! Encouraging signs ...

Tomas Repka
Another fairly solid game for the returning Czech. Harshly credited with the Rotherham goal (there is no question that it was goal-bound before he tried to clear it) but it was still a bizarre decision to try and hack the ball clear in the direction from which he was running. Went further towards cult status by donning the bandage around his skull (after a first half collision) that many of the Boleyn crowd remember Billy Bonds for many years ago.

Hayden Mullins
Alan Pardew kept faith with the former Palace man by keeping him in defence this afternoon following a sterling performance at Molineux last weekend. However it was not in the centre that Mullins started, but at right-back where he has often failed to convince so far since moving to West Ham. Once again he looked uneasy at full-back (although the darting forward runs certainly contributed to several attacks), and question marks have to be raised over Pardew's tactics. Many would argue that Repka should have started at right-back with Mullins in the centre?

Michael Carrick
Back to his very best at Wolves last week, this was a slightly more subdued performance from Carrick, who started in midfield alongside yet another new team-mate in the shape of Nigel Reo-Coker. Afforded less time and space on the ball than by his Premiership opponents last week, Carrick failed to really get hold of this one today. However the signs are good; be it Reo-Coker or Hayden Mullins alongside him in the engine room the Hammers are looking much stronger in that department in recent weeks.

Brian Deane
Another very impressive performance from big Deano. This is the kind of game that he was brought in for, against big lumps of defenders who enjoy giving smaller men (Jermain Defoe?) a torrid time. Scoring for a second game in succession - that's 6 in 9 starts now - the former Sheffield United man is proving a key member of Pardew's revamped squad. Unlikely to retain his spot upon Defoe's return from suspension this week however - which can only be described as a little harsh.

Matthew Etherington
Whilst turning it on week in, week out away from home Matthew was yet to perform consistently at the Boleyn. Maybe it was the buoyant crowd spurred by the encouraging win at Wolves last week that did it, but the former Tottenham man was at his very best this afternoon with another performance full of running and commitment. Etherington tormented his markers all afternoon, his trademark 'come inside, go outside' move wowing the Hammers faithful on several occasions. At this rate he'll be hard to beat for Player of the Year; definitely our in-form player right now.

Marlon Harewood
Just about his worst performance since moving to West Ham. Some weeks ago Marlon revealed that he was far happier playing as an out and out striker than a wide man - and how that showed this afternoon. Maybe he was a little 'pissed' at being stuck on the flank again; whatever the problem was Harewood was completely disinterested from the start today as deservedly substituted with 20 minutes to go.

David Connolly
The usual work rate and effort without the usual goal! Once again 'DC' worked himself into the ground, but bar one good first-half chance (which was well saved by Rotherham keeper Pollitt) he was given few opportunities to score. Quite where he fits in once Jermain Defoe returns to the fold remains to be seen - but one thing is for sure, he is unlikely to be happy playing anywhere but as an out and out striker - which gives Pardew plenty of food for thought.


Adam Nowland
(Replaced Harewood, 70) A decent debut, supplied a couple of good passes whilst looking disturbingly like a young Don Hutchison at times ...

Andy Melville
(Replaced Deane, 90) On for less than a minute or so as a time-wasting move by Pardew. Probably disappointed not to start on his home debut.

Rami Shabaan
Did not play.

Anton Ferdinand
Did not play.

Kevin Horlock
Did not play.

Match Facts

Referee: G.Hegley.

Attendance: 34483.

Man of the Match: Matthew Etherington.

West Ham United

Goals: Brian Deane 15 Christian Dailly 59                

Booked: None booked.           .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Rotherham United

Pollitt, S.Barker, Swailes, Baudet, Minto, Sedgwick, Garner, Mullin, Hurst, Byfield, R.Barker.

Substitutes: Monkhouse (Hurst 78), Warne (Byfield 78).

Subs not used: Montgomery, Talbot.

Goals: Repka og (23).

Booked: Warne (84).

Sent Off: None sent off..

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