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FA Cup
Tuesday, 24th February 2004

West Ham United 0
Fulham 3

by East Stand Martin

Sometimes you just know that a good run is going to come to a sorry end.

Things were looking good. The fat man in the tuxedo had sung at several grounds before a game and the home team had never lost. On he waddled, looking like Neil Mellor’s long lost brother and he belted out a rather stirring rendition of Nessun Dorma.

Now this aria from Puccini’s opera Turandot roughly translated means ‘no man will sleep’ and I’m not sure too many West Ham fans had a decent night’s kip after another game where the finishing was pretty lamentable.

If the truth be told, we won three halves out of the four in the two games, but the performance in the second half tonight lacked belief and commitment. It was almost like we came out in the second half thinking that we were going to get turned over.

It looked very different in the first half, despite a very dodgy-looking back four that had to be cobbled together to make up for the loss of Harley (cup tied) and Repka (unwell). Back came ESM’s favourite son, Wayne Quinn with Mullins alongside Dailly in central defence. Anton was right back.

In many respects, it was all a bit of a re-run of the opening quarter of an hour of the Norwich game. We started very positive and Fulham just looked lethargic. The problem, once again proved to be the finishing. We looked great coming forward with Matty and Carrick really up for it, with Connors running tirelessly to make sure he picked up the scraps or to get his foot in first for the ball.

After 10 minutes, Horlock had a long range shot in goal that almost slipped from Van de Sar’s grasp. This was quickly followed by a quality shot on goal from Connors after he had been fed a good ball by Matty. Even Quinn joined in down the left with a quality cross on the quarter hour, but Marlon failed to get his head on it.

Another two chances followed in succession for Marlon. One was cleared off the line following a shot from an acute angle, while the other was saved yet again by Van de Sar as Marlon was bearing down on goal. You felt he had to put that one away, although Fulham have their keeper to thank for saving their bacon in both of the games – he was top class.

The first Fulham shot on goal came on 27 minutes, and apart from a good cross which Boa Morte failed to convert with his head following a Ferdinand error, they did very little of note in the first half.

But West Ham spurned more chances before the half was up. A great cross from Carrick was nodded back by Deano, but Connors couldn’t pick the ball up; while another Marlon shot went straight across the face of the goal. Matty got away once again with a great run on 41 minutes, but the ball fed through to Horlock was weakly chipped over the bar. Possibly the best chance of the half came to Marlon into injury time, when he received a quality ball through from Connors. This time the ball was put well wide as he tried to poke the ball past the Dutch keeper.

Surely this constant pressure would pay off in the second half and someone would be able to convert a chance? The first action of the second half probably showed that it was not meant to be. Marlon made a great run down the wing and got in a quality cross right in the danger zone, but Matty could not get on the end of it as he slid into the 6 yard box.

This signalled the point where it looked like the team arrived at the conclusion that whatever they tried they were not going to win. We looked tired with the opposition getting a lot more time and space in midfield. A Fulham break nearly resulted in a goal on the hour when there were two players spare, but the ball skewed wide. Then the towering Zat Knight – a player I admire – should have done better in almost a carbon copy of a header that was put wide in the first match.

A couple of minutes later Marlon again hit a shot horribly wide after being set up by Connors, but from then on we looked second best. I confess that I muttered that “it’s now only a matter of time” and sure enough a good save from McBride after Anton got caught out was swiftly followed by a floated ball over the top of Mullins on 75 minutes which was brought down by McBride and fired powerfully over a helpless Bywater into the top corner.

On came Stevie Lomas to a warm reception apart from a gentleman to my left who has a long-standing dislike of the Irishman. I can’t understand this myself as I think that he is a very committed servant of the club. Give the man a break – he’s been on a long journey back to fitness and we need someone who will give his all to the team. Lomas was the provider of probably the last chance we had in the second half, when his run down the right led to a good ball through to Marlon again, but there was Van de Sar’s legs to deny him at point blank range.

The rest, well, it just went pear-shaped. Another ball over the top led to a walk-in goal for Hayles on 80 minutes and then we offered very little else until Boa Morte popped up with a third in the final minute, despite a desperate attempt by Anton to clear the ball off the line.

Maybe the exertions of the Norwich game had taken their toll, and we certainly did not have our best side out there tonight. The 0-3 score was harsh, but you cannot afford to waste so many good chances. This is where the problem most certainly lies for the crucial run-in and continued failure to slot away good opportunities could prove to be extremely costly. Do I need to return to my favourite topic of the last two months? No, I won’t, but the lack of goal-scoring knack is now beginning to hurt us, despite what many want to believe.

On the plus side, although I would have dearly loved to have gone up to Old Trafford and we could have done with the estimated £750,000 payday, I am not convinced that we needed the distraction of the Cup. The fixture build-up already looks difficult and we could have suffered like Sheffield United did last season. We need to forget about what might have been, get our best team out there again and do the business against Cardiff on Saturday. This is a must win game, and I sincerely hope that we will all not be rueing another batch of missed chances for the third game in a row.

(Player Ratings by Graeme Howlett)

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Player Ratings

Stephen Bywater
Made two literally world-class saves to keep Fulham at bay in the second half - before conceding three in the space of 14 minutes - which he didn't deserve.


Wayne Quinn
Good first half, found wanting after the break. Playing on borrowed time.


Hayden Mullins
Back at centre-half where he played so well at Wolves in the 3-1 4th round win - his third different position in as many games.


Christian Dailly
Took a bang in the face late on and could miss the Cardiff game as a result.


Anton Ferdinand
Still not quite ready for first team football.


Kevin Horlock
Solid, if unspectacular. Had a better game at Loftus Road.


Michael Carrick
Got stuck in well during the first period but faded as the game went on.


Marlon Harewood
Too many goalscoring opportunities not to take one. A bad night for Marlon.


Matthew Etherington
The best left winger in England. Enough said.


Brian Deane
Failed to have much of an impact - even more so when his marker was replaced by the giant Zak Knight.


David Connolly
Busy but ineffective. Looking out of sorts in recent weeks.


Substitutes


Steve Lomas
(Replaced Deane, 73) On for a brief cameo but far from ready for first team football.


Rob Lee
(Replaced Horlock, 79) A brief run-out for the returning Lee. Hard to see how he'll figure for the rest of the season.


Neil Mellor
(Replaced Dailly, 83) Had one good shot - that was about it!


David Forde
Did not play.


Sebastien Carole
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: M.Riley.

Attendance: 27934.

Man of the Match: Matthew Etherington.

West Ham United

Goals:                    

Booked: Kevin Horlock 33          .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Fulham

Van der Sar, Volz, Legwinski, Goma, Bocanegra, Davis, Malbranque, Boa Morte, Djetou, Petta, McBride..

Substitutes: Pembridge (Davis 90), Knight (Djetou 48), Hayles (Petta 73)..

Subs not used: Crossley, Inamoto.

Goals: McBride (76), Hayles (79), Boa Morte (90).

Booked: None booked..

Sent Off: None sent off..

 
Match Report


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