Saturday, 28th February 2004
I suppose it was what they might refer to as an “eventful” day. An early start at the Wakefield was caused by the need to see little bruvver off on his holidays at a ridiculously early hour. Having got up at a stupid hour to make the journey from South East London to E13 via Heathrow I found the cold that had been creeping up on me all week finally take hold.
Things were not helped by the sudden arrival of about a hundred of the Met's finest outside the Wakefield. Clad in full riot gear, including shields, their insistence that nobody should be let out of the pub whilst they filled it to capacity led to the small bar becoming sauna-like. This ambience was not helped by the fact that the radiators were full on. I managed to get out early enough to take my seat before kick-off although this process involved negotiating a path through some humourless types who insisted on videoing me, photographing me, taking my name and a written description. I'm not sure what the legality of all this information gathering was, but since my only crime this weekend will be to have scattered about a few common cold germs I'll be having a close look at the Data Protection Act over the next few days. I mean its hardly Sarin is it?
Having gone to such daft lengths simply to watch a game of football, it was a relief to take my seat to find that we were able to field a first team for once. Repka had recovered from illness and Dailly played with a large plaster on the head wound that led to his early finish on Tuesday night. Mullins moved over to right back whilst Harley returned on the left. Carrick, Reo-Coker, Etherington and Harewood made up the midfield with Connolly and Zamora playing up front. Amazingly it was Zamora's first home game despite having signed about a month ago.
When you sit near the same people throughout a season you tend to develop a series of running gags. In our part of the ground we've always noted that some of our biggest home disasters have followed someone coming out with the phrase “we've started brightly”. Well this time we didn't start especially brightly, although we did have the ball in the net early on. A cross from the left was nodded down by Connolly for Carrick to put past the keeper. However, the ref correctly adjudged Carrick to have strayed offside. This was about the last thing that Mr Cain got right all day as he proceeded to display how unable he was.
Despite the scrappiness of the game we started to grab hold of things and a shot from the busy Etherington was deflected only just wide. Up the other end a long ball found Earnshaw through one on one with Bywater. Thankfully the young 'keeper pulled of a fine block at the Welsh international's feet.
There then followed one of those moments that has you pulling your hair out at refereeing standards in this country. Zamora found himself clear through bearing down on goal with only Margetson to beat. Gabbidon hauled Zamora down. It fulfilled every possible criteria to satisfy most sane people's description of a situation where a “clear goalscoring opportunity” was denied. Frustratingly the ref disagreed and only produced a yellow card. It was without a doubt one of the worst decisions I have ever seen – on a par with anything that Mike Dean has ever produced, although this decision was probably due more to Mr Cain's incompetence rather than to any Dean-like desire to hog the spotlight.
Perhaps inspired by the injustice we started to take an even firmer grip on the game. Reo-Coker found Etherington whose angled shot was tipped past the post by Margetson in the Cardiff goal, the following-up Connolly being unable to get on the end of the loose ball which went out for a corner. Shortly after, Reo-Coker himself was desparately unlucky to see his shot hit the post and somehow roll across the face of the goal to safety.
Mr Cain then had another one of what my future sister-in-law likes to refer to as “those blonde moments” (she is blonde herself so address any complaints of sexism to her c/o Basingstoke!). We were awarded a free kick about 5 yards inside our own half. The linesman pointed to the spot where the offence had taken place. This, for reasons known only to Mr Cain, was deemed to be not good enough. Repka moved the ball back. This still wasn't good enough. Repka looked across at the linesman and moved the ball again. At which point the ref decided that a yellow card was in order and theatrically ran and stood in front of Repka to brandish the yellow card. Repka leant forward head first at the referee to express his displeasure. It was a daft gesture that could easily have led to the Czech's dismissal. Perhaps realising that the situation was totally of his own making the ref chose to stick with the yellow card. The free-kick? Well it was taken – badly- by Repka from exactly the same spot where he had placed the ball on the linesman's instructions in the first place. Unbelievable! Needless to say that was the last free kick taken by either side that was taken from the correct position.
Half time came and went with a cheeky playing of “Swing Low Sweet Chariot”, the negro spiritual which for some unknown reason has over the years become adopted by English rugby players and supporters as an anthem. This of course went down less than well with the Welsh contingent who proved with their tuneless – and wordless – version of “Men Of Harlech” that the theory that all Welshmen are great singers is complete twaddle.
The second half was basically more of the same - long periods of possession and domination, punctuated by inexplicably bad refereeing, excellent goalkeeping and plain unlucky finishing. Throughout the match Carrick was simply superb, putting in his best performance for quite some time. It appears that the aliens who kidnapped our Michael and replaced him with some sort of clone have finally brought him back. New-boy Zamora saw an excellent effort come back off the bar and, moments later, outfoxed Gabbidon in the box only to curl his shot wide of the far post.
Attack after attack ended frustratingly. Etherington had both legs taken away from him in the box but Mr Cain, for whom the plot was merely a fast receding memory, predictably let the challenge go without punishment. Harewood, who had made a nuisance of himself without ever seeming totally convincing, saw a shot superbly saved by Margetson. From the resulting corner the ball came to Zamora who put his header over. A further corner saw another Zamora header cleared from just in front of the line, the loose ball falling to Dailly whose shot was sliced horribly wide.
It then started to snow. This seemed to be the signal to step up a gear and, with little more than a quarter of an hour left on the clock, we finally scored the goal that our domination merited. A long clearance from the back was cleared by a defender against Connolly, the ball finding Zamora who kept his head long enough to bury the ball low to Margetson's right, much to the joy (and no little relief) of the crowd.
We saw out thr remainder of the match with little much of consequence ocurring. Harewood, Connolly and Zamora were replaced in turn – each to generous applause – by Nowland, Deane and McAnuff. Mr Cain announced there would be 3 minutes of added time – then played 5. A late misguided attempt by Bywater to punch a corner away bounced harmlessly off two Cardiff players to deny them an equaliser they would scarcely have deserved. Eventually the final whistle went and three points were in the bag.
A return to the Wakefield failed to sort out the cold germs and I expect that I've now infected half the pub, carriages on the District, Jubilee and DLR lines. Much like today's referee I don't care!
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Not much to do today. One good save from Earnshaw. One flap at a cross late on. Kicking was far from impressive.
Caught out of position early on a couple of times but recovered to have a solid game.
I wonder if we'll ever see him play two consecutive matches in the same position? Reliable as ever.
Strong performance kept Earnshaw quiet.
Once he'd calmed down after the ridiculous booking he went on to have a rock-solid game.
The more I see the more I like the look of this lad – beginning to forge an excellent partnership with Carrick in the middle.
His best performance this season. He's beginning to stamp his authority on this league as we knew he could. Inspirational in both attack and defence.
Made his presence felt but was guilty on several occasions of failing to release the ball early enough
Looked dangerous from time to time but had a tendency to drift in and out of the game a bit.
On his own admission, he had a quiet first half but he got into some good goalscoring positions throughout the second period and deserved his goal for the amount of trouble he caused the Cardiff defence.
As ever, got through lot of selfless running but seemed a little out of sorts this afternoon.
(Replaced Harewood, 76) On for a short while for Harewood. A couple of good touches.
(Replaced Connolly, 80) Held the ball up well as the clock ran down.
(Replaced Zamora, 86) Not really enough time to influence proceedings.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Man of the Match: Michael Carrick.
West Ham United
Goals: Bobby Zamora 73
Booked: Tomas Repka 45 .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Mergetson, Weston, Barker, Gabbidon, Vidmar, Boland, Langley, Kavenagh, Parry, Lee, Earnshaw..
Substitutes: Prior (Weston, 20), Robinson (Langley, 63), Campbell (Parry, 80)..
Subs not used: Alexander, Whalley.
Booked: None booked..
Sent Off: None sent off..