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Nationwide Division One
Saturday, 6th March 2004

West Ham United 0
Walsall 0

by East Stand Martin

Picture the festive scene. A roaring fire and the ripping open of wrapping paper to find that your dad had bought you a rather unusual present. A ‘kids for a quid’ ticket to see West Ham play Walsall.

All I want for Christmas is…

According to a half time announcement, this was the yuletide gift received by a young Harlow resident who was attending Upton Park for the very first time. At the end I bet he was thinking that in comparison those socks from his Aunty Flo weren’t so bad after all.

ESM Jnr’s first ever game aged 7 was in 1999 against Liverpool. We won 2-1 and I like to think that it set him up nicely as a lifetime supporter. I’m sure many of the kids today will stick with the Irons as well through thick and thin, but a goalless draw against a team that may well be playing second division football next year is hardly going to allow them to hold their own in the playground on Monday morning against Arsenal and Chelsea fans.

This game summed up why we will not get that automatic promotion place. A dire one-dimensional Walsall team that had not won for 11 games and we couldn’t break them down. They came for the draw, sat back in their own half and had about two yards between their back line and their midfield. We had neither the pace, width, nor something special to turn them over.

What’s the plan gaffer?

We started poorly and never looked like we were going to get back on track. The problem was that we did not know what to do about the lack of Etherington down the left and you felt that Pardew had not got any further trying to solve that conundrum since the last time it happened against Bradford.

The lineup had Dailly and Repka in central defence, Mullins at right back and Harley out left. Fair enough, but then we had Reo-Coker also out left, Nowland and Carrick in the centre with Zamora out right. Harewood and Connors were in the middle up front

Everybody just looked confused and I can honestly say that absolutely nothing of note happened for almost 15 minutes. Turgid is probably a polite description of what was going on and there was hardly a tackle or decent challnge to speak of. It looked so wrong, that Pardew then shifted Nowland out left and Marlon back out right, putting Reo-Coker back in the middle and Zamora back in his more traditional centre forward role.

The change did spark something almost immediately in that Marlon managed to get out wide on 16 minutes and cross a dangerous ball in across to the left that Zamora had in the back of the net. Unfortunately it was ruled offside.

ESM Jnr said that the game looked like a pre-season friendly. He had a point, as there appeared to be no pace about the West ham play at all. I felt that Nowland was at fault on a number of occasions, playing poor through balls that were easily gathered by the opposition. As one of my neighbours said, “The final ball looks very First Division”.

On 22 minutes, Bywater failed to make a routine catch and spilled the ball for a corner. We were lucky to see the glancing header from the resulting corner just spin by his left hand post.

Mullins went off injured on 28 minutes and that brought another reshuffle - Melville into the centre of defence and Tom out to right back. It was Tom that made the only other meaningful impact on the first half, when he made a fantastic tackle in the box to deny Walsall a goal.

At half time it was hard to believe that we had even thought that we might make a final drive for the automatic promotion place. I’m afraid that the writing has been on the wall for some time – we are in fact in a goal drought, having only scored three goals in the last four league games. I’ll leave you to work out how we might have avoided that situation.

A better start

The start of the second half saw yet another change, when McAnuff came on for the disappointing Nowland and Marlon saw himself sent out to the left again as Jobi assumed his traditional right wing role.

We started much better than we did in the first half, but it was hard to see how we could have done any worse. A succession of corners were forced and then a good cross in from Marlon on 47 minutes gave Melville a free header which he directed straight at the Walsall keeper.

McAnuff was looking pacey and tricky down the right wing, reminding me a bit of Sean Wright-Phillips. A nice run by him on 51 minutes ended in the ball being fed to Marlon who blasted wastefully over.

Two minutes later, Connors made a great dummy which allowed the ball through to Repka running down the right. He put in a great ball to the feet of Reo-Coker in the box, but he couldn’t control and shoot.

Walsall's best chance fell to Kris Taylor on 56 minutes when his header was glanced wide after a good move down the left. What followed next were a couple of opportunities where we were trying to get shots away in a very crowded Walsall penalty area. Marlon slotted a ball to Zamora but he shot wide of the right post and just after that on 63 minutes, a fine shot from 25 yards from Connors followed, but the keeper was able to make a good save, pushing it wide. Connors also tried to outfox the Walsall keeper with a backheel after Dailly had won a header. The keeper grabbed it and another chance went begging.

It was Marlon who had the best chance to convert on 69 minutes after he went on a powerful run through the middle. He let loose with a powerful shot, but the keeper made a good save diving to his left. A finish like the one at Norwich was required, but his whole demeanour over the last few games is one of a player who is lacking confidence in front of goal.

Pardew decided then to change things again by swapping Connors for Deano with ten minutes to go. McAnuff was still trying hard to find a way through and he went on a penetrating run, but his shot was skewed wide of the right post. With seven minutes left, it was McAnuff again who sent over an excellent cross to the far post, where Zamora met it and headed it down, but the keeper made the save look easy.

The last incident of note was on 85 minutes when Marlon made another good run but sent his final shot way over the cross bar.

Four minutes of added time provided no further opportunities as we simply ran out of ideas and steam. There were quite a few boos heard at the end, which I don’t condone, but were the inevitable result of an uninspiring and disappointing display.

This game will now be erased…

This was a game that just needs simply to be forgotten about. Whatever happened to those halcyon days when visiting sides knew that they were in for a real battle when they came to Upton Park? It’s true that Walsall came for a draw, but we handed it to them on a plate. We missed Matty badly, and we simply do not seem to have an answer to the left side problem when he is not playing. I am the first to applaud a manager who is prepared to ‘change it’ when things are not going well, but the players seemed either unconvinced or confused by the system.

Let’s hope that we see something hugely better on Tuesday when Wimbledon come to play us. Another display like todays against a team which is even in worse form than Walsall, and you will begin to have doubts about us even making the play-offs with teams like Millwall, Palace and even Reading (wouldn’t that be some kind of a massive irony) jumping above us in the run-in. We have got to play these three teams plus Sunderland within the next month or so. I am actually quite pleased that all of these games are away from home.

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Player Ratings

Stephen Bywater
Comments to follow.

Jon Harley
Comments to follow.

Hayden Mullins
Comments to follow.

Christian Dailly
Comments to follow.

Tomas Repka
Comments to follow.

Nigel Reo-Coker
Comments to follow.

Michael Carrick
Comments to follow.

Marlon Harewood
Comments to follow.

Adam Nowland
Comments to follow.

Bobby Zamora
Comments to follow.

David Connolly
Comments to follow.


Andy Melville
(Replaced Mullins, 29) Comments to follow.

Jobi McAnuff
(Replaced Nowland, 45) Comments to follow.

Brian Deane
(Replaced Connolly, 81) Comments to follow.

Pavel Srnicek
Did not play.

Seb Carole
Did not play.

Match Facts

Referee: A.Laws.

Attendance: 33177.

Man of the Match: To be confirmed..

West Ham United


Booked: None booked.           .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .


Walker, Bazeley, Roper, Aranalde, Matias, Samways, Taylor, Emblen, Osborn, Leitao, Birch.

Substitutes: Fryatt (Birch 69), Wales (Samways 78).

Subs not used: Pettersen, Caines, Bennett.

Goals: .

Booked: None booked..

Sent Off: None sent off..

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