Tuesday, 9th March 2004
Matt Finish (er, sorry)
Well we all knew that we'd missed him on Saturday but none of us could have envisaged that the return of Matthew Etherington would be so spectacular – least of all I suspect himself. However, much like myself, the side coughed and spluttered through the match for periods before overcoming a weak Wimbledon side.
The line-up showed the back four that finished the match against Walsall, with Mullins having failed to beat the after effects of the back spasm that saw him substituted during the first half. Etherington came in for Nowland with the usual suspects making up the rest of the starting line-up.
The first half hour was a frustrating affair. We had tons of possession but seemed to lack the ideas and the ability to break down Wimbledon in a manner that was worryingly similar to Saturday's 0-0 draw against Walsall. What was more worrying was that, whereas against Walsall our frustration could be attributed at least in part to the well-organised efforts of the opposition, against Wimbledon it appeared (to me at least) that we were trying to find more and more convoluted ways of making life hard for ourselves. Good chances fell to Connolly and Melville but were spurned and for a long time it looked like being one of those nights Until the 36th minute.
The ball found Wimbledon old-boy (and there are obviously a few to choose from these days) Reo-Coker who steadied himself and fed Harewood wide out right. Harewood played the ball low across the box . The ball eluded both Zamora and former Hammer Banks in the middle and the unmarked Etherington put the ball away from a narrow angle on the left.
Well it's probably a bit of a cliché but I'll say it anyway. What a difference a goal makes. It was as if a light switch had been thrown as the confidence returned with the realisation that we could actually do this after all. From that point the match was over and it was a matter of how many.
We didn't have long to wait for the second. About 3 minutes later, Connolly, whose link-up play was superb all night, received the ball with his back to goal turned inside and played an exquisite 30 yard pass out to Zamora out wide on the right. Using the supporting Repka as a decoy, Zamora cut inside and buried a stunning drive from just inside the box out as the Wimbledon defence retreated. It was a fine goal which served the dual purpose of boosting our confidence and trashing Wimbledon's beyond repair.
Half time came and went with an announcement for someone to remove their Mini Cooper from a dodgy parking spot. Rumours that the vehicle was in fact the opposition's away supporters' coach were not confirmed. It was later announced that hardy bunch of 190 Wimbledon supporters had made the trip from, well wherever it is they come from these days. And we laughed at Walsall's 400-odd.
The second half started much in the same way that the first had finished. Harewood found himself in acres of space in the box but elected to feed Zamora when, perhaps, taking a shot himself might have been the better option. The pass went slightly behind Zamora who did well to get a shot in that Banks did well to put round the post.
The third was not long in coming. Carrick won a tackle in the middle and clipped a sublime ball through the middle that split the Wimbledon defence in half. Etherington was one on one with the 'keeper and coolly slotted the ball low past Banks to add his second and our third.
Although we have been known to have throw the odd 3-goal lead away in the past, AP obviously felt confident enough that we wouldn't do so on this occasion and, with one eye presumably on Saturday's trip up to Mackem-land, Zamora was replaced by McAnuff
The wait for the 4th goal was about the same time as it takes a tube train to arrive when there's 1 minute showing on the indicator board - 15 minutes. This followed a series of close passes between Repka, Harewood and Etherington out wide on the right where Etherington found Reo-Coker unmarked on the right hand side of the box. R-C's low high-powered drive beat Banks at his near post. The former Wimbledon man's celebrations were, perhaps understandably muted with the realisation that his goal was another part of the slow and painful euthanasia being delivered on a weekly basis to his old club.
Further substitutions occurred with Nowland replacing Carrick and Ferdinand coming in for Harley. Again both substitutions had an air of “job done, have a rest lads” about them. For a few minutes the rhythm disappeared as Wimbledon tried vainly to take advantage as we reorganised. A short spell of Dons pressure brought an excellent save from Bywater who got down quickly to a close-range shot that he must have seen very late.
However the respite from the almost constant Hammers pressure was a brief one and the 5th goal came on 70 minutes. Connolly's fine pass inside the full-back found the irrepressible Etherington whose wonderful chip past the advancing Banks was in total contrast to his finishing in similar situations against Sheffield United the other week.
There could and should have been more. Harewood burst through the middle but elected to go for a spectacular dipping volley from distance rather than taking the touch or two that would probably have seen a clearer chance develop. Then, at the death Connolly was denied the goal that his overall performance deserved when bundling the ball over from Banks's parry, the linesman deciding that angry ant was offside at the moment of the original shot from Harewood.
So a professional and clinical performance that will do the team's confidence a power of good, albeit against a club that is suffering a slow lingering death. I have no great love for Wimbledon – I always particularly disliked the way the thug-like antics of the likes of Jones and Wise were marketed as some kind of jokey larks under the “Crazy Gang” trade mark. However, its hard not to feel sorry for some of their fans who have seen a catalogue of management errors at the highest level bring their club to the brink of extinction following the enforced sale of their brightest prospects. There's a lesson in there somewhere for someone. I only hope that they can hold on until the end of the season as I'd hate our biggest win of the season to be wiped from the record – that'd be just our luck wouldn't it.
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Unemployed for long spells he pulled off a fine save from close-range in the second half.
Barely tested in defence and had the time to get forward in support of Etherington.
Another defender not really tested by the opposition. Looked dangerous occasionally at corners.
A comfortable night for the skipper. Not much to do but did it well enough.
I know this mark will annoy certain people but I felt Tomas looked strong in defence and his attacking play was much improved. He could arguably be said to have had partial assists in two of the goals.
Professional enough to have a strong match against his old club about whom he obviously still cares as evidenced by the lack of celebrations for his first goal for us and the big love-in with his former colleagues at the final whistle.
Now beginning to achieve a level of consistency he appeared to have lost earlier in the season. Lovely through ball for Etherington's second goal.
Strong performance marred only slightly by his occasional tendency to choose the wrong option when the shoot or pass question arose.
I think he'd only scored once before this match. Who'd have thought that it would have been his finishing skills that would be to the fore on his return from that ridiculous suspension.
A wonderful goal but I'd like to have seen him dominate the Wimbledon defence a bit more – he was beginning to do so when taken off for a breather.
A fine match. It may seem strange to give the top mark to a striker who didn't score in a 5-0 win rather than a midfielder who got a hat-trick and I'm ready to get slated for doing so. However DC's already prodigious work-rate was matched by some excellent link up play and he was very unlucky not to get on the scoresheet for what would have been a well-deserved goal. So sue me!
(Replaced Zamora, 56) A few good runs but guilty of disappearing up blind alleys on a number of occasions.
(Replaced Carrick, 66) Started to play the ball about well once he'd got the pace of the match.
(Replaced Harley, 66) Got caught out of position a couple of times but made some good recovery tackles.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Man of the Match: David Connolly.
West Ham United
Goals: Matthew Etherington 37 Bobby Zamora 39 Matthew Etherington 49 Nigel Reo-Coker 62 Matthew Etherington 70
Booked: None booked. .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Banks, Barton, Williams, Hawkins, Chorley, Kamara, Herzig, Harding, Gier, Darlington, Gray.
Substitutes: Gordon (Gray 47), Jarrett (Barton 55).
Subs not used: Worgan, Oyedele, Puncheon.
Booked: None booked..
Sent Off: None sent off..