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Nationwide Division One
Saturday, 27th March 2004

West Ham United 2
Gillingham 1

by Gordon Thrower

What is it about our home and away form. For ages we struggle at home but do well away then all of a sudden, in what they'd probably refer to in Star Trek as an unaccounted for reversal of polarity, or something, we've started losing away and winning at home.

Normal service resumed?

Despite hinting at widespread defensive changes, injuries to Ferdinand and Mullins meant that Alan Pardew was unable to tinker with the back four that had capitulated so easily the previous week. There was a welcome return to the front line for David Connolly which meant a return to the right wing for Marlon Harewood.

We got off to the best possible start. A Michael Carrick corner on the right hand side was nodded on by Harewood. Zamora kept the ball low as he buried the loose ball from the edge of the six-yard box past Banks who, having let in five a couple of weeks ago for Wimbledon, must be pretty glad that he doesn't have to return to the Boleyn this season at least.

Of course shortly after this we nearly shot ourselves in the proverbial foot. Harewood's lack of urgency left Repka stranded. The awkward-looking Sidibe – all arms and legs – turned Melville inside out before curling a shot just wide of the far post.

This seemed to be a temporary lapse as we garnered the bulk of the play. Etherington looked particularly dangerous every time he went down the left hand side. Combinig well wth Connolly, Etherington found Zamora in the box but the header went wide. Zamora had another chance shortly after but found Banks in good form as his deflected was shot was tipped wide for a corner. Another corner found Zamora in an identical position to that from which the goal came but some fairly desperate defending from the Gillingham defence prevented a repeat of the opener.

It was the usual story. Dominate the play, create chances, let in an equaliser against the run of play. On 30 minutes a long free kick was angled into the box. Dailly was beaten to the header by Hope and the following-up Spiller buried a powerful volley past Bywater. Cue the jitters. Despite dominating the possession there appeared for a while to be a lack of self confidence running through the side. Notable exceptions were Etherington, who scared the living daylights out of the Gillingham defence, and Carrick, who seems to have finally realised that he really is streets ahead of most opposition midfields. We continued to have the majority of the possession but, where we'd earlier looked like scoring we seemed more tentative in front of goal and, despite a further chance falling to Zamora, whose header went wide, it was an ill at ease Boleyn that saw the sides go in level at half time.

An early scare at the start of the second half saw a Gillingham corner fall to Spiller who thankfully was unable to repeat his earlier effort. After that brief flurry, we started to dominate proceedings. Harewood had had a quiet first half but had obviously been told during the interval to get at his full back. This he did with some success and, buoyed by the realisation that he could actually contribute something to the cause Marlon went on to cause similar havoc down his side to that caused by Etherington on the other wing. The bulk of the chances were falling to Zamora who was unfortunately unable to profit from his colleagues' hard work. Zamora found himself in good positions on a number of occasions but found the hard-working opposition defence in good blocking mood. Zamora nearly made amends shortly after however. A quick free kick taken while Gillingham were thinking about the possibility of, perhaps, you know, forming a wall, found Etherington in the box but Banks was able to pull off a fine save.

So, with nerve-ends beginning to fray a bit and 20 minutes remaining it was sub time. Connolly and Reo-Coker were replaced by the well-known firm of accountants Nowland & Deane. Deane's first touch found him close to getting on the end of a corner. Nowland's first contribution a few seconds later was slightly more, er, robust. Swinging at a high loose ball he connected with Spiller's head rather than the ball. Unfortunately for Spiller, Nowland connected with much the same sort of force that Spiller himself had used when scoring his goal, leaving the Gillingham man with the fattest of fat lips and a few stitches for his trouble. Hopefully his team-mates didn't stick any vinegar on his chips on the way home!

Spiller might want to disagree but Nowland was to make a more telling contribution with 15 minutes left. Bringing the ball out of defence he played a clever ball into the path of Etherington who was running inside from the left. Matty continued his run across the pitch and put a shot across the face of the goal and into the bottom left hand corner past the despairing dive of Banks. In truth it was hardly the hardest of shots. Indeed one would have had time to murder someone, be caught, tried, sentenced, serve a large portion of the life sentence and still been released in time to have seen the ball bobble into the bottom corner but it was a goal that I thought we were worth.

The tension seemingly lifted, further chances came our way, notably to Dailly who had a couple of close-range efforts from set plays saved by Banks. It was something of a shame that the skipper didn't get on the scoresheet as it might have shut up the boos that a portion of the crowd seemed to think they were justified in giving him every time he went near the ball. Significantly many others, rightly disgusted with this treatment, took to giving generous applause to Dailly to counteract the boos.

Harewood looked to have made it 3-1 when his perfectly placed header found the top left corner. Unfortunately referee had spotted a foul on a defender by Deane as the cross came over and Marlon's celebrations were truncated. Incidentally, given the awful standard of refereeing we've seen this season, it's probably worth mentioning that Mr Penn had a fine game, letting the game flow as much as possible and never hogging the limelight. Others please note.

The second goal had knocked the stuffing out of Gillingham and they created little of note in an attempt to equalise and the last few minutes were fairly comfortable as we ran the clock down for another home win.

In preparing this report I suddenly realised what this match reminded me of. It was a carbon copy of the Rotherham match. Hard-working but limited opponents somehow find themselves level despite the run of play. Nervous Hammers finally grind out a win. It was exactly the same. It wasn't the prettiest of victories but it was possibly one of the most important coming as it did after the debacle of the previous week. The three points were a must and it was vital to get a win before venturing down to the hostile atmosphere of the Wiggy Dome where, no doubt, we shall be treated to a lecture on ethics by the bloke who poached his manager from Brighton. At this time of the season the points are what matters and I'll settle for winning ugly every week if that's what it takes. That and the Jubilee line working properly for once. Not too much to ask for is it?

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Player Ratings

Stephen Bywater
Not really given that much of a hard time but dealt admirably with what came his way.

Jon Harley
Some fine link up work with Etherington on the left hand side and looked fairly sound defensively.

Andy Melville
Given a tough time on occasion by Sidibe and Ageymang but gave as good as he got.

Christian Dailly
He had enough on his plate dealing with the awkward Sidibe without having to put up with the insane booing of some of the crowd. That he put in a sound performance shows great character on his part and it was notable that AP made a beeline to pat his skipper on the back on the final whistle.

Tomas Repka
The subject of much discussion over the past few days. There are obviously good and evil twin Repkas doing the rounds and you never know which one is going to turn up. Good Repka turned up today and he had a good battle with the Gillingham forwards without ever giving cause for disciplinary concern.

Nigel Reo-Coker
Seemed to lack a yard or two today for some reason.

Michael Carrick
It's an old football cliché that a class player always seems to have time on the ball. Just because it's a hackneyed saying doesn't make it untrue. Had an excellent first touch and bossed the midfield more and more as the match progressed. My MOTM.

Marlon Harewood
A game of two halves for Marlon. I dunno what was said during the interval but he was as good in the second half as he had been bad in the first.

Matthew Etherington
Scared the willies out of the Gillingham defence. Repeatedly beat his full back and caused havoc with a number of dangerous crosses. Good run for the goal even if the finish wasn't the cleanest.

Bobby Zamora
Took the goal well but maybe should have had more. Seemed to drift in and out of the game and his first touch needs a bit of work.

David Connolly
Worked hard but very little seemed to come off for him.


Adam Nowland
(Replaced Connolly, 69) An inauspicious start left Spiller needing to use a straw to eat over the next few days but this was followed by a number of excellent passes, one of which set up the winner.

Brian Deane
(Replaced Reo-Coker, 69) Held the ball up well but cost Harewood a goal with his foul in the second half.

Pavel Srnicek
Did not play.

Kevin Horlock
Did not play.

Jobi McAnuff
Did not play.

Match Facts

Referee: A.Penn.

Attendance: 34551.

Man of the Match: Michael Carrick.

West Ham United

Goals: Bobby Zamora 3 Matthew Etherington 76                

Booked: None booked.           .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .


Banks, Rose, Spiller, Johnson, Pouton, Hope, Smith, Southall, Hessenthaler, Agyemang, Sidibe.

Substitutes: Wales (Sidibe 71), Crofts (Smith 82), Jarvis (Spiller 85).

Subs not used: Bossu, James.

Goals: Spiller (32).

Booked: Pouton (79).

Sent Off: None sent off..

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