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Nationwide Division One
Saturday, 27th March 2004

West Ham United 2
Gillingham 1

by East Stand Martin

The East Stand had an immediate retro-punk quality to it today as I navigated the usual turnstile and bumped into a geezer coming out of the bog wearing a ‘Vibrators’ t-shirt. Just how surreal was that?

The only problem was that he looked the wrong side of 50, which confronted yours truly with my own mortality. Some say that when your old man cops it, that is the time you realise your days are numbered. Let’s just say that seeing this ageing punk had a similar effect on me.

This was a game that simply had to be won. As pointed out earlier this week, the lowest points total amassed for a play off place was 74, meaning that we had to think about at least 5 wins out of the remaining eight games. We had to start today.

No change

The first thing that struck me was that the outrage and gnashing of teeth that followed the debacle south of the river last Sunday had not resulted in any significant changes at all. So much for the noise from Pardew about players getting dropped. Not that I’m saying that this should have happened. It just seemed a bit odd to go ballistic and say that it was time to give others a chance and then put the same team out. Maybe there’s some strange psychology there somewhere. Or maybe Pardew realised that the alternatives are not as good after all.

We started very positively. So positively in fact that we scored from almost our first assault on the Gillingham goal. A header on from Harewood found Zamora at the far post and he blasted home from close range. Three minutes gone and one up - could this be another goal bonanza to add to the nine in the previous two home matches?

A minute later at the other end, it was clear that the fallout from the Millwall game had not quite ended as there was nearly yet another mix up between Dailly and Bywater. Our young keeper was very hesitant and made a horrible hash of the clearance. The confidence deficit had not yet been made up.

Encouraged by this panic at the back, Agyemang - the only Wimbledon player we didn’t poach during the transfer window - left Melville for dead on five minutes and very nearly scored with a curling shot just wide of the left hand post. Bywater was mighty relieved to set that one go by.

BML morons

What happened next almost made me lose it. Astonishingly, a moronic, half-brain dead faction of the Bobby Moore Lower started booing Dailly. This was an absolute disgrace and I hope that this mob is now thoroughly ashamed of their behaviour. Read my lips. We are West Ham. We support our team through thick and thin. We do not engage in infantile and damaging behaviour like that. Pathetic.

I calmed down a bit by the fourteenth minute when the linesman’s flag broke. He looked absolutely bereft. Close to tears, he only cheered up when someone turned up with a new one for him.

Matty turns it on

It was at this point that I began to notice Matty coming into the game. Apparently over his recent injury, the searing pace has returned. The passing also was back where it should be again, and there was a delightful exchange of passes on 17 minutes: Harley to Connors to Zamora to Matty, who then got over a great cross which was poorly headed by Zamora.

A similar exchange happened two minutes later when the ball got fed from left to right. Marlon found Tomas on an advanced run, but he blasted the ball across the face of the goal, failing to connect with a striker. The Gillingham keeper, Banks, got flattened in the process.

Matty and Harley linked up well on 24 minutes, with Jon just managing to retrieve a pass from Matty on the dead ball line. He hit in a superb cross but there was no-one on the end of it.

Matty made another terrific run down the left three minutes later after Marlon had raced down the right and hit in one of those ‘neither cross nor shot’ balls. He got the ball to Zamora who looked certain to score but the ball got blocked. As with a number of chances that fell to the Z-man today, you wonder whether he just wanted too much time or a further touch.

Despite being on the back foot for the first half hour, Gillingham levelled after Repka gave away a free kick. Dailly was beaten to the ball that was whipped in and the knock down was volleyed in decisively by Danny Spiller. Bywater had no chance.

An immediate dent in confidence followed and the next West Ham move of note was not until the 42nd minute when Matty got in another quality cross which was just taken off Zamora’s head by a defender. The corner which followed saw the ball come over to Zamora again, but it couldn’t come down quick enough for him and the shot got blocked once again.

The last action of the half saw another Matty run which resulted in a fine cross which Zamora met weakly with his head. This was yet another unconvincing first half performance from the Z-man, despite the early goal.

Mad Mark

Half time and you wondered how the game could be one each. We had the best of it, but did not look at all convincing in front of goal yet again. I was also somewhat disappointed with Reo-Coker who kept losing the ball or failing to connect with passes.

The half time entertainment was also bizarre. First came a host of ex-boxers advertising a charity dinner with a comedian called “Mad Mark Peters” who appeared in a day-glo outfit. The came the Hammerettes in outfits that incorporated suspenders. They were out to raise their game and we hoped that the team would follow suit in the second half.

The Defoe deficit

Reo-Coker made the first move in the second half, ballooning the ball over after a chest down from Zamora in the first minute. Three minutes later, Marlon made a terrific burst down the right, getting the ball into Reo-Coker who slotted it to Zamora. Unfortunately, it was a bit more of the same from the first half as he seemed to take too long and the shot was blocked. This led ESM Jnr to say – unprompted – “that would have been in the back of the net if that had been Defoe”.

Reo-Coker was playing better now and a foul on him on 57 minutes led to a quick free kick finding Matty with loads of space in the box. He fired in a powerful shot but this was saved well by Banks.

West Ham’s tails were now up and Matty was continuing where he left off in the first half with an excellent run and cross on 58 minutes, which the Z-man met weakly again with his head. Zamora looked a lot livelier just a minute later when he ran across the box, turned and sent in a great shot which Banks just managed to turn around the post. He was unfortunate not to score.

Double change

Although we looked better than at the end of the first half, you began to wonder if the goal would come. With 20 minutes to go, Pardew made a double change. Nowland came on for the disappointing and possibly not match-fit Connors and Deano came on for Reo-Coker who had performed better since the interval.

Nowland made an almost immediate impact two minutes after his introduction when he made a great run into the box to get onto the end of an inch-perfect pass by Repka. He did the right thing with a first time ball back across the six yard box, but it was behind the strikers. Matty came steaming in to meet the ball, but his shot was blocked.

No doubt who is Hammer of the Year

But it was Matty that saved the day on 75 minutes and led me to immediately write his name on the nomination form in the programme for Hammer of the Year. I’ve been thinking that he’s deserved that for some time, but today sealed it. He made a typically pacey run through the middle which left the Gillingham defence for dead and placed the ball accurately into the bottom right hand corner of the goal.

Matty almost created another goal four minutes later when his free kick was met by Dailly at the far post. Given the outrageous reaction by some to him earlier in the game, I would have loved to have seen him score, but the keeper made a great save diving to his left.

We had the ball in the net on 84 minutes after a looping header from Marlon, but this was ruled out, presumably for a push on the defender.

All in all, this was not a brilliantly convincing performance, but Gillingham created few threats and did not deserve the draw. We had possession for large parts of the game, but we looked wasteful once again in front of goal. I remain concerned that we have what it takes to prevail in the play offs, but our chances of making those high-tension games were at least improved today.

(Player comments by Gordon Thrower)

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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.


Substitutes


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.     .

Gillingham

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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