Saturday, 10th April 2004
I had it all mapped out. I was going to treat my Dad to his annual visit to the Boleyn, bringing little bruvver along as well. It was going to run like clockwork and neither the tv inspired early kick-off nor the decision by whoever it is runs our rail network to dig up Clapham Junction was going to spoil things.
The two matches played on Good Friday went according to plan defeats for Wigan and Sheffield United were definitely part of the masterplan and meant that we would go into Saturday's match knowing that a win would go a long way to consolidating our position in the playoff zone. Then the plans all went pear-shaped.
An uncomfortable night of indigestion meant that Thrower senior was unable to travel. This in turn meant that my plans for a post-match session in the Wakefield would have to be abandoned since little bruv needed to be returned to Hampshire for a works do. Still the rest of the day would go ok wouldn't it? A reshuffle meant that Geoff and I had about an hour in the pub pre-match where Geoff was spoilt rotten by everyone there (as usual) whilst I was presented with one of those birthday cards that plays a tune by KUMB's Northern Bird. Unfortunately the tune in this case was “Build Me Up Buttercup”. Thanks NB – you shouldn't have. No really!
The next thing to go wrong was the absence of Matty Etherington with a groin injury. Reshuffles meant first starts of the season for players from both end of the experience spectrum – Chris Cohen and Steve Lomas. Mullins came in for Melville at the back and Srnicek came in for the suspended Bywater.
Well we had a lot of possession not to mention a few chances, the earliest of which followed a biting Lomas tackle of the sort sadly lacking in recent weeks. However the time spent on the ball looked laboured and we seemed to lack ideas and invention regular readers may experience a sense of deja-vu at this point. The closest we came to opening the scoring was on 25 minutes when a cross from the right was cleared out to Cohen on the edge of the box. The youngster had the confidence to try a volley which went only a few feet past the far post. Other chances went to Connolly, whose first time effort on the end of Carrick's pass went narrowly wide, and Dailly who saw a couple of efforts from corners fail to trouble the keeper. However, it was far from convincing stuff and Harewood and Zamora both appeared guilty of wanting to walk the ball into the net. Some of the few moments of decent passing football were thwarted by the lack of a final ball or, on a couple of occasions, a flag-happy assistant referee who failed to comprehend the meaning of the phrase at the time the ball was played - although thankfully this incompetence was to later prove crucial in our favour.
As for Derby, they provided little to threaten our much-criticised defence. Tudgay beat Srnicek to a ball wide on the edge of the 6 yard box but his subsequent cross was easily dealt with.
Ok if plan A – to go in at half-time with a lead – hadn't worked surely there must have been a plan B somewhere in the team's locker? Well if there was such a plan either they decided not to put it into operation or it consisted of the words “play like you did in the first half – only worse”.
Chances were few and far between and, worse, we started to allow Derby a lot of possession – possession that a better team might have made more use of. As it was, although Connolly was denied by a last-ditch tackle from a defender when clean through, the better of what few chances there were fell to the Rams. A needless free-kick given away on the edge of the box was taken whilst the defence was still organising itself – not the first time we've fallen for that particular ploy. Thankfully Srnicek was awake enough to deal with the shot – although had Huddlestone's shot been better the lack of organisation might have cost us dear. Shortly after, Tudgay's drive from distance cleared the bar by a lot further than the “oohs” of the 700-strong visiting support suggested but by a lot less than the derisive jeers from the home crowd suggested.
So it was sub time. Deane replaced the ineffective Zamora whilst Reo-Coker replaced Cohen whose first start had shown a lot of promise. The youngster left to some well-deserved applause and hopefully will continue to develop at the same pace in the months to come. Unfortunately the changes had little effect to the overall pattern of play – the only additional tactic seeming to be that of the long-ball played from the back up towards Deane, a tactic that met with a sadly predictable lack of success. Tellingly, the best move of the game came when Carrick, seemingly bored with the lack of width and movement around him, went on a mazy run. The Derby defence, as surprised at this turn of events as the rest of us, recovered in time to block any chance of a decent shot.
Carrick had appeared in the matchday programme in an article concerning the long hours he spends after training practising his shooting. I think he must have taken Easter week off as one particular shot from the right hand side went high and wide and far from handsome towards the Chicken Run.
McAnuff replaced Harewood who had blown hot and cold throughout and, in a similarly mazy run to that earlier demonstrated by Carrick, also got into the box before being blocked out. Eventually a cross from wide was delivered by Lomas to Deane who promptly headed over the clearest chance of the match over when unmarked from a few yards out.
Injury time saw two incidents of note. A couple of short passes found sub striker Manel unmarked in the box. However the linesman's flag went up as fast as it had done in the first half and although the Derby man's shot found the bottom corner it was not to count. A post-match phonecall to the ailing parent watching at home suggested that the decision was as incorrect as many of those made earlier by the same linesman and that Derby had been denied a winner.
The second incident came when we were awarded a couple of throw-ins on the right hand side. The first was taken by Repka with little result. Lomas finally persuaded Repka that his throw was longer prompting applause from the crowd. This incident apparently resulted in an angry exchange between Repka and the crowd, although in true Wenger style I didn't actually see the incident myself and am therefore not really qualified to comment and the match finished to boos and a general air of disappointment.
Someone recently dug up an old match report from earlier this season when I had bemoaned our lack of ability to break down well-organised and hard-working sides. What was worrying about Saturday's addition to the list of failures against struggling teams was that, with all due respect to the opposition, the result was purely down to our own failings. Derby didn't appear to me to be that well drilled or hard-working. The problem was that they simply didn't need to be such was the paucity of invention on our part.
An interminable journey back to Hants via every station on South West Trains' network and possibly a few of those on that operated by Scotrail was only slightly enlivened by the news delivered via the web (marvellous invention these GPRS phones) that Millwall and Reading's plans for the weekend had taken an even worse turn than ours and that a drab 0-0 draw against Derby had against all the odds left us still in 6th place. (Although the late goals scored by Ipswich at Rotherham did put a slight downer on my improved mood). I'm willing to bet that if we play as badly against a resurgent Palace we're unlikely to remain in the top six for much longer.
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Not really called on but was awake enough to keep out the sneaky free-kick in the second half.
Failed to impress going forward and better opposition might have exploited his lack of defensive nous.
Like Dailly rarely looked troubled at the back.
Coped ok with what little Derby had to throw at him. Might have done better once or twice when coming up for corners.
Usually when Repka keeps his head during a game we are treated to a decent performance – the nightmares usually occur when the red mist descends. However today was an exception in that we were treated to a poor performance without the usual yellow card.
A welcome return for a player whose tenacity and strength in midfield have been missed especially in recent weeks. Not sure about his ability to do it at premiership level but hey, let's cross that particular bridge if and when we come to it.
Still has that knack of appearing to have hours on the ball. However when there's no movement around him it's difficult for him to shine.
I think the experiment of playing Marlon out on the right must surely have run its course by now. He doesn't appear happy there and Zamora's lack of form in the middle ought to mean a move across to his more accustomed central role sooner rather than later.
Probably the best of the bunch today – not a bad achievement on your full debut even allowing for the general lethargy amongst the rest of the team. Keep it up sir and you'll be on Chelsea's subs bench in no time at all!
A couple of good runs into the box failed to disguise a lack of touch that was at times alarming. Faded from sight in the second half before being replaced by Deane.
Yet again loads of hard work but no joy in front of goal.
(Replaced Zamora, 66) I'm sure Deane is more than a one-trick pony really but whenever he comes on it's hoofed up high from the back for him to nod down. It didn't work.
(Replaced Cohen, 66) Didn't really register on the influence-ometer when replacing the impressive but tiring Cohen.
(Replaced Harewood, 76) Replaced Harewood, made one mazy dribble then disappeared.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Man of the Match: Chris Cohen.
West Ham United
Booked: None booked. .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Grant, Kenna, Mawene, Jackson, Vincent, Osman, Taylor, Huddlestone, Holmes, Peschisolido, Tudgay.
Substitutes: Bolder (Holmes 54), Manel (Peschisolido 82).
Subs not used: Oakes, Edwards, Costa.
Booked: None booked..
Sent Off: None sent off..