Monday, 12th April 2004
A much change sided saw Zamora drop to the bench with Harewood partnering the ill-fated Connolly up front. Carrick was mysteriously nowhere to be seen amidst a number of wild rumours. I'll settle for the abducted by aliens one.
The game started as a tight affair with neither side looking particularly dominant and neither keeper having much to do other than to ensure that their sunblock was kept topped up in the at times warm spring sunshine. The tone of the match was set early on when a ball was played wide onto the Palace right to Johnson. Johnson played the ball into rather than past Harley and as the defender took the ball away Johnson threw himself to the ground. We started to laugh but the laughter was silenced by the referee's woeful decision to award a free-kick. This set the pattern for Palace as Johnson (twice) Butterfield and Hughes all went to ground the second any opposing player appeared on their personal radar. Hughes even had time to wink knowingly at the crowd as he picked himself up in an attempt to win a BAFTA.
There was little of note occurring. Repka picked up a booking for a late challenge which was one of the few times a Palace player needed assistance to go to ground. Connolly picked up a yellow for sliding in on Granville. Then, on 36 minutes came the moment that handed a very average Palace side the game on a plate. Connolly chased down a ball – something he's done on countless occasions. Making little – if any contact (it certainly looked like there was no contact from my angle) Butterfield committed the ultimate sin of feigning injury in order to get a fellow professional sent off. It was hard to judge what was the more disgraceful, Butterfield's outrageous piece of gamesmanship or the totally inadequate response of the horrendously out of his depth Mr Bates in dishing out a yellow card to Connolly who was so stunned in disbelief at the appalling decision he refused to go for a couple of minutes. Mullins also got in the book whilst the true villain of the piece got away with it scot free. Tellingly, Butterfield gave a clenched-fist salute as Connolly departed and swapped a handshake with his fellow defender Popovic.
Surprisingly the only two chances of what remained of the first half fell our way. Dailly found himself unmarked wide on the left but shot wide. Harewood did the same thing having shrugged off the attentions of Popovic.
The half time interval gave Palace time to accept instructions on how to make the extra man count – something they appeared incapable of doing on their own initiative during the last 10 minutes of the first half. They spread the ball wide to stretch the midfield and took the lead on the hour shortly after creating their first chance which drew a save from Srnicek. From the resulting corner Friedman took time off from running his studs down the back of Repka's heels to put the ball away unchallenged. Srnicek did well to keep out a couple of one-on-ones before the ref finally spotted Johnson's seventh dive of the match in an attempt to win a penalty – though the statutory yellow card for the offence was mysteriously not forthcoming.
Up the other end Zamora went in for an innocuous challenge with Popovic whose reaction was sadly predictable. Deane in particular took exception to yet another attempt to get a player sent off and a free for all ensued with Zamora picking up a yellow for his part in the affair. The game petered out with Palace seemingly happy with the 1-0. The Palace fans, who had hitherto resembled a bunch of trappist monks with their vocal cords removed as a precaution, finally burst into a chorus of Glad He Fell Over by the Dave Clark Five at the end.
I suppose when you get a team as successful as Ar*enal currently are in the premiership its inevitable that lesser sides will try to copy some of their methods. Sadly, many of the teams in this division have picked on Pires & co's habit of going over under minimal pressure. Palace are not the only team to do this but I have to say that in 35 years of watching football I am hard pushed to recall such obvious and cynical exploitation of a weak referee since the bad old days of the Leeds sides of the early 70s. We might not have won the match but given a ref with half an idea as to what he was doing we'd at least have had the level playing field to give it a go. It may be first division football but if I'm paying hard-earned cash each week surely I have a right to expect officials of a professional standard. Certainly I should expect something better than Mister Bates who was palpably inadequate right from the kick-off.
Meanwhile if I were Connolly I'd be straight on to PFA windbag Graham Taylor to see what he thinks about players cheating to get others sent off. I mean he must do something for all that money surely.
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Kept out the three or so chances that Palace created.
Better but his performance was not helped by Johnson's theatricals every time he got near.
Solid performance. Harshly booked for querying Butterfield's shameful antics.
Much of a muchness from the skipper who might have done better with the chance in the first half.
Spent much of the second half in headless chicken mode as he allowed himself to be wound up by Friedman's attempts to get him sent off. Sadly it nearly worked.
Was doing ok until the sending off left him exposed.
Got up and down well but often spoilt good work by running into blind alleys.
Tried to get stuck in and survived what appeared to be a deliberate stamp from Hughes without fuss. Given the climate yesterday perhaps he should have rolled over in agony for a few minutes.
Must chase the ball more, must pass more, and must get more involved.
Really was on a hiding to nothing once Connolly went.
Got through a prodigious amount of work before falling victim of Butterfield's 'injury'. Bravely resisted the temptation to jump on the prostrate cheat's head before walking off.
(Replaced McAnuff, 67) No impact on the game.
(Replaced Harley, 72) Didn't have much time to exert any influence but showed a couple of good touches.
(Replaced Reo-Coker, 78) Oh come on. If they fell over when Connolly was on they're hardly going to stay on their feet when up against a battering ram like Deano!
Did not play.
Did not play.
Man of the Match: Kevin Horlock.
West Ham United
Booked: Tomas Repka 13 David Connolly 30 Hayden Mullins 38 Chris Cohen 81 Bobby Zamora 86 .
Sent Off: David Connolly 36 .
Vaesen, Granville, Butterfield, Hudson, Popovic, Riihilahti, Gray, Hughes, Johnson, Freedman, Routledge,.
Substitutes: Derry (Riihilahti 63), Leigertwood (Freedman 83), Soares (Johnson 90).
Subs not used: Oakes, Edwards, Costa.
Goals: Freedman (66).
Booked: Popovic (7).
Sent Off: None sent off..