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Nationwide Division One
Saturday, 24th April 2004

Stoke City 0
West Ham United 2

by East Stand Martin

Camp X-Ray is not in Cuba after all as several thousand West Ham fans discovered after the game when they found themselves banged up in an enclosure around the South Stand car park of the Britannia Stadium.

Oxford Fred was pleading with a copper that he was only on holiday in Afghanistan and that they shouldn’t take a 2-0 defeat so badly. Apparently it was for our own safety. I bet that is what the Yanks told the Tipton Taliban. A 2-0 win. It was manna from heaven and desperately needed after a run of poor performances on the road. It was never going to be easy given Stoke’s half-decent home record, identical in fact to our own at Upton Park – only four losses.

The same four

We were all feeling a lot happier in the warmth of the Staffordshire sunshine when Michael Carrick and Matty Etherington appeared to start the game. In a repeat of last Saturday’s back four, Anton was left back, Dailly and Melville were in the middle and Mullins was down the right. I was happy with that and also pleased to see Lomas out there again. Marlon was in his ‘Pardew Right’ position and Connors and Z-man up front.

I may have liked the line-up but the first 30 minutes of this game was a worrying affair. Mullins gave the ball away at least three times in the first seven minutes and a throw in down the left on 9 minutes saw Noel-Williams flick on a looping header which Bywater had to tip over the bar.

We simply did not seem to be at the races and the excellent playing surface at the Britannia aided a pretty free-flowing Stoke who were passing it around very nicely. Thankfully, despite an extended period of pressure and possession, where we looked very vulnerable down our right, Stoke were unable to fire in any shots on goal.

An old head at the right time

It was at this time that I became even happier that Steve Lomas was out there. I said a couple of weeks ago that we needed some old heads out there to instill some discipline and confidence. On more than one occasion I saw Stevie bellowing at his team mates when he thought that they needed a reminder about how to defend. I hope he’s there if we make the play offs, the bloke is a leader.

During this period we were clueless going forward, unable to string more than a couple of passes together. Anton was trying his best to put Matty away, but a lot of his effort was expended in trying over-ambitious passes, when a more simple approach was required.

On 37 minutes, we nearly suffered one those season-ending disasters when Bywater cleared a ball against Noel-Williams who was closing him down. Thankfully this rebounded wide of the goal.

Connors does it again

A minute later the game was changed completely. Z-man had the ball in the box and it then spilled out to the left side of the 6 yard box, where Connors retrieved it and managed to fire in a shot from an acute angle. Somehow it went in.

The lead was nearly doubled almost immediately, when Z-man went on a great run and fired in a shot which just went by the post. For one fleeting moment, we all thought it had gone in.

Half time and a game not hugely different from last week’s against Coventry. Not very convincing but we had the lead.

Fred went spare during the interval as he was denied a cast-iron pint of lager. I didn’t see the incident myself, but according to Fred, they were individually pouring out beer from bottles into plastic glasses. The shutter got pulled down and Fred was left spitting sawdust.

Passing – remember that?

Stoke looked determined to try and do something at the beginning of the second half. Two minutes in, a shot got fired in just wide of Bywater’s post and a couple of corners followed. Then on 50 minutes, Noel-Williams sliced one high and wide and managed to claim a penalty at the same time which was denied by ref Barry.
It was at this point that we seemed to rediscover our passing game. Finally everybody seemed to be working as a unit.

Carrick was running the middle superbly and we began to find Matty a bit more precisely and regularly. Connors was running around all over the place – we’ll miss him when he’s suspended - and Marlon began to engage in some smart tricks down the right. I have to say that when he gets the ball, Marlon is very difficult to dispossess and often beats two or three players. Maybe this is why Pardew likes him down the flank.

Two chances and a goal

On 53 minutes Matty was found with a great pass and went on a penetrating run which ended in a wicked cross across the face of goal. Unfortunately Carrick missed it sliding in and Zamora could only fumble it wide when the ball arrived.

A minute later, Connors then nearly added a second when the ball was chipped over by Marlon. He hit a powerful half volley, but the Stoke keeper made a fine save diving to his right.

The game was made safe on 58 minutes when Matty once again was fed the ball, this time by Anton, who was having a much better second half. Matty got near to the byline and then executed a fantastic little jink which was met by the head of Marlon. 2-0 and cruising.

From then on there was only one winner. We held the ball for long periods and mid-table Stoke didn’t seem that interested. Fred was particularly impressed by Taggart who took a throw in whilst laying on the ground following a tumble into touch.

Cohen came on for Matty, presumably because he was not fully match fit and there seemed little point in risking him with the big matches to come. Then on trotted Hutch – I thought I had seen the last of him as a West Ham player – and he combined well with Marlon to hold the ball down the right for the last 15 minutes or so.

In the final ten minutes, Carrick blasted over following good work by Marlon who managed to fox a couple of defenders. Then Carrick fed Marlon who put in a great shot which was saved.

If it ain’t broke don’t change it

Overall, a satisfactory performance and certainly much better in the second half where Stoke didn’t threaten at all. The back four looked pretty solid again and Dailly had another good game. I’m inclined to stick with these four for next week. Carrick bossed the middle of the park and I thought Marlon was very industrious. A fully-fit Matty should make a big difference as well.

The stakes are getting higher every week, but results elsewhere were reasonably good for the second week in a row. It is tighter than a camel’s a*se in a sandstorm up the top of the table and I hope we get luckier than we did last year in the final run-in. I just know that Fred, ESM Jnr and me are going to be very nervous the next time we go up the M6 in two weeks’ time. In the meantime let’s make sure we deal with Watford.

(Player Ratings by Gordon Thrower)

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Player Ratings

Stephen Bywater
Made two important saves – one in each half. Otherwise not overly tested. Two dody kicks left hearts in mouths.


Anton Ferdinand
Confidence grew as the game progressed and it was probably his best game in a West Ham shirt.


Hayden Mullins
Although a couple of early passes failed to reach their intended destination Mullins recovered to have another strong game.


Christian Dailly
Stoke's attack was tailor made for the skipper who dealt easily with the limited threat posed.


Andy Melville
Plays best when keeping it simple and, after he'd settled down he did just that.


Michael Carrick
A little bit off the pace to start off with following his return from injury but improved as the game progressed.


Steve Lomas
Got his sleeves rolled up, got stuck in and directed operations well.


Matthew Etherington
Despite not being quite match fit Matty was still a constant threat to Stoke and we are indeed fortunate that he's made his recovery in time for the run-in.


Bobby Zamora
Caused the Stoke defence a fair few problems. His touch seemed to improve as the game progressed and he started to hold the ball up well.


Marlon Harewood
Started off as if he wasn't interested then, suddenly, he was everywhere. Started and finished the move for his goal.


David Connolly
Must have sweated off a few lbs in the heat as he chased everything under the sun. First to react to the loose ball for the first goal.


Substitutes


Chris Cohen
(Replaced Etherington, 63) Quietly effective in keeping things tidy on the left.


Don Hutchison
(Replaced Connolly, 77) Looked quite sharp when replacing Connolly – a fit and hungry Hutch will be an asset durng the run-in.


Pavel Srnicek
Did not play.


Jobi McAnuff
Did not play.


Brian Deane
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: N.Barry.

Attendance: 18227.

Man of the Match: Marlon Harewood.

West Ham United

Goals: David Connolly 39 Marlon Harewood 59                

Booked: None booked.           .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Stoke City

Cutler, Halls, Thomas, Taggart, Marcus Hall, Henry, Clarke, Hoekstra, Commons, Russell, Noel-Williams.

Substitutes: Svard (Hoekstra 45), Palmer (Hall 66), Gunnarsson (Russell 85).

Subs not used: De Goey, Hill.

Goals: .

Booked: Taggart (70).

Sent Off: None sent off..

 
Match Report