Saturday, 7th August 2004
Here we go again!
So a new season starts. We had a 9am start from Redbridge in the Romford crew minibus. We were joined by Maltese Hammer who is now on a season-long loan from his native, er, Malta. So we were greeted with glorious weather for the trip up the M1 just to make him feel at home. How we laughed at the 15-mile tailback on the other carriageway caused by a burnt-out lorry whose driver had chosen the fast lane to hold a braai*.
We arrived at Leicester just after opening time at the Oasis Bar and Grill where we were joined by Northern Bird & her fledgeling Oliver, Chalks, sporting suspiciously gay footwear, Kev, Chim, Bonehead, Sicknote, Sam & daughter. By lunchtime we discovered that the “Grill” section of the establishment’s name was something of a misnomer, since you could have anything at all you wanted to eat as long as it was curry. Or chips.
So on to the Walkers Stadium, which, despite this season’s league sponsorship, was festooned with banners advertising Coca Cola’s chief rivals, Pepsi. This was my first visit to the stadium which, with its all round single tier put me in mind of Southampton’s St Mary’s ground. With new stadia being opened every season I suppose we will have to get used to the homogenisation of grounds, and despite the undoubtedly superior facilities of their “new” ground the football purist in me couldn’t help missing the character of the old-fashioned Filbert Street. There again whilst bemoaning the sameness of new grounds I suppose it would be amiss of me not to mention that one of the stands at Filbert Street was supposedly the exact same design as the old West Stand at the Boleyn so perhaps standardisation is not a new concept.
To the game. The soon to depart Carrick did not make the 18-man squad and, although new-boy Chadwick had been included in the travelling party, he was not deemed to have bedded in sufficiently to make the starting line-up. We therefore lined-up as follows: Bywater, Repka, Brevett, Dailly, Melville, Rebrov, Reo-Coker, Mullins, Etherington, Sheringham and Harewood. Mr Howlett revealed to me later that, interestingly (his word not mine), had our sub ‘keeper played, we’d have had two ‘keepers called Walker playing in the Walkers Stadium. I sometimes think that website editors ought to get out more!
The first 15 or so minutes were fairly even. As one would expect of a home side populated with new players on the first day of the season, Leicester made every effort to take the game to the Hammers, which in turn allowed us space on occasion to get forward ourselves. However, the first real chance of note went to Leicester. Bywater came a long, long way for a Leicester cross and had two goes at palming the ball away from danger. Nilis, whose long hair put one in mind of Robbie Savage (well from a distance anyway) was allowed the time and space to control the ball and bring it forward before unleashing a fine effort that cannoned back off the crossbar from about 25 yards. Bywater had got back in his goal but had the shot been a few inches lower it would have probably taken a few fingers with it on its way into the back of the net such was its power.
We countered this effort with some football of our own and some good work on the left from Etherington found Mullins coming in to shoot just over from just outside the box.
Then came the game’s first big talking point. Now I don’t want to sound like a certain French manager but I have to admit that I didn’t see the incident first hand as it happened. The ball was cleared from the Leicester left and, like many, I was caught out following its trajectory towards our box. However, the whistle went and we were treated to the season’s first case of “handbags” as several players went in to stare meaningfully at eachother. Once things had calmed down Leicester new-boy Dublin was shown the red card whilst Brevett much to the Leicester fans’ dismay was given only a yellow. On seeing the incident on the box later it transpired that Dublin’s red had been given for a wild hack at Brevett whilst Whoopi’s card had been for “adopting an aggressive attitude” which seemed a little harsh given that he’d just been kicked.
The rest of the first half was dominated by West Ham as Leicester struggled to come to terms with the shortfall in manpower. Reo-Coker’s burst through the middle ended up with a shot just wide as did a similar effort from Mullins. Our best chance probably fell to Harewood whose shot from the right hand side of the box was well saved by Walker. Etherington tried to place the rebound but saw his effort go just the wrong side of the post.
Up the other end Leicester’s main threat came from a certain D Connolly esq who latched onto a long clearance and tried an ambitious volley from a tight angle and some distance. His effort looked better than it was though and troubled the side netting a lot more than it did Bywater.
And so half time. My main concern at this point (apart from the fact that the away stand had run out of everything except tap water) was that the interval would give Leicester boss Mickey Adams time to organise his side in order to make things more difficult for us during the second half, and so it proved.
Leicester came out for the second 45 with a plan and it worked well. They crowded the midfield and back areas with even the hardworking Connolly (and how many times did I write that last season) not shy of putting in some hard graft in deeper than normal areas. The net result was that faced with 10 men behind the ball we needed to seek something different to unlock the defence. Unfortunately we didn’t find it. Strangely, time after time Rebrov proved to be the extra man wide out on the right. Time after time however, we ignored him. On the few occasions we did manage to work the ball out right the quality of cross from Rebrov or from Repka who got forward well in support whenever he could, was poor and rarely caused the Leicester defence much trouble.
That said we were very unfortunate not to be awarded a penalty when Harewood was unceremoniously bundled over in the box by a defender. It was the clearest penalty of the season so far (ho ho!). Seriously though Marlon’s fall was brought about by a combination of push and kick and the ref’s suspect positioning could be the only reason for his failure to point to the spot. To add insult to injury Leicester went on the attack up the other end with Harewood needing treatment rather than putting the ball out.
Up the other end Connolly was beginning to look sharp and twice receiving the ball with his back to goal he caused problems for Dailly, firstly bringing out a splendid save from Bywater and then shooting narrowly wide.
The chance of the match, however, fell to Harewood who, latching onto a long clearance from the back caught the Leicester defence square for once. His shot, low and from 12 yards, lacked conviction however, and allowed Walker to pull off a save low to his left with Sheringham unable to reach the rebound in time.
So substitutions were made in an attempt to break the deadlock. Many players must have noticed Rebrov for the first time as he went off to be replaced by McAnuff, whilst Zamora came on for Harewood. In the meantime Etherington saw a cleverly curling effort from outside the box go wide and Zamora found himself clear in the box but took three touches, the third of which saw the ball go harmlessly wide.
Then came Whoopi’s turn to walk. Leicester had a bit of possession on the left which Brevett brought to an unceremonious end by sliding straight through Scowcroft to earn a second yellow card. Although his first may have been harsh he can have had no complaints about the second and will now face a one match ban. Pardew acted immediately to secure the point by withdrawing Sheringham and putting on young Cohen at left back in place of Brevett.
There was still a chance to pinch the points late on when McAnuff was fouled outside the box. From the resulting free-kick Zamora got across his defender but couldn’t keep his header down and saw the ball go a couple of feet over. Ad that, barring a few choruses of “he’s got a monkey’s head” aimed at late Leicester sub Martin Keown, was essentially that.
After a swift pint at the Oasis we then enjoyed a 15 minute trawl round an industrial estate and through a service station to find the entrance to an ASDA in order to obtain liquid supplies for the journey South. These were highly necessary in order to survive the heat and the sound of tins being opened had the added bebefit of drowning out the sound of Deano's constant enquiry of “is this Dean Martin?” that came up every time the track changed on the on-board stereo. During this period Maltese Hammer let slip that he now hadn’t seen us score in any of the last six matches that he’s attended. This worried me as, it would be just about ok given that his previous visits from the George Cross island were few and far between. However, now that he’s going to be London-based this trend must stop!
Overall I was probably less disappointed with the result than many of the travelling party. Sure there was a feeling that we ought to have made the numerical advantage count a lot more, especially in the first half and I agree that we still lack a certain degree of creativity in midfield and up front. However, in defence of the team the conditions weren’t the greatest in which to be running with the ball – pitch side it was 35 degrees which is 95 in real money and the ref even had a drinks break at one point in the second half. Not strictly within the laws of the game but at the end of the day an entirely sensible act given that we were sweltering away in the stand even without running up and down. My two main concerns are that we might continue to struggle against packed midfields as we did so often last season, and that we still need to sort out the right side of midfield. Even so, at the end of the day had you told me before kick off that we were going to come home from Leicester with a point I’d have been happy with that. So chin up everyone!
Thanks to Romford & especially his Dad for the transport and for diverting back via the North Circular to drop me off at the lovely girlfriend's place, and to the lovely girlfriend for the loan of a computer & floppy disc that saved me a bit of time in getting this report done!
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One early lapse was more than made up for by his superb save from Connolly’s shot on the turn.
Looked comfortable at full-back and got forward quite well in the second half. Although his crossing could have been better that’s not what he’s there for.
Although the first booking may have been a bit harsh, the fact that he was already on a yellow seemed to go out of his head and he can have had no complaints about the second yellow.
A solid match from the skipper who marshalled the back 4 well. Gave Connolly a bit too much space on a couple of occasions though and had Bywater to thank that this did not prove disasterous.
Kept it simple and handled his defensive duties well. Played safe with his distribution.
A strong first half and, although he faded in the second half he was probably the pick of our midfield overall.
Fair first half but didn’t figure much in the second.
I’m not sure that Rebrov is the answer to the right midfield slot. However it would be unfair to judge him too harshly on this showing as time and time again he found himself unmarked out wide and time and time again his colleagues failed to spot him.
Showed a fair bit of confidence if little nous in continually attempting to take his marker on the outside, which resulted in a fair few arrivals at the end of blind alleys.
Largely anonymous I’m afraid, although there were occasional glimpses of his intelligence in luring challenges in from the Leicester defence.
Guilty of squandering what were probably our two best chances – he could and should have taken the chance in the second half a bit closer. Unlucky not to have got a penalty from a challenge that might have been given anywhere other than in the box.
(Replaced Rebrov) A few good touches running at the defence but not given enough time to stamp any authority on the game.
(Replaced Sheringham) Replaced Sheringham after Whoopi’s red. Did ok.
(Replaced Harewood) Tried in vain to make things happen but guilty of a poor first touch when clear in the box, though unlucky with his last ditch header.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Man of the Match: Nigel Reo-Coker.
West Ham United
Booked: Rufus Brevett 18 .
Sent Off: Rufus Brevett 85 .
Walker, Dabizas, Makin, Heath, Williams, Wilcox, Stewert, Nalis, Scowcroft, Dublin, Connolly..
Substitutes: Keown (Heath 88), Blake (Wilcox 90)..
Subs not used: Pressman, Gemmill, Blake..
Booked: Nalis (21).
Sent Off: Dublin (18).