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Saturday, 11th September 2004

Sheffield United 1
West Ham United 2

by Gordon Thrower

A grand – and for some eventful - day out that saw us gain another three points extracted from a match during which we were at times good, at times bad and at times indifferent.

We made an early arrival at Sheffield where we were met by Richie's mate & Blades fan Glyn who was sporting a rather fetching Elvis wig. Northern Bird was also on hand to lend some decorum (and no little beauty) to the proceedings and we proceeded to the Farm Road Working Men's club. This was a typical Northern club complete with a splendid old chap on the door ensuring that the usual labyrinthine rules relating to guest memberships were enforced. Having paid our 25p each and signed the relevant documentation we were joined by most of Glyn's family and what appeared to be a large number of Sheffield United stewards, although closer inspection showed that they were just ordinary fans wearing the home side's retina-threatening dayglo orange away kit. Clubs such as these are legendary for their low bar prices and, though I'm not sure of the cost of a pint there, it was notable that our initial £10 a head kitty was still in funds when I left for the ground at 2.30. On departure Glyn's Mum told us she was hoping for a draw so that we wouldn't go home upset. Being polite we thanked her for her good wishes and told her that we hoped her team got a thumping!

Mr Pardew has been busy in the transfer market this week and two of the new boys were in the starting line up of Bywater, Mullins, Brevett, Repka, Davenport, Reo-Coker, Etherington, Chadwick, Fletcher, Sheringham, Harewood. We got off to a strong start, with Sheringhamturning his marker and finding Etherington with a superb ball out wide on the left. Matty took the ball on and crossed the ball to Harewood who unfortunately failed to connect with anything more substantial than fresh air.However it didn't take long for Marlon to make amends in spectacular fashion. Some good work on the right between Sheringham and Chadwick seemed to have ended when Chadwick's pass was overhit. However the defender managed to clear only as far as harewood whotook one touch before unleashing a drive that the rotund Kenny didn't have a prayer of saving as it screamed into the top corner.

We continued to create a number of good chances. Sheringham might have made more of a volley resulting from a Bywater clearance Probably the best of these came on about 20 minutes. The ball was played out to Harewood on the left. Marlon's good pressure on the full-back saw him win the ball and advance menacingly into the box on the left hand side. Unfortunately Marlon's decision-making faculties let him down at this point and his election to shoot fom a narrow angle rather than feed the better-placed Sheringham in the middle merely saw the ball end up harmlessly in Kenny's midriff, from where it took a surpisingly short time to reappear.

The home side had created little up to this point, their forward line being admirably handled by Repka and in particular by the impressive Davenport. Any problrms that did arise were largely of our own making. Bywater made a hash of a difficult Repka back pass and the ball ended up coming off the keeper's head for a corner which was thankfully cleared. Sheffield United gained a free-kick on the half hour when the Nigel Reo-Coker was adjudged by the inconsistent Mr Wiley to have brought down Gray, despite appearing to have got a fair bit of the ball. Reo-Coker and Gray continued the discussion by shoving eachother as other players joined in with the “debate”. When it had all calmed down a bit the ref gave yellows to NRC and Gray but the free kick, which had been in a dangerous position, was clipped harmlessly wide. Up the other end a move that involved fine passing between NRC and Sheringham ended up with Etherington's goal-bound effort being blocked.

Sir Trevor did the half time raffle before the PA announcer unwittingly gave us one of the day's funnier moments. In an attempt to gee up the home support he urged the crowd to join in with “THE football song”. Now there may be a few claimants to the title of “THE football song” up and down the country but I'd suggest that the lyrics that Sheffield United supporters sing to the tune of John Denver's “Annie's Song” wouldn't be high on most fans' list. Still this didn't deter the hapless announcer from playing the first few bars of the song. “You fill up my senses” sang the late country singer before the announcer turned down the volume for the home crowd to join in. Only nobody informed the home crowd of the plan so nobody joined in!

Well whatever AP said to the team I sort of wish he hadn't. Where the first half had seen us move the ball round well and keep possession for long periods, during the early period of the second half saw us unable to string passes together. With the home side slinging in high stuff time after time we were highly grateful for Davenport's domination in the air. On one of the rare occasions we actually passed the ball around Harewood found Etherington but Matty's effort was less shot more back-pass.

Nowland replaced the quiet Chadwick shortly after the hour but a few minutes later we conceded the equalizer. A challenge wide on the left seemed to have won the ball cleanly but referee Wiley disagreed. Bywater got his positioning horribly wrong as Quinn's cross sailed into the top corner past the flapping 'keeper. The home side continued to press forward, albeit with limited variation and thankfully Davenport was up to the task of clearing the lines. In fact the most dangerous chance came from our own doing when Bywater had to be awake to deal with a poor Brevett backpass.

Marlon was replaced by Rebrov with 15 minutes left and we gradually began to improve, though the passing wasn't anywhere near the levels that we'd seen during the first half. Then with five minutes plus stoppage to go we nicked the winner. Some good work from Sheringham found Rebrov on the edge of the box. Sergei was needlessly fouled by a defender and when the ref had finally got the wall back, well about 8 yards, Sheringham drove the ball into the net. Fletcher and a defender were running across the path of the ball and it appeared to clip one of them on its way into the net but it was Teddy's goal.

Of course when we're trying to hang onto a lead, five minutes is an eternity and we had to survive a mad moment when Repka calmly took control of a loose ball in our box before driving it against an opponent and gratefully watching the ball go harmlessly wide. With Fletcher already on the pitch our cast of “Porridge” was increased when Mr Mackay replaced Mullins. Repka spent the last few minutes at right back with Mackay joining Davenport in the middle. We managed to see out injury time without too much worry, Repka even wasting a few seconds by getting himself clattered by Harley.

I have mixed feelings about Sheffield United. When I was a kid, a South African friend of the family came to the UK on business. As a 7 year-old I was dead impressed to hear that during the 1950's George, a smashing bloke, had for a short while been a professional footballer with the Bramall Lane side back in the days when it was also had been a first-class county cricket venue (I believe test cricket may also have been played there at one time). So whilst I stopped well short of adopting the Blades as a second side, I always sort of looked out for their results. However, that soft spot has, in recent years been sorely tested by the antics of Neil Warnock. George is sadly no longer with us but it's hard to believe he would have approved of some of the more boorish utterances that his old club's current manager has come out with over the years. Apparently the ref was far too friendly with Sheringham for Warnock's liking and Rebrov dived. Utter rubbish as usual from the Blades boss.

The journey back to the station was not helped by the efforts of the local constabulary whose attitude to the travelling support was little short of disgraceful. I saw polite enquiries from ordinary supporters met with the sort of rude and confrontational attitude that would probably have landed a supporter behind bars if they'd spoken back and one cannot help thinking that the police's attitude might have been coloured by the need to make a certain number of arrests in order to justify the massive overtime bill caused by the wildly excessive numbers of officers on display. I counted about 100 officers on the platform at Sheffield station alone and I later heard tales of apparently random arrests and ejections reminiscent of the Not The Nine O'Clock News sketch where a bloke gets arrested for “walking on the cracks in the pavement” and “looking at me in a funny way”.

The journey home was enlivened by Richie receiving a text message from an apparent stranger asking what time they were to meet. Richie's reply of “7.30 – and wear something saucy” prompted a lengthy exchange of texts. Richie's face went a particularly bright shade of white once he realised that his correspondent was in fact an ex!

We finished the day in a pub near St Pancras where we were joined by my Geordie chum Craggsy who, due to an impending angiogram, was taking it easy and only had 3 or 4 pints in the half hour I was there.

So here we are – only 3 points off the top and we haven't really started to play yet. There were occasions in the first half when some of the passing was good enough to destroy many sides. The challenge now must be to carry that sort of form on throughout a match rather than to play just in spells. If we can do that then the we could really make an impression on this league. In the meantime if we can keep getting the three points from games that we don't play to our best that'll do me fine.

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Player Ratings

Stephen Bywater
Not at his best today. A bit shaky on crosses and his positioning for the goal was suspect.


Tomas Repka
A fairly solid game though a backpass and a misplaced clearance did provide a couple of heart-in mouth moments.


Rufus Brevett
Doesn't seem to be the same player he was pre-injury. Also is it me or does he seem to be far too ready to get involved in petty squabbles with the opposition these days?


Hayden Mullins
Solid defensively but caught the general malaise when it came to distribution in the second half.


Calum Davenport
Awesome. The lad looks like one decent breeze would blow him away but he dealt with the aerial bombardment magnificently. Looked comfortable on the ball as well. Do you think that his new employers would notice if we failed to return him at the end of the loan period?


Carl Fletcher
An impressive debut. One often expects newcomers from the lower divisions to be overawed by the step up but it looked like he's been here for years and wasn't afraid to boss the others around when required. Shares a name with a star striker in the Sky TV series “Dream Team” who was framed for the murder of the club chairman. Don't go getting ideas now!


Nigel Reo-Coker
Seems to be thriving on the greater responsibility given to him since the departure of one M Carrick. Another sound performance.


Luke Chadwick
A few early passes aside failed to make much of an impression on the game.


Matthew Etherington
A little better this week but still well short of the heights he reached last season.


Teddy Sheringham
I've probably said this before but sometimes his speed of thought can be too quick for his team mates. However the old head managed to take the sting out of the game towards the end and he certainly enjoyed his goal – even if there was a slight deflection on the way in.


Marlon Harewood
Caused the home side all sorts of problems in the first half but faded in the second period as the service to him all but dried up.


Substitutes


Adam Nowland
(Replaced Chadwick, 63) Guilty of giving the ball away too much when he came on and was responsible for giving away the free-kick that prompted the equalizer.


Sergei Rebrov
(Replaced Harewood, 75) Looked a bit sharper than of late and kept the ball well when the clock was running down. He drew the foul that prompted the winning free-kick.


Malky Mackay
(Replaced Mullins, 87) On for too short a time to make a real difference but did well enough in the few minutes he was there.


Jimmy Walker
Did not play.


Chris Powell
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: A.Wiley.

Attendance: 21058.

Man of the Match: Calum Davenport.

West Ham United

Goals: Marlon Harewood 9 Teddy Sheringham 85                

Booked: Nigel Reo-Coker 32 Carl Fletcher 52        .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Sheffield United

Kenny, Bromby, Morgan, Jagielka, Wright, Quinn, Thirlwell, Tonge, Harley, Ward, Gray.

Substitutes: Lester (Tonge 45).

Subs not used: Montgomery, Forte, McCall, Sharp.

Goals: Quinn (65).

Booked: Ward, Harley.

Sent Off: None sent off..

 
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