Tuesday, 14th September 2004
It was an eventful day all round really. I went over to the hospital to pick up a mate who had been taken in for some “routine tests”. Unfortunately he managed to fail all the tests and as a result has won himself a heart bypass op and the following 4 months off work. I wonder what state he might have been in had he been a Hammer rather than a Geordie. I knew I should have broke the news about Souness to him a bit more gently! Get well soon mate.
Back at the Boleyn the opportunity was taken to give home debuts to all four of the recent signings and we lined up as follows: Bywater, Repka, Mackay, Davenport, Powell, Fletcher, Reo-Coker, Chadwick, Etherington, Sheringham, Harewood.
The general pattern of the game was that we enjoyed lengthy spells of possession whilst lacking the final ball to capitalise on the hard work. As a result the majority of our chances came from set-pieces from which, unusually for us, we actually looked dangerous. The earliest chance came from a Sheringham free-kick awarded for a foul a few yards outside the box. Unlike previous seasons, now that we have a specialist like Teddy one almost expects him to score. Unfortunately Teddy's effort went a yard or so over without troubling the 'keeper.
Our next series of chances came from three consecutive corners. Our new central defensive partnership of Davenport and Mackay were involved. The first corner looked destined for Davenport's head but a last ditch clearance from a defender gave away another corner. Etherington's second effort actually found Davenport only for the on-loan youngster to see his header cleared off the line for a third corner. The third corner found Mackay who connected cleanly but saw his header go wide.
Rotherham's sole tactic up to this point had been the sort of tactic that we've struggled againsta lot in recent seasons. That is they got everyone behind the ball. Well behind. So much so that even Repka had time and space to push up so that he was effectively playing as a wing back. So when a cross from Etherington on the left was punched out by Pollitt in the Rotherham goal we were treated to the sight of Tomas drilling a powerful drive straight back into the danger area. Sadly for Tomas – and the rest of us – Pollitt was able to recover to save the shot. The vintage champagne sitting the Repka household fridge will remain on ice pending his first goal. (I say vintage champagne – it was brand new when he bought the bottle).
The next player to have a shy at the Rotherham goal was Chadwick. Etherington went down the left but pulled his cross behind everyone except Chadwick who cleverly hit the ball goalward first time with the outside of his right boot. His shot went a few feet wide, much to Pollitt's relief as the Rotherham 'keeper scrambled across his goal. The 'keeper also had to be alert a few minutes later when a Reo-Coker drive from about 25 yards proved a bit too hot to handle. However the 'keeper was able to recover before Harewood could capitalise on the loose ball. Harewood himself then saw a header loop harmlessly into the grateful arms of the keeper following a cross from the quietly impressive Fletcher.
During this period Rotherham created what was really their only chance of the match, an angled cross in from deep that eluded everyone except for a Rotherham forward sliding in at the far post. Thankfully for us there was too much on the ball for the striker to get much of a shot in and we were relieved to see the ball go out for a goal kick, though if we'd gone into the interval at anything worse than level it would have been a real travesty.
As with the away match at Sheffield United on Saturday, the half time interval seemed to rob us of some of the momentum we had built up over the previous 45 minutes – I was musing over a law change that would enable a side to forego the half time interval if things were going well – a sort of time out in reverse if you will. There again that wouldn't leave much time for my neck massage from TV's Samantha Janus would it! Either way, despite once more having the lion's share of the ball we struggled to produce anything approaching the fluidity that we had occasionally shown during the first 45.
Patience, they say, is a virtue and that of the 26,000 odd crowd was finally rewarded on 68 minutes just as the first murmurings of discontent were beginning to appear. Some good work from Chadwick and Sheringham ended up with the ball being fed into Harewood who was upended about 25 yards out. Both Etherington and Sheringham considered the options but, much to the annoyance of a few behind me, Sheringham walked away leaving Matty to deal with matters alone. The moans were silenced as Matty curled a marvellous strike around the wall into the bottom left corner. It was a fine strike and was probably the best moment of the match.
The game opened up a little from that point as Rotherham tried to come out of their shell but if you've spent 70-odd minutes sitting back and waiting for things to happen it's always going to be difficult to change the emphasis of a game and so it proved. The better chances by far came our way and Harewood had his liveliest spell of the game, showing a few marvellous bits of skill under tight conditions that ought to see him making an appearance or two on next week's Soccer AM “Showboat” section if they can be bothered to stop themselves drooling over the Champions League for five minutes.
Marlon's best chance came from a storming run down the right hand side which ended with a low shot that Pollitt did remarkably well to get down to parry wide – the big screen replay confirming the initial view that the shot was definitely goalbound despite the relatively tight angle. Another chance fell to Repka ( that's two in a match!) who, obviously having forgotten what champagne tastes like, almost capped a fine move with a first time volley that would have been a Goal Of The Season contender had he connected cleanly. We gained another free kick from a bit further out but Etherington's attempt to double his and the team's tally lacked power and Pollitt gathered without fuss. Fletcher too got in on the act – a clever flick and roll of the ball across his shoulders a la Di Canio not quite getting the finish the skill deserved as his shot went wide.
AP rang a couple of changes during the latter periods. Chadwick, who seems to have lost his early season pep, was subbed, the swap placing Rebrov in the dreaded right-midfield role. Mullins came on during injury time for Etherington to give the midfield a more defensive look in the closing stages. There was a fair bit of injury time too, due mostly to an injury to Richie Barker who appeared to land awkwardly after a strong challenge from Davenport. There was no question that the challenge was a fair one but, unfortunately for the Rotherham man, the resulting injury was serious enough to require a stretcher after several minutes' treatment from the physio.
We saw out the remaining minutes without too much worry and, although Rotherham finally got a few crosses in, Davenport and Mackay were more than equal to the task, as they had been throughout the night.
Okay - this was a game that, on paper, we might have been expected to get more out of but, and I'm gonna sound a little like a scratched record here, we were playing against a side that had come with no ambition other than to escape with as close a result as possible. It was a match where, for the bulk of the match we were faced with eleven men behind the ball. This happened a lot last season and we failed to go up partly because of our inability to break down such teams. In truth Rotherham weren't particularly good at the defensive game and our failure to score more goals probably owed more to our propensity to make things hard for ourselves rather than to any hard work on their part.
There were signs, however, that we're beginning to learn how to deal with such sides and a little more luck in front of goal would certainly given the score a more realistic look. As I keep saying these were the games that we were drawing and losing this time last year. It should also not be forgotten that there were four players out there who have only had a few days at the club and it's a measure of the quality of the new boys that they look as if they've been there from the start.
One point off top with (hopefully) better to come? That'll do for now.
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In truth he was given very little to do by Rotherham. Came for a few crosses and looked a lot more confident than he had on Saturday.
Again the lack of ambition showed by our opponents meant that defensively Tomas had a quiet night. This enabled him to get forward well and on no fewer than two occasions had shots at goal. One day one of these will go in and I can't wait to see what the goal celebration looks like.
In for the somewhat ring-rusty Brevett, the on-loan former England had a tidy debut – strong in defence and, like Repka he got forward well in support of the midfield.
Okay - so it was only Rotherham and it was hardly the sternest of tests but there were signs that his partnership with Davenport could be a major factor in how things develop over the next three months.
A few minutes into the second half he tried to let the ball run out and an opponent got the better of him. A mistake. I mention this only to prove the lad is actually human because up to that point he'd won absolutely everything and I was thinking of contacting the missing persons bureau on the planet Krypton to see if they were missing a centre back. If anyone wins a lottery jackpot this week and finds themselves with a few spare million please buy this player for the club and save him from wasting his life up Seven Sisters way.
Quietly impressive. He goes in, wins the ball and lays it off. Only a few feet away from a goal you'd be seeing again and again on the box had it gone in.
A useful game if not quite as dominating as he can be.
Some nice combinations early on, particularly with Sheringham but overall he seems to have lost the initial sparkle he had during his first few matches.
In the first half he had a few runs and there were a few signs of the Matty of last season. However he was AWOL for most of the second half with the exception of the goal which he took with a marvellous strike.
Another clever match from Teddy and, as his team-mates begin to get on the same wavelength, more of the intelligent layoffs are beginning to pay off.
Unlucky not to have scored, especially when denied by a fine save from the 'keeper. Two moments of breathtaking skill had people on their feet.
(Replaced Chadwick, 70) Replaced Chadwick on the right for the closing stages and played a few decent passes.
(Replaced Etherington, 89) Came on for the last few minutes of stoppage time to bolster the midfield.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Man of the Match: Calum Davenport.
West Ham United
Goals: Matthew Etherington 69
Booked: None booked. .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Pollitt, Stockdale, Gilchrist, Swailes, Minto, Sedgwick, Shaw, Vernazza, Garner, Mullin, Barker.
Substitutes: urst (Shaw 63), Warne (Vernazza 73), Proctor (Barker 80).
Subs not used: Montgomery, Scott.
Booked: Garner (73).
Sent Off: None sent off..