Saturday, 18th September 2004
If I had a pound for every time I heard the phrase “a game of two halves” being uttered into mobile 'phones as I exited the ground yesterday I'd have probably made enough money for the meal I treated the lovely girlfriend to after the match. If truth be told I've always disliked that phrase – dismissing it as a lazy cliché utilised by those who can't be bothered to come up with their own description. However I have to say that in this particular instance it is the perfect way to sum up the match.
The starting line-up was that which had opened against Rotherham, namely Bywater, Repka, Powell Mackay, Davenport, Chadwick, Fletcher, Reo-Coker, Etheringon, Sheringham, Harewood. On the bench there was a late change as Nowland, who had picked up a strain in the warm-up, was replaced by Lomas.
Although we had the brighter start it was Ipswich that had the best chance to take an early lead. Following some lax defensive work which saw us turn a fairly comfortable situation into a potential nightmare, Bent found himself with some space in the box. However, Bywater saved well with his feet and the ball was cleared to safety.
Things settled down after that and the passing game that we've seen only in fits and starts this season began to work properly. We started to force a few corners and the opposition defence had an air of desperation about it. Ironically, the opening goal came from a corner that went a little bit wrong. Etherington was faced with a defender who had clearly mistaken 10 feet for 10 yards. Undaunted, Matty attempted to curl an outswinger to the edge of the box but the corner was cut out by a defender in the middle. The ball fell out to Powell whose ball inside to Chadwick was as clever as Chadwick's run had been. Chadwick had the time & space to cross for Mackay to score his first for the club. It must have been a particularly nice moment for someone who has spent the last few years at Norwich.
For a while it looked as if we might run away with the game. Etherington had a claim for a penalty turned down when he seemed to have his heels clipped. However, referee Styles who had only escaped last week's Crap Ref Of The Week award thanks to Mark Halsey's brainstorm in the Fulham-Arsenal match, decided against awarding anything, presumably on the grounds that he didn't want to make himself look daft two weeks running (although such concerns don't seem to have bothered him in the past).
Meanwhile Harewood, latching on to a long ball over the top, stretched to volley over when he might have had time to run on to the ball to give himself a better chance of scoring. Davies in the Ipswich goal was also in particularly inspired form. Reo-Coker's drive from distance brought an excellent save from the Ipswich 'keeper down low to his left, a save that looked even better on the big screen replay when the size of the deflection became apparent. The corner resulted in a booking for Westlake, presumably for failing to retreat the full ten yards. None of the other Ipswich defenders who had been guilty of this offence were similarly punished so Westlake might feel a little bit cheesed off at the ref's actions. When the dust had settled Etherington put the free-kick into the box where Mackay's header was cleared off the line with no little desparation. The loose ball eventually found its way to Sheringham whose shot was turned away once more by Davies – who might want to negotiate piece rate for his goalkeeping efforts in the first half.
Then came what one might consider to be the game's turning point. After yet another corner the ball was cleared out to Repka. Repka played the ball out to Etherington on the right. Matty did exceedingly well to keep the ball in play and his header looped into the box. It seemed that everyone had given uo on Repka's pass and had walked away from the box in anticipation of the throw in. Everyone that is except Fletcher who burst into the box from deep. Fletch beat Davies to the loose ball and the Ipwich 'keeper arrived only in time to upend the midfielder for a penalty. Unfortunately Sheringham pulled the spot-kick wide. It was one of those moments that, whilst you hope it's not going to be a miss that you'll regret later, you somehow know it'll turn out to be just that.
Although we were the dominant force in the first half Ipswich were not without their moments and the best of these saw Bywater spectacularly turn a drive from Miller over the bar. De Vos's header from the resulting corner was easier to deal with, Bywater comfortably gathering in the Canadian's effort.
So 1-0 up at half time and looking fairly comfortable. However, as with the trip to Brammall Lane the previous week, the interval did us no favours and seemed to remove the sting from our game. We started to defend too deeply and, worse still, we started to give the ball away too often for my liking. The main beneficiary of our lack of accuracy and urgency was was Darren Bent and it was Bent's efforts that led indirectly to the equaliser. Bywater did well to turn away the England U21 international's close-range effort. From the resulting corner Counago was given the time and space to turn in the box to put away the equaliser.
The trouble with losing momentum is that once it's gone it's nigh on impossible to get it going again and thus it proved. Although NRC did his best to inspire those around him we were becoming increasingly reliant on shots from distance, a tactic that seemed unlikely to succeed given Davies's superb first half form. Symptomatic of our efforts was the moment when a foul on NRC gave us a free-kick aboutt 20 yards out, centrally positioned. Now over the years I've been used to us not being very good at set pieces – either attacking or defending. However, in recent weeks we've been treated to scoring efforts from both Sheringham and Etherington and perhaps I've been spoilt in that regard. Whatever, I certainly expected more than what we got which was Sheringham driving the ball ankle-high straight at the wall. From the rebound the ball found its way out to Bent who ran at the defence before unleashing a drive which came off the crossbar before going out for a corner, Bywater having done well to get a fingertip to the shot.
Next it was time for some substitutions. Mullins had been stripped and waiting to come on for some time – indeed but for referee Styles's repeated failure to look across to the touchline he might have got on a lot earlier. In the meantime Ipswich decided to make some changes of their own and Kuqi replaced Counago whilst Dinning came on for Magilton. Magilton had not endeared himself to the home crowd with some breathtakingly ignorant comments in the press the previous week, though to finish a 200 word rant on Alan Pardew's statements with the phrase “I'm not interested in what he has to say” seemed particularly hilarious to me – why spend so long whining about about something in which you have no interest? I guess the age old phrase about engaging brain before opening mouth hasn't arrived in East Anglia yet!
Back at the match the Ipswich changes seemed to require a change of mind on the bench and the introduction of Mullins was further delayed, presumably whilst AP decided on his own tactics and it was not until there were 10 minutes left that a double switch was made. Mullins replaced Chadwick whilst Rebrov replaced Sheringham. In fact Rebrov ended up playing in the right midfield berth vacated by Chadwick whilst Mullins ended up on a sort of central left midfield role. Either way Harewood was left on his own up front which, assuming the move was tactical seemed a little strange to me.
We had our chances to take all three points towards the end. The best of these fell to Marlon after some good work from Rebrov found Etherington on the left. Matty's cross found Harewood and he really ought to have done better with his header failing to get any decent contact on the ball which went harmlessly wide. Fletcher too found himself in space outside the box but he rather got under the shot which went over by quite some way, and the game petered out for a draw, despite a ball boy's attempts to get involved as he ran on to retrieve an errant ball despite play going on all round him.
Ultimately this was a match that, to take a neutral standpoint for a minute, was an entertaining spectacle. Ipswich probably deserved their point for their second half efforts although even they would have to concede that had we taken our chances in the first half the game ought to have been out of sight. I'm sure it'll come.
On my way to meet the lovely girlfriend I bumped into that fine fellow Maltese Hammer and his good lady wife. Maltese had not been at the match and therefore asked me the obvious question “What was it like?”. Somehow I found myself saying “It was a game of two halves...”
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A lot more confident of late and was responsible for some good saves.
Generally ok but one back pass to Bywater from three feet in a crowded penalty box was surely ill advised.
Not a bad game but was sometimes guilty of failing to close the runner down.
Did his best to keep Bent quiet, although the Ipswich forward was a handful. Took his goal well and was a bit unlucky not to double his tally.
Another storming performance from the youngster who is going to end up at Sp*rs. What a waste.
Not bad overall but he did show a disturbing propensity to give the ball away at times, especially in the second half.
Bossed the midfield, especially in the first half. Less dominant in the second period but still tried his best to inspire those around him.
OK first half it was his clever run onto Powell's excellent pass that set up Mackay's goal. Less impressive during the second half.
Showed a little bit more of the spark of last season, though I'd like to see him vary things by cutting inside occasionally.
A strong first half that was spoilt only by his inexplicable failure from the spot. Less involved in the second half though he wouldn't have been my first candidate to be replaced. I can only hope that his substitution was for reasons of fatigue rather than injury.
Not really at the races today. His touch seemed to have left him for a weekend break somewhere and when you are played as a lone striker, which Marlon was for the last 10 minutes or so, you need decent control to be able to hold the ball up while support arrives.
(Replaced Chadwick, 80) Like most people I assumed he would be playing up front alongside Marlon when he came on for the last 10. Perplexingly he seemed to slot into the right midfield berth. Played a couple of good balls and chased back well in the few minutes he was on but I'm still not convinced that this is the best use of “Serge” as AP likes to call him.
(Replaced Sheringham, 80) Not quite sure what his role was meant to be over the last ten minutes but he just seemed to get in the way in an already crowded midfield.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Man of the Match: Calum Davenport.
West Ham United
Goals: Malky Mackay 11
Booked: None booked. .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Davis, Wilnis, De Vos, Naylor, Diallo, Horlock, Magilton, Miller, Westlake, Bent, Counago.
Substitutes: Kuqi (Counago 75), Dinning (Magilton 75).
Subs not used: Price, Richards, Bowditch.
Goals: Counago 57.
Booked: Westlake, Counago.
Sent Off: None sent off..