Tuesday, 21st September 2004
All the usual worries for a West Ham cup tie were there. Playing opposition from a lower division- indeed rock bottom of the league and with half the preferred starting XI missing, the words “hiding to nothing” and “banana skin” were ones that sprang readily to mind. There were team changes a-plenty, some enforced others through choice. For the second League Cup match running (if the sponsors want a mention they can flipping well pay me for it!) Walker was given a runout in place of Bywater who was on the bench. Davenport and Fletcher were both cup-tied - not that that little detail has stopped us selecting players in the past! Sheringham brought a note from his Mum excusing him from games whilst Powell brought an identical note from Alan Curbishley. Zamora and Lomas were both back from injury/suspension giving us a line up of Walker, Mullins, Brevett, Repka, Mackay, Reo-Coker, Lomas, Etherington, Rebrov, Zamora, Harewood.
Well all season we've been asked to be patient while the team breaks down opposition defences. All season we've heard people booing from those lacking in such patience. However even the most impatient of supporters can have had no complaints at the timing of the first goal coming as it did after 18 seconds. Rebrov won a loose ball in a central position, feigned to go one way, went another then shot from the edge of the box. To be honest it didn't seem to be the most powerful of efforts but Deeny in the County goal could only parry the ball out to Zamora who had the easiest of tasks to bury the ball from short range.
Unfortunately that was as good as it got for a while. So much so that I was able to type a polite reply to my brother Derek who had sent me a text message 9 minutes into the game. I should explain that Derek seems incapable of connecting the fact that West Ham are at home with the possibility that I as a season ticket holder might actually be in attendance at the match and he invariably texts me for the most mundane of reasons mid-game. My reply normally consists of the words “**** off I'm busy”, but things were so slow at this point in the game I had the time to gather my thoughts and come up with the altogether more polite response: “PLEASE **** off I'm busy”. Well it was welcome relief from watching a succession of 40 yard cross field passes that would have been ideal for Matty had he been a) 20 feet tall and b) stood on a box. Unfortunately neither of these requirements applied and the busiest people in the ground were the Lower West Stand (See previous comments re sponsors) patrons and ball boys.
Just to liven things up we then gifted County an equaliser. Zamora was adjudged to have fouled a defender close to the halfway line. The decision looked harsh since any contact was minimal at worst and the defender was able to complete his clearance unhindered in any meaningful way. I have, however, long since stopped being surprised by the actions of the men in the middle. The resulting free-kick was punted long and high into the box where Mullins failed to get off the ground. The ball went one way across the box then back the other way to Wilson who was able to bundle the ball past Walker. The best way I can describe the goal for readers of a certain age is that it put me in mind of one of the goals conceded by England against West Germany in the 1970 World Cup Quarter Final – the one where Bonetti is moving across the goal line like a bar football keeper in a desperate attempt to catch up with the ball. This prompted choruses of “Premier League? You're 'avin' a laugh” from the 645-strong away support, though the old adage relating to people in glass houses should apply here - “Football League? You're avin' a laugh”!
We nearly conceded a second on 19 minutes thanks to some dodgy defending. Mackay seemed well in charge of a long ball from the back. Walker, however, had other ideas. Racing to the left hand side of the box the 'keeper succeeded only in thumping the ball against the closing Hurst. Fortunately the County man ran out of room and his attempt on goal went harmlessly into the side netting.
We then got the ball in the back of the net. The ball was played up to Harewood who lost his marker and was allowed to take the ball on quite some way before the referee decided to blow for some infringement that he had perceived Marlon to have perpetrated. It seemed a poor decision in view of the fact that the defender appeared to be giving at least as good as he got. Shortly after, Etherington, presumably fed up with not being 20ft tall and being unable to find a box to stand on, came inside and finished a good run through the middle with a 25 yard effort that went harmlessly over the bar.
If truth be told incidents of any note were few and far between. However just before the break there was incident at both ends. A long throw was allowed to bounce about in the home penalty area for far too long before anyone took responsibility for actually clearing it. When the ball finally emerged from the midst of “Don't Panic Mr Mainwairing” territory, Lomas broke free. However his ball to Harewood drove Marlon too wide for the forward to bear down on goal.
Half time came and the players left to a chorus of boos. There has been much discussion both on and off this site about the rights and wrongs of booing the players. Each to their own I suppose, but poor as the match had been to this point, things have to be a lot worse than that to get me booing – I mean at the very least we have to be losing for example. However, long after the players had departed patrons upstairs in the West Stand may have heard an isolated spell of booing from one supporter acting on his own. That was me. My protest had nothing to do with the team but was directed firmly at the appalling decision by Jeremy Nicholas to play “Build Me Up B*ttercup”. Never mind bloody fox hunting, when are the government going to ban this most irritating of records?
So to the second half which commenced with no changes in personnel. A clever turn by Harewood saw him burst into the box only for his progress to be halted with the ball being cleared for a corner. Rebrov sent an outswinging corner to the edge but Mullins failed to control. A few minutes after that County's Edwards picked up an injury that saw him unable to continue. It was one of those Wenger moments in that I had been following the ball and only noticed the injured player when the ball got played back across towards where the player was lying in a heap injured. Whatever the cause Edwards was sufficiently wounded to require a stretcher.
And so to the best – possibly only – bit of genuine football of the match. Up to the 53rd minute our passing and movement had been but a pale shadow of that to which we had been treated in the Ipswich match, which is why Zamora's second goal looked so out of place. Rebrov, who, on the night, had been one of the few to display any wit or intelligence in his passing, played another clever ball in towards Zamora. Zamora dummied and peeled off to latch on to Harewood's perfect lay-off to curl a fine shot into the bottom left hand corner. It was an excellent goal – certainly better than the game had deserved up to that point.
So normal service resumed? All is well? Well Zamora's clever run and chipped cross deserved better but a few minutes later County were back on level terms. A ball out from the back was played towards Zamora who really must have upset this ref in a previous life. The handball decision was harsh in the extreme. As the free kick was played in our back four rushed out in the manner of somebody watching their last bus of the evening disappear into the distance. Richardson looked a good five yards offside but one of our defenders had obviously not been quite quick enough. In all honesty I couldn't tell you who the guilty party was but somebody must have been playing Richardson on. Either way the County man had the best part of a week to bring the ball down and bury his shot past the hopelessly exposed Walker.
I'll be really honest here and say that, at this point, whilst I obviously wanted a West Ham win more than anything else, my main worry was that the game would go into extra time as my current job involves a ridiculously early start from Gnome Towers and I was beginning to see me falling asleep at my desk part way through the following afternoon. Thankfully Rebrov put me out of my fatigue-inspired misery on the hour. A feature of the match up to that point had been County's habit of bringing down Reo-Coker every time he came through the middle. Having got bored with fouling NRC, Rebrov became the centre of County's attention for a few minutes and Serge found himself with a free-kick 30-odd yards out in a central position. Whilst it was a decent free-kick, I think Serge would be the first to admit the fact his first goal owed more than a little to the fact that the 'keeper once more was culpable. If you want another point of reference from an England match think David James against Austria. Still that won't worry Rebrov and nor should it.
We pushed forward again and Harewood held the ball up well to feed Etherington. Unfortunately Matty's run wasn't direct enough and going wide we were forced to settle from a corner. At this point Repka, presumably with one eye on the two forthcoming away matches in the East Midlands, was replaced by Melville.
We continued to press forward although generally the chances created were half chances rather than anything more convincing. Harewood turned cleverly then undid his own good work with a shot that lacked power or direction. However we then had two very good chances both of which went Zamora's way. Firstly Harewood did well to keep an over-hit cross from Etherington in play and sent the ball across the face of the goal where Bobby just failed to get anything on the ball.
The second chance for Zamora to complete the hat-trick came with a little over 10 minutes left. Harewood charged down a clearance which looped into the box. Whilst Marlon was waiting for the ball to come down the marking defender lost patience and hauled Harewood over. It was a soft penalty. After a brief chat between Zamora and Harewood, Bobby won the day and went to the spot. Now it's bad enough when the opposition deliberately delay the taking of a spot kick – Ars*nal are past masters of this particular form of gamesmanship. However, when the ref starts needlessly delaying things you've got to start wondering what's going on. Twice Bobby went to start his run up and twice the ref stopped him to talk to players who, since they were outside the box, were not encroaching so why the ref felt the need to have a chat at that moment only he knows. To be fair the delay probably didn't affect the Zamora's poor penalty, which was saved low to the 'keeper's right. However, it is indicative of some of the poor refereeing standards that we have to endure these days.
With a few minutes to go Cohen came on for Etherington and we saw out the three minutes of stoppage time fairly comfortably – Cohen might even have got a fourth from a lay-off from Zamora right at the death but his effort was blocked from close range.
So there we are another round negotiated. Not brilliantly, admittedly, but having seen enough upsets over the years I'm always happy with a win against so called lesser opposition - I guess I'm just easily pleased – but it certainly makes the evening journey home a lot more pleasant even if the cabbie for the last bit of the journey was a M*llwall supporter. Still it takes all sorts I suppose and it must be nice for thug Dennis Wise to know that he has a 1 in 10,000 chance of getting one to stop!
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Not really given much to do. Positioning was a little suspect for their first goal and had a dodgy moment with Malky in the first half. Made one close range save in the second half from a panicky moment.
Not at his happiest in the centre of defence these days and there were a couple of scary moments dealing with stuff hoofed into the box.
Probably wouldn't have started had Powell been available. Ok but nothing special tonight.
The most comfortable of our defenders on the night. So far looks a good signing.
Generally ok but had problems with distribution – he was not alone on the night in that respect.
Inconsistent. He would often get a foot in only to give the ball away.
Got through a lot of work and deserved more protection from the ref – those bursts out of defence were unceremoniously ended by fouls on a number of occasions.
Easily the best match he's had for us this season. Some fine passing capped off with a well-deserved if fortunate goal. I'm still not convinced that right midfield is the best place for him but unlike many of his previous excursions into such territory, he spent a lot of time inside actively seeking the ball rather than sticking like glue to the touchline with his hand forlornly raised in the hope someone might spot him.
Got into the game more once we stopped aiming balls at a spot some ten yards over his head. Could still benefit from cutting inside his full back once in a while or taking a more direct route to goal.
On the credit side two goals – one excellent. On the debit side his touch still looks a bit suspect on occasion and he'll want to forget the penalty.
Lagely invisible in the first half. Less so in the second though there was always the feeling that he ought to be doing so much better against such opposition.
(Replaced Repka, 70) Didn't really register when on for Repka.
(Replaced Etherington, 89) On for the last few minutes and could have wrapped things up with a late late goal.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Man of the Match: Sergei Rebrov.
West Ham United
Goals: Bobby Zamora 1 Bobby Zamora 54 Sergei Rebrov 62
Booked: None booked. .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Deeney, Wilson, Whitlow, Edwards, Richardson, Ullathorne, Bolland, Gill, Pipe, Scully, Hurst.
Substitutes: Williams (Edwards 53), Oakes (Ullathorne 86).
Subs not used: Mildenhall, Robinson, Harrad.
Goals: Wilson (13), Richardson (57).
Booked: Richardson (24).
Sent Off: None sent off..