Saturday, 6th November 2004
The pre-match numbers in the Wakefield were bolstered by the contingent from Sweden who, as is the nature of these things these days, had paid less for their air tickets from Stockholm than some had paid for their train tickets from locations in England. Much of the the pre-match discussions centred around the amusing goings-on at T*ttenham. This was fine by me. I have few superstitions in football these days but I do hate tempting fate by making pre-match predictions so any topic of conversation that doesn't involve the match to come suits me just fine.
The team news was interesting to say the least. Nigel Reo-Coker's knee, like my own, ruled him out of contention. However, the major news was that Hutch was given a rare start with AP preferring him to Zamora who dropped to the bench. We therefore lined up with the following starting XI: Bywater, Mullins, Powell, Repka, Davenport, Fletcher, Lomas, Chadwick, Etherington, Hutchison, Harewood.
We have a bit of a running joke amongst our little bit of the ground involving the use of the phrase “we started brightly”. We didn't. QPR came out of the traps the stronger of the two sides and it took a good few minutes for us to settle down and QPR really ought to have taken an early lead. On the break the ball was played crossfield to, I think, Cureton who played it back into the centre towards Furlong. Thankfully, Furlong's shot was dreadful and Bywater made light work of what was effectively a backpass.
This seemed to represent something of a turning point. The rest of the half was one-way traffic as we started to impose our game on the opposition. Instrumental amongst this was the form of the front two. Harewood's work rate has been prodigious of late and Hutch was, quite simply, a revelation. His strength in the air caused problems all afternoon, especially in view of the continued use of the elbow as a means of stopping him. One particularly “interesting” spot of refereeing saw Hutch receive a clout around the head in full view of the official who shook his head in denial of any offence but still made Hutch go off to receive treatment from the resulting cut!
Harewood came closest to opening the scoring. Marlon's powerful effort was too hot for Day in the Rangers goal. The ball rebounded outside the box to Fletcher whose shot was headed clear on the edge of the 6-yard box with Day stranded. Another flowing move involved Hutchison whose pass found Harewood to the right hand side of the box. Marlon's effort, however, lacked accuracy. Chadwick, who was unmarked outside Harewood might have been a better option – he certainly seemed to think so!
Repka then found his way into the ref's notebook, sliding through Thorpe in an attempt to win the ball when the ball wasn't there to be won. This effectively ended Thorpe's involvement in the proceedings and he was later replaced by Ainsworth.
We continued to press forward. Mullins and Chadwick both had efforts blocked in a goalmouth scramble and Hutch was dreadfully unlucky not to open his account for the season. Latching onto a delightful chip from Lomas, he feigned an early shot which lost his marker before cutting inside and bending his shot just wide of the far post. The goal we deserved was not long in coming.
Chadwick, having his best game in ages, cut into the box, beat one player and drew a silly challenge from Shittu (no smirking at the back there). The extended protests served one purpose and one purpose only – to delay the taking of the penalty for as long as possible thereby putting pressure on the taker. The main culprit in this nasty display of gamesmanship was, of course, the guano-covered Bircham who kicked the ball off the spot then twice tried to start incidents by pushing players on the edge of the box. Another three unpunished yellow card offences to add to the dozens he got away with in the away match. Bircham is like the kid we all went to school with that would push you a few times before running to teacher in tears as soon as you decked him with a right hander. For some reason the only people in the whole universe who seem unaware of what's going on are the referees. Harewood remained aloof to all these antics and once the toys had been replaced in the pram he calmly buried the penalty to put us into a deserved lead.
Shortly after we had another good shout for a penalty turned down when Harewood was unceremoniously bundled off the ball having beaten his marker. Quite what the ref's excuse for not awarding the penalty was lord alone knows. Perhaps there's some rationing going on these days. Somewhere in all this Hutchison picked up a yellow for a nothing foul. In the light of Bircham's antics throughout the match, and the fact that Hutch had had to battle for just about every header with Shittu's arms round his neck (“persistent foul play” Mr Atkinson – look it up) the caution was laughable.
The accusation has been levelled at us on more than one occasion that, when we're one-nil up, we have a tendency to sit back on our lead and try to defend it. However, the early signs were that this was not to be the case in the second half. A ball played from the left found Harewood but Marlon's shot was delayed just long enough for a defender to get something on it to clear the ball for a corner.
After this we did seem to sit back and we were playing a lot deeper than I like to see us play, thus inviting QPR onto us in midfield. Bywater pulled off a fine save from Gallen, tipping the ball round the post. This was, however, a warning not heeded and we conceded the equaliser from the softest of situations. A long throw from the right was nodded on to the back post by Shittu. Bywater left it to a defender who wasn't there and McLeod bundled the ball in from an inch out at the far post.
From this point it was a matter of how we would react. Once you've lost momentum in a match it's normally exceedingly difficult to regain it. However regain it we did. We nearly regained the league from the most unlikely of sources. Powell picked up the ball on the halfway line. His dummy opened up yards of space to run into and the on-loan full back's shot was only just wide.
Zamora came on for Chadwick and nearly set up what would have almost certainly been Harewood's second. Good work on the left from Etherington found Zamora in the box but Bobby failed to get enough on the ball with Marlon unmarked on his right. However Marlon was not to be denied. We continued to press forward and a ball was played across the face of the QPR goal. Zamora's step-over was sublime and removed several defenders from the equation. However, good as the step-over was, it was more than matched by Harewood's shot. It had power and it had direction. It was one of those shots that, if you've ever played the game, feels sweet on the boot. It was fitting reward for Harewood who had chased every lost cause much to the appreciation of the home crowd.
With a few minutes left Ferdinand replaced Hutchison who left the field to a generous – and well-deserved – ovation and the clock was played down without further ado. I'm not a great fan, it has to be said, of the habit of taking the ball into the corner flag. Partly because it's negative but mainly because we seem to be rubbish at it. Despite a failed attempt to gain a corner from one such foray, the three minutes of added time passed without further ado and the three points were ours.
I enjoyed the match. It was an interesting contrast in playing styles and the winning team was always going to be the one that could impose its style on the game. As Ian Holloway admitted post-match, QPR were suckered into trying to play football in the first half rather than play the normal somewhat more basic fare they normally serve up. There was a 15 minute spell in the second half where we sat back and gave them the opportunity to equalise but it was to our credit that we were able to re-establish our superiority by passing our way back into the game when the impetus appeared to have gone. It remains a mystery as to why we cannot transfer our home form to our travels. We always seem to have either good home form or good away form in a season. Never the two combined. Such is the nature of this league that, if we can maintain our home form and improve our away form to the level of, say, average, I still maintain an automatic promotion spot is not beyond our reach. I may be in a minority with that view but what the heck!
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A superb save in the second half was tempered by his apparent indecision over the goal.
I detect a trend amongst opposition sides who have noted that Hayden is not the greatest in the air. However he dealt well with the long aerial ball played in his direction.
A welcome return to the starting line-up. Strong in defence and came close to scoring in the second half.
The rash challenge that saw him rightly booked might have heralded a return to the bad old days, especially in the presence of an opposition skilled in the “art” of niggle. However, despite being on the end of a number of off the ball nudges and flicks, he kept his head to have a strong match.
I'm kinda hoping that whoever takes over at Sp*rs won't realise that their best player is actually playing in claret & blue at the moment. I suggest that we should dye his hair black, sit him at the back of the team bus and when they come looking shrug our shoulders and pretend not to have seen him.
The dictionary definition of the words “Engine Room” in the first half. He had a quiet spell in the second half which coincided with QPR coming back into the game. However as the game progressed the engine restarted and he regained his authority over the middle.
Much better. Showed some of the form that impressed earlier in the season. Not afraid to take people on, which hasn't always been the case this season.
Seems to relish a good hard battle and he was in his element today with some thunderous tackles. Allied to some excellent distribution we have a player that is proving to be a useful signing.
Whilst still not back to the heights of his form of the second half of last season, he had a fair game and caused the full back a number of problems. I still think he needs to mix his runs a little more though. Was on the receiving end of a crude lunge from Simek.
Marvellous. Won a hell of a lot in the air, often in the face of illegal impedance from the defence. Superb on the ground too – laid off some excellent passes and was desperately unlucky to see his curled effort go the wrong side of the post in the first half to deny him the goal his overall performance merited. On just about any other day his efforts might have merited a MOTM award but for.........
The bloke ran himself into the ground. He never let the defence settle on the ball – even blocking a clearance from the 'keeper on one occasion in the second half. His mere presence was often enough to cause errors in the defence and his second goal was one of the sweetest strikes you could wish to see.
(Replaced Chadwick, 75) Nearly set up Harewood but underhit the pass. His clever step-over, however, set up the winner.
(Replaced Hutchison, 87) Replaced Hutch late on without really having much time to influence proceedings.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Man of the Match: Marlon Harewood.
West Ham United
Goals: Marlon Harewood 36 Marlon Harewood 84
Booked: Tomas Repka 26 Don Hutchison 38 Chris Powell 76 .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Day, Rose, Santos, Shittu, Thorpe, Cureton, Bircham, Cook, Simec, Gallen, Furlong.
Substitutes: Ainsworth (Thorpe 29), McLeod (Cook 62), Padula (Simek 87).
Subs not used: Bean, Branco.
Goals: McLeod (72).
Booked: Simec (39).
Sent Off: None sent off..