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Coca Cola Championship
Saturday, 1st January 2005

Ipswich Town 0
West Ham United 2

by Gordon Thrower

It was a Happy New Year as 2,000 odd, mostly hungover but hardy souls headed eastwards to Portman Road.

It was an earlier than normal start for most. However I was particularly lucky that I decided to get to the pub “early doors”. I left Gnome Towers just before 9am convinced that we had a 3pm kick-off. It was only as I read my paper on the train out of Liverpool Street that I noticed the 1.00pm start listed on the fixture list. A quick check of the ticket confirmed the fact. Strange how the mind plays tricks. As the train arrived at Ipswich I discovered that I'd been sitting opposite a former work colleague I hadn't seen for about 10 years. Steve was none too confident and was even questioning his own commitment to the cause – and believe me Steve is no fair weather supporter having been just about everywhere with the club over the years.

Arriving at pub I was greeted by many of the usual suspects including Sam accompanied by his son & daughters, Sicknote, Chim – whose padded quilted jacket put one in mind of the Michelin man and Gent. Gent spent most of the 90 minute pre-match session wandering around trying to give away the contents of a plastic shopping bag, namely two cans of Kronenburg and a couple of Red Bulls. He met with little success and became the first person in history to fail to give beer away in a pub. Probably. We were also joined by our esteemed leader, Mr The Junction who, much to my relief, confirmed that I had not been hallucinating and that I had indeed witnessed the Ukulele Orchestra Of Great Britain performing Nirvana's “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on the box sometime during the previous night's festivities.

Team news prompted much debate. Sheringham and Chadwick had picked up knocks. Teddy's absence gave Zamora a start alongside Harewood. On the bright side Fletcher returned following a groin injury to give a starting line up of Bywater, Mullins, Powell, Repka, Mackay, Williams, Reo-Coker, Etherington, Harewood and Zamora.

Pre kick-off we took part in an excellently-observed minute's silence as a mark of respect for those who suffered in the terrible disaster in Asia. The only noise to be heard was the strange echoey cries from the local seagull population, which simply served to add to the poignancy of the moment. Within a minute of the start the silence had turned to cheers from the travelling support. A hopeful ball from the back seemed to be a bit of a waste. Harewood, however, clearly didn't think so as he put the Richards then Naylor under pressure. The back pass was not the greatest and Davis made a complete pig's ear of it by trying to beat Harewood. Marlon robbed the hapless keeper and rolled the ball into the empty net. 55 seconds on the clock and I hadn't even had the time to get confused by the fact that the kid sat next to me was wearing an A*senal shirt!

The goal had a marvellous effect on the team. Harewood's hard work in chasing down a lost cause set the tone. Quite simply we did to Ipswich exactly what teams have been doing to us all season. The midfield were at the opposition heels and never gave them a second on the ball. Maybe someone had picked up Gent's cans of Red Bull at the pub and distributed them amongst the players. Whatever the cause it was good to see.

We had the ball in the net again on the quarter hour. A free-kick from wide on the right was gloriously volleyed in by Reo-Coker. It was a superb goal. Unfortunately the linesman didn't see it that way and decided that someone had wandered into an offside decision. Quite exactly how the offender was supposed to be interfering in the proceedings only the linesman and referee Taylor will ever know. Taylor, regular readers may remember, was the official whose performance in the away match at QPR was one of the most appalling I've ever seen in about 35 years of watching football, and I was concerned that we were in for a repeat performance. Thankfully, we were treated to a display that was merely eccentric rather than completely barking.

We continued to press forward . Zamora fed Wiliams whose shot was a little on the tame side. Davis failed to hold on to the ball but Harewood just failed to get to the loose ball before a defender cleared. To this point Ipswich had failed to present much of a threat. Partly because they played poorly but mainly because they simply weren't allowed t o play. Their best player in the first period was probably former Hammer Darren Currie who looked capable of giving Mullins a hard time. The home side's best chances, such as they were, probably fell to Currie, who apparently gets mightily fed up if you mention the fact that he's the nephew of former England international Tony Currie. So I won't mention it. Currie's first effort from the edge of the box was easily dealt with by Bywater. Then Currie put in a vicious looking free-kick from the left hand side. Bywater did well to clear the ball which must have been difficult to see coming as it did through a crowd of players running across its path. These efforts were isolated though and the back four dealt well with the limited threat posed by Kuqi. Repka in particular was in impressive form and he was ably assisted by Mackay.

So one-nil up at half time and looking fairly comfortable. We were especially buoyed by the news that Derby had dropped points at home to Cardiff, the Rams having been beginning to put a bit of a run together just behind us in the table.

The second half started much in the same vein as the first had begun. Reo-Coker brought the ball out of defence and found Etherington wide on the left. Matty's low ball in saw Zamora looking poised to double the lead but Naylor slid in before the striker could score. Zamora then picked up what to my eyes was a harsh yellow card. The ball ran loose towards that weird little guy who used to be in 70's pop group Boney M who now goes by the name of Fabian Wilnis. Wilnis was was just fractionally quicker to the ball and went over Zamora's outstretched leg. A foul certainly, but the ref managed to find a degree of malice that, to most observers, was clearly lacking from the challenge and proceded to isue the caution that will keep Zamora out of the Sheffield United match on Monday.

Five minutes later the yellow count was evened up when Kuqi upended Fletcher. Kuqi might have got away with the free-kick had he not decided to get further involved. A forehead to forehead discussion ensued with Fletch eventually getting bored and walking away from the confrontation. This, coupled with the fact that Fletch appeared to be laughing at the Finnish striker's antics, only seemed to irritate the hell out of Kuqi who decided to try to prolong the discussion. Referee Taylor finally lost patience and issued the yellow, pushing the free-kick forward by ten yards to add to Kuqi's perceived sense of injustice.

Zamora then had his best chance of the game. Rising head & shoulders above everyone else in the box he only had to direct the header to score. Unfortunately he picked the one spot that he shouldn't have and the save was comfortable for Davis. Shortly after Zamora was substituted. Or at least he would have been had the referee not decided to get involved in the issue. After stopping the match for a minute or so to allow the replacement to be made, the ref then decided that Zamora didn't have a note from his Mum to excuse him for the rest of games and refused to allow the substitution which was eventually made some minutes later. This was followed by a yellow for Mullins for a tug on Ipswich sub Bowditch who had just beaten him to the ball.

As the game progressed, the earlier hard work was beginning to take its toll. Where we had once been closing down and denying the home side time on the ball, were were now defending deeper and conceding space, though Ipswich seemed bereft of ideas on the matter of how to break down the solid defence. On the rare occasions when Ipswich were able to get a shot in Bywater was more than capable, pulling off saves from Bowditch and De Vos. However it wasn't all one way traffic and we always looked threatening on the break. With about five minutes left Harewood was brought down on the very edge of the box by De Vos. Although De Vos was the last man the ref decided that Harewood was running wide of the goal and that a yellow would be sufficient punishment for the defender. The free-kick came to nothing.
The tiring Reo-Coker was then replaced by the fresh legs of Ferdinand and, as the clock ticked down, we got the icing on the cake. Harewood, who had a fine game, found himself hemmed in down by the corner flag. Not for the first time though he beat the defender and the ball came back to Rebrov. Sergei's shot beat the keeper but was brilliantly cleared off the line by Wilnis only for Etherington to bury the loose ball much to the ecstasy of the travelling support who forgot their hangovers and celebrated wildly. A late run from the impressive Williams might have made it three but, having got into a good position after beating several players his shot lacked power. Of course it wouldn't be West Ham without a comedy defence moment would it? The bloke I sit next to at away matches was just saying how much better Bywater had played today when the keeper scuffed a clearance against the back of Mackay's legs. Kuqi was thankfully unable to capitalise on the error and there was just time for McLenehan to come on for Etherington for a few seconds before the final whistle.

It was a well-deserved victory against a side that had been unbeaten at home all season. The players came over to the crowd with Harewood leading the way in silly dances. Mackay also entered into the spirit – his ex-Norwich background becoming very apparent. It was the sort of performance that restored your faith in the side – hopefully it will have gone some way to cheering up Steve! It was also the sort of performance that one wants to see repeated as often as possible. We've lacked consistency this season but, ever the optimist, I reckon that if we can continue this form throughout the next few months the standard in this league means that it is there for the taking.

It was also a victory that deserved a celebratory pint. The Suffolk Constabulary had other ideas however and had closed the pubs. In the words of the officer we spoke to, the decision had been made “to prevent trouble”. I look forward to reading that the police are shutting all Ipswich pubs every Friday night for the same reason. Either the police cells of Ipswich are uniquely empty every Friday night or they were abusing their powers to target a group of law-abiding people who merely wanted to have a quiet post-match pint before getting the train home. I know what my money's on!

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Player Ratings

Stephen Bywater
Sound enough during the game, though the silly moment late on might have cost him a clean sheet.


Hayden Mullins
Best match in a while for the oft-maligned utility player who was at right-back for this match. Looked as if he might have problems with Daren “Nephew of Tony” Currie early on but he stuck to his task and Currie (Darren not Tony – Tony has been retired for many years now) faded as the game progressed.


Chris Powell
Another strong performance Strong in the tackle and made one superb interception early in the second half preventing a rare Ipswich chance.


Tomas Repka
Awesome. Won absolutely everything in the air and, in partnership with Mackay kept Bent and Kuqi very quiet.


Malky Mackay
Loved every minute of the game – he does enjoy matches against Ipswich having scored in the first match.


Carl Fletcher
A welcome return from injury. Got through a prodigious amount of work and was strong in the tackle when required. His laughter at Kuqi in the face of provocation was highly amusing too.


Gavin Williams
An excellent match. This was my first sight of our latest signing. My initial impressions were that he looked a tidy player putting in some excellently-timed challenges. As the game progressed he seemed to grow in confidence and displayed no little skill in taking on players. With a little more composure he might have scored at the death.


Nigel Reo-Coker
This was a match that required the midfield to get through a lot of hard work. Given the captain's armband Nigel led splendidly by example.


Matthew Etherington
This was a good performance. Not in the attacking way that we have come to expect from Matty though. This was a game that demanded the midfield should do a lot of tracking back, something that hasn't been his strong point in the past. Today he did his share. Poacher's goal too.


Marlon Harewood
Played a dual role both as part of a 5-man midfield and in getting up front to support Zamora. One minute he'd be causing the Ipswich back four all sorts of problems, the next he'd be tidying up in defence. Anyone who thinks he's lazy needs to get hold of this match video and have a look at his contribution. Fast-forward through the post-match celebratory dance though.


Bobby Zamora
Possibly the one disappointment of the day. When you play one up front you need your striker to be able to hold up the ball but too often it was going straight back to put the midfield under pressure. Ought to have done better with his clear header.


Substitutes


Sergei Rebrov
(Replaced Zamora, 72) Came on at a time when he was required to perform more of a defending from the front type of role. Harried the man on the ball and was unlucky not to score when Wilnis blocked his shot on the line.


Anton Ferdinand
(Replaced Reo-Coker, 85) One nice touch during the few minutes he was on.


Trent McClenahan
(Replaced Etherington, 90) On for a few seconds at the end. Had the good grace to look a bit embarrassed in joining in with the post-match celebrations


Rob Burch
Did not play.


Andy Melville
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: P.Taylor.

Attendance: 30003.

Man of the Match: Tomas Repka.

West Ham United

Goals: Marlon Harewood 1 Matthew Etherington 90                

Booked: Bobby Zamora 54 Hayden Mullins 74        .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Ipswich Town

Davis, Wilnis, De Vos, Naylor, Miller, Richards, Magilton, Westlake, Currie, Bent, Kuqi.

Substitutes: Bowditch (Bent 65).

Subs not used: Price, Counago, Horlock, Karbassiyoon.

Goals: .

Booked: Kuqi (62), De Vos (84).

Sent Off: None sent off.

 
Match Report


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