Saturday, 8th January 2005
Maybe I'm getting old (shouts of “whaddya mean maybe?” from the audience), maybe it was simply the really lousy dose of flu I'm battling bravely against at the moment (no really I'll soldier on until this report is finished but a large brandy wouldn't go amiss..), but this match was probably the first 3rd round tie that I simply couldn't get worked up about. I tried to get in the spirit by watching all those 3rd round classic highlights programmes that Sky have been putting out this week but somehow the magic of the cup had gone by the time I'd left the Wakefield. Indeed, the flu got so bad at that point that I seriously considered going home. Only the fact that there'd be nobody to cover the post-match press conference at such short notice kept me at the match – editor please note sacrifice!
Following the shambles that had been the Sheffield United match, there were a significant number of changes, caused by a mixture of injury, suspension and a desire to change the odd player here and there. Thus we lined up Walker, Repka, Powell, Mackay, Ferdinand, Mullins, Fletcher, Chadwick, Noble, Rebrov and Harewood.
The early exchanges were even - being a cup tie we were spared the usual opposition tactic of playing for a 0-0 with anything more being a bonus. The first incident of note came when Harewood gained a free-kick about 20 yards out. Rebrov's first effort was easily blocked by the wall. His second effort played the ball into the box where, not to put too fine a point on it, all hell broke loose. In a good old-fashioned goalmouth scramble about a dozen players all took wild swipes at the ball until ref Rennie got bored and awarded a free-kick to Norwich. The incident was vaguely reminiscent of playground football and I half expected to find a couple of kids at he bottom of the pile of players, huddled together listening to the draw for the next round on a transistor radio illegally smuggled in especially for the occasion.
On 13 minutes, Rebrov then drew a fine save from Green. Rebrov's effort was nicely curled towards goal from about 25 yards but the 'keeper did superbly well to keep the ball out low to his left. Up the other end Walker was not to be outdone. One close range save with his feet from Huckerby was followed up with an excellent stop from distance from Brennan.
Despite the flu I was actually beginning to enjoy the match – it was entertaining stuff. Skipper for the day Mackay got a header in that produced a comfortable save from Green, whilst Chadwick was beginning to show glimpses of form. Dancing into the box from the left hand side on the half hour he pulled the ball back across the box, only for a defender to get a small, but vital, touch to take the ball clear of Rebrov who was running in at the back post. Mullins, who to these (admittedly streaming) eyes looks happier in midfield, was next to find Green in good form. A deep ball from the right was nodded back by Chadwick to Mullins whose low goalbound shot was diverted round the post by the 'keeper. Noble and Chadwick both had efforts comfortably blocked before the half-time whistle saw both teams leave to generous applause.
It had been an enjoyable first half during which I'd seen more football than had been on show during the whole of the previous match. I was even beginning to rediscover some of my appetite for the FA Cup as I actually sat there looking forward to the second half.
Norwich had the clearest chances of the early stages. A long ball from the back seemed fo catch Huckerby offside. Huckerby himself cast an anxious glance across at the linesman as he broke clear of the trailing Repka and seemed to have the goal at his mercy. Fortunately Huckerby's finish was marvellously dreadful and the Norwich striker's shot rebounded from the left hand post to safety when it appeared infinitely easier to score. Fletcher and Powell both had half-chances up the other end, Fletch's header being easily saved whilst Powell's foray into the box ended with a shot over the bar.
However, the better chances still seemed to be going the opposition's way and we had to be thankful to Walker for an excellent save on the hour. Repka was guilty of dwelling on the ball and Huckerby fed Jonson who, like Huckerby before him, seemed to have the goal at his mercy. This was betting without the superb form of Walker whose block from close range was simply magnificent.
The match continued to provide incident at both ends. A free-kick somewhere between 25 and 30 yards out looked a bit distant for Rebrov to consider for a shot, particularly as it was at an angle to goal. However Rebrov had other ideas and his effort seemed to be just creeping in under the bar before Green's intervention.
About this point I was thinking to myself that, if the game finished 0-0, I would go home at least having had my money's worth from the game. Indeed the match was so enjoyable that even ref Rennie limited himself to only half-hearted attempts to spoil things – these niggles usually involving Rennie's reluctance to play advantage. Rebrov then picked up a caution for failing to retreat ten yards at a free-kick in one of those situations where the free-kick was taken almost instantly. Strangely Rennie chose not to punish the push to the ground suffered by Serge during the same incident.
Then with 10 minutes left we took the lead. Chadwick pounced on a loose ball in midfield ans headed wide towards the dead ball line. Strangely the Norwich defence chose to runa away from him allowing him unhindered progress. Chadwick's low cross in from the right sat up beautifully for Harewood to bury first time inside the far post past the despairing dive of the Norwich 'keeper. I tried to cheer – honest - but the strange croaking noise that I came out with was the best that my virally enhanced throat could manage. Still the rest of the crowd managed to cover for me without too many people noticing.
It was a measure of the entertainment value that the match had provided thus far, that until Marlon scored i had little idea of elapsed time – the match had simply flown by and I was genuinely surprised to note there was less than ten left on the clock. Norwich had little option to throw caution to the wind We had occasion to become further grateful to Walker whose double save from Huckerby then Brennan was, if anything, even better than his earlier efforts.
Cohen replaced Chdwick, who left to a well-deserved ovation. Then Ferdinand picked up a yellow card – you'll have to ask Rennie why because, unlike Rennie, I was watching the match. Thankfully the mystery free-kick that resulted was cleared to safety and we saw out all five minutes of the three extra minutes of injury time without major damage to our collective nervous systems and we hung on to claim the victory that made the Canaries' fans earlier chants of “Stand Up If You're Premier League” look very silly indeed. I was actually working on a retort along the lines of “Stand Up If You Have a Better Than Zero Chance Of Being There This Time Next Season” but quickly abandoned the project on the grounds that, even in the unlikely event I could get it to scan, the state of my throat was such that I'd never be able to sing it anyway.
This was a thoroughly enjoyable match. So much so that I may be prepared to admit to a slightly rekindled appetite for the competition. I shall be at home on Monday when the draw for the next round is made. However just for old time's sake, I may dig out my smallest transistor radio and huddle around it as if I'd illegally sneaked it into school. One thing has changed from those days though. When they went live to Lancaster Gate you'd always be greeted by someone from the FA Challenge Cup Committee who would, in suitably hushed tones, announce that item 6 on the agenda would be the draw for the next round of the FA Challenge Cup. This always intrigued me. How could the FA Challenge Cup committee find FIVE more important things to discuss than the draw? What could these five issues possibly be. Sadly, with the advent of draws being made by players current and past, I guess we'll now never know.
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Another magnificent performance from Walker who must surely be very close to getting a run out in the league side.
Always looks better in the middle of defence to me and he coped well today.
Solid enough and might have got on the scoresheet early in the second half.
A generally ok performance that was marred by a couple of lapses that required the heroics of Walker to salvage.
Clearly loved every minute of this match against his old club and combined well with Ferdinand.
Like Ferdinand, Mullins always looks a lot more comfortable when played in his favoured position, in Mullins' case this would appear to be in midfield where he put in a good box to box performance.
Bit of a curate's egg from Fletch. Some good engine-room work was occasionally let down by some wayward distribution.
It took a few minutes for the youngster to get the pace of the match but once he had done so he had a fine game. At times it was hard to believe that he is only 17 and it was a first full 90 minutes of which he can be proud.
Caused Norwich problems by the simple tactic of running at the defence wherever possible. Followed up his part in the goal with some hard work in defence before his substitution with a minute or so left.
Kept plugging away and, whilst he didn't dominate the Norwich defence as much as he has some others this season, it's fair to say that the Canary back 4 kne they'd been in a game. Neat finish for the goal.
Played as more as a fifth man in the middle than as an out and out partner for Marlon. He has little spells in which he impressed but didn't consistently cause Norwich as many problems as one might have liked.
(Replaced Chadwick, 90) Played out the last minute plus stoppage time.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Man of the Match: Jimmy Walker.
West Ham United
Goals: Marlon Harewood 81
Booked: Anton Ferdinand 90 .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Green, Edworthy, Doherty, Fleming, Charlton, Bentley, Francis, Helveg, Brennan, Jonson, Huckerby.
Substitutes: Mulryne (Bentley 49), Jarvis (Helveg 57), Crow (Jonson 85).
Subs not used: Gallacher, Drury.
Booked: None cautioned.
Sent Off: None sent off.