Tuesday, 22nd February 2005
I may have been colder at a football match but I’m struggling to remember when. Much of the day was spent consulting meteorological websites and desperately trying to remember the weather stuff from my A Level Geography studies (back in the 70’s before they started giving them away with breakfast cereals I’ll have you know). Anyhow the seaweed predicted that the game would go ahead so that was good enough for me.
We arrived at the temporary stand in which away supporters are accommodated. As others have mentioned in the past, this temporary stand has been there for some years now. Whilst I am sure that the good people at the Football Licencing Authority are happy as to the stand’s safety, it doesn’t look steady and it doesn’t feel steady. If nothing else they ought to remove Gillingham’s licence until they take poor old Brian Moore’s name off the stand and stick it on the Medway stand which would be a much more fitting tribute to the late commentator.
Team news was that none of the three players replaced on Saturday had survived fitness tests whilst the club’s stock of Sanatogen was sufficiently low enough to merit giving Sheringham bench-warming duties. On the other side of the injury balance sheet, Etherington was given his first start since his op leaving us with a starting line-up of Bywater, Repka, Powell, Ferdinand, Mackay, Fletcher, Reo-Coker, Etherington, Lomas, Harewood and Zamora.
Well the game started as it meant to go on – scrappily. Lomas pulled a shot wide whilst a Harewood attempt from distance was easily dealt with by Banks. I have some very vague memories of what was Banks’s only first team match for us – I think it was a draw against one of the Bristol teams in one of those Anglo-Italian or Full Members cup things. Lets just say that we’ve both filled out a bit since those days.
Gillingham settled quickly into their tactic which was to hoist the ball forward as quickly as possible to see what they could do with the scraps. A shot from Jarvis was so high that, had it been a few feet to he left, my own goalkeeping skills would have been tested. More worrying was Ashby’s glancing header from a corner which nearly found a team-mate sliding in unmarked at the far post.
Then we took the lead. Amazingly the goal came from a fine piece of football. It therefore seemed totally out of place with the tone of the rest of the match. It started with a superb tackle in midfield from Lomas who then played the ball inside a defender to Etherington on the left. Matty’s cross found Harewood who scored from what I presume was close range – it was a long way my particular vantage point.
Marlon might have made it two a few minutes later when Banks took two goes to keep out his low shot. However the bulk of the play at this point was dominated by the hit and hope of the home side. This was invited really as, although we seemed more than capable of getting the block in when necessary, clearing our lines was less easy and Bywater was forced to pull off a fine save low to his left hand side from a shot from just outside the box from Crofts
There was the odd moment of respite – Zamora lost his marker to get on to a cross from the right only to tamely head straight at the ‘keeper. The pattern however, remaned constant. Our passing game wasn’t working whilst Gillingham continued the aerial bombardment, also, it has to be said, with little joy. A combination of determined blocking, sheer bloody mindedness and a lack of imagination on the part of the home side saw the teams go in level.
Without the match to think about we all suddenly noticed just how cold it had become. I’d have jumped up and down to keep warm but I wasn’t sure it would have been a wise move given the precarious nature of the stand. I tried to distract myself by reading the pitch-side adverts and I can’t help but wonder precisely how many extra customers those who paid for the ad for www.vascetomy.org.uk were hoping to get from their ad.
We started the second half with a change in personnel. Etherington, presumably not quite fully match fit, was replaced by Sheringham. With Teddy able to hold the ball up (no vasectomy jokes please) the ball wasn’t coming straight back at the defence as much as it was in the first half and we created a couple of early chances of our own. Harewood got down the right and put a low cross in which Zamora was adjudged to have put wide, though the ball’s passage across the goal line owed more to the defender’s clearance than to anything the forward had done.
Harewood was then very unlucky not to double the score. Allowing a high ball to drop, Marlon’s low volley brought a superb save out of Banks who somehow got down to his left to tip the ball round the post.
Up the other end it was business as usual. Distance made identification difficult but I think it was Henderson whose header went just over whilst someone else had a shot from distance go just over.
On the hour AP decided to change things about. Zamora went off having gamely run about a lot for little reward. Cohen came on to bolster the midfield. With about 20 minutes left we gained a free-kick just outside the box. Once the wall had been sorted out Teddy took it. The kick curled over the wall and beat Banks only for it to rebound from the crossbar. A sort of half-hearted goalmouth scrabble then ensued with Reo-Coker and Harewood both involved. However the ref spotted something untoward and gave the home side a free-kick.
Shortly after Reo-Coker left to be replaced by Gavin Williams. Gillingham continued to press forward and Bywater made another excellent save at the near post from another unidentified home player.
At this point we finally got the much promised snow that the met office had been going on about all week prompting choruses of jingle bells from all those present. Though Gillingham continued to launch the ball forward it was difficult to see them creating anything. In fact the blizzard meant that it was difficult to see anything at all other than the board showing that there were 3 minutes to add on. We survived that and bagged our third win in a row.
A few weeks back Alan Pardew described the win against Cardiff as not being “aesthetically pleasing”. Well if that was the case for the Cardiff match, this game was its ugly sister. It was a horrible match, played in conditions that, for the fans at least, were also horrible. The three points were far from horrible though. This is the sort of match that we’d traditionally have messed up in the past so if it’s a choice between a few matches like that or a few defeats I’ll take the points every time.- especially if it means being able to visit grounds with a few creature comforts. Like a stand made out of something a little more substantial than meccano – preferably with a roof!
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Made three or four excellent saves despite the usual reservations about his kicking.
Fairly solid though there were a couple of occasions when he failed to get close enough to his man.
Another solid run out.
Continues to improve. Matches like these test another side of his game but he wasn’t afraid to get the blocks in.
Had the sort of aerial battle that you imagine he relishes.
Although he got a fair few tackles in his distribution wasn’t up to much and our failure to keep the ball kept putting the defence back under pressure.
Battled away in the middle and it was his hard work that set up the goal.
Not really match fit, tactics meant that he was largely by-passed - though the cross for the goal gave a tantalising glimpse of better days.
Got a few tackles in without setting the world alight.
Got through a fair bit of running but he failed to hold the ball up on occasion, something forwards must do against teams like Gillingham in order to stop the ball coming straight back at the defence.
Often criticised for his work-rate he got through a prodigious amount of running today. Made one spectacular overhead clearance in the first half, took the goal well and was unlucky not to get another.
(Replaced Etherington, 45) Much better at holding the ball up. Unlucky with the free-kick that hit the bar.
(Replaced Zamora, 63) Gave some balance to the left. Did well but should possibly have had a shot when put through.
(Replaced Reo-Coker, 80) A fresh pair of legs. Got a few tackles in towards the end.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Man of the Match: Stephen Bywater.
West Ham United
Goals: Marlon Harewood 13
Booked: None booked. .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Banks, Southall, Ashby, Cox, Nosworthy, Jarvis, Smith, Flynn, Crofts, Henderson, Byfield.
Substitutes: Hills (Byfield 57), Spiller (Crofts 65), Pouten (Flynn 65).
Subs not used: Bossu, Beckwith.
Sent Off: .