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Coca Cola Championship
Saturday, 5th March 2005

West Ham United 1
Preston North End 2

by Gordon Thrower

As I may have mentioned before, Maltese Hammer’s appearance at a match is always a bad sign. We inevitably perform badly and his visits usually coincide with the appointment of match officials who go beyond mere incompetence into a strange twilight zone of perversity. So it transpired again today.

The continuing back four jinx meant that the improving Anton Ferdinand was missing with a hamstring problem. This meant that Repka moved over to partner Mackay in the centre whilst Mullins reverted to right back giving a starting line-up of Bywater, Mullins, Powell, Repka, Mackay, Williams, Fletcher, Lomas, Etherington, Sheringham, Harewood.

It was an even start but there was a portent of things to come when Bywater’s kicking, never the strongest part of his game, looked even worse than normal. One effort from a Powell back-pass was horribly ballooned into the sky and served as encouragement to Preston to chase everything down. Meanwhile up the other end, a dangerous cross from Lomas was turned past the post by Alexander, who had as much idea as to the location of his back post as I do of the location of Lord Lucan.

Preston took the lead just after the quarter hour. Mackay played a back pass to Bywater. The keeper’s first touch was shocking and Nugent, eschewing the option of throwing himself to the floor that had hitherto been the away side’s tactic of choice, had the easiest job of rolling the ball into the empty net.

Although we enjoyed a fair bit of possession over the following period we hit the age-old problem of being unable to provide crosses of decent enough quality to give the front men any options. Fletcher had a shot well saved and Harewood got onto a long ball that eluded Mawhiney but his attempted lob, which would have been akin to that converted by Norwich’s Ashton the other night, was wayward.

Not long before the interval came the moment that changed the game once and for all. Fletcher was the victim of a crude two-footed lunge from behind. The free-kick was given. Repka bent over to pick the ball up only to have it kicked away by O’Neill. Repka leant forward to remonstrate with O’Neil who clearly has the same balance problems as the rest of his team-mates. O’Neil collapsed to the ground clutching his face in an obvious – and particularly poor - piece of play acting. The ref, who seemed to be taking orders from the Preston bench throughout, fell for it. As usual where Repka is concerned refs have tunnel vision. Tanner issued the red card. Yellows went to Harewood and Sedgewick for arguing the case. Strangely the only really violent moment of the whole event – the assault on Fletcher, merited no punishment other than the initial free-kick. O’Neil’s so-called injury was interesting in itself. He spent the whole period clutching the left hand side of his head so the later claims that he had a bruise over his right eye must have been a slip of the tongue, or maybe a medical mystery. Maybe O’Neil did have a bruise above the right eye but it was highly unlikely that he obtained it from Repka.

The whole sending off must have taken three or four minutes which, added to the mysterious wrist injury suffered by the west stand linesman meant that there was an added time of er three minutes to be played.

The second half saw a change in personnel. Sheringham who had had little service in the first half, was replaced by Zamora. Fletcher moved to the back four. However, we could have been two down shortly after the restart. A shot from Alexander went straight at Bywater, but the ‘keeper, who it must be said has had better days, spilled the shot into the path of Nugent who put the ball away. Fortunately Nugent had strayed offside as the original shot had been taken and the goal was ruled out for offside.

The extra man was beginning to count. Mullins’s horrible miskick let in Nugent. The striker took the ball round the ‘keeper but delayed his shot long enough for Bywater to get back to stop the shot – the final touch appeared to be Nugent’s but the ref awarded a corner anyway.

Many, the manager included, have been critical of the crowd’s efforts in support of the team this season. However, there surely can be no complaints this weekend as the 25,000 or so home supporters decided enough was enough. Possibly spurred on by the increasingly eccentric efforts of ref Tanner the home support started to get behind the side. A Lomas run was crudely halted by an outstretched leg. Harewood had his foot stamped on. Neither incident was punished by the ref despite being in clear view. On one occasion he appeared to be going to blow for something but, clearly intimidated by the constant verbal barrage of drivel from the Preston bench, he changed his mind. Lomas was clearly getting fed up with the ref’s lack of action and started to get involved in a running battle with Davies and Kelly – who managed to remain standing for 90 minutes at the Boleyn for the first time ever. Tanner even had time to commit the ultimate refereeing sin by denying the advantage when Harewood had been put through. Why do they do that when the Laws of the game are so clear on the matter.

In an attempt to salvage something out of the match Reo-Coker replaced Mackay with a little over 20 minutes remaining but on 81 minutes the game was effectively sewn up for Preston and, again, it was a nightmare of a defensive effort that gave the goal away. Powell remained deep at a goal kick and Bywater elected to play it short to him. Powell’s ball across to Mullins was poor and Ageymang who had been on for only two minutes went one way then the other before shooting low past Bywater.

Though the game was effectively dead by that point there was still time for a late rally, including what turned out to be just about the only piece of football in the match. Zamora turned well and fed Harewood wide out on the left. Marlon checked and floated a peach of a return pass over the defence where Zamora was on hand to put a sweet first time shot into the bottom corner.

This was the call to throw caution to the wind. A series of balls were hoisted forward. One of these was aimed at Lomas who was crudely hauled down around his neck. Had the challenge occurred on a rugby pitch it would have seen the perpetrator dismissed for a high tackle. Presumably concerned that the Preston bench might shout loudly at him if he awarded the free-kick, spineless Tanner did precisely nothing.

As the clock hit the 45 minute mark it was announced there would be 4 minutes of stoppage time. So why the ref chose to play under three minutes only he will know – especially as that time was occupied in part by O’Neil’s substitution which took an age as he shamelessly accepted the congratulations for his part in the Repka sending-off. He was clearly traumatised by his mysterious migrating eye injury. The rest of stoppage time was taken up with a conversation between the ref and his fourth official. So out of a supposed four minute period we were actually given about a minute’s play – clearly Preston had good reason to be pleased.

At full time there was apparently some sort of fracas in the tunnel – maybe one or two of our players wanted to see if the opposition would fall over as easily when actually touched. Maybe the ref’s report will shed some light on the subject – we’ll probably know more once Preston have finished writing it for him.

It’s difficult to judge the overall performance when the match was distorted so much by the sending-off. Clearly there was a lot of spirit within the side in the latter stages of the game as the crowd urged the team forward and the crowd’s reaction was perhaps, in itself, something positive to take out of the game.

As for the ref, well a brief search for reports on other matches that he has handled confirms that “he who shouts loudest gets the decision” and that he has a history of weakness and gullibility. These were qualities of which the visitors were clearly aware right from the start and boy did they exploit them. It should be noted Tanner has previous - Wycombe’s Roger Johnson recently won an appeal against a red card when an opponent went down clutching his face after the slightest of challenges. Obviously this is another official who is easily led and was well out of his depth at this level. I’d like to think that the assessor would have noticed his weakness in the face of intimidation, his suspect timekeeping and, most importantly, his failure to apply advantage. However, since these failings seem to have been a recurring theme throughout his refereeing career I wouldn’t bank on serious action being taken. I mean for Mike Dean’s numerous failings in the refereeing department – and let’s face it he has absolutely no redeeming qualities – it was only the fact that he was trading on his status as a ref that got the obnoxious “Squirrel from the Wirral” suspended by his employers. Perhaps it’s about time the authorities started to take referee’s performances seriously because they clearly don’t at present.

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Player Ratings

Stephen Bywater
An absolute mare. His kicking has been an accident waiting to happen for a long time and he was also fortunate to be saved by an offside flag when spilling another shot. All this after a fine February.


Tomas Repka
Can consider himself to be a trifle unlucky to have got the red since it owed much to the antics of a fellow professional feigning injury. However had he not leant forward to get involved in the first place O’Neil wouldn’t have had the opportunity to defraud the ref. Tomas must know by now that refs in this league officiate by reputation rather than by bothering to watch what’s happening so he must take some of the blame.


Chris Powell
For the most part he was his normal Mr Reliable self, though it was his terrible pass that set up their second goal.


Hayden Mullins
Back at right back where he never looks comfortable. Showed poor distribution and was defensively suspect. At right back he is frequently isolated and the opposition know this.


Malky Mackay
Battled away but when we were down to ten men his hit & hope style of defending just put us under more pressure.


Carl Fletcher
Performed well both in midfield and in the back four when the reshuffle came.


Steve Lomas
I lost count of the number of times the skipper got fouled without reward. Obviously hasn’t been attending lessons in clutching his face. Gave up talking to the ref and addressed his ire at the Prerston bench since it was there from which the match was apparently being reffed.


Matthew Etherington
A couple of early runs aside, he was missing in action for much of this game. Needed to track back much more when we went down to ten men. Didn’t do so.


Gavin Williams
Looked quite useful going forward until the sending off meant a change of emphasis to the defensive.


Teddy Sheringham
Largely anonymous, though he must have been tearing his hair out when Zamora gained a free-kick early in the second half for being on the receiving end of an challenge the likes of which the ref had ignored for the first 45.


Marlon Harewood
A frustrating afternoon for Marlon since every time he chased a ball down a Preston player went down in apparent agony. Lucky to stay on when, having seen yet another “extra from Platoon” performance from a defender, he decided to actually kick somebody to see what would happen. Fine return pass to Zamora for the goal.


Substitutes


Bobby Zamora
(Replaced Sheringham, 46) Caused Preston a few problems and did well both in the build-up and in the finish for the goal.


Nigel Reo-Coker
(Replaced Mackay, 70) Largely by-passed as the presence of Zamora meant a plethora of long balls up to the front.


Jimmy Walker
Did not play.


Chris Cohen
Did not play.


Hogan Ephraim
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: S.Tanner.

Attendance: 26442.

Man of the Match: Carl Fletcher.

West Ham United

Goals: Bobby Zamora 87                  

Booked: Marlon Harewood 44 Gavin Williams 66 Hayden Mullins 84      .

Sent Off: Tomas Repka 44    .

Preston North End

Say,Alexander, O'Neil, Sedgwick, Mawene, Lewis, Hill, McKenna, Lucketti, Cresswell, Nugent.

Substitutes: Davis (Lewis 74), Agyemang (Nugent 79), Etuhu (O'Neil 90).

Subs not used: Ward, Broomes.

Goals: Nugent (17), Agyemang (81).

Booked: Sedgwick (45), Alexander (59).

Sent Off: .

 
Match Report


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