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Friday, 18th March 2005

West Ham United 2
Leicester City 2

by Gordon Thrower

Better – but is it enough?

It was difficult to know where to look for omens for this match. Sure Maltese Hammer was present, something that normally ensures an away win, but then we were greeted by Ricky Boy and his chums from Sweden, who usually see us win. Pre-match in the Wakefield we were royally entertained by the laughter of the blonde lady at the next table. I say laughter, if you could imagine a noise that is akin to a cross between Sybil Fawlty and a gaggle (or is it skein?) of Barnacle Geese you wouldn’t be far off the mark. Still at least it drowned out the karaoke “king” who, either deliberately or maybe not had chosen to murder “It’s Now Or Never”.

I cleverly left the pub before anyone got up to do “Build Me Up Buttercup” on the karaoke. Even more cleverly, I managed to time my arrival at the ground for after Mr Nicholas had played the same song, The team news was that press reports that Ferdinand was likely to miss out were, thankfully, without foundation. This saw us remain unchanged at the back, which was a newsworthy event in itself since the last time that this had occurred was so long ago that there wasn’t a sale on at Allied Carpets. Etherington’s twisted knee meant a start for Chadwick giving us a starting XI of Bywater, Newton, Powell, Ferdinand, Ward, Reo-Coker, Fletcher, Noble. Chadwick, Sheringham, Harewood.

It was a bright start with Noble showing continued good form and the passing game seemed to be in good order - well up to what the pundits call “the final third”.anyway. Fletcher and Sheringham combined well but Harewood’s sliding shot was comfortably saved by Walker. Connolly tested Bywater up the other end but Gudjonnsen’s effort troubled only the patrons twenty rows back in the Bobby Moore stand.

It was fairly even stuff until about 24 minutes in when the wheels came off. A long ball played from the back ought to have been dealt with comfortably by Bywater. Indeed, had he not inexplicably decided to stop halfway off his line he would have got to the ball easily. Given the free head start, Hughes got to the ball first and went over Bywater’s outstretched leg for a correctly awarded penalty. Amazingly the ref showed Bywater only a yellow card rather than the red that the foul deserved, For possibly the first time this season, we actually benefited from a bad refereeing decision, rather than simply being the victim of one. Connolly buried the penalty to send us one down, a score I thought was more than a little harsh given the balance of play.

What was needed at this point was a quick reply to get the crowd and players going. And we got one. Harewood went down the right hand side and sent over a deep cross that just waiting for Sheringham to get on the end of it. Teddy planted the header powerfully past Walker – a goal that was more than a little reminiscent of the late equaliser that we’d conceded to Crewe in midweek.

We went on to win a number of corners from which we looked dangerous , though the closest we went was when Harewood hit a drive across goal. However, just before the interval we went behind to a goal that, if he tries to repeat from now until doomsday, Gillespie will never be able to repeat. A Walker clearance was nodded back and Gillespie hit a first time volley from 30 yards that flew in at the far post giving Bywater no chance and Leicester had a scarcely deserved lead that they held on to until the interval.

During the interval we noticed that Rebrov was out warming up and we speculated as to who the likely victim would be. The verdict that it would be Chadwick was fairly unanimous in our bit of the West Stand Upper. As the players began to run out for the second half Jeremy Nicholas did his best to gee the crowd up without sounding like Delia Smith. I rather suspect that, since he’s working Jeremy may not be allowed the three or four glasses of a decent Chardonnay that Delia is alleged to have imbibed before her recent, er, speech so there was no mention of the words “Lets Be ‘avin you”.

Well the substitution proved to be another moment to go down in the history of Hammers High farce. Rebrov, mysteriously sporting a pair of black eyes, arrived with, as predicted Chadwick going off. However, we’d scarcely had a chance to congratulate ourselves on the prediction when Rebrov was signalling to the bench that all was not well and, within five minutes of coming on he was replaced by Zamora. This meant a switch to the right for Harewood.

We continued to press forward in search of the equaliser and Moble’s free kick caused Walker no little discomfort. Unfortunately the loose ball wouldn’t come down quickly enough for Teddy whose shot was well over. However, with a little more than an hour gone we were deservedly beck on level terms. Sheringham played the ball into Zamora who, with his back to goal, held the ball up well and played the return into Teddy’s path. The youngster cut inside and shot home from about twelve yards. The big screen showed that the shot had taken a deflection from Dabizas that had wrong-footed Walker, but given the general quality of the build-up I don’t think we could be begrudged our little bit of luck.

At this point I considered inserting some pun about Fox hunting and scenting blood but since they’ve banned it I won’t bother. However, it was clear that the game was there for the taking. Noble got on the end of a pass from Teddy, cut past a defender and curled a shot only just wide. Fletcher hit a drive from distance that went close and a Harewood shot on the turn deserved more than to find Walker.

Then came the moment that will live on for a long while in the Chamber of Horrors – in a display next to the one marked Kanoute penalty v Arsenal. Zamora did well to rescue what looked like a lost cause. He then squared the ball to Noble whose shot beat Walker only to be handled by Dabizas just in front of the line. Maybe Noble ought to have done better with the shot but it was certainly goalbound. It was hard to see quite what Dabizas had to complain about but complain he did as the red card was shown.
So there we are the match up for grabs all we had to do was stick a stupid penalty away. These days Teddy and marlon take turns to take the penalties on those rare occasions referees can be bothered to award them to us. Unfortunately it was Marlon’s turn and, with no run up whatsoever he calmly side-footed one of the weakest penalties you’ll ever see. In the name of God why?

As time ran down we spurned a few more chances, most notably when Fletch diverted a ball across goal towards Zamora only for the sub to be thwarted by a desperate sliding clearance. Harewood had two efforts one close, the other, well let’s just say that it wasn’t so close. Despite four minutes of stoppage time and an opposition reduced by injury to nine men we were unable to break the deadlock and another two points disappeared from view.

I thought that, as with Crewe on Tuesday, we were worth the three points. Leicester fans will point to the non-sending off of Bywater. Whilst I agree that he should of walked it was hardly our fault that he didn’t and after the ref allowed him to remain he was hardly tested by the opposition.

I remember during the early days of the playoffs we missed out one season after dropping two points at home to someone like Port Vale – I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong. In that particular match I think we missed two penalties and that ultimately was the difference between getting into the play-off lotto and having to spend another season at the second level. I only hope that come may we’re not looking back on that penalty miss and saying “if only”. Having said that this was an otherwise strong performance which will need to be maintained throughout our remaining matches. Unfortunately the only consistent thing about this season has been our inconsistency.

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Player Ratings

Stephen Bywater
Who’s a lucky boy then. Really should have gone – and he’d only have had himself to blame as he dithered between staying put and coming out, ending up doing neither.


Shaun Newton
Beginning to link well with his new team-mates and looks particularly promising when he joins in with the attack.


Chris Powell
Apparently Powell was sick – maybe a manor Park kebab too many.? However, this didn’t stop him putting in another sound performance.


Elliott Ward
The “bare bones” situation in defence has meant that he has been pressed into service a little earlier than the manager would have liked. However he can be proud of his first two league displays during which he has shown a lot of maturity. Thank you Tony Carr – keep ‘em coming.


Anton Ferdinand
Another excellent 90 minutes. I was concerned as to how the youngster might handle the wily Dublin. I needn’t have worried.


Carl Fletcher
A steadying influence in the middle. Did the simple things well.


Mark Noble
A fine game. Another player who has come into the side earlier than anticipated. It’s always good to see “one of us” in the side and when the player is as talented as Noble is it’s all the better. Thanks Tony Carr etc…


Nigel Reo-Coker
Drifted in and out of the game. When he was in the game he was good but those spells became fewer as the match went on.


Luke Chadwick
Didn’t get involved much in the first half and it wasn’t a surprise when hr e was replaced by Rebrov. at half time.


Teddy Sheringham
The two goals were well taken and his speed of thought was always a constant problem for his markers.


Marlon Harewood
On the plus side he caused the opposition a lot of broblems. On the minus side his finishing of late has been somewhat lacking – and that’s without taking the penalty into consideration. Great cross for Teddy’s first though.


Substitutes


Sergei Rebrov
(Replaced Chadwick, 45) What the hell was that all about? On for a minute. One nod-down to Teddy then it was thank you and goodnight.


Bobby Zamora
(Replaced Rebrov, 51) A good match. Instrumental in setting up Teddy’s second and his hard work also led to the penalty. Improving.


Jimmy Walker
Did not play.


Rufus Brevett
Did not play.


Hayden Mullins
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: A.Marriner.

Attendance: 22031.

Man of the Match: Anton Ferdinand.

West Ham United

Goals: Teddy Sheringham 28 Teddy Sheringham 62                

Booked: Stephen Bywater 24          .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Leicester City

Walker, Kenton, Hughes, Dabizas, Tiatto, Gillespie, McCarthy, Gudjonsson, Maybury, Dublin, Connolly.

Substitutes: Williams (Tiatto 61), De Vries (Dublin 70), Stewart (Connolly 82).

Subs not used: Hirschfeld, Moore.

Goals: Connolly (pen 25), Gillespie (44).

Booked: Maybury.

Sent Off: Dabizas (80).

 
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