Saturday, 16th April 2005
A prior engagement on official KUMB business meant an even earlier start from Gnome Towers than normal. However, even on arrival at Upton Park tube at the silly hour of 10.40am, one could not help but notice the odd policeman or two mainly because the positioning of their vans was causing a potentially dangerous bottleneck at the station. I was reminded of the scene in (I think) Terminator 2 where the kid tells Arnie that the police have arrived. On being asked “How Many?” the kid responds “All of them”.
The Met’s obstacle course having been successfully negotiated, the team news was that the starting line-up showed one change from that which had started against Coventry, namely Walker, Repka, Powell, Ferdinand, Ward, Newton, Noble, Reo-Coker, Noble, Etherington, Sheringham, Harewood.
We could have taken the league as early as 30 seconds into the game. Reo-Coker went on one of those bursts through the middle that he seems to be quite good at. Unfortunately the bit at the end of those runs where you have to finish the run with a goal must appear in a later edition of “Practical Footballer” magazine that the paper boy hasn’t yet delivered to the Reo-Coker household as, not for the first time this season, the promising run came to naught. In NRC’s defence it should be said that the shove in the back he received from the chasing defender might have interested a half-decent ref but Rennie wasn’t in the mood to give a correct decision so early in the match and there was the nagging doubt that NRC ought to have got his shot in a fraction earlier.
Hayles then went up the other end and got a shot in that wasn’t too far wide. However, if the first couple of minutes suggested that an end to end feast of open football was on the cards, the remainder of the match cured us of that hope as the visitors remembered their shortcomings and, like so many away sides, restricted their ambition to one of simply avoiding defeat.
During the next few minutes we enjoyed – if you’ll pardon the pun – the lion’s share of the possession and, for a brief spell, Etherington’s recent improvement in form continued. Getting free from Mark Philips (who older readers may remember being married to HRH Princess Anne years ago) Matty put over a fine cross and, though young Edward Sheringham got the angle right with his glancing header, he was slightly out with his elevation and the ball flashed over the bar from close range at the near post.
Millwall were content to keep tight on everyone and deny the man on the ball options. Whilst they were, in the main, successful in this aim the opening goal owed a lot to a lapse from NRC who, with an apparently easy ball on, committed the cardinal sin of giving the ball away. Muscat fed Hayles who took the ball round Walker and finished well from a tight angle.
For the next 20 minutes we enjoyed a decent amount of possession but struggled to break down the dogged defence. During this period Ward probably came closest to levelling the scores. Following a corner, the ball was played back and forth across the box in the air but it wouldn’t come down quickly enough and the youngster’s final header went over. Otherwise it was largely a matter of our inability to find a claret and blue shirt with any of the numerous crosses that we found ourselves putting over.
However parity was restored ten minutes before the interval – and a fine goal it was too. Etherington cut in from the left and played the ball in to Sheringham. Young Edward’s chested return pass to Matty was sheer class, enabling as it did Matty to attack the space in the box and get the cross in to the waiting Harewood who converted from just outside the six yard box. Though Marlon’s finish wasn’t the cleanest of efforts, the ball hitting the ground as it did on its way into the net, the resulting goal was fitting reward for the excellence of the build up play that led to it.
The only incident of note during the remaining ten minutes came from a long clearance from the back that Walker was sharp enough to come off his line to grab off the head of the advancing Hayles – no mean feat given that Jimmy must be the shorter of the two by a good foot or so!
At half time we were, thankfully, spared the torment of having an awful singer and his backing track for our “entertainment” and the Hammerettes were able to do whatever it is they do unhindered.
In my naivety I thought we might go at them during the second half but, unfortunately, we were treated to more of the same with Millwall often having eleven behind the ball. It was going to take something a little different to break the deadlock and we nearly got just that. Newton picked the ball up on the right and played a high cross to the far post. Harewood’s spectacular overhead effort was goal-bound and Marshall did well to tip the ball over the top. Later conversations with those nearer that part of the ground suggested that Marlon had not caught the ball cleanly and that the ball had come off his shin. Even so it was an audacious effort that was about the only thing worth getting off one’s seat for in the second half.
A few minutes later Millwall had what, from memory, was probably their only real chance of the second half, Morrris’s shot from outside the box took a heavy deflection and Jimmy Walker did well, firstly to change direction to get across to the shot in the first place and secondly to push the ball to the side with opposition forwards being handily placed should the ball have come straight back out.
Otherwise it was pretty uninspiring stuff for the rest of the match. Millwall weren’t much interested and we lacked the nous and creativity to break them down. Zamora came on for Newton and might have scored when in a good position on the left hand side of the box. Unfortunately his shot took a deflection and went wide with the ‘keeper looking worried.
Otherwise the only things of note to take place were the increasingly convoluted methods of time-wasting employed by Marshall. These started with as much as 35 minutes remaining on the clock. Whenever there was a goal kick he would swap the ball over, the one provided presumably not being quite the right shade. Though referee Rennie was clever enough to spot this – we know because of the theatrical tapping of his watch we were treated to each time it occurred – for reasons only he will ever be able to explain he decided to do absolutely nothing about it. Given that there were four substitutions made in the match, plus a caution to take into account, the decision to add a mere two minutes of stoppage time was baffling to say the least – even allowing for the fact that Rennie is no stranger to the making of strange decisions for the sake of it.
During the week many of us were lucky enough to see the David Frost documentary on the life of Bobby Moore. One of the interviewees was jack Charlton and he told a shortened version of his view of the 66 World Cup Final. I was lucky enough to attend a dinner a few years back at which he told the full story and one comment has always stuck in my mind. Referring to the calm way Bobby brought the ball down in the box in the dying minutes of the match, before looking up and playing Hurst in for the famous “they think it’s all over” goal Charlton said “it was at that point I realised I’d never be any good at playing this game – I’d only ever be able to stop others doing so”. There are any number of sides in this league to which the same comment could apply. Yesterday’s opponents were in no way the first side to come to the Boleyn with the sole tactic of stopping us from playing. However, it’s fair to say that they were one of the more successful sides in doing so. It’s all going to make my medical test next week very interesting and this may be a very good time to invest in the company that makes the little tablets that deal with high blood pressure!
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Maybe a fraction slow off his line for the goal but otherwise dealt well with what little came his way.
Ok in defence and got forward well – some good crosses though could still do a bit better in this area of his game.
Continues to personify reliability on the left hand side of defence.
Coped well in the air but, with the midfield being stifled we needed a little more composure on the ball and he didn’t seem too keen on bringing the ball out of defence.
It was a bit of an aerial battle for the centre pairing. For the most part they nullified the threat pretty well but there were times when Anton had more time on the ball than you might have though from his tendency to play it high and long every time.
Strong defensively, he had obviously upset Rennie in a previous life as he seemed to be pulled up for every challenge irrespective of how innocuous the challenge was. Really must work on his final ball/shooting.
Tried to make things happen but with little success.
Like Newton, there were times in the first half when Matty looked really up for it. This spell culminated in his part in the goal. Quite where he disappeared to in the second half though is anyone’s guess.
There were times when you thought 10k was going to take the game by the scruff of the neck but he had this habit of then vanishing off the screen for long periods.
Laid the ball off well when coming deep – notably in the build up to the goal. However he failed to threaten much as an attacking force.
Took the goal well but overall this was not one of those days where he scared the opposition.
(Replaced Newton, 80) Looked capable of causing problems during the ten minutes or so that he was on.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Man of the Match: Tomas Repka.
West Ham United
Goals: Marlon Harewood 35
Booked: None booked. .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Marshall, Muscat, Phillips, Lawrence, D.Ward, Livermore, Sweeney, Morris, Elliott, Dichio, Hayles.
Substitutes: Ifill (Hayles 63), Simpson (Morris 78).
Subs not used: May, Wise, Craig.
Goals: Hayles (12).
Booked: None booked..
Sent Off: None sent off..