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Coca Cola Championship
Tuesday, 19th April 2005

Stoke City 0
West Ham United 1

by Gordon Thrower

Stoke away. A tale of eight men, a minibus, some old women, dodgy music, a big bird and, thankfully, three points.

I arrived at Redbridge tube at 12.30 along with Highbury Hammer and Greatest Cockney Rip Off. On arrival I received a call from Romford informing me that the Sicknote-piloted minibus would be about an hour late. Since a quick look at the weather suggested that it might easily rain within the next three days, we reluctantly decided to take shelter in the pub opposite the station where we were joined by Wanstead. Three very swift pints later the minibus arrived where Chuck D and Joe completed the crew.

Mixmaster Wanstead proudly announced that he had a box of cassettes to provide the musical background to the journey north. Hilariously these appeared to have been recorded well before the digital age, thus treating us to the sounds of styli being dropped on vinyl and tapes running out mid track. Most memorably we were given a UB40 track, the speed of which changed from 45 RPM to 33 just before the vocals kicked in.

One very gratefully-received service station stop later we arrived at the Britannia Stadium and decamped to the Harvester opposite the ground. One of the drawbacks to the building of modern stadia on edge of town retail sites is that there is invariably a lack of places to sit down and eat and drink in the immediate vicinity of the ground. Whilst the Harvester scores highly on the convenience front, they did seem somewhat surprised to discover that a match was being played, leading to lengthy queues at the bar whilst the two bar staff struggled to cope with the demand. We therefore hit on the idea of ordering a meal thus ensuring waitress service from the incredibly patient Alison.

The main topic of conversation at this point was GCRO’s strange behaviour during a previous road trip to Blackpool. You will be aware of the phrase “lock up your daughters”. Well GCRO operates under the somewhat different motto of “lock up your grannies”. GCRO’s attempts to deny any such behaviour suffered a fatal blow by the fact that I had all the incriminating photographs stored on my PDA. Thus the next 15 minutes were spent with GCRO holding his head in his hands as the rest of us recounted tales of his strange fascination for false teeth, surgical stockings and Werthers’ Originals. Somewhere in the middle of all this Romford said something about liking “Big Birds” which resulted in the delivery of a whole large fried chicken along with the next round of drinks – Alison displaying patience beyond belief at the mention of stuffing. Someone described the whole scene as reminding them of one of those so-called mediaeval banquets you get on holiday at Tenerife – with yours truly in the role of Henry VIII. Whilst I didn’t think it was that bad I must admit that the idea of having my ex-wife executed is a tempting one!

So to the match. The bad news was that Mark Noble had failed to shake off a knock leaving us with a starting line-up of Walker, Repka, Powell, Ferdinand,
Ward, Newton, Mullins, Reo-Coker, Etherington, Sheringham Harewood.

Stoke were first out of the blocks when Jones’ blatant shove on Ward somehow escaped the attention of both linesman and ref. Whilst all around waited for the whistle that never came, Jones carried on but shot straight at Walker.

Strangely, the early scare seemed to have a settling effect on us and we spent the next twenty minutes enjoying a lot of possession. Tellingly though, clear-cut chances were few and far between. Harewood was guilty of squandering the best opportunity early on when the ball found its way to him following some good work down the right from Newton. Unfortunately Marlon’s effort from not too far out went well over.

Despite the early possession – which was helped by Stoke’s tendency to give the ball back to us each time an attack broke down – we lacked quality in the final third and Mullins’ two wayward efforts from distance were indicative of the all too familiar frustrations experienced due to our not being able to break down the defence and. However, as the half wore on, the home side started to push forward with a bit more confidence. Ward put on a couple of good blocks on the edge of the box whilst Ferdinand had to be alert to head wide of his own goal with a forward bearing down on him.

Up the other end Newton had a wild swipe at the ball in a promising position. Our next chance followed a Stoke corner which was cleared to Etherington. Matty burst down the left hand side and fed Ferdinand who had sprinted out from the back and was in acres of space in the inside right channel. However Anton’s shot lacked power and was easily dealt with by Simonsen in the Stoke goal.

Simonsen had hardly been tested in the first half but Marlon finally forced him into a fine save on the half hour when his drive from outside the box seemed to be creeping in low inside the post, the ‘keeper getting down well ti tip the ball round the post for a corner.

Walker then had a bit of a self-inflicted scare. Coming off his line to deal with a high ball, Jimmy spilled the ball under pressure from Clarke. Fortunately young Ward was on hand to clear and we went into the break on level terms.

The half-time entertainment consisted of a skills competition between three teams of kids who had to dribble round some cones before scoring past a mascot, one of which appeared to be a ten foot tall piece of faecal material. Thankfully the announcer explained that this was a “pepperoni”, the manufacturers being the sponsor of the competition. The explanation probably spared thousands of spectators from having nightmares about being chased down the street by a giant turd.

The second half saw us start off on the back foot as the home side came out and chances fell to Jones, Hill and Noel-Williams as a result of our being unable to clear our lines. It was difficult to tell from up the other end but it appeared that the Noel-Williams effort might have clipped the post on its way wide.

It was clear that we would need something different to break down the defence and the away support – in between the “Claret & Blue Army” chants and renditions of “Bubbles” – were clamouring for the introduction of Zamora for several minutes before the change was finally made with 15 minutes left on the clock. The change was a double substitution, Zamora replacing Repka with Fletcher coming in for Mullins. The reshuffle moved Newton to the back of a three man defence with Harewood moving to wide right to accommodate Zamora up front. The beneficial effect of the change almost instantaneous. Zamora, with the benefit of fresh legs, picked up the ball on the right hand side and went on a run before cutting in and shooting over from just outside the box.

Then, with about 12 minutes left on the clock, the ball was played out to Harewood on the right. Marlon’s apparent lack of urgency as the ball came across was deceptive as he beat Hill and cut into the box. His low cross across the six-yard box eluded all but Zamora who was lurking at the far post and Bobby had the easiest of jobs to tap home to the delight of the travelling support.

The bulk of the remainder of the game seemed to peter out. There were long spells of multiple passes which ran the clock down, though I must admit the mocking chants of “Easy Easy” from some of the away support left me feeling a little nervous – obviously not all share my views on the tempting of fate. With about a minute or so left on the clock Stoke had the ball in the net – Neal driving home from within the box from a nod-down. Although from the other end of the pitch it was obviously impossible to judge whether or not Neal was offside, I was grateful for the fact that I spotted the linesman’s flag the instant it was raised thus sparing me the collective heart attack that much of the away support must have suffered at that point.

At the death Harewood left to generous applause to be replaced by Chadwick Somehow referee Laws found four minutes of added time to play with. This was far from the first baffling decision from the official but it seemed to galvanise the home side who went forward in vain in an attempt to salvage a point. Zamora fired over from outside the box whilst Walker picked up a caution for time wasting, a decision made doubly ridiculous by the ref’s earlier failure to deal with similar infractions from Simenson and the fact that Walker’s kick was the last kick of the match in any case.

The final whistle saw scenes of jubilation from the travelling support and Anton and Chris Powell in particular seemed to enjoy the celebrations. There was also public acknowledgement from the manager who applauded the fans on his way over to the tunnel. I phoned my chum Bridget – a Stoke fan - with the intention of coming up with one of those “your lads took a hellofa beating” speeches but I’ll admit I was struggling to find celebrity fans to name-drop once I’d mentioned Nick Hancock.

The journey home was uneventful – GCRO somehow managing to get over the disappointment of not encountering any Saga coach-parties at either of the two service areas at which we stopped and we arrived back at Romford in the early hours in good mood despite Wanstead’s collection of horribly stretched cassettes!

The win was far from pretty – for too long that final ball eluded us. It’s unlikely to be any prettier down by the seaside at the weekend but the three points are all that matters at this stage. It’s going right to the wire folks.

Thanks to all on the minibus for good company. Special thanks to Sicknote for all the driving and to Mr & Mrs Romford for the loan of their settee which saved me a two hour journey in and out of town by night bus.

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Player Ratings

Jimmy Walker
One worrying moment when he spilled a high ball under pressure but otherwise not over-tested.


Tomas Repka
Steady enough defensively but his distribution was a bit wayward on a couple of occasions.


Chris Powell
Another solid enough performance defensively but less of an influence going forward than of late.


Elliott Ward
Got some timely blocks in on shots from the edge of the box.


Anton Ferdinand
Continues to improve but really ought to have scored when put through by Etherington’s break.


Nigel Reo-Coker
Had a couple of runs through the middle but was mainly limited to a defensive role.


Hayden Mullins
Won some good balls in the middle but was another whose passing was not at its best.


Matthew Etherington
Disappointing – a couple of runs including a break from a corner apart he was largely anonymous.


Shaun Newton
A couple of decent runs but I’d like to see him try to dominate more.


Teddy Sheringham
Some nice lay-offs apart he was not much of an attacking threat.


Marlon Harewood
His first touch when playing up along Teddy was lacking. However, he looked more dangerous in the last 15 minutes when moved out to the right and his fine work led to the goal.


Substitutes


Bobby Zamora
(Replaced Repka, 76) The introduction of his fresh legs changed the game and, including the goal, he was probably involved in as many chances in the last 15 minutes of the match as the rest of the team had created in the first 75 minutes.


Carl Fletcher
(Replaced Mullins, 76) Got a few decent challenges in towards the end.


Luke Chadwick
(Replaced Harewood, 90) Not on long enough to make an impact.


Stephen Bywater
Did not play.


Rufus Brevett
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: G.Laws.

Attendance: 14534.

Man of the Match: Elliott Ward.

West Ham United

Goals: Bobby Zamora 77                  

Booked: Elliott Ward 50 Jimmy Walker 90        .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Stoke City

Simonsen, Buxton, Duberry, Hill, Taggart, Brammer, Clarke, Russell, Greenacre, Jones, Noel-Williams.

Substitutes: Henry (Buxton 74), Neal (Greenacre 83), Ricketts (Jones 83).

Subs not used: de Goey, Clark.

Goals: .

Booked: None booked..

Sent Off: None sent off..

 
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