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Coca Cola Championship
Monday, 30th May 2005

Preston North End 0
West Ham United 1

by East Stand Martin

Oxford Fred is one of the most stubborn b*stards I know.

He insisted on a return to the Golden Cross in Wood Street prior to the match for a drink with his gay friends. There was a DJ there with enough piercings in his face to set off any metal detector within about 30 yards. I said to Fred that the geezer must have real problems getting through airports, but Fred said that as he only probably ever went to San Francisco, they’d probably got used to him by now.

We may have returned to same pre-match watering hole, but this year it felt really different. Last year, I had this overwhelming dread that we were going to get turned over. These big games are about psychology and mental strength; last season’s West Ham looked scared and uncertain on the big stage. The opposition knew it; we didn’t turn up for the match and the manager totally lost the plot with his substitutions.

Victory is certain

This year, no such doubt in my mind. The manager sounded bold as brass as well – “We are going to win.” Right approach – not over-confident but certain that the team was prepared and ready to do the job. Continuity in team selection was there as well during a pretty solid final run-in.

Everything looked right this time to me. Real solidity in central defence. Renewed confidence in our strikers, including a West Ham fan that we had all written off as a useless Spuds reject. Jimmy Walker looking good, Matty on song, Mullins playing in the right position. We even had the luxury of one of the finest goal poachers in modern English football waiting on the bench and a cut price right sided midfielder who had already won a playoff final twice with other clubs.

Although we got into Cardiff at about 1230, the time just flew by. This was the same as last year – before you know it you have to leave Abba and Bronski Beat behind (yes, I know) and get your ar*e into the stadium.

Phoenix Nights

Up in the Gods looking down on that pitch surrounded by raucous Irons just willing the team to win has got to be one of the biggest highs you can experience. The scene was magnificent and there was no doubt that we were up for it. The Northenders were doing their best with a display of “thunder sticks”, which is all a bit rugby league for me. As Fred said, “Look at ‘em, this is just a day out for them, it’s f*cking like Phoenix Nights down there.”

What can you say about that first half? Tom set off by Shaun Newton, running in and hitting the post right at the outset – a crying shame that he didn’t get that elusive goal. We had the momentum from then on, with Marlon and Z-man combining well to feed Matty a great ball. Nash in the Preston goal – one of the Championship’s better ‘keepers - made a fine save to deny him.

We looked immense at the back, snuffing out anything that the northerners attempted. Elliot Ward and Anton were key to this, and Preston lacked width, meaning that they had to resort too much to the ball down the middle. It’s hard to recall a header that was missed by the young duo whose first introduction at Wigan away marked the turning point in a roller-coaster season.

The main vulnerability – and the signs were there at the home game against Ipswich – was at set pieces. It was the only way Preston were going to score and Lucketti came close from a corner.

We coped best

0-0 at half time, but despite the sheer tension of the occasion, I still remained confident as we looked like we were coping with the atmosphere and pressure better than they were. Why shouldn’t we? We had been there before; Preston looked a bit like they were trying to come to terms with it all.

After the interval, it was another set piece which immediately caused us problems, when a corner found Cresswell who headed goalwards. There was Shaun Newton – surely one of the most inspirational bargain basement mid-season buys we have made in living memory – to clear it off the line.

If the problem was in the set pieces, we were dominating the open play and the scare of the Cresswell attempt sparked us into action. Newton the saviour got a great ball through to Marlon who forced a save from Nash. Z-man was waiting, but he seemed to hurry his shot, allowing Mawene to parry the ball on the goal line. It came out to Marlon a second time, but a great chance evaporated with a solid save by Nash again.

A West Ham earlier in the season would have been badly affected by failing to exploit an opportunity like that, but we were a different team now. It was Etherington that made the difference after he used his pace to leave Mawene trailing in his wake. Two defenders slipped as the ball got put over, and there was the waiting Zamora to sidefoot into the bottom corner.

Re-birth

It wasn’t exactly the cleanest strike you’ve ever seen, but sheer unbridled pandemonium followed where I was standing. Geezers I had never seen in my life were hanging off me and all the pent up frustrations – two season’s worth – erupted out of 30,000-odd Hammers’ fans. It wasn’t a roar of joy; it was a roar of total and utter release and relief. The last time I had heard something like that was when I was present at the birth of ESM Jnr. Women in childbirth make strange noises and now I know that West Ham fans do when they can see release from the obscurity of the Championship.

It wasn’t over though, there was over 30 minutes to go and Nugent caused more than a furrowed brow when he went on a serpentine run and a shot which Walker covered extremely well. Nugent in many respects personified the Preston mentality. The season to date showed that he had a lot of quality, but unlike our 20 year-olds in defence he looked over-awed by the enormity of the match.

Unlike Pardew last year, Preston’s manager, Billy Davies made the right response to this turn of events by bringing on an additional striker in the shape of Patrick Agyemang. This worried me as the bloke always plays well against West Ham. He scored with almost his first touch at Upton Park earlier in the season and he had done it again the season before when playing for Wimbledon.

Who’s lost the plot?

It was at this point that Pardew received the ire of some fans around me, as he chose to respond to Preston’s change by taking off Zamora and replacing him with Christian Dailly. “What is he playing at?” they bellowed. “He’s f*cking lost the plot again”. But this was an entirely different situation to last year. Preston had not threatened apart from dead ball situations, and this time we had our noses in front. I said to the bloke next to me, “Those tw*ts want to keep that abuse to later if we end up conceding a goal.”

We looked in control, but it all very nearly went up in smoke with a moment of madness from Jimmy Walker who came haring out to try and claim a long ball punted forward. Surely it was an adrenalin rush that made him forget where the edge of the area was, and in trying to retrieve safety he twisted his knee badly.

It looked bad and it was clear that he couldn’t continue. Time for the likeable Bywater to come on and try to deal with a free kick in a very dangerous position. It’s at times like this that you almost wish you weren’t an Atheist, but apparently there were enough God-fearing Hammers in the Stadium to pull in a favour with the Big Man upstairs as Bywater and the wall got it right.

The last remaining nail-chewing event was the display of a board with 7 minutes added time. 7 f*cking minutes! We needn’t have worried, as the team ran it down very capably as Preston ran out of steam and ideas.

I shall fear no evil

Scenes of chaos and partying followed as the whistle went and the players ran around in jubilation. Sheer and utter release from what felt like the end of a two-year stretch in Wormwood Scrubbs. The singing put the hairs on the back of your neck up. We had been through two long years of darkness. Though I walk through the valley of Rotherham, I shall come out the other side and emerge into the light (or sh*te, when we walk out of White Hart Lane station on the way to a PREMIERSHIP match next season).

By the way, Mr. Bruce, I have not forgotten what you said just before that final game in the Premiership in May 2003. I would dearly love to see role-reversal next season. He who laughs last, laughs loudest.

Eventually the 40 minute long post final whistle celebrations subsided. What a contrast to how we felt twelve months before. The game was like last year in reverse. Preston performed like we had done against Palace and we just controlled the game. I don’t think I even uttered a word for an hour the previous May. This time the world was a beautiful place. The birds were singing in the trees. I swore I saw a copper riding a unicorn.

It took hours to navigate the M4, but Fred and I would have happily spent several days on that Welsh tarmac. Just how uplifting was it to see the traveling Irons in gridlocked celebration trying to escape sheep-shagging country. People were stopping on the side of the road not to relieve themselves, but because it looked like a good spot to stop and dance around manically. We saw some geezer on the hard shoulder with a megaphone, ranting away like a madman.

Tribal gathering

The next day it was clear that the vocal chords had paid a price and communication was somewhat restricted. We all knew where we had to be though – it was time to pay homage at Upton Park.

A truly inspiring scene was waiting at Green Street. It was a gathering of the tribe. Boll*cks to all those moaning on the radio that we weren’t entitled to it. So what if we come 6th, we are back in the Premiership and entitled to mark that success. After all, the FA Cup is meaningless compared to the £20 million + that results from that one game. This is the biggest single game in Europe if not the world in terms of reward. Who says we shouldn’t be amongst our own to mark that?

The bus shelters were groaning under the weight of excited fans and there was barely a rooftop, wall or window ledge that didn’t have somebody going quite mental. Although we’d all had 24 hours for it to sink in, the reality didn’t quite hit me until I saw the team bus turn the corner and pass the Boleyn. Mark Noble – and didn’t he look like an ordinary fan, rather than a gifted footballer – was there at the front brandishing the strange Championship trophy which signaled the route back to where our great club truly belongs.

We waited in front of the balcony for words of wisdom, but few were spoken as the PA system was playing up. Our manager – who at last got some recognition for his contribution – simply promised that the team would not let us down in the Premiership.

Unexpected and expected absentees

The only disappointment for me about the parade was that there was no sign of Tomas Repka. Tom has played a big part in the season and although he has had his faults, I think we can all agree that he has been one of the big personalities in the team. I’m sure his absence signals the end to his time with us, but all the best, Tom.

The other absentee was the usual one. Someone who dropped us in the sh*t in the first place. Mr. Terrence Brown, the faceless parasite, who will no doubt be looking to reclaim his £500,000 plus salary and perks (backdated to May 2003, no doubt). There was a theory amongst many that in the lead up to the playoff final we were in a no-lose situation. Win and we get promoted, lose and we get a new Chairman. Apart from the fact that my overriding desire to get back to the Premiership even outweighs my dislike of Mr. Brown, I think that it was by no means given that he would have gone had we not gone up.

We can’t have it both ways, and unless I am very mistaken, old Terry is going to be hanging around. The evidence of that is in today’s interview in the Sun newspaper, where the usual claptrap is out on display again. Naturally, the past problems were everybody else’s fault (particularly Harry’s and Roeder’s) and we are promised £20 million to invest in transfer fees and salaries for next season. Pity even a quarter of that sum wasn’t found in the summer of 2003, and maybe we would still have that talent that he bemoans losing when we took the drop.

Unclean

It seems almost dirty to even sink to the level of responding to this. We’ve heard it all before and quite frankly, who wants to think about a man who makes anonymity into an artform, when we should be basking in the glory of the greatest day out we have all had for years, if not decades.

This is not to say that there are now many unanswered questions about how the club is run and our strategy for Premiership survival. What I will say is that if 4th from bottom is being offered now, I’ll take it.

Our task is to do a Bolton or a Charlton. Survive, consolidate and allow the undoubted young talent at our club to grow in stature. The route to be followed is to make Upton Park a fortress once again, and who says we can’t do that now we will be facing Premiership teams looking to try and win, rather than Championship teams coming and defending. Pardew, too, deserves more than a chance to make it all work, and those so-called fans that were berating him on the radio after the match should hang their heads in shame. The foundation is in place, but clearly we need to strengthen in key positions. Getting that right and putting the promised £20 million to work is the biggest challenge Pardew will have faced. I wish him all the luck in the world.

(Player ratings by Graeme Howlett)

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Player Ratings

Jimmy Walker
Did a good job although he was saved on the one occasion by Newton's goal-line clearance. Hopefully back in time for the start of the Premiership.


Tomas Repka
If this was his swansong then what a way to go. Still denied that elusive first goal, this time by the woodwork rather than the goalkeeper's boat.


Chris Powell
Absolutely solid once again and definitely in with a shout of winning a renewed contract, one would think.


Elliott Ward
As is often the case with Elliott, it wasn't pretty but damn effective nonetheless. Whether or not he can make the difficult transition from Championship to Premiership remains to be seen - but he certainly deserved the chance to find out.


Anton Ferdinand
In a week when Zak Knight and Glen Johnson were partners at the back for England one wonders how long it will be before Anton gets the nod from Sven, who will no doubt be delighted to be able to visit the Boleyn once again. Terrific today, shame about the moves at the end!


Nigel Reo-Coker
Powerful, committed, determined - this was the Nigel Reo-Coker of old. Desperate for a stab at the Premiership he was excellent against a strong Preston midfield.


Hayden Mullins
Redemption for Mullins, who was outstanding in his favoured central role. Could be one to make way for the expected influx of new players however.


Matthew Etherington
Preston stuck Mawene at right-back to nullify Etherington's threat - and until the 57th minute he did so admirably. But yet again Matty was there when it counted - and that was enough to see us through.


Shaun Newton
On this performance if Newton is worth £10k then David Beckham and Luis Figo together can be worth no more than 100 grand together. He was everywhere; both flanks, clearing goal-bound headers off the line - you name it, he did it.


Bobby Zamora
I spoke above of redemption for Mullins, well Bobby can eat a piece of that pie too now after his fourth goal in the last three games. Those strikes have effectively seen us back to the Premiership - keep it up sunshine.


Marlon Harewood
Not Marlon's best game but there'll be no criticism on a day like today. His 20+ goals made sure we got to Cardiff in the first place, and he did his bit.


Substitutes


Christian Dailly
(Replaced Zamora, 74) You could hear the groans when Dailly came on for the last quarter of an hour. But what a game he had - a towering presence in front of the back four. I honestly can't recall him losing a single header in the 23 minutes he was on the pitch - and he had a lot to deal with as Preston began to chuck the ball high and long in search of an equaliser.


Mark Noble
(Replaced Newton, 82) Brought on to add a bit of pace for counter-attacks, one would presume - and it nearly paid off as his one shot only just evaded Preston's left-hand post. A big future lays ahead for this boy, and now it looks like it'll be with West Ham for the forseeable future. Happy days.


Stephen Bywater
(Replaced Walker, 87) 35,000 Hammers held their breath as Bywater entered the fray after several months on the sidelines to replace the stricken Jimmy Walker. But full credit to him, he dealt with everything admirable as Preston pushed on in the final few minutes.


Carl Fletcher
Did not play.


Teddy Sheringham
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: M.Riley.

Attendance: 70275.

Man of the Match: Shaun Newton.

West Ham United

Goals: Bobby Zamora 57                  

Booked: Hayden Mullins 28 Jimmy Walker 87        .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Preston North End

Nash, Mawene, Davis, Lucketti, Hill, O'Neil, Sedgwick, McKenna, Lewis, Nugent, Cresswell.

Substitutes: Agyemag (Sedgwick 71), Etuhu (O'Neil 81), Alexander (Mawene 87).

Subs not used: Ward, Broomes.

Goals: .

Booked: Hill (31), Mawene (62).

Sent Off: None sent off..

 
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