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Saturday, 28th October 2000

West Ham United 1
Newcastle United 0

by Richard Osbourne

Sarah and I just made it in time to see the teams coming out before kicking off at the game against Newcastle. Ducking under the weaving heads of the grumbling fans, we made our way to our seats.

Last year the home game against Newcastle was a game to remember. We were a fighting team on form, a team to be reckoned with. Newcastle had started badly in the league sitting at the bottom quarter of the table for many weeks (sound familiar?). On that windy, drenched night we saw a Newcastle come alive, go one nil up and dominate up to the first part of the second half. We made a key substitution bringing on Paulo Wanchope, for Ruddock (why has a chill just gone down my spine?). Wanchopio proceeded to sprint up and down the pitch for the remainder of the match scoring two goals and winning the day for us.

This year things were topsy turvey. We started bottom of the league, not Newcastle. Our fortress at Upton Park had become a play area where opposing teams no longer dare to tread. We desperately needed a home win. With heads hung low, morale through the floor, no home wins to date and Newcastle riding towards the top of the table, the odds were stacked against us.

We lined up with the marvel from Trinidad, Shaka Hislop between the sticks. He and Stuart Pearce who was in the back three, were facing their old club. Rio alongside was accompanied by a warmly welcomed back Ian Pearce. Sinclair, Carrick, Cole, Winterburn took up midfield and wingback positions along with Frankie Lampard who was booed when his name was announced (must have done his confidence no good whatsoever). Di Canio and Kanoute took their usual posts up front.

After a shaky start we started to settle into a rhythm. The rhythm was unfortunately: work hard for the ball; let your team mates provide no help whatsoever; give the ball to an opposing player. We barely broke from our half with the likes of Shearer and Dyer beating a path to Shaka's goal.

Our midfield hoofed the ball away from danger to an awaiting Kanoute who battled with three defenders, naturally coming off worse everytime. The Pearce's were solid at the back and it was a sheer joy to see Ian Pearce performing well again.

Di Canio started some of his trickery just outside our penalty box, losing the ball to three advancing Newcastle players. Missing out on (what seemed like) many chances Newcastle were denied every time. The most notable was a header falling just the wrong side of Shaka's post. This tore any hope from my body and tore the net away from the post.

After a bald headed man with a bag made this season's Premiership debut to fix the net. It seems that every footballing assistant that carries a bag at WH must sport a follically challenged cranium.

We had a couple of chances in the first half. The most notable, a delightful run from the young pretender Joey Cole just on the edge of the box to see his cross force a well save from Lampard's volley.

The second half saw us come out into the now howling wind and constant rain. For some reason, we have started to really play well after the first five minutes of the second half. We managed to string more passes together and our movement off the ball did not resemble the previous half's Madame Tussauds approach.

We had just started to turn the game when Joey Cole was brought down from behind mid flight. The diabolical, needless and extremely painful challenge was only punished with a yellow card and saw young Joey hobble off to be substituted by Suker.

Winterburn too suffered an injury. After what seemed like an age, he was replaced by Pottsy which seemed a very strange choice putting him in a wing back position.

Some great play on the edge of the Newcastle box saw Suker play a beautiful ball through to Kanoute who turned and stuck the ball in the back of the net from a tight angle at a velocity that seemed to break the sound barrier. Despite the goal advantage we were still looking shaky and fell into the old routine of hoofing the ball away.

Newcastle nearly scored on many occasions. A cross went flying across the goal mouth with legs waving at it aimlessly, only to go out for a goal kick. Another Rio effort was saved by Shaka; the save was not the only thing he would have saved Rio from, the taunts of "Rio for England" followed by "Rio for Tottenham" from the Gunner's fans still ring loudly in my ears.

We actually started to take time with goal kicks, free kicks and throw-ins. The first time I have seen this for quite some time. The seconds counted down like hours. We even had a tactical time wasting substitution in the last few minutes of the game. Kanoute came off to a standing ovation and Moncur came on to receive a yellow card within 30 seconds, what a guy.

With what seemed like an eternity, the whistle was agonisingly taken out of Mike Riley's pocket and the whole thing turned to slow motion (bit like our midfield) as the pea ridden instrument was played by the referee.

On the performance, we didn't deserve three points. On past performances we have performed well and got little in return. A fluky victory and a piece of luck like that may be just the tonic to turn our fates this season.

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