Saturday, 21st December 2002
This time of year inevitably results in a certain amount of wallowing in nostalgia. When I was a kid, back in the days when we used to win at home, I usually started to get excited about Christmas when the Blue Peter appeal started. You always knew when that was about to happen. The film of John Noakes jumping out of an airplane would finish and you'd get the three of them, Val John and Pete (the classic line-up and I'm not having any arguments here) would be sitting down with their serious look on. They would then show you a film of some poor starving half-blind wretch somewhere in Africa who had no clean drinking water, no food, and the text books in the school were so old they still referred to Thames Ironworks FC. Having got our sympathy Val would then ask us to collect all our milk bottle tops and send them to some warehouse whereby (and I never did work out how this happened) the poor wretch would be fed, watered, have their eyesight sorted out and be able to learn all about our part in the 1966 World Cup victory.
I was prompted to think about this by noting that, for the second week running, we were the victims of some appalling officiating. Now I do not wish to suggest that there is any question that the officials were in any way paid off by the opposition; I (and no doubt Graeme and his legal advisors) would like to make that perfectly clear. However, it struck me that if it were the norm for refs to sell out to the highest bidder, we probably couldn't afford to buy one. So, in order to improve things for us I suggest we find Valerie Singleton as soon as possible and send her all our milk bottle tops in order to raise enough money to buy a decent ref in working order. We need those milk bottle tops soon before its too late.
The day inevitably started with a lot of speculation. Would he be fit or not. Sadly Chas (aka KUMB regular Romford) failed to pass a late fitness test and succumbed to a flu virus. (Slight pause for KUMB regulars to fall over laughing at the thought of Chas undertaking a fitness test; sorry mate!). However, to nobody's surprise at all, Kanoute was not available for selection. Pearce was to continue in his striking role with Hutchison being available on the bench.
The first part of the game was a bit scrappy in truth, but what little football that was being played was being played by the men in claret and blue and we could have taken the lead on a couple of occasions before we actually did. The goal, when it came on 17 minutes, was well-taken by Pearce. A long ball was played out from the back and Defoe played in Pearce who held off the challenge from the Bolton defence well before driving low past Jaaskelainen. However, despite long periods of possession we were unable to get the second goal that would have killed off the match. Bolton were limited to two real chances. A shot from Pedersen came back off the post, although he had clearly controlled the ball with his hand. Later James pulled off an excellent save from outside the box, although it transpired that the linesman had flagged for offside.
So we went in at half time 1-0 up, the only slight worries being the fact that it was only 1-0 and the fact that we'd played the last few minutes of the half with ten men, Repka having gone off early for treatment to a head injury.
Repka returned for the second half with a head bandage and for the first 20 minutes of the second half it looked like we were going to add to our advantage. Joe Cole had a superb spell. In addition to the usual darts and dribbles Joey was playing like a man possessed, getting back on numerous occasions to regain possession with some excellent tackling. Sinclair too was getting through a prodigious amount of hard work.
The only player who seemed to be suffering was Defoe. To be fair to the youngster this was only partly his fault. He had the misfortune to be playing in the half governed by a very flag-happy linesman. Defoe must have been on the wrong end of at least half a dozen poor offside decisions and his frustration was beginning to show. Memo to officials please note that a) the lad has a bit of pace, and b) the words; at the time the ball was played; form an integral part of the offside law and are not an optional extra to be applied only when you can be bothered.
We were starting to create some good chances. A spectacular volley from Sinclair deserved better, Defoe shot into the side netting when others may have been better placed, and an excellent drive from Carrick brought a fine save out of Jaaskelainen.
Then the defining moment of the match took place on 65 minutes. A rare Bolton sortie into Hammers territory found Okocha lobbing a ball to Ricketts who controlled the ball with his arm and, had he been any further offside, would have been in Castle Street. Ricketts, who had replaced the ineffectual Djorkaeff, side footed past the stranded James whilst the officials stood by and did precisely nothing. You know it's a bad decision when they refuse to show the replay on the big screen and, it certainly looked a poor one when I saw the replay on Sunday morning.
The situation was now identical to the last match between the two sides in that the scores were level in a match that we should have been winning out of sight. However, unlike last May where we kept our heads long enough to get the winner, the equaliser had taken the wind out of our sails and we stopped doing the one thing that should have seen us prevail. We stopped playing football. Cole, Carrick and Sinclair were bypassed in favour of a more direct game which simply didn't work. On the few occasions when we did try to play football we had to contend with the linesman (see above) and referee Mr Bennett. A typical run from Cole ended up with him being upended by two defenders, one using his arm and the other his leg to block Joey's progress. The no penalty decision was simply disgraceful.
With 10 minutes to go Pearce was replaced by Hutchison, whose hair was a rather suspicious shade of blonde. Typically the change came about 10 minutes too late; Pearce having been struggling with a knock for all that time.
The final agony came right at the death. Cole crossed to an unmarked Sinclair who headed wide from six yards when he really should have scored and that was it. At the match we were treated to the unedifying sight of Repka remonstrating with the linesman over the goal. It took Winterburn to pull Repka away from the official. Such was the violence of Repka's protest that I honestly thought that he was going to lamp the linesman. The sad thing is that, if the referee decides to report Repka, the defender will be in trouble with the FA whilst the referee and his assistants will get away scot-free with their shocking performance. If that's to be the case what's the betting that any punishment dealt out to Repka will be as lenient as the joke dished out to Bergkamp last week. Yeah right.
So there we are bottom at Christmas and, legend has it, we are officially doomed. I've decided that I shall refuse to let it ruin my Christmas. I'm off to tape a load of tinsel to a couple of coat hangers to make an advent crown once I've sent those milk bottle tops into Auntie Val.
Have a good Christmas everyone.
David James (6) Didn't have much to do in truth.
Sebastien Schemmel (5) Got up and down well. The usual woeful crossing though.
Nigel Winterburn (6) Quite adept at using his brain when the legs let him down.
Christian Dailly (6) Fairly solid; plays better when Repka is on his game.
Tomas Repka (7) One of Repka's better matches I thought. A couple of fouls in the first half but the bang on the head seemed to sort that out.
Michael Carrick (7) The calming influence in midfield; wasn't afraid to put his foot on the ball when things were getting a bit hectic.
Steve Lomas (6) Was fairly effective in doing the scrapping and ball-winning without ever standing out from the crowd,
Joe Cole (7) Was outstanding for 65 minutes up to the goal. Did his fair share of the midfield scrapping.
Trevor Sinclair (7) Trevor hasn't been in the best of form of late. However, I thought he had a fair match today and he worked his socks off in midfield. Should have scored at the end though.
Ian Pearce (6) Worked hard, took his goal well and is settling a bit more into the striking role. However, I'd still prefer to see him at the back and, when (if?) Kanoute ever recovers I expect he'll revert to the back four.
Jermain Defoe (5) As mentioned he suffered from poor linesman syndrome. However, he must learn to channel his frustration rather than go missing.
Don Hutchison (Pearce 80) (5) Not really on for long enough to have much of an effect, Won most of the balls played to him in the air
Referee: Steve Bennett (4) Let down by his linesmen. Tellingly he chose to ignore one of the more outrageous flags on Defoe in the second half when the lad was palpably onside, preferring to trust his own judgement. Just a shame he didn't decide to do so more often. An appalling travesty of a decision for the penalty. I pay £600 a year for my season ticket and deserve a certain level of competence from the match officials. I didn't get it today.
West Ham United: James, Schemmel, Repka, Dailly, Winterburn, Sinclair, Lomas, Carrick, Cole, Defoe, Pearce (Hutchison 80).
Subs not used: Bywater, Breen, Moncur, Johnson.
Bolton Wanderers: Jaaskelainen, Barness, Bergsson, N'Gotty (Whitlow 46), Charlton, Nolan, Frandsen, Okocha, Gardner, Djorkaeff (Ricketts 55), Pedersen.
Subs not used: Poole, Facey, Tofting.
Goals: Pearce (15), Ricketts (65).
Referee: Steve Bennett
KUMB Man of the Match: Michael Carrick
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