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Monday, 21st April 2003

West Ham United 1
Middlesbrough 0

by Gordon Thrower

Too little too late?

A slightly less disappointing end to a thoroughly depressing weekend I think sums up this result. Pre-match was understandably subdued. Not even laughter at Andy D'Urso's "idiosyncratic" refereeing of the Sheff Utd v Leicester match could lighten the mood. Since the Wakefield seemed to be out of cyanide capsules I stuck to the vodka red bull option in an attempt to make the afternoon bearable.

Team news was that Kanoute had picked up a knock in the Bolton debacle and was awaiting the result of a scan - prompting one wag to suggest that they were looking for a heart. Whatever the reason the Frenchman failed the fitness test and joined Carrick, Bowyer and some Italian I vaguely remember playing for us a while back on the absent list.

We started poorly. A long ball played down the Boro' left came to Repka who tried to shepherd it out, despite the fact that the ball didn't have nearly enough legs on it to cross the line. Christie got a cross in for Macarone to have a shot deflected wide. After this things settled down a bit and a pattern soon emerged - long periods of Hammers possession with few clear cut chances. After about five minutes Johnson found Cole whose chest control and volley deserved better, Schwarzer saving well. A few minutes later Sinclair, playing wide left, had a shot partly saved by the Boro' keeper but Ferdinand was only able stick the rebound wide under pressure from Schwarzer. Some time during this spell Lomas was flattened by the sort of challenge that referee Wiley seemed quite happy to give to dish out free kicks for elsewhere on the pitch. However, since the incident occurred in the box, the standing orders to refs that West Ham don't get penalties applied and Wiley bottled what was surely one of the easier decisions he will ever have to make.

Despite our dominance, and Boro's lack of ambition - there was time wasting from a very early point - one thing stood out. Time and time again the ball was played across the middle and was begging to be played out to the right. Now for all his hard work we all know that Lomas aint a right winger. A couple of times the ginger Irishman gamely tried to take on the niggly Queudrue but whenever either Lomas or anyone else got to the byline the cross was over-hit, often sailing out harmlessly for a throw in.

Other chances fell to Lomas, whose shot was turned round for a corner, and Defoe, whose backheel from Cole's pass would have made a lovely goal but, in truth, never looked giving Schwarzer any trouble. Up the other end, Boro's main threat came from, er Repka, whose sliced clearance from a cross was tipped over by James. From the corner the ball came out to Cole whose flick left him with acres to run into. The 60 yard run, reminiscent of Okocha's on Saturday, left Cole on the edge of the box only for his shot to go wide by a couple of feet. Back up the other end, a free kick was awarded against Repka for a challenge that was identical to the one that had earlier flattened Lomas. From the resulting free-kick, the otherwise disappointing Juninho's strike was saved by James. The rebound fell to Maccarone but was cleared by a combination of James and Pearce to leave the half time score goalless.

Job came on for Juninho at half time, though it wasn't clear whether this was a tactical move or due to an injury. We made the tactical switch of swapping Sinclair to the right hand side to take advantage of the space that had gone begging in the first half. The pattern of the first half repeated itself. We had a lot of the ball but lacked the guile and creativity to break down a Boro' defence who had seemingly come or a point. Our lack of invention at set pieces displayed itself at one point when, following a foul on Lomas, a brains trust of Lomas, Defoe, Repka and Sinclair seemed to spend forever discussing what they were going to do before Sinclair simply hammered the ball straight at the wall.

Sinclair's switch prompted Boro to substitute Queudrue. Already on a yellow for kicking the ball away, the Boro' left back had arguably already committed a couple of offences that might have seen him receive a second caution so it was probably a wise move on Boro's part to replace him with Stockdale. Shortly after this came what was Boro's best chance. On the hour, Greening drove a cross into the box and it came a little too fast for (I think) Southgate. The ball hit the Boro' man rather than him playing it and the ball bounced harmlessly wide with James stranded.

Back up the other end sinclair crossed for Ferdinand whose header sat up nicely for Lomas to flick the ball over his head only to see the ball hit the post for the second home match running.

Despite the possession I was, by now, convinced that this match was going to peter out into a 0-0 draw, or worse, as has happened so often at home this season, with the opposition nicking something at the death. However, with about a quarter of an hour left, we finally got the breakthrough. Johnson went down the right and lured Stockdale into committing himself to a rash challenge. Having beaten the left back, Glen cut into the box. Sinclair cleverly hung back as Johnson pulled the ball back to the edge of the box. In truth Sinclair didn't catch the ball perfectly but the ball had enough pace and direction to go in at the bottom left hand corner. The remaining 15 minutes were played out with little incident - the ball seeming to spend much of the time in the left hand corner f the Boro' half. Roeder came out of the dugout a few times to choruses of boos. The ref blew the final whistle and we could all go home.

The post match celebrations were a bit muted - I guess the majority of us are resigned to going down and maybe this was a case of too little too late. I suppose there is still hope but.........

As I started to prepare this report one of my favourite films was on the box. At the end of Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, the heroes are holed up in Bolivia and are surrounded by what was probably the whole of the Bolivian army (classic line "for a moment I thought we were in trouble there"). The film ends with the duo leaping up with all guns blazing to meet the sadly predictable end. If the end is to be predictable in our case, let's go for it big time. Please?

Finally, as I complete this report, it's been confirmed that Glenn Roeder is having tests in hospital having been taken ill with chest pains after today's match. I'd personally like to wish him all the best and I sincerely hope that it's nothing serious.

Player Ratings

David James (6) Fairly steady but we did have one heart in mouth moment in the second half when he went walkabout and tried to beat a few Boro' players.

Glen Johnson (7) Another strong performance from the youngster. Distribution still needs working on from time to time but his part in the goal was class.

Rufus Brevett (6) Solid if unspectacular. Not sure if he picked up a booking - received a long lecture from Wiley after a late challenge but I'm not sure if the card was brandished.

Ian Pearce (7) Did ok today - no sudden rushes of blood to the head to cause concern.

Tomas Repka (6) Recovered after a shaky start.

Edouard Cisse (5) Got his foot in occasionally but the match seemed to pass him by for a lot of the time.

Joe Cole (7) Got through a lot of hard work and didn't deck anyone today. Man of the Match - just.

Steve Lomas (7) Ran his socks off and, had he played in the centre throughout rather than spending the first half on the right, might have edged Cole for MOTM.

Trevor Sinclair (7) Caused Boro' a few problems in the second half after his switch to the right. Cleverly hung back for the goal.

Jermain Defoe (5) Didn't get an awful lot of change out of Ehiogu.

Les Ferdinand (6) Got through a lot of hard work for little reward. Looked completely knackered at the end.

Referee

Alan Wiley (5) Bottled some of the major decisions.

Match Stats

West Ham United: James, Johnson, Pearce, Repka, Brevett, Lomas, Cole, Cisse, Sinclair, Les Ferdinand, Defoe.

Subs not used: Van Der Gouw, Hutchison, Dailly, Breen, Garcia.

Middlesbrough: Schwarzer, Cooper, Ehiogu, Southgate, Queudrue (Stockdale 53), Greening, Boateng, Wilkshire, Juninho Paulista (Job 46), Christie (Ricketts 72), Maccarone.

Subs not used: Jones, Doriva.

Goal: Sinclair (76)

Booked: Brevett, Queudrue, Greening.

Attendance: 35,019

Referee: Alan Wiley.

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