Sunday, 17th November 2002
Six months without a home win does funny things to a supporter. My primary school days were spent in a fine establishment in Grays which, as a Catholic school, instilled in me a strong sense of guilt. World War 2 - my fault. Starving kids in Africa - ditto. So I’ve spent the whole of this season racking my brains trying to work out what I’ve been doing wrong. Not being able to work out which of my routines was jinxing the side I decided on wholesale changes to my pre-match ritual. Out went the current home shirt to be replaced by the 1975 FA Cup version. I changed my route to the Wakefield (although admittedly this was caused by London Underground’s inability to keep a two-year old line operating without engineering work each weekend), and I resolved to enter the ground by a different turnstile. It worked. Sort of.
The match wasn’t a classic - Man Utd are simply not that special anymore. However, it made a pleasant change to see West Ham play with a bit of spirit and endeavour. We were a trifle unlucky not to take the lead when Defoe was first to react to a rebound off the post, the goal being ruled out for offside. Cole also hit the post. Meanwhile, in defence, Pearce and Dailly looked as solid as any combination we’ve had this season. Admittedly that’s not much of a claim but it meant that, instead of looking shaky all the time we saved our dodgy moments for set pieces. One such saw James come for a corner but fail to get anywhere near it as (I think) Van Nistelroy (hereinafter for ease of spelling referred to as “the Dutchman”) headed wide.
Despite this it was against the run of play when Man Utd scored in the 38th minute the Dutchman becoming the first beneficiary of the apparent repeal of the offside law when he nipped in to get on the end of Solskjaer’s (the Norwegian) cross. For the next few minutes it looked as if we were in for a shaky spell. James’ lack of communication with Pearce led to a poor clearance that went straight to the Norwegian and we were fortunate that he put his shot wide with an open goal at his mercy. Half time came and, despite the scoreline, the players must have been encouraged both by their general performance and by the crowd’s acknowledgement of the work that had been put in.
Things were a lot better in the second half. Pearce and Dailly resumed their earlier solid appearance and the amount of legwork undertaken by the midfield was particularly impressive. It was noticeable that, if a player lost the ball, he would go to extraordinary lengths to recover the situation, something I felt had been lacking in the past. However it was noticeable that neither ’keeper was tested to any meaningful degree. The opposition’s clearest chance during this period went to Giggs, who hilariously sliced wide - it was like there was a twelfth man out there! Up the other end Defoe was beginning to cause problems to Blanc and Brown and his hard work nearly paid off when he lobbed Barthez only to see the ball bounce off the top of the bar and over.
Despite all the possession and encouragement from the crowd it seemed as if the equaliser that we deserved wasn’t going to come until Defoe’s persistence paid off with about 5 minutes to go. Despite being marginally offside when being fed by Carrick, Defoe wisely opted to finish first and worry about the technicalities afterwards thereby giving Ferguson something to whinge about in the post match interview (not that he usually needs any encouragement to have a good moan).
Typically, having done so much to work their way back into the match, we could have lost it at the death. James took centre stage. I felt that his first save, with his legs from the Norwegian’s shot, was perhaps a little fortunate coming as it did off his trailing leg. However James’ reaction to firstly get to Blanc’s header then to recover to grab the ball from the advancing Dutchman and Norwegian was superb and ensured that the points were rightly shared.
This was an unusual match in the sense that a) for once we didn’t lose and b) it was impossible to complain about the result that was, for once, exactly right. Also, neither side made a substitution which, in this era of having 5 on the bench, is almost unheard of. For once I was glad that Roeder left things as they were. Certainly nobody deserved to go off for underperforming and I certainly wouldn’t have thought that any of messrs.Repka, Breen, Garcia, Camara would have improved the side. I was therefore a little worried to see Pearce signalling that he wanted to come off during the final couple of minutes as he hobbled with a knock. Hopefully it’s nothing serious.
So my change in routine led to a fairly satisfactory performance. Well be fair - If I’m to take the blame for the bad ones it’s only right that I should get some credit when we play ok. Trouble is I now have to work out which aspect of my routine I need to work on. Might just be time to bring in the lucky underpants!
David James (7) A bit shaky early on but the save at the end ensured that justice was done.
Sebastien Schemmel (6) Beginning to show something more akin to his true form. Still can’t cross a ball for toffee. Perhaps that’s something that might be “worked on in training” this week.
Nigel Winterburn (7) At the end of last season Nige was playing superbly, prompting the club’s contract U-turn. I felt that he took longer to recover from the close season than most but here he was back to his best - cleverly using his brain in situations where his legs might have been found wanting.
Christian Dailly (7) Much better. During the second half against Leeds and throughout this match he has looked a lot happier to be playing alongside Pearce. No more of this “right back” rubbish please Mr Roeder.
Ian Pearce (7) With Dailly, managed to keep the Dutchman and the Norwegian fairly quiet. Hopefully the partnership will be allowed to develop.
Edouard Cisse (6) Quietly effective. Got his foot in well to allow the more better-known names to operate.
Michael Carrick (7) A fine performance from the young Geordie. Not every ball hit the spot but when things did go astray he simply rolled his sleeves up and battled to get the ball back.
Joe Cole (6) Worked hard despite being double marked on most runs. I’d be interested to know what tablet he takes during the match though!
Trevor Sinclair (6) Another strong, if unspectacular effort from tricky. Linked with the attack well and continually tracked back when required.
Paolo Di Canio (7) Another who worked his socks off. despite the lack of communication from the club he seems as committed to the cause as ever. At the risk of repeating myself WHY NO CONTRACT??
Jermain Defoe (8) Just edged Carrick for Man Of The Match in my opinion. Full of running and gave Blanc and Brown a torrid time. Fully deserved the goal, despite the moans about offside.
Referee: M.Halsey (6) Badly let down by his linesmen over the offsides. I thought he had a reasonable match, although Paolo’s booking looked a little harsh to me.
West Ham United: James, Schemmel, Dailly, Pearce, Winterburn, Cole, Carrick, Cisse, Sinclair, Camara, Defoe.
Subs not used: Van Der Gouw, Breen, Repka, Garcia, Camara.
Manchester United: Barthez, O'Shea, Brown, Blanc, Silvestre, Fourtune, Giggs, Scholes, Veron, Solskjaer, Van Nistelrooy
Subs not used: Ricardo, Phil Neville, Forlan, Davis, Richardson.
Booked: Cisse, Fortune.
Goals: van Nistelrooy (41), Defoe (87).
Man of the Match: David James
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