Saturday, 14th December 2002
Saturday morning came along a bit quick in the scheme of things; Romford had the pleasure of Billy Bonds' company during breakfast (he was commentating for Capital Gold) while the rest of us made do with a croissant and some toast. As luck would have it the bar in the local Frankie and Benny's American Diner (which for some unknown reason plays an Italian language tape in the loos) was open and did some fairly brisk trade when we became their first punters of the day; a helpful anaesthetic for what we were about to sit through.
The game started with us looking fairly nervous but a break early on resulted in Defoe going down under a challenge in or around the box. It was hard to see from where we were but in our opinion it was without a doubt a foul harshly brushed aside by the officials - and the first example of some very poor officiating by the men in black who must have been wearing sunglasses to have missed some of the thing they did.
Yet we seemed to be coping, with Carrick playing especially well in the middle. But after 14 minutes a typically poor example of marking let us down and the grinning nasty assassin that is Solskjaer capitalised from an unchallenged cross (from the uglier Neville brother). Within two minutes the referee adjudged Repka to have gone through the back of the (wingeing cheating) Dutchman, and booked Tomas - harshly as there was minimal contact, and being as it was his first tackle of any kind.
The resulting free kick had goal written all over it as Veron stood there and set his sights. A man on the post would have stopped the goal - a fault from last week at 'Boro - but it's something we keep failing with and should address. A goal it was and practically game over after just seventeen minutes.
The support from the near four thousand West Ham fans was constant and, I hope, drove the team on. We were still losing out regularly on some very iffy decisions but were at least trying to get at least one back and make a game of it.
This we thought we'd done right on the stroke of half time with a cracking turn and shot from an unmarked Jermain Defoe. But the 'goal' was disallowed; it looked iffy from 100 yards away and as phone calls almost immediately confirmed he was two yards onside. It should have been 2-1 at the break.
I don't think we would have turned things around and I think they let us play a bit in the second half, but we started the second period excellently. The linesman, who never raised his flag once in the first half obviously learnt some new tricks with his flag at half-time.
On the hour mark another Gary Neville cross caused havoc; the Dutch bloke should have scored but missed the ball. It ran on, hit Archie and richoched in to give them a 3-0 lead. For us, yet more defensive bad luck - something we never seem to get at the other end.
Now if I remember rightly - and correct me if I'm wrong - encroaching on a free kick and handball are both bookable offences. However if your name is Paul Scholes, the game is at Old Trafford, and the referee is a blind man with an obvious dislike for West Ham (or even bias towards Manure?) then making both of these fouls at the same time is unlikely to result in a talking to, definitely not a booking, and certainly not in having the free kick being moved forward ten yards.
Cue comical conversation for everyone not connected with West Ham, a bit of the old pals act between Scholes and the referee (whom I'm refusing to name) and a retaken free kick which Scholes again encroached on.
Even a headed clearance that went like a bullet at Barthez's goal was somehow clawed out by the Frenchman with the famous wave.
With fifteen minutes to go the PA told us lot to stay in our seats while they cleared the ground and concourse after the game. A fair few Hammers decided to leave as this announcement was made but they found the gates were already closed. We were held for at least twenty minutes for no reason at all which just wound people up (like we were in a good mood to start with). They also brought riot police in the ground who just stood and glared at us, as if waiting for us to react.
We were never given a good reason for being kept in even though, as we later found out their was a very good reason. To top it all off we had some obnoxious stewards around us supposedly controlling our fans. One, on being questioned as to why we were being retained despite the ground being totally empty replied with a comment that was not warranted or welcomed by the people around him, and one which almost caused a nasty scene.
His reply was along the lines of 'you'll be in the first division soon so I wouldn't worry about it'. Some people - myself included - are getting more wound up by this comment the more we reflect on it; it was uncalled for, certainly unnecessary and unprofessional for an employee of a football club to direct at disappointed fans of a club with little or nothing positive to take from a game. Watch this space.
After the game we had a bit of luck in finding the man in control of the Plaistow football intelligence, who was very helpful. He asked us to contact him on Monday and spelt out the reasons for us being kept in. It had a bit to do with some of our lot that were present and the large contingent of Manure fans that came to the ground in order to get amongst the West Ham fans.
Overall I wasn't too disappointed with the way we played; I thought Carrick was immense in midfield and certainly didn't deserve to be on the losing team. Roeder yet again went with Pearce up front; it's not working at this level and doesn't look like coming off. If he doesn't rate Camara then why put him on the bench, use someone you do trust in an attacking role. And 3-0 down away from home and our first substitution is after 85 minutes - what's that all about then?!?
At least the weekend was enjoyable and made up for the football. We need at least nine points now out of the next four games; Bolton and Fulham will be like Cup Finals, we have to win both, nothing else will do. Blackburn and Charlton away are just as vital and winnable - plus we do owe the pair of them ...
David James (6) One or two excellent saves in one-on-one situations with one of Europe's most in-form strikers. On the downside there will be some concern with his positioning for Veron's free-kick.
Sebastien Schemmel (5) Frustrating day for Archie, lots of puff and effort but the only real reward was an oggie against his name.
Scott Minto (5) Out of the first team for a few weeks and his lack of match fitness was exposed often against a very fluent and attacking side. Both goals from open play came from his side of the pitch.
Tomas Repka (6) A fair performance from Tomas even though his confidence has clearly been shattered since the Leeds debacle a few weeks back. Booked again - although it was an outrageous decision, being that it was the first tackle he had made in the game. Has he been wearing a red shirt today it is unlikely he would have been cautioned.
Michael Carrick (7) A poll earlier in the week proved that Carrick - along with Joe Cole - covers the most ground of any Hammer during a game (some 13km on average!). Today was no exception.
Joe Cole (6) Lots of running from Cole and a couple of good bursts during the second half. Yet he still doesn't appear to be hitting opponents where it hurts most. He needs to start doing so.
Steve Lomas (5) Back in the side due to Cisse's failure to be passed fit and a game you would think Shaggy would be up for being as he was a regular for the blue half of Manchester a few years back. But he was sadly out of sorts today; how we need a Steve Lomas like the one at his peak toward the end of last season.
Trevor Sinclair (5) In a word, rubbish. His only contributions of any real note were a couple of late challenges on England team mate David Beckham. A this rate it'll be a while before those two are likely to play together again.
Jermain Defoe (6) Another who worked hard for very little reward. Denied a very plausible penalty shout in the opening minutes and then cruelly denied a second successive goal at Old Trafford thanks to the inability of the linesman to spot a Man Utd player less than five yards away. To call it cheating wouldn't be far wide of the mark.
Ian Pearce (5) A third successive game up front but didn't get a sniff. The January sales and the impending arrival of a Ferdinand/Batistuta(!) can't come soon enough for West Ham.
John Moncur (5) A nice cameo for Moncs, in what was almost certainly his last trip to Old Trafford.
Gary Breen (5) Replaced Minto late on but barely had enough time on the pitch to break sweat.
Referee - Rob Styles (3) Mr. Styles first came to our attention at Upton Park a couple of years back when he contrived to win Leicester all three points. To call him inept today would have been a slur on the likes of Keith Hackett; he missed the penalty shout and somehow decided that Jermain Defoe was offside for his 'goal', whilst failing to spot any bad Man Utd tackles (Veron, Scholes and Neville spring to mind) yet cautioned Tomas Repka for a seemingly innocuous challenge which led to their second goal.
West Ham United: James, Minto (Breen 89), Schemmel, Dailly, Repka, Sinclair, Lomas (Moncur 85), Cole, Carrick, Pearce, Defoe.
Subs not used: Bywater, Camara, Ferdinand.
Manchester United: Barthez, Gary Neville, Brown, Silvestre, O'Shea (Blanc 73), Solskjaer (Beckham 45), Veron, Phil Neville, Giggs, Scholes (Forlan 73), van Nistelrooy.
Subs not used: Ricardo, Richardson.
Goals: Solskjaer, Veron, Schemmel og
Referee: Rob Styles.
KUMB Man of the Match: Michael Carrick
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