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West Ham Utd v Middlesbrough

Filed: Saturday, 14th February 2009
By: Preview Percy

Cup time again and we prepare for a visit from Boro’ for a 5th round tie that has managed to escape the clutches of the professional TV broadcasters – and ITV – to ensure a rare 3pm Saturday start at the Boleyn. What will they think of next?

The visitors’ progress to the 5th round has come by way of a brace of 2-1 victories; at home to Barrow in the third round and away at Wolves in the fourth. Those two wins remain their only successes of 2009 and you have to go back to an improbable win – also by 2 goals to 1 – at Villa Park on 9 November 2008 for their last league win – 15 games ago. That victory came a week after our 1-1 draw at the Riverside courtesy of a rare – and what turned out to be final – goal from Hayden Mullins.

From all that, you will glean that current form has not been impressive – points from home draws against Blackburn (0-0) and Newcastle (1-1) being their sole return from the last six and they languish one place off the foot of the table, separated from West Brom only by goal difference having failed to find the back of the net in any of their last three outings. Boro’ chairman Steve Gibson is,however, noted for his patience and it is hard to think of many other clubs where the manager would still be in place following such a run. Clearly Gareth Southgate has much to be grateful for.

Their last outing came at (Middle) Eastlands where a goal from some has-been called Bellamy was enough to send them back to Teesside without a point. Fans could have been forgiven for being slightly more concerned at the prospect of being impaled on one of the spikes from that soon to be removed statue that is falling apart outside the City Of Manchester Stadium. The match was a strange one. Though the home side had much of the ball, Boro will point at three fine first-half saves from City new-boy Shay Given as evidence of their ill-fortune.

Between the sticks at Eastlands last week was Aussie Brad Jones. Jones has spent much of the season as back up for rated prospect Ross Turnbull. However, a bit of a ‘mare for the England U21 cap against Chelsea saw Jones return for the Blackburn match and he has been first choice ever since. Strangely, this may see Turnbull favourite to start against us as Southgate has rotated the ‘keepers for the FA Cup this season.

The back four last week was made up of Wheater, Huth, Riggott and Pogatetz. Former Arsenal right-back Hoyte has also made a few appearances and he came off the bench to replace Riggott for the last 25 minutes on Saturday. Across the middle they included Johnson, Bates, Digard and Downing. Now I’ll admit something here. Stewart Downing – I don’t get it. Three England managers disagree with me for some reason and, no doubt I’m tempting fate by even mentioning him here but I just can’t see what prompted Spurs to indulge in some not-so-subtle tapping up a while back.

‘Arry’s interest is believed to have cooled somewhat when he realised that Downing hadn’t played for Spurs already though. Other alternatives in the middle include Tuncay (who can also play up front), Gary O’Neil (who spent much of the window being linked with a move away) and Arca. Former Hammer loanee “He’s here, he’s there, he’s” Aliadiere (© Jeremy Nicholas) is unlikely to be available suffering as he is from an “ankle/foot” injury according to physioroom.com. Maybe his return might be quicker if they could work out which.

Up front there has been something of a merry-go-round in recent weeks. It’s a bit complicated so pay attention as we’ll be asking questions afterwards. Marlon King was on loan from Wigan to Hull. However, King had a “falling out” with Hull boss Phil Brown who returned him to Wigan. Wigan then sent King to Boro’ in return for the loan of Mido (are you still with me?). Mido scored against us at the Riverside this season.

Just to add to his problems, King has been bailed to appear in court on charges of sexual assault and ABH following a night out in the classy surroundings of somewhere called “The Soho Revuebar”, something that I’m sure wouldn’t have passed without comment from the Bobby Moore Stand were it not for the fact that King will be cup-tied this weekend. King was partnered by Alves up front last weekend but a cursory look at the squad list would seem to indicate a lack of depth in the striking department and we may see a run out for Tuncay or perhaps Dutch forward Marvin Emnes. Emnes was on the scoresheet for the Dutch U21 side during midweek, though of his 11 appearances for Boro’ this season, only one (in the League Cup) came as part of the starting XI.

As for us, well our winning run came to a close last week in a match from which we deserved a point. However, the manner of that defeat was such that the recent positive outlook will scarcely have taken a dent. On past form Zola may want to take the opportunity to give one or two players a week off – Upson hasn’t appeared in the Cup this season, though thankfully all those conspiracy theories about not wanting him cup-tied can be put to bed. This weekend might, therefore, be a good week to give the likes of Kovac and Savio a start.

Predictions? Well as I pointed out in my preview for the Hartlepool match, I am legally obliged to state that, in the FA Cup, the form-book goes out of the window. Having said that, and whilst most fans love a good cup run, the Smoggie faithful would probably swap victory in this one for a guarantee of safety. I’m therefore going to go for a 3-1 win to us to test Gibson’s patience a little further as Gareth Southgate embarks on a spell of “priority reassessment” (translation “we’re going to concentrate on the league”).

Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.

Your Comments

by HammerHance
02:14PM 16th Feb 2009
''I quote 'Now I’ll admit something here. Stewart Downing – I don’t get it. Three England managers disagree with me for some reason and, no doubt I’m tempting fate by even mentioning him here.....'

You've played a blinder there Percy.''

by Sam H
11:11AM 14th Feb 2009
'''Middle Eastlands' - haha!''

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