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West Ham United v Sunderland

Filed: Friday, 21st September 2012
By: Preview Percy

Preview Percy wishes it to be known that he had nothing to do with certain photographs being circulated about the web at the moment. His photographs are much less blurry and for his private enjoyment only. In between getting the long lens out he found time to have a quick shufti at this weekend’s visit of Sunderland. Stats, as usual, from John Northcutt will be along in a mo....

Our next outing sees us return to football at a proper time as we play host to Sunderland in the traditional 3pm kick off at the Boleyn.

When looking up the travel information I was most perturbed to note that there were all sorts of warning notices about the District Line for the weekend, as if TfL had just been waiting for us to return before digging up the track once more. Once I’d found my bi-focals (no matron I have no idea how they got into that nurse’s room) and was able to actually read the website details I noted that most of the problems will take place at the far eastern end of the line ‘twixt Dagenham East & Upminster. So you may have to leave the pub early enough to mix the taste of your pint of Old Wally Downes’ Assistant Ale (10% ABV) with that of toothpaste to get to the ground on time if that’s your part of the world.

The Rokerites (Stadium of Light-ites doesn’t sound right to me and The Black Cats remind me of a third-rate cabaret act that once trod the boards at the Swan & Superinjunction a few years back) currently stand in 15th place in the table having taken a point from all three of the matches they’ve been able to play thus far. They got a 0-0 draw on the opening day of the season at the Library, a 2-2 draw away at Swansea and last weekend they drew 1-1 with Liverpool. They’re a game behind most clubs having had their match at home to Reading postponed due to the pitch being underwater. A shame for Reading really as they’d have had something nice and soft to dive into had the game gone ahead.

The boss is Martin O’Neill who took over after the sacking of Steve Bruce in November 2011. My how I enjoyed writing those last seven words. O’Neill is believed to have been approached by ourselves to take over from Avram Grant (in whose honour the rest home for the bewildered where I currently reside is named) in the middle of our relegation season a couple of years back. The stories of that approach are numerous and the way the whole thing was handled appears to have been a low point for our current ownership, with leak and counterleak bouncing around like matron on a trampoline.

At the time of O’Neill’s arrival, Sunderland were themselves on the verge of a potential relegation battle. However 13 out of a possible 18 points following O’Neill’s appointment saw them finish comfortably. O’Neill brought in four players over the summer with double that number (including, technically, George McCartney) leaving during the same period. In defence they acquired the services of former Villa defender Carlos Cuellar. With Rangers, Cuellar, who can operate either in the centre of defence or at full back, won the Scottish Premier League Player Of The Year award in 2007/08, an award which is slightly behind the awarding of a Blue Peter badge or finding a toy in a Kinder egg in terms of prestige. It is Cuellar’s second spell under O’Neill having worked with the manager during his spell at Villa Park. The Spaniard came in on a free at the expiration of his contract in Brummieland.

Also in on a free came Louis Saha. Saha started 2011/12 at Everton. However, the latter spell of his career on Merseyside was notable for a goal drought that lasted over 900 minutes following which he signed for Spurs in January 2012. He hit moderate success at White Hart Lane netting four times in eleven matches. However, his judgement was seen to be faulty when praising the insight and knowledge of Harry Redknapp as he tried to negotiate a long term deal to add to the six-month contract that he’d signed in January. The not entirely surprising departure of Redknapp in the summer put paid to that idea and, after a few weeks on the books of Unattached FC Saha pitched up on Wearside.

It wasn’t all free transfers mind. Adam Johnson was signed from Man City for a reported £10m (or “loose change” as their owners called it) and Wolves were rewarded to the tune of £12-14m (reports vary) for the services of Steven Fletcher. For Johnson, the move represents something of a return to home territory with the player having been born on Wearside and brought up in Co. Durham. Johnson came up through the Middlesbrough academy system and survived the embarrassment of being second choice behind Steward Downing for a while. He joined Man City at the close of the 2010 winter transfer window and, whilst he wasn’t exactly a forgotten man for the Citizens – he managed 26 appearances in their title winning side last year – it was clear that he wasn’t exactly no.1 in the pecking order in the international brigade. A transfer to his home town club was therefore gratefully accepted with as near a guarantee of first XI football as you can get in these multi-substitute days probably clinching the deal for the player.

Fletcher, on the other hand, was probably pretty much guaranteed first XI football at Wolves, his former club. The problem being that that football would have been playable at Championship level following the Molineux club’s relegation last season. Wolves rejected a number of bids from an “unnamed club” (which everyone knew to be Sunderland) before the player himself submitted a transfer request to speed up the deal. Fletcher has featured in two of the three league matches played so far and has netted in both, picking up a brace at Swansea and scoring the opener against Liverpool last weekend. One to watch then.

Talanted midfielder James McClean is no stranger to controversy. Born in Londonderry he had an early spell with Derry City a club which, despite its location, famously, for political reasons plies its trade in the (Republic’s) League of Ireland rather than the (Northern Irish) Irish League. (All resemblance to the Judean Popular Front/Popular Front of Judea is only slightly coincidental). Having played at various age levels for the Northern Ireland international side, when the inevitable call up to the full squad came he dug his heels in and waited for Trappatoni to come calling, which of course he did. Northern Ireland football fans are less than chuffed with this state of affairs, the “poaching” of players from their junior ranks by the higher-ranked neighbours across the border causing them major problems. Many boycotted the ill-fated Nations Cup (amazingly it’s still slated to take place again in 2013) as a result.

Not that it’s all been sweetness and light for McClean in the Republic camp. On being left on the bench for the recent World Cup qualifier against Kazakhstan McClean joined the ever-increasing band of players to make a tit of themselves by the medium of twitter, having a bit of a rant at Trappatoni’s expense. This went down well with neither his international nor his club boss and ended up with the player being hauled over the coals by O’Neill, who is not one to tolerate indiscipline. McClean also failed his driving theory test last week so it’ll be a few weeks before he can indulge in the traditional footballer pastime of making the breathalyser light up.

Talking of players in bother, McClean’s relatively speedy rise to prominence means that he has a long way to go to catch up with Titus Bramble. Bramble was arrested with his brother Tetsfaye in August 2010 on suspicion of rape. He was released without charge with his brother being convicted and receiving a four and a half year sentence. Now with that incident behind him you’d have thought the player might have been a bit more careful about putting himself in a position where it might look as if he were misbehaving. Not Titus. Less than a month after his brother was sent down he was arrested for alleged sexual assault and possession of a Class A drug. He was cleared of any wrongdoing last May, though if there was a punishment for stupidity he might have had a case to answer.

Ex-Hammers? Well Matthew Kilgallon, who spent a spell on loan at the Boleyn in the second-tier in 2003/04, is in the squad whilst Steve Walford, who made over 100 Irons appearances in the 80’s, is O’Neill’s assistant, a position that he has held just about wherever O’Neill has managed. However, the ex-Hammer on the club’s payroll for whom fondest esteem is held in these parts is Bryan Robson. Pop was a hellova goalscorer in his day and was exceedingly unlucky not to win full international recognition back in the 70’s. He is currently the club’s chief scout. If he makes the journey to the Boleyn a doff of the cap in his general direction would be called for.

And so to us. Well that was a well-earned point last week wasn’t it? It wasn’t quite the “backs to the wall” performance some have suggested mind – yes Jussi had a busy afternoon but we always looked capable of nicking one on the break. There were two disappointing features of the afternoon for me. Firstly, our crossing. We got into a number of promising positions on the flanks but either the quality of the cross was lacking or, when the delivery was decent in nature (usually from Matt Jarvis) we found that nobody was willing to take the gamble in the box.

Secondly, and this may seem a bit churlish in view of his overall performance, Jussi’s kicking left a lot to be desired. Too many clearances failed to get height or distance and when that happened we were instantly under pressure once more.

On the injury front you had to laugh at the media’s treatment of the Andy Carroll position. Asked about the “six weeks out” prognosis Mr Allardyce appears to have responded that Carroll was making good progress and might not be out for quite as long as originally suggested. In the hands of some of our press this comment translated into “Carroll for shock return” headlines suggesting that the player’s amazing powers of recovery would enable him to be fit for Sunderland.

Now whilst the treatment of injuries has come on light years since the days of the magic sponge, the human body hasn’t yet evolved to the state where a hamstring will improve without rest and if Carroll is fit for this one he is either a) not as injured as was first thought; or b) being rushed back ahead of what would normally be considered a prudent period of rest. We’ve been guilty of going for option b) far too often in the past (see Jack Collison for an example) so I’d be very surprised, nay concerned if the player were about this week. (Unless of course Liverpool have already told us they want him back in January in which case we should run him into the ground while we can!).

Both of Carroll’s natural replacements, Cole and Maiga, suffered from a lack of service last weekend and as we defended deeper and deeper they became more isolated up front. However, as we have seen, we set ourselves up differently at home and one would expect the likes of Nolan to provide more support this time round. Cole is a slight injury doubt – something wrong with a toe apparently so Maiga may start if Carlton isn’t 100%.

Other than Cole, Carroll and Collison it’s pretty much a full squad to choose from and I wouldn’t expect too many changes from the side we put out against Norwich. This would mean another afternoon on the racing car seats for Tomkins. The form of Reid has been a revelation thus far – a world apart from the dodgy form shown in his previous appearances at this level, which had me stood, on several occasions, at the side of the canal with a sack full of the kittens he’d caused me to give birth to whilst watching him. (The Avram Grant Rest Home for the Bewildered doesn’t allow pets – though there does seem to be an exemption applied to cockroaches).

Ok prediction time. We have thus far at home benefited from an admirable air of self-belief. Scoring a goal inside a minute helps, obviously, but there’s also been the underlying thought that the opposition come to the Boleyn with the initial thought that they fancy their chances. Sunderland, as they proved at Swansea, won’t necessarily be starting out to “respect the point” – something that could play into our hands.

Sunderland will certainly provide more of a test than Villa, who were awful, and Fulham, who were shell-shocked by the early goal which reminded them just how terrible they are away from home. I think this could be a thriller so I’ll put the Rest Home’s Cockroach Control fund (£2.50) on a 3-2 win for us as the phrase “Fortress Boleyn” starts to take on a less ironic air.

Enjoy the game!

When Last We Met: Lost 3-0 (h) (May 2011) – a surreal match overseen by Kevin Keen, who had taken temporary charge following the sacking of Avram Grant the previous week once relegation had been confirmed. The team was full of people who palpably didn’t want to be there. Most of the smaller than usual crowd didn’t want to be there. To be fair, whilst both sides were going through the motions, the 3-0 rather flattered the visitors – but frankly, nobody cared.

Referee: Lee Mason – Last seen handling the 0-0 draw at Millwall. Prior to that, in April 2011 he handed Man Utd a 4-2 win at the Boleyn with a performance so inept it beggared belief and had us checking that it wasn’t Mike Jones or Dean that had turned up instead.

Danger Man: James McClean – the talented Irishman will be fired up for this one following his rollocking from the boss last week and he plays with a youthful lack of fear which means we’ll have to keep an eye on him.

Daft Fact Of The Week: Believe it or not there is actually a website called visitsunderland.com. No really there is.

John NorthcuttStat man John: Northcutt's corner

Head to Head
Pld 82; West Ham Utd 32, Sunderland 30, Draws 20.

Biggest Win
19th October 1968: West Ham Utd 8-0 Sunderland (Boleyn Ground, Division One)

Heaviest Defeat
5th March 1977: Sunderland 6-0 West Ham Utd (Roker Park, Division One)

First Meeting
25th August 1923: Sunderland 0-0 West Ham Utd (Roker Park, Division One)

Last Five Meetings
22nd May 2011: West Ham Utd 0-3 Sunderland (Boleyn Ground, Premier League)
5th December 2010: Sunderland 1-0 West Ham Utd (Stadium of Light, Premier League)
21st September 2010: Sunderland 1-2 West Ham Utd (Stadium of Light, Carling Cup)
10th April 2010: West Ham Utd 1-0 Sunderland (Boleyn Ground, Premier League)
31st October 2009: Sunderland 2-2 West Ham Utd (Stadium of Light, Premier League)

Memorable Match
19th October 1968: West Ham Utd 8-0 Sunderland (Boleyn Ground, Division One)

West Ham United's smallest crowd of the season - just 24,718 - gathered inside the Boleyn Ground to witness what became a record-breaking First Division match for a number of reasons. Firstly, West Ham's 8-0 win equalled the club's record win which had been set ten years earlier against Rotherham (albeit in Division Two). Secondly goalscorer Geoff Hurst achieved a feat that hasn't been matched in the ensuing 43 years by scoring six of them - and thirdly, he also achieved the rare feat of scoring a hat-trick in each half (which is also unlikely to have been repeated).

Hurst - who has since said he was aiming for double figures in the game - admitted post-match that the first of his record haul (on 18 minutes) was deliberate handball - he clearly pushed the ball into the Sunderland net (which is said to have caused a post-match problem or two between the two clubs). However there was nothing dubious about any of the remaining five, which arrived in the 34th, 44th, 48th, 61st and 71st minute. For the record West Ham's other goalscorers on the day were Bobby Moore and Trevor Brooking; the latter was part of the team that usurped the record 15 years later when West Ham destroyed Bury 10-0 in the Milk Cup - although this victory over Sunderland remains the club's biggest in the top flight.

October 1953: West Ham Utd 2-0 Sunderland (Sexton, Dixon)

It's An Early Bath For You, Mr Cantona...
Radoslav Kovak is the only Hammer to have been sent off against Sunderland - that being in the 2009/10 season at the SoL.

They Played For Both
Dick Bell; Gary Breen; Clive Clarke; Keith Coleman; Ernest England; Anton Ferdinand; John Foreman; Harry Forster; Jack Foster; Harry Hooper; Don Hutchison; George McCartney; Mick McGiven; Andy Melville; Billy Moore; Bryan 'Pop' Robson; Dave Swindlehurst; Matt Kilgallon.

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.

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