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West Ham United 1 Blackburn Rovers 1
Saturday, 7th May 2011
"It's not the despair, Laura. I can take the despair. It's the hope I can't stand."
John Cleese is one of those celebrity names that crops up in those lists of famous West Ham supporters that appear from time to time. I'm not sure how many matches he gets to attend what with having to go on tour to pay an alimony bill the size of a small nation's defence budget but that quote from the (in my opinion) criminally underrated Clockwise (1986) perfectly encapsulated this weekend for me. Although I don't want to see us go down, part of me wants the whole thing over and done with rather than having the agony prolonged.
The day started badly with the team news that Scott Parker had failed a fitness test and Matthew Upson's dead leg was still, er, dead. Bridge was back from the administrative limbo that prevented him from appearing at Eastlands giving us a starting XI of Green, Jacobsen, Bridge, DaCosta, Gabbidon, Hitzlsperger, Spector, Boa Morte, Sears, Ba, Cole.
It was the same old story I'm afraid. Any positives to be gained from a bright start disappeared went straight out of the window on 12 minutes when we lost out in the middle and Blackburn had the freedom of our left hand side. In went the low cross and, much like the owners, nobody could be bothered to pick up Roberts who picked up his obligatory easy goal against us.
Well as ever the setback was greeted with a rousing chorus of "Bubbles" but any hopes that it might inspire the team were sadly misplaced. There were 33 minutes plus stoppage left in the half but, instead of going for all out death or glory in an attempt to stay up we were treated to a half that was as weak and as insipid as cup of tea bought on a train. If the players were actually aware of the desperate nature of the situation they hid it well as pass after pass went astray.
Possibly the only thing of note was the erratic performance of referee Peter Walton. In a previous match he had made an arse of himself for sending off Piquionne for an offence that he didn't actually commit - the ref eventually ending up having his position justified by some pretty desperate and warped logic, when all reference to the laws of the game had failed.
In this match he was just plain awful and, despite some late tackling going on, it just about summed the day up when the one yellow card of the half went to Da Costa for enquiring when a two footed lunge of the sort perpetrated on Hitzlsperger had ceased to be a foul.
Blackburn for their part had basically come for a point and, finding themselves in a position where three were now on offer, weren't going to mess things up by doing anything dangerous like attacking. Ten behind the ball was par for the course and their job was made easier by opponents who seemed similarly reluctant to risk anything.
You'll note that I'm up to half time now already - frankly I was in a similar daze to that that the players seemed to be in and the match was so poor that I'd been praying that Walton would get in the way of me watching it, rather than, as was the case, getting in the way of the players. I stand to be corrected but as far as I can recall we managed one shot on target in the first half after Blackburn scored, that being a tame first time effort from Sears after Ba had held up a decent long ball from Boa Morte.
The second half? Well as Avram is so fond of pointing out week in week out, "we had chances". (So fond is he of that phrase I bet the boss a pint he'd utter it at the press conference. It was a bet that was mine within 30 seconds of the start - and 20 seconds of that was taken up with me setting up the recording).
Spector briefly raised hopes that we might actually go for it with a low drive that was pulled wide. Hitzlsperger pulled a save out of Robinson to give further false hope and a Ba free header from a decent Cole cross really should have tested the keeper rather than the crowd. But by and large it was the same lack of creativity and ideas for about 25 minutes. This was despite the rearrangement of the deckchairs on the Titanic that took place in this spell.
Keane replaced the "all effort but no reward" Boa Morte, and about ten minutes later Piquionne came on for Jacobsen. We also saw the one really bright spot of the game, namely the return of Jack Collison after a year out with serious knee problems. Actually that should read two bright spots, the youngster clearly having been using the same shampoo bottle as Kovac such was the suspiciously blonde nature of Collison's barnet. Collison replaced Jacobsen in a move that saw Spector move to right back.
As you might expect Collison in particular was keen to get on with things and, unlike many of his team mates, at least wanted the ball. However, sadly this was not enough it inspire the rest of the team and it was depressing in the extreme to see yet another over-hit Da Costa long ball drift harmlessly over the line for yet another goal kick.
So when we finally equalised it came as a bit of a shock/surprise for all. A superb ball from Hitzlsperger found Piquionne on the right. His cross was over hit and a deflection took it wide where Cole retrieved the ball on the edge of the box. Cole feigned one way then the other before pulling the ball back. Collison dummied and Hitzlsperger buried a low drive into the bottom right of the goal past a (possibly unsighted) Robinson.
Well obviously we celebrated but after a few moments of this I couldn't help thinking "damn - the b*stards have prolonged the agony again". So with ten minutes to go we had finally found some urgency. Suddenly the penny had dropped that three points could be ours and that it might be a good idea to try and get them. We started to see the ball played with intelligence, notably when Collison played in Piquionne inside the right back. Piquionne played the ball low into the box and all Keane had to do was side-foot it home. He didn't. He didn't actually side-foot it anywhere. As with his "effort" against Chelsea he messed his lines up with the goal at his mercy at a time when a goal would have made all the difference.
There were other chances, Samba seemed to be on a one-man campaign to divert anything that might be goal-bound with both Ba and Cole seeing the defender's last ditch blocks prevent certain goals. Who knows, had we played with similar urgency for 90 instead of 10 minutes we might have come out on top with three points in the bag. We didn't and we ended up with the sole point that the visitors had come for. A point that, in the light of later results - especially that at Molineux - will probably prove in the final analysis to be about as useful as Upton Park tube station on a matchday.
So, at the time of writing and barring a set of events so unlikely that even the writers of EastEnders would sooner write a story involving aliens landing in Walford, it looks like we're down. There are those who comment that this may somehow be a "good thing". My personal opinion is that this view is misguided.
This match served as a microcosm of what we had in the Championship last time and of what we can expect this time should the inevitable happen. A team came to the Boleyn with little more ambition than to escape with a point. Having taken the lead they defended with resolution and we rarely looked like having the wherewithal to equalise let alone actually win the match. Get used to it guys - if we go down we're likely to see a lot more of that over the next 12 months.
I shall end with a final quote from the world of comedy. On returning to the homestead I decided to while away the journey time by reading the BBC's online match report on my phone which, since it isn't an iPhone, I was able to do with ease. The match report was written by somebody claiming to be named "Kevin Darling".
Now I have no idea if that is the author's real name or whether the writer just happened on the use of the use of the name of the character memorably played by Tim McInerney in Black Adder Goes Forth as some sort of in-joke. However, either way I was put in mind of Captain Darling's comment when sent to face certain death on the front line:
"Made an entry in my diary on the way over here. Simply says 'bugger'".
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No chance with the goal. Made one save from distance in the second half but was largely untroubled.
OK defensively but bereft of ideas going forward.
No idea where he was for their goal. Got better but the damage had been done.
Manuel Da Costa
Lost Roberts for the goal. Possibly our biggest threat in the first half from headers. Spent the second half playing over hit passes off for goal kicks.
Showed composure on the ball but ran out of ideas for distribution as the game progressed - the lack of quality movement in front of him had much to do with that.
Took the goal well and his influence grew as the match wore on. MOTM by default really.
Another who did ok up to the point at which he had to do something creative. Then his limitations became clear. Moved to right back in the second-half reshuffle.
Buzzed around and looked lively but when all is said and done there was nothing in the way of end product.
Luis Boa Morte
Got stuck in well but saw little reward for his efforts.
Missed a pretty easy free header. Not much else to report.
Tried to make his usual nuisance of himself but was pretty well shackled by Samba.
(Replaced Boa Morte, 55 mins) Was brought on to influence the game which he did. Not in a good way.
(Replaced Sears, 64 mins) Good to see him back - showed a few bright moments, notably with the pass that lead to Keane's miss.
(Replaced Jacobsen, 64 mins) Looked lively and made you wish he'd been on for longer.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
West Ham United:
Robert Green, Lars Jacobsen, Wayne Bridge, Manuel Da Costa, Danny Gabbidon, Thomas Hitzlsperger, Jonathan Spector, Fred Sears, Luis Boa Morte, Demba Ba, Carlton Cole.
Thomas Hitzlsperger 78 .
Manuel Da Costa 38 Luis Boa Morte 47 Jonathan Spector 69 .
Robinson, Olsen, Emerton, Samba, Givet, N'Zonzi, Jones, Diouf, Pedersen, Hoilett, Roberts.
Subs not used:
Bunn, Formica, Hanley, Benjani.
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