West Ham United 3 Derby County 1

Saturday, 26th November 2011
by Gordon Thrower

I’ll tell you what, why don’t I just write “It was a game of two halves” every week and you can fill in the rest!

I'm not keen on these weird and wonderful Saturday evening kick-off times. They throw your body clock out worse than a red-eye transatlantic flight. Whatever time you leave home it never seems quite right. Still at least it gave us the chance to see how the other sides got on - quite a few of us fancied Bristol City to do a number on Southampton and Middles only picking up a point at Peter in the Boro "derby" was none too shabby either.

Team news was that, with three games in a week coming up, the boss elected not to start with Taylor, as had been postulated during the week. Demel made the bench where he was accompanied by Diop, who was replaced by O'Brien with Faubert moving up into the middle. Cole came in for Carew up front leaving us with a starting line-up of Green, O'Brien, McCartney, Tomkins, Faye, Noble, Nolan, Collison, Faubert, Cole, Baldock.

It wasn't the greatest of first halves it has to be said. Chances were of the half variety as exemplified the first proper attack of the match. Collison freed Baldock on the leftand his low cross into the middle looked threatening with a defender just beating Faubert to it to clear for a corner. Which was wasted. The same two combined shortly after but the whistle went for what may have been a handball by Faubert well before the Frenchman turned and shot over the bar.

We were dominating possession - most of which was in the opposition half - and McCartney was next to have a pop. Cole switched the play out left and Linda advanced a few yards before unleashing a drive that he caught well - it probably felt superb coming off the boot - but was about 5 yards wide of the far post. It might have been interesting had Nolan been able to get a touch on it as it passed him on the penalty spot though.

Nolan was involved in the next move as Baldock played him in with a lovely little glancing header. Not quite sure what the skipper was trying to do as he burst in to the left hand side of the box but the finish was poor, the weak effort going harmlessly wide.

Derby had the odd moment. A weak shot from Green (P) on their right gave Green (R) a bit of catching practice and Faye had to be alert to cut out an early low diagonal ball into the box from Ward. Ward himself had a chip which wouldn't have troubled Green unduly had it been both lower and on target.

We then had what I thought was a decent shout for a penalty or free-kick as Baldock's run inside the box was delayed by a rather obvious pull on the forward's shoulder/neck area by Shackell. Nothing was given and the attack came to nothing.

We survived a slight scare as Green dealt with a back pass by hammering it straight into Ward. The ball could have gone anywhere but went out towards touchline safety.

Baldock was giving cause for concern. He seemed to give up rather easily on a ball played down by the touchline. A look at him walking back would have given the clue as to why - a player clutching the back of his thigh is never a good sign. A brief consultation with Andy Rolls was all that was needed to end the player's participation in the game which had lasted all of 20 minutes. Piquionne came on to replace Baldock.

The half/quarter chances still sporadically popped up - Cole collected a throw-in turned and volleyed but, unlike Sir Trevor's effort against the same opponents back in 1975, the ball bothered the crowd rather than the back of the net. However, it was scrappy stuff from both sides. Collison nearly made Fielding look silly with a low shot that the keeper made a bit of a meal of before recovering just before Faubert could nip in to put the loose ball away.

Then, on 33 minutes and somewhat unbelievably, we were behind. Ward got the better of Noble on the touchline and ran diagonally towards goal. Tomkins seemed undecided as to whether to step up or mark Priskin and ended up doing neither. Ward's through ball was inch-perfect as was Priskin's low finish across Green.

It was a bit ragged for a bit after the goal - McCartney got caught the wrong side of his man and picked up a yellow for a sly tug back. However, the next few minutes were notable for time wasting by the opposition. There were times when it looked like there were ten minutes to full-time rather than the interval as every old trick in the book got used in an effort to go into the break without conceding. It didn't work.

Cole got away from Davies who tripped the striker. After nearly two minutes whilst Derby complained, Davies got booked and the wall eventually crept back to something vaguely resembling ten yards, Noble played the ball into the box. The ball was cleared out to the right hand side of thebox where I - and I suspect the Derby defence - expected that O'Brien might want to bring the ball under control before getting a cross in. However, Joey elected to hook the ball back in first time and Cole got up to head home despite the attentions of the defender on the line. Going in level was to prove priceless.

After the interval (this week's confection of choice was banana cake - nothing so common as prawn sandwiches for us thank you) it was a completely different match. We effectively started playing with three up front with Faubert and Nolan taking turns to push forward. Derby didn't seem to have much of an answer to the change.

Faubert pushed on to force a corner that he took himself. Piquionne got on the end of it but misdirected his header wide. We started to dominate and there were some fine spells of passing going on - just showing what Barcelona have been trying to emulate these past thirty years.(Yes I know). Better still we were winning back the loose balls as attacks broke down and keeping the opposition penned in.

We got ourselves into a promising position on the left as Piquionne picked up the ball only for the referee to stop the match as Barker had gone down. As it happened the ref was correct to stop play due to the potential head injury but I still reckon any player wearing an alice band like that should be cautioned for being a big girl's blouse in the first place. The restart was unsatisfactory. I suppose it is sort of sporting to be given the ball back but when play stopped we were in good position deep in opposition territory whereas after the restart the ball was back with Green. Is there a case for bringing back the old-fashioned proper drop ball and watch players scrap for it? All it would take would be for someone to say - "no thanks ref we'll contest this one".

It was pretty much one-way traffic. A Cole mis-hit was in turn mis-hit by Brayford, his attempted clearance making a good 20 yards - only the defender would have preferred that distance to have been horizontal rather than vertical. Fielding came out to collect.

On the hour Faubert flicked a pass in the air through to Piquionne, whose first touch to kill the ball was marvellous. Fielding had anticipated well to block the resulting shot for a corner. Faye got on the end of Collison's corner but headed over. Three minutes later we were ahead - and it wasn't a bad goal.

A Linda throw deep in opposition territory found Cole who flicked the ball into the box. Collison kept the bouncing ball alive by playing it one more time across to Nolan. The ball fell down to Nolan about 25 yards out. Few can have been expecting a shot but the skipper hit the sweetest of low right-foot first-time volleys low into the bottom left corner giving Fielding no chance. Perfect placing and superb technique for a fine goal. I think the chicken dance needs some work though.

The visitors' response was half-hearted at best - they'd come for a point at best but Nolan's goal had knocked the stuffing out of them. We had to be slightly alert when Tomkins misplaced pass saw Priskin bear down on goal but Faye's block was superb. Not only did we defend the resulting corner well but it ultimately led to our third.

The corner was cleared out to Piquionne whose back header found Faubert. Faubert burst forward, checked, then played the ball into Collison who, in turn, played a first time ball into the path of Piquionne who burst into the box only to be floored by a shove in the back by Bryson. It looked a spot kick from where I was and there were certainly no complaints from the Derby players, though replays suggested that the initial contact might have been just outside the area. We've suffered enough from poor refereeing in recent years and if we get one of these a week going in our favour for the next few seasons we may just catch up on some of the travesties perpetrated against us. As it happens the ref can be excused for giving the spot kick as it was mightily close. The excitement and glee he showed at awarding the kick looked a bit inappropriate though.

Noble's penalty was perfect. Fielding went the right way but the ball was already bulging the back of the onion bag to put us 3-1 up with a shade over a quarter of an hour to play.

With one eye on Tuesday's visit to the North East, Carew replaced Cole shortly after the goal. Cole left to well-deserved applause having been a thorn in the side of the visitors' defence all afternoon. Or evening.

We continued to press forward - often with Tomkins bringing the ball out of defence and we were actually stringing passes together as if it were the easiest thing in the world - in stark contrast to the first half. The only thing stopping us increasing the lead was the quality of the final ball into the box.

With ten left - and again probably very much with the trip to the Riverside in mind - Taylor replaced Faubert who had had a decent game. Suspicious though it was I'm sure the fact that the MOTM award awarded by a Renault dealership went to a Frenchman was entirely coincidental. Still, having mentioned the name of the car I'm not too proud to turn down a freebie if they're offering!

The last ten were spent largely with us knocking the ball about with the "job done" sticker firmly on display. With five left Piquionne got on the end of a Collison cross after a short corner only to see Roberts clear off the line. McCartney then went on a mazy dribble across the pitch, his run ending with a shot high and wide. All in all Derby showed all the air of a team that just wanted it to be all over as soon as possible - so the addition of five of stoppage must have been really welcome to them. It wouldn't have been that much of a surprise to hear the players joining in with the cheer on the final whistle as another three points came home.

Harder tests will come - Derby looked demoralised as soon as the equaliser went in and even at 1-0 up seemed bereft of confidence. The tactical change for the second half made all the difference - though it would be lovely to be able to write how good we were in both halves of a match for once. Still with the other results going well for us this weekend the win has done us the power of good.

Onwards and upwards as they say!

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Player Ratings

Robert Green
A little casual with one kick in the first half. No chance with the goal and barely tested in the second half.

Joey O'Brien
No offence to Faubert but I always feel better with a "proper" full back in the position. Good game and did well to get the cross in for the vital equaliser.

George McCartney
Got forward well on the left. Liked the Messi-style run late on - even though the finish was more messy than Messi.

Abdoulaye Faye
An unheralded player he was nevertheless quite superb today. Won the ball, controlled it, laid it off.

James Tomkins
Caught a bit between two stools for the goal and there were a couple of passes that weren't quite up to his usual standard. However, it was good to see him bringing the ball out of defence so well.

Mark Noble
One of the few to emerge from the first half with any credit he continued playing well into the second period. Fine spot-kick.

Jack Collison
The switch to a three man midfield saw him playing more centrally in the second half and it's clear this role suits him best. Another improved performance.

Kevin Nolan
An improved performance even without taking the quite sublime goal into consideration.

Julien Faubert
A fine game though not quite MOTM for me (unless the sponsors fancy sending me a new motor!) - a few of his final balls weren't quite there. Decent game though.

Sam Baldock
Was looking good until his untimely injury. Fingers crossed it's not too serious.

Carlton Cole
Derby didn't really have a clue as to how to deal with the player. Took his goal well, held the ball well and got through a hell of a lot of running. In a week when it was difficult to pick out one individual performance I'll give him my MOTM. I'm sure he's overchuffed!


Frederic Piquionne
(Replaced Baldock, 21) His best game for a fair while, only a spot of composure and, occasionally, luck in front of goal stopped him from troubling the scorers.

John Carew
(Replaced Cole, 76) Some nice hold-up/lay off play in the last period.

Matthew Taylor
(Replaced Faubert, 82) A couple of nice touches, his appearance was more important from a "getting a few minutes run out" point of view, especially with so many fixtures coming up in such a short space of time.

Marek Stech
Did not play.

Guy Demel
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Robert Green, Joey O'Brien, George McCartney, Abdoulaye Faye, James Tomkins, Mark Noble, Jack Collison, Kevin Nolan, Julien Faubert, Sam Baldock, Carlton Cole.

Goals: Carlton Cole 44 Kevin Nolan 64 Mark Noble 74              .

Booked: George McCartney 40          .

Sent off: None.

Derby County: Frank Fielding, John Brayford, Shaun Barker, Jason Shackell, Gareth Roberts, Paul Green, Craig Bryson, James Bailey, Ben Davies, Jamie Ward, Tamas Priskin.

Subs not used: Adam Legzdins, Jake Buxton.

Goals: Tamas Priskin (34).

Booked: Ben Davies (44).

Sent off: None.

Referee: Colin Webster.

Attendance: 27,864.

Man of the Match: Carlton Cole.