Premier League
West Ham United 1 Sunderland 1

Saturday, 22nd September 2012
by Gordon Thrower

This report is brought to you with much sadness.

For the last ten years or so at the Boleyn I have had the privilege of sitting amongst a wonderful group of people who have become good friends. It is therefore with great regret that I must record the passing of one of our number.

Alan Smith was, quite simply, one of the nicest people that I have ever met. I'm not exactly sure how old he was - only that, as the oldest male member of our little gang, he took the honorary title of "Grandad" which we gave him (years before he actually became one) with good humour and grace.

Alan attended matches with his son Trevor and the three of us have built up a repertoire of "in-jokes" over the years. Silly little things that to anyone else will mean nothing but, to me anyway, just added to the pleasure of coming to the Boleyn every week. We had "Injury Time Bingo" and of course the sheer wonderful incongruity of a middle-aged granddad doing a little dance to Fatboy Slim's "Right Here Right Now" whenever it was played before matches.

If I had to pick one abiding memory of the man it would be the 2006 Cup Final where he insisted on queuing up for half an hour underneath the concourse to buy programmes sending Trevor into the stadium proper to take in the atmosphere - "I've already been to a Cup Final son- you may never get to see one again" was his comment. A great friend and a wonderful man who will be sorely missed. Trevor, all our thoughts are with you and your family.

To the match then. Team news was that we went with what looks to be Mr Allardyce's preferred starting XI (from those available) of JJ, Demel, O'Brien, Reid, Collins, Noble, Diame, Taylor, Nolan, Vaz Te, Cole. As "Bubbles" was played we draped a '75 Cup Final shirt over Alan's seat - to be honest I figured we ought to do something to honour our absent friend and I couldn't think of what else to do.

Although we looked by far the brighter of the two sides we went behind on nine minutes. Collins' attempt to play the ball wide out to the left was sloppy and caught the unsuspecting Diame on the back of the heel, diverting the ball into the path of Larsson. Larsson pushed forward and clipped a lovely drifting cross to Fletcher, who Collins had failed to pick up properly. Using all the time and space afforded to him by the lack of defending Fletcher buried the ball in at the far post despite JJ getting a hand to the shot. A poor goal all round and not the Ginger Pele's finest hour.

We immediately went on the attack. Taylor's effort was diverted for a corner, the taking of which was delayed while we all had to look at the showboating Lee Mason who was delivering a warning to Nolan that he'd be cautioned if he allowed the keeper to swing an elbow at him again. The first corner was eventually cleared for a second, which eventually fell to Collins, whose weak header went tamely wide.

Vaz Te ought to have levelled on 22 minutes. Taylor found him at the far post but RVT's downward header bounced wide of the post. A wasted opportunity and it wasn't to be the last of the match.

A late tackle on the edge of the box caught Diame but the free-kick was woeful. Noble tapped it to Nolan who hit it straight at the wall. The problem was that we were so dominant that there was always the worry that we might get caught on the break - as nearly happened on 27 minutes as a long ball found McClean in acres of space on our right. Thankfully the player's decision to go for a spectacular 25-yarder worked in our favour as the ball bobbled harmlessly wide, barely having the energy to cross the line.

The chances kept coming. The visitors only partially cleared a free-kick played into the box, Demel's shot being blocked by Rose. Reid got on the end of the resulting corner but Nolan' didn't quite get his angles right and his first time effort from the knock down went across the goal rather than in it. Diame then found Cole with a cross from the left but Carlton was unable to keep the header down.

We continued to press forward with much of what was good coming from the surging runs of the impressive Diame, who might have got more out of the match had ref Mason actually not decided to give the laws of the game a week off. With both Diame and Vaz Te both being taken out by late challenges delivered purely with the intent of halting progress, the complete absence of yellow cards from the ref was somewhat baffling and served only to encourage continued repetition of such challenges with Cattermole in particular gleefully kicking people up in the air safe in the knowledge that there was always at least one more foul available before a card might come.

Noble's free-kick for Bramble's challenge on Vaz Te was nodded on by Cole and Nolan's overhead flick was only a couple of feet adrift.

Then came the best move of the match. Vaz Te played the ball out to the right touchline where the race to the ball was a dead heat between Demel and Rose. Rose was concentrating so much on holding Demel away from the ball that Vaz Te was able to take over and break down the right. Getting to the dead ball line RVT clipped the ball back only for Nolan's first time acrobatic mid-air volley to be saved in splendid fashion by Mignolet.

Half Time: West Ham United 0 Sunderland 1

The second half was more of the same. Nolan and Taylor both had shots blocked in close order. Mignolet then made a pig's ear of a punch from a Nolan corner, the ball going 180 degrees in the opposite direction to which the 'keeper was aiming. He got away with it though, the ball going back over his own crossbar for another corner. As if to sympathise with the 'keeper Noble's second corner was dreadful, hitting the first man and rebounding out for a throw-in.

Cole then got something on a ball played into the box from which just about any sort of touch from Vaz Te would have levelled the score. Unfortunately, RVT seemed to hesitate at the vital moment, allowing Mignolet to gather.

That was pretty much RVT's last contribution as, on 56 minutes, we made a double swap with Taylor also coming off with Benayoun and Jarvis leaving the bench.

We nearly shot ourselves in the foot again. O'Brien went to sleep on the left leaving Gardner totally unmarked on our left. Gardner pulled the ball back from McClean but the Irish midfielder couldn't keep his feet and his "shot" rolled gently into the arms of JJ.

The first yellow card of the day came on the hour, some 40 minutes after it should have been issued. Jarvis left Gardner for dead, the Sunderland man ending the run with an arm across Jarvis' chest. In a perverse way Gardner can feel a little hard done by. Whilst the yellow was deserved, his challenge had been no more - or less- cynical than any one of a dozen others that had taken place without sanction as the visitors tried to stop any rhythm developing to the game (doing a Liverpool as it is known).

The first free-kick was cleared but Mason awarded another for what didn't look like a handball as Sunderland tried to relieve the ever-increasing pressure. Nobles cross was glanced wide by Cole.

Jarvis was beginning to make his presence felt and his deep cross saw Rose having to head behind for a corner under pressure from Benayoun. Some good work between Diame and Demel saw the latter force a corner. Noble found Collins whose powerful header was only a fraction too high, clipping the bar on its way over.

With 15 left we made our final change with Cole coming off to be replaced by Maiga. Jarvis continued to threaten, his dangerous cross skipping across the six yard box, just eluding Benayoun and clipping Bramble to go out for a corner.

Reid got caught flat footed and picked up a merited yellow for blocking off Vaughan but all thoughts that the referee might start to do his job went out of the window as a two-footed lunge by Gardner effort on Jarvis escaped the usual sanction, saving the Sunderland man from an early bath. I suppose we ought to be grateful that the ref had worked out it was a free-kick at all. Maiga's header from Noble's delivery was wide.

Sunderland's time wasting was assuming epic proportions. At one point FIFA's guidelines suggested that a 'keeper failing to release the ball after six seconds should be cautioned. Whilst this guideline is almost universally ignored by our wonderful (not) officials there clearly has to be some sort of limit and, whatever that limit is, 17 seconds (as taken by Mignolet on at least three occasions) is clearly well over it. It was no surprise, however, when Mason added only the four minutes of stoppage time. It was also no surprise when he issued a yellow to JJ for dissent, the 'keeper having the temerity to enquire as to why Mason couldn't be bothered to do the job he was getting paid for.

Sub Campbell, having picked up a knock walked ten yards over to the far touchline, before doing an about turn and deciding that he'd like to go the direct route to the bench where a sub had suspiciously already been waiting before he became "injured". The whole escapade took another two minutes to sort out though these weren't added on fully either.

So, it looked like that was going to be it. Only, just for once, it wasn't. Reid's ball forward was nodded on by Maiga. Jarvis saved the ball from going out with an overhead kick. Maiga nodded it back into the danger area and Nolan's first time effort on the turn gave the 'keeper no chance. It was the least we deserved and that was your lot.

Full Time: West Ham United 1 Sunderland 1

If you cast your mind back twelve months we were going through a spell of letting in last minute goals on a regular basis so it was nice to get one of our own for a change. Usually when you get a late equaliser like that it feels like a win so it's a measure of the progress we've made that we were all a bit disappointed that the one point wasn't three. We need to be more clinical in front of goal because at this level, as we saw in this match, one moment of madness can cost you dear.

Still I'll take a 1-1 draw anytime if we're 1-0 down in the 93rd minute - churlish not to really and, given the circumstances of the day I was just glad to get the whole thing over with.

So long Alan and thanks for all the memories.

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Player Ratings

Jussi Jaaskelainen
The goal apart, which gave him little chance, he didn't have a save worthy of the name to make.

Guy Demel
One early lapse aside he wasn't tested defensively. The withdrawal of Vaz Te, with whom he combines well, reduces his force going forward.

Joey O Brien
Another whose contribution was more in adding to the attack. One lapse in the second half could have proved costly had McClean stayed on his feet.

James Collins
Bit of an off day that could have cost us all three points. His sloppy pass gave the ball away and he completely failed to pick up Fletcher for the goal. Can do better.

Winston Reid
Another impressive display. Continues to display a level of consistency that few might have expected from his previous outings at this level.

Mark Noble
Good in parts, occasionally let down by his delivery from dead balls, which varied from excellent to poor.

Mo Diame
Just shaded MOTM for me. After an initial tendency to overdo the stepovers he settled down and his powerful runs from the middle caused a number of problems for the visitors.

Kevin Nolan
Always looked likely to be the one to score and was unlucky to come away with just the one.

Ricardo Vaz Te
Apart from one cross in the first half that set up Nolan, this was not one of those games that will live long in his memory.

Matt Taylor
A few good crosses and some good combinations on the left with O'Brien, countered by a tendency to drift out of the game.

Carlton Cole
Caused problems but overall got little change from the defence - or from some dreadful refereeing.


Yossi Benayoun
(Replaced Cole, 57)
Failed to create much of an impact on his home return.

Matt Jarvis
(Replaced Taylor, 57)
Looked lively and dangerous, though his contribution to the equaliser owed more to sheer bloody-mindedness in keeping the ball alive.

Modibo Maiga
(Replaced Vaz Te, 86)
Made two vital contributions to the equaliser if little else of note.

Stephen Henderson
Did not play.

George McCartney
Did not play.

James Tomkins
Did not play.

Gary O'Neil
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Jussi Jaaskelainen, Guy Demel, Joey O Brien, James Collins, Winston Reid, Mark Noble, Mo Diame, Kevin Nolan, Ricardo Vaz Te, Matt Taylor, Carlton Cole.

Goals: Kevin Nolan 90                  .

Booked: Winston Reid 82          .

Sent off: None.

Sunderland: Simon Mignolet, Craig Gardner, John O'Shea, Titus Bramble, Danny Rose, Seb Larsson, Jack Colback, Lee Cattermole, James McClean, Stephane Sessegnon, Steven Fletcher.

Subs not used: Keiren Westwood, Matthew Kilgallon, Connor Wickham, Louis Saha.

Goals: Stephen Fletcher (9).

Booked: Craig Gardner (61).

Sent off: None.

Referee: Lee Mason.

Attendance: 33,052.

Man of the Match: Momo Diame.