FA Premiership
West Ham United 2 Sunderland 0

Saturday, 4th February 2006
by Gordon Thrower

What a difference 10 months makes. There we were last year convinced that a 2-1 home defeat to the Mackems had all but knackered our chances of a play-off spot whilst our opponents celebrated into the night having clinched the Championship trophy. Fast forward to the present and while, we’re all basking in the afterglow of having just turned over Arsenal at the library, Sunderland are probably wishing they could press a fast-forward button of their own as far as this season is concerned.

AP rang the changes after Wednesday's heroics. Clive Clarke who, under the circumstances, had performed admirably out of position, stood down in favour of the now eligible Lionel Scaloni. Up front, with all our strikers fit and available, the "nice problem" as managers like to call it was resolved by starting with both ends of the alphabet - Ashton and Zamora - with Harewood stepping down to the bench. Line up: Hislop, Scaloni, Konchesky, Gabbidon, Ferdinand, Reo-Coker, Mullins, Etherington, Benayoun, Ashton, Zamora.

It was a poor first half. The opposition started, well not exactly brightly, but with a fair bit of possession as we struggled to get any rhythm going. However the first noteworthy incident came as we broke away from a Sunderland corner. The ball came out to Reo-Coker who stormed down the left wing leaving Wright trailing in his wake - well almost. Wright was able to keep close enough to flatten NRC with a cross between a shove and a rugby tackle and received a deserved yellow card for his trouble.

Another fifteen minutes passed uneventfully before Wright's day went from bad to worse. NRC fed Matty who sped down the left hand side only to be unceremoniously flattened by Wright who received the inevitable second yellow and a brief but withering look from his manager as he trudged disconsolately down the tunnel.

Shortly after the dismissal Sunderland gave formal notification of intent by withdrawing a striker - the on-loan Le Tallec - in favour of a replacement defender, Nyron Nosworthy whose name always makes me giggle for some reason. This left Sunderland with the two banks of four line-up with the obvious plan to get all eight behind the ball.

Remember the dark days of the Championship when teams would come to the Boleyn with the sole intent of avoiding defeat? Well it was a bit like that. We struggled to break down the resistance and a large degree of patience was required by the sell-out crowd that had been bolstered by it being a "nippers for a knicker" scheme or whatever it's called. The partnership up front was also taking time to bed in as time and time again both Ashton and Zamora appeared to be making the same runs, even, on occasion, going for the same ball. Konchesky and Scaloni managed to get a few interesting-looking crosses in but we didn't really look like getting on the end of them. Matty got hacked down by Whitehead to keep ref Styles' biro in employment - rightly so as it was a horrible challenge. Caldwell earned similar censure when Bobby's sharp turn left him for dead. Ashton then got into a good position but couldn't get enough on the shot to trouble Davies and the half petered out with only the yellow cards really registering on the incident-ometer.

The second half started without Bobby though it wasn't clear if the arrival of Young Edward was due to the aftermath of Caldwell's crude tackle or to a need to stir things up. Either way the opening exchanges were fairly identical to those of the closing period of the first half. Ashton drew a free-kick just outside the box which saw a lengthy discussion by the Players' Free-Kick Sub-Committee concerning who should take it. Young Edward got the nod, presumably on the grounds of seniority, then promptly hit the free-kick straight into the wall.

Though the visitors were (under the circumstances understandably) limited in attacking ambition, a run down the right hand side by Nosworthy (giggle) saw the ball pulled back only for the resulting shot to trouble the back of the Centenary Stand rather than Shaka.

Scaloni then picked up his first yellow for the club for a niggly trip on Arca who had got the wrong side before we had what was, up to that point, the best chance of the match. NRC crossed the ball from the right. Ashton got both pace and direction on the header only to be thwarted by a magnificent save from Davies.

Though we were dominant in possession we appeared to lack the degree of urgency, pace or creativity required to break down our opponents. A change was definitely needed and, with about a quarter of an hour left, Harewood replaced Mullins. We'd been musing that, given the chance Marlon would probably scare the hell out of the Sunderland defence and so it was to prove.

Firstly a ball was played to Ashton in space on the edge of the box. The new boy gathered it, made an angle and shot across Davies whose save only diverted the ball into the path of Marlon to finish easily. Unfortunately the linesman on the West Stand side appeared to get the offside law completely wrong deciding that two - possibly three - defenders were not enough to play Marlon onside. Close calls are one thing, but this was a decision so poor that it was off the scale.

Thankfully, five minutes later we were able to make amends for the lino's incompetence. Marlon appeared to have taken every second spent on the bench as a personal affront and looked eager to make up for lost time. Latching on to a ball out of the back from NRC he powered forward and evaded a challenge before hitting a shot across Davies that the 'keeper could only divert into the path of Ashton who put the ball away from a tight angle. The cheers were a mixture of relief and joy - let's face it you always want a new boy to score on their home debut. The goal was a mirror image of the one that Marlon had been inexplicably denied, prompting speculation that the lino might have stuck some of his match fee on Ashton as first scorer.

The goal galvanised us and Ashton might have doubled his and our tally shortly after. Konchesky did some good work on the left and played the ball low into the box. Ashton couldn't quite get around the pass enough and side netting was the result.

With six left on the clock Ashton left to generous applause to be replaced by Dailly. Shortly after the points were all but sealed and delivered. Konchesky pushed forward into space and unleashed a shot that, whilst not lacking power, should have been meat and drink for Davies. The 'keeper made a complete hash of it however and the ball ran under his body and slowly into the net.

That was about it really. It hadn't been the greatest of games but it says volumes that games like that have been a rarity since our return to the top flight. The players were described as "jaded" following the library victory and I'd say that was about right - hell I still felt exhausted and I'd only watched the match!

Post-match speculation centred on how long it had been since we had last won six in a row and some wag suggested that it had been so long that the team probably had several members named Lionel! Other results meant a rise to 8th in the league which is nose-bleed territory. Maltese Hammer's text summed it up nicely: "If we go down from this position I'm going to start following curling". I think you can put down those Winter Olympic TV timetables for this year mate!

Good luck CJ!

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Player Ratings

Shaka Hislop
Largely unemployed for most of the match. I was tempted to pop down and see if he wanted to borrow my coat.

Lionel Scaloni
A tentative start - unsurprising really given that he's probably only had two days training. Settled down and put some tantalising crosses in. Sterner tests are to come.

Paul Konchesky
A nice gentle match after Wednesday night's battle. He'll probably sit down in 30 years time and regale his family with tales of how his 35-yard screamer burst the back of the net!

Anton Ferdinand
Like the rest of the defence he was able to have a bit of a rest for much of the match.

Danny Gabbidon
Dealt with what little Sunderland produced in his usual accomplished style.

Hayden Mullins
The usual solid performance. Probably single-handedly responsible for breaking up what few breaks that Sunderland were able to muster.

Nigel Reo-Coker
At the heart of most of what was created. Continually pushing forward in an attempt to stir things up.

Yossi Benayoun
Occasional glimpses of flair but we required more of his creativity to break down the ten men.

Matthew Etherington
Having a much better second half of the season than he did the first. Confidence is up at the moment.

Bobby Zamora
A couple of nice touches early on but Bobby seemed to be suffering the effects of his midweek efforts more than most.

Dean Ashton
Had a better second half. The introduction of Sheringham meant that he was no longer plying the same channels as Bobby and he put away the goal well.


Teddy Sheringham
(Replaced Zamora, 45) A couple of nice touches but rarely troubled the Sunderland defence.

Marlon Harewood
(Replaced Mullins, 73) Made all the difference. Ran at the opposition, a tactic that caused all sorts of problems. Disgracefully denied a goal by the officials, his hard work provided the all-important breakthrough for Ashton.

Christian Dailly
(Replaced Ashton, 83) Only on for a few minutes at the end so not much time to influence things.

Stephen Bywater
Did not play.

Yaniv Katan
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Shaka Hislop, Lionel Scaloni, Paul Konchesky, Anton Ferdinand, Danny Gabbidon, Hayden Mullins, Nigel Reo-Coker, Yossi Benayoun, Matthew Etherington, Bobby Zamora, Dean Ashton.

Goals: Dean Ashton 81 Paul Konchesky 87                .

Booked: Lionel Scaloni 51          .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Sunderland: Davis; Wright, McCartney, Breen, Caldwell; Lawrence, Whitehead, Bassila, Arca; Kyle, Le Tallec.

Subs not used: Murphy, Leadbitter.

Goals: .

Booked: None booked..

Sent off: None.

Referee: R.Styles.

Attendance: 34,745.

Man of the Match: Marlon Harewood.