FA Premiership
West Ham United 3 Birmingham City 0

Monday, 13th February 2006
by Gordon Thrower

Football fans Ė we have long memories. We bear grudges. Our relegation happened to coincide with a particularly unpleasant time for me personally so the undisguised glee and crass comments from Steve Bruce at our predicament didnít go down too well in these parts. Watching Birmingham City struggle is therefore a source of amusement to me. Nothing too heavy Ė Iím not sure I can be bothered to care that much to be honest, but Iíll certainly dedicate a pint if they fail to avoid the drop.

The sad passing of Ron Greenwood last week added some poignancy to proceedings. Ron took over at the Boleyn the week I was born and the minute's silence was observed in impeccable manner. I would like to think that the faceless Premiership spokesperson who sent out so many standard replies to us explaining why Ron wasn't worth a minute's silence handed his or her resignation in at the sight of it all on the telly, but given the content of the email, I suspect that he or she lacks any sense of shame.

Given a fit squad the big question usually centres on the subject of what striking partnership will start the game. During the Sunderland match it had appeared to these eyes that the A to Z pairing of Ashton and Zamora had resulted in the two making many of the same runs. Whatever the reason, AP elected to start with Harewood giving us a starting line-up of Hislop, Scaloni, Konchesky, Gabbidon, Ferdinand, Mullins, Reo-Coker, Etherington, Benayoun, Harewood and Ashton.

The early exchanges were notable for the amount of punishment taken by Hayden Mullins. Maybe someone will correct me but I don't recall any particular incidents from the corresponding away fixture that would have merited such treatment, However, time after time Hayden was clattered to the ground in full view of the erratic Dermot Gallagher only for the perpetrator to escape sanction.

An early Ashton run ended in a fairly tame shot that failed to bother "my parents couldn't spell Mark" Taylor in the Birmingham goal but the opener was not long in arriving. Reo-Coker went forward and hit a powerful but not particularly accurate drive into - I think - Cunningham on the edge of the box. The ball rebounded kindly to Marlon in acres of space within the box and the no.10 comprehensively buried his effort past the woefully exposed "my parents couldn't spell Mike either" Taylor to put us one up on the ten minute mark.

Another few minutes on and we really ought to have been two up. Mullins found himself bearing down on goal but, possibly hampered by a knock picked up from any one of the numerous challenges of dubious legality he had suffered, a defender was allowed to track back and clear.

If truth be told it was far from a scintillating first half and we seemed fairly content to sit back and watch the opposition continually make a hash of things. There were times where Birmingham seemed to have more chance of finding a Premiership spokesperson with a sense of shame than they did one of their team-mates with a five yard pass. The proceedings were livened up a little by some ball-juggling from Shaka in dealing with a potentially difficult back-pass whilst Alex "my parent lost the league at West Ham" Bruce, having seen his side get away with flattening Mullins a number of times, left his foot in a bit naughtily on Gabbidon only for Gallagher to finally remember what those cards in his pockets were for.

At half time we were treated to the St Bonaventures School Choir's gospel version of "Bubbles". It was loud - they certainly didn't hold back on the amplification and our Jeremy had to beat a hasty retreat as his mike fed back into the speakers with that lovely howl that occurs when speaker and mike get too close for comfort. As for the performance, well let's say that there was an enthusiasm/talent compensation equation at work.

The second half saw the introduction of Football Genius in place of Mullins who had taken one elbow to the back too many. We started the brighter of the two sides in the second half. Matty finished a decent run with a shot that went wide and, a Scaloni free-kick from the right found Ashton who failed to get enough on his header to cause too much concern in the visitors defence.

With 50 minutes on the clock I then witnessed one of the worst free-kicks I have ever seen in my life. The hapless Jarosik didn't quite make the upper tier of the Centenary but it did come back off the front wall, possibly scaring the proverbial out of the cameraman in the little box at the front of the stand. Matty then found Yossi on the right hand side but the half volley failed to find the target.

Football Genius then hit one from about 20 yards - in fact he probably caught it a touch too cleanly - to pull a good save out of Taylor that the 'keeper made look a lot easier than it probably was.

Then came a moment of complete madness. We've all done stupid things in life and I expect that, for many of us, many such incidents may have involved a surfeit of intoxicating liquor. However, damaged as Bruce's nose undoubtedly is, I'm sure even his olefactory nerves would have noticed the tell-tale smell of alcohol on his players' breath. We must therefore presume that Latka was sober when entering the field of play. So quite why he elected to flick a seemingly innocuous ball into the box away with his hand your guess is as good as mine. It was poor, it was baffling and, above all it was very, very funny. It was also spotted by Gallagher who, almost apologetically, pointed to the spot and, to add insult to insanity, the lightbulb-headed ref gave the confused defender a yellow for his trouble.

Harewood took his usual non run-up and it wasn't the best of spot-kicks. Taylor saved well to his left but, thankfully, Marlon was the first to react to the loose ball to net what was, apparently, our 500th Premiership goal. The whole episode had been a comedy of errors but, if one might be permitted to mix a Shakespearian metaphor, it was a case of all's well that ends well. (Sorry Will).

A couple of minutes later it was 3-0. Scaloni delivered a fine cross that Yossi threw himself at possibly getting a touch in the process. The ball went through to Ashton who stooped to head into the empty net from close range for his second in two games.

The goal prompted a couple of changes from the visitors though to be honest the old phrase about rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic was one that leapt to mind. Forsell went off to be replaced by DJ Campbell whose street cred took a possibly fatal blow with Jeremy's announcement that his mother calls him Dudley.

The visitors did manage a free-kick that required a decent tip around the post from Shaka and Konch, bolstered by his success from distance against Sunderland had another, more wayward pop after Matty and Deano had been replaced by Katan and Zamora. However by this time the game as any sort of meaningful spectacle had finished and the most interesting thing to happen in the closing stages may well have been Jeremy's District line update which, for some reason, amused the hell out of AP at the post-match press conference.

So seven in a row, sixth in the table, level with that lot from Woolwich via Finsbury Park and not that far behind that other lot who nearly bought someone once. I will, of course, wake up in a minute and all this will all have been a strange dream. If that alarm clock goes off I shall be very grumpy.

A final word about the opposition. Mr Greenwood was far too much of a gent to do anything as undignified as bear grudges in football - which is why I doubt you could find anyone with a genuine bad word to say about him. However, on this occasion I'm sure he'd forgive us this one. So 'bye Brucie - close the trapdoor on your way down.

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Player Ratings

Shaka Hislop
One fine save. A few for the cameras to relieve the boredom and a lot of retrieving the ball from the good people in row Z. Quiet evening really.

Lionel Scaloni
Settling in nicely. Prompted some debate between some of us at KUMB towers last week. My theory that he has a decent line in crosses from the right seems to be winning the argument.

Paul Konchesky
Continues to improve after a few less than impressive performances. Some good combinations with a similarly resurgent Matty.

Anton Ferdinand
Awarded the Barclays Player of the Month award which, unlike the corresponding managerial gong, doesn't seem to affect the recipient's performance.

Danny Gabbidon
Remember when Chris Sutton scored goals in a Premiership-winning side? Gabbidon wouldn't have had any problem with him then so the seemingly past-it wearer of Birmingham's coveted no.40 shirt was certainly no problem for the Gabster.

Hayden Mullins
A good half despite being treated as a punchbag every time he went up for a header. Might have scored before going off injured during the interval.

Nigel Reo-Coker
Another captain's performance in the middle. People are talking about his England prospects - prematurely so in my opinion - but time is on his side and his consistency will do him no harm at all.

Yossi Benayoun
One of those players for whom a buzz of expectation arises every time he gets the ball. Scares decent opponents with his running. Petrifies poor ones. Like Birmingham.

Matthew Etherington
Another who continues to improve - in Matty's case he had an indifferent start to the season but little by little he's pulled it back.

Marlon Harewood
Goals 11 & 12 of the season, though I wish he'd take a bit more of a run-up for spot-kicks. Lots of running and Taylor knew he was around every time he had a back pass to cope with.

Dean Ashton
Two in as many starts and both goals coming from the same spot on the left hand side of the Bobby Moore end penalty box. One smashing pass between defenders to Yossi as well.


Christian Dailly
(Replaced Mullins, 45) A decent half - kept it simple and had one shot that kept Taylor on his toes.

Yaniv Katan
(Replaced Etherington, 78) Suffered in exactly the same way as Zamora from the game ending on the third goal.

Bobby Zamora
(Replaced Ashton, 78) Tried hard to make an impact but suffered from the fact that the game was effectively dead by time he arrived.

Stephen Bywater
Did not play.

Teddy Sheringham
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, Marlon Harewood, Dean Ashton.

Goals: Marlon Harewood 10 Marlon Harewood 62 Dean Ashton 65              .

Booked: None booked.           .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Birmingham City: Taylor; Melchiot, Cunningham, Bruce, Gray; Latka, Jarosik, Clemence, Pennant; Sutton, Forssell.

Subs not used: Vaesen, Birley.

Goals: .

Booked: Latka, Bruce.

Sent off: None.

Referee: D.Gallagher.

Attendance: 31,294.

Man of the Match: Danny Gabbidon.