West Ham United 0 Newcastle United 2

Sunday, 17th September 2006
by Gordon Thrower

Over the years Iíve been to loads of games, home and away, where, prior to the match Iíve been sitting supping pre-match cocktails in civilised company. Manyís the time Iíve thought what a pleasant afternoon I was having and what a shame football was likely to ruin it all. Sometimes Iíve been wrong. Today I was right.

The visit of Newcastle is traditionally marked by a few ales in the company of some old friends who hail from that part of the world. Pints and smoked salmon sandwiches having been consumed (we're too posh for anything as vulgar as prawns) our discussions centred on referees. In particular we noted that all the rubbish ones are bald. The two Mikes, Dean and Riley. Dermot Gallagher. Uriah Rennie. The clown we had against Palermo. Even the inexplicably lauded Pierluigi Collina was noted in Italy for playing "favourites".

On arrival at the ground we were greeted by Upton Girlie who had sorted out dad with a ticket. Having wined and dined at a venue even posher than the Good Samaritan at Whitechapel Upton Girlie's eyesight and judgement were clearly suffering as she enquired whether I was adopted, her question arising on the dubious grounds that she thought my Dad was good looking. Dad was looking quite smug until I reminded him of the occasion when someone gave their "elderly or disabled" seat up on the tube for him the last time he'd visited the Boleyn. Still I was in a fairly good mood until .....

In life there are a number of visions that will immediately make the heart sink no matter who you are or who you support. Your last train leaving, the sudden realisation that your girlfriend is on the phone to the tv shopping channel that is showing on the box, the subsequent arrival of a large parcel containing some revolutionary sewing device that will extract juice from oranges and tone your abs at the same time and the arrival of the credit card bill that tells you just how much the bloody "Ronco Max-ab overlockajucinator 'Plus'" is going to cost. These are all sights that will cause depression in the most cheerful of people. However there is one thing that even worse than all of these. One thing that makes you realise that your day is going to go downhill rapidly from that moment on. That thing is the appearance of three little words on the back of the programme. Those three words are "Referee: Rob Styles".

Team news was that, in his latest attempt to find out his best starting eleven, AP had left out Yossi to give a starting line-up of Carroll, Mears, Konchesky, Gabbidon, Ferdinand, Mascherano, Reo-Coker, Bowyer, Etherington, Tevez, Zamora.

We had the bulk of possession early on and had a good chance when Parker, committing what was to be the first of at least four clear yellow card offences scythed through Etherington as he cut into the box. Why the card didn't come out there and then nobody knows. With a ref as poor as Styles guesswork is the order of the day. Once Etherington had hobbled off for treatment Tevez clipped the free-kick over the wall only for the crossbar to save the stranded Given.

A long ball played up to Aemeobi saw the forward stick a forearm across Gabbidon's windpipe. Ameobi, adding a kick to Gabbidon's stomach for good measure fed an offside Martins who put the loose ball wide as the defence asked which of the three offences Styles would like to explain away first.

Tevez had another chance a few minutes later. Zamora was hauled to the floor. Styles let play go on - he will claim it was for the advantage but I reckon it just took that long for the information to leap between his two brain cells. The free kick was in similar position to his first effort. This time he elected for a low shot which Given gathered low with Mears in attendance for any rebound.

This was a game that lacked much in the way of quality, the teams being fairly evenly matched in the first half, both basically being rubbish. We were showing a recurrence of our recent frailty at corners. An unconvincing clearance from Bowyer finally persuaded the defence to stick a man on the near post. Another corner saw Carroll save, again unconvincingly, from Ameobi who, thankfully, slid the rebound wide. Parker kicked Bowyer a couple of times which, whilst in themselves not worthy of individual yellows certainly ticked the box as qualifying for sanction under the heading "persistent foul play". Mr Styles presumably understands the concept of foul play having awarded free-kicks on each occasion. So as a service to the hard of thinking ref here is a dictionary definition of persistent: "constantly repeating, continued".

Bowyer was then at the heart of one of the few moments of interest in an otherwise poor first half. Given came very wide out of his box and cleared a loose ball down the line only as far as Bowyer whose volley back from just inside the opposition half went just past the far post with Given beaten. Babayaro hauled down Zamora to pick up a yellow. Babayaro must have felt hard done by having seen some of the challenges that Parker was getting away with and the card for little more than holding onto Bobby seemed harsh in that context. As ever the free-kick from a promising position was wasted. Mears similarly innocuous block on Duff received similar sanction as the half ended with not so much as a whimper.

The second half saw Tevez replaced by Harewood. Tevez had looked ok to me and I couldn't help but thinking that the visitors might have been the happier for the Argentinian's departure. Five minutes into the second half we went behind. Mascherano missed a tackle deep in opposition territory. Martins was allowed to progress far too far unchallenged before slipping the ball wide to Duff. Duff's shot, whilst having power, should have been easy meat for Carroll. Unfortunately the 'keeper elected to try to save with his feet rather than getting body or hands behind the ball and the ball ended up in the net. A poor goal to concede at all levels.

After a period of nothing much at all really Yossi and Mullins replaced Mascherano and Mears respectively, the latter change being due to Mears apparently having been ill all game. I knew how he felt.

Moore then picked up a yellow for coming right through the back of Harewood. We took a quick free kick that saw Yossi in a good position but Styles, mindful of the fact that we'd all paid to watch him make a name for himself rather than, perish the thought, watch a football match, decided to pull things back. Even more bizarrely Harewood was also given a yellow for, well your guess is as good as Styles'. As far as I could make out, the worst he did was to react to having 8 studs go through his legs by looking at Moore in a funny way. It was dreadful stuff even from an official as noted for incompetence as Styles. Having booked Harewood for God knows what he then compounded his error by failing to deal with Parker's failure to retreat ten yards (yellow card offence no.2 if we're generous and ignore the persistent foul play) and, just to add the cherry on the cake, Styles then failed to give anything for Duff's palming away of Benayoun's shot.

Seconds later we were 2-0 down. Bowyer won the ball back from a break but Gabbidon made a mess of things allowing the ball through to Martins who calmly placed the ball past the advancing Carroll for another rotten goal.

Parker, miracle upon miracle, finally picked up what should have been his third yellow for his late trip of Mullins on the edge of the box. The free kick was pulled back to Konchesky whose low shot was deflected wide. As ever nothing came from the corner. Konchesky became the next to go into the book for a cynical block of Milner out on the touchline. It was a deserved yellow but you can't help feeling that Konch should have told the ref his name was Parker to save punishment. As if to confirm the suspicion Parker then went straight through the back of Zamora. It was a shocking tackle that made no attempt to play the ball. It was simply a wild studs up lunge and, was by very generous standards, easily Parker's 4th cautionable offence of the match. Styles' leniency simply beggared belief - though I have little doubt that had anyone celebrated a goal by removing his shirt Styles would have been right on the case.

Harewood then ran on to Benayoun's through ball. The ball was there to be won. Given got there first and there was a sickening collision. Somewhat tellingly the visitors seemed more concerned with getting Harewood punished than with showing any concern for their stricken colleague. Any punishment would have seen us with the unique situation whereby a player with 4 yellow card offences to his name would remain on the pitch at the expense of a player who had commited no such offences. Even Styles isn't that stupid - though he did come close in this match. Given's injury looked serious and he was stretchered off.

During the stoppage we were treated to the moment that made all the papers. Following the "give us a wave" chant Roeder followed a discreet wave with a somewhat stupid clenched fist punch of the air. The crowd reaction was predictable. "You're the reason we went down" was the cruel but at least partially accurate chant as one or two tried to get a bit closer to, er, discuss the point. Frankly, Roeder really ought to have known better.

The game petered out - with about 6 minutes being lost to the Given injury Styles decided that he couldn't be bothered to stay behind for more than 5 and a match that had disappointed on every level came to an unsatisfactory close.

Much comment has been made as to the potentially upsetting effect of the arrival of the two Argentinian lads. However I suspect that our lack of form goes a little bit deeper than that. Other than the Charlton match (and let's face it they were awful), the second 45 at Liverpool and possibly parts of the Palermo match we haven't really got going. Yes all the fuss hasn't helped but we weren't playing before they arrived. This was a game in which, much like the Villa match, we couldn't string two passes together. We couldn't cross a ball, we couldn't run at a player, we couldn't beat a player. All that has got to change and it's got to change soon before we get sucked into scrapping about with Sp*rs at the wrong end.

As for Newcastle - well we made an average side look average. Unfortunately average is good enough to beat us at the moment. The Geordies are singing Roeder's praises at the moment but they would do well to remember the lyrics to the "You're the reason..." chant!

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Player Ratings

Roy Carroll
Found wanting for the goal and failed to dominate the six-yard box.

Tyrone Mears
Battled gamely but was clearly not 100% fit following his illness.

Paul Konchesky
A slight improvement on Thursday but distribution still poor.

Anton Ferdinand
Not really given a hard time by the opposition. Possibly the least worst of our defenders if I can put it like that.

Danny Gabbidon
Recent improvements in his form as his match fitness has improved just went out of the window. A complete mare for the second goal.

Javier Mascherano
Not match fit and therefore unable to match the impressive start of Thursday.

Nigel Reo-Coker
Struggled to make any contribution. Might be the next to have a spell of bench-warming as AP tries to work out his best line-up.

Lee Bowyer
Another who battled gamely. Some of the treatment being dished out to him (yes you again Parker) is blatantly designed to wind him up. So far he's kept his temper.

Matthew Etherington
In the bad old days it seemed that one kick at Matty would be enough to keep him out of the game. Parker made sure that this was one of the bad old days.

Bobby Zamora
This season he's had poor days but scored, and, against Palermo, he had a good day but came away empty-handed. This time he had a poor day without the goal, though the largely illegal attentions of Moore and, yes, Parker didn't help matters any.

Carlos Tevez
I didn't think he had that bad a first half and we certainly could have used his free-kick skills with Parker on the pitch.


Marlon Harewood
(Replaced Tevez, 45) Strangely booked. Huffed and puffed but his most meaningful contribution was to accidentally put Given out of the match.

Yossi Benayoun
(Replaced Mascherano, 67) A few good runs but failed to dominate as we know he can.

Hayden Mullins
(Replaced Mears, 67) Forced into an unfamiliar right-back role he did ok. Unique amongst those who took part in the match in that Parker actually got booked when he kicked him.

Robert Green
Did not play.

Carlton Cole
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Roy Carroll, Tyrone Mears, Paul Konchesky, Anton Ferdinand, Danny Gabbidon, Javier Mascherano, Nigel Reo-Coker, Lee Bowyer, Matthew Etherington, Bobby Zamora, Carlos Tevez.

Goals: None.

Booked: Tyrone Mears 45 Marlon Harewood 74 Paul Konchesky 78      .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Newcastle United: Given, Carr, Moore, Ramage, Babayaro, Milner, Parker, Emre, Duff, Martins, Ameobi.

Subs not used: N'Zogbia, Rossi.

Goals: Duff (50), Martins (75).

Booked: Babayaro (41), Moore (74), Parker (77).

Sent off: None.

Referee: R.Styles.

Attendance: 34,938.

Man of the Match: Javier Mascherano.