West Ham United 1 Birmingham City 1

Saturday, 9th February 2008
by Gordon Thrower

It was one of those days that made you feel glad to be alive. Glorious sunshine, a decent breakfast and a pint or two in good company all contributed to a general air of well-being that even Romford’s bright orange shirt and the ridiculous suggestion that matches should be played abroad couldn’t shift. Then we had to go and watch football.

I was considering the latest Premier League idea as I walked in the bright sunshine along Green Street. I have long espoused the idea that Arsenal and Spurs should be sent to Iraq. However, my plan did not envisage that they should actually play any matches there. Still, if and when they finally get round to inventing time travel I mused that they could send Liverpool to Hiroshima about 3 minutes after the bomb was dropped. It'd give their fans somewhere more pleasant to go for home matches.

My spot of daydreaming was interrupted by my arrival at the ground. Team news was that injuries ruled the roost again. Bellamy and Solano were nowhere to be seen having returned to action the previous week at Wigan. Noble was dropped to the bench - though by the time I'd reached my seat his hamstrings had meant that even he'd been replaced by Collison. This left us with a starting line-up of Green, Neill, McCartney, Ferdinand, Upson, Ljungberg, Bowyer, Mullins, Etherington, Cole, Ashton.

It was a bright start as we forced a corner in the first 30 seconds. Ljungberg's outswinger found Ashton who failed to connect properly. The ball was worked out to Etherington but Ferdinand failed to get enough on the cross to seriously bother 'keeper Taylor. Taylor's throw out was superb but a misplaced pass into touch saved us from any undue bother.

Ashton got better connection on a Neill cross about 12 yards out but the keeper was well-placed and saved comfortably. The game settled down. The pattern was tons of home possession and nothing from the away team though McSheffrey did manage to worry a few people at the back of the Bobby Moore with one woeful effort.

Ref Clattenberg was beginning to cause a bit of concern. Ljungberg came in for some shocking treatment down the right as he began to get at the Birmingham defence. A blatant body check by McSheffrey was the first of at least seven caution-worthy offences perpetrated on the Swede. Clattenberg seemed happy enough with each foul despite the requirements of the laws of the game. Ignorance is bliss I suppose. I did warn my neighbours that we were going to see some poor refereeing before kick-off. From my vantage point in the Upper West I could quite clearly see Clattenberg's bald spot. Oh yes you all laughed at my "bald referees are rubbish" theory - well look at the idiot we had in this match and think again.

From the free-kick Upson played a 40 yard diagonal pass up to Ashton who nodded on to Freddie who earned a corner. At this point my mate Alan, who I've been sitting next to at the Boleyn for 4 or 5 years now, made a prediction. He doesn't make too many - well not if you don't count our weekly "how many minutes of added time" lottery anyway. This week's gem was "I fancy Freddie to score today". Well Freddie took the corner so there was little danger of that happening any time soon. The corner was blocked out to Etherington who worked himself into a position out wide on the left to earn a throw. Linda launched the throw in, Cole nodded on and there was Freddie to hook the ball in at the back post. It was a muted celebration - mainly because from the angle we sit at it looked for all the world as if the ball had gone into the side-netting. We did the obligatory jumping up and down once we realised that it had gone in though and we all circled around Alan to see if he had anything to say on the subject of lottery numbers.

We started to play some football and one marvellous one-touch move in the 9th minute should have pointed the way forward. Mullins won a tackle in the middle feeding McCartney. The passes went McCartney - Etherington - McCartney - Mullins - Bowyer - Etherington - Cole who fed Bowyer whose low first-time effort was about a foot wide. The move was a joy to watch and deserved a goal and I made a mental note of gratitude for the fact that we don't have to play on pitches like Wigan's every week.

Another chance went begging on 13 minutes when Ljungberg fed Mullins whose first time ball into the box fell invitingly for Cole who didn't quite connect cleanly enough and his shot crept wide, Ashton not quite having made enough ground to slide in at the far post.

So, here we go again, dominating a match in which we could have been two or three up we suddenly found ourselves level. Both Forssell and McFadden had shown a tendency to dive at every opportunity - embarrassingly so on occasion. On a rare sortie forward McFadden got the wrong side of Neill and threw himself to the floor. There was contact from Neill but McFadden was well on his way down anyway. Correct decision: indirect free-kick to West Ham, yellow card to Mc Fadden. Actual decision: penalty and glee for Clattenberg who was able to make himself look big. Unusually, Green failed to make the save and Birmingham were undeservedly level.

Clattenberg continued to get the basics wrong as Etherington sprung the offside trap and played the ball off a defender for what should have been a corner but was, in the ref's own strange world, a goal kick. Clattenberg went into even more eccentric mode allowing a studs-up challenge through the back of Cole to go unpunished. Actually Clattenberg did take some action - he had a long word with Mullins on the matter of dissent, Mullins having presumably had the temerity to enquire as to why Clattenberg felt able to pick and chose which of the laws of the game he wanted to enforce.

We continued to try to play football through all the muppet refereeing. A Cole knock-down found Etherington whose square ball found Bowyer's late run but the midfielder's first time effort needed a shade more power. Then, belatedly and probably accidentally, Clattenberg got something right. Johnson brought another premature Ljungberg run to the end by hauling him down. This was third-time lucky and Johnson was cautioned, though at least two earlier challenges of equal stature had gone unpunished so presumably Johnson will feel aggrieved.
We continued to press forward. McCartney intercepted but the shot had power but no direction. We then had another flowing passing move to purr over. Ashton flicked on a clearance wide to Ljungberg. The passing sequence then went Ljungberg - Cole - Bowyer - Ashton who played in Etherington only for Matty's near post effort to be turned away by Taylor.

Following another corner Birmingham ventured on a break which ended up with another outrageous dive by McFadden which yet again was ignored by Clattenberg though I suppose we ought to be grateful that he didn't give another spot-kick, though, since the ball had clearly come off the diving cheat's leg, it was bad enough that Clattenberg should give a corner. Up the other end Mullins was next to have a shot but again Taylor got behind the midfielder's low half-volley and a half that we had dominated came to a close.

There had been some encouraging signs in the first half - there had been some good passing football so we were looking forward to more of the same in the second half. Mistake.

First item of note was a Forsell dive that Clattenberg saw but chose not to punish. Why? No idea. The laws of the game had long gone out of the window as far as Clattenberg was concerned. We then survived a genuine scare as McSheffrey's effort flicked off Ljungberg and worryingly, but harmlessly wide for a corner.

McSheffrey finally found his way into the book for his third go at Ljungberg - though as we were to find out later yellow cards had no real meaning in this match. What was even more disappointing though was the fact that we'd stopped trying the passing game that had seemed so promising in the first half, though one move involving Etherington and Mullins found Ashton who put his shot well over. A subsequent move found Ashton finding space to get a shot in but he dragged it harmlessly wide.

Things needed livening up and, on the hour, Faubert replaced Cole. Neither of the two strikers had seemed particularly on form. Cole had put himself about but had got into few scoring positions whilst Ashton had got into a few scoring positions but hadn't put himself about much. Either way some sections of the crowd were disappointed at the switch. The change led to Freddie pushing up to play alongside or just behind Ashton with Faubert moving to the right.

Ljungberg then brought down a high clearance superbly only for Muamba to clatter him as the ball was laid off wide. Muamba picked up a deserved yellow when the ball eventually went out. Indeed given that the foul consisted of an initial kick followed by a stamp on the ankle, more serious sanction would not have been amiss. Before this Ashton found himself in acres of space in the box from Neill's drilled diagonal pass but an air shot was all he could muster.

McSheffrey went in late on Neill - his third yellow card offence. Only the free-kick was given. Etherington's free-kick found Upson whose header brought another save out of Taylor. That's the England international Upson, by the way - the one whose former manager said would never play for England again. Thanks Bruce but if I want predictions I think I'll stick with Alan who I sit next to - he knows more about football.

It was a frustrating second period as a Birmingham side devoid of any true class came to stifle and - as I believe the modern phrase goes they parked the bus in the goalmouth. Forssell did have a shot wide before being replaced but the visitors' ambition was close to non-existent.

With eight left Camara replaced Etherington and shortly after that Clattenberg entered into his most disgraceful spell of the game. Mullins got the better of McSheffrey whose only response was to crudely hack Mullins down. By any interpretation of the laws this was a yellow cad offence. Mullins had got away, McSheffrey had no intention of playing the ball, his sole aim was to prevent further progress, just as it had been on the other three occasions that he had committed similar offences. Why on earth Clattenberg failed to produce the second yellow only he will know. It was an appalling decision from a referee who had started badly and just got worse and worse as the day went on. Biirmingham managed to smuggle the player off under the guise of a feigned injury and were able to substitute him. We saw more time wasting as Taylor went down clutching his head - presumably his ears had popped from the altitude as there had been no meaningful contact from anyone.

If that wasn't bad enough it got even worse. Mullins lunged in for a loose ball, Bowyer got beaten to the loose ball by Johnson then found himself sent off for, well, even Clattenberg will have a job explaining this one. It wasn't a yellow card, hell it wasn't even a foul. If anything Johnson had his studs showing but frankly there was nothing there at all - Mullins? Maybe but Bowyer? No this was refereeing at it's worst and it was an outrage that Bowyer was red carded for doing exactly nothing whilst McSheffrey was allowed to commit foul after foul after foul without proper punishment.

This was the last meaningful action of the game. Spector replaced Ashton, something that was booed by some sections of the ground though it wasn't clear if this was because of disagreement with the presumed aim of saving the point or because of dissatisfaction with Ashton's performance. Either way there are those amongst the crowd who don't seem to be happy unless there is something to moan at and the switch gave them the opportunity to moan away, even if some of them weren't quite sure why.

This was a disappointing afternoon for a number of reasons. Yet again we suffered from not being to break down a side with no real attacking intention. Whilst I appreciate the fact that many of the players signed in the summer haven't been fit, this was another match that exposed the lack of creativity in midfield. We have nobody able to take a player on, to unlock a defence, to do something different. For me anyway, the big disappointment about this winter's transfer window was that we didn't take the opportunity to rectify the situation.

Still it could be worse - we could have had to watch all that in Vladivostock or somewhere. An improvement if you're from Birmingham I suppose but a bit of a bind for everyone else. Still we at KUMB have a contingency plan if all this foreign travel stuff comes to fruition. We're going to put in a bid for a match to be staged in London - maybe E13 would be good as there's all sorts of exotic foods to be had in Green Street and the weather can be ok.

Still there are one or two things the Premier League need to sort out before we all start to pack the sun cream. It'd be good to see them respond to emails occasionally and wouldn't it be nice if they stopped defrauding us by providing match officials that are up to the job. Ah well we're only the general public - we're not important are we.

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Player Ratings

Robert Green
Nothing to do really. Surprisingly let in a penalty.

Lucas Neill
I would never suggest that a player should avoid playing for his country (well apart from Heskey perhaps) but Curbs will have to look at whether he is really up to playing for us after such a long journey. Conned for the penalty.

George McCartney
Steady enough though not really tested much.

Anton Ferdinand
Another fine match. In front of Capello too.

Matthew Upson
Got caught a bit too tight on Forssell the one time the striker didn't dive but otherwise another good run-out.

Hayden Mullins
Did the foot in stuff as usual.

Lee Bowyer
Some good late runs in the first half but faded as an influence in the second half. The sending off was a complete and utter joke.

Freddie Ljungberg
A constant thorn in the side. A proper referee (as opposed to one who appeared to have been recruited from the classified pages of "The Idiot's Gazette) might have afforded him some protection. Deserved the goal.

Matthew Etherington
Like Bowyer had a decent first half but seemed to be bypassed in the second as we went route one.

Dean Ashton
Got into some promising positions but failed to capitalise.

Carlton Cole
Ran around a lot to no avail.


Julien Faubert
(replaced Cole, 62) This sort of player thrives on service. He got little.

Henri Camara
(replaced Etherington, 83) Can't remembering him touching the ball.

Jonathan Spector
(replaced Ashton, 90) I think he touched the ball

Richard Wright
Did not play.

Jack Collison
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Robert Green, Lucas Neill, George McCartney, Anton Ferdinand, Matthew Upson, Hayden Mullins, Lee Bowyer, Freddie Ljungberg, Matthew Etherington, Dean Ashton, Carlton Cole.

Goals: Freddie Ljungberg 7                  .

Booked: None.

Sent Off: Lee Bowyer 88    .

Birmingham City: Maik Taylor, Kelly, Martin Taylor, Ridgewell, Murphy, Larsson, Muamba, Johnson, McSheffrey, Forssell, McFadden.

Subs not used: Doyle, Nafti, Zarate.

Goals: McFadden (pen 16).

Booked: Johnson (33), McSheffrey (58), Muamba (72), Jerome (90), M.Taylor (90+2).

Sent off: None.

Referee: M.Clattenburg.

Attendance: 34,884.

Man of the Match: Freddie Ljungberg.