Premier League
West Ham United 1 Manchester City 0

Saturday, 21st February 2009
by Gordon Thrower

A welcome return to winning ways but at a cost.

12.30 is a daft time to be kicking off a football match. Even a local derby at that time would be bad enough (and we still have to wait and see what stupidity they're going to do with Spurs away) but when supporters of one side has a couple of hundred miles to do it seems perverse - especially for a match that isn't being messed about for the purposes of tv. The most plausible explanation given was that the various police forces involved had decided that they didn't want City and Man Utd fans travelling on the same trains - though since the M3 is the route of choice for those that follow the Salford side I couldn't work that one out myself.

Whatever the reason, the kick-off time ensured that there were but a few minutes to enjoy the traditional pre-match libation. No sooner had I sat down than the team news arrived. Following the midweek disappointment up at the Riverside, when we had gone out of the cup in front of 3,000 Hammers and two men and a dog who had got lost en route to going to stare at some traffic lights, a couple of obvious changes were required. Mark Noble was suspended and was replaced in midfield by Collison, who had started on the bench in midweek. Secondly, Di Michele came in for Sears to give a starting line-up of Green, Neill, Ilunga, Upson, Tomkins, Parker, Kovac, Behrami, Collison, Cole, Di Michele.

The early exchanges were scrappy as both sides struggled to impose a pattern on the match. Of course having the Moron Dean in charge of the match was never going to be that free-flowing, such matches being incompatible with Dean's main intention of being the central focus of attention. The earliest chance came on 9 minutes when Cheri got a cross in from the left that Cole might have got even closer to getting something on but for the sly nudge he received from a defender.

Shortly after this we discovered exactly why we'd all paid the thick end of ?40 to attend the match. Yes it was moron time again. A tame challenge from Parker on Richards was a foul but just that. Of course in the strange little world of this obnoxious little twit the challenge became a yellow card offence followed by a long lecture to both Parker and Neill. Well done Dean. Richards played on for another five minutes but, having been a doubt before the match, failed to shake of the injury and was replaced by Caicedo.

We then had to be grateful to Green when a cross from the left fell to De Jong on the edge of the box. The Dutchman's volley was flicked on by Robinho who looked offside. Green was, thankfully, wide awake and made a fine save to turn the ball round the post but we were a fingertip away from going behind.

We moved forward and the football of a few weeks ago seemed to be making a return as another good passing move saw Given get his body behind Di Michele's 20 yard effort. Robinho, who seems mightily fed up with life at Eastlands what with all those nasty team-mates complaining that he's allowed to do what he wants, then missed what one can only describe as a sitter from 3 yards following a cross from the left that was helped on by a miscue from Ireland. This prompted chants of "couldn't score in a brothel" though the songsmiths remained silent on whether or not Leeds nightclubs

Efforts from the visitors were few and far between though and we looked the more likely to break the deadlock, though the final shot was normally lacking. Another Di Michele cross just eluded Cole. Cole then won a free kick (though advantage would have served us better) out on the right. Theo risked ruffling his hairstyle to head wide (though Moron gave a corner despite it clearly not being so).

Collison then created some space for himself and got another shot in. Di Michele did likewise shortly after but on both occasions Given saved well.

Then came the low point of the match - if not the season. As the visitors played the ball out of defence, Behrami went for and missed a tackle, appearing as he did so to get his studs caught in the turf. Pep went down in a heap and the injury was obviously serious - something that even the Moron acknowledged by stopping the game immediately. You know things are bad when you see Ges Steinberg's sprint and there isn't a meal at the end of the run and the portly medic was by the player's side in, well, nearly a minute. After a lengthy delay the unfortunate Swiss midfielder was stretchered off to applause and chants of "Behrami Army". I'd love to be wrong but I'd be very surprised if we were to see Pep in action this side of next season.

Savio came on to replace the stricken midfielder and we saw out a bafflingly short spell of injury time (4 minutes when Pep's injury had taken at least 7 to sort out) on top but without the goal that our possession had possibly merited, the only item of note being Kovac's booking for a lunge. None of us felt much like playing the injury time lotto that we usually play so the ?2,000 jackpot will roll over to the West Brom game.

Jeremy experimented with an older version of "Bubbles" during the interval. It's fair to say that the experiment was not a success, the 1972 version being so slow that if we hadn't lost interest during the "fortune's always hiding" bit we'd still be there singing it now - a fact acknowledged by the man himself.

The second half was more of the same really. Kovac - who we have wittily christened "Theo" in our bit of the ground (what wags we are) was having an improved game, though he still gave the ball away a little too much for my liking though the female part of our ground seemed more concerned with his floppy hairstyle than with his ability to actually pay a part in our build-up play.

Meanwhile Collison was getting on with the job of playing and forced a corner off Dunne following Di Michele's clever ball in behind. Savio's corner wasn't the greatest though Given still had to save Cole's effort. Another move saw Cole get onto the end of a move started by Theo and Di Michele. Dunne's challenge was clumsy, but, given the identity of the referee, a penalty was most unlikely.

On 55 minutes we then saw a decent move - I lost count of the number of passes involved (making it at least more than three - I'm not in the habit of counting them you understand). The ball moved from right to left and ended up at Di Michele who sadly had his shot blocked by De Jong who was helping out in, er De Fence.

Of course Moron still had ideas about the match and his lack of knowledge regarding the law on advantage was frightening. When not halting play unnecessarily or letting blatant fouls go unchecked, Moron was doing his usual trick of trying to influence the result of matches by awarding free-kicks for imaginary offences. We've conceded a number of goals from real free-kicks in recent weeks and Moron obviously saw this as our weak spot. Thankfully the job of taking the free-kick fell to Robinho who carefully measured up his run before putting the ball into the back of the Centenary stand, much to everyone's amusement.

However, if that was funny the substitution of Mr February was downright hilarious. Having spent much of the second half moaning at his team-mates, the ref, the opposition, a stray blade of grass, a passing pigeon, you name it, the City no.39 was withdrawn to be replaced by Elano. Funny though this was, my own thought was that Bellamy was having such a poor game that I'd rather have him still on the pitch than Elano who we knew from past experience was more than capable of giving us a bad time. We then saw a miracle as - not for the first or last time of the afternoon - a City player tried to win a free-kick by feigning injury. Dean cured the player merely by laying his hands on the player - though the miracle didn't extend to Moron remembering the yellow card that the law requires.

The idiot did remember to book Kompany - signalling that the lunge on Kovac was the City man's third reckless challenge though why he should have been allowed three when the likes of Parker were pulled up for one god knows. Other referees too might have been reaching for a card after Elano's disgraceful kick at Neill - and it might not have been yellow. Moron waved play on.

I didn't really have the time to let my worries about Elano get the better of me as, within five minutes, we took the lead. Savio was the instigator. The young German lad was beginning to show signs of being able to bring a bit of pace to the midfield and, combining well with Di Michele and Cole on the left he cut in to hit a curling shot that Given could only push out to Collison. The Welsh International had an awful lot to do to get himself into a position to be able to hit the ball goalwards. The shot was more of a first-time cushioned push back towards goal - it was all he could really do to be fair - but the ball looped slowly (the '72 version of Bubbles went quicker) high over Given's despairing backwards leap to give us a deserved lead.

Of course this being West Ham we spent the remaining 20 minutes sitting on the lead and Caicedo had a couple of chances that had chants of "you need Craig Bellamy" ringing out. The second chance came as a result However we settled down a bit and Zola introduced Spector for Kovac who was suffering from split ends or something according to the female bit of our part of the ground. This change was shortly followed by the introduction Lopez for Di Michele for what I think was his first league outing.

Parker then saw his 25 yard effort deflected wide before a Robinho shot from similar distance up the other end met with similar fate. We survived a couple of corners - Cole doing a superb job defensively.

There was one final scare in the match. Parker chased back and put in a superb tackle to rob Robinho. Only Moron added to his ever-growing list of decisions based on hallucinations rather than what had actually happened by awarding a free-kick on the edge of the box. Now if the idiot genuinely thought that a foul had been committed Parker should have walked, having been on the end of the earlier ridiculous yellow card. Of course all that counted for nothing, the free-kick was clearly the attempt of Moron to get everyone talking about him the following day. Having rolled about a bit Robinho had to go off before the free-kick was taken so the job was given to Elano. The free-kick was superbly dealt with by Neill who ran back to head clear from under the bar. Robinho had clearly had enough and didn't bother to return - despite not actually showing much sign of being injured.

The match ended after an excellent spell of hold up play from Cole and three hard-earned points were in the bag.

This result was pleasing for a number of reasons. Firstly it was fine reaction to the poor performance up at the Riverside. Secondly, we seemed to be playing with a lot more width than of late and the more expansive game suited us. However the victory was marred by the injury to Behrami which hopefully isn't as bad as it looked. On the bright side, the three points lift us to 7th which could be good enough for a place in Europe - thanks to Spurs inability to be able to take a penalty. Strange lot Spurs - I mean fancy spending so much time and effort getting into Europe only to stick a reserve side out as soon as you get past the group stage. Especially if you rest players in a vain attempt to win a cup to get you into Europe!

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Player Ratings

Robert Green
Largely untroubled. Caught a few crosses and made a superb fingertip save in the first half from Robinho.

Lucas Neill
Strong match and his clearing header from the late free-kick saved the match for us.

Herita Ilunga
Not one of his better games today - was a bit too wasteful with the ball.

James Tomkins
A good few headers in and looked a lot more solid than of late.

Matthew Upson
Fine game. Some decent defensive headers at the end.

Scott Parker
My next door neighbour in the ground said that he "ran his backside into the ground" Damned if I can put it any better than that - MOTM.

Radoslav Kovac
An improvement on Wednesday but still prone to giving the ball away.

Valon Behrami
Will be missed. Get well soon sir.

Jack Collison
Another decent run out. The finish for the goal was a lot more difficult than it looked too.

Carlton Cole
Excellent. Lead the line really well, held the ball up and was back in defence at the death with a couple of fine headers.

David Di Michele
Lively and made some good turns.


Savio Nsereko
(Replaced Behrami, 43 mins) Looked full of pace and was a major contributor to the goal.

Jonathan Spector
(Replaced Kovac, 83 mins) Decent few minutes - one good tackle back.

Walter Lopez
(Replaced Spector, 85 mins) Not really on long enough to influence matters.

Jan Lastuvka
Did not play.

John Payne
Did not play.

Junior Stanislas
Did not play.

Fred Sears
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Robert Green, Lucas Neill, Herita Ilunga, James Tomkins, Matthew Upson, Scott Parker, Radoslav Kovac, Valon Behrami, Jack Collison, Carlton Cole, David Di Michele.

Goals: Jack Collison 70                  .

Booked: Scott Parker 10 Radoslav Kovac 44        .

Sent off: None.

Manchester City: Given, Bridge, Richards, Onuoha, Dunne, Zabaleta, De Jong, Kompany, Ireland, Bellamy, Robinho.

Subs not used: Hart, Garrido, Glauber, Vassell.

Goals: None.

Booked: Kompany (69), Ireland (90).

Sent off: None.

Referee: Mike Dean.

Attendance: 34,562.

Man of the Match: Scott Parker.