Premier League
Blackburn Rovers 1 West Ham United 1

Saturday, 21st March 2009
by Gordon Thrower

Always an eventful one this, and this season was no exception.

It was an early departure up some suspiciously clear motorways during which the main topic of conversation was our lack of depth, in particular in the striking positions where the absence of Cole, thanks to official incompetence, was being felt. We were also debating what the front pairing might be in the event that everyone were fit at the same time.

On the occasions where Ashton and Cole have played together in the past it hasn't worked and the "partnership" was described as a comedy double act with two straight men. This put us in mind of 60's comedy pair Mike & Bernie Winters. For the younger readers these were a kind of "Happy Shopper" version of Morecambe and Wise - a double act without one millionth of the talent, charm or humour of Eric & Ernie. In later years the brothers had a bit of a falling out and Bernie ended up appearing on stage being out-acted by a St Bernard dog called Schnorbitz. Thus it was, by a process of lateral thinking and strange insane musings, that Diego Tristan obtained the nickname Schnorbitz.

On arrival at the cluster of terrace houses clinging to a slope that calls itself Blackburn we followed the satnav towards the location of Sam's Watersedge bar, which Romford had appointed as the meeting spot. On arrival at the canal-side location something appeared to be wrong. There seemed to be no pub. Undaunted, I accosted a passing couple out for a constitutional and asked for the location of said hostelry. "You see that pile of bricks down there?....." came the response.

Sam's Watersedge Bar - I think we missed last orders

A quick call to Romford ascertained that he had been unaware that the chosen hostelry was now rubble and we found another canalside location that was quiet, had a decent ale (Thwaites Original) and a juke box that had a decent selection of stuff from all eras (and "Build Me Up B*ttercup - but you can't have everything I suppose).

A pleasant few hours later we adjourned to the ground. Team news was that Upson's calf and Cole's suspension kept them away. Schnorbitz had recovered from a groin strain and was to start and Dyer had recovered from whatever his latest setback had been (I lose track) and had made it as far as the bench to give us a starting XI of: Green, Spector, Ilunga, Neill, Tomkins, Kovac, Parker, Noble, Boa Morte, Di Michele, Tristan.

Well the die was cast fairly early on in this one. Allardyce has a reputation for a dislike of his players playing anything remotely resembling football and since taking over at Rovers stiff necks have been the order of the day. Like Stoke, Rovers possess a long throw specialist and, like Stoke, Rovers seem to rely on that tactic a hell of a lot. With that sort of tactic it's all about who can cope best with the second ball. With about 7 gone on the clock McCarthy found himself in space at the back post, Spector having popped out to the shops for a minute or something. However the South African striker's effort was woeful and ballooned into the crowd.

We then had an old fashioned scramble. Ref Foy bafflingly told Samba off for pushing and shoving while the ball was dead then allowed the donkey to carry on as a corner from their right ended up outside the far post. Nelsen's cross cum shot was punched out by Green, falling to Pedersen. Green came rushing out to block but I believe the low shot may have been blocked by Tomkins in front of Green. Lucas Neill then got the better of Jason Roberts who slung an elbow towards the skipper's face which, strangely, though deemed worthy of a free-kick, saw no further sanction from the ref.

Neill was the subject of a number of "greedy b*stard" taunts from the home support who were clearly under the impression that the likes of Shearer came to Blackburn for the quality of the slick passing football they've been renowned for, rather than for the large amounts of wodge sent their way by the late Jack Walker. Either that or the home support has a better-developed sense of irony than I thought. If that's the case they keep it well hidden, as evidenced by the constant Pavlovian screams of "handball" that appear every time the ball struck a player above ankle height.

The pattern continued. Keeper of defender would hoof the ball long. Tomkins and Neill would get a block in, the midfield would help it clear towards DiMichele or Schnorbitz who would promptly lose out to a defender or the keeper who would launch it into the stratosphere once more.

For all the aerial onslaught there were a few occasions when we looked like breaking free and we ought to have taken the lead on 25 minutes. LBM took a quick throw in on the right to Noble who was in space. Noble's cross was in the general direction of Schnorbitz but seemed to have no chance of reaching him until former England keeper (and how glad are we of the word "former" in that description?) Robinson got in a right mess with a defender. Unfortunately Shnorbitz seemed to be in a world of his own and reacted with all the speed of a Prime Minister looking to find the word "sorry" in a dictionary. The ball bounced weakly off him and was smuggled to safety.

LBM then wasted good position on the right by failing to get a first time cross in when played into space by Kovac's clever first time ball. Blackburn then had the ball in the net. A Perdersen long throw - yes another one - was slung into the box. Samba's nod on found Diouf, who turned and rifled the ball home from close range, only to find that a linesman had spotted the two yards that he'd been offside at the time of Samba's header. He also appeared to have fouled Green, so quite from where the poor misunderstood woman-beating, drink driving spitter found that look of innocence will continue to be a mystery to all but the lecturers at whatever drama college he attends these days.

We then wasted another good position when a decent counter-attacking break from DiMichele found LBM in good position centrally. LBM's pass to the overlapping Tristan was too wide, though the erroneous offside flag that was raised meant that Shnorbitz's weak shot wouldn't have counted anyway.

Then we took the lead. A misplaced pass from Roberts - it was on the floor - was picked up by Noble who brought the ball out of defence. Noble's pass inside the full back found LBM who pulled the ball back for Schnorbitz, who eventually controlled the ball and fed it back to Noble who placed the ball with the outside of his foot into the far corner. It was a fine finish, though the replays showed that LBM had been an inch or two offside during the build-up. Presumably the lino's neck muscles had frozen in an upward direction and the move had been too quick for him to track. Still it gave Allardyce something to whinge about post-match (like he needs an excuse).

We had to cope with late attacks when Tomkins got another block in on a Pedersen shot - Spector still being delayed at the Kwik Save deli counter or something. Tomkins blocked another effort from Roberts. The minute of stoppage came and went and the ref blew the whistle for half time with the ball 100 ft above the halfway line, where it had been most of the game.

Allardyce made a change at half time and it was to be a telling one. Oojer had presumably not been getting enough height on his passes - one of which had committed the cardinal sin in Blackburn of actually being on the ground. On came Andrews to replace him and it was to make all the difference for the home side.

The pattern of the match continued. Long high crosses into the box, Tomkins or Neill getting the first ball then desperately defending the inevitable attempt by McCarthy or Roberts to put the second ball away. One Neill block came after a two handed-shove on Spector (just back from the shops) by Roberts went unpunished. The respite was temporary. A long throw from Pedersen (yeah, I know) was only partly cleared as Samba continued to wreak his illegal havoc in the box. The ball fell to Andrews who buried the loose ball into the corner of the net through a crowd of players.

It was the same for the rest of the game really. Long throw-ins from Pedersen. Long balls into the box. Blocks from Neill and Tomkins. Cries of handball from the crowd whenever the ball hit something that wasn't a foot. Ball played up from the back to LBM, DDM & Schnorbitz only to come straight back without so much of a challenge from them.

The crowd got a bit excited when El Hadj Diouf got the ball in the net again but since he had at no stage in the proceedings actually ever been in an onside position the goal was correctly disallowed. The innocent look was there again though - his drama teacher must be very proud.

Nelsen then picked up the first yellow of the game for going through the back of LBM. The next claim of handball came as Kovac headed a cross clear for a corner. You'd think with all the aerial stuff they play that the home support might know the difference between head and hand wouldn't you. Perhaps they're working up to that one once they've mastered backside and elbow first. Andrews then might have had a free header on goal from the resulting corner but forgot to actually head the ball and it went out for a throw-in.

Roberts then got on the end of a Pedersen long throw (I'd lost count by this time). Any chance of a challenge from Kovac as the ball came over was ruled out by Samba who had the midfielder in what I can only describe as a wrestling hold. Tomkins and then, crucially, Parker got timely blocks in and the ball was eventually cleared - for another Pedersen long throw.

Boa Morte then left to be replaced by Lopez and DiMichele went off to be replaced by the welcome sight of Kieron Dyer for an 8 minute run-out - and his introduction might have been a telling one. Samba made a mess of a clearance and Dyer got the wrong side. Samba took two tugs at Dyer's shirt before hauling him down. No penalty was awarded despite the blatant nature of the offence and one would love to hear referees have to explain bizarre decisions like that in public - it would be educational to know exactly why they arbitrarily decide to suspend the laws of the game on a whim like that.

We then won a free-kick in front of goal - Mokuena picking up a yellow for a challenge on Tristan. Schnorbitz himself elected to take the free-kick and it was horrible. High, wide and bloody awful to be honest. Payne replaced Schnorbitz to run down the clock and the game ended with a point hard earned.

I heard some hilarious stuff after the match on radio and TV. On the way home Stan Collymore was gloating at Man Utd's loss pointing out that when he played for Liverpool he and his club were respected which was why no scousers were ringing up to gloat. Meanwhile on another channel it was full of scousers ringing up to gloat suggesting that the woman-beating halfwit may have not been entirely honest with us as to the numbers of scousers making calls to his station.

Then when I got home I heard Allardyce boasting of how his side had played in a mixture of styles in an attempt to win the game. I thought long and hard about this statement and, having slept on it for a bit, I've finally worked out what the idiot was on about. He's right you see. Pedersen's long throw ins came in from both the left AND right hand sides of the pitch. What a tactical genius that bloke is. The rest of Allardyce's rant was all about how the lino had missed LBM straying six inches offside - though strangely the fat one was silent on the foul on Dyer. Funny that.

This was a tough one for the side which really is down to the bare bones. Neill and Tomkins battled extremely well and they deserved the point on their own. We currently stand in 8th despite the injury list and we do have another week off to get some of the walking wounded back in action. Hopefully we can keep Dyer fit and push on to regain that 7th place. As for Blackburn, well they have to play Stoke in a few weeks time. Just pray that Sky haven't decided that one is one they want to cover - I'm not sure I could endure watching such a "mixture of styles" from both teams in a match.

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Player Ratings

Robert Green
No chance with the goal. Some good saves in the first half but for all Allardyce's bluster it was noticeable that the defence's hard work gave him few saves to make in the second half.

Jonathan Spector
Guilty once more of going missing, leaving his man unmarked far too often.

Herita Ilunga
Battled well throughout and stuck to his job.

James Tomkins
A mature performance from the youngster. How many blocks did he put in?

Lucas Neill
Moved to the middle to cover injuries he had a tough battling 90 minutes being manhandled by Roberts and Samba.

Scott Parker
Another strong run out - though like Noble he looked knackered at the end.

Radoslav Kovac
Spent much of the 90 in a rather uneven struggle being hauled over by Samba. Stuck to the job well and made a number of clearances that would have been a lot better if the forwards had been able to hold things up.

Mark Noble
Fine finish for the goal and a much better run out than of late. Faded a bit towards the end but that was unsurprising in view of the running he'd put in.

Luis Boa Morte
Almost played as a third forward. Unlike his colleagues he did at least do a lot of chasing back.

Diego Tristan
Schnorbitz has been making noises about extending his stay at the Boleyn. Not on this form I'm afraid.

David Di Michele
Contributed little of note I'm afraid. In matches like this you need your forwards to provide an outlet to the defence. He didn't.


Walter Lopez
(Replaced Boa Morte, 79 mins) Brought the ball out of defence well in the short period he was on.

Kieron Dyer
(Replaced Di Michele, 82 mins) Looked hungry in the10 minutes or so he was on. How he wasn't awarded a penalty only Foy's analyst will know.

Josh Payne
(Replaced Tristan, 90 mins) Not really on long enough to make a difference other than by running the clock down at the death.

Jan Lastuvka
Did not play.

Bondz N'Gala
Did not play.

Junior Stanislas
Did not play.

Fred Sears
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Robert Green, Jonathan Spector, Herita Ilunga, James Tomkins, Lucas Neill, Scott Parker, Radoslav Kovac, Mark Noble, Luis Boa Morte, Diego Tristan, David Di Michele.

Goals: Noble 36                  .

Booked: Scott Parker 90          .

Sent off: None.

Blackburn Rovers: Robinson, Ooijer, Samba, Nelsen, Givet, Diouf, Mokoena, Warnock, Pedersen, McCarthy, Roberts.

Subs not used: Brown, Kerimoglu, Dunn, Khizanishvili, Villanueva, Treacy.

Goals: Andrews (51).

Booked: Nelsen (68), Mokoena (85).

Sent off: None.

Referee: Chris Foy.

Attendance: 21,672.

Man of the Match: James Tomkins.