Premier League
West Ham United 2 Middlesbrough 1

Sunday, 24th May 2009
by Gordon Thrower

Cliché it may be but there is no other way to describe this match other than to say “it had ‘end of season’ written all over it.

The pre-match festivities began early with the arrival from Wales of Taff and Taffette who were staying at Castle Romford, the big fella having elected to miss the final match in favour of a couple of weeks on the sun. As it happened it turned out to be a scorching day in E13 so the tan could have been topped up anyway. The beers were slipping down well in our chosen hostelry and the taste was improved no end by the news from Wembley where Millwall had let a 2-1 lead go to be beaten by a team called the Iron playing in claret and blue. Which was nice.

A few memory flashbacks of the season later it was time to trek over to the ground for the last time where the team news was that the changes had been rung. Tomkins' absence as a result of refereeing incompetence required a reshuffle, Spector coming in at right-back and Neill moving over to the middle to partner Upson. Up front the "partnership" of Schnorbitz and DiMiLaces was replaced by Carlton Cole with Stanislas and Boa-Morte playing just behind giving us a starting line-up of Green, Spector, Ilunga, Neill, Upson, Noble, Kovac, Collison, Boa-Morte, Stanislas, Cole.

Now I presume everyone was aware of the various permutations that surrounded the visitors' fate. Basically, they were knackered without a decent-sized win and events at other grounds going their way. You'd therefore have thought that this was the time to say "sod it" and go hell for leather for an early goal just to make sure that they would still be in with a chance if anyone else messed up. Nope. Symptomatic of the problems they faced was the youngster Johnson who looked quite good during a Championship loan spell last year. In for Downing, he twice spurned promising positions on the left putting first a cross then a shot somewhere in the general direction of Green Street.

It was a poor first half really. The match lacked incident and all that was missing was the beach ball that used to be bounced around the terraces back in the "good old days." It was noticeable that our first shot of any note didn't arrive until 18 minutes in, Kovac taking time off from brushing his hands through his hair to hit a well-timed first-time effort straight down the throat of Jones following good work by Cole.

Tuncay - who one would have thought was playing his last match for Boro' then stuck a dangerous looking ball in from the right but nobody was looking to get on the end of what may have been a shot anyway, and a goal kick was the only result.

Things livened up a little on 20 minutes when Stanislas won a ball 20 yards out. His shot may have taken a deflection from a defender's attempted block - the path of the ball through the air was certainly erratic - and came back off the corner of post and crossbar with Jones left to watch the ball with the resigned manner of one who has just missed a bus but is pretending that they didn't want to catch that one anyway.

The crowd relieved the boredom by playing call and response with the four sides taking it in turns to have a bit of a sing. Even the news that Hull had gone behind to Man Utd didn't rouse either the visitors or their support which, at an estimated strength of only 1,200, suggested that the ghost had long since been given up.

Stanislas embarked on a promising run down the left only to be halted by Wheater who appeared to bring the ball under control on the touchline with his hand, unfortunately on the blind side of both ref and lino. This was the nearest we had to controversy on a slow day. Ilunga then played the ball up to Cole whose headed lay-off into Stanislas' path deserved better than the youngster's "rush of blood" first-time effort which was screwed wide.

Boro' had a half chance on the half-hour when Green appeared to be clattered by Huth, the ball falling to Wheater whose apologetic lob towards goal suggested that he thought it was a free-kick as well, the ball gently sailing over the bar. Emnes then got into a promising position on the right but his woeful effort found the same person at the back of the Bobby Moore as every other shot on goal from the visitors had done.

The first goal came on 33 minutes and it was a thing of beauty. Cole fed Boa-Morte who held the ball up well. LBM's ball inside the full back was a joy to behold and Ilunga's first-time low cross across the box found Cole totally unmarked at the back post for a fine finish. Excellent goal, and one of the sort we like to see at the Boleyn.

Kovac then had another pop from distance, his effort going just wide. Just for a bit of variety, an Upson clearance bothered the bloke at the back of the Bobby Moore but nothing came of the two resulting corners. Emnes then had a go at an overhead kick but made a complete hash of it, the minute of stoppage added as an afterthought came and went and it was half-time.

During the interval Trevor Morley, who these days is based in Norway, was introduced to the crowd. Jeremy, perhaps wisely, electing not to ask Trevor if he'd care to take a stab at predicting the final score. Scores from elsewhere meant little to Boro's fate, there being more interest in who was likely to accompany them. As it stood the Geordies were in the final drop position.

The visitors replaced McMahon and Arca with youngsters Walker and Bennett. The second half started in much the same vein as the first had ended, that is with not much happening. The torpor was livened after only four minutes; Tuncay embarked on a diagonal run across the face of the goal and fed O'Neill whose shot clipped Upson on its way in at the far post. Well it gave the visiting support something to brighten up the mood of gloom and despondency.

Shortly after the goal it became clear that Noble had a problem and the groin area seemed to be the source. After a minute or two of struggle he hobbled off to be replaced by Dyer. Stanislas then found Cole only for the striker to have his shot blocked. Cole's shirt was being pulled at the time but, not being a diver by nature (yes you Torres) he elected to stay on his feet and try for the shot, something for which he is to be applauded. The resulting corner caused a bit of panic in the defence and led to another. The second corner was kept alive by Collison and some nice passing between Collison, Dyer and Neill fed Stanislas who shot from 20 yards out. The shot was accurate but Jones really ought to have done better as the shot crept in under his arm to send us 2-1 up just short of the hour.

That was it as far as Boro' were concerned. A few long distance efforts straight at Green was about all they could muster and it was really only a matter of whether we could be bothered to increase the margin of victory. The excellent Boa-Morte was certainly trying. LBM's burst down the left saw him feed Cole, who played the ball cleverly in to Dyer whose first touch allowed first a defender then the keeper to get a block in.

On 63 the tiring Cole was replaced by Schnorbitz, Cole's departure receiving well-merited applause. A Stanislas free-kick was blocked as far as Collison who, sensing that the bloke at the back of the Bobby Moore might be feeling unloved following the change of ends, put his shot high and wide to give the bloke some practice.

Predictably Tristan's first involvement was to get caught offside and any hope that the efforts of the hard-working Cole might have given him a few pointers appeared forlorn indeed. Another promising break, including a "showboat-style" flick by Collison ended when LBM's cross from the left lacked enough depth to find Schnorbitz, the keeper cutting it out easily. Collison left with 20 to play to be replaced by Di Michele.

Another break through the middle saw Stanislas get a snap shot in but Jones was able to gather, albeit at the second attempt. Di Michele then kept a long ball in down by the corner and fed Stanislas whose pass found Tristan who scuffed his shot. Dyer's brilliant turn on 80 minutes then found him in space but he delayed the shot just enough for Huth to block. Kovac then had a dig from 20 yards that found a different bloke, this one being situated nearer the front of the Bobby Moore stand.

As the congas continued in the Chicken Run, we remarked that the day had been so lacking in urgency that not only had there been no yellow cards, a player was actually going to have to go some to pick up a caution. Right on cue that is what O'Neill did, coming through the back of Schnorbitz with a horrible two-footed tackle that might have been worthy of stronger punishment on another day. Webb was in charitable mood, presumably mindful of the extra paperwork that might be due.

As we hit the 90 minute mark LBM embarked on a solo run that ended with a decent low fizzing effort that Jones turned round the post to deny the Portuguese midfielder the goal his display had deserved. As the three minutes of stoppage ticked away Neill burst forward, swapping passes with LBM only to see his chip drift just over. And that was about it. Boro' went without a fight and, in all honesty they will need to think about cashing in on Downing if they can get him fit. On the day, with the exception of Tuncay, they had too many players not up to Premier League standard on display.

So we ended up in ninth position. More points than last season and all that despite having to play for much of the year without a first, or even second choice midfield or attack. Zola has got the team trying to play football and, whilst it sometimes doesn't quite come off, it should be remembered that this is his first season as a boss. The close season is likely to be another interesting one for the club, and it is to be hoped that the new owners, whoever they may be, give Zola and Clarke the tools for the job. I think we have cause for cautious optimism. That was certainly the mood in the Black Lion beer garden post match - though Adnams may have helped!

The credits. This being the end of the season I really need to thank a lot of people without whom this load of tosh wouldn't appear each week (hey it's therapeutic for me ok?!). Hats off therefore to the following:

- Romford for his friendship and beers and for being able to find decent hotels in the most unlikely of places for away trips. Only one trip to Hartlepool next year mate - and they already have a canoe man!

- Upton Girlie and Tomas for friendship, lifts to and from matches, sorting out the prediction league, Kit-Kats, cake and generally being good eggs all round;

- The lovely Margot for lifts and things - and for giving us such a laugh by being the only person outside Portsmouth to celebrate the demise of Southampton with such gusto (Long story!)

- Vern for being a good room-mate on away trips and giving me so much to write about;

- The guys in the East Ham WMC for making pre-match such a laugh every week;

- Alan, Trevor, Katherine, Nan and Dan who sit near us in the DMU - a nicer bunch of people you couldn't wish for to sit near during matches - sorry if I get carried away a bit;

- Up The Junction, for putting up - without complaint - with the inordinate amount of time it takes me to get organized enough to do these things.

- Greg, Laura and the guys in the press room for all the team sheets and stuff and for being helpful to the site in general.

- Jeremy Nicholas, for the interview and for not playing "Build Me Up B*ttercup"

- And finally, as ever, gold star for the long suffering Lovely Girlfriend who puts up with me disappearing all over the country for days on end with little complaint. Cheers pet. Am I allowed to watch the ashes?

Have a good summer everyone.

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Player Ratings

Robert Green
Solid - if rarely tested. If Robinson or Carson get in the England team ahead of him questions need to be asked.

Jonathan Spector
Stuck to his task well without ever looking flustered.

Herita Ilunga
Usual reliable display and played a fine part in the goal.

Lucas Neill
Caught the eye in the centre of defence with a calm performance. The late chip would have been a hellova goal.

Matthew Upson
Another reliable performance from the England man.

Mark Noble
Strong but looked a bit tired - a few 3am feeds too many perhaps?

Radoslav Kovac
A couple of half-decent efforts but doesn't look worth the transfer fee being suggested at present.

Junior Stanislas
Slightly fortunate for the goal perhaps, but got through a lot of running and deserved his moment of glory.

Luis Boa Morte
Fine match. The confidence is back and the days when his name was booed as a matter of course have, thankfully, long gone. Peach of a pass inside the full-back for the first.

Jack Collison
Young Hammer of the Year, he produced another mature run out that makes him look like he's been there for years.

Carlton Cole
Showed what we'd been missing for the last couple of months. Good finish for the goal.


Kieron Dyer
(Replaced Noble, 54 mins) Looked lively when replacing Noble. A good injury-free pre-season and who knows.

Diego Tristan
(Replaced Cole, 63 mins) Possibly his last game in claret & blue. I'd like to think that with our connections we could find better as back-up for the first choice strikers.

David Di Michele
(Replaced Collison, 72 mins) Same as Tristan really. So long and good luck in court.

Jan Lastuvka
Did not play.

Walter Lopez
Did not play.

Josh Payne
Did not play.

Savio Nsereko
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Robert Green, Jonathan Spector, Herita Ilunga, Lucas Neill, Matthew Upson, Mark Noble, Radoslav Kovac, Junior Stanislas, Luis Boa Morte, Jack Collison, Carlton Cole.

Goals: Carlton Cole 33 Junior Stanislas 57                .

Booked: None.

Sent off: None.

Middlesbrough: Jones, McMahon, Wheater, Huth, Hoyte, O'Neil, Bates, Arca, Adam Johnson, Tuncay, Emnes.

Subs not used: Turnbull, Shawky, Williams, Grounds.

Goals: O'Neill (49).

Booked: O'Neill.

Sent off: None.

Referee: Howard Webb.

Attendance: 34,007.

Man of the Match: Luis Boa Morte.