Premier League
West Ham United 3 Wigan Athletic 2

Saturday, 24th April 2010
by Gordon Thrower

Never in question was it?! I was convinced that we were going to win this one right from the start. No idea why – sometimes you just get that feeling. Despite the poor showing at Anfield I figured that when the chips were down this was one we were definitely going to win. Probably. As ever though, nothing is ever straightforward in the wild and wacky world of West Ham and it was an “eventful” match that eventually (just about) secured our safety subject to some improbable series of results.

Team news was that, as expected, Scott Parker resumed his place in midfield at the expense of Stanislas. Otherwise it was pretty much as you were: Green, Spector, Faubert, Upson, DaCosta, Parker, Noble, Kovac, Behrami, Cole, Ilan.

Well all the hopes of a bright start went out of the window as early as the 4th minute. DaCosta broke up a Rodallega break into the box at the expense of a corner. Watson went over to take it and decided that that quadrant thing wasn't for him and that he'd take the kick illegally. The ball bounced up in the box and flew in off a surprised Spector past an even more surprised Green. Whether or not the placing of the ball would have made any difference is arguable, but the fact remains that Alan Wiley failed to apply the laws of the game. It was clear that the fourth official had pointed out his error by the radio link as Wiley went on to make great theatrical show of appearing to check subsequent corners - though, as we were later to find out, this charade didn't actually involve anything quite as complicated as looking at the position of the ball.

I'll be honest here - I was still convinced we were going to win. Probably. However, the next 25 minutes or so tested my conviction to its utmost limits. We should have levelled the scores about five minutes after we had gone behind. By virtue of passing and ricochet Cole found himself one on one with Kirkland. The striker took the ball round the 'keeper, getting clipped by Kirkland as he did so. Electing to ignore the Gerrard option of going down, Cole had time to gather the ball and pick his spot. However, the sign of an off sorts striker is often the rushed way they deal with matters when they have time. Cole rushed his effort and Caldwell was able to get back to clear off the line. Kirkland subsequently required extensive treatment on a nasty-looking face wound, something that added five minutes of stoppage time to proceedings.

The next 20 minutes were nervy to say the least. Scrappy too, as neither side seemed capable of putting much together in the way of football and, on the half hour things could have been even worse. McCarthy, fresh from picking up a yellow for a cynical trip as Ilan broke out from deep, hit a powerful shot from distance that Green somehow managed to get a finger to, the deflection making all the difference as the ball came back off the bar. If you're looking for a turning point I'd start and end the search right there. Within a minute we were level.

Ilan ran from deep, his run being punctuated by his need to wait for the ball to catch him up. Having finally got things under control, Ilan fed Cole on the edge of the box. Cole managed to work himself some space on the left hand side of the box and squared the ball for Ilan to put away from six yards. The word relief doesn't do the feeling justice as the place exploded - especially so since most people seemed to have discovered that Hull were 1-0 down by this stage.

Having got back on level terms the stage was set for us to grab the game by the scruff of the neck add any other appropriate cliches as you see fit. Actually the next 15 minutes or so were a bit scrappy in all honesty. Caldwell had been struggling against Cole's physical presence and Bramble had taken over the marking duties - and had done ok. However, deep into the five minutes added on for Kirkland's makeover, Cole shielded the ball and Bramble went right through the striker to give us a free-kick about 20 or so yards out.

Noble took the free-kick and Kirkland just managed to scramble it away from under the bar - I thought it had originally come back off the metalwork - the ball hanging invitingly for Kovac to nod home from close range. You'll be aware that my neighbour in the West Stand, Upton Girlie, has a bit of a "thing" about Kovac. This has little (ie nothing) to do with his skills as a footballer. However, this didn't stop Ms Girlie reminding everyone that she'd been saying what a great player he was all season. A reminder that it had taken until April for the Czech prossie-botherer to come up with something useful met only with a clip round the ear.

So half time and all was well. Hull were 1-0 down and Jimmy Bullard - bless him - had missed a penalty. What could possibly go wrong? After all it's not as if we had Mike Dean or Alan Wiley to contend with. Oh hang on a mo.

The visitors started the brighter of the two sides in the second half and were on level terms 8 minutes from the restart. Parker - not for the first or last time of the afternoon - blocked a shot which went out for a corner. And now, as a bonus, it's time for one of those "You are The Referee" quizzes that were so popular in football magazines when I was a kid. We spoil you don't we. Here's the question: You are refereeing a Premier League match and have already been advised that you have incorrectly allowed a goal when you failed to check that a corner had been taken correctly. You have awarded another corner to the same team in the second half. Do you: a) check to ensure that subsequent corners are taken from a legal position or b) just pretend to check as, quite frankly it's a long way to waddle over there.

Unsurprisingly Wiley elected to just pretend to earn his salary. Making a great show of inspecting the position of the ball Wiley - and this is behaviour bordering on fraudulent - simply ignored its actual position which, as photos later proved, was once more outside of the quadrant. Sub Moses got a flick on from the "corner" and Rodallega bundled the ball in at the far post. The defenders in the immediate vicinity raised arms as one claiming Rodallega had used an arm in scoring. It seemed that Wiley agreed as he pointed to the scene of the crime indicating a free-kick. However, after a few seconds Wiley appeared to change what passes for his mind and he moved back towards the centre circle. This came as some surprise to the home defence who, stupidly, had presumed that having seen a free-kick indicated, they might be allowed to take it. Even Wiley's linesman was confused and, a brief conflab later Wiley had decided that it was definitely a goal, Probably. Who knows what was going on in that tiny mind.

Ok so it was 2-2 and all to play for and calculators at the ready. More scrappy play ensued and chances either way were at a premium. Spector, who was struggling to do anything right, gave away a free-kick in front of the Chicken Run, bringing down the busy Moses. N'Zogbia drove a low free-kick in but Green's parry was doubly excellent in that it both prevented a goal and cleared the ball wide across the other side of goal preventing any chance of a follow-up. As for N'Zogbia, it'll probably be the last thing he drives for a while.

Every now and then amongst the misplaced passes there were cameos showing guts and determination. Noble, in an unfamiliar role on the left, was putting in blocks as if his life depended on it whilst even DaCosta was getting in on the act, one storming run being brought to an abrupt end by Figueroa's trip.

We then forced a corner. When I say "forced" I'm taking a liberty or two with the truth. What actually happened was that Kovac made a dreadful decision to shoot from distance. The shot took a deflection on the way through which was probably just as well - it had barely got the legs otherwise to make the distance to the goal line. Noble's corner found Kovac whose header looped up in a slow arc before coming back off the bar.

Parker was having one of those matches where he seemed to be everywhere. Another storming run saw him attempt a a one-two with Ilan only to see Bramble block the midfielder off with a body check that fully merited the yellow card that came. The attempted return pass from Ilan marked the Brazilian's last involvement in the match and Franco appeared for the last 20 minutes.
Noble, whose passing seems to have regained some of its previous accuracy, played a fine ball inside down the line. Spector, risking a nosebleed by venturing so far upfield, saw his cross blocked by Melchiot and the resulting corner (once Wiley had gone through his theatrics once more) was dealt with easily by Kirkland. However the respite for the visitors was temporary.

A long ball from the back was nodded on by Franco into the path of Parker. Parker ran at the defence before unleashing a powerful drive from 25 yards that gave Kirkland no chance. Parker - and just about everyone else around - made a beeline for Zola and, in the event that the manager is elsewhere next season, the goal celebrations would indicate that the players will be first in the queue of people regretting his departure.

After that it was just a matter of getting goal side of everything. Wiley did have a few curve balls to throw into the mix - a free-kick for handball against Parker given when the ball was driven at the player from a couple of feet was a worry but Green dealt with Watson's effort with some comfort. As for getting blocks in, well Parker seems to know no fear in that respect and he needed some treatment after landing awkwardly when blocking one shot near the end. He - and a Wigan player - were still flat out on the ground as Bramble attempted an audacious effort from his own half. The ball sailed harmlessly over but it might have been interesting had the ball been a foot or two lower as Green would have been in a race to get back - and the result would have been a close run thing.

Four minutes of stoppage came and went, the clearly exhausted Noble being replaced by Daprela in the dying moments and Wiley got something right at last by blowing the final whistle. The news from the KC Stadium was that Hull had failed to recover from their 1-0 deficit thus, baring a mathematically improbable sequence of results, relegating them. The Burnley result on Sunday did for them, thus ensuring that top flight football at the Boleyn for another season. Probably.

It wasn't a pretty match. Too many misplaced passes and too many nervy moments for it to be considered a classic. That was to be expected given the importance of a match that had so much riding on it. Still the relief made for a relaxing Saturday night for once and the complicated spreadsheets showing league tables given any permutation of results can be locked away for another year. The spectre of seeing Tevez or Bellamy score the goal that might possibly have sent us down can also be laid to rest.

Now where are those reduced strength blood pressure tablets?

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Player Ratings

Robert Green
Might have come for the first so-called corner that Spector put away. However, the tip onto the bar in the first half, together with the free-kick save in the second were both vitally important.

Julien Faubert
Solid enough but didn't get forward as much as he can do.

Jonathan Spector
Had an absolute 'mare of a first half but, to his credit, he didn't hide and improved as the game progressed.

Matthew Upson
Decent match. Seen geeing everyone up with clenched fists a-plenty throughout the game. Has he finally worked out what that armband is for?

Manuel Da Costa
A bit of an unsung hero in recent weeks - this was another no-nonsense run out at a time when that's just what we needed.

Scott Parker
You've read all the papers by now. Yes he was that good - the goal just shades the MOTM award from me - but it was close.

Mark Noble
The plaudits went to Parker but, given he was nominally out on the left, Noble's performance was nearly as impressive. Looked knackered at the end - had every right to.

Radoslav Kovac
A few good tackles, a few good headers. On the spot for the goal but not nearly as good as Upton Girlie would have you believe.

Valon Behrami
Clocked up a few more miles on his quest to circumnavigate the planet in a single season.

Started and finished the move for the equaliser and that was it really. Still that goal was so important it kinda overrides everything else.

Carlton Cole
Started well but the change of marker from Caldwell to Bramble reduced his effectiveness. Still provided the all-important equaliser for Ilan. Still not anywhere near as effective as he was before his injury lay-off.


Guillermo Franco
(Replaced Ilan, 71 mins) Here's something you probably won't see mentioned anywhere else. Whilst everyone is (rightly) raving about Parker's finish, Franco's headed pass into the Scotty's path was nothing short of sublime. Gets a bonus mark for that alone.

Fabio Daprela
(Replaced Noble, 90+3 mins) I'm sure he was superb in those two minutes. Damned if I noticed though.

Peter Kurucz
Did not play.

Danny Gabbidon
Did not play.

Junior Stanislas
Did not play.

Alessandro Diamanti
Did not play.

Benni McCarthy
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Robert Green, Julien Faubert, Jonathan Spector, Matthew Upson, Manuel Da Costa, Scott Parker, Mark Noble, Radoslav Kovac, Valon Behrami, Ilan, Carlton Cole.

Goals: Ilan 31 Radoslav Kovac 45 Scott Parker 77              .

Booked: Jonathan Spector 58          .

Sent Off: None sent off     .

Wigan Athletic: Kirkland, Bramble, Caldwell, Melchiot, Figueroa, Watson, N'Zogbia, Diame, McCarthy, Rodallega, Moreno.

Subs not used: Stojkovic, Gohouri, Sinclair, Boyce.

Goals: Spector (og 4), Rodallega (52).

Booked: McCarthy (22), Bramble (70).

Sent off: None.

Referee: Alan Wiley.

Attendance: 33,057.

Man of the Match: Scott Parker.