Overly long writings about West Ham United FC. This is the kind of thing you might like, if you like this kind of thing.

Monday, December 31, 2007

West Ham 2 - 1 Manchester United (And Other Ramblings)

1. Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space

Somewhere there is a small child who fired off a letter to Santa Claus requesting that West Ham beat Man Utd 2-1 for Christmas.

The kid specified that we should go one down against the run of play, squander a glorious chance ourselves, concede a penalty which would then be missed by Man Utd's best and simultaneously, most loathsome player, before our two centre backs should then pop up with the winning goals in the last ten minutes.

That child did a bit better than the dyslexic girl who wrote off asking if she could be Satan's Little Helper and ended up as a copy editor for the The Daily Mail.

2. Stop Making Sense

It will surprise most of you, but I actually do put a fair amount of thought into these columns. Not as much as, say, my weekly shopping list, but a decent effort none the less.

One of my ploys is to have most of the article formed in my head before I leave the game. It helps me to remember the points I want to make (Usually - "Lucas Neill = great, Luis Boa Morte = inexplicable") and ensures that the tone of the piece is hopefully more representative of the emotional journey of watching a game.

Suffice to say then, that this review was rather different in feel up to the point that Anton Ferdinand tried out this new thing he learned in prison called "jumping". I have to come clean and admit that I had been largely underwhelmed by Alan Curbishley's selection, and had been fairly vocal about it too. Following on from my last post bemoaning our lack of passion and inventiveness it was rather too much to bear to see us line up with a solitary striker in a home game against the league leaders.

The substitutions just reinforced the view that we were simply trying to keep the score to a respectable 0-1, and the overall lack of penetration was worryingly familiar.

All of which just goes to show why I am writing a blog, read only by members of my family and, weirdly, lots of Australians, whilst Alan Curbishley is a Premiership manager. Humble pie can taste nice after all, it seems.

3. The Statistics

4-5-1 might have been the figure on my brain for most of the time, but if ever a set of statistics justified a formation then here they are. We had the ball for an unprecedented 51%, which is the first time for eons that we've been the dominant side in terms of possession against one of the big boys. This is probably as much a testament to Darren Fletcher's appalling passing as it is to anything else, but I have to say that I was surprised they even had it for as much as 49%.

In the end we mustered 12 efforts on goal to the visitors 7, and even forced more corners, by a tally of 6 to 3. These numbers alone mean nothing, of course, for Ronaldo could and should have buried the game with his penalty, but there is no denying that we were the better side for most of this game.

My favourite statistic of the entire day is that John Pantsil drew as many fouls (3) in his bonkers little cameo appearance as Carlos Tevez, Ronaldo and Luis Saha did combined for the whole match. Even better is that two of those fouls led, at least indirectly, to goals. Quite why anyone would foul John Pantsil when there were alternative options available such as taking tea, or reading "Great Expectations" is a puzzle, but then I am not Patrice Evra.

4. The Opposition

Despite the best efforts of every media outlet in the West, I haven't seen each and every Man Utd game this season. I am still prepared to go out on a limb and say that this must have been their worst performance of the season. Even Sir Alex Ferguson admitted that his team were deservedly beaten, which is a surprisingly honest statement from a man who hasn't yet found a defeat he couldn't blame on the referee or the linesman or the French or Gareth Southgate's nose or Communism or..........etc.

Shorn of the likes of Scholes, Rooney, Carrick and Van Der Saar the visitors only really threatened when Giggs or Ronaldo had the ball, and to the great credit of our midfield that didn't happen very often. The goal was imbued with a touch of class and was crushingly inevitable from the moment that Tevez flicked his pass to Giggs, whilst also being almost entirely unstoppable. Ronaldo's speed for one so tall is incredible. Thankfully for us he spent much of this game sat down looking bewildered and crying, which does admittedly make him a lot easier to tackle.

For the first time ever it was possible to look at Man Utd players such as Kuscak, Brown and Fletcher and compare them to their West Ham counterparts without feeling inferior. Indeed, even though I rate Owen Hargeaves more highly than most of the country, it seems insane that he cost £20m more than Hayden Mullins.

Still, I paid £7.99 for a book the other day, when the same novel was right next to it for £1 less, simply because I preferred the cover on the more expensive one. Which is exactly the same kind of thing.

5. The Referee

Mike Dean is really not bothered about giving penalties against us. After the last minute affair at Portsmouth, he quite correctly awarded another one following a mind blowing bit of hand waving from Jonathan Spector. It marred an otherwise splendid performance by the American, but it had to be given.

Elsewhere he did well to resist the protestations of Ronaldo and routinely left the Portugese winger whinging into the night. This was in stark contrast to Howard Webb's recent handling of the Chelsea game, when he weighed up each decision carefully, considered all angles and then awarded the every decision to the Blues. Thankfully I'm not bitter about it.

6. Your Love Alone Is Not Enough

No report of this game would be complete without a mention of Carlos Tevez. His pre match welcome was emotional and heartfelt. Ferguson had openly questioned whether this would happen before the game, which was described as "mind games" by the the British sports media, and "ignorance" by people who actually understand football.

I have to say though, that I don't quite go in for the whole hearted love in around the Argentine. He remains an Upton Park legend, but as with so many who have a special place in their heart for us, and who love the fans, and who hope to be buried at the Boleyn, none of that was quite enough to get him to actually stay and play for us.

He took the money and ran, for which I do not blame him, but I'm afraid that just makes him like so many others before him.

There is little doubt though, that the emotion of the day affected him. I suspect he took one look at my cold, dead eyes and realised he'd let me down. So, in the end, it was more me than Matthew Upson that won this game. I accept your grateful thanks.

7. In The Habit

Beating Manchester United is not an everyday occurrence, although at this point that is clearly only because we don't play them every day. For Curbishley, however, this is uncharted territory. In 115 years at Charlton he never once managed it, and yet now has three consecutive victories with us.

I won't pretend to be able to explain it. I could suggest better players are the answer but I'm not sure I believe that. Maybe he is a better coach now, or maybe the atmosphere at Upton Park is more conducive to these kinds of victories than The Valley. Whatever it is, I hope he bottles it and takes it with him, for he will need it.

His slavish devotion to safety first football will eventually be his undoing, as either the owners who demand Champions League football, or the fans who demand two strikers for their £50 ticket, will drive him out. This is not to detract from this particular performance, as his decision to flood the midfield stifled Man Utd, and his substitutions, although initially appearing to be drug induced, eventually proved crucial.

Yet, it has to be said that for 70 minutes of this game we were rolling along in damage limitation mode. Dean Ashton was sat on the bench, eating biscuits and trying to laugh at John Pantsil's crazy jokes, whilst we toiled away manfully against a superior opposition. Of course, you know it's a weird day when West Ham score twice from set pieces, but I can't get away from thinking that this isn't a recipe for continued success.

Here's where I'm at though - and I realise that you won't be able to go to bed until you hear this. We've just beaten the league leaders with a midfield consisting of John Pantsil, Hayden Mullins, Mark Noble and Jonathan Spector. He must be doing something right.

8. Greensleeves

I have no idea what goes through the mind of a professional footballer when he takes a penalty. If he's English and it's a major tournament I assume that he is thinking "I'm going to miss, hmm, I wonder if I'll get back in time for the casino?", but I assume that real footballers have an innate degree of confidence, borne of actually practising the skill involved.

I wouldn't like to say then, that Ronaldo was put off by Robert Green's penalty saving reputation, but I'll definitely admit that it can't have hurt.

To give you an idea of how good his record is this year, he has not conceded a penalty in 4 attempts over 20 games, whilst last year no one missed against us at all in 38 games, with 4 successful conversions. This is at least partially explained by our curious employment of Roy Carroll.

9. Substitute, For Me For Him

Let's get this right then - Scott Parker got injured, Curbishley looked at our surfeit of midfielders, our lone striker and decided to replace him with defender John Pantsil. Five minutes later Scott Parker limped and was replaced by defender Anton Ferdinand, all as Dean Ashton sat completing The Times crossword on the bench.

As we finally stumbled across the stunningly obvious ploy of giving the ball to everyone's new hero John Pantsil and letting him run riot down the right wing, the masterplan became clear.

And so it worked. But by God, how?

10. PS, I Love You

Big shout out to Darth Lemsip AKA Joe C, for doing some much appreciated promotion of The H List on www.westhamonline.net. There was a recent thread asking for decent football sites and we got a mention. Of course that thread was sandwiched amongst cerebral companions such as "JK Rowling - Would Ya?" and "Which celebruty (sic) will die first in 2008?" but hey, we're not really in a position to be looking down our noses at anyone.

So welcome to any new readers. May God help you.


  1. Dot Cotton8:57 AM

    Great report as per usual.

    I still believe Curbishley is tactically inept, however you have to give him some credit. A team decimated by injuries, unable to field the same team twice this season, and yet we sit mid table having just beaten Manure coming from one down.

    The football played at home has been painful however I would agree with his tactic to deploy a lone striker against United (not so much against Bolton earlier in the season though) and I'm glad he stuck with Cole.

    Ashton is way off the pace, looks lethargic, and only chases the ball down as an after thought by which time it's long gone.

    I noticed the 'Deano' chants at the Man Utd game were a little quieter than the previous games. Perhaps people are starting to realise that he's just an average player and doesn't deserve an automatic place in the team.

    I'll be interested to see what style of play we adopt when Curbs has a fully fit team and his first choice wingers available.

  2. St. Edmund Campion's Spam Javelin11:12 AM

    Whilst we fully deseved the victory against the Mancs, it yet again glossed over Curbishley's defeatist attitude. I was fuming in the Wakefield pre-match, when my regular starting line-up text came through and I could see he was going with 1 up front. This feeling subsided slightly after hastily downing a pint of San Miguel and catching a lovely glimpse of the new barmaid's ample cleavage.

    The only saving grace is that I don't think the new owners will hesitate in getting rid of him when he fails to deliver European football.

    And no sooner had the latest addition to West Ham's pantheon of terrace legends been so moved by his rapturous reception, that he proceeded to play like a blind misfit, than up stepped John Paintsil to take on the mantle. Maybe the Ghanaian Pele has found his true place in the team at right wing. God Bless you Johnny, and God help you Faubert....