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

Friday, March 28, 2008

Sunderland vs West Ham United: Match Preview - 29/03/2008

1. A Brief Encounter

Another reduced preview this week. As brief as Lou Macari's tenure as West Ham boss.

2. A Long Time Ago, In A Football Ground Far, Far Away...

Back in 2001, a couple of weeks after Paolo DiCanio had left Fabien Barthez doing his favourite Heinrich Himmler impression, HeadHammer Shark and I ventured up to Sunderland for the 4th round FA Cup tie against a team who were then 2nd in the Premiership.

The game featured on Sky and was consequently a midday kick-off, meaning we had to be at Upton Park at 3am for the departing coaches. I remember running along the alley behind the East Stand wondering where the coach was leaving from, nimbly evading the hobos and knife-wielding, smack-addicted foxes.

A mere eight hours later we were at the ground. The game was patchy but we enjoyed the lions share of the chances and deservedly took the lead, thanks to Freddie Kanoute breaking clear and slotting home one of his many opportunities that day.

The considerable and vocal away support went mental and I very nearly fell from the very top to the very bottom of our allocated stand after jumping up and down on my seat. It was a decent game but a fantastic day.

It brought home to me how 16 hours of travelling can all be worth it for 2 minutes of delirium and a victory, whereas had we lost, it would've been one of the worst and most wasted days of my life.

What I'm trying to get at is that away days are a real Russian Roulette with a chasm between the contrasting emotions, all determined by 90 minutes of football. I sincerely hope that the travelling hoardes aren't left cursing all the way back down the M1 come Saturday night.

3. History

Earlier this season we beat Sunderland at home 3-1 in what is only the second time this campaign we have managed to score more than twice at Upton Park. The scoreline was flattering and the match most notable for the fact that Craig Bellamy was actually on the pitch.

The game was largely even with the scores tied at 1-1 in the 78th minute, until Scotland's Number 1 Craig Gordon scored an own goal and Craig Bellamy nicked an injury time third.

Being newly promoted, there was no corresponding fixture last year and the last time we played Sunderland at the oxymoronic Stadium of Light (for it is a cavern of darkness and evil) was October 2005.

The result was 1-1 with Yossi Benayoun on the scoresheet. The changes made to our squad since are probably best reflected in that Shaun Newton was then our primary drug mule as opposed to crack fiend Luis Boa Morte.

Generally, our record is fair to middling. Over the last ten years we have won eight, drawn three and lost five and our record away from home is a more or less even split of wins, draws and losses over the same period. Although in our last four visits we have won twice and drawn once.

It could be a dangerous time to meet The Black Cats as they are putting on a bit of a run in a bid to claw their way well clear of the relegation zone. Their impressive win away to Villa last week is testament to their current resolve, but we haven't looked too shabby ourselves in the last couple of weeks and our second half display at Everton was heartening.

4. Injuries

The fact that this section has been a regular addition to nigh on every match preview this year tells it's own story.

Apparently Bobby Zamora is back in contention having been forced to sit out last week with the laughable excuse of having "blisters". Carlton Cole is back in the frame, but recent salvation Freddie Sears has been struggling with a slight groin strain since Everton and so a late decision will be made regarding his involvement.

Faubert is doubtful as he is apparently not being risked before reaching full fitness and god only knows what's happened to Lee Bowyer and Matty Etherington.

Matthew Upson is still not a certainty having not fully recovered from an injury he picked up against Liverpool and in his absence I'd like to see James Tomkins given another game. Ok, so Yakubu's goal on Saturday evening came from his error, but if grave defensive errors automatically led to West Ham players being dropped, Upton Park would be a barren wasteland.

Tomkins looked solid in the second half at Everton and scored twice for England U-19's in their 3-1 win over Russia in midweek. Another good game on Saturday would do him no harm and help provide genuine competition/cover for our two ever-present centrebacks this year (in the absence of Gabbidon and Collins). In any case, he has to be a better centreback option than Jonathan Spector.

5. International Bright Young Thing

James Tomkins match-winning display against Russia this week was the highlight of a number of Hammers on international duty.

Lucas Neill guided the lamentably nicknamed 'Socceroos' to a goalless draw against China - Tibetan Monks forced to watch his positional play before all willingly renouncing their faith - and Freddie Ljungberg played an hour for Sweden in their 1-0 loss to Brazil at The Emirates.

Rob Green warmed the bench in Paris as David James did his best to detach Nicolas Anelka's torso from his legs, whereas Gorgeous George McCartney missed Northern Ireland's win over Georgia completely.

Most notable however was Alan Curbishley's visit to Craven Cottage to watch Pope Pantsil guide Nigeria to a glorious 2-1 defeat against Mexico. Having blessed the congregated thousands and levitated for a full fifteen minutes, High Priest Pantsil went on to selflessly offer up the Nigerian goal to the King Of Hosts, only for those dastardly Mexicans to score twice.

There was a filthy rumour proffered yesterday which said that Martin O'Neill could be interested in snatching our religious leader away to Villa Park come the summer.

This would be a disaster. We can not allow this to happen.

The seas would rise, great civilizations fall, the forests burn, plagues of locusts descend upon east London and Big Fun make a comeback.

Whilst our coffers would swell to bursting point having sold the first ever £400 billion player, that would be scant consolation for a devastating and total loss of faith.

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