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

Sunday, September 14, 2008

West Bromwich Albion 3 - 2 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

1. Be Thankful For Small Mercies

I've got to be honest. If it wasn't for the existence of Newcastle and tottenham, I really don't know who the rest of the country would laugh at but us.

2. Circus Stories

To be honest, we all probably should have realised something was up when both defences came out for this game riding unicycles and carrying custard pies. Sadly, Matt Upson was still affixing his comedy red nose and flower, when he allowed James Morrison to cut across him and head the first goal.

(For all I know, the Morrison in question may actually be the shitty "soul" singer of the same name, such was the unique crappiness of Upson's defending).

Thereafter followed a twenty minute passage of play that simply screamed "In Honour of Newcastle United" as both teams eschewed traditional defensive methods and instead resorted to yelling insults at each other and sticking pins in voodoo dolls.

Not to be outdone by our early ineptitude, West Brom soon allowed Mark Noble the freedom of the entire Black Country to tap in our equaliser, before somehow contriving to let noted goalscorer Lucas Neill volley in our second, even as he was surrounded by 5 (five!) West Brom players.

Our immense concentration held up for a mammoth 70 seconds, before Robert Green came riding off his line and slammed a pie right into the face of Leon Barnett, thus conceding a penalty. (I actually thought Green got the ball, but no referee is going to ignore a pastry based challenge).

The piece de resistance was saved for the final 5 minutes as we allowed West Brom to break 80 yards from a corner and sneak an undeserved winner. I am well aware that I have been yelling for ages that I would rather lose excitingly than draw boringly, but I was envisaging us trying to protect the draw with rather more than 1 (one, One!, ONE!) bloody defender.

3. The Statistics

Unsurprisingly given the result, this was an end to end affair with huge numbers of goal attempts. The home side managed 15 efforts, with 6 on target. By contrast we mustered a mind boggling 23 on goal with 8 on target. Now I don't know how you can have 23 shots at a goal manned by Scott Carson and not score, ooh 16 or 17 times, but we managed it superbly.

Of course, the main statistic shows that we conceded 3 times to West Brom, a feat which I am pretty sure will be considered impossible by the end of this Premier League season.

4. The Opposition

Fair play to West Brom, they weren't what I would call "good", but they also weren't what I would call "Derby County" either.

Over the course of a 38 game season it stands to reason that a team such as ourselves is not going to go unbeaten, nor are we going to go winless. Every mid table side will win 8 and lose 8 games no matter what, and it's what you do with the remaining 22 that really dictates the tone of your season.

It would be hard to argue successfully that we were robbed of a win here, but if we have any pretensions about finishing in the top ten of the league (oh, what lofty goals we set ourselves) then our plan had better not include losing to teams like West Brom. These just don't seem like games we should be losing, no matter how expertly we manage to imitate the Saudi Arabian defence of the 2002 World Cup.

I should hold my hands up though - writing the line "what exactly is a new manager going to do in these two days that would transform our fortunes against a side who are relying on the goalscoring talents of Chris Brunt to stay up?" was a pretty foolish idea. Sorry about that.

5. The Referee

It's tough to point at a referee and ever blame them for a defeat, and I'm not about to start now. Lee Probert's performance was coruscating, but it should be remembered that no team ever lost to a bottom of the table side due solely to the referee.

Certainly Leon Barnett's approach to the game was fairly, ahem, industrial, but that's the way it goes sometimes. There are several hundred places I would rather start in apportioning blame for this defeat.

6. Be Careful What You Wish For

Oh, the delicious irony. I spend 18 months telling the world - for I am a global media magnate - that I would willingly sacrifice a couple of places in the table for a bit more entertainment in my life. So, lo and behold, along rides Kevin Keen on the back of a pantomime horse to give me every little bit of my wish.

He took a circuitous route to doing so, by abandoning the customary notion of having a back four and instead playing an unusual 1-0-4-6 formation. Mystifingly, despite this commitment to mindless optimism, Keen decided not to throw Craig Bellamy into the fray. I find this decision to be bordering on the insane.

If Bellamy was fit then he should have been on, and if he wasn't then he shouldn't have been anywhere near the bench. If he somehow injured himself in the warm up, which is the rumour, then I really must object in the strongest possible terms to our policy of allowing our players to limber up by eating pizza.

And on the topic of substitutions, I'm not entirely sure I understand what sequence of events led up to Matthew Etherington appearing on the pitch, but I have to assume that it involved a miners strike, the sudden arrival of a unicorn, a lava flow and twelve angry dwarves. Because otherwise it would really make absolutely no sense.

It will be interesting to see what Zola made of all of this, although early thoughts are likely to have focused on "Oh my God, what the hell have I done?".

7. Alternate Endings

There can be little doubt that under Curbishley we would never have lost this game. At 2-2 he would not have allowed so many men to advance forward and get caught on the break in that fashion. Of course, in doing so he would never have allowed us the chance to snatch a late winner, and this is probably the crux of the argument about why Curbishley had to leave.

In short, over the course of a season I don't see that the brand of football we played on Saturday would garner us many, if any, more points than we would under Curbishley. But herein lies the great divider. At 2-2 with 7 minutes remaining, did you want to see us hammering away at a crappy side like West Brom, or settling for the comfortable point?

Given that on another day we could have grabbed a winner in those last few minutes, I prefer to have a go. All of the above being said, I still don't really like to see us playing "rush goalie" at any point in the match.

8. Things That Interest Me

We have now gone 7 months and 17 games without a clean sheet. The board have responded to this by selling two of our first choice back 4, and appointing noted defensive specialist Gianfranco Zola as Manager.

Alan Curbishley's team have now scored 12 goals in our first 5 games this year, and 19 in our last 9.

These are simply facts presented with no angle or slant. I just found this intriguing because none of those statistics seemed as though they could possibly be true until I looked them up.

9. New Boys

Herita Ilunga started at left back in the wake of George McCartney's impossibly controversial departure. Pretty much his first act as a West Ham player was to watch a cross come in from his wing that culminated in West Brom's first goal. Comme ce, comme sa - welcome to the circus Mr Ilunga.

Later on, David di Michele was introduced to replace the earless Dean Ashton. His header led directly to Noble's opener, although he should have scored shortly after when he found himself clean through with only Scott Carson to beat. Sadly this coincided with one of Carson's bicentennial brushes with competence and the effort was saved.

Thereafter, di Michele decided that there was no passage of play that wasn't complete without an overhead kick, and I began to wonder at the sense of having this man as our link forward.

All told, I can see the value of both players, but for no discernible reason whatsoever, I see Ilunga lasting longer. Which is a lovely phrase to say out loud.

10. Kudos

Lucas Neill deserves some love for the splendid technique demonstrated in scoring his goal. A left footed volley of a ball appearing over his shoulder is not anything to be sniffed at (I have seen Emile Heskey attempt this after all), and the chance was taken rather well.

Not so splendid was Scott Parker's late attempt to scramble an equaliser when faced with none other than Scott Carson. Losing a game as a result of two pieces of good play from Carson is roughly equivalent to failing in your attempt to climb Mount Everest because you didn't pack enough golf clubs. Utterly impossible.

11. And The New Man Is...

A late piece of news just in - Steve Clarke was today named as our new Assistant Manager. Clearly this is provoking an unimaginably high level of optimism amongst fans because of his prior success at Chelsea. Sadly, this is not provoking an unimaginably high level of thought amongst fans, who appear not to have cottoned on to the minute differences between Carlton Cole and Didier Drogba et al.

At the very least, Clarke brings a degree of experience to the role which Zola is not in possession of, and I sincerely hope he also has the ability slap Craig Bellamy around once in a while as well. Because, for all the unquestionable decency of Gianfranco Zola, it doesn't hurt to have a hardass around the place...

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