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, October 06, 2008

West Ham 1 - 3 Bolton Wanderers (And Other Ramblings)

1. A Many Splintered Thing

So, I ended up missing this game, possibly because Kevin Davies elbowed me in the head, or possibly because I had the flu. In my twenty or so years suffering at the hands of West Ham, I have only been sick for two games. This was the second, and the first was the 2006 FA Cup Final. You can try and discuss it with me if you like, but you'll probably lose a limb so why bother.

2. Impossibilities

Just how hard is it to concede three goals at home to Bolton? Well it's not exactly "splitting the atom" hard - in fact, it's harder. It's more like "splitting the atom with a pair of tweezers and a pool cue".

In terms that we can all understand, I would say that it is roughly as hard as allowing Linvoy Primus to score against you. Twice. In the same half. Or even allowing Jon Fucking Stead to score against you. Ever.

So it's not without precedent, but it's still a feat of some difficulty.

To illustrate, it has been 25 away games since Bolton last managed it at Wigan in April of 2007, to which I say "Pffft - even we managed that". Furthermore, Wanderers have managed 3 away goals just twice at all in 53 road trips stretching back to 2005. West Hamically, they even contrived to lose one of those matches, despite scoring three goals and Kevin Davies elbowing everybody in the head.

But, I hear you ask, just how hard it is to lose at home to Bolton at all? Well, they managed just two away league wins all last year, at Reading and Middlesbrough, who shared the common distinction of being utterly crap.

Not a great day at the office, then.

3. The Statistics

There is something startlingly telling about the statistics for this game. We had the ball for 65% of the time, which is a hugely dominant share, but converted that into a paltry 4 shots on goal. By contrast, the visitors had 6 efforts on target, which Robert Green converted into 3 goals courtesy of a near flawless Paul Robinson impersonation.

What struck me about this was the rather obvious comparison between our policy of passing the ball around in prolonged, attractive spells that yielded absolutely nothing, whilst Bolton simply got the ball and smacked it as high and hard as possible in the general direction of whichever Easter Island statue was loitering with intent in our box.

This was evidenced by the farcical first goal that arose largely as a result of Kevin Davies's magic elbow, Green's grease covered oven gloves and a long aimless punt from the full back.

You can take Sam Allardyce out of Bolton.........

4. The Opposition

I have to be careful here. I really do make a conscious effort to be as even handed as possible in my reports, but I simply cannot contain myself about Bolton. I hate them. I really do. I hate playing them and I hate watching other people play them. Clearly some of this is down to the fact that we never beat them but, let's be honest, if that was my main criteria then I would only have time for Blackburn Rovers.

Now let's be clear and not kid ourselves that Bolton were anything other than better than us on Sunday. Being defensive and dull doesn't mean that you aren't worthy winners, as unpalatable as it might be to lose to such a barefaced show of aggressive functionality. There can be no denying the effectiveness of the style, such as it is, and even more so when one considers that Johan Elmander is actually quite good, but performing fairly ineptly at present.

I can admire the way that they make the best of what they've got and in particular the cunning use of Kevin Davies's right elbow as a major attacking weapon.

So, in summary. I don't like them and they don't care. The only qualitatively good Bolton team I have ever seen was the John McGinley/Andy Walker side who were really quite excellent in the 90's, but then again so were Oasis.

The real question here is perhaps why Sky are so insistent on showing this particular fixture to the rest of the world, considering that I support one of the teams involved and it usually makes me want to cave my skull in.

In the interests of fairness and balance, you could visit this excellent Bolton blog, http://mannyroad.wordpress.com/ because I appreciate good writing, blogging and the ability to post links without revealing the entire text. This latter attribute is because I am a Luddite.

5. The Referee

I actually felt that referee Mike Dean was a little off the pace today, possibly as a result of being elbowed in the face by Kevin Davies. There were some curious decisions throughout the match, although Dean tends to be a curious referee so maybe it's not that big of a deal.

Herita Ilunga's left hand appeared to explode part way through the first half, which is a slightly unusual injury for a footballer. I have no conclusive proof that this was a result of foul play by Bolton, but in the interests of wild hyperbole I am going to say that it was.

6. We've Got Our West Ham Back

Is this it then? I had been sceptical about the truth of the revolution based upon the abject flimsiness of the opposition so far and this didn't do a whole lot to strengthen my belief.

Sure, there was a lovely passage of play that led to Carlton Cole hitting the post, and our retention of the ball was much improved from recent seasons but if we can't translate that into anything approximating attacking football then I have to question if it actually constitutes improvement over the Curbishley era?

Look, I know we're only four games in, and that I was the loudest advocate for removing Curbishley, but my point remains that for all the likely aesthetic improvement of watching Zola's West Ham I sincerely doubt that we'll actually be any more successful now.

Despite being the lugubrious sort I'm perfectly alright with that, but I don't think performances like these will be conducive to long term job security for Zola. Hey, it's one game in a season and against a horrible, big, elbowing Northern team at that. We rarely win these games and I am quite relaxed about that fact.

But tougher challenges lie ahead, and I quail slightly at the sound of my manager announcing to the world that "tactics don't matter much" in his pre match interview.

Gianfranco Zola meet Steve Maclaren. Steve, this is Gianfranco. Sit down and I'll get you both a coffee. You have much to discuss.

7. At This Point, A Suggestion

I estimate our chances of beating Bolton are roughly 114% greater if Kevin Davies is not playing. Therefore, why do we not just spend the £12 it would cost to buy him? In his last 6 games against us he has now has 6 goals. This from a "striker" who has only scored 39 times in his league career for Bolton. There are nuclear warheads out there that are less dangerous to us than this guy.

So yes, I certainly could have lived without Green going on handling safari during the first half but I don't think it really would have mattered as Davies still would have scored somehow. It's just inevitable.

I give up, I bow down to the majesty of Kevin Davies and his magic elbows. We should get us one of them.

8. Green Fingers

For some time I have been wondering quite what Robert Green had to do to get some love from the England management. Well whatever it is would have to be the polar opposite of this display.

I'm not going to expend a lot of energy thinking about this performance - it was terrible. C'est la vie, these things happen.

One point of concern would be the last goal, which was walloped in from about 40 yards by Matthew Taylor. A tremendous strike for certain, but at this juncture I think we have all established that Taylor's sole attribute is the ability to shoot from several nautical miles out. I can't imagine exactly what was surprising about that goal.

9. The Flourishing Left

Last week I commented that our left side was looking as healthy as it had done for a while. A facetious type could simply attribute this to the lack of Boa Morte, but clearly it's a little more than that.

Matthew Etherington has perked up in recent weeks, but the aforementioned Ilunga has been great since his arrival from Toulouse. To describe him as our sole attacking threat in the first half would be inaccurate as it would overstate the number of attacking threats that we had in the first half, but he was as close as we got.

His strong running repeatedly got him into good positions and any semblance of decent movement from our front men would have helped immeasurably. As it was, he was left to wonder exactly how Carlton Cole was failing to roast Andy O'Brien.

Let me tell you Herita, you were far from alone.

10. The Invisible Men

Allegedly David di Michele played in this game. He was allegedly replaced by Craig Bellamy.

It is entirely possible that neither of these two things happened.


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