So confident am I in the insipid nature of our performance later tonight that I have begun writing this match report during my lunch hour, on the day of the match in question.
We will be pretty, but totally ineffective, and if we concede early there is a reasonable chance of a landslide. There is nothing so certain in life as death, taxes and lame West Ham away performances against strong opposition.
I shall leave this paragraph in, to either highlight my incredible prescience or my kilometre wide streak of pessimism.
2. And Now
Well, that was strange. Is it possible to lose creditably when you pose absolutely no attacking threat to the opposition?
Bizzarely we actually got better after going behind, although this was largely a function of Newton’s Third Law of “Well They Couldn’t Be Any Worse” and Manchester United setting up deckchairs and parasols all over the pitch and taking a well earned 70 minute sabbatical.
It would be nice though, if West Ham could just once approach this particular fixture with some verve and belief, and actually give it a bit of a go. After all, losing at Old Trafford is no disgrace but the manner of the defeat is pretty important to those who shell out significant amounts to be there.
It’s worth remembering that Roma have lost 7-1 at Old Trafford (Hey, us too!), and Newcastle went down 6-0 (Hey, we managed that as well) and a decent Blackburn succumbed 4-1 (Hey, guess what!), so we’re hardly alone.
3. The Statistics
Ho hum, we had the ball from 43% and summoned up 2 whole shots on target. The home side however managed a rather more impressive 22 strikes at goal and 9 on target.
Our lone corner was butchered like a Christmas turkey and the only conceivable chances we created fell to Boa Morte and di Michele who knew exactly what to do with them. Which was nothing much.
Herita Ilunga was caught offside. My head hurts.
4. The Opposition
I can’t believe any of you will be astonished if I let you in on the secret that Man Utd are quite good. In fact, they won this game playing at a canter with a noticeably second string look about them which doesn’t bode well for better teams than us (which is most of ‘em).
Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice and reassured everyone he was staying at Manchester United for “as long or as short a time as is required for me to stay or join Madrid in this great moment at a wonderful club like Manchester United where I started my career. Can I have some more money?”*
The best piece of play all night was Dimitar Berbatov’s sublime turn to create Ronaldo’s second goal, which made James Collins look pretty silly. Truthfully it would have beaten most defenders, and I would prefer he did it to us in a Man Utd shirt than a tottenham one. Now, I’d actually rather that he didn’t do it all, but £30m players are more likely to produce this kind of thing than, say, Diego Tristan, so sometimes you simply have to tip your cap and get on with it.
Wayne Rooney deserves a mention too, for achieving the impossible and cutting his hair in such a way as to make him uglier.
*This quote is unlikely to be real.
5. The Referee
Referees at Old Trafford don’t blah blah blah give much to the opposition blah blah blah gave us nothing blah blah blah could have had a penalty blah blah blah.
It’s not Peter Walton’s fault that we have the fighting spirit of Mahatma Gandhi.
6. The Strange Case Of Craig Bellamy
It’s not my recollection that Craig Bellamy is a prolific scorer, but we appear to have taken this to extremes by playing him in some very deep positions. And I’m talking scuba diving deep here.
Now this might be a natural tendency, or a by product of having a midfield with no creative bones in their bodies but it certainly makes for frustrating viewing to see our most potent attacking threat playing as a pseudo midfielder.
On a night when we were shorn of the only two men who could lead the line for us, in Cole and Ashton, it was left to Bellamy to try and make something of our current attacking formation. Increasingly starved of service he dropped deeper and deeper in pursuit of the ball until Rio Ferdinand was able to simply set up a hammock on the half way line and wait for some action to come his way.
Flanked by the exasperating duo of Etherington and di Michele meant we had some promising positions squandered, and possession was coughed up frequently at inopportune times.
I am not against a 4-3-3 system per se, but I am rapidly becoming opposed to these players being deployed that way. It just seems as though you need a mobile, creative midfield and thrusting, energetic full backs to make it work. We are not endowed with the former, especially, and are currently wasting Bellamy’s talents by trying to shoehorn him into this system.
Nice try, I appreciate the sentiment and all that but can we not revert to something a bit more solid for a while? And maybe try some actual defending while we’re at it.
7. The Impossible Corner
Regular readers will know that I like to give credit to players who manage improbable feats. A big thumbs up, then, to Bellamy and di Michele who managed to squander our lone corner of the game by taking it in such a way that Bellamy (the corner taker) was flagged offside before the ball got into the box.
Because we are a team who can afford to squander attacking opportunities at Old Trafford.
A place awaits in The H List Hall of Shame for that particular feat.
8. No More Heroes
I am slightly disappointed that Matthew Etherington did not do better against his marker, 6 year old Raphael (pictured).
Another day, another dreary defeat and another smiling post match interview from Gianfranco Zola. I don’t want to be petty about this as civility is not a bad thing, but I’m wondering at his ability to read the riot act where necessary.
I guess I’m just not feeling the frustration seeping through the camera into my living room. I want to see a manager who looks as though he’s so hacked off with these results that he’s considering sacrificing the next living thing he sees to the Sun God Ra in an attempt to turn things around.
10. Luis Boa Morte Footwear Update
Our best chance fell to Luis Boa Morte who ran unmolested through the heart of the Man Utd defence on to a nicely weighted pass from Bellamy but succeeded in doing absolutely nothing of consequence with it.
Naturally I examined his footwear but began to suspect that it wasn't the boots causing the problems.
10. Collison Course
Jack Collison is clearly carried around in a glass case saying "Use only in case of 2-0 deficit at big club" as he came on here for the second half much as he did at Arsenal on debut - with the match already lost. He actually impressed with his neat passing and outstanding gel application and has presumably caught the eye of Zola, Clarke et al.
I don't know that he is the answer to our midfield woes, but he's an answer to them and one who should not neccesarily sit behind the likes of Bowyer and Parker simply because he's inexperienced. There is a nice range to his passing, and a quickness of foot that the likes of Mullins can't match, although it should be said that Man Utd were not bothering themselves with menial tasks such as tackling or running during his appearance.
11. And Finally
No preview for Middlesbrough as The Boleyn Beluga is defending a libel case from his last appearance in print. I shall vent a little here then about the vagaries of our recent trips to the North East which generally yield absolutely nothing of value.
Last year Scott Parker's last minute goal snatch a fairly undeserved win, but it's hard to see a repeat based on the current squad status. Valon Behrami seems set to miss out having been stretchered off at Old Trafford, and was last seen with our crack medical squad applying leeches to the affected area.
Cole is still suspended meaning we are likely to see a combination of Bellamy and di Michele flapping about ineffectively against Boro's enormous defenders.
I feel..............less than optimistic.