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, March 23, 2009

Blackburn Rovers 1 - 1 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

1. Getting My Excuses In First

You may have noticed that The H List has been getting updated even less frequently than normal recently. We were never the hardest working writers in the galaxy, to be sure, but lately we've taken on a Titi Camaran work ethic.

I can't speak for The Beluga, who is AWOL, but I lay the blame at the feet of Mrs Shark, who is currently suffering from a severe case of pregnancy and can't quite understand my insistence on writing these columns at the expense of more pressing tasks such as scrubbing the roof tiles with a toothbrush or clearing out the loft.

By pure coincidence, I can confirm that either of these last two activities are infinitely more preferable to watching a Sam Allardyce team "play" football.

2. You Put Your Elbows In...

If there is a worse "style" of play in the known universe than that advocated by Allardyce then I am glad I have not come across it. We had to stomach years of it from Bolton, and doubtless it will be replicated at Blackburn for some time to come.

I can't quibble with the success - it took Bolton into Europe in fact, but there is such a thing as entertainment to be considered. On Saturday we outplayed Rovers for much of the first half, snatching a lead and looking reasonably secure at the back in a "minor heart surgery only" kind of way.

However, after a half time boost from Allardyce we were battered into submission during the second half literally and figuratively. As ever, Rovers were throwing themselves forward, elbows first, and it was only the courage and skill of Lucas Neill and James Tomkins that really repelled them. There was no great artistry to their attacks, but a steady stream of crosses and throw ins were dumped on our penalty area and whilst we didn't look tremendously comfortable in defence, we survived anyway.

It was during this late bombardment that I began to resurrect my opinion that David di Michele is largely theoretical in nature.

3. The Statistics

Despite the second half Blackburn resurgence, the possession was split fairly evenly at 51%: 49% in favour of the home side. This is quite probably because any time the ball spends in the air is not allocated to either side.

At this point in the review we move serenely into a literary Wonderland. Blackburn had no less than 21 shots on goal during this game but did so with all the accuracy of an Imperial Stormtrooper as they mustered just 3 on target. Between them Morten Gamst Pedersen and Jason Roberts had no fewer than 12 efforts at goal and managed not a single one on target. This is impossible. I do not know how you can be so utterly inaccurate and a professional footballer, and not be Darren Bent at the same time.

On the other hand we were positively ruthless as we managed a whopping 6 shots at goal with a whole 2 being on target. Although one did go in, so I suppose we should be lauding that 33% accuracy rate which rather dwarfs the 14% managed by the home side. Weirdly, with all this ineptitude on display, Luis Boa Morte wasn't really culpable.

4. The Opposition

I have always quite enjoyed playing Blackburn, largely because we usually tend to beat them. But then Allardyce arrived, and they reverted to playing football by numbers, percentage type crap that has its' roots in the John Beck school of management.

In an ideal world of course, one would like to see tottenham and Newcastle go down purely out of hubris, but then when you get prolonged exposure to Bolton, Stoke, Hull and Blackburn it becomes a more difficult argument.

Football in England is dull enough. A league where only 3 teams can ever win, 5 teams battle it out for the right to qualify for, and then refuse to take seriously the UEFA Cup, and the rest spend the season squirming to get to 40 points and relative "safety". Sky might tell you is the best league in the world, but watch Blackburn play Stoke and tell me you honestly think the same, before gouging out your eyes.

I suppose in these dull times we should be grateful that Neil Warnock isn't in the league. In fact, at any time I'm always grateful that Neil Warnock isn't in the league.

5. The Referee

There isn't a huge amount of refereeing that needs to be done when the ball is 20 feet up in the air. There were two major decisions to be made during this game and both had a bearing on the final result. In the first half El Hadji Diouf had a goal disallowed on the not unreasonable grounds that he was 3 yards offside. It could also have been disallowed on the equally reasonable grounds that he is a total tosspot.

Latterly, after the corpse of Kieron Dyer was exhumed and sent on for a late limp around, he was bundled to the ground by Christopher Samba in the box. It looked like a penalty to me, although it's entirely possible that referee Chris Foy simply felt that the sight of Dyer falling over in pain wasn't an especially noteworthy event.

Luis Boa Morte was marginally offside in the build up to our goal and Allardyce felt this was evidence of yet another global conspiracy against him. I, on the other hand, see it as irrefutable proof of the existence of God.

6. The Opposition Manager

"Big" Sam Allardyce. What beef dripping would look like if it took human form.

7. Diamonds In The Sewer

When watching tripe like this, it is always gratifying to stumble across the odd moment of excellence. Our goal when it arrived was the only such moment of luminescence in this match.

The demise of Mark Noble has been much lamented in these quarters recently, but he was excellent here and it was his determination that led to the goal. Winning the ball on the edge of our box he broke nearly 60 yards downfield before feeding the strangely positioned Boa Morte. He in turn found Tristan, who took a brief break from being utterly ineffective and fed the onrushing Noble, who bent the ball in to the far corner with the outside of his foot.

It was a beautifully fashioned goal, and symptomatic of the type of stuff that Zola has been encouraging us to play. Noble, particularly, should have blossomed much more under Zola than he has done up to this point and a goal like this could well be the turning point in his development. Although, it could also be evidence that Paul Robinson is a gelatinous slug with no lateral movement - you can never tell.

8. Whither Carlton

Blimey, we missed Carlton Cole. It's pretty miraculous that we are doing as well as we are with our squad currently constructed to account for 15 fit professionals and 5 competition winning supporters who can go on the bench if they get to the ground early enough and have their own boots.

With Cole absent we took the unusual step of playing no strikers at all and instead sent di Michele and Tristan out to perform very passable impersonations of potted plants. Ordinarily I'd be wishing Cole could return post haste, but of course in the meantime he has disappeared off to play for England and is now out for the rest of the season.

No. Good. Can . Ever. Come. Of . Our. Players. Playing. For. England. Repeat ad infinitum until someone, anyone, listens.

9. Neill Down

A further word for Lucas Neill who was immense in this game. He has come under fire for his performances lately, largely because he's been sporting the type of svelte physique that one normally associates with a darts player, but against his old side he was a man reborn.

Perhaps he's flourishing away from the full back position where he is asked to bomb forward in a way that he clearly cannot do without some sort of cardiac event taking place shortly afterward, or perhaps he was simply invigorated by the sight of Jason Roberts magic elbows. Either way - keep it up.

10. No Payne, No Gain

Josh Payne came on to make his first team debut, and had just enough time to ponder whether in fact David di Michele does exist before the full time whistle went. According to the official site he is Academy graduate number 8 to play in the first team this year - the others being Noble, Collison, Tomkins, Sears, Junior Stanislas, Zavon Hines and good ol' Kyel Reid.

Bondz N'Gala could make it 9 before the season is out, and to be honest with a name like that I doubt he will be denied.

I could argue here that the fact we are having to revert to teenagers just highlights the stupidity of stripping our squad in January, especially given the current injury bug, but actually I have decided that watching the likes of Stanislas and Payne is infinitely more preferable to Bowyer and Etherington, and substantially less likely to corrode the walls of my aorta. So hurrah for our youth movement. (Buy some more players in the summer Gianluca..)

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