Wednesday, December 07, 2005


Bad Karma for Bruce

West Ham may have finally shaken off the ghosts of relegation after a hard-earned 2-1 win over Birmingham City on the weekend.

It was at St. Andrew's that West Ham were relegated three seasons ago, after Birmingham manager Steve Bruce admitted that he wanted his club to send the Londoners down a division in misguided retaliation for celebrations held by a completely different set of players a decade before.

But if there's such a thing as Karma, then it's caught up with Bruce when West Ham fought back from being a goal down to win the match, and Birmingham needing to make three first-half substitutions due to injuries. West Ham are now sitting pretty in ninth position in the Premiership table and with pundits tentatively discussing the possibility of a place in Europe, while Birmingham face relegation, languishing in 19th place above Sunderland.

Birmingham started well, but only took eight minutes for their first injury. That counted for little though as within three minutes Emile Heskey put the home side in front by rounding Roy Carroll and slotting home from a tight angle.

Ferdinand, Gabbidon and Carroll all could have done better for the goal, with the former claiming offside rather than attempting to win the ball, and the Welshman failing to head for the near post. But it was very well taken by the ex-Liverpool man, and West Ham had work to do.

The visitors had several attempts on target but the first one that counted was an absolute corker. Bobby Zamora, whoooaaaoooh, flicked the ball over a defender's head, evaded about four tackles with some lightning footwork, and slid the ball between the goalkeeper's legs to put his name in the hat for Goal of the Month, and maybe of the Season too. A wonderful exhibition of skill and a goal that will live in my memory for a long time.

In injury time, Etherington just managed to cut the ball back before it crossed the by-line - despite protests from Birmingham that it had actually crossed - and the ball evaded Birmingham's defence and fell to Yossi Benayoun. The Israeli could not really control the ball but managed to push it in the direction of the unmarked Marlon Harewood, who belted the ball home with aplomb.

The second half was mostly uneventful, with Birmingham pressing for a goal and West Ham creating few chances for themselves. Towards the end Emile Heskey was booked for punching the ball in the net when it might have been easier just to use his head (literally and figuratively), but somehow West Ham held on for all three points.

Player ratings:
Carroll 6: A couple of good saves, but not great on crosses.
Konchesky 6: Some errors including a suicidal "pass" to Heskey just outside the box. Defended well aside from that.
Gabbidon 6: Too willing to pump the ball long, and a little indecisive with the ball at his feet. However, the defence kept the Birmingham strikers at bay for most of the match.
Ferdinand 6: Seemed to stray out of position once or twice but was the more reliable of the centre-back pairing. Good to see him telling the midfield to get out of his face and let the defence get on with their job.
Repka 6: Struggled a bit, most attacks came down the right side. Not given much support though. One or two times his experience paid off.
Etherington 6: Good work for the goal, and tried hard.
Mullins 7: Got involved.
Noble 7: Had an excellent 30-minute spell during which he got stuck into everything and put in some great passes and tackles, but faded out of the game at other times. Could well be England's best midfielder in a few years' time.
Benayoun 7: Ran his little legs off and covered the whole pitch, but to what effect? It wasn't his job anyway. Tried very hard though and showed glimpses of his skill.
Zamora 8: Fabulous goal. Had already earned his starting place - Sheringham's injury or no - and deserves to stay there.
Harewood 8: Tracked back and won the ball whenever he could, and got himself a goal.

Bellion 7 (on for Zamora): Brought an interesting new dimension to the team.
Dailly 6 (on for Noble): The only thing I remember him doing is a stupid pass.
Newton 6 (on for Benayoun): On to kill time and to give Benayoun's legs time to grow back to their original length.

Other comments: We need an old hand, who can control the pace of the game. Too often West Ham were in a hurry to get up front when it would be better to slow the game down. Birmingham, for the most part, dictated the pace of this game and West Ham very nearly paid for it. Sheringham, to some extent, helps us out here but at whose expense should he play? It's difficult for Pardew, and perhaps it might be worth playing a different formation (e.g. 3-5-2) to accommodate the players that we've got.

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