Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Goodbye Tomas; Hello Dean
It was a day of transition for West Ham United as longtime servant Tomas Repka made his emotional farewell to the Upton Park faithful, and Dean Ashton was unveiled to the crowd as a new record signing - his £7.25 million valuation eclipsing the transfer fee of none other than Super Tom himself.
However, the highly rated youngster watched from the stands rather than from the bench, and it must have been one hell of an introduction to the world of West Ham thanks to a roller-coaster match against Fulham.
The home side started poorly, failing to get control of the ball and defending on the edge of the penalty area. They were somewhat lucky not to concede early but, as is the case so many times with West Ham this season, they started picking up momentum and it once more resulted in a goal.
Fulham 'keeper Antti Niemi punched away a corner. Marlon Harewood nodded the ball down towards Anton Ferdinand's feet at the edge of the box, and rather than control the pass or lay it off, the young defender swivelled through 180° and struck the sweetest of volleys over Niemi into the net. If points were awarded for style this weekend, Anton would have his elder brother beat hands down.
West Ham had a scare when Helguson contrived to smash the ball into teammate Boa Morte when only a few yards out, but the home side were more determined. They looked to be cruising when Yossi Benayoun picked the ball up on the edge of the area, created space for himself with a couple of his trademark dummies, and then chipped the ball exquisitely over Niemi and under the bar. Two nil to the Hammers.
Going into the break, the Irons didn't look entirely comfortable in midfield but were sweeping the ball about in the final third like a top Premiership side. This was Chris Coleman's Fulham, though, and there was always that nagging doubt that comes with following West Ham.
True to history, within ten minutes of the restart the visitors had pulled a goal back. Danny Gabbidon totally misjudged a routine interception and allowed the ball to bounce behind him and into the path of Helguson, whose clinical strike rebounded into the goal off Roy Carroll's left post. It wasn't quite as spectacular as the two West Ham goals but it was very well struck nonetheless.
The rest of the half was a gaggle of half-chances for both sides, that for Fulham seemed to come about through West Ham's errors or by chance. Gabbidon, clearly shaken from his error, gave the ball away while under no pressure. Konchesky repeated Gabbidon's previous mistake, allowing the ball to bounce, and also was lucky not to give away a penalty after bundling Helguson over in the area. Then the two of them got their wires crossed and Gabbidon's attempted clearance rebounded off Konchesky. Carroll fumbled a corner and later was on the ground well outside the six-yard box, taking three attempts to snatch a ball from a Fulham player's feet.
All this was interspersed with some great saves from Carroll and a few good moves from West Ham at the other end, including a couple of fine chances that were shunned by Zamora. Then, Z-man rose high above his marker and put a great header towards the bottom corner of the goal, but was unfortunate to see it hit the post and away.
Christian Dailly came on and earned himself an yellow card (and suspension) almost immediately, making a rash tackle in the centre circle to break up a Fulham attack. It was a nice piece of professional work, actually.
Soon after, new boy Yaniv Katan replaced his mate Yossi Benayoun, and showed a bit of skill to get past some Fulham defenders, but Dailly shot the Israeli's pass high into the stands.
As the clock wound deep into injury time and the entire stadium was singing "Super Tom", the renowned hard man swept up a long pass by heading the ball into touch for his last touch of a ball in a West Ham shirt.
Carroll 7: A couple of excellent saves, and was only made nervous by the players in front of him. Dropped one corner and some misplaced kicks. Worth it for the saves though.
Konchesky 5: Poor game. Distribution, touch, tackling, decision making, and judgement were all below par. We know he's capable of much more.
Gabbidon 5: I didn't even see him on the pitch in the first half, and then he made his presence felt with a horrendous error, and then let it affect his mentality in the second half. An uncharacteristic performance.
Ferdinand 8: Solid defending and a wonder goal.
Super Tomas Repka 10: "I am pissed off with [Fiorentina], I didn't want to leave, but they forced me out. I don't want to, but I'm leaving." A forced transfer out of a cash-strapped club. A £5.5 million record signing. A red card on his debut. Another one on his third game. Countless rash challenges in and around the box. More cards than a casino. Uncompromising defending, world class sliding tackles and a fiery temper. Coming agonisingly close to a goal several times. Knocking out Ipswich's goalkeeper in the Championship playoffs with a powerful cross. A surprising last-minute retirement turnaround after promotion. Cheekily showing the yellow card to a referee. Not a sick note in sight, but many a match with a bandaged head. 187 appearances (1 substitute), 56 yellow cards, 4 red cards, 0 goals, 2 assists. Endless fans' arguments about whether he is a legend or a liability. A thundering rendition of the "Super Tom" song in injury time. Anton Ferdinand looking like he was about to lose his best mate. Tears streaming down a battle-hardened face as he applauds the Upton Park crowd for the last time. And always, always, utter and complete dedication to West Ham when on the pitch. Thanks for the memories, Tomas.
Etherington 6: Quiet game, and didn't get past the defenders often, but won a lot of throws and free kicks.
Mullins 6: Not bad. Not dominant enough though.
Reo-Coker 6: Had a couple of fairly good attacking runs and covered a lot of ground but the final ball was missing.
Benayoun 7: Lively, and a threat. Great goal.
Harewood 7: Worked hard, supplied his teammates well.
Zamora 6: Came very close to a great headed goal and gave himself some excellent chances but could not find the control he needed to be really threatening.
Dailly 6 (on for Zamora): Didn't do much apart from break up an attacking move (earning a yellow in the process) and failing to get his head over the ball when shooting!
Katan 6 (on for Benayoun): Not on for long but found time enough to impress.
Newton 6 (on for Etherington): On for about half a second to kill time.