Thursday, March 30, 2006
West Ham United lost at Old Trafford, hardly a shock result, but Alan Pardew will have been immensely pleased by the performance of the Londoners, who had started to look a little bit crusty of late.
The first half was magnificent and back to the best of the season, despite the lack of any real clear cut chances. I thought we played exceptionally well and if this form can be taken to the clubs lower in the league then we will have a fantastic finish to the season.
The approach was different. Keep the ball down, and attack. It's the West Ham way and, as it usually does when we play like this, it worked well even though the final payoff was missing. The problem we had was Ashton's form and the difficulty we had in getting him the ball - Ferguson obviously told his minions to keep close to him and today it worked for them. He was given virtually no time to do anything and his touch was letting him down. It's the sort of game where Teddy Sheringham would have reveled, and - and I will firmly stress that this is with the benefit of hindsight - it was a shame he didn't start. Teddy would have found the space up front and due to the nature of the game would not have been too hindered by his lack of pace. Ashton did look like if he was given a decent chance he'd have buried it (witness the very well executed shot into the side netting for an example), but he was probably kept on the pitch a little too long and by the time Teddy was brought on, the game had changed and he wasn't able to pull the strings as well as if he'd been on in the first half.
The reaction after the goal was disappointing. I thought we were really in it with a shout but after the break we went down a notch and they went up a notch. I had a feeling they'd score at the end of the first half but thought we'd have pulled one back if we'd attacked them early in the second half. But whatever Pardew said to them, it was the wrong thing (or not enough of the right thing) and they lost their self-belief. That was the real turning point of the game. Towards the end the belief came back a bit (and I would like to suggest that Anton played a big part in this) and we did start to worry them.
Anyway, it was great to see them playing the way I know they can play. That first-half form will get us points in other games and might - please, let it be so - just get us into the FA Cup Final and greater glory.
Shaka 6 - Fumbled a couple of times but they were difficult shots, and also handled some other things very well.
Konchy 8 - This might seem like a high mark considering he let Park in for the goal, but wave after wave of attacks came down his side and he dealt with them all quite well and kept working harder than ever, even managing to get forward quite a lot. One or two mistakes in such a game is just due to the law of averages. Passing has improved.
Danny G 7 - Back to form and it's good to see, although he did take one or two unnecessary risks.
Collins 7 - Reliable and always tending to play the ball out, which is great to see. For both central defenders I would need to see a replay of the goal to see who, if anyone, was responsible for the space that van Nistelrooy was allowed. However, it was their only blip in a tough game.
Scaloni 7 - Played well within his known limitations.
Ethers 7 - Good in the first half but mostly relegated to defensive duties and not quite as sharp as he could be. Still, a good performance.
Mullins 7 - Broke up play well.
Reo-Coker 7 - Very active and hungry. Good to see him running at defenders.
Yossi 8 - Faded early in the second half but otherwise a real attacking threat. Coming back to form, I hope. Not a great final ball, but kept charging at the Man U defence.
Marlon 7 - Not up to his best but still quite a decent performance and, as the commentator put it, quite a handful. Some decisions could have been better.
Ashton 6 - Just not involved. His touch has gone to pot in the last couple of games and I hope he gets it back. However, having said that he had maybe two half chances at goal and took them as well as could be expected - if he was given a good solid chance he'd have taken it and I think that's why Pardew delayed in taking him off. His form on goal seems as good as ever but I just think his support play needs improving at the moment.
Anton 8 (on for Scaloni) - Absolutely superb. Did everything brilliantly in defence and attack. If he'd started the game and played like this for 90 minutes I'd have given him a 9. I never thought I'd say this about Anton due to his performances in the middle but have we found our new right back?
Zamora 6 (on for Ethers) - Quiet.
Teddy 7 (on for Ashton) - Played well and perhaps should have been on the pitch sooner - didn't get enough time to get a rhythm going.