Sunday, 25 January 2009

West Ham v Hartlepool (John Simkin)

In the press conference before the game Zola made it clear that he was going to play his first-eleven against Hartlepool as he was “desperate to take West Ham all the way to Wembley.” The fact, that Faubert and Tomkins replaced Neill and Upson is therefore highly significant. Although the manager, who had himself won two FA cup winners’ medals in 1997 and 2000, insisted they players were being rested, it was not hard to deduce that Neill and Upson, who had not played against Barnsley in the previous round, were being prevented from being cup-tied. Zola will have difficulty off-loading Neill but there must be a good chance that a Champions League club will make an offer for Upson before the end of the transfer deadline.

The game also provided another opportunity for Zola to put Faubert in the shop-window. In the second minute Faubert raced down the right-wing and crossed a dangerous ball into the area that a Hartlepool defender deflected on to the crossbar. That was as good as it got for Faubert and for the rest of the game he was more likely to put over a dangerous cross in front of his own goal.

For most of the first-half West Ham made a reasonable job of containing a Hartlepool side that treated the game if it was the cup final itself. In the 8th minute Green missed a cross from a corner and after hitting Michael Mackay, the ball trickled towards the goal-line and Parker had no difficulty clearing it upfield.

The Hammers remained in second-gear and other occasionally appeared to be trying to score a goal. In the 16th minute Collison showed great control before curling a shot narrowly wide of the post. Just afterwards, Cole just failed to get to a cross from Illuga.

The first real alarm came in the 36th minute when Faubert inexplicably headed the ball across his own goal to the feet of Joel Porter, who was obviously taken by surprise by this appalling defending, and showing little composure, blasted the ball wide.

This incident persuaded the Hammers that they probably needed to get a couple of goals if they were to win the game. In an effort to reach Di Michele’s through-pass, Cole collided with the goalkeeper, Arran Lee-Barrett. The Hartlepool team immediately surrounded Cole and got so close to him that it was impossible for him to get off the ground. This reaction guaranteed that Cole got a yellow-card for what was a 50-50 ball.

The booing of Cole by the home-crowd galvanized him into action and in the 40th minute he hit goalkeeper with the ball rather than a boot. Soon afterwards Tomkins shot wide after a free-kick. It was all West Ham now and when a Collison run into the area was blocked, the ball rolled into the path of Behrami and he drove the ball into the net.

In stoppage time of the first-half, Cole attempted to flick the ball on to Di Michele, Nelson reached up and clearly tried to stop the ball with his hand. The referee ruled that the ball was inside the area and gave a penalty. Television replays showed this was a mistake but Noble took advantage of this lucky-break by scoring from the spot.

Hartlepool made a valiant attempt to score in the second-half but they lacked the quality to really trouble the West Ham team and Green only had one decent save to make throughout the game, a header from Gary Liddle in the 61st minute.

Before the game, the Hartlepool manager, Chris Turner, had argued: "In terms of pure football ability, there's often not a lot between many Premier League players and those in League One. The real difference is that Premier League footballers are mentally, and sometimes physically, far stronger, with much better powers of concentration. Quite a few of this Hartlepool team could play for West Ham in the Premier League, no problem – but only on a one-off basis. I think you'd find they wouldn't have the consistency and concentration to do it week-in week-out. Those are the qualities which give top-level players their edge."

The game showed why Turner has never managed at the top level. Not one of their players showed any of the “pure football ability” that is required in the premiership. Although, it has to be admitted that none of them did anything as bad as Faubert’s header across goal.

Scott Parker controlled the middle of the park and Cole, Collison and Noble made the odd penetrating run. Behrami worked manfully protecting the hapless Faubert and after a nervous start Tomkins helped Collins to snuff out any danger in front of goal.

Overall, a very competent performance and once again Zola and Clarke showed they can prepare their players for a match. This is apparently what John Terry and Frank Lampard have said has been missing from Chelsea since Clarke left the club. It was very noticeable that it was Clarke and not Zola who gave the substitutes such detailed instructions before they entered the fray.

Chris Turner was right about one thing. Good premier league players are not only skillful, they are consistent and do not make many mistakes. That appears to be the type of team that Zola and Clarke are building, and I am more optimistic about the club’s fortunes than I have been for 20 years.

Green: Missed one punch and made a reasonable save from Gary Liddle. (6)

Faubert: Another hapless display that will probably guarantee that we are stuck with him to the end of the season. (5)

Collins: Commanding performance from this much improved player. (7)

Tomkins: Started nervously but settled down to play his part in this comfortable victory. (6)

Illunga: Found a lot of space in advanced positions in the first half but failed to provide good enough crosses. (6)

Behrami: Another all action performance from this extremely hard-working player. Was always a threat going forward and still found the time to protect Faubert. (7)

Parker: Completely controlled the mid-field and was the most important player on the pitch, and provided an excellent captain’s performance. (8)

Noble: Did not have to be at his very best today. Looks to be a competent penalty-taker. (6)

Collison: A few nice touches but generally a fairly quiet afternoon. (6)

Cole: Made some good runs and with a little more luck would have scored to keep his run going. Was rightly substituted when Zola made the assessment that the referee might give his robust play a second yellow card. (6)

Di Michele: Too easily knocked off the ball but he did make a couple of good defence splitting passes to Cole. (6)


Boa Morte: Made no impression on the game except for making himself look very foolish during a short-corner routine (64 minutes)

Sears: Held the ball up well and went close with his own chance of a shot. (78 minutes)

Mullins: Helped to close the game down when he was brought on for Di Michele. (75 minutes)

Video Highlights

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