Monday, 23 February 2009

West Ham v Bolton (John Simkin)

It could be argued that fans of West Ham will only be convinced that we are on the right track when we manage to win at Bolton. So far we have never won at the Reebok Stadium and have only beaten Bolton away on one occasion in fifty years. Our last victory was at Burnden Park when Tony Cottee was on the score-sheet. As we were unbeaten away from home since October, and Bolton had only won once in seven games, this seemed to be the game that was going to change the record books.

Optimism grew when it was announced that Cole was fit enough to play. Jonathan Spector came in for the suspended Lucas Neill but there was still no place for our record signing, Nsereko Savio. At the time we were told that the Ugandan-born, German striker was a replacement for Bellamy. It now becomes clear that Zola sees David Di Michele as Cole’s strike-partner with Savio coming on as a wide-midfield player late in the game.

Bolton has one of the best records in the division for scoring in the first fifteen minutes of a game. One would have expected the West Ham team to be prepared for the onslaught. However, they were slow to start and Collison sloppily gave away a free-kick when he brought down Mark Davies in the 10th minute. Green was poorly positioned and Taylor beautifully curled his effort over the wall and just below the cross-bar.

West Ham lost the ball in their next attack and Kevin Davies managed to get his head to a hopeful ball forward. Elmander kept control of the ball up before crossing it across the 18-yard-box. It broke nicely for Davies whose first time strike flew past Green’s outstretched right-hand.

A few minutes later, an attempted sliding-tackle by Collins left the tall central defender writhing in pain. Zola must have realized it was not going to be his day as he watched Collins being stretched off for what appeared to be a bad hamstring injury.

However, from this point on, West Ham dominated the match and had enough chances to win the game comfortably. Bolton kept a high-line based on the position of Cole. A team playing this way is always vulnerable to late runs from other players. Several times Di Michele was caught offside when he failed to time his run properly but in the 35th minute Cole made a clever reverse pass and Noble managed to beat the off-side trap. Noble only had the goalkeeper to beat but inexplicably he decided to square the ball back to a group of players trying to get into the Bolton penalty area. The pass was intercepted but it bounced back to Noble whose attempted lob was knocked over the bar by Jaaskelainen.

A few minutes later Noble hit a superb long pass that enabled Di Michele to beat the off-side trap for a second time. As Di Michele closed in on Jaaskelainen he decided against the easy option of passing the ball past the goalkeeper. Instead he tried to curve it around him with the outside of his foot. However, he got it terribly wrong and the ball sailed well-wide of the far post. It was nearly as bad as his miss against Middlesbrough. In many ways it was even worse because this time he failed to score because he was trying to show off his skills.

At the beginning of the second-half West Ham forced an early corner. Tomkins, who was proving himself an able deputy in both penalty areas, got his head to Noble’s corner. Cole adjusted his jump to send the ball towards the goal but it was cleared from just under the bar by a Bolton defender.

Admirably led by Scott Parker, the Hammers had nearly total control of the midfield. We all know what a great defensive player Parker is but against Bolton he also passed the ball well. It was no real surprise that the terrier midfielder was the instigator of West Ham’s goal. In the 66th minute he ran with the ball out of defence. Cole failed to control the forward pass and it ran loose to Spector on the right-wing. Parker ran past Cole and arrived in the penalty area to knock the full-back’s accurate cross into the net.

Eight minutes later Parker made another penetrating run into the box. He was brought down by Ricardo Gardner but the referee played the advantage rule as the ball ran free to Di Michele who once again faced an open goal. Instead of hitting it first-time he decided to show off his skills by taking the ball around the goalkeeper. He did this successfully but by this time two Bolton defenders were back on the line and his weak shot was easily blocked by Gary Cahill.

Di Michele might have been a great player in his prime. However, he is definitely not a replacement for Bellamy. After the game Zola told Sky that Di Michele had promised to make it up to his manager by scoring two goals in his next game. Given the loyal way that Zola looks after Di Michele, it would not surprise me if the Italian forward is given another chance against Middlesbrough in next weeks cup tie.

I had been hoping that Zola would have brought on Sears at half-time. But he left him on the bench. On the hour mark Zola did at last bring on Savio. However, it was to replace Collison rather than Di Michele. Sears did not enter the fray until the 85th minute. Even so, it was for Spector, and so the young striker again had to play out of position. Sears must be feeling terribly frustrated by the way he is being treated by Zola. At the moment he is not being given a fair chance to show what he can do. I would not be surprised to see him picketing outside Upton Park with a placard saying: “Equal opportunities for English jobs”.

West Ham had 62.3% possession of the ball and their dominance was reflected by their 13 corners and 18 shots on the Bolton goal. However, this is meaningless when you have difficulty in scoring. It is now apparently clear that Zola made a terrible mistake in not replacing Bellamy with a proven goalscorer.

Player Ratings

Green: At fault for the first goal and had little to do after we went 2-0 down (5)

Spector: Far more assured that Neill and provided Parker with an excellent pass for the goal. (7)

Collins: Was taken off after only 15 minutes so it is unfair to give him a rating.

Upson: Bruising battle with Kevin Davies. (6)

Ilunga: Couple of good attacking runs but was caught out of position for the second goal. (6)

Behrami: Spector did not need the kind of protection usually provided for Neill. Fairly quiet game and did not look like he had fully recovered from his injury. (5)

Parker: Probably his best game for the club. A captain who leads from the front, he totally controlled the midfield. We all know what a great defensive player Parker is but against Bolton he also passed the ball well. (9)

Noble: A return to form and a great pass to set-up Di Michele in the 39th minute. However, his decision to pass when put through by Cole was inexplicable. (7)

Collison: Seemed to lose his confidence after giving away the free-kick that led to the first-goal. (6)

Cole: An impressive performance considering he did not train all week. Unfortunately, all the good chances fell to his fellow striker. (7)

Di Michele: Missed the best two chances of the game. He rejected the easy options in order to show off the skills that he has apparently lost. (4)


Nsereko (61 minutes): Couple of nice touches but it is not easy to come on and make an impact. Would like to see what he can do when he starts a game. (6)

Tomkins (16th minute): Never looked in trouble after coming on for the injured Collins. I am sure he will become a regular first-team player next season. (7)

Sears: (85 minutes): Sears must be feeling terribly frustrated by the way he is being treated by Zola. At the moment he is not being given a fair chance to show what he can do.

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