Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Season 2011/2012: Match 5: West Ham United 0 Ipswich 1 (nPower Championship)

I'm in London for work this week, and with an evening or two to kill, I ended up spending tonight at the Boleyn Ground, also known as Upton Park, for West Ham vs Ipswich.

Both sides have aspirations of achieving promotion to the Premier League this season, so I was anticipating an exciting clash.

I've never been to Upton Park before - this was only my fourth match south of the border, my previous visits having taken me to Goodison Park, Carrow Road and The City Ground.

First impressions of the stadium were impressive - this is a ground that manages to blend all the hallmarks of a traditional stadium - steep stands tight against the pitch - with the expectations of a modern ground.

But of course the Boleyn Ground won't be housing the Hammers for much longer, the club having agreed to move to the new Olympic Stadium after the games in 2o12.

It seems a shame to leave behind all the history at the old ground. I'm always in favour of clubs staying in their traditional homes, particularly if those stadia are designed for football rather than athletics.

Upton Park certainly bears comparison with the top Scottish grounds. Only Ibrox and Parkhead are better, and I'd rate West Ham's ground over Hampden for actually watching the match - those of you who've read my nonsense before will be well aware of my thoughts on our national stadium.

Anyway, the match boasted no fewer than five England internationals between the two teams.

1) Robert Green - derided throughout by the Ipswich fans with chants of "USA, USA", a tribute to his spectacular performance at last year's World Cup. The West Ham fans responded with "England's No. 1" - which if kind-hearted, is factually inaccurate given that Joe Hart is the nation's first choice keeper.

2) David Bentley - the enigma continues. A fine footballer on his day, Bentley doesn't have those days very often any more. He's on loan from Spurs, and did nothing tonight to demonstrate that he's even Championship class any more, let alone likely to be challenging Aaron Lennon for a place in the Tottenham or England teams.

3) Carlton Cole - big battering ram of a striker. What he lacks in sublime skill he makes up in....emmmm......well, he's big....Cole had a forgettable evening, substituted just after the hour mark, having contributed little to West Ham's play.

4) Lee Bowyer - Coming home for the evening, the boyhood West Ham fan was his typical nippy self in the middle of the park, snapping into challenges and just generally making a nuisance of himself. He also scored the only goal of the match in the 88th minute, slamming home the rebound after Keith Andrews' header came back off the post. He started to celebrate, then remembered where he was and checked himself. Anyway, the corner that Ipswich scored from was taken by...

...5) Jimmy Bullard. I've never understood the fascination with Bullard. From the evidence I've seen on TV, he's another player who is all style and no substance. But that did him a disservice tonight, as he was a constant creative force for Ipswich, pushing them forward throughout the match. A credible contender for man of the match. Even if he does have hair like a fairytale princess.

Kevin Nolan, West Ham's new captain, also started. He likes to think that he's been unfairly kept out of the England squad by inferior players, which is a load of bollocks. He's the rich man's Scott Brown - engaging in petty squabbles, involving himself where there's no need and generally charging around like a horny rhino seeking a mate. Nothing he did tonight marked him out as special, but Allardyce seems to like him.

The match was also unique in that it had not one but two players who weren't good enough for the SPL. Daryl Murphy, on loan at Ipswich from the Mhanky Mhob, made it to the Ipswich bench but no further, while Jason Scotland, formerly of Dundee United and St Johnstone, started up front. Scotland's greatest contribution to the match was hammering a shot from the edge of the box that went out for a throw-in.

It was a decent match in that both sides tried to attack, although West Ham created far too few chances for a side hoping to achieve automatic promotion. Their best passing was in their own half, and they struggled when they pushed further forwards. I thought Henri Lansbury, on loan from Arsenal, was the stand-out player for the home side, but Sam Allardyce disagreed, substituting the midfielder midway through the second half.

I've never liked Allardyce or his teams. This was the man who signed African footballers on the cheap, then whined like a scolded dog when they were called up for the African Cup of Nations. A man whose definition of successful football was lumping the ball long to Kevin Davies and hoping for the ball to somehow find its way into the opposition net. A man with an extreme dose of misguided self belief.

West Ham have a reputation (that may or may not be deserved) for playing attractive passing football. There was little of that on show tonight, and they looked more like an Allardyce team than a Barcelona in waiting.

Ipswich had the lion's share of the chances, as well as playing the better football. Robert Green was the official man of the match, which should tell you something about how often he was called into action.

All in all, it was a decent night's entertainment, another ground chalked off to experience, and definitely one I'd be happy to return to. There's a great atmosphere, with the West Ham fans in fine voice, and hopefully that isn't lost when they move home in a few years' time.

I'd like to hope I'll be back, and hopefully I'll see a Hammers win next time. I'd also like to hope that I'm not paying £32 towards Fat Sam's wages by then as well....

Man of the Match: West Ham's defence looked tidy, and their back four could all reasonably be in with a shout. I thought Lansbury was the most dangerous player in claret and blue until Allardyce bizarrely decided to take him off. And Green was kept busier than he would have liked. But the man of the match has to come from the visiting side, and though it pains me to say it, it has to be Jimmy Bullard. I feel dirty now.

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