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.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Eighteenth Groanin' Jock Lyrical Challenge

A while back, I resurrected the game no-one seems interested in playing, The Groanin' Jock Lyrical Challenge.

Jack Deighton was the winner on that occasion, correctly identifying Money by Pink Floyd. Answers to all of those questions are now in the comments on that post.

Here are the latest songs for you to identify. Place your answers in the comments. No Googling.

1. When I hear that big black whistle they blow, I feel inside it's time for me to be going.

2. When I fully grow I'll outsize you, but I won't let you fall in love.

3. Gonna manage my time just like Johann Cruyff.

4. For what it's worth it was worth all the while.

5. And when she lets me slip away, she turns me on, all my violence is gone.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Season 2011/2012: Match 4: Montrose 2 Annan Athletic 3 (Irn-Bru Division Three)

Those of you who regularly venture down this dead-end road at the far-flung rear-end of the worldwide interweb will be aware that on the past two occasions that I have seen Montrose "play" "football", they have conceded 12 goals (that's 12 goals total. Not 12 goals in each match. They're not that terrible. Yet.).

In each of those matches, they've had a right royal hiding. But today's defeat (for it was a defeat, if the scoreline in the title of this post didn't give it away) was a different affair.

Montrose were great in the first half. Slick passing ON THE ACTUAL GROUND AND EVERYTHING and fast running from Martin Boyle saw them take the lead in the 14th minute.

OK, OK, they were pegged back almost immediately when they left a great lumbering centreback completely unmarked at the back post.

But they didn't panic, didn't resort to the casual brutality and long balls that have become their trademark - they just kept on passing the ball.

This seemed like a brave new world, one that had come about as a result of water on their collective brains due to the Angus monsoon season starting roughly 20 minutes before kick-off.

In fact, Montrose were so good in the first half that they actually went in for their shared half time orange (one segment each, Dougie Cameron gets the biggest bit) in front, wee Martin Boyle's whippetesque pace carrying him into the box to poke home a second just a minute before the whistle.

All good so far....

....then came the second half. Annan had decided that enough was enough, and spent the majority of the second period squeezing Montrose back into the their own half. But Montrose sat it out well. The slick passing may have been cast aside, but they coped well with constant pressure, and Annan didn't create much in the way of chances.

Until six minutes before time, when they lumped the ball into the box for the same centreback, again left unmarked, to slam a shot into the net.

Still, a draw is a draw, a point is a point, and when you play for Montrose a home draw is like winning the lottery.

Except Montrose went into panic mode, and Annan added a winner barely seconds short of the full time whistle.

Some attempts have been made to blame the referee for the defeat, and while he was guilty of a few odd decisions, none of them cost Montrose the match. They did that themselves through poor concentration.

There were a lot of positives today. Martin Boyle had the best game I've seen him play, the team playing to his strengths and capitalising on his pace. He also seems to be making progress towards adding a killer instinct to his game, which was previously marked by a lot of pace but an occasional lack of composure. Two goals today tell their own story.

Jamie Winter was a creative hub for Montrose. He may have picked up the nickname Sixpence for his tendency to seek the Hollywood pass everytime, but his passing ability is miles ahead of that of his team mates. He's also built like a rhino, and it's good to see a bit of muscle/gristle/flab/big bones in the middle of the park for a change.

Speaking of muscle/gristle/flab/big bones, Dougie Cameron appeared to be captaining the side today despite Stephen MaccaMaccaReyna McNally playing at right back. I'm not sure why, but then I'm one of Kneeheid Cameron's biggest critics. He actually had a decent afternoon today, with some thunderous tackling and a few decent passes. It also helped that he was out of harm's way far out on the left wing, somewhere where he can do less damage to the home side than usual.

Steven Masterton, formerly of Clyde, played as a trialist in central midfield, and he looked like a worthwhile capture if he's available permanently, working well alongside Winter and combing well with Jonathan Crawford and Boyle.

Most of the team would get pass marks based on today's performance. I can't think of any major disasters, although the defence should have been marking better at set pieces, as it was poor awareness at dead balls that cost us all three goals and all three points today.

Still, onwards and upwards....well, downwards if we keep getting no points, but you know what I mean.

Man of the match: A good all-round team performance, with a few stand-out performers, but it could only be Martin Boyle for an eye-catching display up front. If he continues to develop at the rate he has over the past year, he may not be a Montrose player for long.