West Ham musings by Pete May, author of Hammers in the Heart, West Ham:Irons in the Soul and Flying So High:West Ham's Cup Finals.
Monday, March 2
Who needs Craig Bellamy?
West Ham 1 Manchester City 0
Another ridiculous kick-off time of 12.30pm on a Sunday, with the tube down to the bare bones and no time for proper lunch. We sit in Ken’s Café with cups of tea reading the programme news that Robert Green lists The Iliad as his favourite book.
“He likes to read it Homer and away,” I tell Matt. Next we’ll discover that Tomas Repka enjoyed perusing his fellow Czech Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
Inside the stadium it’s time to find out if we can find Man City’s Achilles Heel. “F*** off Craig Bellamy!” is the traditional cockney welcome for our former striker. Bellers is also having to play in an abominable luminous orange away kit with one black arm, looking more like a ground steward than a footballer. Matt suggests that "now City are owned by oil billionaires they don't have to worry about selling replica shirts", hence the railway worker chic.
City have two good early chances. Green produces a fantastic tip round the post from Robinho’s back heel, and then Bellamy nutmegs Behrami to set up an easy chance for Robinho to poke wide.
But we come back into it, even if we do, as ever, over-elaborate searching for the perfect goal. Di Michele turns brilliantly to chip in for Cole to just fail to connect, while Collison has a shot saved by Given. It’s much better than the pathetic effort on Wednesday night.
Czech Republic midfielder Kovac is in for the suspended Noble and reminds me a little of Neil Orr with his simple distribution. Mention of Orr (from the boys of ’86 side) inspires Nigel to reminisce about the time his mate Gav received a birthday card from Orr, and also the fact that Neil Orr was once canvassed for his opinion on a Scottish by-election while training on the beach at Leith. Not that he’s obsessed with football trivia.
Just before half-time Behrami goes down holding his knee after falling awkwardly. It looks bad. The stretcher comes on and he’s carried off to warm applause to be replaced by Savio.
The second half starts and it’s got 0-0 written all over it, or maybe a later winner by Bellamy. I’d be happy with a point bearing in mind the absence of Collins, Noble and Behrami. “Short greedy bastard, you’re just a short bastard!” chants the Bobby Moore Stand. But Bellers’ is playing far too deep and then goes off after 66 minutes with yet another injury, to the derision of the crowd.
We’re playing pretty well. Savio is running at people and Collison just fails to connect with Di Michele’s through ball. Di Michele messes up an easy ball on the edge of the box after doing the difficult part, but then half a minute later plays a ball out to Savio. The young Ugandan/German wideman, who comes from Kampala and is better than Ray Parlour, cuts inside and with hardly any backlift fires a vicious curler at Given. The City keeps can only parry the ball out to Collison who controls the ball to gently lob into the top of the net. Goal! We’re ahead against the richest team in the world. Never in doubt.
“Now Carlton could have hit the bar with that…” suggests Nigel. It’s Collison’s third of the season, and he’s hit the post twice too. At last we have a midfielder who might get into double figures in a full season.
We face an anxious 19 minutes. City suddenly start to create chances. Caicedo shots into the side netting when well placed then fires over the bar. Carlton Cole is battered and limping and wants to come off.
“Bring him off!” shouts Nigel. But Zola brings on Spector for Kovac, and Lopez for Di Michele. Then you see why. Cole wins my man of the match award for getting his head to two City set pieces and then, despite lumbering in the fashion of like Arnold Schwarzenegger at the end of Terminator, dribbling the ball into their corner and occupying three defenders.
"Think of Anvil," I tell Nigel, "Live the dream!" Deep into added time Savio concedes a free kick in Matt Taylor/Stuart Downing territory. Sod it. Elano’s shot is heading for the top corner only for Lucas Neill to head it away.
The whistle blows. We go above Wigan. We go above Fulham in our Premier League Odyssey. Soon we’ll be above FC Ithaca. We’re seventh!
Thirty six points. One more win and we’re safe. And we might even make the Uefa Cup if we finish seventh.
So it’s off to the Central to watch the Carling Cup Final at Wembley. Nice to see Spurs there. Apparently it’s a good day out for small clubs outside the Big Seven.