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, February 28
West Ham 3 Liverpool 1
It’s been difficult preparing for the Liverpool game. Scott Parker is playing on painkillers after injuring his shoulder in training and in Ken’s Café Nigel’s order for a bacon sandwich has been dropped on the floor by Carol, necessitating an emergency brown bag takeaway job.
But both Scotty and Nigel bravely elect to turn out at Upton Park, epitomizing the spirit at the club.
It’s a polyglot gathering the East Stand. Nigel’s next to a group of very enthusiastic Japanese Irons while Matt, like the vicar’s son and gentlemen he is, elects to swap seats with a woman from the Czech Republic who wants to be next to her boyfriend.
Matt suggests that if we win 3-0 we go out of the bottom four. And if we lose we’re looking certain to go down. While Nigel predicts that Glen Johnson will score against us – as if.
But for once we’re fielding what might be our best side. Matthew Upson is back after Monday’s Standard claimed he’d be out for the rest of the season and we have the Hitz Man on the left and O’Neil on the right.
Tomas Hitzlsperger shows brilliant technique to volley a dropping ball at Reina from 40 yards out while Meireles ghosts through to head wide for Liverpool.
But we’re looking energetic and well-balanced for once, with Tomkins handling Suarez well and Gerrard anonymous.
SCOTTY SHOULDERS ON
On 22 minutes Parker plays a push and go with the busy Hitzlsperger, takes the return and with his second touch pokes the ball into the far corner for a delightful finish. He then races to the camera and kisses it in a bid to make the opening credits of Match of the Day.
A great Noble interception results in Piquionne crossing hard and low and Ba just failing to connect. Kuyt drives wide for the Scousers and Suarez and then Piquionne have penalty claims denied.
It gets better right on half-time. From Green’s goal kick Demba Ba heads the ball to O’Neil who crosses for Ba to power a header into the top corner. “Demba Ba M’Lord… Demba Ba…”
Bubbles resonates around the Boleyn Stadium and it’s more worrying than usual to be 2-0 up at half time. Still, it’s not as if we blow two goal leads against Liverpool… well, apart from that game.
Ba drives just wide early ion the second half. Liverpool show signs of life. For once Suarez turns Tomkins and arrows the ball for the top corner only for Green to make a world-class save. England’s England’s Number 16!
O’Neil has a shot deflected wide by Carragher and from the corner Freddie fails to connect effectively with a free header.
We’ve given everything, but the side fades alarmingly in the final third of the game. We drop back, Grant doesn’t bring on a sub, and you wonder if we’re going to bottle it again as Green tips over Gerard’s powerful drive.
Finally Specs comes on for the flagging Piquionne. But two minutes later the previously immaculate Jacobsen hesitates and lets the ball bounce in the box, Suarez turns with great skill and pulls the ball back for Johnson to score, as Nigel predicted.
ALWAYS BELIEVE IN…
Will it be like WBA at home and Birmingham and Everton away where we blow a winning position yet again? Only Fraser has ice in his veins as his part-time mate who’s just left the game phones to ask him to let him know the result. He takes the call, he speaks calmly, he predicts we’ll win.
Someone’s been handing out a phrase book of non-PC football phrases behind us. “Referee! Pooftah!” comes a heavily accented chant from behind us.
Grant takes off Ba for Cole on 88 minutes and Nigel wonders what’s the point of bringing Cole on so late.
Mystic May predicts, possibly ironically, that CC will score a glorious third.
We’re into a nervous three minutes of stoppage time when a clearance finds Cole in the Liverpool half. Carlton shrugs aside Skrtel and drives hard and low and miraculously inside Reina’s near post.
YEEEES!! I’m out of my seat and Nigel finds himself hugging his new besties from Japan. What Dalglish revival? We go third from bottom! YAY! Tactical genius! Avram Grant does an impersonation of the Incredible Hulk celebrating the goal.
Green still has to save low from Suarez but we see out time. Our best performance of the season and fine performances in particular from Green, Tomkins, Jacobsen (bar the goal), O’Neil, Hitz and Ba. Liverpool deserve that for the Cup Final. It’s so good we’ve almost forgotten that we could have been at Wembley beating Arsenal today.
We celebrate with a couple of pints in the Central and as we’re walking down Green Street spot a player in the car park. Standing by his four-wheel-drive is Scotty Parker in a baseball cap,
The temptation is too much for 11-year-old Nigel who rushes up to get Parker’s autograph. But sadly Scotty has only signed 200 and makes for his car when he sees a middle-aged man pursuing him with a borrowed pen, leaving Nigel ruing the loss of the greatest piece of footballing memorabilia since The Gav purchased a Trevor Cherry testimonial programme on eBay.
Strangely the next day’s News of the World doesn’t splash Scotty’s Nigel snub, but instead covers the misdemeanors of Ashley Cole with an air rifle.
We stumble on to the tube with a weird sense of satisfaction having watched a fine performance for once. Let’s not ruin it all against Stoke — if we play with this level of intensity then, blimey, we might not make the Europa League, but there’s a chance of us staying up.