Friday, 30 August 2013

A great night and no Hammering

When a lower-league club goes to visit a Premiership side on their own ground, I ask for three things - a respectable performance, a good day out for the fans and no (pardon the pun) hammering.
We got all three on Tuesday night at the Boleyn Ground - only the most churlish fan would criticise any part of our display, the fans made great noise and did themselves great credit and we ran them close - closer than some of the national papers have given us credit for.
West Ham are a 'proper' football club - they have a rich heritage which they celebrate and embrace superbly - 'Moore than a football club' is the branding around the ground, and I was sat five seats away from World Cup 1966 legend Martin Peters.
It was all a bit different from Accrington three days before, but having laid the foundations there we carried on in the same vein.
I thought Yatesy picked the right team - solidity and shape was the priority, with Jermaine McGlashan back in the side and the enforced change at the back with Ryan Inniss in for his debut with Troy Brown injured.
Since the game, I have seen a few critical posts about Brown's displays so far, which I find very surprising indeed. I don't think he has done anything wrong at all, and he and Steve Elliott look to be forming a good partnership.
I know we have let 10 goals in and Accrington was our first shut-out, but I can't think of any of those 10 goals which were Troy's fault - in fact I would say the centre-backs have been let down by other areas of the side and other people not doing their jobs properly.
Any worries about his loss were, however, swept away by young Inniss's display. If he was nervous or overawed in any way by the surroundings at the Boleyn, he didn't show it.
Steve Elliott, Jason Taylor and Keith Lowe deserve some credit for that, as they were in his ear throughout the game, talking him through it with advice, and the odd rebuke if he needed it as well.
Troy is out for two to three weeks, so Ryan will play at Gigg Lane tomorrow, and I have no worries about that after Tuesday's showing - hopefully now he has played in front of 23,000-odd EastEnders, some 3,000 Northerners won't faze him at all.
It said a lot for him that I asked Mark Yates afterwards if he thought of putting Keith Lowe across and bringing back Sido. A firm 'no' was the reply - 'Sido needs to sit out a few games' he added.
Keith Lowe's form in the past two games will only serve to extend that exile to the bench, while on the other side Craig Braham-Barrett, up against Joe Cole and then Stewart Downing, did very little wrong.
Yates interview here
I also spoke to Ryan afterwards and he was very level-headed, even about the elbow he got in the first 10-15 minutes, which knocked him out briefly and saw his eyelid glued back together. He took that in his stride as well... early days, but we might have a player here.
Elsewhere, they say a week is a long time in football. Before the game at Accrington, Jason Taylor was, for some, persona non grata... painted as an impatient moaner who couldn't handle being on the bench and wanted to get on the first train out as soon as he couldn't get a game.
Two games later, he has almost become undroppable, brining solidity into the side, scoring the goal to bring our first win and being one of the driving forces on Tuesday.
His mere presence seems to have lifted Russ Penn and Matt Richards, given them a new freedom to be offensive without worrying about the opposition breaking on us if they were caught upfield and lost possession, or directed a wayward pass.
It is almost a mirror of last season. Then, the Marlon Pack-Darren Carter dynamic was a bit open in a 4-4-2. The last two games may just have proved that the same is the case for Penn and Richards in that system.
So from being on the bench and disconcerted by it, Taylor has been transformed. We have seen the Taylor I thought we were getting when Rotherham dispensed with him, but we only saw fleetingly last season. Hope he keeps it up.
The main thing about the game was that were not overawed. We didn't sit off and show them respect, as we may have dobe against Spurs and Everton. We got in their faces - but players like Taylor, Penn and Richards are not going to do anything else!
Alou Diarra knows all about Jason Taylor now - but I hope he recovers from the injury which will put him out for the season.
I was surprised when West Ham lined up with only Ricardo Vaz Te up front, and bar one free-kick saved by Scott Brown they had very little threat.
We looked comfortable and deserved to be level at the break, but Vaz Te's free-kick was a bit special. Surprising then to find out that Big Sam was yelling from the sideline asking why he stepping up to take it. That soon stopped...!
The arrival of Momo Diame for Diarra changed the whole tempo of the West Ham performance. The lethargy went and he was the hub for everything.
It also pushed Ravel Morrison a bit further forward, and those two were a problem for the last hour, helped by Razvan Rat and Downing when he came on, troubling us down the flanks.
The second goal, 41 seconds into the second half saw a great piece of skill by Downing to lay it off to Morrison, who sent Penn and Inniss one way and shot home right into the corner (think a less pectacular version of Nick Powell losing Alan Bennett at Wembley).
I worried for us then. There was the possibility we could get over-run, and for a few minutes it seemed like wave after wave of claret and blue was coming at us.
Then came the penalty, right out of nothing. A punt upfield, Jermaine moved Terry Gornell out of the way and was cleaned up by the keeper. Good refereeing to see if the ball would go in, then he gave the penalty, and Matt Richards stuck it away.
After that, West Ham had more chances, Browny made some saves, they hit the bar, Ryan Inniss cleared off the line - but we had opportunities, a Penn shot was close, Zack Kotwica came on and sliced one wide and shot wide near the end, and Byron Harrison had a couple of openings.
My heart says we deserved extra time, but my head feels they could have had more goals - but it doesn't stop me being proud of how the team performed overall.
But now the million-dollar question. Can we do the same at Bury, and places like it, on a regular basis? We will soon find out, starting tomorrow!