Sunday, November 11, 2007

Nobby Style

Derby County 0 West Ham United 5, Pride Park, Derby, Saturday November 10 2007, 3pm.

The last time your sheltered scribe ventured into Derby he was but a young pup in the backseat of the family sedan while his parents had a row due to becoming quite seriously lost in the city's road system. Today am on safer ground hopefully with the rail station depositing your curious correspondent just a short distance away from The Brunswick Inn where meet up with Dave R, Big Ray and Brighton Ben and enjoy a couple of pints of Triple Hop which is brewed on the premises of this big, sprawling, quality boozer which appears to have become victim temporarily to a friendly Hammers fans takeover. It's then a quick fifteen minutes' stroll to the ground where we meet up with the lovely Jo, a friend of a friend of a friend of Dave's whose supplying me with a last-minute ticket following a dropout.

Jo, a telecom sales rep from Bedfordshire, seems to take having the company of a random blogging scamp in her stride as we take our seats for kick-off, and there's plenty of opportunity to get talking during a scrappy, edgy first twenty minutes or so with neither side distinguishing themselves in a period marked by the early departure of Hammers' left-back George McCartney through injury. Lucas Neill shuffles over to left-back to allow sub John Pantsil in at right-back, an introduction greeted with some excitement by Jo which one suspects isn't entirely down to his footballing ability. A free-kick from Nolberto 'Nobby' Solano bounces off the crossbar just before the half-hour but apart from that nothing much to report in a game that has 0-0 written all over it until Lee Bowyer pounces on a ball in the penalty area and slots it past ex-Irons keeper Stephen Bywater just before half-time.

As the second half starts Jo's feeling anxious about the scoreline, and tells me she wants at least two more. Your jaundiced journo keeps his doubts to himself at this stage, a wise move as West Ham step up a gear after half-time and Derby's abject failure to respond is pitiful. There's a couple of close calls with the front two pairing of Luis Boa Morte and Carlton Cole beginning to show confidence and understanding, yet it's a combination between Lee Bowyer and Matty Etherington resulting in the latter neatly dispatching the ball past Bywater into the net, that opens the floodgates.

The relief this cushion provides gives way to hilarity a few minutes later when a hapless County defender gets the ball caught under his feet on the line and only succeeds in tumbling it over to make it 3-0. Jo, being of the fairer sex, feels sorry for the Derby dunderhead but your guffawing guide is too busy laughing to feel similar sympathies. 'Same old West Ham, taking the piss' roar the crowd as our second-string midfield seem able to pass and move at will, Lee Bowyer helping himself to his second and the team's fourth with a piledriver finish to a clinical move. Nobby Solano caps a fine personal display full of wit and guile with an exquisitive free-kick that loops over the by-now-bemused Bywater into the net. Your tee-heeing tinker is now officially too busy giggling to report further on proceedings, but 5-0 remains the result at the end of the game.

It's difficult to see where Derby go from here but down back into the Championship. You get the sense from everyone at the club that they've pretty much accepted that this is the Premiership nightmare they must automatically endure as penance for last term's dream season. A shame, because Pride Park is a stunning stadium, the club has a fine tradition and there's clearly a sizeable fanbase here which should be sufficient to fuel a top-flight business enterprise. However, inadequate investment in playing staff in the summer seems inevitably to require at least one step back before they can again move forwards.

As for West Ham, 5-0 away victories in the Premiership are once-in-a-lifetime experiences so can feel fortunate as a part-time paying punter to witness a thrilling second-half display. While there's no doubt Derby are a poor side at this level, the size of the margin and the manner of the victory is heartening when you consider this was near enough our reserve midfield and fourth and fifth choice strikers playing. Matthew Upson looks increasingly imperious at the back while Solano and Boa Morte had their best games for the club since joining the East End outfit, so gaffer Alan Curbishley may be posed some interesting selection questions when the injured players hobble back into contention.

So, all in all, a thumping Hammers away victory, the pleasure of the company of a lovely young woman and the discovery of a great pub means that your philosophical penpusher at last has some happy memories to take away with him from Derby...

West Ham Parallax View Player Ratings: Green 6; Neill 7, Upson 8, Gabbidon 7, McCartney 5 (Pantsil 6); SOLANO 8, Spector 6, Bowyer 8 (Collins 6), Etherington 8; Boa Morte 7, Cole 7.

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