Tuesday, March 03, 2009


West Ham v Manchester City, Boleyn Ground, Upton Park, London, Sunday March 1st, 12.30pm.

This is your fairweather fan's first foray into Upton Park for a Sunday lunchtime kick-off, a decidedly different atmosphere than normal with most fans getting to the ground at near enough the same time, and near enough all sober, and a snaking queue outside the club shop. A quick pint in the ground, where we spy the team formation on the club TV, with recent loan acquisition (and programme cover star) Radoslav Kovac, bought as a defensive midfielder, playing at the attacking head of a diamond formation in the middle of the park.

Both teams start the game in a relatively comfortable mid-table position after occasionally hazardous campaigns, with perhaps City in better form and spirits after a creditable draw the previous weekend at Anfield, while The Hammers have struggled to convert their good general play into goals since selling Craig Bellamy to today's opponents. These circumstances lead to an open game with West Ham working the ball well in midfield but City looking bright and dangerous when they get the ball in offensive positions.

The first half is a fairly even affair, Bellamy predictably getting a lot of stick on his rapid return to Upton Park following his controversial departure in the transfer window, and £30m+ superstar Robinho earning jeers of 'what a waste of money' with two gilt-edged chances spurned, one foiled by a smart, sharp stop from 'keeper Robert Green, the other comically spooned wide. Most of the concern came from the sad sight of West Ham's right-sided midfielder Valon Behrami stretchered off with what looked like a serious injury, which saw wunderkind Savio brought on for his longest spell in a first-team game since his £5.5m move back in January.

Savio plays on the left-side of midfield with fellow youngster and Welsh international Jack Collison switching flanks. This doesn't seem to interrupt the home side's attacking momentum and if anything the Hammers take a more commanding role in the second half. Two incidents in quick succession seal the direction of the game: Bellamy coming off injured (was lovely to properly wave the little so-and-so goodbye) and Savio, bought by the club as his replacement, forcing a good save from Shay Given which only served to push the ball in Collison's direction who cleverly hoisted it over the keeper's despairing lunge into the open net. Aside from a few dead-ball situations Citeh rarely looked like levelling matters and a welcome three points for Gianfranco Zola's claret-and-blue army sees us rocket up to seventh and today's opponents looking nervously over their shoulders at the relegation dogfight.

All in all a good solid team effort, predictably professional performances from Robert Green and Scotty Parker well complemented by youngsters Collison, Savio and James Tomkins who's looking increasingly assured in central defence and if anything made a more telling contribution than his England international partner Matthew Upson whose distribution was a bit off-key today. Kovac, making his full debut, appears to add height, presence and experience to the midfield mix, which is good news in light of an anticipated lengthy lay-off for the unfortunate Behrami.

Parallax Player Ratings - Green 8; Neill 7, Tomkins 7, Upson 6, Ilunga 7; Collison 7, PARKER 8, Kovac 7, Behrami 6 (Savio 7); Di Michele 6, Cole 7. Jonathan Spector and Walter Lopez came on as late subs but didn't have enough game time to register a fair assessment of their play.

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