By JAMES CLARK
Sunday, February 08, 2009
Hate To Play Like That And Come Away With Nothing ...
By JAMES CLARK
I had done a lot of"gum flapping during the week leading up to Sunday's Hammers v. Manchester United match at Upton Park in what turned out to be a rainy-but raucous East London, based on the television sights and sounds. Although the Hammers were unbeaten in 8 matches, I wasn't promising a win against the defending champions. However, I thought the in-form Carlton Cole, the clever David Di Michele or even our bumper new signing Savio Nsereko could be the one to dent Man United keeper Edwin van der Sar's clean-sheet record. If not a strike from one of our front men, then maybe a well-placed header from one of our sterling central defenders, Matty Upson or James "Ginger" Collins. If nothing else, the odds were in our favor. Van der Sar couldn't keep this up forever, plus Hammers' midfield of Valon Behrami, Scotty Parker, Mark Noble and Jack Collison has a great balance of guile and grit at the moment. Throw in the tactical nous shown in recent weeks by Gianfranco Zola and No. 2 Steve Clarke, and the pieces were in place for a memorable afternoon in the East End. And damned if the home side didn't almost get it done! We had stretches of skillful possession, a chance or two off of corners and by newly-called-up England striker Cole and, in general, matched Man United's tenacity and pace all over the field. Leave it to the old warhorse, Ryan Giggs, to be the difference-maker. Our Aussie right back and captain, Lucas Neill, played another blinder on Sunday, but his one moment of hesitation in closing Giggs down in the box gave keeper Robert Green -- another England player for the Hammers, alomg with Upson -- no chance on the right-footed shot. That proved to be the only goal of the game in a 1-nil win for the visitors/Premiership leaders. Kudos to Zola for staying positive and throwing on Nsereko and Diego Tristan in search of an equalizer. Nsereko got about 15 minutes, but anyone can see that this Uganda-born German is the real deal. He oozes skill and talent, and my guess is he'll be plying his trade at Arsenal or Old Trafford within three years' time. That's just the sad reality of supporting Hammers, but, all in all, we put up a noble fight in the East End on Sunday. We didn't do enough to win it, but nil-nil would have been a result no one could have quibbled with.