COLUMNIST KEN BUCKLEY
At the start of what was to be a memorable match for many reasons, I thought it was a fitting touch to have the British Legion standard bearers join the players in the centre-circle for the period of silence.
On seeing the line up and bench once again reinforced my worry that squad-wise we are to short on numbers and quite unbalanced. We made a good positive start from the off and could have caught the Hammers cold but that pressure came to an end when Saha volleyed high and wide. From that moment on the half belonged to the opposition, so much so their keeper was redundant.
The pass-and-move plus the pace of Bellamy and Sears had us at 'sixes and sevens' and, but for some heroic work in defence especially Jags and Howard, we could have been three down at the break. Howard palmed a Parker effort for a corner which produced two more before we finally scrambled the ball away. Then Howard seemed to take an age in clearing a back-pass which resulted in Sears charging it down but to no great harm.
The home team lost Upson who was stretchered off but it made little difference as they still had more of the game than us. Bellamy volleyed over when well placed, the same player then twisted and turned Yobo and pulled the ball back to the unmarked Sears to smash one against the bar, it must have been a great save from Howard as a corner was given and from that corner a free header was allowed but straight at Howard.
We did go forward at times but all the decent build-up seemed to dry up once we reached the final third. But near the break we had just a little excitement when Cahill was worked a shooting chance but 'high wide and handsome' sums it up.
Half-time and many a grumble from those assembled. Surely a change would be made as we just could not seem to get to grips with things in midfield but as the teams emerged it was same again.
We started the second period brightly and within five minutes Rodwell had curled well over. We then had a good ten or so minute spell where Rodwell got on the end of an Arteta corner but put his effort flew just wide when really well placed. Cahill then had a shot from inside the box blocked and the same player appealed strongly for a pen as he was flattened in the box.
This flurry of Blues activity led to West Ham taking the lead, with Cahill still shouting pen, as a long ball over the top saw Parker produce a backheel straight out of the Zola mould that found the sub Collison who deaspatched a beauty past Howard into the top corner. The way we had been playing, I don't think I was alone in thinking 'Well that's it'.
The manager responded by introducing Vaughan for the promising but inexperienced Rodwell; this allowed Vaughan to go up top, Cahill more orthodox midfield and I have to admit I am not sure of Big Vic's instructions...
From my seat I thought this was the start of the mad seven minutes that were come. Although Vaughan didn't threaten much he did get about the place and unsettled what had been an assured back four into one of some hesitancy but going forward they were still a threat. Lescott was booked for pulling Bellamy when beaten for pace, which led to Bellamy yet again testing Howard and a feeling that the game was slipping away from us was well to the fore.
With Vaughan still ever ready to chase and harry, the faithful hit full voice; the players seemed to sense one last go and we moved forward and a sweet Lescott header across goal saw Vaughan's gamble just fail to connect. Vaughan was then pulled down on the edge but the ref would have non of it.
Then it came, that 82nd minute, deja vu moment: for the third time in as many matches, late on we produce some proper football, again down the right, where Neville slid a ground pass to Ossie who looked up, Saha moved quickly to offer himself and Ossie found him in slide-rule mode, the Hammers stood off while he turned and put in a cross of quality at pace that found Lescott who had stayed up free in the box and his header of high velocity bulged the net.
Roof off time! We were out of jail with that card but hang on there was more to come.
With the Hammers shellshocked and again down the right, Neville this time found Big Vic who pulled a low cross across the box to find Saha in predatory mode and he showed his striking class, he showed he had remembered how to celebrate with the ecstatic hordes and it was bedlam, excactly the same Fellaini celebration but no yellow card, just a ref with common sense.
Big Vic's reward was to be immediately replaced by Baines to shore up a very unlikely three points... but hang on — we are not done yet! Cahill, with an extra spring in his step, pounced on a poor clearance, fed Saha and, from 25 yards, a true strike hit the bottom corner... seventh heaven didn't come into it!
The ground had emptied, the final whistle, the players saluted everyone and his dog and the journey home was only going to seem half as long as it did just 11 mins earlier.
Man of the match — over the whole piece — Jags by a mile but the mad 11mins belongs to Louis the 1st of Goodison and the magical, if unexplainable, late-late quality football down our right.
Overall, 80 mins that showed how hampered we are with our present squad when injury and suspension strike. I have the feeling we are about good enough for a reasonable final position come May but seem someway off taking that next step. On the positive side, should Rodwell continue with the progress he is now showing, we could have a very good player on our hands... plus Vaughan keeps giving the impression he is almost there. I hope he gets the games and stays injury-free to give him every chance.
Still, three wins on the trot... yet nothing much has changed, we still need that elusive investment in the squad to move on. Boro next and the history of that game is home win in a drab game. See you there — don't go before the end!!!
UP THE BLUES
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