Monday, December 19, 2005

Hammer Time

West Ham 2 – 4 Newcastle

Four goals away from home, a first hat-trick for the Toon by Michael Owen and one goal nearer the record for Shearer was certainly cause for some festive optimism for Graeme Souness at Upton Park on Saturday.

One goal with his left foot, one with his head (well ear/shoulder) and one with his right foot, giving Michael Owen a perfect hat-trick, and combined with his pass to Shearer for our other goal meant that Graeme Souness had reason to raise a festive cheer to our record signing.

Put simply, Owen was the difference between the two sides, and without his contribution we would have struggled to overcome a decent West Ham side. That's what 16 million quid buys, and what a difference it makes to our performances. Over the season, we've won one league game without our number 10 (against a bunch of talent-less wasters from down the road) and struggled to even threaten the opposition's goal. With him, we're a match for anyone, and provide a constant goal scoring threat.

On Saturday, we once again proved this point, taking the lead in the first five minutes, when Shearer flicked on a long clearance from Given, and Owen was able to knock the ball past the advancing Roy Carroll in the West Ham goal. In truth it was the home side that had started the brighter, without properly threatening Shay Given's goal, and it was no surprise that despite our early goal they came back at us strongly.

From one such foray up the field they were able to whip in a cross from the right, and maintaining his alarming trend of attempting to undermine our season from within, Titus belted the ball straight at Nobby, who could do nothing but raise his hands in helplessness as the ball cannoned off his shins and into the net.

Titus further enhanced his reputation as our own silent assassin by promptly clattering into Yossi Benayoun as he headed goalwards, although thankfully referee Phil Dowd waved away the home fans shouts for a penalty.

With the first half drawing to a close, West Ham conceded a foul on the left of their penalty area, and Nobby was presented with an excellent opportunity to atone for his earlier own goal. Firing over an excellent cross he picked out Owen, who, through a combination of ear and shoulder, got enough on the ball to take us back into the lead.

The second half carried on much as the first, and it was always going to be crucial for us to score again to prevent West Ham launching another come back. Combining well, Solano fed Owen, who laid the ball off for Shearer to fire goal number 199 for Newcastle, and with it provide us with a two goal cushion with which to see out the remainder of the match.

Unfortunately, Shola had other ideas, and promptly conceded one of the most pointless penalties of recent times by handling the ball when there was absolutely no need whatsoever (think JJ at Highbury a couple of years ago). Despite only taking three steps, Marlon Harewood was still able to fire the ball past Shay Given, and give the home side hope of snatching at least a point from a game which we should have been looking to simply close out.

An Owen header which Roy Carroll managed to save looked to have been the end of our goal scoring chances, as West Ham pushed more and more people forward to attack corners looking for an equaliser.

Then with time ticking down, we were able to break forward, and with Faye bursting down the right, his cut back gave Owen one of the easiest finishes of his career with Roy Carroll still not back in position after a foray forward left waiving his arm for an offside that wasn't, and crowning Owen's first hat trick for Newcastle.

Credit again to Scott Parker, who enjoyed a storming game in front of Sven, the only note of sadness being his fifth booking of the season which rules him out of our trip to Anfield on Boxing Day. However, with the re-emergence of Faye as a capable footballer, Owen going back to his former club doubtless keen to show them what they missed out on in the summer, and the inevitable jet lag which will accompany their fruitless trip to Yokahama this weekend we can go in with a degree of optimism, conscious of the fact that a few more decent results will really see us climb the table. Chelsea may be out of sight, but the rest remain eminently catchable, and a few more results like this will leave as a season to remember rather than last year's one to forget.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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