Sunday, October 24, 2010

Rocky uses his head - for once

West Ham Utd 1 - 2 Newcastle Utd

It might not be clear who's the Jack Lemmon and who's the Walter Matthau, but our very own Odd Couple came up trumps at Upton Park, firing us to a deserved victory and propelling us well up the Premier League table. Skipper Kevin Nolan and current house guest Rocky (note new nickname) both scored in a 2-1 win that kept our hosts the Hammers rock bottom.

Chris Hughton made three changes from the side that started last Saturday against Wigan. Danny Guthrie and Peter Lovenkrands both dropped down to the bench after their first league starts of the season, replaced by the fit-again Nolan and Big Lad. It came as no great surprise, however, to discover that James Perch had also been relieved of his starting place, Danny Simpson coming in for a player who was his hapless self against the Latics.

The first 15 minutes gave little indication of what was to come, as our hosts put us under significant pressure and took the lead thanks to some poor defending. Frederic Piquionne was freed by Mark Noble's pass over the top, and his bobbling square ball fell perfectly for Carlton Cole to bundle past Tim Krul.

Bizarrely, though, the goal seemed to discomfort and demoralise the Hammers, and our attacks gained in momentum and purpose to the point that the equaliser seemed an inevitability. Sure enough, on 23 minutes Rocky's knock-down was crisply dispatched into the corner by Nolan. I'd suggest it was evidence of a near-telepathic understanding developed by time spent in each other's close company over the last week, but that would be to credit Rocky with cranial activity...

The balance of play then swung back in favour of the home side, with Victor Obinna in particular causing Simpson (and reinforcements) problems and sending one low cross fizzing across the six-yard area, only a vital touch from Sideshow Bob distracting Cole. Krul, meanwhile, was called upon to make several commanding catches under pressure.

Nevertheless, we continued to look reasonably dangerous ourselves, with Big Lad and Rocky a constant threat, and in the second half we were delighted to discover we could have it all our own way as the Hammers, nervy and lacking in confidence, repeatedly surrendered possession and initiative.

Nolan tried to return the favour of the first goal by nodding down for Rocky to volley goalwards, but Robert Green was behind the shot. However, the winner came on 69 minutes courtesy of ASBO, whose whipped cross from the right deceived Manuel da Costa but was headed home firmly by Rocky. Da Costa has himself been in the headlines for alleged misdemeanours this week, but it's been even more eventful for Rocky, what with a court appearance and a torched car. "He's still developing and he's going to have his ups and downs", was Hughton's euphemistic post-match comment.

We could have been forgiven for expecting a stern examination by the Hammers for the final 20 minutes, but as it transpired they looked disspirited and incapable of preventing us from adding to our tally. Only deflections denied Big Lad the goal his efforts probably deserved and Jose Enrique the strike an audacious bit of skill and direct run merited, while Rocky could have grabbed his second late on.

It was as comfortable an away victory as we'll enjoy all season, and hopefully one which might finally herald some positive consistency after the false dawns of the wins over Villa and Everton. The three points blasted us up to the heady heights of ninth on goal difference, but given that we're still just three points clear of 17th it should only be cause for cautious celebration.

Bring on the Mackems...

A West Ham fan's verdict: Hammered

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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