FA BARCLAYS PREMIERSHIP
SUNDAY 7TH MAY, 2006
WEST HAM UNITED 2 (1) TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 1 (1)
West Ham scorers:-
Attendance: - 34,970
Referee: - Chris Foy
Assistants: - Mr. K. Pike & Mr M. Tingey
4th Official: - Phil Joslin
West Ham (4-4-2):- Hislop; Scaloni, Ferdinand, Gabbidon, Konchesky; Newton, Fletcher, Reo-Coker, Benayoun (sub Reid, 85); Zamora, Sheringham (Capt.) (sub Harewood, 67)
Subs not used: - Walker; Collins, Dailly
Booked: - Newton
Spurs (4-4-2):- Robinson; Kelly, Dawson, Gardner, Lee (sub Barnard, 77); Lennon, Tainio (sub Davenport, 86), Carrick (sub Reid, 62), Davids; Keane (Capt.), Defoe
Subs not used: - Cerny; Murphy
Conspiracy theories were abundant today, from the moment three hours before kick-off, when we heard that Spurs had suffered a major food poisoning outbreak, and had asked the FA for permission for the game to be called off. First we heard that FA officials were to visit the Spurs hotel, and when we heard there would be an announcement soon after 1 o’clock, we thought that maybe that would be to state the re-arranged date.
Apparently, Jeff Stelling on Sky Sports gave a headline “Spurs struggle to fend off diarrhoea – that’s not a nice way to refer to Arsenal”. So we laughed and enjoyed some gallows humour as we heard first that 7 players were suffering (including both goalkeepers), before the figure was stretched as far as 10! I had visions of Burch in goal, and two youth strikers, but by way of deduction, we had worked out that Spurs would be able to cobble together a decent defence and midfield.
It came as a big surprise then to learn that the Spurs team was in fact the best 11 available, bearing in mind the known injuries to King, Jenas and Mido, and that they had five substitutes, when we had also heard that they might only have two players to field. I understand that the FA would not commit themselves to allowing the game to be put back, and put the ball firmly in Spurs court. Spurs went ahead, partly because they were concerned about the threat of deducted points, should they not fulfil the fixture. FA Premier League Executive Richard Scudamore was at Highbury – could Monsieur Dein have had any influence over his muddled thinking? Was there a gooner in the hotel that spiked Spurs’ food? To give credit to Martin Jol he fobbed off any suggestions of foul play, and handled enquires with similar diplomacy to that he had displayed at Old Trafford after the Mendes “goal”
So to the football, and whilst it is difficult for a layman such as me to assess the depth of impact of the health scare upon Spurs efforts, I do concede that West Ham played out of their skins, to a far higher level than I had expected. Whilst his dodgy decisions did not have a direct impact upon the result, I have to report that I got angrier with a referee today (Chris Foy) than I have since Steve Dunn gave Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink a penalty for tripping over his bootlaces in the Spurs area a few years ago. Mr Foy and his assistants allowed at least two blatant foul throws by West Ham, and late in the game, Mr. Foy had already turned away from the action, when Defoe went down in the box for a possible penalty appeal. The referee’s worst moment though came when he awarded a free kick on the 6 yard line for a back pass, picked up by Paul Robinson after the ball had clearly been deflected into a his path by a claret and blue shirt. Luckily, Spurs defended that situation successfully.
And so, patient reader, I come to report how our beloved team had to relinquish the fourth place that they have held for a whole five months, to the team we love to hate, but who West Ham fans clearly love to love, judging by the way they cheered the news that the gooners had taken the lead against Wigan. Hammers’ fans, you see, love to hate Spurs. They would love us to hate them, but I quite like the team, and cannot personally bring myself to hold such emotions about anyone but the two London sides who finished above us in the final reckoning.
The Hammers put the pressure on as early as the second minute, when Reo-Coker (whose Captain’s armband was worn by Sheringham for the day) hit a shot from Benayoun’s corner, which was actually deflected wide by one of his own men. Benayoun had a great opportunity after 9 minutes, when he was in space behind Kelly, hitting a shot across Robinson, but wide. Paul Robinson was taken by surprise within a minute though, as Fletcher scored his first Premiership goal from 30 yards with a low strike to the left of the Spurs keeper. Still the chances came for the home side, and Teddy hit a right foot shot wide across the goalmouth.
Dawson made a mistake after 16 minutes, putting the ball into Sheringham’s path. Teddy fed Benayoun (working on the left today), and again the Israeli was in space, but finally had his shot blocked by a brave Kelly At last Spurs managed a break, and it came down the right, involving Kelly, Tainio and Lennon, who won a corner, taken by Carrick, but headed over by Tainio Three minutes after Mr Foy’s shocking back-pass decision, Spurs were level, and we were hugging each other thanks to a cute shot by Jermain Defoe from an angle bursting the net on Hislop’s right. At this time, we knew the score was 1-1 at Highbury, and we later got demented when we heard Wigan had taken a lead. The rumour that they had gone 3-1 up was soon quashed by the fact that the score was 2-2.
Anthony Gardner should have done better with a header from a 38th minute corner, but West Ham threatened just before the break, thanks to Sheringham, Benayoun and finally a Newton shot that was well saved by England’s number One (who does know when he can and when he cannot pick up a ball!)
There was plenty more drama to come in the second half, especially the award of a penalty for Tainio’s foul on Zamora. Teddy stepped up, fired low to Robinson’s right, and the Spurs keeper made a great save on the stretch. (Did you do it on purpose, Ted?) Spurs had a good effort from Robbie Keane after a clever ball by Tainio, following Dawson’s header, but then Lee had to defend well when Zamora was threatening to break through. There was an attempt at “the Sheringham corner”, and now we heard that the gooners were 3-2 up, so we had to get the win to hold onto fourth.
The fact that Michael Carrick was replaced by Reid after an hour adds credence to Spurs’ illness claims. Keane had another chance, which went wide, after Defoe had headed the ball into space. Next it was Defoe being fed by Tainio, and Jermain’s shot from an angle went over the bar. If we weren’t so nervous, we might have enjoyed the end to end drama unfolding before us! Sheringham went off to great applause from all sides, and was replaced by Harewood. Spurs were getting a few chances in this phase, and just after Newton collected the only booking of the game for a foul on the inspirational Davids, Lennon’s run was brought to an unfair end by Reo-Coker, and got no punishment, other than the free kick, Robbie Keane had been available for a telling pass that the West Ham player prevented.
Lee Barnard replaced Lee, and in the late stages when Davenport replaced Tainio, he too was drafted into the Spurs attack. By then though, Spurs had gone behind to a great goal by Benayoun, combining well with Harewood, before hitting a good shot above the keeper into the roof of the net. 6 points to my Fantasy Team, but misery to me, as the dream of Champions League football was whisked away, much to the glee of the Irons’ fans, who will of course join us in the UEFA Cup, even if they lose next week.
Whatever stories come out in the next few days, and however great our disappointment, let’s remind ourselves that Spurs have achieved as much as most Spurs’ fans could have hoped for this season, and that we are definitely back on the map. We will be ready for further development in the summer, and progress next season, but we must also hope for a higher standard of football in general. The truth might hurt, but attending fans really know that we have not played like a Champions League side for much of the season. We would have taken the bonus of course, but we will be happy to take the UEFA route next season.
It just remains for me to thank all readers for their continued interest and support, and to wish you a great summer, punctuated by a super World Cup. Spurs Odyssey intends to resume duty in August!
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