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Saturday 11th April 2009

Under Gianfranco Zola, West Ham have been a revelation.  Perhaps nobody has told the little Italian that the Irons are like the decorations; they always come down after Christmas.  But he has got them getting results ... not always in the flowing style he might like, but working to a pattern that plays to their strengths, they are playing some better football now after a sticky spell in February. 

With Rob Green still trying to press his claim for an England goalkeeping place, he will need to cut out some of the errors from his game, with his positioning and cross-taking the main areas of his art which need improvement.  The defence in front of him has benefited from being reasonably stable.  Having lost Anton Ferdinand, it was probably a blessing in disguise, as he was error prone and James Tomkins and Matthew Upson make up their central defensive partnership now.  Tompkins is a player who is highly rated and has broken into the first team this season, while Upson has been a round for a while, making it into the England squad, but perhaps not being of the quality to make it as a regular in international football.  However, his ability in the air is strong and he likes to play the ball out of defence, with a liking to get up for set-pieces, where his height becomes a problem for opposition defences.  In reserve James Collins is a tall central defender who has a fair bit of experience with Sunderland before joining the Irons, but he sometimes drops of his striker and gives them a bit of space to work in.

At full back, Zola has chosen to go with Lucas Neill and Herita Ilunga.  Both are not the greatest defenders, but they are comfortable in the team set-up, where they get protection form the midfielders in front of them.  Neill's inclusion will be a bonus for Tottenham, as he invariably has a tough time against Aaron Lennon, but his solution to that might be to out-muscle him to reduce his effectiveness.  A couple of times, the Australian's fouls on Lennon have given Tottenham penalties, but he can be a solid defender if he doesn't let his temper get the better of him.  Ilunga had problems when he arrived from Toulouse, but he has settled and now puts in good performances, tying up the left hand side and trying to get up in support of attacks.  Recently introduced to the side, Uruguayan Walter Lopez can operate either in midfield or defence and is a player who likes to get forward.

The midfield has been comprised from Mark Noble, Scott Parker, Luis Boa Morte, Radoslav Kovac and David Di Michele.  Noble is an England Under-21 who looks like an excellent prospect on occasion, but often either his wayward tackling or his wayward passing let him down.  Energetic and skilful, in the right blend, he could be a useful player for the Irons for years to come.  That is something that you couldn't say about Kieron Dyer or Scott Parker, who have both been knocking around for years and are both injury-prone.  After playing less than a handful of games for the Irons in about two years, he is finally coming into the side after a string on injury set-backs.  On his day, he can be a pass and move type of midfielder who can start and support attacks, which is why he has 33 England caps (really).  But when it is not his day, he can be a liability, with the game passing him by and getting frustrated enough to put in dangerous tackles or pick a fight with his own players.  Parker has lost a lot of his speed, but his passing is a real asset and he can work the ball to give team-mates goalscoring chances.

Boa Morte is a temperamental wide player, who has dropped more into midfield than the wing position he used to occupy.  He has a history of losing it, especially in games against Spurs, but if he does manage to get forward, he has played there in the past and is able to finish competently.  Might be the weak link in midfield if he starts and Tottenham might be able to get some joy on his side of the team.  Radoslav Kovac is a player I know little about other than he has recently been banned indefinitely by the Czech Republic after a group of players went out for a meal after a World Cup qualifier.  The other player who might be deployed in midfield is Italian David Di Michele.  He more often plays up front than in midfield, but can operate just behind the strikers.  He has not been the success that the Irons had hoped he would be in goalscoring terms, but he has bags of skill and can finish when he gets into goalscoring positions.

It is up front that the Hammers have problems.  With Dean Ashton having missed the greater part of two seasons with ankle injuries, Carlton Cole is now missing after picking up an injury playing for England (really).  He had been the spearhead of the attack for the Upton Park club, but now they will have to fit in players who might not have had as great a success in the position as Cole.  That really leaves Diego Tristan as there only experienced striker and he has been struggling with only a couple of goals in 20 odd appearances.

Young German forward Savio Nsereko has been used in the last few games and his purchase was a controversial one, but he is a player that Zola thinks will be well worth the money they paid to Brescia for him.  He is still to score a goal for the Irons though.

Zola has introduced a whole host of youngsters lately who have come off the so-called Academy of Football conveyor belt.  Freddie Sears is a striker who made his debut last season and has been on the fringes this time around, but has good pace and a knowledge of where the goal is, while Junior Stanislaus made his goal-scoring debut against Sunderland last week from midfield.  Josh Payne is another midfielder who has been on the bench, while Bondz N'Gala has featured and is a promising defender. 

While there is a push for Europe by the Irons, it is not too long ago that their fans were querying the appointment of Zola, while some say that the power behind the throne is Steve Clarke, who had a similar role at Chelsea under a number of managers and when removed, left Scolari exposed to the rigors of the Premier League.  There is a willingness to play good football at West Ham that sometimes undermines their success, but Zola's right hand man seems to have instilled a need to win with gritty football sometimes and the set-up of the team might make it hard to break through.

With a string of good results and Spurs on a good run until last week's reverse against Blackburn Rovers, it should be a well contested encounter.  The loss of Wilson Palacios will be hard felt for Tottenham, as he has been an integral element of the midfield since his introduction to the team.  However, with both side designed for attacking football and with defences which are now perhaps stronger than previously, it might make for a fascinating game.  West Ham's lack of fire-power might count against them and with Spurs now having a choice in attack, I can see them just edging the game ...

PREDICTION : -  Tottenham Hotspur  2    West Ham United  1

For more information on the opponents and their history, including full result history of matches between the two teams, click here.


TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR : -  Jermain Defoe (foot); Wilson Palacios (suspended 1 of 1); - (-); 

WEST HAM UNITED :  -  Carlton Cole (groin); Jonathan Spector (head); Jack Collison (knee); Valon Behrami (knee); Daniel Gabbidon (groin); Dean Ashton (ankle); - (-); - (-); 


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Tottenham Hotspur   1    West Ham United   0      (Half-time score : 0-0)

Premier League
Venue : White Hart Lane  
Saturday 11th April 2009
Kick Off :  3.00 p.m.
Crowd :   35,969
Referee :  Martin Atkinson (Yorkshire)
West Ham kicked off and played towards the Paxton Road end in the first half.
Weather :  -  Light drizzle, then dry and mild
Teams : - 
Tottenham Hotspur :

  1  Gomes

22  Corluka
39  Woodgate
26  King
32  Assou-Ekotto

  7  Lennon
  6  Huddlestone
  8  Jenas (  4  Zokora 46     )
14  Modric

10  Bent (  9  Pavlyuchenko 56  )
15  Keane (c)

Unused subs: 
23  Cudicini
  3  Bale
  5  Bentley
20  Dawson
21  Chimbonda

West Ham United :

  1  Green

30  Tomkins (10  Nsereko 81)
19  Collins
15  Upson
  3  Ilunga

46  Stanislas
  2  Neill     
16  Noble
13  Boa Morte
     (  7  Dyer 71)

25  Tristan (33  Sears 85)
32  di Michele

Unused subs: 
24  Lastuvka
  5  Lopez
35  Payne
34  N'Gala

Colours : -  (kits courtesy of http://www.colours-of-football.com)
Tottenham Hotspur

  West Ham United
Scorers : -  
Tottenham Hotspur

Pavlyuchenko  65

West Ham United


Cards : -  
Tottenham Hotspur  

Zokora (foul) 56 



West Ham United

Boa Morte (persistent fouling)  45
Neill (foul)  57
di Michele (foul)  63
Noble (foul) 90 
Collins (dissent)  90


Match Report : -  
While West Ham claim that they were under-strength for this London derby, it was a reasonably comfortable win for Tottenham with few major scares along the way, despite the narrow 1-0 scoreline.

It was an inspired substitution that brought about the change with Roman Pavlyuchenko scoring the winner less than ten minutes after his entrance into the action and while Heurelho Gomes made a couple of good saves to protect the Spurs goal, it was Irons keeper Robert Green who was the busier of the two glove-men this afternoon.

Spurs started inventively, with Luka Modric probing down the left, but missing Wilson Palacios in midfield, they had Tom Huddlestone spraying passes around from just in front of the back four.  This role did not stop him getting forward and although his passing was not quite as assured today, he was busy and got forward to twice test Green's shot-stopping abilities. 

The first chance came when Corluka linked well with Lennon on the right wing and the little winger blazed too high when well positioned for a shot on target.  At least his shot went off for a goal kick, as West Ham's first effort on goal came from David di Michele, who tried a van Basten style volley from a tight angle on the left following Stanislas' long cross, but the ball went across goal and out for a throw-in on the other side of the pitch.  Obviously, di Michele is no di Canio.

The game was blighted by both teams giving the ball away at this stage and Hud had a shot skew off the side of his foot and go well wide, before a number of Spurs players claimed a penalty when Robbie Keane hit Lennon's cross down and as the ball bounced up, it hit James Tomkins on the hand in the 21st minute.  Referee Martin Atkinson could obviously not have been watching last week's Spurs game, otherwise he would have known it was a penalty, but he waved play on ... something he was very prone to do this afternoon.  To be honest, I thought Tomkins had his back to the shot, so it might have been harsh to get a spot-kick out of it, but two minutes later Robbie Keane slipped past Tomkins and Boa Morte, but the ex-Gooner brought the Tottenham captain to the floor with Atkinson still waving his hands to continue the game.

In the 24th minute, Modric and Jenas worked an opening for Keane to curl a shot on goal, but he put it too high when anything on target may have left Green struggling, then Tom Huddlestone could not quite get enough on a Benoit Assou-Ekotto cross and the ball flew out wide.  Heurelho Gomes had not had too much to do until ahigh ball came in from the right and Boa Morte failed to jump, leaving the Tottenham goalie to cone over the top of him to try and take the ball.  However, Gomes went over and landed heavily, but got up to play on and the Irons winger, who had been spoken to by the referee for three previous fouls, got away with it again and then had the cheek to go down and receive treatment.  When he was allowed back on the field, he caught Hud late and still there was no yellow card.  He really is one objectionable player.

On the half hour, Tottenham's best chance came, with Tom Huddlestone picking up the ball 30 yards out, stepping forward with the ball as Irons defenders backed off, then unleashing a fierce shot that Green had to dive to tip wide with the ball travelling a yard off the floor all the way.  The keeper also denied Keane, when Hud's shot was blocked a few minutes later.  This time, the effort was not struck as cleanly and it went into the ground and Green had to dive to his side and up to beat the shot away.  To round off a good couple of minutes, BAE crossed from the left to see Bent get his head to it, but, unfortunately, the striker got the back of his head to the ball and it went wide of the goal by a couple of feet, whereas, if he had met it with his forehead, it might have given Green more problems.

Following this, West Ham created their best opportunity, when Noble's free-kick saw Corluka win a header, but the ball dropped kindly for di Michele.  The Italian's full-blooded shot looked goal-bound until Gomes dived to get two strong wrists to the ball to beat it out.  Then shortly afterwards, in the 37th minute, di Michele went for the glory shot from 25 yards out, but, with Gomes diving one way, Woodgate got a block on the ball to take it the other way and wide of the goal.

As half-time approached, Huddlestone tried his luck once more and the shot fizzed past Green's post without the keeper moving and there was just enough time for Boa Morte to finally get a caution ... for his sixth foul.

the first half had been less like a derby match than anything you might imagine, with Spurs having a lot of possession and West Ham dropping large numbers of players behind the ball.  The visitors passing was pretty awful and even if they were without some regular players, their replacements were not of Premier League calibre and that must be a worry for them.

Spurs had to replace hamstring victim Jermaine Jenas with Didier Zokora and hope that they could create something around the box that their build-up play deserved.  Within five minutes another chance went untaken.  Modric threaded a ball into Vedran Corluka in the area and with the West Ham defence standing off him, he didn't know what to do with it and without shooting or crossing, he let the ball get away from him and be cleared.

Didier Zokora raced in to challenge for a 50-50 ball with di Michele and caught the player as he nicked it away from our midfielder, but the referee deemed this a yellow card ... for the first foul Zokora had made.  Maybe the ref realised he had let too much go in the first half, while the lineman in front of the East Stand was flagging for off-sides against Spurs, whereas in the first half he was just flagging, as he couldn't be bothered to stay up with play when West Ham were attacking.  Not having the greatest of games, Darren Bent was replaced by Roman Pavlyuchenko in the 56th minute and he showed a mobility and intelligence in his movement and control that has been missing from our play. 

The Russian nipped in between Tomkins and Green as Woodgate's header dropped in the area around the penalty spot, but Pav couldn't really get enough on his header to trouble Green.  However, in the next attack, from Green's goal-kick in the 58th minute, the Irons should have taken the lead with a simple chance spurned by di Michele.  As the ball travelled towards the edge of the Tottenham penalty area, Woodgate slipped as he ran backwards and this left the West Ham forward with a clear shot on goal, with only Gomes to beat.  However, with a combination of a hurried shot straight at the keeper and some brave positioning by Gomes, the ball failed to beat him and the score stayed at 0-0.

di Michele was starting to lose it after this and picked up a yellow card for a petty foul.  Spurs continued to play the better football and knocked the ball around well with some first time touches, but often the flancy flicks didn't come off at the end of them and it looked as though they were trying to walk the ball into the back of the net.  Luckily, Huddlestone has no such qualms and struck a fine drilled half volley, which brought another diving save from Green in the 64th minute and Tottenham finally broke the Irons down a minute later.

Working the ball well on the right wing, Lennon and Corluka opened up a pass for Modric in the area.  The midfielder picked put a pass himself in to the feet of Pavlyuchenko on the right hand edge of the six yard box.  Taking the ball one way and then turning the other, he lost Collins, who was tight behind him and he slid his shot past Green, who was confounded by his turn.

West Ham could not really respond, as Spurs were now rampant.  Modric drilled a 20 yard shot at goal a minute after Spurs had gone ahead, but Pav was in the action again as he got in the way of the effort and rubbed his arm to show how much power there had been in it.   The Russian linked with Lennon and played him in with only Green to beat, but as the winger hesitated, Neill got back to dispossess him.  And Lennon returned the compliment with a cross for Pav, but he glanced a header on it and it went wide.  In between, there was a brief flutter of excitement among the claret and blue hordes when Kieron Dyer ran through the Tottenham defence and got in a shooting position, only to put it well wide.

Aaron again went close, when he popped up on the left wing in the 80th minute and curled a cross in to the far post, but it would have dropped in under the bar had Green not sued his feet to get him to it and push it away.  And once more, Lennon could have put the result beyond doubt, but Pavlyuchenko's set-up, when they broke after being presented with the ball by another poor pass, saw the ball mis-controlled and Green got in the way of Lennon's effort and the follow-up from Keane was going in until Collins got back to kick the ball away before it got near the line.

Two minutes from time, di Michele almost got West Ham back into the game with a shot that almost beat the unsighted Gomes, but he beat the ball out and grabbed it at the second attempt.  There were moves going forward at both ends, but none seriously threatened the goals and even thought Atkinson did his best to give the Irons the chance to get something they didn't deserve out of the game with four minutes of time added on, there was little chance that this side would take it.

Spurs had put in a hard-working performance and one with a great deal of skill.  The passing and movement was good and the three points probably just about make thoughts of relegation a distant memory.

It shows that with this squad, it is possible that good things can come.  A good end to the season will give more weight to that hope.



Reaction : -



Much had been made of this being Huddlestone's make or break opportunity and although he didn't set the world alight, he played well and showed a lot of mobility, which he is usually criticised for not having.  He passed pretty well, ran with the ball, demanded it and was probably robbed of a goal as much by Robbie Keane as he was by Robert Green.  Three times Green saved well, but just as he was running onto a ball on the edge of the box, Keano only had to lay it back for him to smash home, but opted to drag it wide to Bent ... which was the wrong option.

I hope we keep Hud.  We might need to shape our play around him, but his passing is a skill that not many players have and we should nurture it.











Other scores this weekend :
Chelsea 4 Bolton Wanderers 3 Saturday
Liverpool 4 Blackburn Rovers 0 Saturday
Middlesbrough 3 Hull City 1 Saturday
Portsmouth 2 West Bromwich Albion 2 Saturday
Stoke City 1 Newcastle United 1 Saturday
Sunderland 1 Manchester United 2 Saturday
Wigan Athletic 1 Arsenal 4 Saturday
Aston Villa 3 Everton 3 Sunday
Manchester City 1 Fulham 3 Sunday



League Table
  P W D L F A Pts GD
1 Manchester United 31 22 5 4 54 21 71 +33
2 Liverpool 32 20 10 2 59 21 70 +38
3 Chelsea 32 20 7 5 55 20 67 +35
4 Arsenal 32 17 10 5 54 29 61 +25
5 Aston Villa 32 15 8 9 48 42 53 +6
6 Everton 32 14 10 8 47 34 52 +13
7 West Ham United 32 12 8 12 37 36 44 +1
8 Fulham 32 11 10 11 33 28 43 +5
9 TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 32 11 8 13 38 36 41 +2
10 Wigan Athletic 32 11 8 13 31 36 41 -5
11 Manchester City 32 11 5 16 47 42 38 +5
12 Bolton Wanderers 32 11 4 17 39 49 37 -10
13 Stoke City 32 9 9 14 32 48 36 -16
14 Portsmouth 31 8 10 13 34 48 34 -14
15 Hull City 32 8 10 14 36 55 34 -19
16 Blackburn Rovers 32 8 10 14 35 54 34 -19
17 Sunderland 32 8 8 16 30 43 32 -13
18 Newcastle United 32 6 12 14 37 52 30 -15
19 Middlesbrough 32 7 9 16 25 47 30 -22
20 West Bromwich Albion 32 6 7 19 28 59 25 -31


Position before the match :   11th
Position after the match :   8th
Position after the weekend :   9th


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