Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Bartman Prevents Another Dark Night

As some band once sang, it only takes a minute...

I had tempted fate prior to the Birmingham match on Saturday by suggesting that things "could be worse". Sure enough, we'd literally hit a B(r)um note that afternoon as Chris Hughton's lads made a mockery of our supposedly impressive away record.

No point dwelling on Joe Bennett's "goal" - it was offside. And our defence was an absolute shambles. Even more agonisingly, I had to watch Marlon King - yes, that Marlon King - score against us again, and Keith Fahey offering further vindication for my "Going Irish" policy of several weeks ago.

Tonight, our defence and midfield were much improved (well, they had to be) with Hines and Bailey especially impressive. It was up front that was the problem area - for both teams. The absence of Robson, Williams and Haroun had robbed us of significant midfield creativity, but Carlton Cole, Nicky Maynard and even Kevin Nolan weren't posing that much of a threat either.

Yet they were more threatening than our front three; a pacy winger with no apparent pace or crossing ability on show, a £1.5 million (expensive by our current standards) forward who doesn't hold the ball up well or score goals (£750,000 per goal is a very poor return, Lukas Jutkiewicz!), or... or... don't get me started on the-no-longer-marvellous Marvin Emnes. It seemed that nearly every time he touched the ball, he either did nothing with it or gave it straight back to the opposition. (At one point, we strung more than ten passes together, then passed the ball to him. Not surprisingly, the move broke up.)

This all amounted to a turgid game which I felt would be settled by a freak goal. And, typically, West Ham got it. A hopeful ball was punted in the direction of our box and Abdoulaye Faye aimed to nod it across the area. It hit the back of Joe Bennett's head and looped crazily over Jason Steele. A real sucker punch, especially after all our hard work. But once you consider Bennett's blighted season, was it really going to go anywhere else?

It took a great save from Steele to prevent Tomkins making it 2-0, but by that point, me and many other fans were ready to give up on the team. We'd done nothing wrong, per se... it's just that, for eighty-four of the ninety minutes, there was no spark in our performance. No soul. But then...

Okay, wrong Bart. But you get the idea.

What a goal by Bart Ogbeche. And how it ignited the team! Suddenly we were playing with real passion and verve, and the dour solidity of the majority of the match turned into something very kamikaze, causing moments of nervousness in our penalty area during the closing minutes. But the reverse was more than true, with Jutkiewicz denied the winner only by a lick of paint, and a goalline intervention from George McCartney preventing Ogbeche from rewriting the headlines further.

Of course, it wasn't just down to Ogbeche. Impressive impact subs Malaury Martin and Merouane Zemmama (good to have you back, Mr Z!) gave us the extra pace and creativity that Hammill and Emnes were expected to provide, but never did.

Still, this was the Bartman's moment. And I wonder... will a goal of such excellence and importance inspire him to go on a real scoring spree? To convince Mogga that he is far worthier of leading our line than the now worryingly lightweight Emnes?

More later. In the meantime, how about a singalong?

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