Dismal derby meeting is lacking in passion!
West Ham Utd 0 Chelsea 1 BIG LONDON derby clashes used to be about passion, about obsession, about the desperate need to get one over your neighbours, writes DAVE EVANS. With Chelsea fighting for the title and West Ham battling for a place in Europe, you
West Ham Utd 0 Chelsea 1
BIG LONDON derby clashes used to be about passion, about obsession, about the desperate need to get one over your neighbours, writes DAVE EVANS.
With Chelsea fighting for the title and West Ham battling for a place in Europe, you would have expected passion from this game, but there was none of it.
Perhaps the Blues had their minds on more important matches; perhaps West Ham are just too decimated by injuries; whatever the reason, this game was simply a damp squib.
"I knew that it was a difficult task and we didn't play well at times," explained manager Gianfranco Zola afterwards. "We didn't pass the ball as well as we have in other games and to be honest, some players who have been playing throughout the season, started to look tired maybe."
Maybe, but even when you consider all that, the Hammers still had ample opportunities to get something out of this game. Perhaps they didn't deserve a victory, but a draw against a strangely subdued Chelsea should have been attainable.
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Zola certainly thought so: "Yes, I think we should have had a point," he insisted. "We had good opportunities and didn't take them and that was the difference really.
"I won't say that I am disappointed, because that might suggest that I am disappointed with my players."
The best chance came with 20 minutes left. Diego Tristan stumbled on the ball, but still managed to flick it into the path of Herita Ilunga and the full back was clumsily felled by Salomon Kalou for a penalty.
Mark Noble stepped up confidently enough and hit his spot kick hard and low towards the far corner, but goalkeeper Petr Cech dived full length to brilliantly tip the ball round the post for a corner.
It was Noble's second successive miss - Matt Duke of Hull City saved from him back in January - but Zola was certainly not blaming the youngster.
"I think it was a good penalty," he insisted. "Unfortun-ately, Cech made a great save as he did in the first half. A penalty can often be seen as an easy task, but I can assure you, from my experience, it is not easy."
It was the straw that broke the camel's back for the Ham-mers. Chelsea closed ranks, brought on the likes of Michael Essien and Michael Ballack and West Ham never came close again.
The Hammers started this game still missing Scott Parker and with Radoslav Kovac only on the bench, and that meant a first start of the season for Kieron Dyer.
He let nobody down in his hour on the field, but could and should have given West Ham the lead after 20 minutes.
The hugely disappointing David Di Michele found Tristan and the Spaniard controlled well before playing a delightful thro-ugh ball into the path of Dyer.
With just the keeper to beat, the England international needed to stay cool and pick his spot, but his left-footed effort was tame and straight at Cech in goal.
At the other end, Florent Malouda seemed content to shoot at every opportunity and missed the target with every one; Nicolas Anelka saw one effort expertly handled by Robert Green and he was denied another chance by a clever interception from skipper Lucas Neill.
Two minutes before the break, West Ham had another glorious chance. Noble's corner was nodded down by James Tomkins to Tristan, but the Spaniard's goalward prod lacked conviction and John Obi Mikel gratefully cleared it off the line.
Those two chances, plus Tristan's blocked effort two minutes after the break, were to prove costly as Chelsea finally made a breakthrough.
Anelka and Frank Lampard combined well, only for the latter to see his fierce shot blocked by the combined efforts of Luis Boa Morte and Ilunga, but four minutes later, there was no resisting Lampard.
He latched on to a clever pass into the box and when his cross from the left was only lightly touched by Green's fingertips, it fell nicely for Kalou to poke in at the far post.
Dyer tested Cech with a shot just a minute later that had the goalkeeper scrambling to save, but it was Chelsea who now looked in control as they took charge of the midfield.
Juliano Belletti's through ball deceived Matty Upson to allow Anelka a run on goal, only for Green to save smartly with his body, while substitute Ashley Cole clipped the top of the crossbar.
The penalty proved to be West Ham's best and last real chance of the match, and when that was saved the game and surprisingly the crowd, went flat.
There was plenty of abuse for Lampard and John Terry, much of it ridiculous and counter-productive, but there was less enthusiasm from the supporters for their own team, save the cheers when the injury time board read five minutes.
Chelsea were there for the taking on Saturday, their minds already on the Nou Camp, but West Ham simply did not have the firepower to hurt a team in the top four, just as they haven't all season.
"I do understand, and I am sorry for our supporters because they probably expected more, but I can't really say anything to the players," said Zola.
"They have all my appreciation and my respect, because considering everything they did exceptionally well."
Perhaps we were all expecting too much considering the team West Ham were forced to field.
There were some decent performances, especially from Tomkins and Neill, while Tristan had easily his best game in claret and blue without really looking like scoring.
But you felt that if the Hammers had levelled, Chelsea would simply have stepped up a gear and grabbed another to win the match.
Seventh place looks a tough task to achieve, but Zola is still hoping that his team can make it.
"I don't mind dropping out of seventh now as long as I can be there after the last game," said the manager.
"We know that it is going to be up and down until the end, so for sure we are not giving up."
Quite right, but unless Carlton Cole can get fit and quickly, they may not have the team to go with their ambitions and that would be a real shame after a season that has eclipsed most people's expectations.
West Ham: Green, Neill, Ilunga, Tomkins, Upson, Dyer (Kovac 61), Noble, Boa Morte (Savio 71), Stanislas, Di Michele (Sears 61), Tristan. Unused subs: Lastuvka, Lopez, Spector, Payne.
Attendance: 34,749. Referee: Mike Dean.