Nerves and negativity blight new beginning

West Ham United 0 Blackburn Rovers 0 IT STARTED with an old fashioned East End knees up, but there proved to be no such revelry out on the pitch at Upton Park on Saturday as the first home game party of Messrs Sullivan and Gold turned into a massive anti

West Ham United 0 Blackburn Rovers 0

IT STARTED with an old fashioned East End knees up, but there proved to be no such revelry out on the pitch at Upton Park on Saturday as the first home game party of Messrs Sullivan and Gold turned into a massive anti-climax, writes DAVE EVANS.

'Any Old Iron' proved to be the most apt song of the pre-match festivities, as the team that took to the pitch at the start of this drab clash seemed to have been thrown together with defence in mind.

While Carlton Cole and Scott Parker sat on the bench, not yet fit enough to begin the match, manager Gianfranco Zola picked the same team that had started at Portsmouth on Tuesday night.


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That might be very well for an away game, but a line-up playing 4-5-1 at home against a side who had come for a point was the wrong tactics on the wrong day and could not have impressed the watching chairmen in the stands.

Frank Nouble was given the unenviable task of taking on the Blackburn defence largely on his own. At times there were such huge gaps between him and his nearest team-mate, you might have thought he had carried out some sort of John Terry misdemeanour.

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At one point, Radoslav Kovac was the furthest man forward and that can never be a good thing if you are looking for goals.

Zola put his team's lacklustre performance down to nerves. "I was expecting us to create a little bit more quality, but we were not able to do that," he admitted.

"I think the difficulties of the game, the tension, caught us out a little bit and we couldn't express the quality we needed to break them down.

"Everybody knows it was an important game for us. We had to win this game and everybody was nervous about the game. When you are too nervous you can't express yourself and I think that was the case today."

The tension certainly didn't get to a Blackburn side looking to break a run of 10 consecutive defeats at Upton Park. In truth, they created by far the better chances and probably deserved to take all three points.

West Ham battled hard, they had plenty of possession, but there was a lack of spark, a lack of imagination and an absence of end product in everything they did all afternoon.

"We knew they were coming here to defend with a lot of players and so they did," said Zola, whose 4-5-1 tactics for the first hour never looked likely to break Rovers down.

"When you are facing a team like that, you need to have extra quality.

"You need to be good at maybe taking your player on, or playing the right ball into the box."

The Hammers did start the brighter of the two teams. Alessandro Diamanti combined well with Jack Collison down the left before delivering a cross that was the width of a programme over Valon Behrami's head, while Julien Faubert's delivery from the other side was hacked desperately over the bar by Christopher Samba as Kovac, of all people, waited at the far post to put it in.

Too often though, Blackburn were able to snuff out the West Ham attacks.

Nouble was largely crowded out, Diamanti lost the ball too often, while Mark Noble's prompting could not lift the team into any sustained pressure.

In fact it was Rovers who came closest in the first half. First Morten Gamst Pedersen's clever swinging corner was tipped over by a back-pedalling Rob Green, and then the keeper was left helpless as Pedersen's free kick rattled against the crossbar.

Cole was eventually thrown on to boost the attack on 57 minutes, allowing West Ham to finally go to 4-4-2.

Parker arrived with 20 minutes left, but try as they might, they could not conjure up the chance the home side needed to get their noses in front and take the pressure off.

Once more it was Diamanti who came closest for the Hammers. His free kick was tipped over by the rarely troubled Paul Robinson, while he also shot straight at the keeper after Collison's crisp shot had been deflected into his path.

The better action though was coming from the other end. Martin Olsson forced a super save from Green and from the resulting corner, Gael Givet's effort seemed to be handled on the line by Noble before Cole hacked it clear.

Olsson swept over another good chance, but the best opportunity of all fell to Jason Roberts on 76 minutes.

The striker has had his share of good moments against the Hammers for Wigan and Blackburn, but this time, after jinking past James Tomkins with worrying ease, his shot from eight yards was superbly saved by Green.

It was a match-saving stop from the England goalkeeper in front of watching international selector Ray Clemence and would have done his confidence a world of good.

Parker had one moment of brilliance before the end as he cleverly worked his way past his marker on the by-line to get into the box.

But as he poked the ball across the face of goal, there wasn't a single player in there to apply the final touch.

It was the story of the day, but for Zola, he was still looking at the positives.

"Honestly, I don't think we played a very good game, but considering the circumstances and other results, I consider this to be a good day," he said.

"We step up on the table, which is at least a good thing."

Clutching at straws I think. This was not the first home game that the new owners would have been dreaming of for the last 20-odd years, but perhaps it puts West Ham's precarious position into stark perspective.

New owners there may be, but the old problems with the squad remain, and it will not be fixed overnight, simply by the inclusion of a couple of new forward players.

Any new Iron out there?

West Ham: Green, Faubert, Upson, Tomkins, Spector, Behrami (Parker 70), Kovac (Cole 58), Noble, Collison, Diamanti, Nouble (Sears 78). Unused subs: Stech, Da Costa, Ilunga, Stanislas.

Att: 33,093. Referee: Peter Walton (7).

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