The Herita Ilunga soap opera continues.
Pete Sixsmithcould hardly let it go unremarked in his report of a grim start by Sunderland followed by stirring fightback and lingering controversy …
Well, where to start after a fairly eventful afternoon at The Stadium of Thugs – according to weeping and wailing West Ham fans.
Let’s start with a moderate first half performance that began quite well and then faded badly as the Happy Hammers took what could and should have been a commanding lead.
We had the better of the early exchanges and Bent missed a good header which would have put the self styled Academy on the back foot. But, credit where credit is due (and never let it be said that I am anything but magnanimous) they came back well.
Jack Collison, an impressive young player clearly destined for a glittering career at Spurs or Manchester United, caught out our defence twice, resulting in two well taken goals, and showing that Carlton Cole is a top class striker with a place in the England team and on the Liverpool bench virtually guaranteed. He was a handful all afternoon and has shaken off the “London Kevin Kyle” tag I awarded him a couple of years ago.
Oh, and I would not dream of suggesting that Herita Ilunga is a cheat.
Now let’s look at the fight back that started with Andy Reid’s exquisite free kick just after Cole had mugged Nosworthy to make us all miserable. Reid’s goal was a catalyst for as stirring a response I have seen at the Stadium since SuperKev frightened the life out of the Mags many years ago.
With only 10 men, The Brucester and his sidekick Wreckless Eric Black decided to go for it. Inspired by the on field leadership from Lorik Cana (can you imagine Dean Whitehead taking his role?) we rattled the Academy to the extent that they were hanging on desperately at the end. Cana, Henderson, Bent and above all, Reid, were relentless in pressing and squeezing a West Ham side that showed as much inclination to fight as Walter the Softie when faced by a belligerent Dennis the Menace.
Richardson’s equaliser ratcheted up the Stadium noise factor without resorting to choreographed songs and brought back memories of the Roker Roar in its heyday.
We should have been ahead by then as Bent wasted two good opportunities and the crossbar and a superb save by Green had prevented our Albanian polyglot and our Paraguayan defender from opening their account for The New Team Of All The Talents..
Oh, and I would not dream of suggesting that Herita Ilunga is a git.
What about the referee? When I saw it was Andre Marriner, I was pleased. I think he is a decent ref who has a feel for the game. Make that past tense. I thought he was a good ref. He had an absolute nightmare here. He was not helped by some of the responses from The Academy (of Football? Of Dramatic Art?) but he was his own worst enemy. The only booking he got right in the first half was Cana and he was no better after the break. A truly shocking performance and I hope he stays under his duvet on Sunday morning in embarrassment.
Oh, and I would not dream of suggesting that Herita Ilunga is a cissie.
He got the sending off right. It is most unlike Kenwyne to get involved like that and I can only assume that it was frustration that caused him to act in such a way. No doubt if Benitez were our manager (God and Quinn forbid) we would appeal against it, but once you raise your hands, you have to go. However, I am sure that the mortally injured Ilunga’s name will be in Lorik’s memory bank and, like all true Albanians, I am equally sure he enjoys a feud.
Oh, and Herita Ilunga could therefore be missing for the return.
As might Gianfranco Zola! He looked shell shocked in the post match interviews and is beginning to realise that he has a full scale relegation battle on his hands. They did have players missing, – I believe Kieron Dyer is nearing full fitness,- but I think they are in serious trouble. The likes of Collison and Tomkins will be away if they go down and I can see a bigger club with more financial clout (Fulham, Notts County, Peterborough) snapping up Upson in the January window.
Still, plenty in the Academy to replace them. They could make Herita Ilunga captain. He will follow on in the fine tradition of Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Trevor Brooking. Can’t imagine any of those three going down the way that he did- but they weren’t cheats.
So, a rousing point and an acceptance that, under Bruce, our strengths are beginning to outweigh our weaknesses. A word of praise for Craig Gordon as well. He is a more confident keeper and he made two outstanding saves. His handling is much improved and he seems happier after a tough couple of years. He could turn out to be one of Roy’s better buys.
Spurs next week and Old Flannel Face. We have to do it without three of our better players, but we will see how deep the quality in the squad is. Could be interesting and I would imagine that Bent would like to show him that he is a better player than their Sandra.
Oh, and did I mention that I think Herita Ilunga is a disgrace to the game? No? Well, I will.
Herita Ilunga is a disgrace to the game and the West Ham shirt.