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WEST HAM EDGE EPIC CUP FINAL WIN OVER WATFORD
WATFORD 2 : 2 WEST HAM UNITED
WEST HAM WIN 7-6 ON PENALTIES
Saturday 21st April 2012
At the Paringdon Sports Club , Harlow.
West Ham United were last night congratulated by chairman David Gold , for picking up their first silverware in a long and illustrious IFA career. They beat Watford in a tense final at neutral Harlow, in leafy Essex.
It was not without its usual IFA drama. Many adverts in the area proclaim the fact that we are in a drought. Heavy rain in the last few days prompted a phone call to West Ham’s manager last night, that the game was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch. Through cockney sweet talking Vinnie White, managed to move the game at the same venue off the preferred county pitch, and was drained but relieved to find the green light given on the morning of the game, for the game to go ahead.
Both teams were professional in their preparation for this game. On arriving at the ground at 9:30am , Watford co-manager Chris Davis was taking their team through a series of drills. They proceeded to return to the dressing room for a final team briefing. West Ham preferred to stay outside, and I was tempted by the bacon butties on sale in the on site café. Mistake, they took half an hour, and I missed the kick off !
A crowd that numbered as many as seventy spectators lined the pitch excluding the many substitutes of Watford and West Ham. Sentiment could have no place in team selection for this one, with both managers picking their strongest sides. Watford were missing Matthew Ball, and Matt Wells. West Ham, started without stalwart Colin Wells, who was preparing to run 26 miles and 385 yards around the streets of London the following day. The hardest decision was to leave young strike sensation Terry Hayes on the bench. He would be their plan b on the touchline.
Watford, were virtually unrecognisable from the team that were beaten by Barnet last week. Watford have such a strong squad that they managed to beat Wimbledon in the cup semi final, and Ipswich in a league game . . . at the same time.
West Ham on the other hand, have been by far and away the strongest team that Barnet have faced this season. They blitzed Barnet in the semi final before they had virtually begun, eventually winning a knackering game 7-4. They started the game the favourites with Honest John Turf Accountants.
In uncharacteristic fashion West Ham started slowly. Watford seemed to settle more quickly, having the lions’ share of early possession. It was a real cup final, where edginess, and nerves seemed to get the better over both teams undoubted quality. However, as both teams settled down, their collective touch improved, and played football the right way knocking the ball around in neat triangles in midfield.
Both teams were looking dangerous on the break, with Watford's tricky left winger worrying West Ham’s player manager Vinnie White at left back. However West Ham began to improve, and the pendulum swung in their favour. They had the ball in the net, after an offside whistle, and began to push forward. Some beautiful through balls largely from skipper Will Bush troubling the Watford defence.
The goal had been coming for a while. On the half hour mark the deadlock was broken in "real" West Ham fashion when, straight off the training ground, a free kick was floated into the back post where Luke Gray headed across the goal for Mark Blackburn to tap in. Watford looked for a linesman’s flag in hope rather than expectation. It was definitely the correct decision.
It was important at this point that Watford didn’t allow their heads to drop. Barnet remember in their nightmares, how West Ham can surge and kill teams in an instant. To Watford’s credit their reply was almost instant. In the next five minutes they surged forward, and some members of the West Ham bench, thought themselves fortunate not to concede a penalty when a Watford player went down in the box.
On 35 minutes came the most controversial moment of the half. A penalty was awarded when Watford’s strapping number 12 Stuart Holdam handled in the box. This was in no way disputable. However Big Stu , protested vehemently that he had been pushed. The referee looked to the linesman, young Nathan Stafford. Stafford, said that he had not seen the push. Neither had the referee (nor me who was standing in line with the linesman at the time). The referee can only give what he sees and the penalty stood. Will Bush led by example. 2-0
Watford were in danger of losing their heads at this moment, and the protests continued to referee Will O’ Neil (Burnley and Scotland) to no avail. They would need a strong half time talk to turn this round.
When the whistle blew the word from the Watford bench, is that they should shut up and stop complaining, and channel their emotions into turning the game around. Davis led the rallying cry. They had a strong bench with which to freshen things up. West Ham’s half time team talk was a lot calmer. Happy, to be ahead, and praising the way the goals were taken they were warned against complacency. The sentiment from manager Vinnie White was that only West Ham could muck this up now…. or words to that effect.
The referee, and his linesman ( including Richard French of Cambridge) who was immune from the controversy conferred and were confident in the decisions taken. It is exhausting and emotional officiating in a cup final as well !
After an early spell when West Ham threatened to increase the differential Watford dominated. A key moment was when West Ham were denied a penalty, when their striker looked to be felled in the box. It looked a penalty from the touchline, but there were no complaints on the pitch. To give that penalty after the first half controversy would have set fireworks off.
West Ham were nervy. The hardest part of a silverware win, is crossing the finishing line. Another goal would have sealed it. Watford came close with a free kick from their left back Leigh Harrington hitting the crossbar. He is the Watford player that impressed the most, with excellent positional sense, and distribution.
Indeed it was he who broke the Watford duck with a free kick taken from the other side of the D and sweetly curled into the back of the net. 1:2. Game on.
West Ham were nervous and Watford pounced on this. Using their height advantage Watford peppered the West Ham area with long throws, and one of these paid off. John Coates (or Roly from Eastenders as he is nicknamed by Barnet) made a beautiful save from a Rob Sterry header. Dave Soloway poked the loose ball home. Desmonds.
Watford were truly in the ascendancy. When the ball went off for a corner, Watford subs raced after it to get the game started quickly.
West Ham came close to winning the game, when a goal was disallowed for offside. Deciding to use the free man selflessly up front, they were given offside. Doh.
One of the West Ham ladies on the touchline lamented – “It’s just like watching the real West Ham.”
There was a little confrontation between John Sullivan , and Leigh Harrington, forgotten as soon as it happened.
Indeed Watford came close to having the last word, with Coates saving calmly.
The referee blew up. Penalties.
It was great to see the togetherness of the two teams lined up on the half way line. It was left to Will Bush to step up an take the first pen. Calmly despatched.
It is funny to watch the superstitions of penalty shoot outs. During the game Kevin North, the veteran West Ham substitute had spoken of the mustard new striker Terry Hayes. When he came on, he was strangely subdued. It is often the best players that miss the penalties, and today Hayes befell that fate.
Someone mentioned to Vinnie White beforehand that “the first team that misses always wins.” That is no consolation when you are a goal behind. Hayes was in tears. Soon enough a Watford player drilled on wide. The penalties were taken with aplomb. England’s players could learn from this shootout. It went to sudden death.
West Ham keeper Coates had a knack of guessing right, but never got a hand to the ball. At six six West Ham’s penalty cannoned off the legs of Watford's goalkeeper into the back of the net 7-6.
Paul Whittenbury of Watford strode forward. He struck the woodwork. Tears of joy and sadness from both teams. Whittenbury was consoled by West Ham and Watford players, and his girlfriend and family.
Vinnie White had organised a beautiful trophy with ribbons of both sides on hand, and alternative engravings, and after emotional, and beautiful speeches from Messenger, and White, medals were awarded to the officials, the runners up, and the winners.
Then Barnet manager John Hunt proudly lofted up the cup to present the trophy to victorious skipper Will Bush.
I think Bush (unkindly called Peter Kay by the Watford support) was the man of the match. His distribution is delightful, and he was positively Churchillian rallying his men for one last effort when they were on the racks. Leigh Harrington impressed me most from Watford.
It was good to catch up with Gary Davidson, the former West Ham manager, who along with Watford welcomed Barnet into the IFA ranks five years ago. It is why , I was so delighted both these teams could enjoy their cup final.
The campaign begins for West Ham to be allowed to parade their trophy at half time in a future game, following by a open top bus parade and a civic reception.
Vinnie White – West Ham Manager – “All in all, an emotional day. Dave and I are great mates and genuinely have great affection for each others teams. Somebody has to win and I’m glad it was us, but on a day like this, both teams, and the IFA especially were the winners.”
Gary Davison – ex West Ham Manager – “Vinnie has taken this team forward. Every year he has improved and improved this team.”
David Gold – West Ham chairman – “Well done you guys.”
Dave Messenger – Watford Manager – “So a great morning and truly what the IFA is all about. We’ve created a wonderful thing since it’s inception in 1996 and it’s up to every single team in the IFA to ensure it always remains the same. Yes there are trophies to be won and goals to be celebrated, but never lose sight of the fact it should be about the friendship that’s created first and foremost – we were and still are gutted to lose a brilliant game in that way, but because they are first class in every respect as members of the IFA, West Ham fans, sportsmen and human beings, we do not begrudge Vinnie and the lads their success for a single second. We always say it, but roll on next season and two more (at least..) great games of IFA football between our great teams.”