West Ham 0 West Brom 0: Green in the wars as Hammers draw blank
17 March 2009 10:15
Tony Mowbray's team have been easy on the eye all season, winning admirers nationwide with their pretty passing and yet losing the fight for survival in the Barclays Premier League.
Last night they finally showed a nasty streak, baring their teeth when Jonas Olsson's brutal 52nd-minute challenge left a dent in Robert Green's jaw.
West Bromwich's central defender escaped censure by Mark Halsey, the man who is officially the country's most lenient match official according to statistics compiled by the Premier League.
'Jonas is about the least likely person to do something like that, he is an absolute gentleman,' claimed Mowbray. 'He brings a bit of composure to our defence and I thought he was superb. He's not a dirty player.'
Former referee and Sportsmail columnist Graham Poll said: 'Olsson comes in with his arm, catching him across the chin and it is a red card offence. I think it was deliberate.'
Green needed smelling salts, just when Mowbray's struggling side were on the scent of their first league win since they beat Middlesbrough on January 17.
West Bromwich were excellent, staying true to their passing principles during a terrific first half but then failing to capitalise on the loss of Matthew Upson from West Ham's ranks.
England defender Upson was carted off on a stretcher after half an hour, pulling up with the calf injury that has troubled him since the 1-0 victory over Wigan at the JJB Stadium on March 4.
England head coach Fabio Capello was in the stands, monitoring the progress of a number of prospects ahead of the friendly against Slovakia at Wembley on March 28 and the World Cup qualifier against Ukraine the following Wednesday.
To Mowbray's credit, his team have stayed true to their passing principles throughout a difficult season, attempting to play their way out of trouble when others would have sacrificed niceties for a rather different strategy.
The ball rarely left the field when they were in possession, keeping it on the magic carpet at Upton Park and attempting to play their way out of danger.
Robert Koren was at the hub of West Bromwich's excellent approach play, sitting in the centre of midfield and rarely misplacing a pass. Yellow shirts zig-zag their way across the pitch, flooding forward in numbers as they searched for the goals that could extend their stay in the top flight.
For all their pretty approach work, they are missing a forward, a goalgetter who can score the 10 or more that will win them games at this level. Marc-Antoine Fortune lacks the composure, as he showed when he skewed an early chance into Green's side-netting when a natural finisher would have gratefully accepted the opportunity to put West Bromwich ahead.
Claret and blues: Savio (left) takes on the visitors' defence
Still, that chance, carved open at the start of the first half, gave Mowbray's team the conviction that they could pierce West Ham's defence.
Green came to their rescue when he saved well at the feet of James Morrison, finally blocking his path after this intelligent midfielder danced his way through a series of challenges on the edge of the area.
The nags of self-doubt rarely surfaced in Mowbray's side, with Shelton Martis and Olsson shouldering the responsibility at the heart of their defence and snuffing out Freddie Sears whenever the Hammers regained the ball. West Bromwich were full of running and full of endeavour as they searched for their first away win since last September.
Gianfranco Zola's team were sluggish, always second to the ball in a first half dominated by the basement club. The Hammers had returned from La Manga at the weekend after a week of warm weather training and yet West Bromwich were the the team turning up the heat.
They silenced West Ham's 34,000 supporters never easy but the visitors did it, tricking their way into opposition territory with a series of impressive raids.
West Bromwich excelled again after the break, nearly taking the lead when Martis's header crashed against the bar from Chris Brunt's teasing left-wing cross. That was the incident which led to Green lying motionless inside the penalty area following the collision with Olsson.
He recovered but West Ham, in front of the lowest gate of the season for a league game at Upton Park, became increasingly rattled throughout a frustrating second half.
Mowbray said: 'We've got Bolton and Stoke in our next two games and if we can win them, this will look like a good point.
Sadly, with West Bromwich still six points off safety, it is not that good.
MATCH FACTS WEST HAM (4-4-2): Green 7; Neill 6, Tomkins 6, Upson 6 (Spector 29min, 6), Ilunga 6; Noble 6 (Boa Morte 82), Kovac 6, Parker 7, Savio 6 (Stanislas 68, 6); Di Michele 6, Sears 7.
WEST BROMWICH (4-5-1): Carson 6; Zuiverloon 6, Martis 7, Olsson 7, Robinson 6; Morrison 7, Koren 7, Greening 6, Dorrans 6, Brunt 6 (Simpson 80); Fortune 6 (Moore 80).
Man of the match: James Morrison.
Referee: Mark Halsey.