Sunday, 15 July 2007

Dagenham & Redbridge 0 West Ham United 2

West Ham United secured a 2-0 victory over Football League new-boys Dagenham & Redbridge at the Glyn Hopkin Stadium watched by 5657 spectators. In their opening pre-season friendly of the summer it was the sight of Dean Ashton back in action again that really had Hammers fans celebrating. The 23-year-old England striker - sidelined for the past 11 months with a broken ankle - played the full second half as Alan Curbishley's men kicked off their 2007-08 preparations, and came close to marking the occasion with a goal - hitting the bar with a powerful header in the 64th minute. He also endured several robust challenges from the combative Daggers defenders, including one hefty challenge that left him floored for a brief agonising moment. "That tackle probably did me a favour," Ashton admitted afterwards. "I need that sort of thing to get my confidence back. The fact I got the tackle so early in the game did me good. It's part and parcel of the game and I need to get used to it."

The match was a testimonial for Daggers keeper Tony Roberts, who had little to do in a quiet first half as both sides took time to find their feet after just a week or so of pre-season training following the summer break.
Craig Bellamy was the only one of the new signings who didn't see any action as he is still a little behind the rest of the squad in terms of fitness. Bobby Zamora and Marlon Harewood were also absent so young Hammers striker Zavon Hines partnered Carlton Cole up front. Brixton-born Hines only joined the club two years ago but made considerable progress last term to earn his chance. He showed some good bursts of speed and fired an early shot into the side-netting, before Dagenham midfielders Southam and Huke both went close for the home side. Apart from those two long-range efforts the Hammers back four, marshalled impressively by the commanding James Collins, were otherwise untroubled.

Ghana defender
John Pantsil was a tireless figure when raiding from his fullback position and, in conjuction with the busy Kyel Reid, offered slightly more of a threat down the right side of the pitch than George McCartney and Matthew Etherington managed on the opposite flank. With 10 minutes of the half remaining, Lee Bowyer narrowly failed to connect with a Cole lay-off just six yards out, before winger Reid headed a Hayden Mullins cross on to the top of the bar six minutes later.

The interval brought about wholesale changes for both teams, with Curbishley making nine in total. New signings
Scott Parker and Julien Faubert came on for their debuts, as did Richard Wright who had the honour of an on-pitch welcoming handshake from the chairman. In fact, Eggert Magnusson was a conspicuous presence all afternoon and seemed to be enjoying a break from all the off-field controversies surrounding the club at the moment. He happily mixed with the fans and when faced with a question about Carlos Tevez informed the gathered throng that "he doesn't want to play for us any more". Magnusson also found himself mobbed by a large number of Hammers fans as he waited for his vehicle to be extricated from the car park after the game.

Dean Ashton stepped out to a rousing reception from all areas of the ground and
Matthew Upson also made a welcome return after his injury-hit 2006-07 campaign. Just moments after the restart the cheers suddenly turned to hushed silence when Ashton was the victim of that ill-timed lunge from defender Jon Boardman, leaving the Hammers striker grounded in pain. Much to everyone's relief, though, Deano was soon back on his feet and showing no signs of ill-effect. Minutes later, he sent a 25-yard free-kick flying just inches wide of the target and then, on 64 minutes, soared to meet Luis Boa Morte's inviting cross, only to see his headed effort rebound off the crossbar.

As the game drew to a close, England under-21 internationals
Mark Noble and Anton Ferdinand were handed a taste of the action in place of the ineffective Cole and the enthusiastic Pantsil. Curbishley revealed that he had not intended to play Noble but the youngster, two days back from holiday, was pestering for a chance. Predictably then, it was Noble who eventually broke the deadlock in the 81st minute, curling a superb free-kick past Roberts after a foul on Julian Faubert - impressive on his first appearance in England. The Frenchman seemed instantly attuned to the pace and physicality of the game and was quick and strong on the ball. He made some penetrative forays down the right side and also fluidly switched wings with Boa Morte. It was the Portugal winger's whipped corner from the right that doubled the Hammers advantage. It was a cross that eluded his team-mates but was met by the unfortunate Ross Smith, who somehow managed to divert the ball into the top corner from six yards out.

It was a bright and positive start to preparations for the new campaign played in a pleasingly relaxed atmosphere. The players wore their Umbro training tops for the game (the home kit clashed and the away kit is not officially released ready yet) and all the players seemed in good spirits as they joked around and signed autographs and shirts. Even the referee took the Monty Panesar quips in good heart. Ultimately, the 5,000 plus crowd went away content after two late goals, no injuries and the first sight of Dean Ashton in almost a year. It is now full steam ahead for Austria.

West Ham United (first half): Green; Pantsil, Collins, Gabbidon, McCartney; Reid, Mullins, Bowyer, Etherington; Hines, Cole.

West Ham United (second half): Wright; Pantsil (Ferdinand 82), Davenport, Upson, Spector; Faubert, Parker, Collison, Boa Morte; Cole (Noble 67), Ashton.

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