Monday, 11 February 2008

Reflections On Birmingham

Alan Curbishley was frustrated after his team could not make it four straight home league wins on Saturday. Reflecting on a game that "fizzled out for us", the manager said: "We started off OK. The expectation levels were on us. We got our goal but the penalty was really soft. I can't even see an arm around McFadden. I was really surprised when the referee gave it. We have seen it and we don't think it is a penalty at all. It knocked us a little bit. For the first half we created some little openings that perhaps we needed to take. We are really disappointed with the second. It fizzled out on us and I think both teams looked as they were never going to score. I have said to the players that the biggest disappointment for me is in recent weeks we have played Liverpool and Manchester City a couple of times and in those games we have passed it around and knocked it about. Our last two games have been very difficult - today I was expecting a bit more. We had one or two tired legs. It has been a tough week for some of them."

As well as Matthew Upson and Lucas Neill after big games for England and Australia, young midfielder Mark Noble also felt the effects of the international week after helping the Under-21s to a win and was a late withdrawal from the bench. "Mark Noble come back ever so tired and didn't train until yesterday," admitted Curbishley. "He went out in the warm-up and felt his hamstring a bit so we didn't want to take a risk with him." Those that did play gave their all but the decisive goal was not forthcoming. "We are really disappointed with the second-half performance," he added. "We set our fans up after the Liverpool game to go and get something at Wigan and today because we were playing teams down the bottom. We haven't gone and done it. We are a little bit frustrated." The manager also believes Lee Bowyer was unfortunate to receive a late red card for a challenge on Damien Johnson. "We have asked [the referee] to look at it and I think he will," Curbishley said. "Hopefully he will overturn it because when it happened I didn't think it was that serious. The referee on the spot sees it a little differently. If he is suspended it will be a bit tough."

Despite the setback, there is still a belief that West Ham United can mount a strong challenge on the leading contenders in the Premier League with 13 games left to play this season. The club sit just seven points behind seventh spot with a game in hand and have the chance to recharge before the trip to Fulham on 23 February. "We all think it is in our grasp," the manager said. "The players are really disappointed. We have got to pick ourselves up when we go to Fulham which will be a really tough game again. Last week, the results went for us and perhaps this week they didn't. We have got to start winning our games. We have got a little bit of a break now and it will do a few of them some good - especially [England's Matthew] Upson. I am hoping that after a couple of days rest, they can come back recharged and get going again. The players that have been playing have done fantastically well. I know everyone is disappointed but we have got 37 points. What they have achieved so far with the problems we have had shouldn't go unnoticed and perhaps it has a little bit."

Curbishley was also clear that Dean Ashton's efforts to get back to his best should also not go unnoticed - having missed the whole of last season with an ankle injury and then returned to fitness after a brief setback with his knee this campaign . "He has done well to get where he is," he said. "It was a big injury, he has worked ever so hard at it. Sometimes players can be affected by team selection, can be affected by the way the team's playing, results, scoring goals. This year, he came in roughly after the first couple of games, played three or four. Then he hurt his knee up at Aston Villa and missed five or six weeks. I don't think I have done such a bad job in terms of bringing him back and easing him in. We have all got to get on with it. I have one or two players there who are not quite happy with what they have produced and we just have to roll our sleeves up for the next game."

Interestingly, Curbishley added that both Ashton and Carlton Cole have "played a lot of football" in recent weeks, and said he hoped to have extra forward firepower in future. Julien Faubert came on as a substitute on Saturday, having got through a practice game last Monday. He also reiterated that Scott Parker "has been running fully this week contrary to stories last week", before adding that
Craig Bellamy's fitness is to be assessed further with the striker "still feeling this abdominal strain" after he and Bobby Zamora, returning himself from a knee injury, scored in Monday's friendly.

One man who could be about to help out on the goal front is Freddie Ljungberg. Against Birmingham City on Saturday, Ljungberg popped up from close range in the seventh minute to connect with Carlton Cole's flicked header back across goal to send the ball beyond Maik Taylor into the net with a neat finish. "It was a great start to the game," he said. "It was nice to score a goal but it is disappointing we didn't win." The goal was the culmination of several impressive performances from the midfielder. "Personally I have felt great the last one or two months. It helps to be injury free and that you can train," he stated. With no game until Fulham away in a fortnight, the squad will have the chance to rest but Ljungberg's hunger to keep on going is such that "I would like to play again tomorrow".

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