Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Frissons Garantis

The latest entry on Herita Ilunga's personal blog carries a brief video of the Hammers faithful giving full voice to I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles. It is chills guaranteed says the Irons left-back, who is clearly embracing the fire and the fury of English football, and in particular, the FA Cup. The Congolese defender scored United's 83rd-minute equaliser to salvage a 1-1 fifth-round draw against Middlesbrough at the Boleyn Ground on Saturday. The goal was Ilunga's second for the club - the other coming in the 3-0 third-round victory over Barnsley last month.

Naturally, says the official site, the defender was delighted to get his name on the score-sheet for a second time, but Ilunga was even happier to have ensured the Hammers were in the sixth-round draw and contemplating a possible tie away at Everton. "The most important thing for me is to play well and help the team achieve our targets," he said. "If I can score a goal then that's even better. The most important thing is for us all to do well as a team, but of course I am happy to have scored."

Ilunga's late header from substitute Savio's curling free-kick cancelled out Stewart Downing's first-half opener and, at the same time, ended the home side's frustrating search for a vital equaliser. Now, the two teams must face each other again in a televised replay at the Riverside Stadium on Wednesday week. "Of course it is important that we are still in the FA Cup but it would have been preferable for us to win the game instead of having to play an extra game with the replay. But as we have to play them again, I am confident and hope that we can go up there and get the win."

Before that replay, however, West Ham have the tricky prospect of a Premier League trip to Bolton Wanderers to attend to. United have never tasted victory at the Reebok Stadium but Ilunga, who has committed his long-term future to the club, is confident that unwanted record can be laid to rest this coming weekend. "We are still thinking positively as we have been over the last few weeks and even though we drew against Middlesbrough, it will not take our confidence away from us. Now we are looking forward to playing at Bolton in the Premier League and then after that we will think about Middlesbrough and the replay."

Gianfranco Zola was again full of praise for the popular defender yesterday, reiterating that Ilunga "is going to stay with us for a long time". Addressing the media, the Sardinian enthused: "He is playing well. I don't think there are many left-backs playing as well as he is now. He is very good defensively but also very good coming forward. He is a very good player. His character is unbelievable. He has played all the games and he is always manages to get something out of them. I am very pleased with him. He is a very good signing for us. He doesn't speak much English but it is not down to the language. It is just the way he is. He doesn't speak very much but he is one of those people that acts more than he talks."

One man who not quite so pleased with Herita Ilunga's latest goal-scoring contribution is comedian Phill Jupitus. Writing in his Times column, he explains how the Congolese defender has ruined his next two weeks...

While I’m not a superstitious person, I have tempted fate in a fairly massive way this week and I am starting to get a slightly uneasy feeling.

Every year the beautiful Irish town of Kilkenny becomes a focal point for comedians from all over the world. Drawn by the promise of sold-out gigs and free-flowing drink, it’s less like a festival and more like a massive three-day bender with punchlines. So it was with some delight that I took a phone call from my agent saying that I’d been invited to perform there this year as part of their improvised comedy show.

This was brilliant news; not only would I get to do some gigs, but I’d also get the opportunity to see brilliant American stand-ups such as Lewis Black and Dom Irrera.

I wasn’t sure why he felt the need to ask me. Of course my answer was an enthusiastic yes. “There is a catch though mate . . .”

Catch? What kind of catch could there possibly be? Was our venue going to be a dry Catholic church hall? Were they paying us in flimsy sterling instead of the ever-dependable euro? Would we have to learn Gaelic?

There was a pause before he said: “It’s Cup Final day . . .” Vastly conflicting thoughts go through your head almost immediately. Surely the likelihood of us getting to Wembley is fairly slender.

There’s still plenty of meaty opposition to get past, we’ve got injury troubles, so being realistic we’re not going to get to the final. I’ll take the gig. But then you start to think that actually we’re playing really well. The side is defending well and we can create problems for teams when we’re going forward, we’ve got a few England squad members, so being realistic, we’ve got every chance of getting to the final.

These contrary ideas then bang back and forth like an interminable Bjorn Borg-John McEnroe rally. I know that for many people there would be absolutely no question and they would not take anything else if their team was in with the slightest chance of a place in the FA Cup Final.

I am not one of these people, so I took the gig and for a while on Saturday while Middlesbrough held the lead, shamefully thought that I had been sensible in doing so. Then Hérita Ilunga scored his late equaliser and in doing so, ruined my next two weeks.

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