Monday, 11 July 2011

Switzerland- Day Three

Sam Allardyce suffered defeat in his first game in charge of West Ham United, narrowly losing 2-1 to Swiss side Young Boys. The respectable result was the culmination of a hectic day three of the pre-season tour in central Switzerland, which saw the squad conduct two training sessions ahead of their opening Uhren Cup fixture. The players were up early ahead of a 7am swimming session before returning to their hotel for breakfast. After a short rest, Allardyce led the way as the group cycled the two miles to the club's training complex, where a short warm-up was followed by keep-ball, an 11-a-side match and some set-piece and tactical drills. After a rest and a pre-match meal, the squad boarded the team coach for the hour-long drive to Grenchen, 20km north of Bern, arriving at the Bruhl Stadium 90 minutes before the 6pm kick-off.

Club representatives attended a civic reception in the town, which is renowned for being the watch-making capital of Switzerland and is home to the likes of Breitling and Fortis. There, they were welcomed by town Mayor Boris Banga, Head of Culture and Sport Barbara Pestalozzi, Uhren Cup official Frederic Falbriard and airport CEO Andreas Wegier. The Hammers learned that Grenchen is also known as the 'Silicon Valley of Switzerland' and that Lufthansa pilots are trained at the airport, which is the third-largest in Switzerland in terms of plane movements by all accounts. Anyway, signed pennants were presented to Banga and Pestalozzi, while a series of speeches were made, including one by West Ham thanking the people of Grenchen and Switzerland for their outstanding hospitality.

On to the match itself where West Ham's players gave a good account of themselves against a Young Boys squad just five days away from their opening Super Liga fixture against Basel. With Robert Green, Scott Parker, Mark Noble, Kevin Nolan and Carlton Cole given the night off, Allardyce sent out an inexperienced team to take on the UEFA Europa League qualifiers in front of a 7,000-strong crowd. The match was the second in the four-team Uhren Cup tournament, with Swiss champions FC Basel and German Bundesliga outfit Hertha Berlin BSC the other two clubs involved. The competition began on Friday evening, when Young Boys defeated Hertha 4-2. Basel were due to take on Hertha following the Hammers' clash with Young Boys this evening. The Cup has been running every summer since 1962, when hometown club FC Grenchen were the winners, which makes this year's competition the 50th. In that time, clubs from England, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Turkey, Ukraine and the former Yugoslavia have all lifted the trophy. Last year's tournament was won by German side VfB Stuttgart.

United's starting eleven saw Ruud Boffin in goal behind Abdoulaye Faye making his debut at centre-back alongside trialist Hernani Da Rosa. Julien Faubert and Jordan Brown were the fullbacks. Fellow trialist Joey O'Brien anchored in central midfield alongside George Moncur, with Freddie Sears and Cristian Montano on the flanks. Luis Boa Morte, as captain, started in the withdrawn striker role behind youngster Frank Nouble. Curiously, Boffin and Boa Morte were late post team-sheet replacements for Robert Green and Frederic Piquionne; although no explanation was offered. Green had looked fine when warming up on the pitch just moments earlier. The substitutes were Marek Stech, Herita Ilunga, Jordan Spence, Winston Reid, James Tomkins, Junior Stanislas, Frederic Piquionne, Olly Lee and Robert Hall.

The game kicked-off in bright, warm sunshine under the shadow of the surrounding Jura mountains. Within two minutes Boffin had been forced to parry a shot from the dangerous David Degen, who had found himself free on the right side of the penalty area. A minute later and former Switzerland Under-21 midfielder Marco Schneuwly got in behind Brown again as the United youngster endured a torrid opening spell. West Ham then slowly played themselves into the contest until a further uneventful ten minutes was interrupted by Ben Khalifa- who having just been denied by an excellent Hernani sliding tackle moments earlier- brought another save out of Boffin. A minute later a cross from the left was headed down by Ben Khalifa and slammed home by Schneuwly from about eight yards. Faye and Hernani looked to the assistant referee for a flag, but he was (rightly) unmoved.

West Ham were level just four minutes later when young striker Frank Nouble reacted first to a near-post Boa Morte corner, getting in front of his marker to glance a fine header inside the far post. It was a big moment for the 19-year-old striker, who has spoken of his eagerness to impress new manager Sam Allardyce during the pre-season. The goal was followed by the playing of 'Bubbles' over the stadium PA system and a loud cheer from the many West Ham fans who have made the trip. The car park before the game had been swarming with Swiss Hammers, who were clearly delighted to see their club play in their home country.

A minute later and a ripple of applause broke out as Montano came within a couple of yards of putting his side in front. Faubert's hopeful free-kick from near halfway hung in the air and Montano outjumped Zverotic with ease, but could only head the ball high and wide of the left-hand post. A real competitive edge was starting to creep into the game, with plenty of hard challenges going in from both sets of players. After Young Boys threatened again when Degen cut inside Brown, Montano went down under a heavy challenge and needed lengthy treatment. O'Brien showed some neat touches in midfield but he was also a victim of a crude challenge.

Both sides subsequently created chances to take the lead but it was the Swiss side - for whom victory saw them lift the Uhren cup having also won their opening game of the tournament - who did just that with six first half minutes left on the clock. Schneuwly was allowed to bring the ball forward 40 yards before slipping in Degen for a stab at goal that Boffin diverted round the post. The resulting Degan corner was met by Switzerland international defender Francois Affolter, who sent a powerful downward header into the net from about six yards. West Ham's problems defending set-pieces still clearly evident for all to see.

Two minutes before the interval and a big let-off for United when Schneuwly's cross was allowed to bounce by Faye, who was trying to shepherd the ball out for a goal kick. The lively Ben Khalifa didn't give it up, and managed to poke the ball past Faye and the advancing Boffin only to see it roll across the face of goal. Degen then picked up the loose ball and crossed for two Young Boys to throw themselves to the ground looking for a penalty that referee Herr Hanni was never going to give. The half-time whistle was met by polite applause and Nouble's goal was obviously the highlight for the travelling support. There was plenty of reasons for Allardyce to be content though with the application shown by his players just ten days into pre-season training.

Allardyce and his newly-assembled backroom made five changes at the break, with Jordan Spence, James Tomkins (taking the armband from Boa Morte), Frederic Piquionne, birthday boy Olly Lee and teenager Robert Hall replacing Faubert, Faye, O'Brien, Boa Morte and Nouble. The only other introduction was Herita Ilunga, who has reportedly impressed in training. He came on for Brown after an hour. Young Boys replaced Wolfi, Ben Khalifa, Doubai, and Spycher with goalkeeper Ivan Benito, Mario Raimondi, Emanuel Mayuka and Ezgjan Alioski.

Even though Young Boys hit the post shortly after the restart, the Hammers started the second half brightly. Ten minutes of engaging attacking football- particularly by England U18 forward Hall- was halted by Degen, who had the ball in the Hammers net for a third time only to be ruled offside. Five minutes later a deep cross from Zverotic picked out Emmanuel Mayuka inside the box who tested Boffin. The rivalry would be resumed in spectacular fashion twenty minutes from time when the Belgium keeper made a miraculous save to again deny the striker. Degen raced into the box and cut the ball back for the Mayuka six yards from goal but Boffin was there to block the ball with his feet.

Inbetween there had been some nice exchanges between Lee, Hall and Piquionne; the latter tamely squandering a half chance. The impressive Spence also contributed a couple of dangerous crosses, and Montano picked up another heavy knock. As tensions rose, the committed Montano and Ilunga got involved in a brief skirmish with the home side. With ten minutes remaining, the exciting Hall sprinted away down the left before lifting a fantastic pass that Vuskovac could only flick on to Piquionne. The striker tried to control and find Sears, but his pass was blocked behind for a corner. Moments later Piquionne broke the offside trap and created the chance- via Lee and Ilunga- that saw Hall let fly with a rasping shot that shaved Benito's left-hand post. So close to an equaliser, West Ham were nevertheless finishing strongly as the sun began to set in Grenchen.

Although the final whistle arrived with the Hammers still trailing, manager Allardyce could still be proud of a good night's work. There was certainly signs that West Ham have a bright future. A number of first-team regulars were not on duty tonight, but the Hammers more than held their own against a side that regularly turns out in Europe and is adorned with full internationals. What is more, the performance is likely to tell the manager a lot more about his squad than he knew before the game.

As for United's young guns, they had the chance to put themselves into the thoughts of the manager. Rookie home-grown professionals Olly Lee, Cristian Montano, Jordan Brown, Robert Hall and George Moncur all featured and Tony Carr believes the quintet have a golden opportunity to push themselves into the first-team picture ahead of the 2011/12 npower Championship campaign. "It's terrific for them and if you look at the squad as a whole, there is a fair spread of Academy players in it," said Carr. "To even just get picked to go on the trip is an accolade, so they've got to go there, soak it up and when they do get an opportunity to go on the pitch, show the new manager what they are all about. He can look at them and, although they might not immediately be ready for the team, he can see that the talent is in the pipeline and ready to break through when needed."

The Academy Director also impressed the need on the young players to approach the tour with the right attitude, both on and off the pitch. "They are at the sharp end of the game now, at first-team level, and performance and professionalism are vitally important," he added. "Although it's the pre-season, gaining confidence and momentum that we will need to take into the season is always a good thing. They've got to show a good attitude around the senior players and, likewise, the senior players will set the example and standards for them. It's only six or seven days, but it is a great experience for them."

West Ham United: Boffin, Faubert (Spence 46), Brown (Ilunga 62), Hernani, Faye (Tomkins 46), Sears, O'Brien (Lee 46), Moncur, Montano, Boa Morte (Hall 46), Nouble (Piquionne 46).

Subs not used: Stech, Reid, Stanislas.

Goals: Nouble (21).

BSC Young Boys: Wolfi (Benito 46), Silberbauer (Farnerud 72), Schneuwly, Costanzo, Ben Khalifa (Raimondi 46), Zverotic, Spycher (Alioski 46), Affolter, Degen (Tosetti 78), Veskovac, Doubai (Mayuka 46).

Goals: Schneuwly (17), Affolter (39).

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