Sunday, February 5

We've only got ten men!

West Ham 2 Millwall 1

It’s all quiet on the Green Street Front at 11.45am as anorak warriors Matt, Michael and myself stand our ground and partake of tea and chips in Ken's Cafe, après Millwall. Strangely, Nigel hasn’t wanted to ruin the romantic ambience of a mini-break in Paris by coming straight off the plane to West Ham versus Millwall.

It's another freezing day.“Where’s’ your windbreak?” a punter basks the burger seller outside Ken’s Cafe. “She’s inside,” quips the burger man.

It’s a strange team selection from Big Sam, with Cole alone up front, no new signings on the pitch and Tomkins in the Diop midfield enforcer role. Lansbury is the player dropped after the Ipswich debacle.

Inside Upton Park the atmosphere is lively and everyone’s up for it, but there’s none of the silliness of the League Cup encounter. The whole of the lower tier of the Centenary Stand is empty on police advice, with Millwall fans isolated in the upper tier.

Three sides of the stadium sing “Stand up if you ’ate Millwall!”, while the Bobby Moore Stand has a song about Millwall that may not go down too well at Dale Farm.

Eight minutes in comes the game changer. Nolan lunges in on Smith. Referee Mick Jones takes no time to consider Should He Stay or Should He Go and gives the West Ham skipper a straight red card. Nolan played the ball but also hit the man with a two-footed challenge, which in the current climate is a sending off.  Surely we can’t play the whole game with ten men and still win?

“Other teams always play better with ten men against us,” I say hopefully.

There’s a horrible ten minutes or so of bemused silence from the home fans, but West Ham start to impose themselves on the game despite the numerical disadvantage.

Our lads even look a bit angry. The yellow and orange booted Faubert is a constant threat on the right, and the recalled O’Brien tightens up the defence behind him.

Cole has a header over the bar and Faubert just fails to connect with McCartney’s inviting cross. Cole is doing an unselfish job for the team as the lone striker, taking a buffeting from Ward and co.

The Irons fans get behind the team again and the Bobby Moore Stand amuse themselves with a swift riposte to Millwall’s No One Likes Us song of,  “No one likes you ’cos you’re scum!”

Tomkins starts to get used to his Diop-style position and Noble takes responsibility, making some crucial tackles. Right on half-time Noble’s free kick is glanced up in the air be Reid and Carlton Cole shows great determination to rise above his man and head home. Perfect timing as the half-time whistle blows. "We've only got ten men!" taunt the home fans.

For the second half Taylor comes on for Collison and is a threat on the left. Fraser wonders if Collison is a player who can’t fit into an Allardyce team. The Allardyce tactics work though, with Taylor and Faubert on wither flank and Cole doing the work of two men in the middle.

Early in the second half McCartney crosses for Faubert to flick his header on to the bar. Will that bad lick prove crucial?

It seems so. Faye tries to shepherd the ball into touch on the goalline but it’s hooked back by Henderson to Liam ‘Del Boy’ Trotter on the edge of the box who hits a fine volley past Green.

We’ll do well to gain appoint with ten men. But encouragingly the Hammers go on to dominate the game.

David Forde punches the ball away as Faubert runs into him, and the ball falls to Winston Reid, who belts a fantastic 20-yead volley into the top corner. Yes!

This allows the Bobby Moore Stand to do a pleasing parody of Millwall’s silly ‘E-I-O” dance, arms pumping to a chant of “Let’s go f***ing mental!”

Still the chances come. Faubert slices wide and is then subbed to a standing ovation and chants of “Julien Julien Julien!” Millwall has been quite a Sentimental Education for him.

Millwall gain a number of corners and Dunne blasts just wide.

Sub Ricardo Vaz Te slices a reasonable chance wide with his first touch, but later shows good skill to set up another opportunity. Faye has to make a number of useful hoofs and headers and Tomkins makes a fine intervention. There’s a whacking five minutes of added time but somehow we hold on.

“Will Nolan get MOTM award as usual?” texts Nigel.

It’s been probably the most exciting game of the season and all with a proper atmosphere, but only two arrests.

Faced with a one-mile pub exclusion zone we take the tube to Barking. We down some Old Wallop in the Spotted Dog, in celebration of a right old walloping of Millwall. A potted history of the pub, built in the 1870s, reveals that the first landlord Mr Maynard, was deaf and killed by a train that he couldn’t hear coming at Barking station.

“Isn’t being a deaf landlord a bit of a disadvantage?” asks Fraser. It must have taken even longer to get served than in The Central.

And so we opt for another Old Wallop. Southampton only draw and we’re four points clear. Millwall might be a limited team, but in this division every team can beat each other and winning with ten men smells like team spirit. As Allardyce says afterwards, this might be a “defining moment” in the season.

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