Sunday, April 14

Carroll has Hammers singing in the rain

Southampton 1 West Ham 1

It’s on to the 12.35pm train from Waterloo, where Big Joe, Mike and myself are busy buying deli pastries and avoiding Millwall fans. When we reach Southampton an hour or so later we can’t find the bus outside the station and leap into a taxi to escape the downpour and find St Mary’s.

In our seats, even in row M, we’re getting soaked as the wind blows the storm in our faces. Mike has his waterproof, I have a hat at least but no warterproof, Joe has a waterproof and no hat, and everyone’s glasses get misted up. It was sunny in London when we woke up.

The Hammers start fairly encouragingly. Nolan has a snap shot saved by Boruc, and another shot blocked from Vaz Te’s pullback. Tomkins makes a great block to deny a Saints’ goal and you can see the team spirit in the West Ham defence as Nolan high fives Joey O’Brien for winning a free-kick in his own area.

Meanwhile the rain gets heavier and it all feels like being at sea. “I’ve stood in grounds without a roof and not been this wet,” remarks Joe. There’s a minor altercation as a jobsworth steward tried to confiscate plastic bottles of lager from the sodden fans behind us.

“Shit ground, shit roof!” chant the West Ham fans.

We start to lose the midfield, with Diame dribbling too much and O’Neil having a quiet game. Gaston Ramirez and Clyne make inroads on the right flank and Southampton very nearly score before the break. Ramirez’s cross deceives the West Ham defence, Lambert pokes on to the post and Jussi Jaaskelainen somehow scoops the ball off the line and round the post. In added time Lambert flashes another header wide.

We retreat to the concourse feeling wet all over. The second half sees West Ham going forward. Vaz Te’s cross is deflected up into the air and Andy Carroll chests down and turns well to volley just past the post.

Then, somewhat fortuitously, the Saints take the lead on 59 minutes. Ramirez has his shot well blocked by a combination of Collins and Tomkins, but the ball rebounds straight back to him and he fires into the roof of the net. We can envisage a 3-0 defeat in the rain and Millwall reaching the FA Cup Final to round off a bad day. "The Saints are staying up!" chant the hone fans.

But the Hammers come back at Saints and it turns into a tasty game in terrible conditions. “This is proof the jet stream has moved way south of Southampton,” I suggest.

West Ham force a corner and Southampton make several last-ditch blocks. When Diame is fouled on the edge of the box, O’Neil taps the freekick to Andy Carroll who fires home through the wall via a slight deflection. The big Geordie runs to our corner falling to his knees and then pumping his arms and looking like he wants to play for us, which is good to see.

We sense our first ever win at St Mary’s. Carroll is all alone up front but does really well to get past three defenders and fire a shot at Boruc. Sub Collison is also making a difference, inspiring some neat passing movements.

In the deluge anything could happen though, but the unsung Joey O’Brien does well at left-back and then there’s a nervous four added minutes of stoppage time, with Pogatetz on for the injured Tomkins. Jussi has to save well from Rodriguez and then O’Neil fails to beat the first man with a late corner as Big Sam goes mental on the touchline ordering Matty Taylor back into defence. 

The whistle blows and we’re grateful for a point and a misty-windowed bus journey back to the station. Wonder if the train has a drying-room? Back at Waterloo Joe tells Mike not to wear his West Ham scarf around the Millwall fans at Marylebone, but luckily they’re too busy fighting among themselves to care about us. 

A good point in terrible conditions and 38 points may well be enough – although an easy three points on Wednesday should see us definitely safe.

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