Saturday, January 11

How s••t must you be? We're winning abroad!

Cardiff City 0 West Ham 2

It’s on to the 10.36 train to Cardiff, followed by a 40-minute walk down Ninian Park Road to Cardiff’s new stadium. There’s a crowd gathered to watch the West Ham coach arrive and I’m excited to see that He has risen – there’s the Biblically-bearded Andy Carroll walking on tarmac and looking like an extra from The Life of Brian.

At Gate 7 the steward asks me if I have any books in my bag and discovers a hard-backed Redemption Song: Muhammad Ali and the Spirit of the Sixties by Mike Marqusee. Despite such pugilistic reading matter, he decides to let me take it in when I tell him it’s very good. Inside the concourse I find Nigel and his cousin’s son Anthony, a Watford fan from Brussels. We’re a couple of rows from the back and have fine views of the endless electronic red adverts for Malaysia, which must be a small town in Swansea.

Diame is out and Collison and Taylor in, with Adrian keeping his place in goal and the Irons playing two wingers. West Ham begin with some intent, actually passing the ball around having abandoned the nullify-the-opposition-first approach that has failed in most away games. After two minutes Downing’s cross goes through the area and hits the post, with Tomkins forcing a Marshall save from the rebound. We’re closing defenders down and the lads look like they’re playing to save Sam Allardyce’s job. They’re doing everything that didn’t happen at Manchester City and look hurt by the recent criticism.

Cardiff fire in a dangerous cross and Johnson collides into Demel resulting in a long stoppage, during which the West Ham fans serenade the home crowd with “You’re shagging your livestock!’ to the tune of Seven Nation Army. Demel is stretchered off with concussion, face and elbow injuries and spends the night in hospital. It’s more terrible luck with injuries and we hope Guy makes a full recovery, but in a way also a positive sign that the defenders are clattering each other in an effort to clear the ball.

That commitment is shown again as substitute McCartney races out to block Noone’s goalbound shot. The defence looks much better with two specialist centre-backs in Tomkins and Johnson, Collison is having a decent game in midfield, while Mark Noble is excelling in front of the defence. Carlton Cole goes close as he muscles the City defence away before falling over at the crucial moment.

Noone gets in some good crosses and on the half hour Cardiff nearly go ahead as Kim’s shot deflects off Johnson and on to the bar with the ball bouncing on the line. Adrian is then barged over the line, but the goal is correctly disallowed.

On 42 minutes we take the lead. Taylor dinks a fine ball over the Cardiff defence to Jarvis, who sends in an inviting cross for Carlton Cole to lose his marker and fire home. Cue pandemonium in the away end and a chant of “Always believe in Carlton Cole!” Followed by: “How shit must you be, we’re winning abroad!” We have a shot just past the post before the break and it’s a very satisfying conclusion to the first half.

The Hammers look lively at the start of the second half too, with Jarvis running between the centrebacks and firing just wide. Cardiff come back into it and throw everything at the Irons. Substitute Craig Bellamy crosses for Campbell to shoot and Adrian pulls off a brilliant reaction save. How tense is this going to be?

We survive a couple of penalty appeals, but the defence is blocking everything and when Cardiff do get a shot they tend to fire straight into Adrian. Let’s praise the maligned Roger Johnson too, who is winning some good headers and interceptions. Jarvis and Downing are also offering attacking outlets and Noble is brilliant at cleaning up and starting counter attacks.

The biggest cheer of the afternoon comes on 72 minutes as Andy Carroll replaces Carlton Cole, who gets an ovation from the Hammers fans. “Are you Jesus in disguise?” chant the Hammers’ fans. It’s good to see him bouncing around the pitch again in his white boots. Carroll wins his first header, but then miscontrols a couple of times, looking a bit rusty as you might expect.

Then comes another disaster. Tomkins has already been booked for some silly arguing with a linesman before going for a ball with Campbell. He misses the ball and his boot accidentally catches Campbell in the face. It’s another yellow and he’s off. Oh no, another plucky 2-1 defeat coming up. Diarra comes on and does a decent job at centre back and even with ten men we still look threatening on the break. Adrian still looks solid and now has his own chant of, erm, “Adrian, Adrian, Adrian!”

Cornelius puts a City header wide. We get a corner and Andy Carroll holds it up. Four minutes of added time. Oh no. But here’s Andy Carroll on the right wing, playing in Mark Noble with a finely weighted pass. Nobes is through the Cardiff defence and fires into the corner. Allardyce is hugging Kevin Macdonald and Noble disappears under a mass of white shirts.

“Ten men, we’ve only got ten men!” sings the Hammers’ end. The West Ham players hug each other at the end like they’ve won a Cup Final and salute the away fans. Adrian comes over and pumps his fists, looking like he might soon become a cult figure. Andy Carroll hugs Mark Noble then treks off to preach the Gospel on the Barking Road.

It’s a happy journey home for once and by Reading the West Ham fans have drunk the bar dry on the Paddington train. At Paddington puzzled travellers on the concourse are told that Carlton Cole is indestructible. Not over yet, but a big win.

Team ratings: Adrian 8; Demel 6 (McCartney 7), Johnson 7 Tomkins 6, Rat 6; Noble 9, Taylor 7; Downing 7, Collison 7 (Diarra 6), Jarvis 7; C Cole 7 (Carroll 6)

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