From the Terraces

Lifelong Hammer, TV presenter and journalist Mark Webster reflects on a chilly win over Sunderland

Mark Webster

Flip flops weather. Certainly as I sit here, my fingers skipping across the keyboard like a mazy Alan Devonshire run, you could certainly justify having those toes out. Spring seems to have sprung.

Flip flops is also a popular term to describe some teams’ attitude at this time of the season who are fair to middling, unlikely to do any better or worse, and thus their minds have started wandering in the general direction of the beach.

An issue that is clearly confusing those poor fellas playing their football on that Blackpool pitch.

However, if you happened to be at The Boleyn Ground at teatime on Saturday, thong-based sandals would have been the last things on your mind. Much more likely, ‘why did I leave my gloves at home?’

It was a strangely bitter evening, the winding swirling so violently at one point, it whisked the opening whistle bubbles up into a sort of twister Kansas would have been proud of. I even think I saw a cow spinning around in there at one point. Or was it Bubbles The Bear?

The weaker-willed amongst us might have been tapping into our inner Wizard Of Oz at that point, and thinking there’s ‘no place like home’ – where the game’s on the telly! But thankfully, another super-sized crowd saw a home team that hadn’t yet given up on the season.

Not that Dick Advocaat’s version of Sunderland were clearly going to let our boys put on a bit of a show for us.

Quite frankly, it was pretty dogged stuff in the first half, with the Black Cats pressing hard and Diafra Sakho looking a lonely figure up top on his own.

His mood probably not improved by that header that looked like it had been perfectly placed in the bottom corner, but just drifted wide. Did it hit that cow on the way?

But Sunderland hadn’t really threatened at all, and it felt like we would likely be seeing more of the same in the second half.

But before that, what was certainly good to see was some of the Under-11s boys doing a lap of honour after their great season. All looking looking decidedly self-conscious as they made their way around the pitch – don’t worry lads, hopefully you’ll get used to it! – I must give credit to many of the Sunderland fans here, who as I could see from where I sit in the West Lower, gave the kids a generous round of applause, too.
Not the prettiest of wins – not the stuff of our real purple patch at home – but a mighty, mighty big one in the scheme of things
There was even more reason to put those hands together in the second half. Not just to keep them warm as it started to look and feel like we were in an episode of Fortitude in the stand – this time, the bubbles started to float down like snowflakes – but because Sam had put Carlton up alongside Diafra.

As a result, we started to look a threat from not only working the ball on both flanks, with both full backs getting more involved in the final third, but also getting one of the big fellas up top under a few straight balls, too.

As a result, Diafra had another header drift teasingly the wrong side of the post, Sunderland filled the box with blue shirts and threw themselves at numerous shots as we besieged their area, and John O’Shea’s deft flick led to Kevin Nolan apparently reinventing the rules of offside whilst in the loving embrace of a Sunderland centre half. Grrrrrrrrrr.

All of which seemed to be leading to zero goals in what felt like zero degrees. Until up popped Canning Town’s finest, Mark Noble, with a deft little dink after yet more goalmouth scrambling, and this time Diafra stuck the ball the right side of the post.

So we got there in the end. Not the prettiest of wins – not the stuff of our real purple patch at home – but a mighty, mighty big one in the scheme of things. And one that ultimately warmed the cockles of the hearts of us thirty-odd thousand Hammers fans who had zipped up, scarfed on and woolly hatted our way to E13 for the pleasure. Now, I wonder where poor old Bubbles ended up landing?