Pardew rides his luck
West Ham United 1 - 0 Cardiff CitySoccernet's Insider rarely dips his toe in Football League waters these days, but this was a fixture that had more than a little intrigue about it.
The question was what area of the drama would be the focus of our attention. It could be the ongoing saga surrounding West Ham manager Alan Pardew, who seems to have had his neck in a noose for the last few months. Defeat in this game would start the speculation over his future all over again.
Alternatively we could focus on those ever lovable Cardiff fans, who reputation forced the London police to move the kick-off in this game to 1pm. The threat of a riot is never far away when Cardiff come to town and after the historic Welsh victory against England in the Six Nations rugby yesterday, they certainly seemed to be up for an argument.
We will leave poor old Alan Pardew for later in this article as the first and lasting impression of those Bluebirds fans needs to be recorded for posterity. As I walked towards the ground, it seemed that George W Bush must have been visiting the East Ham area, such was the level of police presence on hand.
With sirens screeching from every corner and road closures galore, six coaches carrying the trusty band of Cardiff fans duly moved through. Each separate vehicle carried an individual who was a credit to the Welsh nation, with the variety of obscene gesture on display impressive.
You had the standard two-fingered and one-fingered salute, but the chap who banged on the side of the coach, looked angry and then spat at the window was particularly unpleasant. As they disembarked their coaches, angry chants were struck up in a bid to upset a hundred or so West Ham fans who, for some reason, had decided to greet them with similar threats of violence.
The Hammers followers in question supporters didn't look much more inviting than their Welsh counterparts, with many of them already well beyond the point of return in the alcohol stakes. Drinking cans of Stella at 10.30am on a Sunday morning doesn't seem like a good idea to me, but many disagreed and were keen to confront their visitors from the Valleys.
The wall of police averted an inevitable confrontation and when they got into the seats behind the wall to the left of the press box, they were again surrounded by officers in yellow jackets. Being treated like animals must be a familiar experience for Cardiff fans these days and you have to feel for those whose passion for the game overrides their bid to embark on some 'fight for Wales', but it is hard to have sympathy when you see these thugs in the flesh. According the West Ham PA announcer, 1008 Cardiff fans made their way to London for this game and they were a handsome bunch.
A night out with that lot might seem referable to a lunchtime in front of West Ham fans if you name is Alan Pardew. 'If we lose today, Gordon Strachan will be in by the middle of next week', was the prediction of one Hammers supporter outside the ground and you would find few who would dispute his sentiments of angst against Pardew.
After months of chopping and changing, the West Ham side that line-up for this game is an Alan Pardew creation. He has signed the players, he's had enough time to find a winning pattern and the time for excuses ran out some time ago. They are on the fringes of the play-off positions, but in what has been a poor Coca Cola Championship, Hammers fans expect so much more.
The front two of Marlon Harewood and the evergreen Teddy Sheringham offer a decent attacking threat, while the hard working Mark Noble looks a good prospect in the centre of midfield, but the muted atmosphere around Upton Park was proof that these fans have gone beyond expecting too much from this team.
The home side shaded the first half in terms of possession and passing movement, chances were few and far between for both sides and the closest either came to a goal was with Junichi Inamoto's sixth minute shot that stung the palms of West Ham keeper, Steve Bywater.
The first signs of dissent against Pardew came after 62 minutes, as he replaced Bobby Zamora with Luke Chadwick, with the cry of 'you don't know what you're doing' quickly rising from the Bobby Moore stand.
When Cardiff's Peter Thorne missed an open goal in the 73rd minute, the jeers began to ring around this impressive stadium again and Pardew was left to kick the ground in frustration as his side continued to waste half chances in the closing stages.
To their credit, those supporters gave their side a mighty vocal push over the line and after Alan Lee missed another great chance for Cardiff, Carl Fletcher snatched a dramatic winner with a flying header that secured all three points for West Ham in the 89th minute. Pardew can breathe for now, but he still looked like a haggard figure as he met the press.
'It was a vital win because we had a few big players missing and had to grind away at it,' he started. 'Everyone was a bit tense, after the run we have been on, but the second half was much better. There was a lot of pressure from our side and other than one scare, we got the goal we deserved.
'I will have Repka, Daily, Lomas and Etherington back by the time of our next game and with those added in, we will be looking like a strong side. I hope the fans are going home happy because we need them with us. We want them to come to Sheffield United and support us for the FA Cup game because we want to get on a roll now.'
Cardiff manager Lennie Lawrence was in upbeat mood despite a heartbreaking defeat. 'That late goal was a dagger to the heart,' he said. 'If we had taken one of the clear cut chances we carved out, we would have won that game. They are under massive pressure and we knew there was a real chance to get a result here. It was harsh on my lads because they didn't deserve that.'
So Pardew's misery stumbles along for another week and those Cardiff fans go home to take out their frustrations on anyone who gets in their way. Ah the beautiful game.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Mark Noble
Amid plenty of mediocrity, Noble sparkled in the midfield with some impressive touches and fine work rate.
FOOD WATCH: It is not in the league of Tottenham or Chelsea, but the half-time scampi and chips were a decent effort.
FACES IN THE CROWD: Junichi Inamoto was playing for Cardiff so hundreds of Japanese fans turned up for the day. As usual, half of them blagged their way into the press box one way or the other.
HAMMERS VERDICT: They lack the class to go on the sort of run they will need to get back into the Premiership and that will mean a sharp exit for Alan Pardew.