The Pre-season odyssey that is the Ravel Morrison story continued with West Ham’s relatively comfortable 2-1 victory over Pacos de Ferreirra at Upton Park. The game was another opportunity to assess how well the squad is shaping up and, as the Premiership opener versus Cardiff City looms, fans got a glimpse of how Big Sam may be planning to set out his preferred first XI next season. Morrison more than justified his starting berth with his sixth goal of the preseason campaign - making him by far and away the Hammer’s top scorer and arguably most impressive performer.
The Hammers were expecting some tough competition from Pacos, who are on the rise having qualified for the Champions league qualifiers by finishing third in the Portuguese league last year. However, the Pacos cause was severely dented after just 16 seconds when from the kick off the Hammers fashioned an opening where Joe Cole put Morrison through on goal and he cooly slotted an opener! The half progressed with tit for tat action and a few chances in either direction until the increasingly effective Modi Maiga reassured Hammer’s fans that he can lead the line in Carroll’s absence by slotting a calm second just before the break.
The second half commenced with a rampant Hammers (now with Rat, Collins and Diame added to the fold) pounding the Pacos goal and a third seemed inevitable - until out of the blue Pacos got a piece of luck with a deflection from a speculative strike and suddenly it was game on again at 2-1. However, for the Portuguese that was as good as it got as a stern Hammers defence refused to cough up any further booty and the game ultimately drivelled out to a rather sterile finish. Another solid all round performance that brings to a close a preseason that has ten games – eight victories and two defeats against opposition of widely varying quality.
Importantly, West Ham look well prepared and ready for Cardiff next week – even without Andy Carroll. It remains to be seen what the transfer window will finally deliver but maybe a major offensive signing will complicate the picture during the week. If this does happen, Maiga has probably justified a starting role with any new addition likely to enter from the bench. It’s great to see Modi finding his rhythm but he still looks more like an attacking midfielder or wide support forward rather than the lone striker that Sam prefers. It’s hard not to see more frustration for him this season.
For Morrison, it was another gold star and he will justifiably be looking for substantial first team experience this year. His performances have been about much more than the goals, but his undoubted skill coupled with desire for the ball, increasing strength in possession and (perhaps most tellingly) calm demeanour when fouled all point towards an increasing maturity. However, his preference for a central role means that he will have to break into the powerful Noble-Nolan-Diame axis which will be a challenge. His natural role would seem to be as understudy for Kevin Nolan playing in behind the one striker.
Who knows what injury or other challenges lie ahead and many Hammers’s fans have been whispering about Nolan’s ‘legs’ for some time. While Captain Kev will undoubtedly have something to say about that (and his strike record late in games testifies to a player who still has lots of stamina) there can be no ignoring that he is now into his thirties and has had a long and active career.
As for the record books, Ravel’s goal seems to be the fastest ever Hammers strike – easily beating Kevin Nolan’s goal after a mere 51 seconds against a hapless Fulham last September. The Hammers then suffered the embarrassment of conceding after a mere 33 seconds to Robin Van Persie and Man United a few months later!
However, none of these come near to the fastest in the overall record books where there is some dispute as to the actual fastest goal ever. However, Vuk Bakic’s goal scored inside two seconds with the first kick of the match for GSP Polet against Dorcol in the Serbian second division at 2 seconds may well be the fastest in an official match. As regards the Premiership, the fastest ever goal remains when Ledley King scored after 9.7 seconds for Spurs vs Bradford in December 2000. Interestingly, the fastest goal in an English Premier League debut match was scored for the Hammers by Aruajo Ilan – a mere 4 4 minutes into his debut match for West Ham United in February 2010 – coming on as a substitute in the 77th minute and scoring in the 81st!
Either way, young Morrison is rapidly rising up the ranks and we can look forward to an exciting year ahead and hopefully he can enter the records books for lots of other good reasons!