West Ham United 2 Cheltenham 1 match report: Sam Allardyce unlocks magic of Ravel Morrison


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The Independent Football

Being in the hat for the Capital One Cup third round is good, but what West Ham United managed tonight might be even better. Sam Allardyce gave Ravel Morrison, his brilliant prodigal 20-year-old midfielder a whole 90 minutes of football, his first West Ham start.

If anyone thought it was a risk, it certainly did not look like one. Allardyce was bountifully rewarded for his trust in Morrison, with a Man of the Match performance. Morrison made the first goal and scored the brilliant second in the 2-1 defeat of Cheltenham - which was more comfortable than it sounds - but beyond  all that the thrilling promise of the eventual unlocking of his potential.

West Ham know what a talent they have on their hands. “He is not a bad player, is he,” said assistant manager Neil McDonald afterwards. “He has scored some good goals in pre-season and he has continued that today. He has got lots of composure, he can see a final pass and he certainly make the final pass as well as score goals.”

Morrison was the biggest beneficiary of Sam Allardyce's plan to change the team. Joe Cole was the only starter who had begun either of West Ham's first two Premier League games and at first it showed.

This team of strangers could not find any early rhythm in a first half which was interrupted by stoppages, particularly as Alou Diarra, struggled for fitness and was eventually replaced.

But in Morrison, playing in central midfield but with licence to attack, they had a man to light up the football darkness. He grew into the game, increasingly confident in his ability to ghost past players. He might have had a penalty, exchanging passes with Joe Cole in the box before going down, but was instead booked for diving.

Morrison continued to threaten, showing for the ball, beating men and drawing fouls, and just in time - in the 42nd minute - West Ham were ahead. He was tripped by Russell Penn 25 yards out from goal and Ricardo Vaz Te swung the ball over the wall and into the top corner.

Within two minutes of the restart Morrison made it even clearer how comfortable he is on this stage. Receiving the ball, as ever, on the edge of the box, he shuffled to the right, darted back the other way, pursuing room to shoot, before firing the ball beyond Scott Brown into the far bottom corner, for his first West Ham goal.

From there it looked briefly as if West Ham could score as many as they wanted. Mohamed Diame shot just over before Vaz Te and Stewart Downing both just missed with headers from Matt Taylor crosses. “It should have been an easier game with more goals with the chances we created,” said McDonald.

This profligacy was risky as - out of nowhere - Cheltenham pulled a goal back. Adrian and James Tomkins left a long ball to one another, and the only solution was for the goalkeeper to hold back Sam Deering. Matt Richards converted.

It could have been tense but in fact it was not, West Ham created chances - for Collison, Diame, Rat and Taylor  - but they did not need them.

West Ham United (4-1-4-1): Adrian; Chambers, Tomkins, McCartney, Rat; Diarra (Diamé, 34); Cole (Downing, 46), Morrison, Collison, Taylor; Vaz Te. Substitutes not used Henderson, Nolan, Ruddock, Lletget, Lee.

Cheltenham Town (4-4-1-1): Brown; Lowe, Inniss, Elliott, Braham-Barrett; McGlashan, Taylor, Richards, Deering (Harrison, 63); Penn (Vincent, 83); Gornell (Kotwica, 77). Substitutes not used Roberts, Jones, Jombati, Gillespie.

Referee G Scott (Oxfordshire).