Scott Parker, burdened with the tag of a boy wonder from the time of his televised McDonald's advertisement as a ball-juggling 13-year-old, has reached maturity and is playing as well as at any time in his career. He was man of the match for the second successive West Ham game on Saturday, the dynamo who powered them to a critical victory over fellow strugglers Portsmouth.
Parker has often found himself in the right place at the wrong time, failing to find a niche at Chelsea after a £10m transfer from Charlton and finishing on the losing side for each of his three England internationals – if he were to be called up again, he would become the first player to earn his first four caps with different clubs.
The possibility cannot be ruled out, and even though Fabio Capello is hardly short of options in central midfield, his scouts must have been writing positive reports recently about Parker, who says: "All I can do is keep playing well for West Ham and let other people decide. If I can do that I'll see where it gets me. During my first year at Newcastle I was playing some good stuff and felt pretty confident there.
"I've realised that when things are going well in football you have to keep the momentum going and keep running with it. There are times when things go bad but at the moment it's going well on a personal level. And we've picked up a few good results."
Gianfranco Zola may have deemed this victory worth six points, but West Ham need to keep that momentum going in their big derby at Tottenham today to avoid any danger of slipping back into the bottom three, whence they escaped with goals by Alessandro Diamanti and Radoslav Kovac. "Monday comes very quickly and our bodies will be under pressure," said the energetic Parker, "but that is the way it is. There is no better time to go there than now." Tottenham, his boyhood favourites, are reported to be interested in signing him, although as Zola said with a smile: "They are interested in everybody!" Fair point.
Victory over Portsmouth on Boxing Day a year ago, by 4-1 at Fratton Park, began a run that hauled West Ham from the relegation zone to a comfortable position in the top half, where they stayed for the rest of the season. The single key factor then was that Carlton Cole struck a purple patch of scoring form; this time Cole has been missing for a month, in which they have scored only four times in five games, and he is not expected to return until the middle of next month at the earliest.
Portsmouth, who have often looked a better side than their results indicate this season, are still within two victories of all the eight sides above them, every one of whom must be considered relegation candidates. Their fate could depend largely on whether the Premier League lift a current transfer embargo; all the more so because four players are off to the African Nations Cup this week. Avram Grant will discover today whether his chief executive Peter Storrie has been successful in delaying their departures until after Wednesday's home game with Arsenal, for which the influential Jamie O'Hara is suspended.
It will be an uncomfortable evening for Arsène Wenger's side on at least one level if Grant has his way in making the team "more aggressive". Those West Ham players battered claret and blue throughout the first half on Saturday would laugh at his suggestion that "sometimes we are too nice".
West Ham (4-4-1-1): Green; Faubert, Tomkins, Upson, Ilunga; Collison, Kovac, Parker, Noble (Jimenez, 15); Diamanti (Behrami, 71); Franco (Nouble, 89). Substitutes not used: Stech (gk), Spector, Da Costa, Stanislas.
Portsmouth (4-4-2): Begovic; Finnan, Kaboul, Ben Haim, Hreidarsson; O'Hara, Mullins, Brown (Utaka, 78), Belhadj (Boateng, h-t); Dindane (Kanu, 53), Piquionne. Substitutes not used: Ashdown (gk), Diop, Yebda, Wilson.
Referee: L Probert (Wiltshire).
Booked: Portsmouth Dindane, Brown, O'Hara.
Man of the match: Parker.
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