I’ve always thought of Jermain DeFoe as a bit of a prat ever since he handed a transfer request in virtually as the teams were coming off the pitch in West Ham’s last match of the 2002/03 season at Birmingham. The Hammers had just been relegated from the Premiership and, despite having been in the squad for every league game that year of a side that had been proved to be not good enough for the top flight, DeFoe obviously thought the Championship was beneath him. DeFoe was still at West Ham when they started life in the lower level the following August though and he might well have been one of the Hammers players who declared themselves unhappy with the facilities at the old Millmoor ground when they paid an early season visit to Rotherham – West Ham lost the game 1-0 and over the coming months they were to discover that the second tier can be an unforgiving place for relegated teams who still want to put on Premiership airs and graces.
To be fair to him though, DeFoe was a bit special – loaned out to Bournemouth in 2001, he scored in ten consecutive matches to equal a post was Football League record and on 23 September 2003 he came out on top of a striker’s shoot out with City’s Robert Earnshaw as the teams fought out a highly entertaining Second Round League Cup tie at Ninian Park. I can remember saying after the match that DeFoe’s performance that night was as good as any I had seen from an opposing striker in a match with City, and, off hand, I can’t think of anything I’ve seen in the last eight years or so to make me change my mind.
DeFoe was like quicksilver, but it was to Earnie’s credit that he didn’t suffer much in comparison to the future England striker. In fact, when Earnie scored an amazing left foot volley a few weeks later in a match with Stoke, shortly before Mark Hughes left him out of the Welsh team for their Euro 2004 Play Off matches with Russia, I genuinely thought he was the most in form striker in the UK – with hindsight, that was probably a bit over the top, but not that much.
It was Earnie who got the early blows in on the night – on twelve minutes he opened the scoring by sweeping in a cross from Jason Bowen from close range. Bowen and his mate Andy Legg had been two of the casualties of the promotion gained by the Play Off Final win over QPR a few months earlier – he had already made his only league appearances of that season when he came on in away matches against Rotherham and Reading and it was as if Lennie Lawrence thought of him as a luxury that could only be used in cup games. Despite his manager’s lack of faith in him, Bowen was giving Hammer’s left back Wayne Quinn an uncomfortable evening – the build up for the goal being far from the only time he left Quinn for dead and there were opportunities aplenty for City (who were in free scoring form in home league matches at that time) to double their lead in the opening exchanges.
When a second goal did come in the twenty fifth minute though, it was all Earnie’s own work as he accepted a pass, beat a defender and then curled a twenty five yard shot beyond David James. It was a goal by someone at the top of their game and, at that time, it looked odds on that Earnie would be repeating his feat of the previous home match when he had scored a first half hat trick in the 5-0 demolition of Gillingham. However, from that point onwards, the visitors began to get a foothold in the match – City were still comfortable at 2-0 up, but the chances were beginning to dry up and West Ham were now occasionally threatening themselves.
It still looked as if City were going to be two up at half time though, but in added time, Tony Vidmar (who was the replacement for the released Leggy) tripped David Connolly and DeFoe was able to halve the deficit from the penalty spot. This was the turning point of the game – City had been ahead in recent defeats at Sheffield United and Reading and so the jitters probably set in amongst a few in a defence that was occasionally being left exposed in the early part of that season as the team pursued a surprising, but very welcome, attacking policy under a manager I’d previously thought of as a bit dour and defensive.
The second half saw the momentum change continue, but City might have been able to hold on and see the game out if it hadn’t been for a deflection off Danny Gabbidon which altered the trajectory of DeFoe’s shot as the game went into it’s final quarter. Stand in keeper Martyn Margetson was left helpless by Gabbidon’s intervention, but there were those who blamed him for the visitors winner on 88 minutes. DeFoe’s shot from some way out didn’t seem to be that well struck, but it had enough on it to elude Margetson – speaking for myself, it looked to me like one of those efforts that was always going to end up being just out of reach of the keeper, but there were plenty at the time who claimed that rested first choice Neil Alexander (who Margetson was to replace halfway through that season) would have kept it out.
Whatever the truth, DeFoe had come out on top in his personal battle with Earnie and less than a year later, they would be facing each other again in the Premiership with DeFoe moving to Spurs in the January transfer window and Earnie leaving for West Brom early the following season as the club’s financial problems became more apparent. I don’t think even the most devoted Earnie fan would argue about which one of the two strikers has had the greater success since that night nearly eight years ago, but it’s still great to have him back at Cardiff and it would be a fitting tribute to someone who gave supporters so many great moments in his first spell with us if he could end his second one as our all time leading scorer.
23 September 2003
Cardiff City 2 West Ham United 3
City Margetson; Weston, Gabbidon, Vidmar, Barker; Bowen (Campbell), Kavanagh, Bonner, Boland; Earnie (2),Thorne (Gordon) Subs (not used) Alexander, Prior, Croft
West Ham James; Repka, Dailly, Pearce, Quinn; Horlock, Ferdinand, Ehterington; Mellor (Garcia), DeFoe (3), Connolly Subs (not used) Bywater, Kilgallon, Sofiane, Noble