I wonder if Slaven Bilic would like to swap places with me. No I don’t mean that he becomes a writer and I become West Ham’s new football manager. I don’t think that either of us is cut out or suitably trained for the other one’s role. I was just wondering if he would like to swap his touchline view of the game with my seat in the upper tier of the East Stand. I don’t really want to swap, but for just one game I would like to watch the match from his vantage point on the touchline. I’d like to be able to see what he sees when he watches the game from there, because it seems to me that he watches a different game to me, judging by the decisions he makes regarding the team and tactics to be employed for each match. I’m not sure, but I think he would benefit from a different view too.
Last December at Upton Park the match against Stoke ended goalless, but of all the 0-0 games I had ever seen it was one of the best. This time we drew with them again with a goal apiece. But what did I think of the game? Well, it is 100 minutes of my life that I won’t get back. I like to go to football to see us win, but what’s more I like a bit of entertainment. This is my 59th season of watching us play. I’ve seen very few less interesting games than this.
I don’t have great memories of watching us play Stoke in the past. And this game has been added to the list. Entirely forgettable. At least my journey to and from the game was trouble-free. I haven’t always been able to say that. Past trips this season have included a suicide by someone at Mile End station, another unfortunate individual having a heart attack at Leytonstone, and the evacuation of Stratford station, leading to long delays, and a very long walk to Leytonstone station.
The board held up after 45 minutes suggested that we were going to be “entertained” with one further minute. I looked at my watch to check the time, and looked again more than five minutes later when Mr. Marriner eventually brought the first half to an end. I’m afraid I thought Mr. Marriner had as poor a game as most of the West Ham team. To me, he just didn’t seem to understand the game. This was highlighted by the award of a free kick to us which broke up one of our rare promising attacks a few seconds after a Stoke player had been flagged for offside.
What else can I remember about the game? I can recall a header from Ogbonna, which brought a reaction save out of Grant in the Stoke goal, Payet’s free kick which went just over the bar, and Antonio’s headed goal which apparently would have gone wide if the Stoke defender hadn’t deflected it in. I couldn’t see the deflection from my seat. Perhaps Mr. Bilic had a better view on the touchline. Pedro Obiang, was once again my West Ham man of the match.
Stoke were more organised than we were, and had a definite plan. Bony looked dangerous early on, and created chances which, with better touch and finishing may have led to goals. Our attack had no idea how to penetrate their well organised defence. To me this was epitomised by the excellent full back play of Pieters, who stayed close to Antonio and frustrated the life out of him. But all credit to Antonio for keeping going and once more getting his head on the end of a Payet cross for our goal. Payet, like Noble, just as they both did at the game at Everton last week, were guilty of frequently giving the ball away, either by bad passes, over-elaboration, or getting caught on the ball, leading to swift Stoke counter attacks.
I don’t recall any of our attacking play that could be described as swift. It was ponderous, retention of the ball, perhaps looking to improve our passing statistics at the expense of meaningful football, going sideways and backwards, and occasionally a lump forward to nobody. You could see the building frustration of Ayew who came deeper and deeper to try to get some action with the ball. Lanzini’s touch was a little off, but at least he was trying to inject a bit of pace into the proceedings, realising the need for more urgency and movement off the ball.
I was shocked to see the double substitution on the hour. Don’t get me wrong I was delighted to see both Fernandes and Fletcher come on, two very important players for our future, but not at the expense of Lanzini and Ayew. I would have liked to see both Noble and Payet substituted, but captain and talisman both seem untouchable when it comes to making substitutions. They did however, combine together to create the goal, so perhaps the Bilic view was better than mine.
I like the look of Fletcher, and with some more game time and experience I believe he will prove to be a better striker than both Carroll and Zaza. I can’t see much of a long term future for these two at the club, and I wonder about Payet who seems to be increasingly disinterested. We are all entitled to bad games but his heart just doesn’t seem in it. I can’t recall a single occasion of the crowd singing “We’ve got Payet ….” which has always happened several times every game for more than a season now.
And as for Adrian, what was he thinking? It would have been a penalty if they hadn’t scored anyway. I’d like to see Randolph given his opportunity now. It wasn’t just the goal he conceded, his performances have been below par all season, with the occasional superb reflex save.
But that’s just my view. Obviously Slaven Bilic sees the game very differently from his view on the touchline.