A Comfortable rather than Convincing afternoon
Three wins on the bounce and we are now safely ensconced in a mid-table cluster of teams beginning with ‘W’. As they say “You can only beat what is in front you” and the Hammers completed a comfortable, rather than convincing, victory against a team who looked resigned to relegation. Having fortunately seen off the other cast-iron relegation candidate, Hull, last week the win over Swansea was a little more straightforward. It may have been (as Slaven said) our best performance of the season but then there is not too much competition for that particular accolade. We still lacked overall cohesion and fluency, passing was below standard expected at this level and we gave the ball away too cheaply. Swansea were able to boss the midfield but it was our good fortune that they were fragile in both defence and attack. What a bizarre decision it was to appoint someone with as little European football experience as Bob Bradley to the job of manager. Go Swans!
A Welcome Change to Formation
With Obiang missing through suspension I expected, when I saw the line-up, that Nordtveit would step into the defensive midfield slot. It was a surprise, therefore, to see Kouyate pushed forward and that we had reverted to a more conventional back four formation. It seemed that Kouyate and Noble were nominally given defensive midfield duties but beyond them it became a little confusing and congested. There was very little width apart from Payet hanging wide left (apart from the brief spell when he hung wide right) but then he prefers to cut inside to create angles. The remaining players – Carroll, Ayew and Antonio – created their own little cluster in the confined central areas of the pitch. Still they each scored so maybe there was a cunning plan in there somewhere. [Note to Slav: Pedro Obiang has still been our best player this season; don’t be tempted to stick with the same team just because we won and bring him back in on Saturday.]
Fair Play to Havard
I have been a harsh critic of Havard Nordtveit’s performances to date in the claret and blue but on this occasion he did an adequate job. Deployed as a right back he maintained discipline and did what he had to do defensively. Although a defenders prime responsibility is to defend at this level there has to be a little more to your game; so far Nordtveit does not give the impression he can offer very much going forward as a right back. A competent stand-in but not the answer to our long running right back dilemma even if, I guess, there was an assist to his name for Antonio’s goal. As for the rest of the defence: Winston Reid again had an excellent game; Ogbonna mixed competence with clumsiness; and Cresswell had another disappointing outing and was at fault for the Swansea goal. A pat on the back too for Darren Randolph who, despite Swansea’s lack of penetration, had to pull of a handful of smart saves.
A Fernandes Cameo
I have to admit to being a big fan of the young Swiss midfielder. He may only have been on the pitch for just over 15 minutes but in that time brought a fresh dimension to the midfield. He shows good movement and uses the ball intelligently and accurately. There is nothing showy about him but he moves the ball quickly, decisively and (critically) in the right direction. Fernandes played an integral part in both the last two goals even if he was not credited with the assist for either. Collectively the midfield are still guilty of being largely static, not creating enough passing options and playing too many backwards and sideways passes. The general lack of width was perturbing with the usual threats of Antonio and Cresswell showing little inclination to stretch the opposition defence. In fact, I thought both had relatively poor games. Difficult to know whether Antonio was under orders to adopt a more central position or not? Still with 8 Premier League goals from 17 appearances to his name who is to complain – can he make the elusive 20 goals in a season target?
Ayew’s Coming Home
It is part of football folklore that a player struggling with form will finally make his mark when he returns to play against his old club. So it was with Andre Ayew who only had to wait 13 minutes before he was able to roll home the fumble from Fabianski after good work from Noble, Carroll and Kouyate. That the returning player scenario is not a myth is supported by the apparent, unusual stat/ fact that, in the history of the Premier League, 41 players have now scored both for and against West Ham. This is apparently more than any other club but I am not sure what conclusion, if any, we can draw from it. There was another decent performance from Andy Carroll even if there were few occasions where he was given service in those dangerous, unplayable situations that we hear about; he is still in one piece and doubled his season’s goals tally while at it. Encouraging to see that Sofiane Feghouli’s first successful cross of the season provided the assist to Big Andy’s strike.
Ratings: Randolph (7), Nordtveit (6), Reid (8), Ogbonna (5), Antonio (5), Noble (6), Kouyate (6), Creswell (5), Ayew (6), Payet (6), Carroll (7). Subs: Fernandes (7), Feghouli (6)