The Dean and I (Hum Drum Days….)
When the main talking points of a match concern the decisions and performance of the referee and officials then you know there is something wrong. Dean is one of the those referees who seem to be of the opinion that they are part of the entertainment; believing perhaps that neutral supporters will eagerly await the publication of the referee appointments each week before deciding which game to go to watch. Maybe Dean sees his flamboyant behaviour as bringing an unexpected edge that adds to the theatre of game. Sending a player off invariably has a dramatic effect on any game and the earlier it happens then the greater the consequences. The Feghouli incident was two players making a wholehearted attempt to win the ball; nothing dangerous, no malicious intent, no loss of control. Jones may or may not have milked it but the referee appeared to mentally toss a coin, rather than make considered judgement, before making his disgraceful decision. What has football come to when what would have been a regular, everyday challenge 10 or so years ago is punished in this way? Add to that the linesman inexplicably missing the clearest of ‘offsides’ (did he get confused because there were so many players in offside positions) for the second goal and the officials should collectively hang their heads in shame as well as receiving lengthy bans. Personally, I share the opinion that the referee has had a good game when you don’t notice he is there; something you could never accuse Dean of. It was long ago that referees had to hang up his whistle at the age 47 but they are now judged on fitness and performance each year. Surely, it is time for the 48 year old attention seeking Lancashire official to be shown the final red card of his own.
A Catalyst for Improvement?
Ironically this was one of our best performances of the season. We started brightly and were uncharacteristically (based on what has gone before this season) moving and passing the ball well. The opening exchanges were somewhat cat and mouse but we looked sharp before Dean decided to take centre stage by issuing the soft, unwarranted red card. At other times the dismissal could have heralded surrender but the Hammers reacted well and showed great character, organisation and commitment. In many respects we are at our best when defending in numbers and counterattacking against the better sides; more so than when we have to take the initiative. However, it is a tough job with a man down after only 15 minutes. In the first half Manchester United were limited to one clear cut chance when the post was once again called into action – although I believe this too should have been flagged for offside. Mourinho made intelligent substitutions in the circumstances bringing on Mata (an excellent player who I was pleased to see absent from the starting XI) and Rashford to put pressure on a positionally suspect and tiring Havard Nordtveit. Some observers made Rashford man-of-the-match but if that accolade should go the most influential individual then there can only be one winner; referee Dean. It is very difficult to fault our overall performance and maybe (just maybe) the injustice of the defeat can be the catalyst for greater unity and cohesion in upcoming matches.
A positive when the teams were announced was to hear that Pedro Obiang (our best player all season) had been recalled to the midfield. He had yet another excellent game and it remains staggering that he didn’t get a look in during the narrow defeat at Leicester. Obiang is the best defensive midfielder that we have had at club for a good few years; as well as breaking up play he uses the ball well with intelligence and a vision lacking in our other central midfield players. It was inopportune that for all his efforts he might well have done better for both the Manchester goals; going to ground too early when looking to come to Nordtveit’s assistance to thwart Rashford and failing to clear effectively just prior to the obvious offside goal. A superb performance also from Manuel Lanzini who was always willing to make himself available, made great runs with the ball and was central to a number of excellent passing movements. Possibly one of Lanzini’s best ever West Ham performances over (just short of) 90 minutes. It is no surprise to me that we played with greater fluidity and incision with Mark Noble on the bench. Noble’s supporters will say he keeps possession well but the way I see it in modern Premier League football you have to use the ball quickly when gaining possession. Noble’s instinct for sideways and backwards passing allows the opposition time to re-group and closed down space when they should be at their most vulnerable.
Winston Reid came in for some criticism earlier in the season when West Ham were regularly leaking goals but his recent performances have been outstanding both in terms of contribution on the pitch and passion and commitment to the cause; I am very happy with his wearing the captain’s armband . It is surprising that we do not hear about any of the top clubs sniffing around a player who I believe is one of the best and most consistent central defenders in the league; maybe the belief that he doesn’t use the ball well is what discourages the likes of Klopp and Guardiola. An honourable mention also for Angelo Ogbonna who managed to put in a very steady shift with none of his trademark daydreaming moments to diminish his efforts.
My Kingdom for a Striker
I was very surprised to see Andy Carroll left out of the starting line-up. My assumption is that it was felt that another full game was not in the best interest of his long term injury recuperation but I haven’t seen this confirmed anywhere. Carroll showed some good touches during the 20 minutes he was on the pitch and maybe playing him with Michail Antonio just behind would be an interesting option that could unsettle opposition defenders; in the absence of available alternatives it is worth a try. The improved midfield performance yesterday could well have suited Carroll’s game but, as it was, the man-for-all-positions Antonio was given the task of leading the line. Antonio had very good opportunities to score on two occasions; once when he didn’t quite connect with his head at a corner and then when he failed to convert Lanzini’s delightful through-ball just before the opening Manchester United goal.
Ratings: Randolph (7), Nordtveit (6), Reid (8), Ogbonna (7), Cresswell (6), Obiang (9), Kouyate (6), Feghouli (5), Lanzini (8), Payet (7), Antonio (7). Subs: Carroll (7), Fernandes (6)