First Half Drab…..
Before our game kicked off I had watched that team from north London demolish a shell-shocked West Bromwich Albion with a scintillating and clinical brand of stylish football. At half time in our own game I was imagining writing a downbeat review of how far behind our near neighbours we had fallen. If we are ever to drag ourselves away from the also-ran pack then they are the team we need to target, being the next significant step up on the money ladder from us. It is distressing to see them performing so well but it would be churlish not to admire their style, organisation and effort. The sooner that someone comes in to poach Pochettino the better or there is a real danger that they could actually win something and how insufferable would that be? The first half of the West Ham v Palace game was totally forgettable in comparison. A smart volley just over from Andy Carroll at one end and a glaring James Tomkins miss at the other after Michail Antonio had gone to sleep (Ogbonna style) were about as interesting as it got. West Ham were lacking in confidence and ideas and Fat Sam was too busy respecting the point to capitalise.
Second Half Fab!
The game changed completely at half time and it was no coincidence that the introduction of a proper right back and changing to a back four was the catalyst. Antonio was released from his wasted wing back berth to play up with (or just behind) Carroll and the team looked more balanced and threatening as a result. Fat Sam claimed that his side were the better team for 70 minutes and defeat was the result of gifting West Ham all 3 goals but that is nonsense. The reason Palace lost was that they lacked the enterprise to take advantage of a vulnerable West Ham side in the first half and were then totally outplayed in the second. Apart from a little late flurry they were never at the races. In the end a lot of credit to the players, fans and coaching staff for putting the distractions of the week behind them and putting some swagger back into their play. As predicted the most name checked player on the TV commentary was Dimitri Payet although the emphasis changed from bemoaning the absence of his creative assist generating genius in the first half to praising the response of the team to his absence in the second. Time to take this new found togetherness and build on it at Middlesbrough next weekend.
Right Back Where We Started From
I was hoping that we would see Sam Byram feature at some stage during the game but it still came as a (positive) surprise that he was introduced as early as half time and that it was Angelo Ogbonna who was replaced. James Collins has his flaws but you cannot fault his commitment and he is as good as anyone when up against a lump such as Benteke. I didn’t hear any suggestion that Ogbonna was injured so assume it was just a very good decision; or else Ogbonna had fallen asleep in the dressing room during the interval. Having Byram back from injury is a major boost and I believe he is certainly good enough to be trusted as a regular starter. He defends robustly but also gets forward well and provides a far better option than a converted winger or centre back in that position. Backup is still required during the transfer window, however, as with Byram there is always the danger of another injury (given his record) and the certainty of a suspension (given his record). In 9 starts and 5 substitute appearances since moving to West Ham he has accumulated an impressive 8 yellow cards. Elsewhere in defence there were steady performances from Winston Reid and Collins with Aaron Cresswell rather subdued once more.
The Middle Men
The change of formation at half time theoretically gave Palace a numerical advantage in midfield but you would never have known it as West Ham dominated the second period of the game. It was encouraging, in fact, to note that there was a less obvious separation between midfield and strikers than we normally see with both Carroll and Antonio dropping back to provide extra bodies in the middle and Manuel Lanzini and Sofiane Feghouli pushing further forward when required. Mark Noble had an uneven game and was guilty of giving the ball away cheaply on many occasions and yet did extremely well to create our only chance of the first half and in putting Antonio through in the lead up to our first goal. There are still far too many backwards triangles with Noble particularly involving Collins which are often pointless and serve to limit momentum. Lanzini showed his usual enthusiasm and was always available and willing to run with the ball. It was great to see him maintain his goal-scoring record against Palace, with his final kick of the game, and it was a great reaction from Fernandes who was waiting to come on as his replacement. My personal jury is still out regarding Feghouli. Fantastic that he scored his first goal and that appeared to give him a massive lift; but I would still need to be convinced about his strength, speed and stamina to perform at this level. He has earned the right to prove that he can do it and looks a better option at the moment than Ayew. It will be interesting to know whether the stories about him leaving during the transfer window have any substance.
Men of the Match
The two stand-out performers in the game were Carroll and Antonio. Touching as much wood as I can lay my hands on it looks like Andy could be on a decent injury free streak and he certainly looks to be full of energy and commitment at the moment. My reservation with Carroll is not so much about his own abilities but that having someone in the team whose main attribute is strength in the air tends to have too great an influence on the way the team plays overall. This didn’t happen yesterday and Carroll showed several neat touches with the ball at his feet. His goal was nothing less than spectacular and featured a strike that requires tremendous technique to execute. You could argue that the defending was poor but ironically I believe that Antonio’s cross was slightly misplaced; the intended target being Carroll’s head. This is what everyone was expecting and it is to Carroll’s great credit that he was able to react, adjust and connect in the way that he did. Antonio ended the day with 3 assist and for someone who had been ill in bed the day before with flu (OK so it may only have been man flu) he performed exceptionally well. Now that’s what I call commitment, Dimi! The wonder of the Carroll strike overshadowed another delightful goal rounded off by Lanzini’s run and dink over the keeper from Antonio’s pass. Overall a most satisfactory outcome to the afternoon’s entertainment.
Ratings: Randolph (6), Collins (6), Reid (7), Ogbonna (5), Antonio (8), Noble (6), Obiang (7), Feghouli (6), Lanzini (7), Cresswell (6), Carroll (8). Subs: Byram (7)