A Fine Well Deserved Victory
West Ham deserved their victory. Take no notice of ‘Boro dominated possession’, or that ‘West Ham rode their luck’ or even ‘Boro will feel aggrieved not to have taken something from the match’. I thought everyone understood by now that possession statistics do not define a match; it is what you do with that possession that matters. The Hammers created more and crafted the better chances; in addition to the three goals scored there were at least three more (Antonio twice and Lanzini) that could easily have been converted on another day. It was a job well done for Bilic’s team and for the second week running there was far greater cohesion to the team. Most supporters have already consigned Payet to the historic hall of infamy even if pundits, commentators and journalists are desperate to keep the story alive. Sure he had some exceptional attributes but no one player should be the focus of every attacking move and there is now (at least on the evidence of the last two games) far more of a collective teamwork ethic on show. How to integrate that fractious Gallic talent into a team should now be someone else’s problem. His refusal to play is an insult to the supporters and there can be no way back from that. The criticism of Middlesbrough’s fans by manager Aitor Karanka after yesterday’s game may well come back to haunt him for similar reasons.
Four Get Tight at the Back
It was a well disciplined defensive effort from the team yesterday that makes it just 5 goals conceded in the last 7 league games (we will conveniently overlook the cup mauling by Manchester City); a vast improvement on the average of two goals per game we were shipping previously. As with other aspects of football, defending is a team responsibility and not just something that the back 3 or 4 have to be concerned with. The Boro goal was well-worked but began with carelessness in the midfield where we had committed too many forward and we were hit by a quick counter attack; something that should not have happened at that stage of the game. A better balanced back four with real full-backs and the continued fine form of Pedro Obiang as the primary defensive midfielder otherwise contributed to keeping Boro chances to a minimum. The confidence at the back was highlighted in the brief ‘showboating’ moment were Cresswell played a one-two off the bar onto Reid’s chest and back into Randolph’s gloves. Winston Reid was again outstanding; is there a finer centre back in the league at the moment and his cross-field pass that led to the early Antonio chance wasn’t bad for a player said to have poor distribution. Fair play also to Angelo Ogbonna for playing on through his injury and I wish him the best of luck with the surgery and subsequent recovery.
Wingers or Wide Midfielders?
Generally, the mention of any player described as a winger generates a negative Pavlovian reaction in me. In my mind, I visualise a player with lots of speed but with little skill or application. Imagine Aaron Lennon or Andros Townsend and their head down, knock the ball forward, hare after it and cross it into the crowd technique. One in every ten games they will play a blinder before resuming normal service. On Wikipedia, Gareth Bale is described as a winger and I would make an exception for him as I would also, on the evidence of one match, for Adama Traore who was electric all afternoon for Boro. Traore was a real threat who caused West Ham problems all afternoon even when we doubled up on him. If anything Byram dealt with him better in the second half than Cresswell had in the first. In our own camp the likes of Feghouli, Ayew and Tore (is he still around?) are usually categorised in the winger basket and over the last few weeks we have now had a better chance to look at Feghouli. Instinctively, I do not have high hopes for him as he has no real pace, does too little work off the ball and is not brave enough for the English game. An attacking right sided midfielder needs to be asking more questions and the answer is not Andre Ayew.
Carroll: A Man of Many Parts
I can’t help but be impressed by the new improved Andy Carroll Mk 2. He is scoring goals but more important is the work that he is putting in elsewhere on the pitch; getting involved in link up play, holding and passing well and heading away almost every opposition corner. When he left the field yesterday the biggest danger to the team (in the circumstances or protecting the lead) was the loss of his defensive contribution. I admit that I didn’t think he had these types of performances in him and I don’t recall it being on show for the majority of his time at the club. Two well taken goals, the trademark bullet header followed by a typical poacher’s goal, have resulted in the annual call for an England re-call; which worryingly usually heralds a new injury set-back. I haven’t seen any update on the reason why he left the field yesterday but let’s hope he can stay in one piece. His departure gave us the opportunity to have another look at Jonathan Calleri who, before being spotted on the bench last weekend, I had assumed had returned to South America. Coming on for the last 20 minutes one might expect to see someone full of running and energy to prove a point but he seemed quite content to jog around for the most part. In his time on the pitch he managed to miss one very good chance before scoring an added time goal which I was convinced would be chalked up as an own goal. Despite the goal I still find it surprising that he was preferred over Ashley Fletcher.
Bilic Back on Song
It was pleasing to see a more upbeat Bilic in the post-match press interviews. Perversely, the Payet situation has worked to his advantage by creating a spirit in the squad that appeared to be missing previously. Sitting in a top half position in the table he now has time and a further opportunity to show what he can do without any undue pressure; a target of 8th place should not be an unreasonable or unattainable one looking at the other clubs around us. I do have my reservations about Slaven and some of his tactical, selection and recruitment decisions take some understanding – but now is the chance for him to prove the doubters wrong. The final week or so of the transfer window could make interesting viewing (or at least the last day or two of it) as the danger of relegation recedes and with just the two more league fixtures before the ACON is completed. A couple of inspired signings in addition to Jose Fonte could put a reasonable complexion on the season after all.
Ratings: Randolph (7), Byram (7), Reid (9), Ogbonna (7), Cresswell (6), Obiang (8), Noble (6), Feghouli (5), Lanzini(7), Antonio (7), Carroll (9) Subs: Fernandes (6), Calleri (5), Collins (6)