Hitting The Heights
A very satisfying first ever win at the St Mary’s Stadium which elevates West Ham towards the upper end of their probable finishing position for the season, somewhere between 8th and 14th. Next week’s match at home to West Bromwich Albion potentially giving a clearer indication as to whether the Hammers have already peaked or not. Some commentators are suggesting that away form is now better than at home, but this is not the case, at least in absolute terms, where we have collected 14 points away compared to 17 at home. In relative terms, however, we are performing better away (as we did last year); league tables based solely on either home or away games would have us 15th and 6th respectively compared to 7th and 4th respectively over the course of 2015/16. Comparing the overall record at this stage of the season (after 24 games) we have won just one less game but have lost 6 more giving a total of 7 less points. If you constructed league tables, for the whole of last season, based only on games against top half sides you would find West Ham in top spot; this season we are next to bottom just above Crystal Palace. The equivalent table for matches against bottom half sides would have us 11th in 2015/16 and 6th in 2016/17 to date. Proving perhaps that lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice.
When a Plan Comes Together
Even though the daffodils are not yet out the match had the feel of an end of season game for me, although this was largely down to Southampton’s subdued approach. Maybe with key players missing and an EFL cup final on the horizon their minds were elsewhere. Having now lost 6 of their last 7 league games and with signs of life among the bottom dwellers Southampton might be advised to take a quick look over their shoulder. In the after-match interviews, Slaven Bilic claimed that West Ham a game plan and that the players had stuck to it. I’m sure that plan didn’t include going a goal down early on but the team reacted well where you might have expected heads to have dropped in the aftermath of the midweek experience. As they say in football, ‘you can only beat what is in front of you’ and West Ham were worthy of this competent win despite not dazzling. Although Southampton were credited with 21 goal attempts very few of these created real threat to the West Ham goal. I still think that Gabbiadini was offside for his goal but that when he we was pulled up later in a similar position he was not; the swings and roundabouts of refereeing decisions.
Cotton Wool Striker
It was another well taken goal by Andy Carroll to make it a total of 6 for the season from 12 appearances, including 3 substitute appearances. All being well, Carroll is on target for his best ever haul of Premier League goals in a single season which currently sits at 11 with Newcastle and 9 with West Ham. This week’s goal was a controlled right foot finish following a ‘slide-rule’ pass from Pedro Obiang (I wonder how many supporters know what a slide rule is let alone have ever used one?) It was interesting that he was once again withdrawn as a precaution once Bilic felt that the game was won. In the scheme of things I think that not making rash purchases in the transfer window was a sensible course of action but how a team in the world’s ‘elite’ football league got themselves into a position of being so short in a number of key positions remains staggering. With no natural ‘trusted’ replacement to lead the line West Ham effectively surrendered the initiative in the final half hour and invited Southampton to come at them. Although you could argue that the result vindicated the decision this is an outcome bias and we could easily have been in trouble had the Saints pulled one back (e.g. Gabbiadini’s skyer). Keeping hold of the ball is always the best defensive tactic in my opinion and our ball retention dropped alarmingly after Carroll’s withdrawal.
Snodgrass Puts in a Shift
I didn’t really notice Robert Snodgrass much during the first half and his main contribution appeared to be at free kicks and corners. In fact if his stats are to be believed he didn’t do much at all and only Feghouli had fewer touches (41 versus 40) over 90 minutes. But we all know that the stats do not tell the whole story and, as well as earning the free-kick that led to Mark Noble’s goal, he put in a tremendous amount of effort during the second period and particularly when it became his turn to fulfil the lone striker role. Not only did he cover a huge distance but he did so at pace and did not allow the Southampton defenders any time on the ball. It was one of Michail Antonio’s quieter games but, not for the first time, he ended up playing in three positions in one game. As with the ‘Cheikhou Kouyate at right back situation’ you can understand the emergency use of a player out of position but to have it happen so regularly has an air of disorganisation.
No Way, Pedro!
Without doubt a man-of-the-match performance from Pedro Obiang. Great work to set up West Ham’s opening goal and then a superb moment to open his own goal-scoring account on the stroke of half-time. [Not such good news for our regular betting thread which has backed him to score in almost every other week before this.] If team-sheets really are completed in descending order of your best performers then surely Obiang’s is almost the first on it every week at the moment. Add in Reid and Carroll and these three create an excellent spine to our team in the majority of games. Better performances this week from captain Mark Noble and Sofiane Feghouli although we should still be scouting for better and faster alternatives. Good to see Noble get on the score-sheet although I was convinced it would be given as own goal – shows what I know about dubious goals! Feghouli was more involved than usual although he played very narrow (possibly under instruction) and did not offer temporary full-back, Kouyate, much protection.
Ratings: Randolph (6), Kouyate (6), Reid (7), Fonte (7), Cresswell (6), Feghouli (6), Obiang (9), Noble (7), Snodgrass (7), Antonio (6), Carroll (8) Subs: Lanzini (5), Collins (6)