Who would have thought that a game against a Tony Pulis side could be so entertaining? For long periods in the second half West Ham played some of the most enterprising football I have seen from them for a long time. Suddenly we were passing the ball quickly, intelligently and there was good movement off the ball for once. To a large degree the early lead for Albion and their willingness to sit back and protect it helped our players to grow in confidence which, in turn, spread to the supporters. It is interesting how the mood at the end of the game is affected by the sequence of the goals. Having given Albion the lead I would have quite happily taken a rescued point at half time but to take the lead and then surrender it left a severe case of disappointment at the final whistle.
The Referee & The Manager
Much of the post-match chatter focused on the manager and his frustrations at the decisions made by referee, Michael Oliver. I do admire Slaven Bilic’s passion even though I believe questions persist about his decision making and tactics at times. It was a big blow to lose Carroll and once again it exposed the lack of balance and striking weaknesses in our squad. Too often we field a team of square pegs in round holes and although some are enforced others seem to be by management design. Credit to the manager in that he did eventually change things around for the better, notably by releasing Manuel Lanzini from his initial left-sided isolation, but better not to make the mistakes in the first place. Having had the opportunity to watch replays of the controversial decisions I am not sure, in the cold light of day, that there is too much to feel aggrieved with. Possibly there was a foul on Feghouli for the first goal after the ball had been played but it was borderline and Antonio clearly impeded the keeper in the prelude to the Feghouli offside goal. None of the penalty appeals had much merit even for a ref inclined to award so many as Mr Oliver. The one wrong decision that had the biggest impact was the throw-in just prior to the Albion equaliser.
So often the goals we concede seem to be built on a series of events that could have been prevented at various stages in their construction. As mentioned above the equaliser stemmed from an incorrect (in my opinion) throw-in decision. Already into injury time I thought we were rather lax in regrouping to defend the throw and not preventing the ensuing corner. As for the goal itself it is puzzling what Randolph was trying to do by running in to his own defenders. It looked like panic had set in and confirms what I have felt about his lack of conviction in the air. Normally Randolph is a first class shot stopper but he also could have done better with the opener, but then so could Noble, Feghouli and Kouyate. It was a dangerous pass by Noble, Feghouli was weak despite the challenge and Kouyate was too easily beaten before the ball slithered through Randolph’s legs. As is the way with football the early reverse and the injustice felt by the disallowed goal served to inspire the greater things that came in our second half performance.
The Strange Case of the Assist
Of all the football statistics, it is the ‘Assist’ that I find the strangest. For our first goal Lanzini did superbly well to create an opening before letting loose the thunderous goal bound shot which was touched onto the bar by the keeper before Feghouli rolls it home; no assist fro Lanzini! For the second goal Feghouli plays a simple sideways pass to Lanzini in a position of no particular threat before the Argentine again does very well to create his own space and place an excellent drive into the corner of the net past a stranded keeper; an assist for Feghouli! It doesn’t make any sense to me. As it turned out Feghouli, who had a very fine second half, after a very poor first one, ends with a goal and an assist to repeat Obiang’s achievement from the previous week. Lanzini’s performance deserved the same honour; he looks on great from and is the one player capable of creating something unexpected.
Wot – No Striker?
The lamentable striker situation was clear for all to see again. I admire Antonio’s endeavour and adaptability but using him as a striker is not playing to his strengths. It was yet another game that he finished a match having played in three different positions, which cannot be right except in an emergency situation. Although the need to put a striker on at half time was obvious the choice of Calleri was baffling. He doesn’t look to have any of the attributes required to be useful striker in English football; no pace, no strength, no movement and no eye for goal. I can’t believe he has any future beyond his current loan period so why bother with him in preference to Fletcher. He must be some different player in training to keep getting the nod.
Player Ratings: Randolph (4), Kouyate (6), Reid (7), Fonte (7), Cresswell (5), Obiang (8), Noble (7), Feghouli (7), Lanzini (9), Snodgrass (7), Antonio (6). Subs: Calleri (4)