A Game That Lived up to its Billing
I wonder how many neutrals made it to the end of this televised game? It has always seemed an odd to time to show live football to me and whoever thought this game might turn out to be a spectacle has to be a seriously optimistic individual. I think even a re-run of Noel’s House Party would have been more entertaining. It is still February and here were two clubs with almost nothing to play for, and it showed. As much as they talked up the ‘looking over their shoulder’ on the commentary it end of season fare being played out well before the clocks have changed. Probably the early goal had an impact on the structure of the game but it was disappointing that the spot-kick was the only noteworthy action of a limp first 45 minutes. The second half was better, but only in comparison with the first, as West Ham upped the tempo in search of an equaliser (with Watford happy to defend their lead) but once the Hammers had secured the deserved equaliser they gave the impression of job done. In fact after the goal Watford showed a little adventure of their own and might have snatched a winner with the very last kick of the game.
Slaven Gets Animated
The one person who did seem to get worked up by events was manager Slaven Bilic whose remonstrations in the technical area resulted in several terse conversations with the fourth official. If you had pressed me to describe Slaven’s normal match-day demeanour I would conjure up an image of a slightly stooped figure, hands resting on thighs and looking mostly impassive except where celebrating a goal. Recently he has morphed into a character very much wearing his passion on his sleeve. Perhaps he has been taking animation lessons from Conte or Klopp. Or maybe there is truth in the rumour that only a top eight finish qualifies for automatic contract renewal and that anything less requires entering the play-offs with Roberto Mancini. It could, of course, be that Bilic has guaranteed improved results after the warm weather break in Dubai or else he has to pick up the tab. I certainly didn’t spot the promised renewed vigour from watching yesterday’s performance but I may be expecting too much.
The subject of Slaven’s ire was mainly the refereeing decisions of Craig Pawson. I noticed some online concern with the announcement of Pawson as referee but I can’t say he has ever come onto my radar as particularly bad or with any previous as far as West Ham are concerned. By modern standards and interpretations it is difficult to argue against the penalty award where the mystifying criteria of ‘he’s entitled to go down there’ is known only to former players. Without a doubt players actively play for penalties and Zarate had only that in his mind when going down in the area from Kouyate clumsy attempt to track his run. Interestingly there was a very similar incident at the other end but with Antonio staying on his feet in an attempt to score no infringement was signalled. No wonder that players dive and I got the impression that all it would take was a stiff breeze for the Watford to go to ground, as befits a team with an Italian coach. Apart from the odd disputed corner or throw-in I can recall very few really contentious moments to consider.
The Strange Case of the Team Selection
They say that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is a sign of insanity. Naturally there are many variables in football but it is easy to wonder whether our management and coaching staff ever learn from past experiences. Once again there are so many questions about the selection decisions yesterday. Why stick with Kouyate as emergency right back when Byram was fit? Why put Lanzini out wide when the positive impact of moving him to a central role was so evident in the previous match? How did we get in a position where one of our most dangerous players (Antonio) is rarely played in his most effective position (wide right) and now plays as a lone striker after it was discovered that he wasn’t a right back? What is the point of bringing Fernandes on in the 89th minute every week; is that meant to be developing young players? What is the point of Jonathan Calleri? To the outsider it appears that team selection is based on trying to keep a select group of players happy by giving them a game somewhere rather than taking the difficult decisions. It is still uncertain what style of play or consistent approach we are trying to create as a club and the team remains more a collection of individuals rather than a cohesive unit. Good enough to bob along in mid-table most probably but no better.
My Kingdom for a Striker
With Antonio’s red card making him unavailable for the next game at home to Chelsea it is even more crucial that Andy Carroll is fit if we have any hope of giving the league leaders a decent game – or did Antonio get himself banned on purpose to make sure his next employers maintain their runaway lead at the top? It was good to see Ayew get on the score-sheet (and no assist for this awarded to Antonio I believe) but do not see him as being able to offer much in the lone striker role. If the alternative is Calleri then we may as well not bother. It is bewildering that a club (and the 18th richest in world football at that) playing in the most elite league on the planet are so poorly prepared and equipped.
Ratings: Randolph (5), Kouyate (5), Reid (6), Fonte (7), Cresswell (7), Noble (5), Obiang (7), Feghouli (6), Snodgrass (4), Lanzini (6), Antonio (8) Subs: Ayew (6)