“How do you fancy going to the cinema on Saturday evening?” my wife asked me earlier in the week. We are regular cinemagoers and she wanted to see one of the films that were in contention for best film at the Oscars on Sunday, Fences. Last week we went to see another of the contenders, Lion, which was an excellent film, and thoroughly enjoyable. She forgot to tell me until Saturday morning that the 8.45 showing was full booked, so she had booked for the earlier 6.00 one. I hadn’t mentioned to her that West Ham were live on TV with a 5.30 kick off.
In the past this would have been a problem but with Sky Plus I was not too concerned. All I had to do was to set the game to record, and then watch it “as live” when we got home at 9pm. This was just a modern day version of the famous Likely Lads episode of fifty or so years ago, where Bob and Terry had to go to great lengths to avoid finding out the score of an international match where they wanted to watch the highlights later in the evening. All I had to do to avoid knowing the outcome was to switch off my mobile phone (a requirement in the cinema anyway), and ensure that the car radio was switched off when we got back into the car after the film. Living in Bury St Edmunds there was little likelihood of hearing anybody talking about the West Ham game.
All went to plan, and as I was watching the preamble to the game, I forgot and switched on my mobile phone, and there was a text from a friend timed at 5.40 which said “What the hell did Kouyate do that for?” I quickly switched off the phone, but could tell that it probably wasn’t good news close to the start of the game. I wondered what he had done. Scored an own goal? Missed an open goal? Still, I had avoided knowing the outcome of the game. As the game started, and only a couple of minutes had elapsed, I watched in horror as Kouyate fouled our old friend Zarate for absolutely no reason with the clumsiest of challenges, and I had to agree with the text. What the hell did Kouyate do that for? Deeney’s penalty was well taken and we were one down almost before we had started. My wife made the comment that perhaps it was a good thing we hadn’t stayed in to watch the game live!
The first half was pretty boring and more than once I was tempted by the fast forward button because I couldn’t really see us scoring. At least the second half started brightly, but it looked like one of those games where we weren’t going to score. I wondered how much benefit we had got from the warm weather training in Dubai? Then Antonio’s pace took him clear and he managed the almost impossible, to hit both posts with one shot, but no fear, Ayew was there to tuck in the rebound. I thought that we’d go looking for the winner then, but our equaliser seemed to rejuvenate Watford who had looked poor in the second half, sitting back defending their one goal lead. And of course they should have scored with the last kick of the game, where Noble played their attack onside, but fortunately they didn’t convert a relatively simple chance.
The irony was that, at the end of the weekend’s games we had actually climbed into ninth place, thanks to Stoke’s capitulation at the hands of our North London neighbours. One things that struck me when reflecting on the game was how far both teams, who are comfortably in mid-table are lagging behind the top six teams in the league. We are long way short in terms of quality of personnel and tactical ideas to get anywhere close.
On Sunday afternoon I watched the EFL Cup Final with two teams I don’t particularly care for serving up an entertaining game for the neutrals. I was neutral until the horrific linesman decision to raise his flag, quite erroneously, to wipe off a perfectly legitimate Southampton goal. From that point I wanted the South Coast team to win and, despite outplaying United for most of the game, they lost to that late Ibrahimovic goal. The game might have turned out quite differently if the early Gabbiadini goal had stood, as it should have done. I then thought back to the night before when watching Match of The Day, in particular Chelsea v Swansea. The game was locked at 1-1 when Swansea had a perfectly good shout for a penalty when Azpilicueta clearly handled the ball, but referee Swarbrick waved play on. Inexplicable, I thought to myself as Chelsea went up the other end and scored to take a 2-1 lead. How the game might have turned out differently if the right decision had been made.
Once again, there were two examples of the “big team” getting away with a dodgy decision which had a big influence on the game. It is hard enough to beat the top teams anyway, without incompetent officials making it even harder. Video replays must be introduced as soon as possible, because with the fast pace of the modern game, and in some cases sheer incompetence, the officials just cannot seem to get important decisions right. And it is amazing how often the big teams are the beneficiaries.