My preview of the game on Saturday morning unfortunately prophesied what might happen in this game. We faced a Leicester side that hadn’t won an away Premier League game for almost a year. Why do we do this? They had managed just three draws away and ten defeats this season. But if you want to end a bad run of any kind, there is nothing better than facing West Ham. It happens time and time again.
If Forrest Gump’s mother had talked about our team rather than life, then she almost certainly would have said that watching West Ham is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get. You certainly didn’t know what you were going to get in the first seven minutes of the game, when we were two down before we had barely started. And you certainly didn’t know that in the second half we would have Leicester under the cosh to such an extent, that we could have even pulled off a most unlikely victory. We had them on the ropes, but a mixture of poor finishing and some excellent saves from Schmeichel in goal, meant that once again we trudged away from the London Stadium disappointed with the outcome.
The fact that both Reid and Obiang, two of our better players this season, had to leave the field earlier than we would have liked, added injuries to insult, but even this didn’t stop us producing one of the most exciting 45 minutes that we have witnessed from our team this season. It’s a pity that it had to follow the first half, which apart from Lanzini’s excellent free kick, was one of the most woeful. Why can’t we turn it on for a whole game? Why do we start so slowly? Why did Randolph react so slowly to Mahrez’s long range cross cum shot? Where were our defenders when Leicester’s free kick in the seventh minute led to any easy header for Huth? Why did we concede yet another goal from a corner? How did Carroll miss such a straightforward defensive header?
Both Randolph and Adrian can produce excellent shot-stopping saves at times but neither is dominant in the six-yard box facing corners and crosses. Unfortunately there are middle ranking teams in the Premier League such as West Brom, Stoke and Leicester for example, who realise this and can cross the ball close to the goal allowing their big players (usually defenders) to attack the ball without being challenged by the keeper. Compare this to Schmeichel in the Leicester goal who came and caught, or sometimes punched clear, any cross that was within about ten yards from the goal. We have history in this area. In 1967 we paid a world record fee for a goalkeeper (Bobby Ferguson) who was an excellent shot-stopper but couldn’t deal with crosses. Our two keepers have either got to work very hard on this aspect of their game, or alternatively we need to buy a keeper with a better all-round game.
Ayew scored again, to his credit, but missed simple chances in each half of the game when he failed to find the target. Unless you can learn to shoot on target you will not score. I’m afraid that he still doesn’t convince me, especially for the fee paid for him, and personally I look forward to the return of Sakho.
It was great to see a specialised right back playing in the right back position (it makes sense doesn’t it?), and I felt Byram had an excellent game. He linked well coming forward with Snodgrass who I thought did OK, although reading many comments afterwards I am in the minority re our signing from Hull.
There were excellent cameos from Masuaku, who might well be giving Cresswell a run for his place in the team, and Fernandes who always impresses me with his skill, pace, passing and enthusiasm, although they both came on at a time when we were in the ascendancy, which always helps.
With just nine games left after the international break (oh how I hate these breaks in the season!), we still might need a win or two to be safe from relegation. Games away to Hull and Sunderland, and at home to Swansea, with all three fighting for their lives, might be trickier than they would appear on paper, and we still have to face top half teams such as Arsenal (away), Everton (home), Stoke (away), Tottenham (home) and Liverpool (home). How many teams in the top half of the table have we beaten this season so far? Let us hope that when we visit Turf Moor on the final day of the season we are not looking over our shoulders. Burnley have an excellent home record and that won’t be an easy game either. We’ve probably just about got enough points in the bag, haven’t we?