If, like me, you are a West Ham fan, and have been a regular visitor to Upton Park (and now the London Stadium) for years, you will know that when you go along to a game, you never quite know what to expect. But one of the things that you do not expect to see very often, and history bears this out, is a goalless draw. If we look at the Premier League games that we have played in the twenty-first century (season 2000-2001 onwards), then out of 264 home games, just 17 have ended as 0-0 draws which is less than the top flight average. This means that you would expect to see a goalless draw approximately once in every 16 visits to see us at home.
This game was not only our first 0-0 draw at the London Stadium, but also our first scoreless draw (either home or away) all season. After 34 games that is an unusual statistic. Last season both teams failed to score only once at Upton Park (v Stoke), a percentage of 5.3%, as opposed to the Premier League average of 8.4%.
It is perhaps even more surprising that it happened against Everton. For, not only do we normally expect Lukaku to score against us, but we haven’t drawn 0-0 at home to Everton since 1988, almost 30 years ago, although a game at Goodison Park ended goalless in 2003. Going down memory lane, our team for that 1988 encounter was McAllister, Stewart, Strodder, Gale, Dicks, Parris, Robson (Stewart), Dickens, Ward, Rosenior, Cottee (sub. Ince).
A lot of reports post-game this weekend concluded that Everton just didn’t turn up on the day. And despite having the lion’s share of possession, they failed to muster a single shot on target. Certainly not the performance of a team trying to break into the top six, playing against a side still not yet mathematically certain of avoiding the drop. However, I believe that it was a case of us not letting them play, and we were certainly more organised defensively than has been the case for a while. Apart from one scary ball-juggling moment Adrian looked solid enough, and perhaps the defence had more confidence with him between the sticks, although in truth he was not really called upon to display his talents. The return of Reid, playing in the middle of Fonts and Collins certainly improved our cause.
We were the only team that looked like we might break the deadlock, although Everton looked at their strongest in the final few minutes. I do worry about our fitness sometimes, as some of the players began to look a little leg-weary towards the end, which is highlighted by the number of late goals that we have conceded. Nordtveit gave the defence some protection in a manner similar to Obiang, and once again I was impressed by our two wing backs, Fernandes and Masuaku. The latter gets a bad press on some social media outlets which I fail to understand. I’ve only seen him play one bad game when in the team (and everyone is entitled to that), and to me looks more sound defensively, and a better attacking option than Cresswell, who we must remember earned an England cap earlier this season, although since then he has been a shadow of his former self.
As far as Fernandes is concerned, he is only just 21, and I am convinced that he will be an important player for us in the future. He adds pace in the midfield areas, such an important component of the modern game. I’ve written before that I just don’t get Calleri, but he must have something that others can see. I’m afraid I just can’t see it myself.
We really just need to get this season over and have a real sort-out in the summer. But wins for Swansea and Hull, as well as Palace at Liverpool, means that we can’t put our feet up just yet, and nor should we take it easy until the final whistle has blown this season. Seven points clear of Swansea and five ahead of Hull, and a superior goal difference, with just four games of the season to go, should normally be routine enough, but with most of the relegation candidates hitting form, it is not over yet.
We never usually do well at Stoke, Tottenham and Liverpool are tough home games, and I really wouldn’t fancy our last-day trip to Burnley if we still weren’t mathematically safe. I’m pretty sure it won’t come to that, and looking in the other direction we are just two points shy of ninth place. In fact this middle of the table, which has been closely packed all season, continues to be so, with just four points separating ninth and sixteenth. We could end up anywhere between those two positions (hopefully no lower!), although I couldn’t predict with any certainty where we will finish. But that’s the beauty of following this team!