Where Was The Big Performance?
In the build up to the game our manager was promising a big performance. What we go was a big disappointment. When the manager said he wanted the midweek heroics at Wembley to be the benchmark for the rest of the season on-one believed that it was throwing away a two goal lead that he was talking about. The sad truth, however, is that, although losing two points with the last kick of the match to the team bottom of the table, was disappointing it does not really come as a surprise to many West Ham supporters. Conceding at least two goals has become the norm in our Premier League games and all too frequently these happen as the result of naivety, stupidity or a lack of concentration. The performance, in fact, had far more in common with the defeat against Brighton than it did with the unexpected Wembley win.
Turning Things Around – Nothing Has Changed
Whether the ‘two games to save his job’ was truly an ultimatum from the owners or a mere media invention we will never know. West Ham avoided defeat in those two games but where does it now leave us? In the quarter final of a competition which we are most unlikely to win given the nature of the subsequent cup draw and on the brink of a relegation dogfight; having in the last two games lost at home to a hot relegation favourite and scraped a lucky point against the bottom placed side – and with a tough run of games now to face through to Christmas. Nothing has changed and there is no sign of any turnaround. The underlying issues with lack of fitness, movement, organisation, tactics, structure, understanding, intelligence and leadership remain, with no evidence to suggest that the manager and coaching staff have any clue as to how to improve matters. On the current trajectory relegation is a distinct possibility.
A Tale of Two Goals – And Little Else
There were few moments of West Ham quality and, once again, few players came out of the game with any real credit. Joe Hart possibly had his best game in a West Ham shirt and without his intervention it could easily have been a comfortable Palace victory – although could he have done better for the equaliser? Standing out in an otherwise dreadful performance were the two West Ham goals whose execution were totally out of character from the rest of the afternoon. The first, the result of a delightful quick passing move involving Lanzini, Ayew and Cresswell and finished with predatory panache by Hernandez. The second, a splendid individual run and strike by Ayew after Fernandes forced an error in the Palace midfield. It was an all too brief glimpse of the type of football that we all yearn for.
Where Were The Tactics – And The Senators?
The two goals aside, the first half was a disjointed and disappointing affair. Palace were very poor and only looked to carry any threat from set pieces. Bilic had spoken pre-match about his senior players being ‘senators’ who would inspire the team to achieve great things; but if that group included the likes of Noble, Fonte, Zabaleta and Ogbonna then they failed to deliver big time. Bilic claimed that his second half tactics were to get his team to exploit the space behind Palace as they pushed forward and adopted a more direct approach. Palace improved immeasurably after the break but mainly because West Ham’s negativity allowed them to do so. Giving away the early pointless penalty didn’t help but as a response there was no intent by our side to pose any further threat to the Palace goal. As usual our passing and ball retention were woeful with the only tactic being to give the ball away cheaply whenever in possession. Against the team bottom of the table we offered nothing but an open invitation for them to come at us.
What Has Happened to All-Action Antonio?
As needless as the penalty was, the last minute equaliser was the epitome of a lack of professionalism. Deep into the last minute of added time, Antonio in possession, unchallenged and alone by the corner flag, with three colleagues in the middle marked by only one defender. Keep the ball where it is and the clock runs safely down. There is a chance of a killer goal if he can be sure to pick out the right pass (although we hadn’t tried to score for the rest of the half) but by chipping the ball aimlessly into the centre merely conceded the possession that led to the goal – and having committed players forward we are now outnumbered in Palace’s last push. Whatever was he thinking -or didn’t he care? In truth, a change in attitude by Antonio has been evident for a while now. Gone is the all action, full of running, happy to be in the Premier League player to be replaced by a more moody and sullen one. Is this personal to him or a reflection of a deeper discontent within the squad? Whatever the reason it is deeply disturbing with a player who has been one of the few successes over the past eighteen months or so.