Just Like Watching …….. West Ham
I have to admit it, my confidence gauge was close to empty at the start of this game and hearing the starting lineup did nothing to improve the situation. During the opening ten minutes it looked as if the players had left their passing boots back in the dressing room as the ball was repeatedly given away far too cheaply. But then on the cusp of the feeble Mike Ashley protest moment, a teasing cross from Robert Snodgrass was shrewdly anticipated and skilfully dispatched by Chicharito; and the character of the game changed completely. Following below par performances against Huddersfield and Manchester City, the Hammers were unexpectedly professional and competent against a Newcastle side who had spirit but little quality. Will a rare win in the north-east be a springboard for a surge up the table between now and Christmas or will it be yet another false dawn of inconsistency that we have witnessed so often in the past?
What Are The Chances?
Viewing only the MOTD highlights might well have left the impression of an afternoon of Newcastle domination disrupted by three West Ham breakaway goals. It wasn’t anything like that and had West Ham won the game by a four of five goal margin it would not have been a surprise or undeserved. It seems that there are only two types of goal-scoring opportunity: the chance and the half chance. It’s about the time that the nerdy football Statto’s and their overblown algorithms came up with a percentile system for the rating of chances. Had they done so, the conclusion would surely have been that only one of the attempts by Perez broke the 50% half chance barrier – whereas both Little Pea and Felipe Anderson were presented with 80% plus chances which really should have added to their eventual goal tallies. There were also several occasions where Marko Arnautovic might be wondering how he didn’t do more to extend the Hammer’s lead. Having seen Son Heung-min’s outrageous dive at Arsenal yesterday I wonder what would have happened if Arnie had tumbled over the keeper rather than jumping to avoid a collision?
I doubt many of us expected Snodgrass and Chicharito to make much of a contribution to West Ham’s season after failing to impress during their early careers at the club. But both played a major role in Saturday’s victory. It was a surprise when Snodgrass didn’t make a permanent move to Aston Villa in the summer and the thought of his return to the squad was not an inspiring one. However, under Manuel Pellegrini’s tutelage there has been an amazing metamorphosis from plodding journeyman to bustling dynamo. It is a rather different story with Chicharito in that the dilemma is how to accommodate his undoubted low input/ high output scoring prowess without weakening an already under-strength midfield. This will continue to be a challenge for the manager and likely to be managed on a game by game basis where he feels that a numerical disadvantage in midfield can be outweighed by the superior goal threat provided.
Felipe is fast becoming my all-time favourite Anderson. He is right up there with Ian (the singer from Jethro Tull) and Pamela (Baywatch era) but ahead of Sylvia and Gerry of Thunderbirds fame. The pundits definitely love him and a few of them have already been saying that he is too good to be playing for West Ham – the arrogant b*st*rds! I am sure that Pellegrini is right in saying that it will take him some time to fully adjust to the rough and tumble of English football but the signs are becoming increasingly encouraging. Some of his thoughtful passing is a delight and I am excited that there could be more to come. To date, his best performances have been in games where the team has been well on top anyway – taking advantage rather than creating advantage. It would be good to see him exerting more control and influence in the tighter encounters. He still looks inclined to pull out of challenges although he did make use of his strength when bursting through to score with his trademark scuffed shot through the keeper’s legs.
Left Back Where He Started
Issa Diop was rightly singled out for praise for his performance at Newcastle. He is a special talent who will become a big players if he continues to develop. Rondon may not be the greatest goal-scorer but he is a real handful and Diop matched the physical challenge with aplomb. The General also continues to impress, both in his defensive duties and as the springboard for launching attacks. However, it was Aaron Cresswell who caught the eye on Saturday with a defensive performance reminiscent of the early days at the club which had brought him England recognition. He also found time to get forward to great effect. It was a big shame to see him limp off and hopefully there will be a quick recovery. We know that Arthur is not the most alert of defenders but he looked to possess added jitteriness when he came on as Cresswell’s replacement – or else it was just me getting the jitters on his behalf.