Whistling A Happy Toon: Five Takeaways From West Ham’s Opening Day Rout At St James’ Park

West Ham swept to victory in a thrilling game away at Newcastle. The lessons learned and player ratings.

That’s Entertainment

It was great to get a Premier League season off to a winning start for a change. Hopefully, not an omen for what transpired after last season’s opener, where with the result reversed the Hammers went on to great things while Newcastle faded into indifference. A fantastic win at a stadium where West Ham rarely bring anything home, but more than anything it was good old-fashioned entertainment. Credit to both teams and the officials for that. A recognition that football is a contact sport where tackling is part of the game. It’s not a foul every time a player goes to ground at the merest suggestion of contact. Six goals and thirty-five goals attempts in an end-to-end thriller was superb value for money. The icing on the cake was that VAR did its job quietly in the background – unobtrusive in correcting obvious errors just as it is supposed to be.  

The Defence Rests

The clean sheet obsession is a relatively new phenomenon in the stat dominated world of football. Give me a competitive 4-2 victory over a cagey 1-0 win any time. Any team showing a sense of adventure will always present occasional chances at the back. Having said defensive competence is expected and the careless play that contributed to both Newcastle play should be avoided. Both times possession was surrendered cheaply close to our own penalty area with poor marking compounding the errors. The first began with poor control from Aaron Cresswell, was assisted by Declan Rice failing to prevent the tricky feet Saint-Maximin from getting to the bye-line, and was completed by Craig Dawson and Vladimir Coufal losing Wilson in the penalty box. The sloppy second started when a combination of Jarrod Bowen and Coufal failed to clear their lines and ended with an unmarked Murphy presented with a free header from a cross that landed on his head.   Both very poor goals to concede!

A Game of Two Halves

In his post-match comments, David Moyes suggested the Hammers had played well throughout ninety minutes. I don’t agree with that. A spark was missing in the first 45 minutes but was thankfully reignited in the second period. At half-time Newcastle were good value for their lead and it looked like they wanted it more in front of a passionate and vocal (but what a great effort from the visiting West Ham supporters) . Rice and Coufal in particular looked completely different players after the break as the Hammers took firm control on the game. Moyes claims he didn’t change things at half-time but there was a discernible change in attitude. Whether it was renewed belief as a result of Said Benrahma’s fine headed equaliser, or the consequence of superior fitness, but the Hammers increasingly looked to be the likelier victors. Even the Oracle Cloud Win Probability Predictor thought so. Once West Ham were ahead it would always be difficult for Newcastle’s counter-attacking tactics to get them back in the game. And talking of counter attacking what a sweet breakaway goal the Hammer’s fourth from Michail Antonio was. In my match preview I pointed out how few goals the Hammers scored last season between the 61st and 75th minutes. How wrong that was this time. West Ham saw out the closing period comfortably and by the 87th minute I was completely relaxed that we wouldn’t be losing this game.  

Spot Kick Conundrum

Penalties are always a matter of opinion. Some are more obvious than others, and while the one given for the foul on Pablo Fornals may have been close to 50/50, it was not a clear and obvious error to award it. The defender (Murphy) stuck out a desperate leg which caused Fornals to go over. You could see Murphy acknowledge his mistake and Fornals attempted to get up again in pursuit of the ball. A reasonable call in my book. Not sure what process led to the decision to nominate Michail Antonio as designated penalty taker, but he looked no more confident with the responsibility than Rice did in the past. I like to see penalties old-school with a decent run-up (at least to the edge of the penalty area) and striking the ball as hard as you can. I’m sure Tomas Soucek would be a better pick, but Cresswell would also be a good call.   

Strong Team, Weak Squad

On the second half showing it is apparent that this is a very decent starting eleven, with tremendous spirit, who are good enough to compete for a place in the top six of the Premier League. But a look at the bench (with I think only had Arthur Masuaku missing) reveals how shallow the squad depth is. It can never be good for a team to effectively pick itself with no competition for places. And that ignores the injuries and suspensions that will inevitably turn up during the course of the season. Additional numbers are badly required in several key positions. A new central defender is needed but not surprisingly the striker situation gets the most attention, and is naturally the most difficult to fill. The 50 or so misfiring strikers that Gold and Sullivan have signed during their tenure at West Ham demonstrates the dilemma facing the club right now. And time is running out fast to solve it.

Ratings: Fabianski (6), Coufal (7), Ogbonna (7), Dawson (6), Creswell (7), Rice (8), Soucek (7), Bowen (8), Benrahma (8), Fornals (7), Antonio (8)