David Hautzig's Match Report
It was both disappointing and relieving to not write last week. The disappointment came from not being able to be part of the shared experience and joy of the win over Palace and He Who Shall Not Be Named, as well as joining in on the discourse over Payet. It’s pretty rare that West Ham are center stage in the world of football, dominating talk radio and podcasts. The relief came from being able to just experience it like a somewhat normal supporter. I watched most of the match, and then listened to the final twenty minutes in my car while driving to pick up the pizza for my sons tenth birthday party. As the kids watched Diary Of A Wimpy Kid in the party room at a local cinema, I munched on M&M’s and gazed at Carroll’s and Lanzini’s goals on my IPhone. It felt like West Ham were a sick patient who finally found a doctor that made the correct diagnosis, and the second half last week was the start of the healing process.
Yet we wouldn’t be West Ham supporters if we didn’t look at today at The Riverside with the kind of trepidation that has been a hallmark of our club. The Hammers are on a high, the opponent is falling like a stone, and a result is there for the taking. And then we lose, I don’t know, something like 3-0. I hope I’m wrong about that many more times going forward.
West Ham should have taken an early lead in the second minute when Reid found Cresswell with a lovely cross-field pass. The Hammers left back then delivered a superb low cross to Antonio that should have ended up in the back of the net, but for all of the amazing things he has done this season he is entitled to a few miscues. Minutes later, Lanzini and Cresswell tried to combine on the left side of the Boro box but couldn’t find the final ball either as a shot or a pass to Carroll. Then, in the 8th minute, the early hard work paid off when Antonio won a corner. Lanzini put the ball where Carroll wanted it, and then Carroll put the ball where he wanted it.
West Ham 1
The home side answered the early goal from West Ham with some sustained pressure, including a corner in the 14th minute after Traore worked the ball around Cresswell and lofted it into the box for Negredo. But as valuable as Carroll is in attack, he is equally valuable defending set pieces. He showed that as he headed the ball out of danger.
Remember the days when we couldn’t buy a penalty? It looked like those days returned in the 18th minute when Noble was clearly and blatantly blocked in the box ice hockey body check style. But Atkinson might be auditioning for a spot in the NHL when his EPL days are over. A few minutes later Antonio was fed into the area by Lanzini but he couldn’t control the ball with his first touch and Valdes was able to smother it.
Just as it looked as if West Ham were going to continue to boss the match, Middlesbrough reminded us there were two teams involved. Traore ran the ball down the center and laid the ball off for Chambers, who then sent a perfect low cross to an unmarked Stuani. All the Uruguayan had to do was slip it past Randolph, which he did.
West Ham 1
West Ham continued to apply pressure, and in the 32nd minute they almost asked another question of Valdes. Antonio was able to get past Bernardo with ease before slipping the ball to Carroll. The Hammer’s number nine was about to shoot but Friend slid in and made a fantastic tackle before Bernardo stepped in to deny Antonio a follow up shot. Middlesbrough came back down with some force a few minutes later, and Traore was at the heart of everything they tried, using his pace and ball handling skills. In the 37th minute he sent a low pass across face of goal that was cleared by Byram. Minutes later, he did it again only this time Negredo couldn’t quite extend himself enough to get a touch.
In the 42nd minute, West Ham began a series of play and for some reason I thought about counting the number of passes we completed. Cannot tell you why. It started with Carroll on the right, with Feghouli pointing to a spot he was running to. But Carroll showed remarkable vision and sent a long pass across the field to Cresswell. Thus began the twenty or so pass sequence that ended with a long, low shot by Antonio that Valdes couldn’t handle. There was Carroll, having as good a half of football on both sides of the pitch as he has had in years, to put in the rebound. He scores. He defends. He passes. Maybe there’s a song there somewhere?
West Ham 2
As the opening half wound down, West Ham looked to have been denied another valid shout for a penalty when newly born hero Feghouli was taken down in the box by Friend. Replays showed the tackle was anything but friendly (sorry, couldn’t resist) and none of the ball was touched. West Ham were awarded a corner, but that was hardly compensation.
West Ham 2
West Ham had two chances in the opening moments of the second half to double their lead. First, Byram crossed to Antonio in the center of the box but his header went over the bar. Then, Carroll sent Lanzini in on Valdes but the Jewel’s attempt to repeat his stunning chip from last week didn’t ark nearly enough and Valdes was able to make the save.
After those two missed opportunities for West Ham, Boro went on the offensive and had the lions share of possession for the next few minutes. A clearance for a corner by Reid on a long ball for Negredo required the defensive services yet again of Carroll, who cleared the set piece virtually to midfield. Middlesbrough came oh so close in the 56th minute when Traore sent a cross over several West Ham defenders that de Roon was able to attack. Randolph did well to dive to his right and palm de Roon’s powerful header out for a corner.
In the 63rd minute, Middlesbrough equalized. Didn’t they? How did they not? Traore, as he did all day, began the attack with a bit of ball handling that some pretty famous footballers in Spain would have been proud to claim as their own. He rolled a pass to Negredo on the left, who then sent a low cross to…..Cresswell. You know in Pro Wrestling when a good guy switches to bad guy in the middle of a performance? Cresswell switched to Middlesbrough for a second and had Randolph dead to rights. But his left footed effort went off the crossbar. Stuani was right behind him, likely yelling at Cresswell “we had an agreement”!
In the 67th minute, Carroll came off with a twinge in his hamstring, Calleri came on for reasons nobody understood at the time, and Scott Hogan probably began to shop for homes in London.
Based on today, if someone doesn’t come in for Traore with a big money offer I’ll be shocked. In the 70th minute, he made yet another run down the left that made Byram appear to be standing still. His attempted cross hit Reid on the arm just outside the box, but Boro couldn’t take advantage of a set piece from such a dangerous position.
Boro continued to press for an equalizer, and West Ham dropped further and further back. The pressure of defending deep looked to rattle Byram when a cross into the box was tracked by Randolph for an easy catch but Byram intercepted and chested it out for a corner. West Ham defended well, and created a chance of their own in the 81st minute when Lanzini lifted the ball over the Boro defense for Calleri. Perhaps if the Argentine loanee had confidence he would have taken a touch and finished the game off. Instead he tried to volley it past Valdes at the near post and sent the ball wide.
West Ham hearts fluttered with nerves in the 90th minute when Negredo was able to head a long ball into the path of Gestede. The new signing from Villa tried a bicycle kick volley but missed wide.
Someone wrote recently, I don’t know where, that if Calleri had finished off a chance he had early in the season things might have turned out differently. Based on the final ten minutes of the match, there may be something to that. And despite the stick I may get for even suggesting it, maybe it wouldn’t be such a horrific idea to keep him? His ball control in the corner was very good, and his interplay with Lanzini showed promise. And when he showed such a classy level of selflessness before he scored to roll the ball to Fernandes when he easily could have tried to drill it past Valdes, he won me over a bit. That’s not to say Fernandes wasn’t equally classy when he tried to give a goal to Lanzini but overplayed the pass. It was fitting that Calleri finished it off, deflection or no deflection. As my mate Alex said to me after the match, if we gave Zaza so much time maybe Calleri deserves some benefit of the doubt?
West Ham 3
Conventional wisdom is pretty clear. When you lose your best player, you do not get better as a team. But when that player is so toxic that the very idea of working alongside him turns virtually every stomach within the club, conventional wisdom is thrown out the window. We will likely never know the full story and how the gory details affected Slaven, his staff, the squad, even the board. Nor should we. But the results, not only as shown in the league table but on the effort and commitment we have seen since the news broke, are pretty clear.
We were sick. But we are feeling better.