The HamburgHammer Column

Ant and Séb's Saturday Afternoon Takeaway: Noble back to his best

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And…they’re off! Like horses or dogs bolting along the track after a sluggish start we have finally hit some stride getting our first win of the season, plus some other nice firsts added on top, making it a really great weekend for West Ham: It was our first win in August since 2016. It was the first goal for our new star striker and record signing Sébastien Haller who scored a brace actually, with two proper striker finishes, one an easy tap-in (but you need to be in the right spot at the right time) and then a lovely bicycle kick, showing both skill and, again, positional awareness.
Which means that West Ham are now officially the first team with 150 different goal-scorers in the Premier League.

For this game my routines were all over the place: First I had to use my West Ham matchday screwdriver for rescuing a trapped wasp from the lighting department of my bathroom cabinet by unscrewing its top board (I usually only use this screwdriver for watching football as most of you will know by now).

Then I forgot to put the kettle on to make some tea for the game (I suppose the heat inside and outside my flat made me yearn for cold beverages rather than steaming hot ones) and I almost forgot to put on a West Ham shirt…but at the end of the day it worked anyway.

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What a game this was! I have seen plenty of PL games over the years, but this is already in my personal Top 10 for the simple fact that you couldn’t take your eyes off this one!

In the first 70 seconds we had Watford out of the blocks straight away, with an early and decent shout for a penalty at our end (which got denied), only for West Ham winning a penalty claim of their own with the next move of the game when Manuel Lanzini got caught down the other end after a quick counter attack masterminded by Haller.

Who would take this one though ? Our regular taker, Captain Fantastic, with his dead leg finally back from the deceased, or new boy Haller (also available again after nursing a knock) who is a brilliant sniper from the spot in his own right. No real contest there, Mark Noble took the ball and put us ahead with one of his textbook shots.

Now, let’s get this out of the way here and now: We are a much better team with Noble in it. His contributions sometimes go unnoticed because he tends to do mainly the hidden work on the pitch, the little, yet oh so vital things and he also provides direction and motivation by the bucketload for his teammates. It’s a thankless task sometimes and he’s not getting enough praise and acknowledgment for it in my eyes.

You usually only realise how bloody good Noble is once he is suspended or out injured. When Watford got carte blanche for one of their quick counter strikes which led to the equaliser, with 3 or 4 West Ham players merely jogging back down the pitch, watching the Hornets’ attack unfold with mild interest, Nobes was absolutely spitting fire and rightly so. I reckon he will let these players know again in training this week that such a lackluster effort is unacceptable at West Ham. Jogging is for the local park, in the PL you run.

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Numerous times you could see our skipper during the contest, pointing with his arm in a certain direction, identifying a potential pass, or space to run into for his teammates. Like a conductor leading an orchestra with his baton, creating wonderful music for the audience to enjoy, Mark Noble directed our play. Not to forget he is basically a diehard West Ham fan who happens to be on the pitch in order to play for West Ham…

He really made us tick all game long and allowed our creative players to do their thing, with Lanzini and Anderson playing some wonderful stuff, but lacking end product in the first 45 minutes unfortunately. We looked really dangerous though when attacking at pace, but so did Watford which made the game such a great spectacle to watch.

Our defence at this point is still a work in progress, we still looked shaky at times, but only conceded the one goal (although how Watford’s Hughes managed to miss an open net for what would have been their second goal, I will never know). I keep saying how important it is to have consistency at the back, so I would like to see us play the same back four again as often as possible now, so the lads can find some chemistry. If they don’t we can still bring in Balbuena, Cresswell or Zabaleta again.

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Haller almost scored a beauty in the first half with an acrobatic scorpion-style back heeler in mid-air that nearly fooled Foster, but thankfully Haller managed to bury two slightly easier opportunities in the second half. When he started hitting the badge with his hand after scoring, I had to cringe for the briefest of moments as I was having a flashback to seeing a certain Austrian fella kissing the badge, but Haller obviously is a different person, so I suppose he can celebrate any way he feels comfortable with…he can even do the crossed hammers or dance around the corner flag next time…;-))

One significant factor that led us on the road to victory was Antonio replacing Yarmolenko. The Ukrainian was very enthusiastic throughout, but it showed that he’s been out for such a long time and that he still isn’t quite up to speed yet. Now, talking of speed, Antonio didn’t waste much time when he came on, causing some instant havoc and making the Watford defence look like ours at times. We showed some classy moves, attacking with pace.

If we had been a bit more ruthless tucking away some of our various other chances created after winning the ball and breaking away quickly (Anderson for instance), we could have given Watford a right old bashing. But three points is three points. And it was nice to see what could lie ahead this season, especially if we can manage to sort out our defence along the way. I for one am fairly optimistic it can be done. Looking at the early league table, level on points with Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham, we can easily improve our position in the league further with a few more wins. And with the worst game out of the way already (Man City), I’d expect us to give it a right good go from now on.

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We have a midweek encounter awaiting us in the League Cup tomorrow, somewhere in Wales, Newport to be precise. Fun fact: Newport is the birthplace of James “Ginger Pele“ Collins.

With so many players available for selection and desperate for gametime now, Pellegrini can mix and match things a bit, maybe give Ajete and Chicharito a start. Yarmolenko and Sanchez too probably, with Fornals providing the creative spark. With Snodgrass adding a bit of graft and guts.
Games like these always have the warning BANANA SKIN spelled out in giant imaginary letters, of course.

But if our shambolic exit at the hands of Wimbledon last season should yield one positive despite everything else, it should remind our players that it can and will happen again if we are not taking that game and opposition team seriously. Yes, they are not PL quality. But Newport are at home, they are fired up for what could, at least for some of their players, be the biggest game in their careers and their ground will be rocking with a partisan atmosphere for as long as we haven’t scored against them.

I hope our lads turn up and show the Newportonians (or whatever they are called) they should stick to playing rugby maybe…;-))

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COYI!!!

Hamburg football update: HSV won 4:2 away at Karlsruhe, a truly vital three points gained which helped them to cement their top spot in the league table. Next up is the much loved derby against Hannover…
You can watch how St.Pauli are getting on against Kiel later this evening on BT Sport 3 if you fancy some German football (7:30pm UK time).
Expect a feisty Northern derby in a packed football stadium, a game which the hosts from the red light district cannot afford to lose, given their bad start to the season.

The Concordia first team lost 0:1 away at Niendorf, in a game where hardly any pass found a teammate. Plenty of endeavour, not much football under a mercilessly burning sun.

The Cordi U23s beat St.Pauli’s fifth string by a 6:0 scoreline which was surprising as St.Pauli were top of the table before the start of the game.

The Cordi Women’s team unfortunately lost their first home game this season 1:3. The girls need to come to terms with the fact that every team they’re facing now will be stronger than any of the teams they played against last season. Steep learning curve ahead.


David Hautzig's Match Report

Watford 1, West Ham 3. Haller, Haller Haller Haler. Halleeeer, Haaaaaller.

I hate to feel sucked into that trap. You know what I mean. The trap early in the season that catches you and tells you this game or that game is HUGE. Yet here I am. Third game of the season, and I am in full tilt obsessing mode. We were OK for bits in game one, Ok for slightly more bits in game two, and we had better show quality in game three. I’m not even panicked about a win per se. A draw would probably let me sleep just fine. But a loss would have me question everything. Right or wrong, it would. Why did he start Ogbonna? Why are we consistently woeful at the back year after year? Will this cycle of mediocrity at best ever, ever end? Maybe Haller will see to it that it does.

It only took a minute to see how much we missed Haller and Anderson last week at Brighton. After a good run by Deulofeu into the West Ham box that ended with him tumbling, a long ball was launched to Haller. He controlled it, laid it off for Anderson, who one touched it back to Haller and he was off. A bad touch in the box ended what might have been our record signing opening his account. The Hammers worked the ball around the box to Lanzini, who cut to his right and was clattered into by Doucoure. Chris Kavanagh pointed to the spot, VAR agreed, and Noble did the rest. Welcome back, Cap.

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Watford 0
West Ham 1

Watford came inches away from equalizing a few minutes later when Deulofeu was played in on the left with a looping pass over the West Ham defense, but his shot banged off the bar. Seconds later West Ham were on the attack, with Anderson on the left. He passed back to Lanzini in the box but The Jewel’s side footed attempt went wide. Back down came Watford with two corners, but they couldn’t find a shot on target.

The Hornets kept swarming (dear oh dear, did I use that cliche?), with Doucoure on the ball ten yards in front of Fabianski. Diop made a key block, but it meant a third corner for the home side. The delivery flew over everyone and out, but Watford certainly reacted well to the early goal while West Ham looked rather disorganized.

That disorganization led to the inevitable based on the run of play. With Noble screaming at the four forward players to come back and help on defense, Hughes rolled a pass to Gray as the Watford frontman made Masuaku look every bit the poor defender we know he is. Gray got the ball just where he likes it, at his feet, and he beat Fabianski with ease for Watford’s first goal of the season.

Of course it was.

Watford 1
West Ham 1

West Ham came very close to regaining the lead in the 22nd minute when Lanzini sent a long pass across field to Yarmolenko, who headed it back into the box towards Haller. The French International had just overrun the pass but tried an audacious back heel that would have been a spectacular first goal, but instead was a rather simple save for Foster.

Watford should have taken the lead in the 27th lead when Watford broke down the left. Deulofeu rolled a pass to Gray in the box….unmarked in the box I might add…but he scuffed his shot and The Hammers were let off the hook.

West Ham were lucky to win a corner in the 33rd minute when Anderson took a pretty silly shot from half a kilometer away, but it took a deflection and went out for the corner. Ogbonna got his head to it, but the pace resembled me mowing the lawn and Foster handled it with ease.

The first half rumbled on, albeit at a slower pace than the opening minutes, with a similar theme to the opening forty-five at Brighton. The home side controlled the play, West Ham looked sluggish and very poor defensively, and you wondered what Pellegrini would do to change that.

Watford had two chances that they simply squandered in the 40th minute. First Doucoure somehow missed a good cross that zeroed in on him in front of the Hammers goal, and then Cleverly skied a delivery from a corner with nobody around him.

West Ham won a corner a minute later, and Anderson got on the end of Lanzini’s offering with a flick of the head. It bounced off the far post, but not far enough to find the waiting Yarmolenko to tap it in. At that point, Antonio for Yarmolenko at halftime looked in the cards.

Watford had yet another moment they might look back at with regret in first half added time when Kiko made a run down the right at crossed to Cleverly in the box, but he slipped while attempting his shot and the threat was gone.

Halftime couldn’t come fast enough.

Watford 1
West Ham 1

As I sat down for the second half, I was struck with a familiar sense of worry and dread. A feeling I sincerely thought might be a thing of the past. Yet from the opening kick I was more worried about conceding than hopeful of scoring. Maybe that’s The West Ham Way.

In the 50th minute, Lanzini set up Yarmolenko at the top of the Watford box. Visions of his wonderful strike last year at Everton danced in my head. Today’s version was a lot slower and Foster gathered it up.

In the 55th minute, Gray got behind the West Ham defense and around a diving Fabianski. With the goal completely open, Gray sent a low cross to a wide open Hughes. But the universe seemed to be against the idea of Watford scoring there and sent the ball off of his shin. Seconds later, the recently inserted Antonio got on the end of a through ball from Lanzini. He was all alone, bearing down on Foster. But as often happens with Antonio, a heavy touch undid the good work that led to the moment. Foster got there first, and then out muscled Anderson outside the box and cleared the ball downfield.

Moments later Fredericks led an attack down the right. But when he should have run at the defense he held up, opting to wait for help from Anderson and Haller. That allowed the the Watford defense to regroup, and West Ham didn’t even get a shot.

I really like an app called FotMob. For a few bucks, quid, drachma, whatever, you get results and live ticker action all over the world. It also gives you goal alerts. Which is great. But when you are watching on a stream, the action can be a few seconds behind. So with nothing of note happening on my TV, my phone gave me the good news. Anderson took the ball to the end-line, looked up and found Haller in between the Watford defenders for an easy tap in.

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Watford 1
West Ham 2

West Ham came very close to doubling their lead in the 73rd minute when Anderson sent a ball into the box that Antonio dove to reach with his head, but it went off the crossbar and Watford put the rebound out for a corner. The set piece found Antonio’s head again, and when Foster couldn’t handle the rebound Haller was there with the kind of instinctive finish only a true goal scorer has. Bicycle kick time, Brace Time, Haller Time.

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Watford 1
West Ham 3

Watford came close to closing the gap in the 81st minute. Sarr got the ball on the right and ran across the top of the West Ham eighteen yard box before laying it off for Cleverly. The steady English professional turned to his right but his shot went over the bar. Moments later he was again at the center of the action, rolling a pass to Doucoure on the left. However his shot, or low cross if that was his intention, was stopped by a combination of Ogbonna and Fabianski.

As Sanchez came on for Lanzini, without seeing it I could smell the fury on social media over his insertion. But the truth is with Obiang gone, Sanchez is our only defensive midfielder after Rice. And while he hasn’t done much this year, he hasn’t really done a lot wrong either. Maybe the key for him is to just be a rock. Not quartz, just a pile of slate. That’ll do me just fine.

Final Score
Watford 1
West Ham 3

“They’re a better team with Noble for me”. That’s what Tony Gale said as the match wound down. I have to say, it’s hard to argue. Every year someone looks poised to keep him out of the lineup. And every time, Noble sits pack and waits. In no time at all, the Captain returns and shows why his time isn’t over just yet.

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One statistic surprised me a bit at the final whistle. West Ham had ten attempts to three for Watford. But watching the match Watford looked to be the slightly better side today overall. The difference? Haller. Yes, Antonio should have started in hindsight and likely he will against Norwich next week. But Haller’s hold up play started the moves that led to the penalty, and of course he scored two. I’m reasonably confident that no other striker in recent memory would have scored that third goal. He will be key to everything we do, because we will win more games 4-2 than 2-0.

A loss today would have put the club and supporters in pre-crisis mode leading up to an absolutely must win game at home next weekend. Instead, our first win in August since the first ever game at the rental gives us a chance to have a decent start for the first time in years.


Match Thread

Match Thread: Watford v West Ham

Watford v West Ham
FA Premier League
Vicarage Road
KO 3pm
TV: None
Radio: WHUFC.com

Please use this thread to comment as the match progresses.


Match Preview

Predicted Lineup v Watford

Subs: Roberto, Ogbonna, Cresswell, Snodgrass, Yarmolenko, Fornals, Wilshere

Manuel Pellegrini has a fully fit squad, with the exception of Winston Reid. He has some big selection decisions to make in most areas of the pitch. I suspect Mark Noble will be recalled at the expense of Jack Wilshere in midfield, while Balbuena will return to central defence after Ogbonna’s shaky performance at Brighton. Up front it is reasonable to think that Anderson and Haller will eclipse Fornals and Hernandez. Antonio’s form will keep Yarmolenko on the bench, I’d have thought.


Opposition Q & A

Opposition Q&A with Watford

This weekend West Ham travel to take on Watford, just above us in the alphabet, and a short hop on a train from Euston. We already have 1 point on the board, three games earlier than we did last season. With Watford appearing to be weakened we may just get a victory. Ahead of the game I spoke to Jon Southwood, from Watford fansite GloryHorns to discuss the match and the season.

Hi Jon, like us you’ve had a poor start to the season. Losing away against Everton is not totally unexpected, but you must have been shocked to lose against Brighton on the opening day! What happened there?
It was a shocker! A horrible debut from Craig Dawson and below par performances from the whole team really. Very disappointing since pre-season had seemed well organised with several promising results against decent European opposition, Just one of those games where it all went wrong,

You seem to have been quite busy on the transfer/loan front during the close season, which of these do you think will cement their place in the team?
I think Craig Dawson will be a good signing and assuming he plays more like he did against Everton than Brighton will quickly become a fixture,
Danny Welbeck is obviously quality but has had his injury problems, I’d imagine if he stays fit he’d be in but we’ll have to wait and see . You guys had Andy Carroll so you’ll know what I mean. We’ve not seen Ismaila Sarr in Watford colours yet due to his involvement in AFCON but he certainly looks exciting and we could definitely do with an out and out winger.

Last season went quite well for you, especially getting through to the cup final: apart from this, what were your own particular highlights?
Beating Spurs early on was a great result. I couldn’t get to the game but watched it live in a pub packed full of Spurs fans with my lad and I being the only Orns there was special. especially since I’d advised all the early mockers that they could well be in for a tougher game than they bargained for.

What most depressed you during last season?
The drive home to Devon from Wembley…nuff said!

Yes I remember that feeling after our heart-breaking loss to Liverpool in Cardiff. Last year you finished just behind us, where do you think Watford and West Ham will sit in the table come May?
I’d imagine much of the same but I hope both of us would be 7th and 8th…us 7th obvs.

You will obviously hold Brighton in high regard, but who are your ultimate picks for the top four places in order?
Liverpool, City, Spurs, Arsenal

Likewise, which three teams are going to fall by the wayside and end up being relegated?
Newcastle, Villa and Sheffield United

From afar, Javi Garcia, seems to be doing a sound job for you as Watford manager, but what do the fans think of him?
I think he’s generally popular amongst the fans. He engages well with supporters, has the team playing decent football, is a good man manager and seems to have the respect and trust of the players. Glad the Pozzos have stuck with after all (many enforced ) changes.

Which team do you least look looking forward to playing against and why?
Manchester City. Throughout my years as a Watford fan , all 44 of them, encounters with them were never great. Many of those were in lower divisions as until Sheik whoever took over they were definitely in the shadow of United.I don’t remember the Franny Lee era and they were in relative obscurity for perhaps 3 decades. They didn’y ahve particular stars that I recall, Tommy Hutchison’s goal being the only notable thing in that time. So encounters with them were invariably dull as I recall. Roll on to today and they are just too good. You don’t go into a game against giving yourself a hope in hell. The talent they have in depth is incredible. That said, I think Liverpool may just pip them this year as they have improved immeasurably under Klopp and are smarting from missing out on the Premiership. City will win everything else though

How do you think Watford will line up against West Ham this weekend? Prediction for lineup.

Foster

Janmaat Dawson Cathcart Holebas
Hughes Capou Cleverley Sarr
Deulofeo Grey

Are you confident that Watford will win this particular battle of the ’W’s on Saturday? Prediction for score?
No. I may have been this time last week but without Deeney, Doucoure and Pereyra I think you’ll win 2- 1.

Well many thanks to Jon for his time. I’m going along with his way of thinking that without Troy Deeney bullying our defence, we could just sneak a win. I’ll also go with 1 – 2 West Ham. COYI

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