David Hautzig's Match Report
That didn’t take long. From a summer of excitement to an autumn of discontent. About a month to my reckoning. Me? I’m back to apathy. I find it easier.
I was over for the Wolves debacle. My cat runs more in an average day than our team did. Next to me was a friend and customer, Alex. Two and a half years ago the young Alex adopted West Ham as his EPL club after I started supplying the majority of the wine at his wine bar. While at the FA Cup replay against Liverpool and saying goodbye to Upton Park, Alex texted me a photo of his new Payet kit. He was immediately given a nickname by those in attendance with me at the match, including Nigel Kahn, Dan Silver, my best mate Jon, and our overlord Iain.
I had a great meal at Hawksmoor Air Street the other night with Alex, Dan, and my friend Neil Barnett. As we discussed the latest ridiculousness surrounding our club, Dan and I simply couldn’t help but laugh. At times uncontrollably. You really couldn’t make the stuff up. Alex just stared on with a glazed look in his eyes, like Mitchell McDeer in The Firm as he discovers the truth about the law firm he joined. Neil, the former presenter on Chelsea TV, joined more in the laughter than the sympathy Alex clearly needed. Today brought some unexpected smiles to go with the laughs.
Space. In Star Trek it was the final frontier. At West Ham it’s what every team we play has in abundance. In the midfield, in the box, everywhere. In the opening ten minutes Everton looked unbothered on the ball, with space and time to work. The Hammers, on the other hand, looked labored and bereft of ideas. Walcott had a shot inside the box that was blocked by Diop, and later won a corner off of Masuaku. Gana sent a good pass to Calvert Lewis that came inches from a clean breakaway. Meanwhile, any West Ham advance ended in a wayward pass to someone in blue.
And then in the 11th minute, out of nowhere, Balbuena intercepted a pass and fed Obiang. Obiang turned quickly and played a lovely give and go with Arnautovic that sent the Austrian to the races. Heading into the box with only Pickford to beat, he saw Yarmolenko streaking down the center and unselfishly…something Arnie isn’t really known for…rolled the ball into the path of Yarmolenko and the first time starter did what he was purchased to do.
West Ham 1
The visitors had another chance in the 15th minute when Noble was fouled 25 yards from goal, handing West Ham a free kick. The delivery from Anderson found Diop but the young French defender couldn’t get much power on his shot and Pickford saved it easily.
Everton should have drawn level in the 25th minute when Digne went on an unchallenged run down the left before sending a terrific cross into the box that Cenk Tosun got on the end of right in front of Fabianski. Left, goal. Right, goal. He went straight. Save. Yarmolenko was guiltily of not tracking back and fighting Digne. Deep breath.
When we signed Yarmolenko, Neil Barnett told me he thought 17 million was a bargain. The little I saw of him in pre-season certainly made me take notice. Then, in his first few appearances he looked tired. Quickly. So I wasn’t sure. But on Friday, Neil predicted a West Ham victory on his satellite radio program here. Furthermore, he said Yarmolenko would be the main force behind the prediction. In the 31st minute, Pickford looked like he played for us when he sent an awful ball out that Noble intercepted and was fouled. Atkinson played advantage, and Yarmolenko took full advantage. Working to his left across the top of the eighteen yard box, he finally made enough space for himself to unleash a curling shot that rippled the top corner.
West Ham 2
Yarmolenko almost went from hero to Ukrainian goat in the 36th minute when he lost control of a back pass from Rice, and Cenk Tosun jumped all over it. With Walcott on his right, the Turkish striker chose to go it alone and fired a low shot that Fabianski did well to stop. He couldn’t handle the rebound, but Balbuena was there to hoof it to safety. A minute later, Masuaku was very luck not to see red when he went up to play a long ball intended for Walcott. Instead of the ball, Masuaku played Walcott’s skull. With his studs. Lucky, lucky boy.
The two things that went through my mind as the first half wound down were this. First, 2-0 has always been my least favorite lead. I’ve lost count of the number of times we have watched 2-0 fizzle away. Second, giving up a goal at this juncture could easily be the beginning of a typical West Ham collapse. So when Kenny sent an inch perfect cross to Sigurdsson, and the latter beat Fabianski with a header, all those fears came to the surface.
West Ham 2
The opening ten minutes of the second half were similar to many an opening ten minutes of a match. Both sides moved forward, but with trepidation. On defense, everyone looked afraid to make a mistake. In the 57th minute, Kenny made a mistake by leaving the ball unattended. When I saw a West Ham player jump on it, I leaned forward. When I saw it was Noble, I sat back. By the way. I thought Noble had a good game, so I’m not taking a swipe at him. He’s slow. What can you do?
Oh. If Bernard had either scored or set up the equalizer after muscling Yarmolenko off the ball deep in West Ham territory, the man with the brace would have had one large bar tab to pay.
Looking back a few months ago when Obiang was seemingly on his way out, I wondered why. If reports are true, that he wanted to return to Italy but did not make a fuss about it, his professionalism should be lauded. Today, his interplay with Arnautovic will also be lauded. In the 61st minute, much like the setup for the opening goal, Obiang and Arnautovic worked a quick one-two on the outside of the Everton box. This one ended with Arnautovic poking a rolled ball from Obiang behind Pickford. Yet as so many West Ham silver linings, there was a dark cloud as Arnautovic limped off holding the back of his left knee.
West Ham 3
Everton tried to answer quickly. First, Cenk Tosun got on the end of a pin ball machine period of play right in front of Fabianski but sent his shot over the bar. Then Walcott sent a low cross into the box that nobody got on the end of except Fabianski.
Everton were given a chance in the 76th minute when Walcott went to the races down the center and was pulled down by Rice. The young Irish midfielder saw yellow. Then Yarmolenko saw stars when his face was the part of the wall that stopped the free kick from Sigurdsson.
West Ham showed a desire to go for a fourth when Antonio sent a long cross field pass that Anderson ran down. A bit of skill in the area won the Brazilian a corner. Everton did well to handle it, but the intent showed by the visitors was good considering the predicament at the bottom of the table.
Everton had a golden opportunity to close the gap to one goal when Digne sent a tremendous cross into the box from the left that Niasse got on the end of after timing his run just as perfectly. His volley sounded like a rifle shot as it smashed against the crossbar and flew out. If ever there was a moment that historically had a predictable outcome it was that. Ball goes in, we hold on for dear life. But instead…..
Five minutes of added time did nothing for my confidence, despite the two goal advantage. Snodgrass gave away a free kick in the 92nd minute on the left side of the West Ham eighteen yard box, but despite Digne doing well with the delivery Niasse couldn’t get his shot on target.
There was talk on television here that Perez refused to warm up, and that’s why Antonio replaced Arnautovic. Well, if Perez hoped that move would fail and Pellegrini would crawl back to him asking for forgiveness, he will have to wait past rapture. Antonio reacted brilliantly to his demotion from starter, with outstanding hold up play and clock management.
West Ham 3
Was this a glimpse of what Pellegrini is working on? Was all of his lineup shuffling waiting for this moment? Time will tell. But there wasn’t really a weak link today. Everyone did their job well. Diop and Balbuena look to be our center backs for reasonably long time. Anderson, despite a few strolls and one flop that really pissed me off, looked more in tune with the pace of the EPL. And Yarmolenko looked just plain good.
The work part of my trip last week went very well. My new partners in the UK, Red Squirrel Wines, are consummate professionals. Not to mention incredibly nice people. I was starting to wonder if they were the only good team I had in the UK. They may still be the best I’ve got, but hopefully the Hammers can inch their way back in that direction as well.