David Hautzig's Match Report

West Ham 1, Crystal Palace 2. Points, And Momentum, Lost.

Did you know I had magic powers? It’s true. Seriously. The Great Escape with Tevez and friends? All me. The minute I stopped watching us play, choosing to be updated by friends who threatened bodily harm if I even thought of tuning in, we started on that run of winning seven of our last nine. The February under VoldeSam that pulled us up from the drop zone to 10th? Me again. Watching those four matches on an IPad propped up on my dresser while I stood on the opposite side of the bed was all we needed. But such power and responsibility has its downside. Last week I wrote that Roberto should be demoted to third behind Martin after Oxford. I do feel a bit of shame for having put that out in the universe only for a certain thigh muscle to remind me such powers can be dangerous. In the end, Roberto wasn’t the reason for our downfall this evening.

A quick note about age. Manuel Pellegrini is 66. Roy Hodgson is 72. They are the two oldest managers in the Premier League. The Eagles have collected the fourth highest point total in 2019. West Ham have their best start in four years, but a win would give the Hammers their best start in 20 years. Maybe the next time we collectively wonder if the game has passed by our gaffer, we should take a deep breath.

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The opening ten minutes were oddly worrying. West Ham had more possession, but offered absolutely no threat near the Crystal Palace eighteen yard box. The visitors didn’t see the ball that much, but their quick counters required Rice to clear the ball right in front of Roberto as well as a long ball out by Ogbonna. Then Ayew got the ball behind the West Ham defense and Yarmolenko did a poor job of clearing. “Palace are looking dangerous” was the comment from the NBC presenter Arlo White. Not exactly the trends we wanted to see at the start of a rather important match.

Diop is either a defensive monster as Jose Mourinho called him last season, or a very inexperienced kid as we have seen on quite a few occasions. In the 22nd minute we saw the latter when a very lazy attempt to get the ball past Ayew led to a Palace free kick. West Ham cleared, but the ball came right back into the West Ham area where Zaha won a corner. A goalmouth scramble could have ended badly for the hosts but Cahill didn’t get good contact and Ogbonna skied the ball away.

West Ham should have taken the lead in the 29th minute when Noble found Yarmolenko after a good run down the right. The winger crossed the ball right to Haller, but with the whole goal in front of him the record signing put the ball directly into the chest of Guaita from point blank range. A few minutes later Fredericks crossed the ball to Anderson but the Brazilian shanked his shot. Seconds after that Fredericks teed up Anderson again but Guaita went down to his right to stop Anderson’s header. At least West Ham looked to have woken up a bit.

Crystal Palace had their moment to look back and rue in the 36th minute when Zaha somehow got the ball around Cresswell just to the left of the West Ham goal. He passed to Schlupp right in front of the West Ham goal, but the shot looped upwards, which gave Fredericks time to get behind Roberto and clear the ball off the line. If anything, it evened out the Haller sitter.

In the 41st minute, when James McCarthy stepped in between Lanzini and Anderson to give himself space for a shot, the reality that Fabianski wasn’t in between the pipes filled me with dread. At first glance, the diving save by Roberto looked terrific. On replay it looked more theatrical. At the end of the day, he made the save. Even if he did drop a shot seconds later, only to be rescued by Diop. Yeah, I’m still very skeptical.

In added time, Yarmolenko sent a sublime pass off the outside of his foot across the box the Anderson, who one touched it to Lanzini at the top of the box. He tried to find space in between the many Palace defenders but in the end the shot went wide.

Halftime
West Ham 0
Crystal Palace 0

The first moment of interest in the second half come five minutes in, when Ward looked to be auditioning for a spot in the NFL game in North London tomorrow when he dragged Anderson down. A good delivery on the set piece to Haller was headed back into the box to Ogbonna. The center back tried to find his feet but his shot went high over the bar.

West Ham kept the pressure on, and it finally paid off. Starting with the kind of short passing one would expect from the big guns in Spain and Italy, it finally broke to Anderson on the left. Yarmolenko did well to feed Fredericks on the right, who moved forward with his head up and his eyes scanning. A quick roll into the box was directed into the net by Haller. A lovely goal from the first pass to the final moment.

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West Ham 1
Crystal Palace 0

Minutes later, West Ham gave all the good work back when Kouyate got the ball inside the West Ham box. He tried to put the ball over Rice, and in a very rare moment he made a significant error when he raised his arm well over his head and blocked the ball. Clear handball. Van Aanholt put it past Roberto, as expected.

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West Ham 1
Crystal Palace 1

West Ham kept turning to Anderson on the left to make things happen, and in the 72nd minute he won a corner off of Ward. Guaita did well to get in between the many bodies in the box to punch the ball away, and Palace were out of danger.

I rarely if ever question the substitutions of Mr. Charming, but when Wilshere came on for Yarmolenko I couldn’t see it. By most metrics, Yarmolenko has been our best player the past few matches. He makes things happen. Would the final 12 minutes prove him right?

In the 85th minute, Wilshere was fed into the area by a lovely rolling pass from Anderson. A good touch to his right and he tried to reach Haller at the top of the box. He did, but Van Aanholt made a great interception. A few moments later, VAR did its dirty work against us when Ayew put the ball into the back of the net after a fine ball in from Townsend. The flag went up, but the replay showed the flag was wrong.

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West Ham 1
Crystal Palace 2

The Hammers tried to push forward in the six minutes of added time, but there was no final product. Anderson tried to feed Haller in the box a few times, and Zabaleta was fouled outside the box in the 94th minute. The delivery went to the far post and was played back to Diop, but he couldn’t get any power on his header and Guaita he no problem with it.

Final Score

West Ham 1
Crystal Palace 2

A match at home against a London rival vying for the heights of the EPL table. That kind of match, as opposed to similar matches against similar opponents vying to stay in the damned league, is what we have wanted for so many years. Most pundits put us down for a win. Those same pundits probably haven’t even noticed how well Palace has done under Hodgson. Today adds a lot of perspective as to how hard, how very hard, it is to become a top football club in this league.


David Hautzig's Match Report

Bournemouth 2, West Ham 2. A Truly Respectable Point.

Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday morning I woke up and grabbed one of my West Ham coffee mugs to start my day. A West Ham t-shirt or jersey was the selected attire. Cloud nine through and through. Thursday, Friday, and today was a different tune. Basic, plain mug followed by whatever clothing had no claret or blue to be found. I didn’t even want to think about the club, football, even sport in general. That was my reaction to the perverse performance put forth on Wednesday evening. It killed all the positivity and momentum of the opening six matches. It reignited all of the doubts, self or otherwise, that are the hallmarks of West Ham United Football Club. Fortunes Always Hiding indeed. From a performance perspective, however, today helped stem the tide of those doubts.

When did Sweet Caroline become an anthem for so many sports teams? I don’t much care about the Boston Red Sox, but it’s theirs as far as I’m concerned. Bournemouth need to find a tune of their own. Rant over.

Despite some being critical of Fornals, I like what I have seen so far. Having said that, for the second time this season he decided not to have a go at goal when he clearly should have. In the third minute he got the ball twenty yards from goal, at the edge of the area, and chose to put the ball wide for Yarmolenko. West Ham eventually won a corner, but it amounted to nothing. Shoot, Pablo. Shoot.

The opening ten minutes were positive for West Ham, with good spells of possession. In the tenth minute, Anderson sent a looping pass to Haller in the Bournemouth eighteen yard box. The skill Haller showed to control the pass with the outside of his right foot, bring it down, and then lay it off for Yarmolenko was a thing of beauty. Once Yarmolenko rolled Ake off of him and got space on his left foot, the rest was almost predictable. That’s how good he is in such a spot.

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Bournemouth 0
West Ham 1

The Cherries had their first corner of the match in the 17th minute when Fredericks played it very, very safe by putting a low cross out with Solanke not that close. The set piece was played short, and Rico sent a cross into the box. Ake pushed it on, and King was there to put it past Fabianski. The offside flag went up, as did the call for VAR. The little electric lines were drawn, and after a minute or so Atwell pointed at the center circle.

Bournemouth 1
West Ham 1

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West Ham responded to the equalizer with some good ball movement forward, especially between Anderson and Haller. Fornals and Noble worked a give and go on the right side of the Bournemouth box to win a corner that eventually ended up calmly in the arms of Ramsdale. Minutes later Anderson sent Fredericks on the run with a rolling pass down the right side. The right back sent the ball into the box and Cook took no chances and tapped it out for another Hammers corner. Again, the visitors didn’t manage an attempt on target, but the attacking intent was there.

The 32nd minute brought what should have been good news when a wonderfully weighted pass from Noble sent Yarmolenko in on goal. He was pulled from behind by Rico, winning a free kick from a dangerous spot and a yellow card. But then the camera showed Fabianski lying on the ground after sending the ball downfield. He immediately waved to be taken off. I tweeted after the lineups were announced that I would have put Martin on the bench instead of Roberto. Oxford, I thought, made that obvious. In my mind, the match was likely lost at that point.

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In the 35th minute, West Ham went on the attack. Anderson rolled a pass towards Haller at the top of the box, but the Frenchman let it roll past him and onto the right foot of Noble. A pass across the box would have been a good option there with Haller waiting, but the Captain went for goal and hit the side netting.

The half moved to it’s conclusion without much fanfare until added time when West Ham came oh so close to retaking the lead. Yarmolenko rolled the ball to Fredericks on the right side of the box, who found Fornals in front of goal. He couldn’t quite sort out his feet, and his eventual attempt was blocked by Ake. The ball went to Anderson, but his scissor kick was palmed over the bar by Ramsdale. The corner that followed found Ogbonna but his header went off Solanke and out for another corner. That set piece was handled by the home side, and the opening forty-five minutes were in the books.

Halftime
Bournemouth 1
West Ham 1

The second half had barely started before the afternoon well and truly looked to be going downhill for West Ham. 29 seconds in, Wilson did his Lukaku imitation by scoring his seventh goal against us. Solanke was fouled, but Atwell let the action continue and Bournemouth took full advantage. King got the ball at the top of the box, tapped it to Wilson, and the forward rifled it past Romero. At least he dove this time. More than we can say about his performance the other night.

Bournemouth 2
West Ham 1

Bournemouth were back on the attack in the 54th minute when the Wilson’s combined. Harry passed to Callum near the top of the box, who tried to find an onrushing Billing. His shot was deflected out for a corner. The set piece came to Ake ten yards from goal, and he put a bouncing shot through the wickets of Romero. But a late flag and no VAR come to West Ham’s rescue. Minutes later Rice fouled Billing, giving the Cherries a free kick 25 yards from goal. The delivery found Callum Wilson, but his header went over the bar.

I’ll say this much about our club. In the 28 years I’ve supported West Ham, I have rarely seen us capable of holding the ball as well as we do now. At around the hour mark, we must have completed close to fifty passes before the ball was finally aimed at goal by Yarmolenko. His curling effort didn’t curl quite enough and went wide for a goal kick. Moments later it was Bournemouth on the attack. Two long passes and Callum Wilson was on the ball at the top of the West Ham box. His shot went right at Roberto, but the backup keeper didn’t even seem to try to catch the ball. He crossed his arms….you couldn’t make it up if you tried…and blocked it out for a corner that West Ham was able to clear.

West Ham came very close to leveling in the 70th minute. Lanzini, who had just come on for Fornals, did very well to win the ball in the Bournemouth half. He passed to Yarmolenko on the right, who then sent a cross to the far post that Anderson got to. But his bouncing header was saved by Ramsdale and cleared off the line.

How Bournemouth didn’t score a third in the 73rd minute I may never know. Solanke played a lovely touch pass to Harry Wilson, who then fed Callum Wilson in on goal alone. Maybe he couldn’t decide whether to go through Romero’s legs or around him. In the end he put it into the keepers chest. West Ham used that Get Out Of Jail Free Card to launch an attack of their own, and once again it started with Yarmolenko. He sent another cross to Anderson at the far post, only this time the midfielder headed it back to Cresswell in the box and for the second time in two league matches he put it where it needed to go.

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Bournemouth 2
West Ham 2

West Ham, to their credit, looked for a third. Good possession and ball movement led to a decent effort on goal by Rice that Ramsdale pushed away for a West Ham throw. Haller won the ball in the Bournemouth half but had no options, and then Lanzini went on a run but chose the passing route too early when a little more possession might have led to a chance.

Final Score
Bournemouth 2
West Ham 2

The Vitality Stadium has not been a very kind place for West Ham in recent times. When the injury to Fabianski occurred, I was 100% convinced there was no way back for us. The early second half goal by Wilson solidified those feelings. Yet from a possession and attacking point of view, West Ham were the better side throughout. Perhaps Fabianski would have made that save. We will never know. Nigel Kahn always says a point away from home in the Premier League is a good point.

Today he couldn’t be more correct.


David Hautzig's Match Report

West Ham 2, Manchester United 0. The Rising Tide In East London.

When I was in London a couple of weeks ago over the DAMNED INTERNATIONAL BREAK THAT DENIED ME THE OPPORTUNITY TO GO TO A MATCH I had dinner with Nigel Kahn and his family. On the train to his home that night, we talked sport. A little Ashes, but mostly football. Nigel is never one to make rash judgements about anything related to West Ham (BFS not withstanding). So getting hyped up over our decent start was not in the cards. He did, however, say that IF we got a result at Villa he would pay extra attention to todays match. “If we beat United, then I might think a European place is possible”. The Red Devils came into The London Stadium without a win in their previous eight matches away from home, and we played very well against them last season in both fixtures. So optimism would not have been inappropriate today. In fact, it might even be called for now.

Instead of the normal slow, almost sleepy start we have become accustomed to, West Ham began the match with energy and speed. In the opening minutes the home side forced the visitors to lose the ball three or four times, including an unforced error to give West Ham a corner. The delivery from Fornals was poor, but the intent was good to see.

Early yellow cards have a way of making me very, very anxious. Especially when the card is shown to someone who does have a history of silly fouls. So when Ogbonna was booked in the 14th minute for a body check worthy of the NHL on Pereira, my vision of the future looked a bit more bleak.

Manchester United won their first corner of the match in 18th minute when Mata sent a long ball for James to chase. Fredericks got there first and put it out. West Ham handled the set piece, and eventually countered when Anderson set up Yarmolenko at the top of the eighteen yard box but his shot was weak and easily dealt with by daGea.

Manchester United should have taken the lead in the 21st minute when Rashford was sent in alone on Fabianski. But for some reason, the young England International slowed down. That allowed another young England International named Rice to catch up and dispossess his England teammate. But the action was all in the West Ham half, and the home side was finding it difficult to get on the ball.

The match swayed back and forth in terms of possession, with neither side asking any real questions of the opposing keeper. United won their fourth corner of the half in the 32nd minute, but the delivery was cleared for a West Ham counter. Fornals got to a long through ball first, but Wan-Bissaka made a crucial sliding tackle to end the attack.

The Hammers first half chance came in the 36th minute when the home side, or more accurately Noble, won a free kick on the left side of the Manchester United half. Fornals sent a looping pass to the top of the box that Noble connected with. However he didn’t get the power behind it that he wanted and daGea handled it with relative ease.

As the first half seemed to be lumbering to a scoreless scoreline, a man who has been inexplicably slated on social media showed why his innate skill cannot and should not be ignored. Noble stayed on the ball near the top of the United eighteen yard box. A quick turn to his left opened up some space, and he rolled a pass to Anderson. After quite a few misplaced passes in the opening 45 minutes, the Brazilian showed his innate skill with a lovely one touch pass to Yarmolenko. We have seen the man’s ability to curl a ball with his left foot before. I’ll never get bored of it, I can tell you that.

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Halftime
West Ham 1
Manchester United 0

The opening minutes of the second half should have seen an early equalizer from United when Cresswell stood virtually still as Matic went by him and rolled the ball to Pereira. The Brazilian sent a low cross that Mata should have poked past Fabianski but somehow he put it wide. Moments later Yarmolenko found the ball on his left foot again at the top of the United eighteen yard box, but this time the curl was not so curly and it landed in the arms of daGea.

The Hammers won a corner in the 56th minute, and a set piece clearly worked on in training almost came off. Fornals took it short to Anderson, who then almost found the run of Cresswell in the box. A few seconds later, it was the visitors on the run. Rashford and Mata tried to work together to get the ball to James, but the West Ham back line held firm and all United could manage was a weak attempt that Fabianski gathered up.

West Ham had a good chance to double their lead in the 63rd minute. After a spell of possession, Yarmolenko worked the ball to Anderson on the right side of the box. The angle was tight so the chance would have needed a bit of brilliance to go in. Instead it was the leg of daGea that got in the way.

Manchester United won a corner in the 68th minute, and they came close to an equalizer when Maguire ran into the box and forced a fine save from Fabianski. There was a lot of jostling inside the box, and I half expected a penalty to be awarded. Between the save and the lack of a whistle, we all breathed a sigh of relief.

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I wish I could understand the psychology of being a supporter when you are in the lead late in a match. In some ways the anxiety is worse than when you trail. But when Wilshere won a free kick 25 yards from goal, my stomach was in full somersault mode. Cresswell sent his shot well over the bar, so the relief I so desperately needed did not come. Moments later United earned a corner after Fabianski won a race with James to the ball but could not hold on to that ball. Thankfully Yarmolenko was there to deflect the attempt on goal out for the set piece.

I remember years ago Cresswell scored a beauty of a free kick against…was it Newcastle? I remember thinking, and probably writing at the time he should take more free kicks. Anyway, West Ham won another free kick after a foul on Noble by Young, this one from about 30 yards out. Just like a few minutes ago, the left back everyone has written off stepped up. Close your eyes and imagine it was Payet.

Final Score
West Ham 2
Manchester United 0

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I’ll probably call Nigel this weekend to see if his thought process is the same as it was on the train. Me? Well, if Betway existed here in the USA I still wouldn’twager on a top six finish. Sean and Nigel pointed out on Moore Than Just A Podcast that when you compare this seasons results so far with the corresponding fixtures from last season, we are actually about even. But there is definitely a different feel. Heck, we didn’t really look that good today yet we won. We kept a fourth clean sheet in a row for the first time since dinosaurs roamed around Stratford. Despite not scoring, Haller was still a force that kept Manchester United’s defense on edge. And I think Fornals will benefit and grow from the minutes he will get due to Lanzini’s injury. Unlike other seasons in which we played far better than expected, this one looks to be based on a strong foundation of young, skillful players being complemented by leaders such as Noble and Zabaleta.

It’s weird to be happy, isn’t it?


David Hautzig's Match Report

West Ham 2, Norwich 0. Smooth And Clinical.

Last year, I was at The LS for our fourth match. Wolves. In block 214, there was palpable anxiety about losing our fourth match in a row to start the season. With tougher matches ahead, the prospect of losing seven straight was staring us in the face. Even in the final season at Upton Park we had those two August losses at home to Leicester and Bournemouth (Maiga scored against the Cherries. Just throwing that in there for effect). Then there was the amazing story of Adebeyor simply not showing up for a planned medical. The August spiral towards the abyss was on again in full force.

That’s what these four points mean. Today was more about curiosity and a bit of excitement. Not the normal Fear & Relief cocktail that is often served up to begin a new campaign. Sure, a loss to a newly promoted side would shock only a few. Pukki netting at least a brace? Of course. Lanzini rupturing his appendix trying a Rabona the day after his new contract is confirmed? Shrug them shoulders. Except nothing went wrong, and a whole lot went right.

The visitors started the match brightly. They pressed high up the pitch, forced West Ham to make quicker and less accurate passes than they obviously wanted to. Leitner and Aarons in particular looked lively. And I have to say, I preferred the purple to those neon yellow kits. West Ham, on the other hand, chased the ball rather aimlessly and without purpose. Not the beginning the natives would have wanted.

Despite the sluggish start, the first chance of the half belonged to West Ham. Lanzini got on the ball near the penalty spot and touched it to Yarmolenko on the right. The Ukrainian tried to draw a penalty by going down after trying to get the ball back to Lanzini, but the referee had none of it. West Ham then won their first corner of the afternoon but Lanzini’s delivery went over everyone. A minute later Anderson was sent in with a good through ball by Yarmolenko, but a key tackle by Zimmerman deflected Anderson’s shot out for a corner. Haller may have a word with his new teammate as he was rather open in the center of the eighteen yard box.

As someone who has watched a lot of Ice Hockey in my life, I’m used to seeing a hard challenge on a player answered by an even harder challenge later on against the original perpetrator. So when Haller went in hard on Zimmerman in the 21st minute for what should have been a yellow card offense, I had visions of some Norwich substitute plowing into our record signing sometime later in the match. The pain of that challenge manifested itself a few minutes later when Masuaku broke down the left and sent a low cross to Haller, who was steaming down the center. Zimmerman could not keep up, showing the effects of Haller minutes earlier. For years we have lacked a true, mobile number nine who can get on the end of those. Not anymore it seems. Haller guided it past Krul.

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West Ham 1
Norwich 0

Norwich came inches away from an equalizer in the 31st minute. Aarons was sent down the right with a terrific looping pass from Trybull. After beating Masuaku, Aarons sent a cross right into the path of Cantwell. But the ball was just behind the young Englishman and his header went over the bar.

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I am a big fan of Anderson. Whenever he gets on the ball with any space around him, you give the match your full attention. But he still needs that voice in his head reminding him that this is the Premier League, and you don’t often get time to consider your options. So when he beat the hobbled Zimmerman in the 37th minute and went to the races into the box, his decision to hold his run, not shoot, and look at the scenery doomed what could have been a solid shout for a second goal.

Halftime
West Ham 1
Norwich 0

The second half began with fits and starts. A good run by Lanzini that was not followed up by any run at all from Haller, and a shot off the bar by Cantwell that was eventually flagged offside.

Yarmolenko is often slagged off on social media. But at the end of the day he is a skillful player, and with all skillful players that return from long term injuries they need both physical rehabilitation and a run of games. In the 55th and 56th minute, we got our first glimpses of what that skill can bring to the table. First, Noble sent a pass over the Norwich defense that Yarmolenko one timed off the post. Just when the worry that such a missed opportunity would come back to haunt us, he got another. It started with a terrible back pass from Cantwell that Yarmolenko latched onto. He passed to Noble, who then tried to find Haller in the box. That pass was deflected back into the path of Yarmolenko. He must have liked the feel of his volley moments earlier, so he tried it again and the home side doubled their lead. The extra treat came right afterward when he ran to the bench to thank the West Ham physio team. Possibly the first time I’ve ever seen that happen.

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West Ham 2
Norwich 0

West Ham, through a careless header by Fredericks, could have invited serious stress in the 67th minute when the young right back gave the ball right to Pukki. The man with five goals to his name could only muster a soft shot right into the waiting arms of Fabianski. Moments later Fredericks almost atoned when he tested Krul with a shot from a tight angle that was palmed away for a corner. The ensuing set piece landed on the skull of Diop but his shot was cleared off the line by Amadou.

Norwich almost got back into the match in the 76th minute when Lewis beat Fredericks on the left and sent a ball over a diving Fabianski to Aarons on the right. But Ogbonna was there to cover, giving Fabianski the time needed to get back into position. It eventually led to a Norwich corner, but Masuaku did his job well and cleared the ball from danger.

It should have been a three goal lead for the Hammers in the 77th minute when Lanzini was the recipient of a cross instead of the delivery man. Masuaku found the Argentine in the center of the box, but Krul made a brilliant save and put ball over the bar for a corner. Moments later it was again Krul to the rescue with a double save on Anderson and then Haller. Minutes after that Anderson did a bit of magic to send Haller into the box, but a clumsy challenge from Trybull that should have resulted in a penalty was waved off. Then it was Snodgrass with a low shot that Krul saved with his leg. The next wave came from a header by Diop, but that didn’t beat Krul either.

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The third goal did not come, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.

Pukki did what he could in the 90th minute when he tried to re-direct a cross from Lewis, but his header was soft and easy pickings for Fabianski. Two minutes later McLean threaded a pass in between Ogbonna and Masuaku that Drmic got his foot on. Fabianski was livid. Nine times out of ten he scores. Not today.

Final Score
West Ham 2
Norwich 0

Deep breath. And another. One more.

Seven points from our opening four matches is about as good as any reasonable West Ham supporter could have hoped for. The operative word there is reasonable. Yet as good as the point tally is, it’s seeing West Ham play well and win the kind of matches we so often disappoint in. Today could have been 5-0. Easily, in fact. From a neutral’s perspective his performance in the second half could have earned Krul the Man Of The Match. Anderson was fantastic, Haller physical and clinical, Lanzini silky smooth, Masuaku had perhaps his best match in Claret and Blue, and the Diop – Ogbonna partnership looked sharp.

Other than expressing frustration that there is no match next week when I’m over for work, I really don’t know what else to say. I’m not equipped for such positivity.

I’m going to do some yard work to clear my head.


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.


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