David Hautzig's Match Report

West Ham 2, Leicester 3. Angry, Proud, Dazed and Confused.

What was I thinking? After months of pure dysfunction, I thought the tide had turned. The departure of you know who, a few results saw us climb the table a bit, and the squad looked relatively content. Things were calm. Happy, almost.

Oops.

The articles and podcasts debating the pros and cons of the manager seemed to appear out of nowhere, Noble of all people lost his cool and was pilloried for it on the very platform that pushed his buttons in the first place, and the Chairman who cannot stay quiet took to the website to raise the temperature even more. For the record, all of the questions being debated are valid. And in today’s world, those questions escalating the way they have is par for the course. Personally, I think Bilic deserves the chance to correct his mistakes and build a better squad. I also think Kouyate and Obiang in midfield with Byram at right back is so obvious it’s transparent. Whatever the circumstances, both of those changes were made. But as I said to a Leicester supporter the other day, when he reminded me they hadn’t won an away game in the league this year, his side were visiting the perfect place to get off that snide. And I was unfortunately correct.

The first minutes of the match raised more concerns over Cresswell’s form, as Mahrez was able to slide past him and win a corner, albeit a contested one. West Ham were able to handle the set piece, but the reason for concern was there. And the worst fears were realized in the fifth minute when Mahrez looked to be curling in a cross. Cresswell sat back and gave Mahrez a lot of room, which may have caused Randolph to react late. The ball bounced right next to Randolph and into the net.

West Ham 0
Leicester 1

While I was typing the above paragraph, Leicester were awarded a free kick thirty yards from goal when Reid was called for a foul. In what looked like a perfectly rehearsed dance routine, Mahrez laid off the set piece for Albrighton who sent a ball into the box with the outside of his right foot. Robert Huth is the size of a small building, so it’s hard to understand how nobody picked him up. But nobody did, and Huth headed it home for his first goal of the EPL season.

West Ham 0
Leicester 2

In the 16th minute, Leicester continued to test the West Ham back line when Drinkwater tried to send a through ball behind Reid for Vardy. Reid stretched to make contact with the pass, and he was lucky not to need a stretcher to leave the match as his right thigh gave way. Instead of putting Ginge into his natural center half position, perhaps due to the speed in Leicester’s attack, Bilic inserted Snodgrass and the Kouyate in midfield “experiment” was over.

In the 19th minute, Antonio did a solid job holding off Drinkwater with his back to goal to win a free kick twenty-five yards from goal. Lanzini has been hailed as the man who must take over from that guy who screwed us over and moved back to France for “personal” reasons. When Lanzini struck the ball, nobody moved. I mean nobody. The ball sailed over the wall and past the static Schmeichel as if he were in a video game.

West Ham 1
Leicester 2

Minutes later, Antonio worked hard at midfield to win the ball and start a run at the Leicester defense. He threaded a lovely ball for Ayew to get onto, but after a few strides the 20 million pound man unleashed a wild shot headed nowhere in particular. Not exactly a way to endear yourself to a home crowd that needs you to do better.

One of the arguments I’ve heard put forward, often on The West Ham Way Podcast, is that the striker position isn’t necessarily a problem. It’s the lack of quality service to the existing strikers that needs to be addressed. That argument looked persuasive when Cresswell and Snodgrass couldn’t put balls into the box that Carroll could even get to, let alone score from, and then moments later Carroll himself delivered two crosses into the box that would have been quality had Carroll been able to clone himself.

In the 39th minute, Leicester won a corner after Mahrez and Albrighton worked well together, which was already a theme for the day. Carroll has rightly been credited for his defensive attributes. But as the set piece sailed in, Carroll looked to get his head on it and missed completely. The ball bounced around the box and created a perfect opportunity for a poacher. Well, guess what Vardy is? For a defense that has looked hopelessly disorganized all season that was yet again a goal that should have been avoided.

Halftime
West Ham 1
Leicester 3

When a team depends on one player too much, the physical and emotional strain that pressure carries is likely exhausting. Early in the second half, Lanzini did very well to orchestrate an escape from deep in the West Ham zone without hoofing the ball away. The ball eventually got to Antonio in the middle of the pitch, but the weight of the Claret & Blue world looked to be attached to his legs and the ball was easily snatched from him and what could have been a decent attack fizzled away. Minutes later Antonio again lost the ball in what seemed to be a moment of exhaustion, and I started to wonder if the ultimate Catch 22 was at hand. He’s our best player, and he’s too tired to make a difference.

In the 62nd minute, West Ham had their first kind of opportunity of the half when Okazaki fouled Lanzini and West Ham were awarded a free kick thirty five yards from goal. Lanzini went for it again, trying to duplicate his magic from the first half. And he almost made it, forcing Schmeichel to make a diving save and push the ball out for a corner. The delivery from that corner finally did what it was supposed to do and found Carroll. The big man headed the ball back into the box where Ayew was there with his cranium to push it past Schmeichel.

West Ham 2
Leicester 3

Leicester threatened to restore their two goal advantage in the 68th minute when Okazaki did well to hold the ball up with his back to goal and lay the ball off for Mahrez, but Cresswell timed his block well and the ball rolled out for a throw that West Ham handled well.

Not surprisingly, the game opened up with West Ham feeling the surge produced by Ayew’s goal and Leicester looking to counter. After some sloppy but energetic runs by Antonio and Ayew, the former won a free kick just outside the box. But Lanzini’s delivery was not good enough and the West Ham surge faded.

In the 73rd minute, after some nice work by Byram on the right, West Ham won a corner. Leicester cleared, but West Ham continued to attack down the right with a heavy reliance on the young right back. From the manager apparently having zero belief in him to being the focus of every attack. Who would have thunk it?

West Ham came so close to an equalizer in the 78th minute on an Andy Carroll header that many were waiting for goal line technology to buzz. Instead, Schmeichel punched it out for a corner. Minutes later David Sullivan would have been completely in his right to demand a refund from Swansea when Antonio threaded a ball behind the Leicester defense to a wide open Ayew in front of goal. All he had to do was guide it into the net. Instead he tried to blast it. He blasted it, all right. Nowhere near the goal. “He needs to go! You Cannot Miss That!” screamed my best mate Jon in a text. It was nothing short of pathetic.

After a West Ham corner in the 83rd minute, the ball fell to Kouyate right in front of goal. He turned and fired but Drinkwater was there to block it on or near the line. The ball rolled to Carroll who tried a low shot but after at least a couple of deflections the ball rolled harmlessly to Schmeichel.

In the 92nd minute, Ayew was fouled just outside the box setting up a free kick. Instead of Lanzini, it was Snodgrass who stepped over it. His delivery wasn’t good enough, but the ball bounced perfectly to Carroll right in front of Schmeichel. Like Ayew earlier, Carroll had the whole goal to aim at. Unlike Ayew, who I won’t forgive for that miss for a very long time, Carroll at least forced Schmeichel to make a spectacular stop. But Tony Gale said he should have scored, and who am I to argue with Tony Gale?

Right before the end, long time West Ham Twitter target Slimani was sent in on goal but Randolph came out to make the save.

Final Score
West Ham 2
Leicester 3

It seems that every week the narrative for our club changes close to the end of a match. I was planning a ruthless self examination as my final words, but West Ham were indeed all over them in the second half, and should have equalized. It may have been the best 45 minutes of football we have played all season, or at least up for consideration as such. As Nigel Kahn put it in a post match text, “Glorious in defeat. The West Ham Way”. So am I mad at our first half floundering, or proud of the second half fight?

Yup.

After the final whistle I couldn’t help myself but to look at the table. Not upwards, but downwards. Not only because of the result but because of the injuries to Reid and Obiang. I fear both will be out for some time. Nine points clear of the drop, and the GD improved against Hull. But Boro have two games in hand, while Sunderland has one. While doing that may sound absurd and paranoid, you should all know me well enough by now to know that’s how I approach West Ham. Start the day depressed and hope for a pleasant surprise.

The second half was pleasant, but I wasn’t surprised at how it ended.

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David Hautzig's Match Report

Bournemouth 3, West Ham 2. Get The Knives Sharpened.

Last season, I would be on Twitter one hour and one minute before kickoff to see the starting lineups and subs. This season, not so much. But today was different. I had hope that what seemed so obvious to so many supporters regarding the right back position and the midfield would appear before Bilic like a vision. The Ghost Of Football Clarity, perhaps? Nope. Kouyate at right back, Ayew on the bench. And the home side hadn’t won a match since December. Today was a vision, all right. A vision of what we will live through most weeks if we don’t dramatically improve the squad in the summer.

The first five minutes did nothing to allow me to settle in to my comfortable surroundings at home. The West Ham defense looked out of sorts and sometimes out of position. King and Afobe tried to take advantage of two mistakes by Cresswell, first waiting too long to clear the ball from danger and second being caught out of position on an offside trap. Thankfully for us, the Cherries didn’t threaten either time. But in the 8th minute, the calamity at the back culminated when Feghouli brought down Daniels and Madley immediately pointed at the spot. They deserved to go one up. But in order to do that, you must finish the job. King didn’t do that, sending his shot wide despite sending Randolph the wrong way.

It’s often said that football can be a cruel game. It can also offer salvation to the damned. Indeed it can. Despite Bournemouth missing the penalty, it was still Feghouli that handed them the chance. So when he intercepted a pass from Arter in the Bournemouth area, redemption was at hand. A quick pass to Antonio who spun around and put a low shot past Boruc. Salvation, sort of, complete.

Bournemouth 0
West Ham 1

For a club managed by a former central defender, West Ham played like that position had never even been discussed in training. Reid and Fonte looked so out of sorts that Bournemouth found a lot of success early on sending balls over the top and into the heart of the West Ham danger zone. In the 14th minute, a lob over the top found Afobe between the two Center Backs but as his lob over Randolph headed towards goal the referee spotted that Afobe had used his hands to control the ball. Moments later Bournemouth were on the front foot again when Pugh sent Daniels down the left but his ball across the face of goal was too pacey for King to get on the end of it.

West Ham had a great chance to double their advantage in the 24th minute when Lanzini sent a through ball down the left that Antonio chased down to the left of Boruc. He rolled the ball back to Lanzini, but from a dangerous spot he sent his shot well over the bar.

In the 29th minute, Randolph was forced into a good save but not from the kind of build up play Bournemouth had used to dominate the first half. Instead, Fraser got the ball 30 yards out and looked to have said to himself “F This” and fired. Randolph had to dive to his right to push the ball out for a corner. The set piece found Cook in the box but his header was tipped over the bar. Two minutes later, Bournemouth finally got the goal they richly deserved when King received the ball in the box, spun around Fonte, and slid it past Randolph.

Bournemouth 1
West Ham 1

It’s pretty rare for one side to be awarded two penalties in one game, let alone one half. So what are the odds that side will miss both? According to OptaJoe, West Ham had never seen an opponent miss two penalties in the same EPL match. I’m think a tenner on that would bring back some decent funds. In the 36th minute, Daniels sent a through ball into the box for Pugh. Fonte stuck his leg out to stop him, which is rarely a good idea in the box. Pugh went down, and Madley pointed to the spot a second time. As soon as Afobe started to stutter step towards the ball, I’m guessing Bournemouth supporters worried. His weak shot probably made them sick. Randolph’s save made us laugh.

The Hammers had another good chance in the 41st minute when a Carroll attempt bounced kindly to Feghouli in the box. His right-footed shot made Boruc dive the wrong way, but his left leg did enough to deflect the shot out for a corner.

Bournemouth finished off what was largely their half when a low pass from Pugh found Daniels on the left. Daniels then sent a good ball into the box for Afobe but his shot was blocked by Reid.

Halftime
Bournemouth 1
West Ham 1

Early in the second half, Bournemouth were awarded a free kick when Reid was called for a foul on Fraser thirty yards from goal. Fraser’s delivery floated into the box, Afobe flicked it to King, and six yards from goal he couldn’t have missed it. Madley talked to his assistant for a second to see if West Ham could get their third Get Out Jail Free Card of the match for an offside. King may have been offside on the first ball, but not on the second. And regardless of what we think of that rule, King was onside and the goal stood.

Bournemouth 2
West Ham 1

In the 53rd minute, Obiang lost the ball at midfield…words which have rarely if ever been spoke this campaign…and Bournemouth were on the break. Fraser collected Arter’s pass and went for goal, but his shot was deflected into the arms of Randolph.

The 57th minute saw the changes most of us thought would happen at halftime. Feghouli and Noble off, Snodgrass and Ayew on. But in what can only be described as a prototypical West Ham moment, Snodgrass went down in a heap seconds after coming on with an ankle injury. He tried to run it off, and eventually came back on. For how long would remain to be seen.

In the 68th, Bournemouth had a chance to possibly put the game out of reach for a West Ham side bereft of ideas when King and Afobe combined on a counter attack that ended with Afobe taking on three West Ham defenders in the box yet still managing to get a shot off that Randolph was able to grab. Minutes later Smith sent a short cross into the box that Afobe attacked but his header went over the bar.

In the 80th minute, West Ham won a corner when Lanzini fed Antonio on the edge of the Bournemouth penalty area. Antonio tried a shot with the outside of his right foot that might have been goal bound had Cook not blocked it out for a corner.

When Byram came on for Kouyate, I’m guessing the reaction on Twitter and elsewhere was something like “yeah, but why now”? I’ve long questioned what Byram has done to deserve being ignored by Bilic. Is he the perfect right back going forward? Maybe not. But leaving him in the West Ham Phantom Zone has forced Bilic to play Kouyate out of his preferred position in midfield, among other moves. In the 83rd minute, Obiang slipped a truly sublime ball behind the Bournemouth back line that Byram ran onto perfectly. The West Ham RIGHT BACK didn’t have to break stride as he rolled the ball back to an onrushing Ayew. The Twenty Million Pound Man had nothing but a open net to shoot at, and he slotted it home.

Bournemouth 2
West Ham 2

I was planning on what my words were going to be in my concluding paragraph. The gist was gong to be that we got a point we almost certainly didn’t deserve. Bournemouth helped me in the 89th minute when they dispossessed an unforgivably sloppy Ayew in midfield and broke forward with numbers. Wilshire got off a good shot that Randolph was able to stop, but the rebound came out to King who was able to complete his hat trick and secure, deservedly, all three points for the home side.

Final Score
Bournemouth 3
West Ham 2

We have lost games this season by more goals and with far more abject performances than today. But today was a game that made me want to stop the season and start again next year. We were second best throughout, possibly fourth if you count the home and away supporters. The need for new players, better players, in any number of positions is transparently obvious. I could list those positions, as well as the obvious players who had poor games and should be concerned about their status, but that would be boring. I’d rather go cut up the pork shoulder I’m going to grill as Kebabs for dinner tonight.

I better go sharpen my knife. As should West Ham.

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David Hautzig's Match Report

Watford 1, West Ham 1. Self Evident Truths.

That damn game at the London Stadium in September was the most annoying match in years. Other games have been more infuriating. Any number of Spurs matches, Chelsea away last year, almost every match under Moron Grant. But Watford at home was annoying. Like a bug bite. It took months for it to go away. And I wanted to beat them today something fierce. Simply put, Watford don’t deserve to spend a summer enjoying two wins against us. Maybe that’s unfair. Too bad. I was in no mood for fair today. And while I think we were worth more than a draw today, the game itself not only earned a it made a point.

As the match previews showed Zarate, we all knew that somehow he would play a part in a moment that would annoy us. We just didn’t think it would happen in the second minute. Deeney retrieved a long pass from Cleverley and rolled the ball to Zarate in the box. Despite being known as possibly the most versatile player in our squad, Kouyate has shown that right back is not his preferred position. And that’s putting it mildly. A clumsy challenge on the former Hammer brought him down, Pawson pointed at the spot, supporters worldwide continued to wonder how on earth we never signed a right back, and Deeney did the rest.

Watford 1
West Ham 0

The mistake so early was made more annoying by the work West Ham did right after the goal. They closed down well and pressed with a purpose. Antonio worked the ball down the left and sent a dangerous low cross in that was deflected away by Holebas. No defensive mistake and we would have been feeling pretty good. Huge defensive mistake and we were chasing the game before it really started.

Antonio won a free kick from a reasonably dangerous position in the 17th minute, but Snodgrass’s effort was too low and too slow. Minutes later, Feghouli picked Holebas’s pocket and fed Snodgrass in the box. He should have drilled it, and if he had he might have scored, but instead he side footed it and Kaboul was able to get a foot in the way and send it out for a corner.

West Ham continued to enjoy the majority of the possession, with Snodgrass, Antonio, and Feghouli all using there pace and skill to ask a few questions of Watford. Antonio won a corner, Feghouli whipped in a superb cross that would have earned West Ham a corner if not for an Antonio foul on Janmaat, and Lanzini made a good run down the left that ended with an easy save by Gomes. In the 30th minute Antonio out muscled Kaboul in the area to win yet another corner, but it was wasted. Questions? Yes. University level? More like grade school, so the students at Watford Elementary weren’t bothered at all.

The visitors wasted another opportunity in the 37th minute when Antonio made one of his freight train runs down the left. Janmaat determined the brick wall approach was his best bet and slammed into the onrushing Antonio, giving West Ham a free kick just outside the box. But Lanzini sent his free kick over the bar instead of into the danger area. With five minutes left in the half, West Ham had sent ten crosses into the box to Watford’s one. The ideas were there. The execution was nowhere to be found.

In the 41st minute, Antonio showed his deft side with a little flick over the head of Britos, which amounted to a pass to himself. His shot was blocked out for a corner, and the corner was of course wasted. Which I’m guessing didn’t surprise anyone at the time.

West Ham should have equalized in first half stoppage time when Feghouli and Cresswell combined on the left. Cresswell took a low shot that Gomes couldn’t keep hold of, but with the ball right in front of Snodgrass he couldn’t get a touch on it and Watford cleared. To be fair, if West Ham had scored there might have been a bit of controversy because Zarate was lying in a near fetal position clutching his knee. The stoppage was so long it turned out to be the longest first half in the league this season, and Zarate’s season unfortunately looks to be over. Pawson was right to allow the game to continue, but more EPL officiating talk would have been front and center if the halftime score had been one all.

Halftime
Watford 1
West Ham 0

West Ham began the second half on the front foot, just as they had been most of the first half, and in the 50th minute the man who gave away the penalty early in the first half should have won one back early in the second. Kouyate tried to chase down a pass on the right side of the Watford box but looked to have been pulled down by Niang. Pawson didn’t see it that way, and from my vantage point the home side looked to have gotten away with one.

In the 59th minute, Lanzini tried to take the game by the scruff of the neck when he ran across the box from right to left and sent a low pass back across the face of goal. It was a short race between Gomes and Antonio as to who would get there first, and Gomes won. The dynamic was pretty clear. The side up one allowed the opponent to control the game while hanging on to their lead.

In the 61st minute, West Ham won another free kick just outside the box. The delivery from Snodgrass was better, and the ball found its way to Fonte. The January signing forced a good save by Gomes with a header destined to find the top corner.

Slaven Bilic made his first substitution in the 65th minute when he inserted Ayew and removed Snodgrass. We’ve questioned our manager’s substations all season, and I’m guessing that pattern continued. We have done reasonably well on set pieces all season. To remove our new main delivery man seemed odd.

In the 69th minute, West Ham should have scored. Cresswell whipped in a cross that Antonio headed wide, despite being in front of goal. Alone. Maybe five feet out. His header would been brilliant had he been a central defender clearing the ball from danger. He likely assumed Britos would clear, and when it got by the Watford defender he wasn’t prepared to finish the chance. An actual striker would certainly have buried it. But that point has been made ad nauseum.

In the 73rd minute, what was both inevitable based on the run of play and unlikely based on us being us, West Ham scored. Ayew sent Antonio to the races with a header that the makeshift striker was able to chase down. His shot beat Gomes. It hit the near post. Then it hit the far post. Then it ricocheted into the center of the box, and low and behold Ayew was there. He calmly slotted it home, and it was time to either close up shop with a point or go for all three.

Watford 1
West Ham 1

It continued to be West Ham on the attack, and in the 83rd minute Lanzini was brought down by Holebas just outside the Watford penalty area. Cresswell’s delivery might make a highlight film of Worst Delivery Of The Year. It was that bad.

The question of what West Ham will do the rest of the match was answered in the 86th minute when Antonio was shown a second yellow and thus a red card for a deliberate handball. So despite Watford barely having a look at Randolph the whole of the second half, the game was there for the taking against a ten man West Ham. And moments after the sending off, Britos was able to get his head on the end of a Watford corner but his attempt went wide.

Despite playing with ten men, the Hammers came close to a second of their own when Cresswell sent a cross that Feghouli had in his sights at the far corner of the Watford goal. If Holebas hadn’t gotten his head there first to send the ball out for a West Ham corner it would have been the visitors celebrating a late, possible winner.

You gotta love the names of characters in movies. They always have totally unrealistic but truly awesome names. Mason Dixon and Clubber Lang in the 638 Rocky films come to mind. I don’t know any football films like that, but tell me Success wouldn’t do the job? In the final moments of the match, West Ham defending for their lives, Deeney flicked the ball towards a diving Randolph. It skipped by the West Ham keeper and into the path of the Success. The dramatic music sounded. The slow motion sounds of the home supporters starting to roar. Cue the star!

The man could have sneezed and the force of whatever flew out of his nostrils might have been enough to push the ball in. Instead, his screen name changed to Failure.

Final Score
Watford 1
West Ham 1

Two points in two matches that we should have or at least could have won without a striker or a right back is not something to necessarily celebrate, but it isn’t something to lament either. I doubt the founders of my country would ever have anticipated the words we hold these truths to be self evident would be used about a football club in the country they wanted no part of anymore. Hey, I love it there. Flying over on Thursday to go to the Chelsea match. But if there ever was a match that encapsulated the argument that we desperately need a proper right back and dependable striker options, it was today. The early Watford penalty might not have happened if an actual right back was defending Zarate in the box. Furthermore, if Sakho or Carroll were marauding in the box when all of those crosses rained in my money says a couple would have ended up in the back of the net. Yet am I confident these issue will finally be addressed?

I hope so, but I’m not holding my breath.

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David Hautzig's Match Report

West Ham 2, West Brom 2. Mixed Emotions.

Before I begin my usual ramblings, I’d like to thank those of you who posted kind words about the loss of my dad last week. I particularly liked the cricket reference, noting that at the age of 95 he posted a “good innings”. I’d never heard that, and it certainly made me smile at a time that smiles were hard to come by. Football is special in many ways, and the sense of community it engenders amongst its family members is unlike anything known in other sports. Thanks again.

Talk about feeling out of place. Looking up at not only a Tony Pulis team, but a Tony Pulis team that at times have played some sparkling football to go along with the usual iron wall organizing that is his calling card. When you added the injury to Carroll (do NOT act surprised or indignant, we all knew it would happen), a point looked like a good result when I woke up this morning. Yet when I turn in tonight, I won’t be happy with that point. Not by a long shot.

Despite The Baggies solid shape in midfield, the Hammers makeshift right back Kouyate was able to break through the defense in the third minute to create space on the right side of the West Brom penalty area. He sent a cross into the area but Snodgrass couldn’t connect and the threat was gone.

At times this season it has looked like West Ham have actually rehearsed a kind of Keystone Cops routine of bad passing and defending. You can almost hear that Benny Hill music in the background. In the fifth minute, Noble and Feghouli tried to pass their way out of the West Ham area. Brunt may have fouled Feghouli just as he sent a pass that was intended for Noble. But it was weak regardless, and Morrison jumped right in to intercept. That wasn’t the worst of it. Morrison rolled a pass to Chadli, who nutmegged Kouyate before sending the ball through Randolph’s legs and into the net. Foul? Maybe. Weak defending? Absolutely.

West Ham 0
West Brom 1

When Snodgrass was courted and then signed, his free kick ability was listed prominently in the plus column. In the 12th minute, West Ham won a free kick 25 yards from goal, and while he didn’t score he showed his ability by forcing a good save by Foster. Two minutes later, West Brom broke on a long ball to Phillips. Rondon got on the end of Phillips lay off and sent a superb looping strike that beat Randolph but couldn’t beat the crossbar. West Ham were fortunate not to be two nil down and possibly out of the match before it started.

In the 18th minute, EPL officiating was once again the focus of attention. And scorn. Snodgrass stepped up to take another free kick and curled it into the box. Foster came out to get it but couldn’t control it. At the same time, he crashed into Dawson, pushing him into Antonio. Which likely felt like granite to the West Brom defender. He went down like a duck in a skeet shoot as the ball popped out to Lanzini. His low shot was deflected into the net by Feghouli. Goal, right? No. The linesman’s flag was up. But with Dawson down there couldn’t be offside, right? And no foul was called on anybody for Dawson’s predicament. So it’s a goal, right? Of course not. Why? No clue.

In the 30th minute, West Ham came inches away from an equalizer that would have counted when Snodgrass sent a corner into the box. Antonio attacked it and when Foster wasn’t able to gather it up the ball floated down right in front of Antonio. Any touch at all and it would have been 1-1. But Antonio hit nothing but air and West Brom were able to clear the ball off the line.

West Ham continued to move the ball well through the midfield, but without a recognized striker to finish the work done by Obiang, Lanzini, Snodgrass and company it looked destined to end the same way again and again. West Brom kept their shape and cleared the ball from any semblance of danger. The 40th minute exemplified that issue when Antonio made a run down the left and sent a cross into the box. The issue there was that Antonio, the best aerial threat in the side, wasn’t fast enough to get on the end of his own pass. Snodgrass and Lanzini in the box against large central defenders wasn’t a useful idea.

In first half injury time, after some good footwork near the top of the Baggies penalty area Snodgrass tried a nifty little pass off the outside of his right foot that Antonio couldn’t quite reach and it went out for a goal kick. Moments later Feghouli tried to roll a through ball in the box for Snodgrass. The Scottish international went down, screaming for a penalty. Michael Oliver did not agree, and the half was over.

Halftime.
West Ham 0
West Brom 1

One of the hardest things to do when you write these reports, even as a hobby, is to watch any part of a match after you know the result. Due to my desire not to see my son drown, with my wife at a work conference it was my job to get him to his swimming lesson today. I followed the match on my IPhone, and with seconds to go I shared the same elation as all of you. Only to see that turn to despondency. I was able to contain myself enough not to hurl my 6S Plus at an innocent child, or worse into the pool. So after getting home, making lunch for myself and the kids, I sat down to watch the second half knowing full well what I would see.

Cresswell being removed for Calleri to start the second half was the kind of positive change supporters generally take kindly to. If it wasn’t for most supporters disdain for the Argentine striker it might have been warmly welcomed. I for one still hold some hope for Calleri, so I gave both him and Bilic the benefit of the doubt. Although I’m probably in the minority.

At one point in January, it seemed like Feghouli to Roma was a foregoing conclusion. But thankfully for us, he started to show what he is capable of before the flight to Italy could be booked. In the 50th minute, he made a good run to win a corner, and then moments later picked out Antonio in the box but the human freight train couldn’t get a shot off. Finally, in the 63rd minute, Lanzini made space for himself at the top of the West Brom penalty area and unleashed a viscous shot off the crossbar. It bounced straight out, and Feghouli was quickest to react and put it where it belonged.

West Ham 1
West Brom 1

The sound at the London Stadium suddenly came through the television as if it was a proper football stadium. West Ham pressed all over the pitch, and Feghouli, Antonio, and even Calleri began to make adventurous runs. The latter thought he was fouled in the box and had earned West Ham a penalty in the 69th minute, but the contact wouldn’t have made me go down so I wasn’t surprised Oliver waved it away.

West Ham came close to taking the lead in the 74th minute when Obiang sent a fine through ball into the box for Calleri. The first touch was awful. The second not so bad, and Calleri rolled a shot that Foster had to dive to stop. Lanzini tried to get onto the rebound but just missed and the game stayed level….on my DVR.

Last season, despite all of you know who’s heroics, a friend of mine that works for another EPL club said to me that as good as the Frenchman was, Lanzini was the player he wished his club had. As the second half plowed on, The Jewel looked like he wanted to take hold of the game and own it. He made runs, crosses, and tracked back. Yet there was no end product. Until the 86th minute when he took a pass from Feghouli and fired a low shot from 25 yards that didn’t seem to be going anywhere….until it did. Right past Foster.

West Ham 2
West Brom 1

Then, in the 94th minute, we know what happened. I’m sure other supporters of other clubs probably think they have the worst luck. But I feel like we have lived through more last second heartbreak than every other club on the planet. Combined. Yeah, Slaven thought West Brom shouldn’t have had a throw. He may even face sanctions for pointing out what was indeed awful officiating. Yet that doesn’t explain why Randolph was busy pushing Fernandes in the back when Evans went up for the corner kick. It should not have happened. It did. And what should have been a glorious rest of the weekend became a damp sponge. A moldy one, too.

I guess if we were fighting the drop or chasing a top six spot the two points would eat away at the lining of my stomach far worse than it did at the final whistle. In all probability, we are right about where we will finish. Considering how many of us felt a few months ago, tenth on 32 points in February should be considered a blessing. And if you wanted to take an optimistic view, the club is now undergoing a kind of re-calibration. And the early signs are quite good. Feghouli looks close to undroppable, Lanzini is taking over the position of central midfield creative leader, Snodgrass acts like he’s been here for years, and Bilic is learning and growing on the job. So the intellectual vantage point is solid. It’s just that I’m controlled by the emotional one.

And that side will have me pull what little hair I have left out for a few days.

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David Hautzig's Match Report

Middlesbrough 1, West Ham 3. The Healing Continues.

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.

Middlesbrough 0
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.

Middlesbrough 1
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?

Middlesbrough 1
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.

Halftime
Middlesbrough 1
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?

Final Score
Middlesbrough 1
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.

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