David Hautzig's Match Report
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.
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.