David Hautzig's Match Report

West Ham 2, Manchester City 1. We won, son. We won!

Whenever I get the urge to exercise, I open up a nice bottle of wine and wait for the urge to just go away.

It wasn’t always this way. Before kids turned me into an American version of a Sherpa, I was pretty active. I put in close to 200 Miles per week on my road bike, went to the gym, played tennis, and so forth. In all of those physical activities, the days I remember most fondly are the days I didn’t necessarily have the easiest time of it. I always learned more about myself when I chose a ride with a brutal climb. Staring at my front wheel, trying keep my cadence, almost hypnotized by it all. Or when I played a set or two with someone a lot better then me. If I lost 6-3 I was still quite pleased with myself. Yeah, they were better. They knew it. And I knew it. But damn it, I didn’t put up a goose egg. I gave it a right good go.

Today’s game with Unreal City had a far different feel than any game against a top club in recent memory. Holding on and praying for a draw wasn’t on the menu. Neither was an unrealistic sense of optimism brought on by beating two teams in the bottom three. If used properly, today could offer a sense of perspective of where we are….and how idiotic and awe inspiringly narcissistic Fergie has become in retirement.

Wonder who he was rooting for?

The starting eleven wasn’t a surprise to me, but it was to Harry Sherlock of Goal. We got into a little Twitter chat about West Ham playing two up front. He thought it was risky. I thought it was sensible in that the only way we would get anything from the match would be by attacking them. Sitting back at all would invite catastrophe. Might as well go for it and see what happens. Famous last words? The subs did worry me. With Tomkins out, I would have liked to see Reece Burke on the bench instead of Vaz Te.

The first fifteen minutes didn’t fill me with much confidence. In the second minute Jenkinson gave the ball away to the one guy you never want to give anything to. Sergio Aguero. His curling shot might or might not have reached the top corner, but Adrian wasn’t taking any chances and palmed it out for a corner. A few minutes later Mark Noble did the one thing he still gets criticized for at times, a badly timed challenge from behind. David Silva’s free kick was close. Too close.

In the 7th Amalfitano became the first name for Atkinson to jot down in his little black book for a poor sliding tackle on Navas. The energy was there, but was it a case of being too eager? Too caught up in the moment? Pressure from Sakho on a ball into Joe Hart’s domain did create our first corner, but nothing came of it.

The 19th minute gave us our first glimpse of the newer, improved version of West Ham. Ironically, it was the result of a long ball from James Collins, about as old West Ham as you could get. Except in this version the flick on from Sakho was useful, finding Valencia storming in on goal. Hart made the save with his face. Ouch.

When Alex Song joined, we all knew he was a top player. Pure class, the likes of which we don’t often see at Upton Park. In the 21st minute, he showed what the fuss was all about with an absolutely stunning pass to Valencia. The Ecuadorian threaded a ball across the goal mouth, just out of the reach of Zabaleta, right at Amalfitano’s feet. And just like after he scored against Liverpool, his celebration looked like a DVR on pause. A few seconds of nothing, and then he hit the crowd.

West Ham 1, Man City 0.

It almost was level seven minutes later. Toure made a nice pass to Silva, who then turned a quick one-two with Aguero to put Silva in on goal. Cresswell showed why the EPL isn’t as much of a step up for him as it may be for others by closing in on Silva and breaking up the play.

This West Ham team clearly doesn’t know, or doesn’t care, what kind of team we have been in recent years. We pressed all over the pitch. We did not allow Man City the kind of time on the ball they are used to, and maybe even feel entitled to. The look on their faces was one that seemed to say “Hey! Wait a second! Just stop. You’re not letting us play!”

City did start to string passes together with frightening regularity in the final ten minutes of the first half. It’s clear that if things started to break their way they could score goals. Lots of goals. But their shots were off target. Or blocked. The football gods were messing with them. Song pulled Aguero back in the 35th minute, winning Man City a free kick. The kind of free kick that normally hurts us. But Navas’ kick bounced off Dzeko and out for a goal kick. Two minutes later it was Reid who caught Atkinson’s scorn and Aguero had a go with another free kick. First the wall did their job, then Collin’s belly did the rest.

Cresswell found Valencia in the 42nd minute but his shot was wide. Vincent Kompany decided he had had enough of West Ham strikers giving him a hard time so he took matters into his own hands. Feet, actually, and he was booked for a sloppy challenge on our Ecuadorian hero.

Right before the half West Ham had a chance to double the lead when Amalfitano sent a low ball right across the Man City goal but neither Valencia nor Collins could poke it in. Not wanting West Ham to have the last word of the half, Aguero and Silva again combined for a chance on goal but Adrian deflected it wide with his leg. Kick save and a beauty, as a famous ice hockey announcer in New York used to say.

Halftime. Nobody to make a meal for. My daughter had a football tournament this morning and was already there with my wife. My son was happy to watch TV in the other room so I watched the halftime show here on NBC.

In the 52nd minute Kompany came perilously close to a second yellow for a sill tackle on Valencia. Yeah, Enner made a bit of a meal of it. But that’s OK. I’m in a forgiving mood.

I have a confession to make. I had never heard the term Rabona before Lamella’s goal for Spurs on Thursday. For all I knew it was another killer virus from a far away land. But when the announcer talked about Song’s Rabona that ended up on Cresswell’s chest and then to Downing I at least knew what he was talking about.

I’m noticing little things now more than ever before. Like in the 58th minute when Cresswell tried to pass to Sakho but Mangala intercepted. Yet the fear factor of the pressure Sakho had been putting on him all day made Mangala just loft it out for a West Ham throw in. As much as anything, that fear in opposing defenders is making West Ham effective up front.

Edin Dzeko’s day ended in the 59th minute when he was replaced by Jovetic. I was unhappy because Dzeko had been awful all day. Que sera sera.

On another day Aguero would have tied it up in the 60th minute. But today, Adrian made a great save. On another day, the rebound would have gone in. But today Collins cleared it. On another day, the ball sent back into a dangerous area would have caused panic. But today Reid was there. On another day, Toure to Navas to Aguero would have been the easiest goal you’ve ever seen. Today it hit the bar. I’m trying to remain composed….but it’s very hard.

We often complain about Sam making defensive substitutions when we want to see West Ham try to score another goal. Thing is, we haven’t had a Kouyate to be such a substitution in the recent pass. So when he came on for Amalfitano that was a move I could not only live with, but was happy about.

In the 72nd minute Kouyate, Song and Sakho combined and almost doubled our lead. I wish my notes were better at this point, but my nerves had taken hold of me. I was pacing. I was a wreck. I might have gotten physically ill when Silva set up Toure only to see his strike clang off the bar.

When the season is done and dusted, regardless of where we finish, I reckon Aaron Cresswell will be looked upon in the same light as Sakho, Valencia, and Song. His cross to Sakho in the 75th minute was near perfect, as was the technology used to tell the world that the ball had indeed crossed the line.

West Ham 2, Man City 0.

As I did a silly dance in my living room, much to the delight of my seven year old son, I saw a Tweet from my mate Liam Spencer from the Iron Views blog. “No. This isn’t real. I refuse to accept it” is what it said. A minute later we were reminded why when Silva finally found the back of Adrian.

West Ham 2, Man City 1.

Song was eventually named Man Of The Match, and I have no arguments with that. But quietly, James Collins was right up there for the honors. His challenge on Aguero a minute after their goal saved it from being level.

Kevin Nolan entered the game in the 89th minute, a move I questioned not because of who it was but because of when it was. Man City had won a corner. I thought making defensive subs before a corner was akin to taking a bath with a toaster. It won’t end well. But the cross came in and was cleared….by Nolan.

Five minutes of added time. To be honest, it’s a blur. Jovetic got around Kouyate in the 93rd but Adrian made a good save. Then Collins simply threw himself everywhere, Jenkinson pressed…and the whistle blew.

I’m guessing a level of euphoria will hit me sometime tomorrow. Maybe even tonight. But right now, I’m oddly devoid of emotion. Maybe it’s because I’m just not used to this. The capacity to feel joy about our club is a skill I have never allowed myself to have. That may annoy some of you. Sorry. I’m wired that way. Start a Match Day in an awful mood and hope for a few surprises.

Then something happened to me. My son ran over to me, jumped in my arms, and yelled “Yayyyy West Ham!”. I would have cried except that it might have scared him. “Dad, are we going to win the Premier League?” he asked. “No, buddy. But what a day!” I replied.

“Why not?” he asked, clearly not knowing the way the universe works. I told him we were good this year, just not that good.

“I think we will win it” he said as he walked away to get his shoes on so that we could head out to his sisters football tournament.

If he grows up to be as passionate about West Ham as I am, today will be the day it all started. A good day. No, a great day.

I took his hand and led him to the car.


David Hautzig's Match Report

West Ham 3, Burnley 1. A Winning Code.

During World War II, the British mathematician Alan Turing used his rather elite level of intelligence to help the Allies break the code of the Enigma machine the Nazi’s used to send coded messages. And the rest, as they say, is history. Yesterday was my turn. Sort of. Because instead of helping break a code, my best mate Jon and I had to create a code that my wife couldn’t break.

As Iain told you yesterday, I had a family event yesterday that started at kickoff. It had been planned for months, and family and friends had traveled far and wide to gather for it. Watching the game live was out of the question, unless divorce proceedings were something I wanted to “check out”. And since my wife and I were kind of the hosts of this shindig, looking at my phone during the game was also not in the cards. The same restrictions, however, did not apply to Jon. So he and I devised a plan. A code. A code of such simplicity yet genius that I am willing to bet six pence that good ol’ Alan himself would have looked at me and said “Well done, son”.

Jon sat directly behind my dad. Thus it was perfectly natural for me to glance his way every now and then, right? If I caught Jon’s eye, he would scratch his head with his right hand for every goal we had and with his left hand for Burnley. A slight shake of his head meant no change since the last scratch report. It worked perfectly. As did many other things yesterday.

Needless to say, this report will read a bit differently than my previous ones because I am writing it a bit differently. Last night, basking in the double joy of a very good time with family and friends as well as the knowledge of three points in the bag, Jon and I opened a bottle of Vineyard 29 Cru Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007 (ridiculously good wine) and watched the match. In some ways, it’s a useful thing to do from time to time. Emotion plays very little part. You watch in a more analytical way because the normal West Ham paranoia that takes over at 2-0 up isn’t there.

If I didn’t know the result, the first ten minutes or so would have scared me to death. Burnley were all over us. We could have been down 2-0 before I finished my first glass of vino. George Boyd deserved a goal not only for his 7th minute strike but for the skill he showed to chest the ball down and get himself into position to blast it with his left foot. A couple of minutes later Danny Ings splits us apart and fired. Adrian makes a nice save and Lukas Jutkiewicz was ruled offside on his shot off the rebound. There were times last season that I thought Reid and Collins were our best tandem in central defense. In those first few minutes yesterday, however, they looked out of synch with each other. “You got that? Wait, I thought you had him? Where’s the ball?” Not that Burnley didn’t cause some of those problems. Jutkiewicz in particular was a handful.

“I didn’t realize we were that outplayed early on” Jon said when the possession stats for the first 15 minutes or so came on. 66 percent for the home team. In fact, we really didn’t look like we had even gotten out of bed for the first twenty. But then West Ham showed a glimpse of waking up when Noble sent Valencia on a run that ended in a shot that sailed way over the bar. In the 27th minute Cresswell made the first of what would be many fine runs to send in a cross that Sakho almost put away for the opener. I know Sam said in post match interviews that he told Cresswell and Jenkinson to attack more in the second half, but Cresswell in particular looked like he had that in mind all along.

Can I get something out of the way? Hey Sky. Or BT. Or whoever did the game over there. We got it. David Moyes was at the game. And then he was still at the game. Oh look, Moyes didn’t leave! Isn’t that interesting?!?!

No.

“Collins looks really shaky” I said to Jon at the half hour mark. I would have been very nervous about that had I watched the game live. Even Downing made a few bad passes, something I don’t think I’ve seen him do this season. Jutkiewicz and Boyd, Burnley’s two best players so far, again almost gave them the lead before Downing hit the post a minute later.

Halftime took me 30 seconds. I wish DVR’s were a bit more accurate when you fast forward or rewind. You never quite end up where you think you will so you have to go back and forth a few times. My only quibble of the day.

It isn’t often that a player from a lower division comes up to the Premier League and looks like he’s been there for years. If Sakho was a bargain at 3.5 million pounds, then Cresswell is nearly of equal value. Those two hooked up to put us ahead in the 49th minute. And while Cresswell deserves the lion share of the credit for his amazing cross, Sakho still had to be where the ball was going to make it all worthwhile. He was, and West Ham were in the lead.

When you know a goal is about to be scored and you still yell WHOA! when you see it happen it has to be a pretty special bit of play. My daughter walked into the room after Sakho’s goal and sat down next to me on the couch. Jenkinson has a post football career in propulsion and laser guided technology if his cross to Sakho is any indication. When Valencia snapped his head back to meet Sakho’s header to him, even my little girl knew it was something special. “That was amazing” she said with real excitement. I leapt up, careful not to spill my wine, and high fived her. Then she left. She will stay longer as she gets older. Or not watch at all. We shall see.

Adrian is a good keeper. I like him. I’m glad he’s with us and over time I think he will make far fewer mistakes than he has this season. But he botched the corner in a way that could rival many How To Screw Up An Attempted Catch entries in Rob Green’s highlight reel. Not to say that George Boyd didn’t deserve a goal from his overall play. He did. And maybe Ings deserved a goal a minute later when his header came inches away from leveling things. Not to be.

The introduction of Carlton Cole didn’t surprise me, and I doubt it surprised any of you either considering the options available to replace Valencia. What did surprise me was how damned effective he was. Seconds after he came on Cole almost came out of a scramble inside the penalty area with the ball in prime shooting position, then had a header cleared off the line. He was everywhere, showing glimpses of the player Zola found napping inside of him yet had all but vanished of late. Downing’s corner was great. Sakho’s header across the goal mouth was also great. But Cole’s commitment to get on the end of that Sakho pass and slam it home with his shiny noggin was awe inspiring. It was also a reminder that just when you think you have a guy figured out, you don’t. I wonder if a certain scouser in our squad will be the next “has been” to be reborn.

Downing came close to a fourth, as did Sakho. Burnley might have made the last five minutes painful to watch….live, that is….had Ashley Barnes shot from a Kieran Trippier pass not hit the bar. But it did. And we won 3-1.

Maybe because I had a very nice day with my family I was a bit more emotional than usual. But yesterdays win felt oddly special. We all know that games like Burnley away are exactly the kind of game we screw up when we either have a chance to end a bad run or kick on with a good one. The fact that we did what we should do if we are to push forward as a club gave me a feeling I don’t think I’ve had.

This thing, building a club worthy of the move into the OS, might actually work.


David Hautzig's Match Report

West Ham 2, QPR 0. Exactly What We Needed

In 1996, Robert Banks wrote An Irrational Hatred Of Luton. If memory serves me correctly, our fearless leader promoted the book here on this site. I haven’t read it. In fact, since our daughter was born in 2001 I don’t think I’ve read any book. I’ve become so IPad and E-Media centric I’d probably stop reading any book after 140 characters and look for the reply button.

The book chronicles Banks’ life as a West Ham supporter and how his relationship with the club weaved itself into his life. Including, presumably, his hatred of Luton. Well, I have an irrational hatred of QPR. I didn’t use to. I didn’t pay any attention to them, to be fair. But in the past few years that has all changed. Other than the teams around us in the table, the result I look for is QPR. Did it the year they were in the Championship, too. When Zamora scored the second most important goal of his career you’d have thought I was a Derby supporter the way I was rolling around on the floor cursing.

I guess it’s a combination of many small things. Like their owner being a longtime West Ham supporter. And his apparently insulting attempts to invest in or buy out Gold and Sullivan before turning to his Plan B. The writer of another blog site used to write as many QPR articles as he did West Ham articles in what looked like an attempt to wind up the R’s. It worked, based on the number of QPR supporters who insulted him in the comments section. Many of my Twitter mates seem to feel the same way, voicing unfettered joy at every bad move QPR make.

Point is, today was a very big game in my book. I wanted to beat these guys. And if our feelings of optimism over our performances, if not our current point tally, were rooted in reality we needed three points today. News that Kevin Nolan might step right back into the starting lineup made the announcement of those eleven an event yet again. And while Nolan starting would have been a unique combination of the absurd and the predictable, the actual starting eleven as well as the subs was equally surprising. Mauro Zarate was given the nod for a start, and Elliot Lee was named to the bench. Did Sam see something from Zarate in training? Or was he making sure not to alienate him by nailing him to the bench like the dead parrot in Monty Python. “This…is an ex…Midfielder!”

It all raised questions, but not the kind of questions we are used to. It was more in the realm of some kind of alternative universe. My Twitter mate @BKhammer1 noted that we were starting off relatively imbalanced with possibly too much emphasis on the attack, while QPR were doing the same by starting three central midfielders. Another account simply wondered if it we were starting out in too much of an attacking setup. Next thing you know Republicans over here will be inviting Obama over to their homes to watch the NFL over a few brewskies.

At least it’s not boring from the start.

From the standpoint of writing, the game started off in the 4th minute. Sakho got West Ham a corner from a Jenkinson throw in. Downing’s corner flew over pretty much everyone in the box. But it landed on the shin of Nedum Onuoha and rolled into the back of the net. Sakho looked way too calm for someone who had just scored, and Rob Green looked so flabbergasted I hesitated in celebrating.

Wait for it….

1-0 West Ham.

Replays showed the ball may have glanced Valencia’s hand. He may have been pushed. And as my other non paying boss Graeme Howlett of KUMB pointed out on his Twitter feed, the ball didn’t change direction at all so the referee made the right call by letting the goal stand. At least I think so. I suspect Mr. Airplane Race Car guy saw it differently. Sorry, Tony. You’re in for a rough day.

Morgan Amalfitano showed the kind of ball control in the 8th minute on a pass from Song that supporters of teams with skillful players have taken for granted for ages. For us, it’s still kind of the new toy. He put a cross in that Green intercepted, and held onto, before it could land on Valencia. A few minutes later Downing found Sakho, who then passed to Valencia but it was just a bit behind our new favorite Ecuadorian and he couldn’t turn on it enough to get his shot on target.

Alex Song is usually so composed and so controlled with the ball at his feet that when he made the first of quite a few mistakes today I wondered what was going on. He gave up a corner with nobody in the same postal zone as him. Later he gave up the ball along the sideline and was only saved when Amalfitano sacrificed a possible boot in the face by going low to head the ball out of danger. I thought he never does that? Maybe he thought you have to make dramatic mistakes at West Ham to fit in?

In the 22nd minute Zarate did, at least in my opinion, what a number ten is supposed to do. He dribbled the ball close to the top of the area, passed it to Valencia cutting down the left, and then immediately ran into space to offer himself as a target. Uhhh, Kevin. Maybe you didn’t get the memo. That’s what you should do. It didn’t lead to anything, but it caught my attention because I actually have a semi decent understanding of this game and if I’m aware of this I’m glad a guy in our shirt is aware of it as well.

Yet two minutes later I might have screamed at the TV for Zarate to go drink some Malbec and get off the pitch when he lost the ball and allowed QPR to break into a counter. Charlie Austin, possibly the only QPR player other than our former players that I wish well of, nutmegged Tomkins and took a shot right at Adrian. That should have cost us. That should have been the equalizer. And in the past, it most certainly would have. But not today. Could the football gods be changing their overall attitude towards us? Maybe they think we’ve suffered enough?

Around the 30th minute I felt like I used to in school when the subject matter just wasn’t grabbing hold of me. I had to be there, pretty much, but my mind was elsewhere. How’s the pot of chili doing? Does it need more cayenne? The game had no feel to it. Like a pre-season friendly. Cresswell made runs, but didn’t get the ball. Long passes were being attempted in a way that looked more “why the hell not” than a real plan. Zarate seemed like he sensed that and tried to wake everybody up with a good run that beat a few flat footed QPR lackeys, but his cross was deflected out for a corner. The corner was taken short, again to the feet of Zarate, and again nothing was there at the finish. At least he tried.

When Niko Kranjcar scored on that free kick a few weeks ago to salvage a point against Stoke, I was mightily impressed. Which is why every time he got the ball I silently hoped for a pulled hamstring or something. He has the ability to do stuff on his own, which he came close to doing in the 37th minute when he floated a ball to Charlie Austin streaking in that caused me to stand up in anxiety. Thankfully when I sat back down it was still 1-0.

Stuart Downing’s brilliant renaissance as a midfield general was in perfect view for all to see in the 39th minute when he picked Cresswell in full stride down the right hand side. Caulker got in front of our left backs cross, but if those kind of passes continue to come off Downing’s feet all of the worry over spending the last few coins in our piggy bank last year on him will be put to rest.

West Ham had one last surge forward near the end of the first half when Valencia went after a Zarate cross. Traore cleared, and Valencia landed awkwardly and seemed to twist his knee. He looked to be limping when the whistle blew. Turned out he was fine. Thank goodness for small favors.

Halftime. Nah, no more cayenne. Just lower the flame and let the beefy goodness get to know the black and pinto beans and dinner will be well and truly ready.

The second I saw Bobby Zamora start the second half for QPR in place of Junior Hoilett I got worried. And don’t lie, so did all of you. If you had a choice of betting on “he will score” or “he won’t score” I know which way you’d go. Two minutes in that imaginary bet almost paid off when Mr. Playoff passed to Austin cutting inside the box but Cresswell did just enough to deflect Austin’s shot wide. Then Tomkins got booked for yanking Zamora from behind when the ball got past him. You could smell a goal coming. QPR owned the first ten plus minutes of the second half, and this is precisely the point we have always let a game slip through our grasp.

A goal did come. In the 59th minute. For us. A free kick by Cresswell from left of the center circle led to a shot on goal by Zarate that was deflected to Tomkins. His looping shot…or pass….or whatever the hell it was went over Green and onto Sakho who guided it in. Harry paid one million quid for Paolo, right? Sakho might turn out to be the second biggest bargain in my West Ham life. He smells the goal the way a shark smells blood.

Then came one of the oddest things I have seen in a long time. The camera wasn’t on Green when he made a mess of his goal kick and handed it right to Valencia, who promptly put it in the net. Green didn’t move, and the referee immediately pointed back at the spot for another goal kick. The linesman had his flag up, but none of the announcers knew why. I sure as hell didn’t. @whufc_official said it was because Valencia wasn’t ten yards away from the ball when it was kicked. @WeLoveYouWHU posted later that “the ball is in play when it is kicked directly out of the penalty area”. While I’m still not 100% sure why the goal was disallowed, what I am sure is that as much I loved Green when he was between our posts, I’m glad he isn’t anymore. To even be in that position shows why Sam didn’t act too upset to let him go, and why Hughes got Cesar about ten minutes into that season.

The 66th minute saw Adel Taarabt come on for Sandro. The Moroccan international is like QPR’s own version of Ravel Morrison, without the police activity. Can be brilliant one moment, and a petulant little jerk the next. But he can play. And he can score. So more than a few West Ham supporters took a few deep breaths and glanced at the clock. He made a few runs, tried a few things, but QPR isn’t Milan and he was pretty much on his own.

I’m still confident that Enner Valencia will be an important player for us for a long, long time. Today, however, he wasn’t at his best. The one moment that summed that up for me was in the 67th when Reid got the ball to Downing after a nice tackle. Downing passed to Valencia who cut across the top of the box, turned toward the defender….and shot about half a mile wide when Sakho and Zarate were waiting for a pass. Selfish. But despite that, he never stopped running, and working, and trying. Such a simple word, “trying”, and one we take for granted. But when it’s evident, it’s nice to see.

Song gave QPR a bit of hope in the 69th minute when his attempt to get the ball off Niko Kranjcar was ruled a foul. A bit harsh, and it would have been significantly harsher had the Croatian bent it like an underwear model. His free kick was deflected out for a corner, and QPR enjoyed a little spell of pressure.

In the 76th minute, Kevin Nolan came on for Zarate. I tried to look on the bright side. It wasn’t the first minute. Still, I wasn’t happy and I didn’t understand it. Zarate had a very fine game, completed 85% of his passes as it turned out, and even tracked back on defense on more than a few occasions. Any doubts he wouldn’t be able to adapt to the physical play in the Premier League should probably be flushed. As Nolan ran onto the pitch, he said something to Cresswell, I think. My best mate Jon assumes he said “remember the way it used to be, with balls flying in the box and me hoping to get a garbage goal? We’re going back to that”. And he got his chance in the 86th minute to show he could be an impact sub. Matt Jarvis, who came on for Valencia in the 84th minute (nice to see him back, actually) passed to Downing who threaded a perfect pass to Nolan in the box, but the not really captain anymore shot it right at Green. Kev, if you can’t score there, against a team that has pretty much given up on the day, then I hope Mark Curtis knows some people at Sky or BT.

I spent the final few minutes on the phone, blissfully watching the game get killed off by our Happy Hammers. Final score, 2-0. Was it an amazing performance? No. Not by a country mile. A few players stood out in my opinion. Zarate, as I said earlier. Tomkins had his best game of the year so far, no small feat considering the week he had. Cresswell was outstanding, again. And Demel should only start when Jenkinson can’t. The clean sheet just added the whipped cream to this Sunday.

I’ll try not to use such stupid puns again, but the hole was as gaping as QPR’s back line and I couldn’t resist.

Today was something those of us that depend on West Ham for any feeling of joy the rest of a weekend aren’t used to. We played a game we should win, against a team that should pose very few problems for us. And that’s exactly what happened. In many ways, it’s as satisfying as the win against Liverpool. That game was like a glass of my favorite Champagne, Billecart Salmon. But today was like a glass of crystal clear water.

You can live without Champagne. You can’t live without water.


David Hautzig's Match Report

Manchester United 2, West Ham 1. Expected Worse, Wanted More.

The other night, my wife took our son out to an event in a nearby town, leaving our daughter and I to wing it. I do the majority of the cooking, but on nights like that I prefer to slum it. Pizza and a movie that I recorded on the DVR; The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy. I may be in the minority here, but I think that film is a damned riot. It also turned out to be insightful for today’s game. Somehow, I deduced, we have accidentally activated our own version of something called the Infinite Improbability Drive.

According to The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, if a spaceship has one of these toys, once it reaches what is known as infinite Improbability, it passes through every conceivable point in every conceivable universe simultaneously. Side effects of using the Infinite Improbability Drive include temporary (and sometimes permanent,) changes to environment and morphological structure, hallucinations, and the calling into being of large marine mammals. There is no other rational explanation to explain a universe in which West Ham United enter a game at Old Trafford as a team full of optimism, hope, and verve, while the home side is…well….a complete and utter wreck. Someone in East London, maybe on their way home from the Liverpool Game, activated an Improbability Drive inside of their Vauxhall and we are all now collectively coming out of it. Will the changes be temporary or permanent? Today would probably clear a bit of that up.

I was convinced last week while watching Man U build a comfy 3-1 lead at Leicester City that Louis Van Gaal was doing what he has done many times in his highly impressive career. Yeah, we know he was won enough silverware to fill many a granny’s dining room armoire. But what’s more interesting is that in a few of those seasons at clubs in Holland, Spain, and Germany his teams have started poorly and ended up on top. Yet the reality of dismantling the core of their back four, with literally months of notice and time to set up for the future yet doing bubkus (an absolutely great Yiddish synonym for nothing), threw a crow bar in that narrative. That is the kind of negligence that a team like, say, US would do. But not these guys.

That’s not to say I went into today’s game brimming with confidence. Hell no. I don’t do confidence when The Hammers are involved. I still believe Man U will right their ship, and today was as good a day as any to anticipate that happening. If the big red bear wakes up from hibernation with us sitting on his paw, there will be hell to pay.

As has been the case since the start of the season, the announcement of the starting eleven is a pretty big event in Twitterland. Kouyate’s injury sparked the debate once again, so before I crashed into my kids induced coma last night I asked a few of my fellow Twitter nutters what they expected. I figured Zarate was the most likely to step up, the question was if he would play in the #10 role or if he would be pushed wide to accommodate Downing staying there. But other ideas were floated around.

Lee Clayton of The Daily Mail was nice enough to join the chat, saying “Could go three at the back, with Collins coming in, could bring in Amalfitano. Or Poyet?” My less famous yet equally football savvy friend @RockyWhu suggested Jenkinson replacing Kouyate, and @MarkHarrison23 wondered if Amalfitano could slot in there. No mention of Zarate from anyone. Then, right after returning from the garbage dump, I see the news from ExWHUemployee that Noble picked up an injury and Poyet might get the call. Minutes later, in what has become a pretty common occurrence, Ex was spot on.

Not that I was happy to see Noble out, which would be nuts, it did add a bit of unpredictability to the squad. Amalfitano and Poyet are players I doubt Van Gaal spent a lot of time planning for. And that’s not to say it will help us at all. But it’s a far cry from seeing Matty Taylor and Vaz Te play in a pinch.

I remember a game a few years ago at Stoke. Matthew Etherington was playing very well for Stoke at the time, and early in the game Lucas Neill made it clear he wanted that to stop. Any player on the New York Rangers ice hockey team would have been proud to have delivered the shoulder check Neill did to Etherington, and Matthew was invisible the rest of the day. I wondered if Song was doing the same thing early on with not one, not two, but three hard and somewhat reckless challenges. Risky game to play, Alex. And in hindsight, it was more a sign of a very bad day at the office then a few bad decisions. The less said about Mr. Fashion’s game the better.

When Rafael streaked down the sideline with a green ocean of space in front of him I was pretty sure it wouldn’t end well. For us, it didn’t. Rooney was breaking into the box un-marked and casually redirected Rafael’s cross past Adrian. You could make an argument that Diego Poyet should have been closer to Rooney, but the re-direction of the ball could have happened in a shoe box.

1-0 to Manchester United.

Yet only two minutes later, Blind acted like he was his surname and headed a back pass right to Enner Valencia. The dictionary says adrenaline is released by the body at times of strong emotion, such as excitement. It should add that it can cause wildly bad football shots that sail into the crowd. It should be 1-1, but the gift was not used.

In the 9th minute Rooney almost found RVP with a looping pass but Cresswell does a nice bit of defending to bock the Dutchman off. A little later DiMaria gets the ball after some nice interplay between Rooney and Blind. Then it was Déjà vu all over again with Rafael down the right but Rooney’s finish was not there.

Their attack is as good and as dangerous as we all feared it would be. But at the same time we seem to have forgotten how to attack. Granted, we haven’t seen much of the ball but going down a goal shouldn’t make you abandon what you have been working on effectively the past few games. They need to worry a little as well.

In the 22nd minute we had our first real attempt of the game, but Rojo made perhaps his best play in his early Manchester United career by blocking Sakho’s attempt from Valencia. And a minute later, our captain and enforcer for the day, Alex Song forgot he was back in England and took way too much time on the ball. Falcao said “I’ll take it, thank you” and passed it to RVP. He always scores against us. Today would be no different.

2-0.

It could have been, and probably should have been, 3-0 when Rafael passed to RVP after another impressive run down the right. RVP then got the ball to DiMaria but this time he played like a mortal and missed the target completely. If Rafael plays this well more consistently, and doesn’t melt down as consistently, Man U will have a handy player for a long time.

At this point I feel bad for my son, who wants me to play Harry Potter with him. Normally, down 2-0 at Old Trafford, I’d happily take a break and grab my wand. But Iain would be mad, unless I can cast a spell that puts the ball behind de Gea.

Goaliarmus!

Holy cow. It worked!

Downing takes a corner and puts it on Tompkins noggin, the ball bounces off the bar and right to our current goal scoring machine Sakho and he gets it in there to pull a goal back. It felt like an interesting combination of old and new. We used our new on the floor stuff to work the corner, and our old get it in the box style to score. I take that as a good sign, not reverting to hoofball.

2-1 at the half.

Today’s lunch. Bolognese sauce from the side of beef I buy every year, served over pappardelle made by a guy using a local variety of New York wheat. Best pasta I’ve ever had. Seriously.

The first ten minutes of the second half were pretty good from our point of view. We didn’t capitulate the way we so often have when playing at one of the bigger clubs. Downing started to move a bit more, forcing Herrera to bring him down and get the first yellow card of the game. Sakho was ohhhh soooo close to bringing us level in the 55th minute when he got on the end of a Cresswell cross and forced a good save from de Gea. We started to make their defenders work, and think, in their penalty area. Will their youth rise to the challenge or fail them?

What should have been the game changer came in the 59th minute when Wayne Rooney tried to perform a vasectomy on Stuart Downing. A bag of frozen peas should have been part of our physio’s treatment. He was probably mad that Manchester United were not awarded a hand ball seconds before, and he let his emotions get the better of him. I’m biased, but it was a really dumb move. The red was deserved, and he will be lucky not to be charged with violent conduct.

Twitter, as well as yours truly, was dumbstruck in the 61st minute when Amalfitano came off for Carlton Cole. At a time when we have just been given more space to work in, Sam chose to take off a guy who can get into said space and cause them problems and replace him for a guy who stays in one space and causes us problems. That is NOT Cole bashing. I respect him tremendously. But that made no sense to me.

Sakho came close again on a pass from Downing in the 62nd minute, leading to me to jot down this question. Is Sakho more of a threat on long balls than Andy Carroll? Not looking for answers or debates just yet, just musing.

Jenkinson came on for Demel in the 64th. That’s more like it, Sam.

Yet our first ten minutes up a man didn’t look much different than the previous 59 minutes we played at even strength. In fact, Manchester United barely looked threatened at times. They have so many quality players I shouldn’t have been that shocked. But I was annoyed.

In the 74th minute, Ander Herrera came off. He had been one of their better players on the day, so it was more or less good news. But could it have been a blessing in disguise when Antonio Valencia came on.

Like Sakho last week, let’s get it straight. Good Valencia, and Bad Valencia.

Van Gaal was rightfully angry when his team couldn’t kill off Leicester City. Bad Valencia has the experience needed to do that job. Experience on the whole as an invaluable tool was in evidence moments later when Sakho got the ball on a break but hurried his pass to Good Valencia when a wee bit of patience…and experience…might have done wonders.

With Kevin Nolan out, I’ve been pondering a theory. It’s a theory I made up, so I’ve had a lot of time to ponder it. With Good Valencia and Sakho working well together, moving in and around the box, could there be more opportunity for Nolan to do his poaching regimen than he has with Carroll as a lone target? So when Nolan came on for Poyet, with Twitter going apoplectic, I was a bit intrigued. Zarate might have been a better choice, but with 15 minutes to go I understood the argument.

In the 82nd minute Good Valencia started something that looked a bit like the moves he used to score his rocket at Hull. Move to his right, move a bit more, and fire. I prayed, but the prayer wasn’t answered. Blind deflected the shot wide and we did very little with the corner.

He then made two plays in quick order that I am going to punish him by dropping the word Good from the paragraph. Because he was awful. He took a corner that didn’t come close to reaching the box, and wasn’t high enough for my seven year old to head it. Then he wasted a free kick by trying to do it himself when they were so vulnerable in the box. I swear every human being associated with West Ham threw their hands up and said “what are you doing”?

I watched the final few minutes while on the phone with my best mate, Jon. For whatever reason he was about two seconds ahead of me. He screamed “YES”! I watched Nolan attack the cross, and yelled “YES”! My yelling made it impossible for me to hear Jon then say “Flag Up”. When I saw that two seconds later I didn’t say that. I’m confident in your ability to guess what I did say.

A little bit more flurrying in the final moments gave us slim hope, but despite the man advantage for over half an hour we couldn’t get it done.

After a game it can be very hard to separate how you feel about the result from what your expectations were. I expected Sam to revert a bit back to old form, not go after them, and we get flogged. That didn’t happen. So despite the loss, in a game most expected us to lose, I’m looking at the positive signs of a work in progress. Yes, I still question Amalfitano coming off for Cole. I think even if Morgan was spent, Zarate would have been a better fit. And I understand the questions about Nolan, but as I said before that is a role he might be suited for. And if it weren’t for a very close offside call it would have turned out to be a master stroke.

We went to Old Trafford. We lost. But if things continue on the path we are on, normal service has most definitely not been restored.


David Hautzig's Match Report

West Ham 3 Liverpool 1: Wake Me Up, Please.

In an odd way, I feel more at ease on match days against the so-called Bigger Clubs. Instead of trying to envision a way we can take all three points, only to have those points disappear in one painful way or another, I sit down in front of the TV with absolutely no expectations whatsoever. I’m thoroughly expecting a thrashing. Anything other than that is just taken as an unexpected pleasure.

Even during the recent years that Liverpool fell out of the top four, I always thought of them in that “big club” kind of way. Hearing their supporters whine and moan about their “problems” did get a bit annoying. Really? You are begging for mercy because you finished 7th? Try playing away at Doncaster on a Tuesday night and then you can complain. Until that day, do the world a favor. Shut up.

And what should we make of Liverpool’s win on Tuesday in the Champions League? I’ve always been inclined to think that supporters will use whatever analysis suits their feelings at the time. “Victory will give them belief and confidence” is about as appropriate as “having to play midweek will leave them fatigued”. The reality is that Liverpool have a lot of very good players, even a few superb players, and a manager we would probably sell our first born for. Did you hear him after they lost to Villa? He praised the good things they did, pointed out where they could have done better, and made it clear he has faith in every one of them. Good guy to work for in my opinion. So despite letting the title slip from their grasps last season, Liverpool overall are on the upswing again.

From the West Ham vantage point, we were all pretty pleased with how we played against Hull. Eerily similar to how we felt after the Crystal Palace game. Which turned into a train wreck the next week against Southampton. But, and I was probably creating a reality here to match my desires, I figured our positivity today was based on a better foundation than it was against the Saints. More to the point, it was based on Valencia, Sakho, and Song as opposed to Cole. We had more ammunition today.

Before the lineup was announced, @RockyWHU and I were discussing who would sit it out if Song got the start. We narrowed it down to Noble and Zarate. Rocky put his six pence on Zarate. I went for broke and the long odds by picking Noble.

If I gambled I’d have to sell my kids into slavery to pay my debts.

Song got the start, Zarate got a seat. They do look pretty plush on TV, but I doubt that’s much consolation. I also hoped for Jenkinson to play instead of Demel, but this is still a Sam team and changes will come slowly. And if anybody questions the existence of life after death, look no further than Fabio Borini.

I also made a tactical move. I decided to substitute the 50 inch Toshiba in my bedroom for the 20 inch Insignia in the kitchen. I had watched the Southampton game from the blanket chest in front of my bed, and it really let me down. So the counter stool in the kitchen got the nod. The added flexibility of having the counter in front of me, holding my laptop and IPad, seemed useful. The actual stools are not that comfortable, but it didn’t matter because 75 seconds in I was out of it.

Downing’s free kick went straight onto Tompkins forehead. But unlike recent headers by our tall centre-half, this one had a place to go. Many places, actually. West Ham players didn’t watch the ball. They attacked it. Movement was everywhere. And Reid moved right onto it for a pretty simple push into the back of the net.

Euphoria. It’s tempered, but it’s there. I think Reid felt it as well, but he let it get the better of him a few minutes later when he picked up a yellow for a reckless challenge. When your key central defender gets booked that early, agita has a tendency to creep in.

When the whole Diafra Sakho “saga” happened, the few followers I have on Twitter know how furious I was. No, I’m not some secret follower of French football. Their wines keep me busy enough. I read his stats, and did think it was likely worth a punt regardless of whether or not Wickham came from Sunderland. What got me so mad was that it looked like the club had acted like complete jerks.

His lob for the second goal was as much fun to watch as Valencia’s strike against Hull. The conversation on Twitter to determine whether he meant to shoot or got lucky with a pass ended with a majority decision in favor of the former. The announcer here on NBC certainly thought so, and on replay his eyes seemed to be focused more on goal than on Valencia. If he didn’t…..he should lie his ass off and tell the world he knew exactly what he was doing. That will just give future opponents more to think about.

2-0, to the cockney boys.

For the next few minutes, I stopped writing. I was dazed. Like some unexpected endorphin rush had run it’s course and now I was in crash mode. But in all of the years I’ve lived and died with West Ham, 2-0 up has always given me trouble. Obviously we didn’t lose every game we led 2-0. It just felt like that. So just like old habits die hard, so do old neurosis.

We were playing with energy, and more importantly belief in attack. Downing was making runs in a way that looked like he actually thought something might come of it. Cresswell won a corner with pure grit. I wanted to believe this was not a one off so to speak. Could this be the new West Ham? Could this be a new Sam Allardyce?

There was a little drama when Balotelli and Adrian got into it when Mad Mario chased a ball a little too enthusiastically and crashed into our only slightly less mad keeper. They both got booked, but if Adrian had kept his cool it might have only been the Italian. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a keeper sent off with two yellows, so I wasn’t that concerned. I was concerned, however, that rookie ref Craig Pawson was way out of his depth.

Rodgers made an early substitution in the 22nd minute when Manquillo came off for Mamadou Sakho. So to keep things straight, and completely partisan, he will now be referred to for the rest of this article as Bad Sakho. As opposed to our Good Sakho. Bad Sakho’s introduction meant that Liverpool would play 3-5-2.

I don’t know if that even helped contribute to Raheem Sterling pulling one back for Liverpool, but in any event he did. Balotelli took a shot that came off Cresswell and fell right to Sterling. When you consider that kid cannot buy a beer in my country for about two years, yet is already so dominant at times, the future looks great for him. And terrifying for everybody else.

2-1.

Kouyate gave us a scare when we went down clutching his hamstring. It looked like he signaled to come off, but after a few minutes on the sideline he kept playing. And we kept coming forward. We kept moving the ball around, trying to find space. Good Sakho tried a cheeky back heel, and Valencia took a pass from Downing and drilled a low shot at Mignolet. Bad Sakho cleared.

Halftime came, and I made my family some lunch. Greek Lemon soup and a nice loaf of bread. Despite the nerves, I ate.

Soon after the second half started, I got the feeling that Liverpool were mad, and we were going to pay for it. How dare West Ham change their style! And more so, how dare they do it well! Sterling was getting more time on the ball and more space to do something with it. Balotelli had a curling effort that wasn’t that dangerous, but it reminded me that it could have been dangerous. We weren’t getting back like we had in the first half. Another run by Sterling led to yet another corner.

West Ham got lucky, in my opinion, in the 61st minute when Song brought down Adam Lallana right on the edge of the area. Maybe even inside. On another day, Gerrard levels it up on a PK. But not today. To be fair to Song, other than the outfit he probably wore to the ground it was his only mistake of the game. He was superb, showing more composure from a West Ham midfielder than I’ve seen in ages. Which was why when he came off for Amalfitano I wasn’t happy. He may have been gassed, but the way I saw it we were bringing in a wild drummer to replace a conductor. And that came minutes after Carl Jenkinson came on for Demel, only to be booked within seconds. Would we lose the composure we needed to see this out?

Then Sam had to start making me even more twitchy. How many times have we seen him make a defensive substitution before set piece only to see it blow up in his gum chewing face? So Collins on for Valencia did not make me feel warm and fuzzy. Balotelli came close on that corner, and Collins almost cut Cresswell in half. With Song and Valencia out, where would the link up between the midfield and attack come from? Say it with me, everyone.

HOOF!

Kouyate went down again in the 80th minute, again clutching his hamstring, I was ready to give Allardyce over to a Somali warlord. With all three substitutions used, the idea of finishing the game on ten men because he didn’t manage the game well enough was more than I could handle. No more sitting. I’m pacing in circles the rest of this game. Self preservation was coming into play. “I’d have taken a draw this morning” I tell God, so I will accept one now.

Then a bad attempted clearance led to a goal. Except unlike normal, expected circumstances it was Liverpool that made the mistake and West Ham that scored. Bad Sakho gave the ball away to Downing, and Amalfitano streaked down the left. A sublime pass from Stuart, and the mad drummer I was worried about played an amazing toe poke solo.

3-1.

Most games that would be the end of any report. But in extra time, Good Sakho chased down Balotelli near the corner flag in the Liverpool end. Not only that, he won the ball. And he passed it. I have no idea to whom, because frankly my dear I don’t give a damn. We held the ball for over a minute. I just wanted that extra bit of effort, that level of commitment, to be recognized.

When Sam Allardyce took over, he took a clever little dig at Moron Grant when he promised no team of his would blow a 2-0 lead. Someone on Twitter posted that to date he has kept that promise. I’m not going to get too ahead of myself here, because I have never experienced an extended feeling of joy with West Ham. Fear is always lurking. But today was the kind of game and the kind of performance that makes me wonder if the very idea of pushing on is even possible.

I’m going to go mow my lawn now. And enjoy every minute of it.


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