David Hautzig's Match Report

West Ham 2 Hull 2. I'll Take It.

The fourth game of the season shouldn’t have that much significance. But as is often the case with West Ham United, normal rules don’t always apply. From a strictly rational point of view, the season hasn’t begun that badly. If you filled out some predictor sheet like I did before the fun began on August 16th, you might have hoped to bag four points from the first three league games. I thought Spurs were going to run up a cricket score on us, I hoped we would get a point from Palace, and I fancied our chances against Southampton. We played well against Tottenham, played very well against Crystal Palace, and were pathetic against Southampton. When you add in the decent football we played against Sheffield United, that’s three well played games out of four.

But rational thinking goes together with West Ham about as well a whole pig roast would do at a vegan colony. Instead, on the heels of the Saints marching all over us there are fresh calls for Sam’s head and worries about another painful season. With Liverpool coming to Upton Park next week, today at Hull had the feel of a “we’d better get something from this” game. It also had the added dimension of an opportunity to prove some kind of point after last season’s frustrating encounters. The loss at the KC on a pretty dodgy penalty for Hull which was made worse by the non call of a pretty clear penalty for West Ham. Then the odd 2-1 “loss” at home in which we scored more goals than them and were allowed to keep all three points. Probably some kind of mercy rule we had never heard of was implemented.

And finally, Mo Diame. Enough said.

The starting eleven was once again worthy of anticipation. Valencia, Sakho, and Zarate were all in from the get go. Question was, how will they be set up? Could Sam have gone through some type of heavenly visit from the West Ham gods? “Play two up front….or you shall burn in the fires of hell!” I was also happy to see Carl Jenkinson on the bench. I’m so used to the new guy getting hurt and being out for months that seeing his name was an odd relief.

There wasn’t much to the first ten minutes or so. Valencia’s first shift on the ball was in a defensive position, and he handled it with composure. The same couldn’t be said for Demel, who was doing a great impression of Vaz Te. Loads of step overs and other ballet moves that amounted to absolutely nothing, as well as less than stellar crossing. Kouyate also proved to be human by giving up possession twice in two minutes, which I suspect will disappoint a few people who wondered if the guy could possibly make a wrong move.

West Ham started to get in gear around the 12th minute, when Downing and Sakho combined on a nice run only to be disappointed at the new man from Metz’s finish. Downing and Cresswell also hooked up for a lovely little give and go. Am I seeing things? Is there fluidity? Is there movement? Is there……I can hardly believe I’m saying it…..creativity?

In the 34th minute, West Ham came ohhhhh soooooo close to scoring the opener when Valencia flicked a quick pass to Sakho, who did what strikers are supposed to do but ours don’t often do. He made a run for goal, giving Valencia a target. The pass bounced off Sakho’s chest, and Allan McGregor made a Tourette Syndrome save by wildly flicking his left arm out and deflecting the ball wide. The kinds of near miss usually instill me with fear, not optimism. I wanted to focus on the nice interplay between so many of West Ham’s players on the attack, but my mind kept going into the abyss that says “that’s gonna cost us”.

Which, of course, it did. Do you remember when Hull was promoted, watching the end of the Watford game on TV from their changing room? When promotion was assured, Ahmed Elmohamady did an absolutely absurd dance for the cameras. He looked ridiculous. And that’s all I could think of when he whipped in a terrific cross that Abel Hernandez headed home. Tompkins could have done, and should have done, a lot better at marking Hernandez. And if I must be honest…and I usually am…I think Adrian reacted slowly.

The story seemed to be in the works. Their new guy scores, our new guys don’t. And it was almost 2-0 when the aforementioned new guy for Hull forced a save from Adrian and old guy Jelovic slotted home the rebound. Offside, and halftime couldn’t come soon enough.

The second half started much like the most of the first half was played. We moved the ball well, asking more questions of them than they did of us. I wasn’t prepared, however, for what I was about to see.

Valencia got the ball about, I don’t know, 35 yards out. Moved a bit to his right, and stopped. Usually, whenever we show signs of a nice build up, I’ll move a bit in my chair. I might even stand up. Like the crescendo building, and I want to be ready for the climax. Not this time. That thunderbolt of a shot caught me by surprise to such an extent that I didn’t do anything at first. I just watched it go in. Uhhhh, brain. Wake up, brain. It’s time to react. That wasn’t an optical illusion.

OH MY F-ING GOD!!!!

I’m glad my kids weren’t around. My son has complained many times that I am too loud and scary to be around when I’m watching West Ham.

Hull put on a little pressure right after we equalized, and Adrian made a pretty pathetic attempt at punching a cross away. I wonder if “uh oh” was what went through his mind. I started to wonder if maybe, just maybe, we all got carried away with our Adrian worshipping last season? As I said earlier, I think he was slow to react to the Hernandez goal. Hernandez almost gave Uruguay a 2-1 lead over Ecuador when he gathered up a ball that James Tompkins head wanted to go farther, but Adrian bailed us out. Sorry I doubted you before, sir.

In the 54th minute Tom Huddlestone hacked down Kouyate and was lucky not to have been sent off. Not the only time in the match Huddlestone was made to look a few gears slower than the game around him. It probably made Kevin Nolan smile because in comparison to Huddlestone, our man Kevo is a speed demon.

Mauro Zarate gave way for Alex Song in the 62nd minute. Not because he did anything wrong or was even looking tired. It looked like a pragmatic, sensible change to make without sacrificing skill. That’s not the kind of substitution we are used to seeing.

When Cresswell threw the ball in the way I toss laundry into the washing machine, I did lean forward. Only now it was like watching a replay of a car crash in an F1 race on the news, where you know what’s going to happen. I watched Diame say “thanks very much, I’ll take that”.Kouyate, the newly found human being in our midst, made no attempt to receive the pass, and neither center half thought it wise to close down their former teammate.

Our worst nightmare for the day, the one we would have negotiated with Lucifer himself to avoid, was upon us. And had Mo been is a West Ham shirt and the entire scenario was reversed, you know he would have sailed it miles over the bar.

Iain, I bloody hate you now. This is the time I would normally turn the damned game off and leave the room. Not an option as long as I’m doing this for you. I actually HAVE TO watch this to the end. And at that time, every West Ham cell I had told me it was over. Nothing good could happen.

I didn’t take into account that we had two players up front who had worked, and worked hard, all game. I didn’t take into account that those same two players had already developed a little bit of ESP between each other, anticipating the others moves. I didn’t take into account that Sakho could fight his way into position to get on the end of Downing’s low ball….and that it would go in.

It wasn’t pretty. It might have been an OG off of Davies. You could make an argument that McGregor should have stopped it. None of that matters. What matters is, it went in. The predictable ending, where we lose and have to listen to Sam talking about missed chances, didn’t happen. The alternative universe, where we get the occasional rub of the green, showed itself.

I like it there.

Three words we have all come to know intimately under Sam; Respect The Point. With Liverpool coming up next this single solitary point has real meaning. West Ham had 60% of the ball tonight. West Ham had more than twice as many corners as Hull. West Ham were by and large the better team. And while the difference between four points and three points is probably not earth shattering, it will likely steady the ship before Hurricane Scouser lands in East London.


David Hautzig's Match Report

Southampton 3, West Ham 1. The Saints March Home With The Win.

You know what today’s match against Southampton reminded me of? A blind date with someone you knew when you were, I don’t know, eight years old. You know them, but you don’t really know them. They bear very little resemblance to the person you knew way back then. We all know how they have been decimated over the summer, so no need to recite all of the names again. But the last time I saw something get torn apart like the Saints have been this past window I was completely freaked out by Rutger Hauer in that movie The Hitcher. Remember? He had the guy’s girlfriend tied between two trucks going in opposite directions? Gas pedals down, and it was all over. Nasty.

There is a kind of sibling rivalry now between West Ham and Southampton since we came up together from The Championship that adds a little bit of pepper to our matches. The only new members I was curious to see were Graziano Pelle and Dusan Tadic. The former because one of my Twitter mates, @RockyWhu, had spoken highly of him early in the summer and expressed his hope we would get him. The latter because of endless rumours we were trying to sign him on loan. And as is my mentality, because we didn’t get either of them I want to see them fail miserably at anything and everything they do.

Match days don’t usually fill me with joy and anticipation. More a mix of terror and abdominal pain. Today was not so bad, though. First there was the news that we were going parade Alex Song in front of the crowd at EXACTLY 2:52pm. And then came the tweet from the club with the lineups. In the past they’ve been as predictable as a Disney movie. Mommy dies tragically, adventure, a few laughs, it’s all ok in the end. But with Nolan out and the new guys showing their quality, not only is the starting eleven fun to check out but the subs as well. I was genuinely excited to see Poyet named to the squad, even if he doesn’t play. There were plenty of moans on Twitter about Cole and Vaz Te, but too much change too quickly and poor old Sam might have had a seizure.

The good mood created by Song’s unveiling pretty much shriveled up once the game started. Southampton kept possession, moved the ball nicely, and used their width and pace. Particularly through Dusan Tadic, which only made me angrier at Rich for telling me how good he was. In the 9th minute he sent a cross in that I guess was much better than either Long or Pelle expected it to be because neither of them attacked it. Lucky for us.

At the ten minute mark, a familiar statistic was plastered on my television screen. Possession. And wouldn’t you know it, we were on the wrong side. Southampton owned the ball for 73% of that initial block. Where was the passing game? Where were the players who supposedly knew how to actually dribble the ball? Isn’t that a skill you are supposed to have when you play this game for pay?

I was particularly annoyed with Vaz Te. I’m not piling one here, jumping on the anti RVT bandwagon. And his shot that was deflected off Foster’s instep doesn’t come into play for me. The terrible pass to Cole who had made a decent run. The juggling, overly fancy nonsense on the sideline that ended, predictably, with him losing possession. Dude, if you don’t know this already let me break the news to you. You’re not that good.

While Zarate wasn’t doing that much with the ball, he seemed to be making a point to Sam that he can indeed track back and defend a little. And that led to Mark Noble’s goal. Sure, it was deflected. But it was a shot from outside the box. I think we took a total of six of those all last season. Phil Whelan was telling a story on the Stop Hammertime podcast about an interview with Kevin Nolan after he scored a screamer from about 30 yards while at Bolton. Good goal indeed, he said. But Sam will still fine him for shooting from outside the 18 yard box. With three of our first four goals of the season coming from Sam’s version of the wilderness, maybe times are actually changing? Nah. Sam just gets to pocket the fines.

After the goal the hydraulics under the pitch went back to work tilting in Southampton’s favor. Tadic kept showing his very tasty skills. Steven Davis took a Pelle knock down but sailed his shot over the bar. We were up 1-0, but it still felt like we were losing.

I got a text from my best mate, Jon right before the Tadic free kick that led to Southampton’s equalizer. It said we are going back to Sam Ball. The ball is almost levitating over the grass. Like it’s scared to touch it. Then the ball fell to Schneiderlin. Is it just me or did anybody else think O’Brien went to ground too easily, giving so much space to Schneiderlin to tee it up?

I turned off the TV for halftime, hoping to change our luck by going downstairs to make my son another piece of toast.

It didn’t work.

The second half started pretty much like the first half ended. We looked clueless and awful, they looked creative and controlled. We were channeling our inner Crystal Palace from last week, and they were channeling their inner West Ham from last week.

Tadic should have scored. Then Schneiderlin could have had his brace. One of the definitions of being neurotic is knowing something is not in your best interest but you do it anyway. Well, maybe it was the stress of Southampton’s skillful play, but we just climbed down the dark hole into last years methods and let them come at us. And I bet you anything that’s what Ronald Koeman saw. There was blood in the water, and he wanted his sharks to frenzy.

When Ravel and Diame came on about midway through the second half, I wasn’t surprised to see Zarate or Vaz Te come off. There was a lot of chatter on Twitter asking why Cole was left on. To be fair, we needed all three to come off. But at that stage I didn’t think it mattered as much as others. Maybe I am reverting to Hoofball as well? It’s what I’ve grown to know, even if I hate it. At least one of the subs was an attacking, creative type. Yet Ravel looked confused. Like he didn’t know where to be. At one point, I thought I saw Noble shoot him a look that said “get out of my way”!

When Pelle had a goal disallowed on a very dubious offside call, I tried to rationalize that sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. But like most rationalizations in life it came crashing down soon thereafter. O’Brien saw yellow for a bad tackle, and the resulting free kick floated through the box begging for somebody to tuck it home. Anybody. I prayed that we could hold on for a draw, but I expected God’s answer to be “are you nuts”?

In the 67th minute we got what we deserved. The corner may not have been the right call, and I wondered if Southampton thought that as well and that’s why they took it so fast. By the time our back line realized it wasn’t cricket, and there is no break for tea, Schneiderlin had flicked it past Adrian. There may have been time left, but I was pretty sure it was over.

On comes Valencia. I would have preferred Sakho. Again, I’m reverting back to wanting the giant human imitating Andy Carroll, and Sakho would have done that. Sam can’t tell me it was because of the back injury Sakho was nursing, otherwise he wouldn’t have made the bench. It wouldn’t have mattered, because Adrian was airborne after saving Clyne’s shot and Pelle slotted home the rebound.

3-1. Our collective weekend ruined. It’s just hard to understand how Southampton had to replace so many key players yet maintained their style, and we added so many key players….and reverted back to our style. Make no mistake. This was a giant step backwards. In terms of result, effort, and quality.

Once, while watching my favorite baseball team The New York Mets go through an incredible spell of winning something like 24 of 28 games, the guy I had a season ticket with offered these sage words. We are never as bad as we think we are when we are losing, and we are never as good as we hope we are when we are winning. I’m going to try to cling to that thought today. It was a game we should have penciled in as a win. And we have the players we needed to bank the three points. Yet, we found a way to make a dry, tasteless burger out of a pretty nice Rib eye.

So we all leave hungry.


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