David Hautzig's Match Report

Sunderland 1, West Ham 1. Should Have Won, Could Have Lost.

The buildup to a match is often amplified by whatever rational or irrational dislike I have for the opposition. Which made today’s game a little different. I don’t really have anything against Sunderland. I remember going to my local pub in Manhattan at something like 6am to watch Freddie Kanoute score in a 1-0 win in the FA Cup, and the Sunderland supporters there were fantastic to be around even in defeat. Barry Glendenning of the Football Weekly podcast, my favorite guest on the pod, is a Sunderland supporter. And even though his reign was short by any measure, Di Canio’s time there made every West Ham supporter look out for Sunderland results. I have no issues with them.

That isn’t to say there wasn’t anything of intrigue about today’s match. When Sam was supposedly a dead man walking last year many bookies had Gus Poyet as the favorite to take over at Upton Park. As for the guys on the pitch, last week we got to see Andy Carroll take the stand and tell the jury why the debate about him or Bony ain’t quite over. This week Diafra Sakho had the opportunity to show Connor Wickham why West Ham bought the right guy. I’m pretty sure he has already convinced Sam that he’s lucky he can’t always get what he wants, and that instead he got what he needed.

Keith Richards would do well in the transfer market.

With basically a fully fit squad to choose from, the anticipation for the 2pm announcement of the starting eleven wasn’t that exciting. There was speculation that Mark Noble could return and Kouyate could start on the bench. The fact that such a suggestion about a key signing didn’t send shockwaves through the supporter community spoke volumes about how different the club is now and how we all feel about it. As it turned out, Noble wasn’t quite fit enough to be selected.

Sunderland looked more comfortable on the ball in the opening five minutes, with West Ham comfortable to deal with the pressure and settle themselves down. For the first time in many years, we have the kind of attacking options and prowess that can erupt at any moment. Which is what happened in the 6th minute when the ball broke to Jenkinson near the back post, but his shot was saved by Pantilimon. A few minutes later Sakho sent a cross into the box that had nobody there to meet it, and then Carroll had a shot on target that was easily handled by Pantilimon.

West Ham continued to apply the pressure when Aaron Cresswell made his way down the left hand side before passing to Downing. Carroll made a run in the box, and Downing found the most expensive skull in history but the attempt went over the bar.

The Christmas season has many predictable features. Shops are dressed up in lights and holiday decorations, the same Christmas music is played over and over again in virtually every public space, and Kevin Nolan gets a three match vacation. In the 12th minute, Santiago Vergini was brought down by Captain Kev and while I knew it wouldn’t be a red card, I thoroughly expected a yellow. However, Phil Dowd decided to have a word with him instead and he escaped a booking. Maybe that’s an ancillary benefit of being higher up the table?

The words “Song passes to Jenkinson down the right side” are becoming so commonplace I wonder why defenders more often than not look utterly unprepared for it. I mean, if we know its gonna happen shouldn’t they? This time, instead of a ball into the box, Jenkinson cut back and attempted a shot. With good players in and around the area, our fullbacks have options. And those options will create chances. Nothing came from this mini chance, but it made the moment stick out.

When he is on his game, Adam Johnson can be a handful for defenders. He’s quick with the ball, able to turn defenders around and create just enough space to either shoot or make an accurate pass. In the 21st minute, he did that to James Tomkins on the right side of the penalty area and got behind our central defender. Tomkins then tried to recover, put his forearm on Johnson’s back, and the striker went down. I may take some stick here…actually I will certainly take some because every one of my Twitter friends were furious at the call. But I immediately expected Dowd to award the penalty. It was a matter of positioning in my opinion, and once Johnson got behind Tomkins we were in trouble. Maybe if JT had not touched Johnson and let him continue his run, the resulting cross would have been dealt with. I, for one, had no problem with the call other than being upset we would likely go down 1-0. Which we did.

Sunderland 1, West Ham 0.

For the third consecutive match, West Ham had conceded the opening goal. We all know how the last two ended up, so unlike previous years the depression that settled in was replaced by resolve. Fine, we’ll just make you feel that much more disappointed when you don’t win the game.

When Stuart Downing scored his goal at Crystal Palace, the jokes about him being fined by Sam for shooting from outside the box were plentiful. So when the television screen showed our rejuvenated playmaker collect the ball from Kevin Nolan outside the box in the 29th minute and cut to his left before firing, you could have superimposed the goal at Selhurst Park over the action today and it would have been hard to tell the difference. Yeah, the ball took a deflection. Yeah, that needed a bit of luck. But players make their own luck with hard work and skill, and Downing has done that all season.

Sunderland 1, West Ham 1.

The Hammers were certainly energized by the equalizer. In the 38th minute Kouyate put a ball downfield that at first glance looked like a clearance. Until, that is, Sakho came into the picture to chase it down and have a crack at goal. It was easily handled, but Sakho is making it clear that when there is even a sniff of nylon in the air he will go for goal. It’s how he is wired.

The first name to be written down by Phil Dowd was Winston Reid when he took Jozy Altidore down right after my fellow American flicked the ball forward to Larsson. Dowd played the advantage, and Sunderland had the ball in a dangerous area for more time than I was comfortable with. Thankfully for us, all that time amounted to nothing.

Two minutes of injury time were added to the end of the half, and both teams tried to sneak into halftime with a second goal. First Jordi Gomez collected a quick free kick that caught West Ham by surprise. It also, however, caught most of the Sunderland players by surprise as well so nobody attacked his ball in the box that was there to be slotted in. Carroll then earned a free kick after receiving a pass from Downing but couldn’t create a real chance from it. The pendulum swung back to Sunderland when Larsson found Altidore all alone in front of Adrian. The ball was a shade behind him, and he couldn’t control it. West Ham escaped that one, and Altidore’s woes in the Premier League continued.

Halftime.

West Ham started the second forty five minutes the better side. Early on, Jenkinson made a very tasty pass to Sakho down the right side and his cross was deflected out for a corner. Downing took it, and the ball floated across the penalty area, which included Winston Reid laying on the ground clutching his head. Replays showed Wes Brown giving him a little tug which sent him to ground, and then Brown’s boot caught the side of Reid’s head as the Sunderland defender fell over our defender. No autopsy, no foul I guess. A second corner went to Carroll, but his header went right to Pantilimon.

In the 53rd minute Sunderland took their turn on attack. A nice one-two for Larsson led to a shot that was deflected out for what would be the first of three quick corners for the home side. Carroll cleared the first one with his head, reminding us that he can use that part of his body on both ends of the pitch. The second presented itself to Connor Wickham who couldn’t finish the job, and the third was cleared out of danger. If anything, it got the home crowd to make some noise.

Some things in life happen so infrequently that if you miss it, you may never see it again. A comet streaking through the sky comes to mind. Return trips for them are measured in the thousands of years. So too are absolute foul ups by Alex Song. That happened in the 54th minute when he misjudged a looping ball to him so badly it bounced off his upper arm inches outside the penalty area, resulting in a Sunderland free kick. Adrian punched the ball away, and moments later West Ham were on the counter with Downing running the ball up with a full head of steam. Jordi Gomez would have none of that, and tripped Downing from behind to earn himself a place in Phil Down’s book.

Connor Wickham had a half chance in the 58th minute when he was played into the box, but Jenkinson took the half a chance and turned it into no chance by getting between Wickham and the ball as it rolled out for a goal kick. West Ham then had a full blown chance in the 60th minute. Song fed Downing on the left side of the box. Downing found Cresswell making an overlapping run, but Pantilimon came out to meet the left back’s attempt and made the save. It was the best chance of the second half for either side up to that point.

I have a soft spot for Jozy Altidore, so I was disappointed when he was subbed for Steven Fletcher in the 62nd minute. I’d like Altidore to show the side of him we here in America have seen many times, although not against West Ham. I also hated to see Fletcher come on because he is a goal scorer, and him nicking one would not have shocked me at all.

Carroll came close to giving West Ham the lead in the 64th minute when Downing got on the end of a ball on the right side just before it went out for a goal kick. He crossed to Sakho, who went down from a Wes Brown challenge but not before flicking the ball to Carroll whose chip over Pantilimon was so close you could hear the gasps throughout our community. A minute later, Reid tried a back header from a corner that also went over the bar. Then Song and Nolan played a one-two that ended up on Cresswell’s boot. His cross was intended for you know who, but O’Shea steered it out for a corner. Nothing came from it, but we were far better than the hosts.

The football gods love to play jokes. Just when we think they are against us, they show that while we play our little games they play theirs. Larsson curled a cross into the box that looked to hit Reid right on the arm. The Stadium Of Light illuminated with cries for a second spot kick, but Dowd ignored them. Maybe he remembered Sam’s protests on the penalty in the first half and decided our manager would burst a blood vessel in his huge neck at another one and such a scene would best be avoided.

The minute Andy Carroll was fit and returned to the side, I have wanted to see him on the pitch with both Sakho and Valencia. That is not to say I have any tactical nous to explain why I think it would be a good idea. I just think that if it worked, then we could be so deadly on attack it would defy our wildest dreams. In the 81st minute I got my wish when Valencia replaced Nolan. There was no way ANYONE could accuse Allardyce of doing anything but going for the win.

Larsson showed his worth on the defensive end of the pitch in the 84th minute when he tracked back to chase down a dangerous run from Downing. After winning the ball and getting it to Fletcher, the Scottish international laid the ball off for Connor Wickham. Would this be his moment like Carroll had his last week against Bony? No, but it was close as Adrian pushed it out for a corner. A few minutes later West Ham were back on the front foot when Carroll collected a deflection inside the penalty area. His low shot was just a few inches wide of the bottom right hand corner. Both sides wanted it, but would either get it?

Five minutes of added time saw Sakho win a header from a free kick, and Reid break up a last ditch effort by Wickham. Those same joking gods wanted a draw, and they got one.

Final score. Sunderland 1, West Ham 1.

In sales, sometimes slow and steady growth is better than explosive growth. The same can be said for football. In that vain, a draw today should not be looked as two points dropped. Either team could have won, and either team could have lost. Overall, West Ham were the slightly better team with more meaningful possession and intent with the ball. But Sunderland had their chances as well and showed why they don’t fall over when the likes of Chelsea come for a visit.

My weekend mood is dictated by our club. Not easy on the family, I know. But it’s how I’m wired. I wanted to win. But I’m still feeling ok.


David Hautzig's Match Report

West Ham 3, Swansea 1. Welcome To The Future.

O Chico, Chico. Wherefore art thou Chico.
Deny thy face clutch and refuse thy red card.
Or, if thou will continue to cheat, be but sworn to cheat against Spurs.
And I’ll no longer hate you passionately.

You have to have your enemies in this game. It makes what would normally be a normal match into something more meaningful. And we haven’t had an enemy quite like Chico Flores in a long time. Make no mistake, either. We got in his head. What other footballer would go through the effort to make a screen shot of the EPL table and tweet it out to the supporters of another team? For us to have a go at him on social media was actually expected. Normal, even. But for him to take such notice and get into it with us was anything but normal. It showed how pathetic he really was. Which is likely one of the reasons he now plays for Qatari club Lekhwiya SC in the Qatar Stars League.

From a sheer footballing standpoint, the Andy Carroll v. Wilfried Bony debate was the story that led up to today’s game. Twenty twenty hindsight is all well and good, and through those glasses David Sullivan was right in wanting to sign Bony over Carroll. At least so far. For the record, I cast my vote for AC at the time. My reasoning was that strikers coming to England from the Eredevisie had not had a lot of success. Carroll knew the league, looked unplayable at times, and was perfectly suited to the style of play we all expected to continue under Sam. The debate is not over, and today’s game certainly narrowed the gap.

The starting eleven saw two noteworthy changes from the midweek win at West Brom, neither of which came as any surprise once we knew we had an almost fully fit squad to choose from. Alex Song and Enner Valencia returned while Morgan Amalfitano and Mauro Zarate helped themselves to a seat. Mark Noble’s series of little knocks added up to a day off, so Captain Kev got to keep his boots on and aim for his 100th goal in the Premier League. Like many of us I often cringe when I see his name, but Nolan acquitted himself nicely on Tuesday so no complaints were forthcoming from my living room. As well as Swansea have played this season, their away record hadn’t been stellar with only one win in six matches.

One thing was apparent from the first kick of the game. Alex Song is worth whatever amount of money we have to offer for him in the summer. His command of the ball and not only the space around him but the whole damned pitch borders on supernatural. It allowed both Cresswell and Jenkinson to push forward, and even seemed to put Nolan a bit more at ease. Still, no real chances were created despite dominating every aspect of the game.

In the 7th minute, Andy Carroll gave the first glimpse of what kind of day he was going to have. And he missed the header he went up for. But the attention he demands of the opposition when he launches himself allows players around him to take advantage of space. And that is what Valencia did, although he couldn’t control the ball and make something of it. Moments later Carroll played a ball into space for Jenkinson down the right, but his cross was blocked by Leon Britton.

In the 15th minute Carroll fed Jenkinson down the right….again….and Jenkinson found Nolan darting into the box as he so often does, but his effort on goal went wide. Not wanting to give up on scoring his 100th Premier League goal, Nolan came close again two minutes later when Downing put a free kick right in front of Nolan near the left post but his shot was saved by Fabianski.

In the 19th minute, Swansea took the lead with what the television announcers called the poster child for goals against the run of play. Montero and Sigurdsson worked a terrific one-two down the left side. It could have been contained had Kouyate not stopped moving, or Jenkinson had stayed with Montero on his run. Both men turned into spectators for no more than a second. But a second is all Wilfried Bony needed to tuck home Montero’s pass.

West Ham 0, Swansea 1.

Thankfully, West Ham stayed the course and kept the pressure on the visitors from Wales. To be fair, Swansea looked like they wanted to prove they not only could take a lead against the run of play, but they could dictate the run of play as well.

Game on.

The 25th minute saw more solid play from Carroll when he got on the end of a Cresswell cross and played the ball in for Valencia. However the Ecuadorian’s volley was blocked out for a corner by Ashley Williams. The ensuing corner was a great lesson for players of all ages and creeds in going for the ball. If any West Ham player had even tried to get on the end of Downing’s corner the game would have been level. Instead it rolled across the face of goal and out for a goal kick.

The danger in falling behind the way West Ham did is in trying to do too much too soon. Patience is a virtue, even when you’re down 1-0. Swansea started to assert themselves for the first time in the match when Montero found Sigurdsson on the left. A quick shot after cutting back into the center was punched away by Adrian. That was followed by a cross from Rangel, and then a dangerous clearance by Cresswell that Ki intercepted. Bony took a pass from Sigurdsson a minute later but shot wide. 2-0 felt like it was right around the corner.

West Ham seemed to retreat back into their route 1 ways for a bit, perhaps to buy some time to regroup and get their composure back. Downing found Cresswell running towards goal and put a cross right on him, but his header was easy for Fabianski to grab.

West Ham almost drew level in the 37th minute when an attempted clearance by Williams came off his partner and fell right to Nolan in what looked to be a classic Kevo The Poacher moment. His shot was blocked behind for a corner. A few corners led to scrambles in Swansea’s area, but no real chances. The equalizer felt so close, yet so far.

The vast majority of supporters railed against Sam’s tactics for much of the past two seasons. Rightfully so. This year, however, West Ham have something that we haven’t had that is crucial for that option to be useful. Players who can cross the ball. In Cresswell and Jenkinson to name just two, West Ham have that. In the 40th minute, Song fed Jenkinson for what felt like his 421st cross. With barely enough space between him and the defender, Jenkinson looped a ball into the box that landed on the most valuable head in English football. And Carroll showed why he is far from surplus to requirements when his header was placed perfectly into the top left hand corner of the net, continuing his pretty good record against Swansea at Upton Park. Among Swansea supporters it must have raised the fears of dropping more points from a winning position than any team in the Premier League.

West Ham 1, Swansea 1.

Sam made one change at halftime, bringing Diafra Sakho back into the fold after his case of Idiot Physiomonia. Valencia took a seat. At first I was surprised. Valencia hadn’t looked himself, but I didn’t think he looked worthy of the hook. Maybe I shouldn’t have been considering his recent injury. Credit to Liam Spencer of Iron Views who tweeted during halftime that he thought that was the change that needed to be made, and it was.

The second half started much like the first. West Ham controlling the ball, using the full backs to apply pressure, and crossing the ball into dangerous areas. That pressure led to the first card of the game when Wayne Routledge took out Winston Reid who was chasing down the same ball Routledge wanted. Free kick into the area, but nothing of note.

In the 52nd minute Sakho looked like a guy who had been starving for days and was presented a steak dinner with all the necessary sides. He got the ball on the edge of Swansea’s area. Then he lost it. Then he went down on one knee only to bounce back up with the ball. He looked like it he thought it was his divine right to have the ball and do what he wanted. That energy and desire has gotten him to the heights he is on, and it continued until the final whistle.

Young people make mistakes. Lots of mistakes. And while it is cliché to say that those that learn from them will eventually succeed, it’s also true. In the 58th minute Cresswell made the kind of mistake a kid makes in his first year in the big time. He made a fantastic run, fighting off defenders in the process, to have a nice patch of clear green in front of him close to goal. However, the excitable kid inside him was louder than the seasoned pro he is quickly becoming and he crossed before anybody could get there to receive it. That kind of composure will come, and when it does god help the opposing center backs.

History, at least the history of the day, almost repeated itself in the 60th minute when Swansea broke on the counter. Montero passed to Bony who was about 25 yards from goal. He could have waited a second for Routledge to finish his run into the box, but instead fired a shot that banged off the top of the crossbar. If anything, it showed how careful West Ham has to be. Swansea’s counters, even if they have been few and far between, have been scary for the home supporters to watch.

In the 66th minute, those fears turned into an eruption of joy when a Stuart Downing cross found Andy Carroll yet again. His soft header should have been cleared by someone, anyone, covering the far post for Swansea. Not to mention that Ashley Williams completely lost Carroll. Yet the goal showed how physically and emotionally draining it can be to cover a player like Carroll when he is both on his game and getting the support he needs.

West Ham 2, Swansea 1.

Two minutes later, Gary Monk needed a drink to go along with a new goalkeeper. Yet another ball to Carroll at midfield that was flicked into space. That space was inhabited by Sakho, who pushed the ball between the Swansea defenders and towards an onrushing Fabianski. The keeper came miles out of his area and crashed into Sakho, who still was able to get to the ball and dribble a soft shot off the post. Replays showed Chris Foy going to his pocket immediately, and Fabianski’s day was done.

The 74th minute saw Swansea replace Montero with their own version of Man Mountain, Bafetimbi Gomis. Along with Bony, and down to ten men, it looked like Swansea were going to turn to their opposing manager for guidance in finding a second goal. And at times they didn’t look like a team down a man. A testament to their quality, I must say.

Pure goal scorers are a different breed. They are like thoroughbred horses with blinders on. All they see, all they are really interested in is the goal. Sam alluded to that trait a few weeks ago when talking about Sakho. In the 78th minute, that trait almost gave West Ham a 3-1 lead. It should have, because if Sakho had taken the blinders off he would have seen Carroll all alone in front of goal with nothing but net in front of him. Instead, he shot. It went off the post, and if things had ended differently Sakho might have had a huge fine in Kangaroo Court.

Swansea made the home crowd very uneasy for a spell in the final ten minutes. They won numerous corners, were gifted an opportunity in front of goal after a horrendous clearance by Carroll, and saw a golden opportunity from Bartley sail over the bar. Under Zola, Grant, maybe even Curbs that havoc in front of our goal would have ended up with a 2-2 scoreline. But times have changed, and West Ham weathered the storm.

There will be no better example of direct football in my lifetime than the goal that sealed the game for West Ham. Goal kick from Adrian to Andy Carroll. Carroll flicked the ball onto the feet of a rushing Diafra Sakho, who split the defenders with ease and fired an absolute cannonball past Tremmel. He then lifted his jersey to show a t-shirt that said R.I.P Happy. @kaz7289 answered my calls for help on Twitter and said he thought it was Sakho’s mother. My best mate Jon thought it was his desire to show that t-shirt that made him choose to shoot when he should have passed to Carroll. I thought it showed his nature as a striker. Shoot first, ask questions later. Whatever the reason, it showed that when he plays goals are in his boots. And a Sakho-Carroll partnership is now another powerful weapon Sam has in his holster. His fist pumping celebration was in some ways the best moment of the day.

West Ham 3, Swansea 1.

The last minutes of the game were pure joy for the home side and the supporters. Downing, Cresswell, and Sakho didn’t turn their engines down one bit. There was a ball cleared off the line in the 89th minute, although I didn’t write down any details about it. I was too busy pacing the room in jubilation.

Today’s game was a chance for one of these two clubs to grab onto a ledge of the rock we are both trying to climb with our second hand and pull ourselves up. Set up camp, do some work, and then keep climbing. Today that team was West Ham United. None of us know how far we can climb, or how long we can even stay close to where we are. But the whole scenario presented by Sullivan, Gold and Brady a few years ago is starting to look more like a plan they knew would work than a hope they all shared. They may not have billions, but they have quite a bit of something else that starts with the letter B.

Brains.

I am getting used to this.


David Hautzig's Match Report

West Ham 1, Newcastle 0. Luckier Than Good?

Writing these reports has taught me a few things not only about my relationship with our club, but about how many irrational dislikes I have for other clubs. Today, for example, brought one Alan Pardew back to Upton Park. Or as a few of my mates call him, That P@#*k Pards. You can probably guess the middle word if you give yourself a minute or so. It’s not a view shared by many. In fact, I have read many an article hoping for his return to West Ham. I don’t understand why. It’s not like his record with us, Charlton, Southampton and now Newcastle is anything to do somersaults over. Player and staff unrest, fall outs with chairmen, and the rumours about his….uhhhh….various relationships.

No thank you.

Having said that, you have to give credit where credit is due. Lazarus would be proud of Pards resurrection this season. Five straight league wins, with a draw against Swansea before that, has given Newcastle 16 out of a possible 18 points. When I studied our fixtures leading up to Christmas a few weeks ago I saw this as a game against a team struggling near the drop zone. Now it’s a game battling for some extra games next season.

As for us, the injury crisis that took us by surprise last week got a little better. Kouyate, Downing and Noble were all in the starting eleven, but Valencia, Song and Sakho were still out. Then yesterday we got word that Sakho was basically mugged by the physio for Senegal and may out for at least a month. Yet for me the biggest surprise was the player that started on the bench, Zarate. If there was one lesson learned last week it was that Zarate should have been the one partnered up front with Carroll. Sam, however, didn’t get the memo and for reasons I could not get my head around Jarvis got a start instead. Jacob Steinberg tweeted that Downing would be out wide to play to Carroll’s strengths. Enter the wormhole and travel back in time to lobbing it in to one up front.

Ayoze Perez has been on fire for Newcastle during their terrific run of form, and in the opening minutes we saw why. First he cut between Tomkins and Collins after receiving the ball from Gouffran but his shot went wide. Then Sissoko fed a nice through ball for him, but his foul on Tomkins stopped play. Minutes later, the Sissoko to Perez party was on again. This time Kouyate was there to clear. Three chances from the same pair in the first five minutes did not put me at ease to watch the game.

West Ham looked like they started the game in the eighth minute when Jarvis chased down a flick on from Carroll. Jarvis passed to an oncoming Downing whose shot was straight at Rob Elliot. That was the only bright moment of the first ten minutes, and I use that term lightly. Despite a lineup that looked like it was set up to play to Carroll’s supposed strengths, the big man looked lonely. The support he needed was not there. In any form. Not in crosses, not in players there to run on to his flicks.

Meaning, no Zarate.

In the 13th minute, Carroll did have someone run into a space to collect a ball off of his head. That someone was Downing. But when Downing tried to return the favor with a cross into the box, nobody was there to cash in. A few minutes later Kouyate and Amalfitano tried to get in on the sort of action when the Frenchman laid a good ball for Kouyate to run onto down the right. His cross was blocked by Gouffran and it eventually ended up as a goal kick. A minute later Cresswell made a run down the left to get on the end of a ball from Downing but his cross was blocked by Sissoko. There was a bit of hope that West Ham would start to assert itself on the game.

Mike Williamson became the first player to go into Mike Dean’s little black book when he caught Jarvis with something that would have looked better on a dance floor than a football pitch. A sneaky little back heel as Jarvis tried to go past him. Not the booking we will all look back on, but noteworthy for how odd it was.

The 24th minute crystallized why we miss our injured strike tandem. Kouyate won the ball at midfield on pure power and fed Jarvis down the left. That is when Valencia and Sakho would be darting in and around the box like ants when you disturb their colony. Try to step on em, and all you get is dust. But Jarvis had nobody to pick out, nor did anybody try to get onto the end of his cross. It made the whole thing pointless, other than wasting time if you are trying to play for a nil-nil draw. In fact, neither team did all that much with the ball in the first thirty minutes. There were more errant passes than accurate ones, and I wondered if the first team to simply control the ball for a minute or so would score first.

One trait that will never go un-noticed or unappreciated by West Ham supporters is tenacity. If you put in a shift, if you work your socks off, we will never turn on you. If today was the last game ever for James Tomkins and Ginge, they would be immortalized. They both made so many world-class defensive plays that try as I will to include them all I will likely miss some. The first came in the 33rd minute when Sissoko and Perez combined again on a dangerous counter attack. Tomkins snuffed out what looked like a 1-0 Newcastle lead in the making with a great block on Perez. A few minutes later, after Noble fouled Sissoko and gave up a free kick in a dangerous area, Tomkins got his head on both the ball into the box and Carroll’s outstretched foot. A bit of treatment and he was back to work.

Perez continued his strong performance in the 38th minute when Ameobi fed the ball to him close to Adrian. If he had a better angle the ball could have caused problems, but his cheeky shot off the back of his foot went into the side netting. The next seven minutes plus one minute of added time were barely noteworthy, and it was nil-nil at halftime.

When I watch games to do these reports, I jot down notes on scrap paper and then do my best to construct decent sentences out of them afterwards. So little happened in the first half that I only used two pieces of paper as opposed to my normal four or five. The unfortunate fact was that with Andy Carroll playing alone, all we looked like was a slightly better version of last year’s team. To think that this formation can score more than a goal per game with any regularity is….wait for it…..deluded. Would Sam diagnose himself the way he tried to diagnose all of us a few years ago and put Zarate on? I hoped so, with Jarvis coming off despite the fact that he hadn’t played that badly. Maybe even better than Amalfitano in the first half. But given the choice I’d rather have the Frenchman.

The second half did not start with the substitution most us were hoping for, but at least it started with West Ham on the attack. Kouyate started a counter after some nervy moments in our own end and passed to Carroll. AC finally saw a pass of his end up on a teammate by the name of Stuart Downing on the left. When Downing put the ball on his right foot to cut inside, hopes of a shot on target rose. Then they were dashed when his shot went over the crossbar.

James Tomkins continued his co-Man Of The Match day in the 50th minute when he used the basic footballing principle of positioning when he forced Perez to lose the ball over the touchline for a goal kick. Nothing spectacular. Just excellent. A minute later West Ham were on the break when Collins cleared another Perez chance to Noble, who found Cresswell streaking down the left. Maybe it was youthful exuberance, but whatever it was made him hoof the ball into the crowd instead of finding a teammate in the box. He’s still learning, and a great student overall so all was forgiven.

Rob Elliot hadn’t done much wrong as Tim Krul’s stand in to this point. In the 54th minute, however, he showed how a split second of indecision by a keeper can cause problems. Elliot couldn’t handle a long ball into the box, and the ball was inched away from any West Ham player doing nothing more than toe poking it in for a 1-0 lead. Two corners followed, both with Carroll being out jumped, and Newcastle were left unscathed.

There is a cliché in American sport. “I’d rather be lucky than good”. It’s been attributed to Vernon Louis “Lefty” Gomez, who played baseball for the Yankees in the 1930’s. When the ball came to Downing on the left, I was talking to my mate Jon. We both could not understand why Sam was being so stubborn in not putting Zarate in. “We won’t score unless he does” I said. Just then, Kouyate got the ball from Downing at the edge of the area and attempted a shot. He missed. But the ball rolled slowly onto the path of an onrushing Cresswell, who showed the composure of a seasoned striker to put it behind Elliot.

West Ham 1, Newcastle 0.

It could have been 1-1 two minutes later when Williamson and Perez (yeah, him again) combined. Perez drove his shot right at Adrian, and with teammates running around the box he may have been better suited to try and find one. Thankfully for us, he didn’t.

The 63rd minute saw Newcastle make two changes. Tiote made way for Cisse, and Cabella replaced Gouffran. The TV cameras showed Pards having a word with Perez, seemingly telling him to play farther back now that Cisse was on. So it isn’t only Sam that tells his most effective and creative player to move away from the goal. That’s kind of comforting.

Still no Zarate, but Amalfitano made a case for himself being the one to come off if and when a change was made with a bad cross and a giveaway in Newcastle’s area. On the counter, Noble brought down Cabella and gave up a free kick. Oh god. How many times have we seen a free kick given up by Noble, even when it isn’t his fault, which leads to a goal. Were we going to see the latest edition of the script we all know? Luckily for West Ham, Haidara’s shot from the free kick went wide.

In the 70th minute, just like last week at Everton, the clubs official Twitter account announced that Zarate was ready to come on. I got the feeling that it was more than just information. It was the person in charge of those Tweets joining in on the call for such a creative force. Within seconds, Zarate forced a corner when he passed to Jenkinson. The Arsenal loanee saw his cross blocked out by Ameobi, but the question that I wanted answered was why it took so long to get Zarate on? A minute later, a ball into Carroll was headed into space which Zarate was running to. He didn’t get on the end of it, but at least he tried. Please tell me you saw that, Sam. Twice fooled, shame on you.

The 75th minute saw the most eventful thirty seconds of the match, and one of the more brainless displays by a professional footballer this season. First, with Newcastle attacking in numbers, Jenkinson played Sissoko perfectly to stop his progress. For that effort, he got a push in the back. And for that, Sissoko saw yellow. Thirty seconds later, a reckless challenge on Carroll in midfield earned him an upgrade from Yellow to Red. If Sam were his manager, he’d have been on his way to Siberia by now.

After being butchered last week, Amalfitano might have decided the best form of self defense is to attack. So he took Haidara down from behind and got booked. This is where some good ol fashioned West Ham paranoia crept in. Ten men, huh? Didn’t go so well against Spurs. Hull last year was no fun, either. Is this the crazy reason why we give up the equalizer?

The whole idea behind signing Zarate was to give Carroll a partner up front who was anything but like for like. We saw glimpses of that in the final ten minutes. First, Zarate fed a through ball for a running Carroll but it was just a bit heavy and went out for a goal kick. Then they got in each other’s way when they both went for a ball in midfield, allowing Newcastle to counter. Nothing happened. Then Zarate led another counter with a pass to Downing, whose cross was deflected out for a corner by Haidara. It was inches away from 2-0 a minute later when Jenkinson found Zarate on the left, who cut to the center and drilled a beautiful shot towards the top corner of the net. In his finest moment of the day, Elliot made a finger tip save to rob the Argentine-Chilean.

Nolan came on for Kouyate in the 85th minute in what could only have been based on Kouyate running out of fuel. Not that Nolan has any fuel to begin with.

Ameobi broke forward in the 89th minute, and despite being down to ten men Newcastle looked dangerous on this attack. My heart skipped a beat before Collins came to the rescue and took the ball away just outside the box.

In the second minute of the four added on, Zarate and Downing came close to making it 2-0. Zarate fed a rushing Downing on the left. Elliot came out to meet him, and Downing aimed for the far post. In real time it looked very, very close. On replay, it only looked kind of close. Still, who started it? The man named Mauro.

A final corner in the dying seconds of injury time gave the Toon army a reason to stand, but Collins and Tomkins told them to sit back down because the game was over.

Final score. West Ham 1, Newcastle 0.

We should all be happy for the three points. Considering our strong start to the season, two draws and a loss from our last three games felt like a letdown. Add the injuries and Newcastle’s fantastic form coming in, a loss would not have surprised anybody. So a mini crisis has thankfully been averted.

Or has it?

I’m not trying to bring us down here, but for the second consecutive game our most influential player was left on the bench at the start of the game. Why? When asked, I’m sure Sam will give not only an explanation as to why but also an explanation as to how he was 100% correct to do it. If he does do that, he will be alone in that thinking. It took great defending and a lucky bounce to get us the three points today. On another day, we may not be so lucky. And we have the players to avoid what we saw for long stretches of the game. I know it. You know it.

I only hope Sam knows it.


David Hautzig's Match Report

Everton 2, West Ham 1. Re-entering The Atmosphere.

If I’m exaggerating here, it’s only by a little bit. We could win 150 games on the trot, and Everton could be winless for month’s…. and we would all expect to lose at Goodison. Hell, we wouldn’t expect much better at Upton Park. We don’t beat Everton. The last time we did was 2007. Before that, I think you have to go back to the parting of the Red Sea. And to add insult to injury, or in this case injury to possible insult, after being relatively knock free of late we come into today’s game missing some key players;

•Stuart Downing hurt his knee playing for England. Well done, Roy. You play him out of the position that got him the call up in the first place, making it an utter waste of his time. I hate International Breaks.

•Diafra Sakho, after looking like he could be a Superhero flying around London saving damsels in distress when he’s not playing football, has a back injury.

•Enner Valencia is hurt. I don’t know where it happened. I don’t care. I’m just pissed off about it.

•Cheikhou Kouyaté injured his knee. He played in the ACN on Wednesday and only trained with us yesterday. Have I told you I hate International Breaks?

•Alex Song. Huh? Where the hell did that come from? First cup of coffee, kids are still asleep, and I see that. Great. Bet you I open the door now to find my car stolen.

The starting lineup caused a stir on Twitter (as if that’s any surprise). For the longest time we called for Sam to play two up front. Today, with so many of the players we have depended on to do just that unavailable, nobody would have been shocked to see us revert back to a lone striker and a prayer. So the fact that both Carroll and Cole started at least cemented the two up top plan. I would have much rather seen Zarate, but Cole has played fairly well so far this year. Sam got the benefit of the doubt from me, but not many others. As for his decision to go with five at the back, that seemed very risky. Why play all three center backs when you only have three in the squad?

The game began in the way many West Ham supporters expected. Everton had the lion’s share of the ball, and we tried to play crosses into our returning Big Man. In the third minute Jenkinson played what would be the first of many balls into the box, only to have Tim Howard grab it before AC could get there. A few minutes later Carlton Cole won the ball from James McCarthy, although he didn’t actually do anything other than chase McCarthy so closely that the ball popped out. That led to Andy Carroll feeding Jenkinson down the right side, who slid a low cross across the goalmouth. Jagielka deflected it away, but to be honest the only West Ham player trying to attack the ball was Carroll and he wasn’t that close.

The ninth minute gave a glimpse of what Sam’s plan seemed to be. Tomkins launched a ball into the box that Carroll won. To be fair, regardless of what anybody might say about him, Andy wins most of the balls launched at him. Maybe if somebody else had been on the end of his knock down the results would have been different. But it was Carlton Cole, and he couldn’t handle it. Then a cross from Cresswell found Carroll, but it lacked the pace needed for any header off the end of it to be effective, and it sailed high. Even with a second striker out there, Carroll looked isolated. Kind of like when you are asked to move a sofa and the guy on the other end can barely lift it off the ground.

Despite the home side having close to 80% possession in the opening ten minutes, it didn’t look all that bad for West Ham. Any time an Everton player touched the ball, he was hounded. Harassed. Bothered. They didn’t have any time to turn with the ball and plan their next move. That was encouraging, and I’m guessing Sam was happy about that.

In the 14th minute, Steven Naismith should have made it 1-0. The reason he didn’t was because after he passed to Lukaku in what he expected to be a give and go, Lukaku decided it was just a give. No go. Adrian handled Lukaku’s shot easily.

A few minutes later the home side had another opportunity that should have opened the scoring, but didn’t. Osman laid a terrific through ball for Coleman, who cut the ball back to a wide open Naismith. But his shot went so far over the bar that Adrian barely moved.

Fans of the English Premier League often chide the fans and players in Serie A and La Liga for their propensity to simulate. OK, I’ll just call it what it is. Diving. But today, we saw some pretty shameful play acting from both sides. The first was from Ross Barkley, who dove through the air without even being touched by Kevin Nolan’s breath, to win a free kick. Thankfully nothing came of it. Then Naismith worked himself into another dangerous position when he took advantage of a deflected ball off his chest, but his shot was from an extreme angle.

The pressure from Everton was mounting, and you could feel a goal coming. It did, when Diving Barkley’s shot deflected off of Winston Reid’s heel, right to Lukaku. Adrian was moving to his left, the direction Barkley’s shot was going. So when it fell Lukaku, the net was wide open. Not going to miss that. Replays showed that Lukaku was definitely in an offside position when Barkley took his shot. I asked my Twitter mate @RockyWHU to clarify the rule there. We may both be wrong, but since the ball deflected off a West Ham player was Lukaku still offside? I’m just putting it out there.

Everton 1, West Ham 0.

The pre-game fears about our formation, with only three in the midfield, were playing themselves out to be more like premonitions. Without Song or Kouyate available to get the ball from the back line, we couldn’t play the ball through the midfield. Nolan was….uhhhhh…..ineffective. So the full backs were left to try and push the ball upfield, which was probably part of Sam’s plan. Most of those attacks came down the right side, with Jenkinson trying to find Carroll. That happened again in the 30th minute, but despite showing good athleticism Carroll’s header sailed wide. Another one minutes later was from too far out. Then a low cross from Jenkinson, followed by a dummy from Cole was just behind Carroll. The ideas were there, but the execution wasn’t. Oh, to have Valencia or Sakho.

The 32nd minute presented the first real opportunity for West Ham when a sloppy pass from Distin was intercepted by Nolan and laid off for Amalfitano. His shot was off target, but to be fair that was his only bad moment of the game. In fact, Morgan was our best player in the first half. Running at the Everton defense, showing glimpses of the creativity that made him so effective against Liverpool and Unreal City. The Everton players knew it, too, and they decided to do something about it.

Minutes after Noble was roughed up by a cynical challenge from Naismith, McCarthy went after Amalfitano. He came a long way to get to his target, and with studs right on top of Amalfitano’s foot he got it. The proverbial ice hockey game broke out, with pushing and shoving on all ends. McCarthy saw a yellow card, as did Winston Reid. The latter means Reid won’t be available for next week’s game against Newcastle. Clattenburg is usually a pretty good ref for us. Not so today.

West Ham had one final mini opportunity right before halftime when Carroll used his strength to win the ball in midfield. He ran with it towards the box and fired, but his shot was wide.

Halftime.

Most West Ham fans took to Twitter to demand that Cole be taken of for Zarate. It didn’t happen at first, but in the 50th minute the clubs official Twitter account not only acknowledged the fans demands, but announced that Zarate was indeed getting ready to enter the game. Seconds later, he did just that along with Matt Jarvis. Cole and a limping Noble came off, possibly still feeling the effects of the Naismith challenge. Tomkins was moved out of the five man defense and into midfield. Sam did that a lot in the Championship, with mixed results. OK, mostly bad. But today the options were limited.

The new formation paid dividends immediately. Zarate won West Ham their first corner of the game by doing nothing more than running at a defender. See, Sam? It worked. The corner came to Carroll, who fired a ball right into Barkley’s chest. After his first half dive I was sort of hoping it broke one of his ribs. No such luck.

Then, instead of waiting for some luck, West Ham made some. Zarate and Amalfitano worked a nice one-two. When Zarate got the ball back, his shot deflected off of Jagielka and over Howard. Zarate wants to run. He wants to get into the area. Does he do everything Sam wants of him all the time? Probably not. But you need players like that, and when you have them you can make your own good fortunes when they were otherwise hiding.

Everton 1, West Ham 1.

West Ham looked energized by their equalizer. Carroll made a great pass to Jenkinson, who then played a cross into the box that Howard had to punch out of danger. Everton looked like they wanted to prevent West Ham from feeling too optimistic when McCarthy got the ball on the left, cut inside, and fired a long range shot wide.

Amalfitano was still West Ham’s best player, so Everton decided one nasty challenge in the first half wasn’t enough to take him down. Mirallas decided to take his best shot and received a yellow card for his troubles. That’s when West Ham got into the acting game. Tomkins reacted to the Mirallas tackle with a silly push. Mirallas pushed back, touching Tomkins chest. Obviously the chest pain shot up to his cheeks, and JT grabbed his face. Maybe he was angling for a move to Sampdoria? Embarrassing.

In the 63rd minute Naismith skillfully controlled a long pass from Osman with his chest and sent Lukaku through on goal. His pass was just a bit too far to the left, forcing the hefty Belgian into a bad angle. Then came the kind of substitution you simply know will have an effect on a game. Mirallas off, Eto’o on. I bet each and every one of us had some vision of him hurting us at some point.

From the West Ham point of view, everything was going through Zarate. Both good, and a little bad. In the 67th minute he tracked back to win the ball right outside of our box…only to lose it seconds later. I wonder which moment Sam will remember? Zarate then won a free kick down the left side. The ball eventually found its way to Amalfitano whose shot was deflected wide for a corner.

This is not Nolan bashing, but he had a lousy game. His only decent moment came in the 71st minute when his long pass fell perfectly into the path of Matt Jarvis. But instead of putting his shot across the goal, he went for the near post….and it was nowhere near the goal. Moments later Jenkinson won another corner, but nothing came of that either.

The visions of Eto’o hurting us turned into reality a minute later when Everton launched a counter attack. Collins brought down Lukaku a few yards past the center circle, but Clattenburg rightfully played the advantage. The ball fell to Eto’o. A younger player may have rushed it, passed too early, or shot it wildly. But class is class, and Eto’o has oodles of it. He slid a ball perfectly to Osman who tapped it in.

Everton 2, West Ham 1.

West Ham came very close to a second equalizer when Matt Jarvis’s low shot found James Collins directly in front of Howard. Ginge tried to redirect the ball into the net, but Howard made a fine save.

Ross Barkley came off in the 79th minute for Muhamed Besic. Not particularly noteworthy, but figured since I made a note of it I’d include it.

The next substitution was beyond baffling to me. In the 82nd minute, Vaz Te climbed out of whatever hole Sam had been keeping him in and entered the game. OK, fine. But when every single West Ham fan likely expected Nolan to come off, Amalfitano got the hook.

Our best player overall on the day. Off.

Our worst player overall on the day. Stayed.

Zarate won another corner in the 84th minute, and Carroll once again got to it. His header was off target, and he tried to claim it deflected off Naismith. Replays showed no such thing.

Five minutes of added time gave West Ham a bit of hope that at least there was time to salvage a draw. Problem was, Everton controlled the majority of those five minutes. It should have been 3-1 when Eto’o couldn’t convert a pass from Coleman right in front of Adrian.

West Ham had one chance. A deflection off of Jenkinson landed right in front of Vaz Te, with space on the right side. Here was his chance to show who he was. Which he did, with a useless ball that flew over the bar for a goal kick. A final cross by Jenkinson, his 732nd of the game, was grabbed by my fellow American and Everton ran out the clock.

I guess it’s time to release the parachute, fire the retro rockets, and prepare to come back down to earth. I can’t say I didn’t expect the result. I did. I actually put a 2-1 loss down in my pool. But with so many of our best players out, a bus parking attempt at a 0-0 draw like we tried last year wouldn’t have shocked me. Instead, we played. And at times played well enough to have gotten a result. Would things have been different had Zarate started instead of Cole? Who knows. I won’t get in to those “what ifs”. We were in it. It could have ended differently. Most trips to Goodison don’t even let us think that.

I’m looking forward to seeing them at our place later this year.


David Hautzig's Match Report

West Ham 2, Stoke 2. Water Into Wine.

So. Who would it be? Assuming prudent thinking prevailed and Diafra Sakho was out for today’s clash at The Britannia to allow his shoulder to heal properly, who would step in? We are all so used to scraping the bottom of the barrel when one of our better players is hurt that actually having a few decent options borders on euphoria. Like going to a party and coming home not with one, but two phone numbers. From that perspective I tried to look at losing our top goal scorer as a chance to dangle a carrot out for some other players. Here’s your chance, come and get it.

Carlton Cole looked pretty useful when he came on against Burnley and Crystal Palace. Elliot Lee scores in his sleep for the Development Squad and his movement and eye for the goal could have made him a very good stand in with Valencia, but his loan to Southend squashed that idea. Zarate seemed an appropriate choice to many on Twitter, but a mystery thigh strain kept him out last week and we all know how Sam treats most players coming back from injury. That left one obvious choice. I can’t believe I’m saying it……but I wanted to see Kevin Nolan get the call. With Crouch and Bardsley out for Stoke, something about Nolan’s experience felt comforting.

Then word came that a decision had been made. The winner is….Kouyate. I didn’t read one pundit or Tweet even suggesting that as a possibility. Did that mean two up front was dead and buried until Sakho comes back? Or maybe Sam Alirdici was back with a new trick up his sleeve? Maybe it was simply a matter of Amalfitano has played too well to take out, and Kouyate is too good to leave out.

If the first ten minutes were to be a clue of things to come, then it looked like we were in store for a long day. Victor Moses has been of those players that seemed on the verge of doing something special for quite awhile, but always strayed off the path to quality. In the 7th minute he gave us the first of many glimpses on the day of what he is capable of. He picked up the ball in midfield and brought it down the left hand side. I expected someone to close him down. He probably did, too. When nobody did he went for the shot when patience might have served him better. His shot sailed high over the bar.

A minute later West Ham had their first opportunity when Sidwell clipped Song and conceded a free kick. Stoke have been awful defending set pieces this season, so there was a bit of hope and anticipation when Downing stepped up to take it. Turned out that Stoke didn’t need to worry. They didn’t need to do anything, actually. Downing’s shot flew high over the net.

When James Collins name shows up on the team sheet, some supporters get anxious. He can make the kind of mistakes that lead directly to opposition goals. But when he is on his game, like he was against Man City, he is like a building. With legs. Geoff Cameron got behind Cresswell and fed Bojan in the box. He should have blasted it, and if he had it likely would have gone past Adrian before the Spaniard even moved. But a touch and a moment of hesitation gave Collins the time he needed to throw himself in front of the shot. A few minutes later he did it again when Walters passed into the area only to have Ginge clear it. But it didn’t go far enough, and N’Zonzi pounced and fired on goal. No problem for he of iron forehead, who dove in and made another outstanding block.

Even when Alex Song does something wrong you know he is quality. Just above the rest of the mortals on the pitch. In the 14th minute, he and Valencia went on the attack after Song won the ball off of Sidwell and tried to feed it into the area for the striker. But the pass was a little too heavy. A bit like many of us, I suspect.

Amalfitano has played very well so far this season. Today, however, is a day he probably wont keep in his scrapbook. N’Zonzi pressured him into giving up a corner. Granted, nobody was there to help him. But even a simple hoof to the sideline would have been better. Downing headed the corner to safety, but the revelation that has been Stuart Downing did not look pleased. After the success he has seen this year on the top of the diamond formation, he was out wide and thus not seeing much of the ball. And Valencia looked like a skinnier version of Cole, up there all alone with little or no support. With Sakho, all four defenders have to be on top of their game. With one up top, they can break for tea if they want.

The 21st minute brought another moment Amalfitano will want to forget about when Bojan twisted him inside out near the touchline and sent a ball right across goal. Diouf looked ready to tap it home, but somehow missed. Moses then tried a curling shot after making Jenkinson look like Amalfitano just did but it went wide.

There was only one team in the game to this point. It’s amazing how the loss of one player can reverberate throughout an entire squad. More worrying was the site of Winston Reid on the ground clutching his ankle. Replays showed he twisted it during a challenge from N’Zonzi. His day was coming to an end, and Tomkins was called into action.

In the 27th minute West Ham finally decided to enter the game instead of watch it. Song and Downing worked a lovely give and go after a bad clearance from Begovic. But with two options in front of the goal, one being a wide open Kouyate, Downing opted to go for goal. If the goal had been ten rows in behind the net, he would have scored.

In the annals of scrappy goals, Stoke’s opener could be a cover photo. Cameron crossed the ball in from the right side. Bojan attempted a shot from the knockdown by Diouf, but it was partially blocked. Nobody in our back line could get a touch on the ball as it rolled to Moses. His shot hit the post, bounced out, hit him again and rolled in. It could have been an OG. It was hard to tell. But I was in no mood to study it.

Stoke 1, West Ham 0.

There was a moment in the 39th minute which summed up the day to that point. With nobody around him, Jenkinson passed the ball back. That would be OK if the pass had actually been to someone. Song chased it down, averting what could have been a real problem. What was Jenkinson thinking? Who did he see? Is sloppy play like the flu, an airborne virus that spreads quickly? Up front, every time Valencia had the ball with at least a theoretical chance to do something all he did was run, lose the ball, fall down, and look at the ref.

In the 43rd minute it was Tomkins turn to be James Collins when Cameron waltzed through two in light blue and aimed a cross at Diouf. Tomkins radar worked perfectly and he slid in to deny Stoke a great chance for a second goal. It only took a few seconds for the home side to get another chance when Bojan took the ball away from Song and tried a long range missile. Lucky for us it was as accurate as a Scud. I was praying for halftime without any more stress.

Nope.

Cameron was at it again, beating our defenders like a drum and sending a low ball into Diouf right in front of goal. It should have been 2-0. No question. And I may never know how Adrian grew larger by about a foot in every conceivable direction to block that goalbound shot.

Halftime finally, and thankfully, arrived.

The Twitter hounds were out in force calling for Amalfitano’s head. He wasn’t the only player who had been poor, if not terrible in the first half. But he was the most obvious target of frustration, Sam likely agreed, and he didn’t come out for the second half. Instead, Carlton Cole was brought on. I for one was surprised. I would have expected Nolan or Zarate.

When Chris Foy handles our games, good things don’t usually happen. There is no earthly reason why one referee should bring bad results to one team time and time again, but it happens. When Marc Wilson put a body check into Valencia that would make any hockey coach proud he should have seen yellow. He saw nothing. Neither did Foy, apparently, and perhaps history was repeating itself.

In the 51st minute James Tomkins continued his good work since coming on for Reid. Stoke were again pressing, asking the proverbial questions, and Tomkins was again there to answer the call of duty. He broke up an attack where Stoke had numbers and N’Zonzi was ready to latch onto a pass. Stoke are doing what they did in the first forty five minutes. Attack us, control the game, and fall back on defense when needed. Which wasn’t often. At least Mr. Tomkins and Mr. Collins were doing their jobs and doing them well.

Aaron Cresswell has done very little wrong since arriving from Ipswich. In fact, his play has been as valuable as anybody’s. Including Sakho. So when I say he made as bad a decision as I’ve seen in many years from a defender to give up Stoke’s second goal I don’t want anybody to accuse me of not appreciating the lad. Bojan sent the kind of long ball that Sam Allardyce dreams about over Cresswell. Instead of dealing with it, in any sort of way, he watched as Walters went around him to collect a pass he shouldn’t have had a chance in hell of getting. Good cross to Diouf, simple header past Adrian, in the net.

Stoke 2, West Ham 0.

You may say that you still had hope. You may say you didn’t think the game was over. And you may be lying. I for one didn’t see anything that told me we could come back from 2-0 down midway through the second half.

Times are definitely changing.

In the 58th minute, Song played a ball in for Valencia. I’m not sure how, but quality players like Song can do that. Valencia’s attempt on goal was blocked by Darth Shawcross. West Ham had their first corner. Nothing came of it, but West Ham were asking some questions. Two minutes later, Stoke couldn’t find the answer when Downing broke down the right and sent a stunning cross over everyone except Valencia, who dove at it with his own iron forehead and put it in the back of the net. Stoke were angry about a two footed challenge by Song a few seconds earlier, and to be fair it should have been a foul. But Stoke live by the sword, and sometimes they must die by the sword. In other words….get over it, Sparky.

Stoke 2, West Ham 1.

The 62nd minute should have been the minute Stoke restored their two goal lead. An impressive passing sequence ended with Walters passing to N’Zonzi. That’s when the 62nd minute changed into the minute Adrian palmed the ball behind to keep West Ham in the game.

When West Ham play Stoke, it’s often a game of messages. Like the time Neill sent Etherington flying into the advertising boards early in a game, keeping Matty relatively quiet the rest of the day. When James Collins decided that Bojan’s shins looked a lot like a football he got a yellow card. And Bojan got something to think about the rest of the game if he got the ball. Considering that he had been a step ahead of Song for much of the game, I’d say Ginge did the right thing.

In the 69th minute, Noble came off for Nolan. If this is the way forward in terms of Nolan’s role with the team I’m all for it. He can be quite useful in tight spots, and this was a tight spot. And it almost got as tight as a noose three minutes later when Mame Biram Diouf somehow figured out how to suspend the laws of motion. The ball was placed perfectly to his head. He was in a perfect position to score. He had to score there. He didn’t.

And he will have nightmares about it for a long time because a minute later, against not only the run of play but simple logic, West Ham were level. Valencia picked up the ball on the left side after a West Ham corner. His pass into the box looked destined for Kouyate. But the big man dummied it, it rolled to Downing, and he slammed it behind Begovic at the near post.

Stoke 2, West Ham 2.

West Ham nearly took the lead in the 77th minute when Valencia was sent in on goal all by himself. Just him and Begovic. Valencia acted as surprised as anybody, and maybe the shock is what gave Begovic the instant he needed to get down in front of the ball and push it out of danger.

Charlie Adam came on for Bojan in the 82nd minute, and one could easily have seen the cagey veteran finding a way to grab back all three points for the home side. He never got the chance, I’m happy to say. A minute later, Geoff Cameron did. His pass to Walters was returned after a run into the box. But instead of instinctively shooting straight away, he tried to control the ball. That extra touch gave Adrian time to move into position and push the ball behind for what should have been a corner. How the officials missed that is a question only they can answer. I wouldn’t bother listening, however.

The ghosts of Tony Pulis came out for a bit in the 86th minute when Walters went shoulder first into Adrian’s chest. A few minutes earlier Carlton Cole was nearly apoplectic with anger after a tussle in front of Begovic. The whole atmosphere was getting salty. Would someone turn their anger into a winning goal before the three minutes of added time were done? The best chance came in the second added minute when Shawcross made a marauding run down the right, only to lose the ball on a perfectly timed tackle by Kouyate. The Stoke defender hopped right back up, smile on his face as if to say “no autopsy, no foul”. A final ball into the area by Adam is headed away by Collins.

Final score. Stoke 2, West Ham 2.

If we do go on to have a memorable year, we may all look back on this draw as the moment we knew it was possible. Just like the draw at Chelsea gave us the belief last year that we could survive, this draw could give us the belief we can thrive.

Cresswell was awful.

Jenkinson was only a little better than Cresswell, so nothing to remember.

Song was human. By his standards, that’s terrible.

Yet we pulled together to grind out a point when we truly didn’t deserve it. Good teams do that. And we may actually be a good team.


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