It was unusual to see a West Ham match second in the MoTD schedule on Saturday evening. Usually we are last or second from last, with some rushed and clipped comments from the match analysts. It was obviously the Palace fight-back from 0-2 down, to grab a draw, that brought about our rare promotion. The post-highlight analysis was a joke as per usual, plenty of stuff about Palace ‘deserving’ the win and West Ham’s naivety, which I expected. What I did not expect was the absence of even a single reference to the quality of West Ham’s two goals. The Hernandez opener was a superb strike with the outside of the Mexican international’s boot and the build up play was also very sharp, carving open the Palace rear guard with a cool and beautiful efficiency. While, Ayew scored with a great long range strike, that hit the top left of the net like a rocket. So much for Ayew only scoring penalty box tap-ins!
In all honesty, and with due respect, how can any decent TV match analysis fail to praise such outstanding finishing? Would they have been ignored if they had been scored by Man City, Spurs, Man Utd or Liverpool strikers? I think we all know the answer to that. Anyway, do not expect either goal to feature on the short-list for BBC MoTD goal of the month for October!
Today’s result was undoubtedly disappointing. Having gone two goals ahead, we should have scored a third and killed the game off. Instead, Palace come out in the second half all fire and determination. And we allowed them to boss the rest of the game. The role of Zaha and Townsend was crucial in that and their wing play (plus some fairly obvious dives) resulted in a penalty and a glut of Palace corners and free-kicks. This does, of course, beg the question why we did not better adapt our tactics to counter their threat and grab back the initiative? As for bad luck (if one is tempted to use that excuse), losing two points in the 7th minute of extra time is beyond being unlucky in my book. Especially as we were in the last minute and Antonio had possession out on the flank, deep in Palace territory. Criticism of Antonio’s play in that situation is justified, but lets keep it real and in proportion. The Palace keeper gathered the ball from Antonio’s poor cross, it was poor decision-making not to keep the ball, but there was still a awful lot to do between the punt up field and Zaha’s shot finding the corner of the net. We must equally scrutinise not just Antonio’s decision-making, but also our poor defending in the lead up to the equaliser.
The match report in the Daily Mail was excessively negative in my opinion, arguing that the positivity/momentum arising from the Spurs win has been dissipated and the pressure was back on Bilic. They would argue that because the would much rather run with ‘doom and gloom’ headlines and stories about Bilic’s imminent sacking. It is part of their ‘modus operandi.’ Mistakes and losing points unnecessarily hurts, but this experience can be productive in the long-run if we only learn from it. The bottom line is the team must learn from it and use it to make us stronger for the remainder of the campaign.
And there were actually positives arising from the match. Firstly, Joe Hart had his best match in a West Ham keeper’s shirt. He pulled off some first class saves and, hopefully, his form will continue to improve with his confidence. Cresswell looked much more like his old self in this match and his contribution to the build up to Hernandez’s opening goal was excellent. Hernandez demonstrated what a class striker he is. His strike with the outside of his boot was a technically difficult skill, beautifully executed. While Ayew seems to be a player re-born. His long-distance strike was superb and just shows what increased self-confidence can do. Indeed, having a goal scoring midfielder back within our ranks (weighing with 10-15 goals) can be an important factor in revitalising our season. Mark Noble is still not at his very best, but he has improved and is applying himself manfully. He is our leader on the pitch and it is quality leadership and experience that we need at the moment. Moreover, he cares about the club and his reaction at the end of the Palace game (regardless of the rights and wrongs of it from a disciplinary perspective) at least demonstrates his passion. Finally, we still have Reid and Carroll to come back in to the team. Reid is our best defender and leads the defensive unit; while Carroll brings a different set of attributes to our forward line.
So, the bottom line for me is that things were not all wonderful after the Spurs win and ruinous after dropping points to Palace. The team need to learn from the Palace result and use the experience constructively. There were positives from yesterday, if we care to look for them, and these needs to also be considered by the fans (if not MoTD) along with the obvious negatives.
Yes, to climb the table we need a run of wins and it would have been preferable to have began that yesterday, but it will happen. And why not start by beating Liverpool, at home, on 4th November? Stranger things have happened! This is West Ham United after all. COYI!