Zaman Siddiqui's Match Review

Lukaku went Cuckoo

Lukaku didn’t score. Let that sink in: Romelu Lukaku didn’t score against us. So this is what it feels like to play against Everton without the one goal Lukaku handicap. Prior to this match, the Belgian scored a goal against us in each of his nine previous appearances. Had he scored in this match, he would have been on double figures for consecutive goals scored! Going into this match, I was deeply concerned, given the fact that he has already scored two dozen goals so far this season. This year could be the one he makes a big move elsewhere. He is the top scoring PL player this calendar year netting 14 times with just 23 shots on target. Only Lionel Messi has scored more often in the top five European leagues than Lukaku with 17 goals.

Even though he failed to register a single shot on target in this match, I have to pay homage to the Belgian striker who could make a bigger name for himself at PSG, Barcelona or Real Madrid. I personally think that we won’t see him play in the Premier League next season. He has stated countless times before that he wants to play Champions League football. Perhaps looking back at his career will guide us to the answer. With that, we will be able to better work out whether we are going to lose a potential six points or not in the seasons to come (they all count)!

Lukaku signed for FC Anderlecht at the age of 16 in May 2009. It only took him a few months to get into the first-team just in time for next season, which he ended as the top goalscorer in the Belgian Pro League with 15 goals and won the title with his side. He also scored four goals during the club’s run to the quarter-finals of the Europa League. Makes sense for a youngster to get Europa League football, so that they can expect Champions League football when they are older. Well, that’s true if his name is Romelu Lukaku. In August 2011, he signed for Chelsea for £17M (including add-ons).

When his team won the Champions League against Bayern Munich, he admitted that he was disappointed with his involvement in his debut season, and as such, refused to hold the trophy as he didn’t feel like a winner. I mean, wow! What 19 year old kid would say that they wouldn’t want to hold arguably one of the most difficult trophies to obtain? John Terry celebrated like a complete wally, despite not even playing in that match, whilst Lukaku didn’t even let himself be happy. From there, it is worth noting both are talented, but one actually cares about his footballing career on, and more importantly, off the pitch. He later went on to outscore all of his Chelsea teammates on loan at West Brom and Everton the two seasons after. Additionally, he is the first foreign player to score 80 goals before his 24th birthday.

Our encounters with Everton over recent years have been awful – that is down to one man. Lukaku’s first appearance for Everton just had to be against us! Back in September of 2013, he came off the bench for Nikica Jelavic in the second half – who would play him? Oh, right. Us. Anyway, he came on in the second half and scored the winner in the 86th minute. That is the simplest way I can describe our relationship with him: he scores a goal and we lose the game.

Despite the hype around Lukaku and Everton, this was one of the most boring matches to watch all season. It is our first goalless draw this season and indeed at the London Stadium. The thing is, that this wasn’t an off day. There is a reason they have now failed to win any of their last six away games. Something that really caught me by surprise and indeed others who made Lukaku captain in their Fantasy Football teams (admit it) was that Everton failed to get a shot on target in the whole match. In fact, it took them until the 70th minute to register their first shot. In all honesty, Everton just weren’t at the races. Koeman said that if he was allowed to do so, he would have made 10 changes at half time.

Furthermore, I feel that whilst Everton didn’t attack like they normally do, we defended with a lot of confidence. Collins, in particular, played an absolute blinder. In previous games, through balls have snuck through when we’ve played with three at the back. With Lukaku to stop, it could have gone all wrong. Fortunately, our defence was at hand making lots of clearances. Masuaku and Nordtveit could have been forgotten about already had the manager not given them second chances. Nordtveit kept his second clean sheet out of two games playing in his native position, whilst Masuaku’s new hairstyle seems to have invigorated him, as he made seven dribbles and tracked back well. Speaking of players that never should have been considered to be completely dropped, Adrián kept his fourth clean sheet of the season; the same number Darren Randolph has kept, despite the Spaniard playing 10 games fewer. In short, we never deserved to concede. Something I can’t say too often this season.

Some new signings work out and some don’t – Calleri is currently in the latter pile. Our lack of attacking options meant that we struggled to finish. We had 15 shots with only three on target. In some ways, it is disappointing not to have got all three points, but given the predicament we are in regards to attacking options, we can’t complain. On the plus side, this draw shows the strength of our character. We have had 11 players out for at least 2 months this season, yet are currently in 13th. It is important that we keep this mentality against Stoke next week. If we can somehow end the season in the top half, that form could carry on into next season.

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Zaman Siddiqui's Match Review

Randy ain't Dandy

Gosh, that match against the team in the red and white stripes sure was difficult. We were playing Southampton, right? Honestly, I don’t know what to make of that match. We are 13th, but surely won’t stay there much longer. We played so poorly that we made Sunderland look like Southampton. Prior to this match, the Black Cats had failed to score in their last six matches, losing five of those – they scored two against us and drew. Leicester had failed to win away in the league all season before playing us – they beat us. Bournemouth defeated us, in spite of missing two penalties. Why must we be the club that makes others look good by comparison?

Randolph played horrendously. This is certainly not a one-off incident, as he has conceded many goals from similar positions. He has been poor on corners, conceding against West Brom and nearly against Swansea in our last match. I wouldn’t be surprised if pinning Randolph during corners was part of Sunderland’s game plan. But it isn’t just this match alone: he has made more errors leading to goals than any other player in the PL this season (4). When our club was founded in 1895, I’m sure one of the main tenets was to dispose of underperforming players to the bench, so that everyone has a fair chance to play. Randolph earned his place in the starting XI this way. Perhaps the same rules should apply to Adrián?

I think Randolph will be well acquainted with another invention from 1895 – the Gillette disposable razor blade. I’m not sure if others noticed, but he shaved off his beard for this match! Sadly, it proved to be ineffective, as the clean-shaven goalkeeper couldn’t keep a clean sheet. In fact, it was arguably the worst thing he has ever done, as he conceded two dismal goals. Fortunately, the newly-shaven Irishman will likely continue in goal. In his post-match interview, Bilic said: “It was a well taken goal from Borini and okay, you expect to clear the ball, but … the ball dropped and unfortunately he couldn’t hold it." Methinks the gaffer likes the new Randolph… Don’t be surprised to see Bilic sign Joe Hart in the summer, having watched him in a Head & Shoulders ad.

Moving on, another thing that we can use to widen our understanding of the ins and outs of football is two-part pricing. This is something that has become ubiquitous in the modern economy. How this works is you buy a relatively inexpensive product and spend considerably more on the replacement. For instance, have you ever noticed how the cost of replacement cartridges for an inkjet printer eventually add up to the cost of the printer itself? The reason behind this is that manufacturers deliberately sell their printers at a low cost to ensure that consumers buy ink cartridges from them. (What other alternative do the consumers have? Buy a new printer?) Likewise, Gillette sell their blade holder at a low price and sell their blades at a higher one.

When Fonte and Snodgrass were brought in, they were given higher wages. This isn’t much of a problem, but they were also signed for large transfer fees. This is what has caused a bit of kerfuffle in the dressing rooms with the other players who are unsettled. Noble, Kouyaté and Reid make less than them. Given the fact that the new players would have received a sell-on-fee (percentage of the transfer fee), the amount they receive is even higher! Had the club followed the basic rule of two-part pricing, the players could have been signed on high transfer fees, as well as an increase on the sell-on-fee percentage, in order to be able to offer lower wages. If Southampton and Hull wanted a lot for them, that is fine. But for the players to demand such exorbitant wages is detrimental to success. Simply put, just because our new signings are on higher wages doesn’t mean we are making progress as a club.

Bilic needs to be able to select teams based on both form and closeness. By that, I mean how well the player is doing in training sessions and how they interact with others on the pitch. It is painstakingly obvious that Bilic is stubborn. Be that his tactical nous or his team selection, he will never relent. I’m just going to focus on the latter for the time being. I feel as though he doesn’t want to put Adrián back in, because it will send out the message that both our keepers are subpar. They are, but it is very unlikely we will upgrade our goalkeeping selection. I honestly don’t believe he has faith in Randolph. Either that or he wants Adrián to leave the club by depriving him of game time.

One of the major problems we are experiencing is seeing games out. We have conceded a lot of late goals and I believe this is down to our laid-back approach. It simply isn’t enough to lead. We need to start winning convincingly. Much like Everton and Lukaku will be against us (I hope I’m proven wrong on that). For instance, last season we lead 1-0 against Villa who had 10 men on the pitch. We were desperately trying to put the game to bed, but we did it eventually winning 2-0. That is the sort of ambition we need to have. That includes discipline, as we have been shown more red cards than any other side in the Premier League this season (5). Byram got one in the 95th minute in this match as did Antonio in the 86th minute against Watford.


Our match against Everton certainly doesn’t fill me with confidence. If we get anything from it, we can count ourselves lucky. Bookies will be lowering their odds on Lukaku scoring. Had we won this match, I would have been slightly more optimistic about our next one. In some ways, we were fortunate to draw, given the fact that our two goals came from just three shots on target. Sunderland had double the amount of shots we had, so anything could have happened. If Bilic thinks that he will keep his job if we finish say 15th, then he is sorely mistaken. We are staying up, but that isn’t enough for a club like us. We have invested a considerable amount on players, so I don’t think he can rely on the success of last season. Just look at what happened to Claudio Ranieri.

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Zaman Siddiqui's Match Review

Cheik-mate

With both teams under the cosh, a draw certainly wasn’t going to prove fruitful in this match. Anything besides three points would have been worthless in the business end of the season. Fighting to keep their status as the only Welsh team in the Premier League, Swansea need to start winning games. At the end of the day, that is all that counts. Truth be told, this match was hardly the game of the century. We definitely deserved to win, but should have performed considerably better. With so much at stake, it was unsurprising that both sides made a cagey start.

Comparisons can be drawn between this game and a game of chess. Now, in order to play chess effectively, you need to consider strategy and tactics. A strategy is, simply put, a game plan. Slav decided to rest both Sakho and Carroll and opted for Ayew up front. Why did he even put them on the bench if he wasn’t going to use them? Perhaps it was a bluff, so as to convince Paul Clement that Bilic was going to change the formation around later? In any case, Andy Carroll has scored five times and assisted another three goals in his last six Premier League games against the Swans. No doubt Clement must have spat out the orange he was eating upon noticing that the man, who has terrorised their defence in the past, isn’t even playing!

Like with any game of football, there will be a game plan to start performing well immediately – especially against similar opposition. However, performance anxiety, as well as other factors, will make it harder to achieve that. Likewise in chess, you may have a certain strategy in mind that you can’t implement because your opponent has started out differently to how you initially expected. As ever, it is vital that both players follow the basics. This partly involves being able to think about the long-term plans for future play (“What will my opponent do next?”,“What should I do next?”). For instance, since we know that Fonte is slow, perhaps he should have adjusted his positioning? This was the game plan, of course, but he couldn’t follow it.

Finally, the best comparison I can give is with Kouyaté’s goal. I’ve saved the best for last. The Senegalese midfielder tends to play fairly deep, so when he went on his run from the back and scored, it was as if he was promoted from pawn to knight in shining armour. Nobody expects the pawn (or holding midfielder) to reach the other end of the board and capture a piece, yet that is what he did. The transformation was huge. In fact, it was what won us the game! Or as Kouyaté would prefer, Cheik-mate, before rolling onto the floor laughing.

Going into our match against Burnley back in December, we were 17th. Our next two matches were against Hull and Swansea, two teams that were in the relegation zone at the time. We thought that we simply had to win to avoid relegation. The truth of the matter is that we were never going to be relegated; we just wanted to get higher up the table, which is understandable. Losing this match to Swansea was never going to make us contenders for relegation, but it was simply about picking up form. We were unhappy with two 1-0 wins against Burnley and Hull last year, but it’s worth keeping in mind that a win’s a win. We’ve had our bad luck, so expect the good now. No doubt the post will be MOTM next week!

With wins usually come unchanged starting line-ups. However, I would advocate that we start Adrián. There was a moment in the match, in which I thought that we might concede from the corner. There were a lot of players in the box and Randolph was not at ease. The ball came in with a large chunk of the goal open and with Leroy Fer in adequate space. Fortunately, he couldn’t get onto it, otherwise we would have conceded. Prior to this game, the last time we kept a clean sheet was 11 matches ago. Randolph was partly to blame for the late equaliser from the corner against West Brom and would have been again. Neither of our keepers are ideal so we need to keep continually rotating them.

This was one of our best defensive performances. James Collins and Sam Byram, in particular, were terrific. In total, 24 headed clearances were made. Ginge should be very proud of his performance. He made sure that he got onto every ball and headed or cleared it away. Carroll must have been watching on in delight. Furthermore, Byram was voted MOTM on the Club’s Twitter account. In my opinion, he deserved it, as he played extremely well making sure that tackles were made and that the wing-play was intricate and unpredictable. At the end, he blocked Sigurdsson’s cross out for a goal kick preventing a late corner. What I immediately noticed was the no. 23 on Sigurdsson’s shirt: Byram is 23 and is already integrating with the squad. The message here is never write players off.

I personally believe that Slaven did the right thing in not subbing Sakho or Carroll on. I know that it is strange to say, given that we won, but the risk of subbing any of these two injury-prone players is just too much. Antonio is someone who is very good at recovering from injuries, so there isn’t much concern there, but given that we don’t have many options up front, we can’t afford to lose what we already have.


If we win against Sunderland, we can pretty much confirm Premier League football next season. I’m sure the Mackems will be delighted the Geordie Horse will be back in town. The Black Cats have failed to score in their last six matches, so I’m sure Big Andy will bring his goalscoring boots along. Joking aside, this is a fixture we really ought to win: the last Sunderland home win was back in December of last year! That said, I expect a scrappy win, despite the fact that they have lost five of their last six games. Simply put, we aren’t playing our best football at the moment, but are still better than our meagre opposition.

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Zaman Siddiqui's Match Review

Gunned down by the Gunners

This defeat doesn’t come as much of a surprise. We know all too well what Arsenal are capable of. They are very clinical and that is reflected in the scoreline, as the Gunners ran away with it in the end winning 3-0. The three goals came in the short space of 25 minutes. This is why Arsenal have become the first Premier League side to score 100 goals in all competitions this season. Wenger knows that this match doesn’t have much significance in the grand scheme of things, but it will help players like Walcott, who has scored more goals against us than any other PL team and Ozil, who has scored and assisted in this match as well as the reverse fixture. That said, Lukaku is, and always will be, our biggest fear.

The fact that they bring their A game against us is rather unfortunate. The previous two teams that Arsenal won against are Lincoln City and Sutton United. It isn’t as if Arsenal have been playing well of late. In fact, Tottenham are on track to finish above Arsenal for the first time since 1995! The North London Derby between Spurs and Arsenal receives a lot of attention, but the brawl between West Ham and Arsenal is also quite feisty. For instance, we were the last team to win at Highbury and the first to win at the Emirates. But recently, the Gunners have become rather vindictive. Forget about the game of football, we are the game with the gun pointing right at us.

For decades, these gunners have been above us in the taxonomy. The common West Ham peasant, I mean pheasant, has been established as an easy target for these gunners. If we were to go down the taxonomy to the Championship, the pheasant may simply be later classified as roadkill. Fortunately, we have managed to keep away from relegation by the hands of the incompetent hunters. The Black Cats did so last season with wins against Chelsea and Everton in their final few games, but thankfully, the situation isn’t as perilous for us.

Often, these big clubs hunt like Elmer Fudd tracking down Bugs Bunny. They think that every match they play against the smaller teams is going to result in a win. But like Elmer Fudd, when things don’t go according to plan, they antagonise others. For instance, when Big Sam masterminded a 0-0 draw against Chelsea, Mourinho admitted he was frustrated at our tactics – typical Jose! Additionally, when we beat Arsenal last season with 16 year old Reece Oxford pocketing Mesut Ozil, there was a lot of exasperation. It goes to show that you don’t need a big arsenal (pun intended) to beat the big teams. Now if only we could afford to be as carefree as Bugs Bunny…

As if it wasn’t obvious enough, we are in a relegation battle. Had Swansea beaten Tottenham, we would’ve been just three points off the drop zone. Thankfully, Spurs’ comeback means that we are five points off the drop zone. Never have I been more proud of them than now. We are in quite a bit of a sticky wicket. If we win our next two matches against Swansea and Sunderland, we will be on 39 points. If we lose both, then our chances of getting relegated are very likely. Two of our last three fixtures are against Liverpool and Tottenham, so we can’t afford to leave it late like Sunderland did last season. We just can’t. The two teams are currently 2nd and 3rd! Sunderland had Big Sam, who is very experienced. We have Slaven Bilic, who has none.

I personally believe that the board did the right thing in announcing that they are fully behind the gaffer. There will likely be nerves around the training ground, so it is important that the players are able to focus on the task at hand. I know that some think that replacing a manager does wonders. Just looking closely at the table, it is anything but. Despite changing managers, Palace, Hull, Swansea and Boro are all below us. This goes to show that perhaps changing managers is not quite so effective after all.

Not many would have expected a win from this game. However, that does not mean we can go into our next two matches with a defeatist mentality. The defending in the first half of this game wasn’t too bad. We will play Swansea on Saturday who led Tottenham 1-0. The fact that they lost will affect them psychologically. We need to make sure we use home advantage this time round and increase that gap between us and the relegation zone. In the first half, we took pride in defending with more tackles, interceptions and blocks than our opponents. If we can play with that solidity in defence, we should be able to get a result against the Swans. We can’t rely on a few inspired individual performances scattered across the pitch. We need to work together as a unit and give it our all.

It will take some time before our players can perform well on a regular basis. Some of them are shadows of their former selves. We need to be able to work together as a tight-knit bunch. For Slaven, this means giving opportunities to players based on form and also how well they integrate within the squad. This means that if a player isn’t technically gifted, but is able to provide other qualities to the team, that he should continue playing. This means don’t make changes for changes sake, but only if they can bolster the squad. For instance, no player has made more errors leading to a goal than Darren Randolph this season (three, level with Simon Francis and John Stones). Given that a goalkeeper is the easiest player to replace (chemistry-wise), that putting Adrián back in won’t affect the other players that much.


Our next two fixtures against Swansea and Sunderland are the most significant of the season. If we win both, we can rest fairly easily. But if we lose both, then we are in a whole heap of trouble. We have a lot riding on these two fixtures. Imagine if we were to get relegated. We have a lot of amazing players in our squad that simply won’t want to play in a lower league. We have an amazing stadium with a capacity of 57,000. Do you imagine how silly Newcastle must feel playing there with Rafa Benitez in a stadium with a capacity of 52,354? The thing is, promotion is no guarantee. We had to do it the hard way via the play-offs. That final was the nerviest match I have ever experienced!!! We recovered after five consecutive draws to get to the play-offs in 2012, but the question is, can we recover after five consecutive defeats to stay up? Like the former, I hope the latter is equally easy.

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Zaman Siddiqui's Match Review

The Silva Lining

In spite of their win, Hull still find themselves in the relegation zone. They have made good progress under Marco Silva, but still have a long way to go. This match was, to put it aptly, the silver lining. This win for Hull means that they are now a bit more likely to stay up and we all know how quickly things can change in the Premier League. Back in December, Swansea were conceding goals left, right, and centre getting obliterated each and every week. Now, the Swans are out of the drop zone.

So what does this mean for us? Well, the distress signal CQD and Hull City were both created in 1904. Just to give some further insight, CQD is one of the first distress signals adopted for radio use. It’s name is derived from the concatenation of the acronym CQ (“sécu”, from the French word sécurité) and D (“distress”). Ergo, CQD was understood by wireless operators to mean, “All stations: distress.”

There isn’t a better time to use the distress signal than now. We have plummeted down the table to 14th and are only six points clear of the drop zone. Our defeat to Hull City has surely confirmed that we are not safe from the possibility of relegation? If this was a one-off, it would be fine, but unfortunately, we have lost our last four matches! Bournemouth and Leicester were winnable games – Tottenham and Liverpool aren’t. We have also conceded at least two goals a match for the past four games. As I mentioned before, one team always get into the mix for the drop. The signs are looking more and more ominous…

On the other hand, our chances of being relegated are as likely as any team that is in the bottom half. Do one or two points between the teams around us really make that much of a difference?. Marco Silva has helped his side get six wins and a draw at the KCOM Stadium scoring 14 goals and conceding a mere five. They even beat Liverpool 2-0 at home! Taking all that into account, this was never meant to be the easy fixture we once imagined earlier in the season. It’s been three years since Marco Silva last lost a home league match winning 32 out of his last 39 games. He is a tactical genius: Grosicki, the player that came on in the second half, assisted both goals.

Our defending has been absolutely atrocious this season. I’m quite surprised that Bilic was a defender in his time. We have lost 20 points from winning positions in the Premier League this season, the most of any side. When we were 1-0 up, did it ever occur to Bilic that we could actually change around our formation to suit a slightly more defensive style? After all, Lanzini is not a natural CM. He has recently received stick for not having much tactical nous and I have to condemn him again for this. There is no point in playing the same way for the entirety of the match. That doesn’t mean that changes should only be made when we’re not winning, but that they should be used effectively with a game plan. When you are 1-0 up, utilise it with a more pragmatic approach.

Of course, not everything in defence can be attributed to the manager. We have made the most individual errors of any team in the PL that have led to goals (10). I can’t really blame the manager or the coaching staff for this as much as the players. Even in this match, Byram gave the ball to N’Diaye who hit the post only for Grosicki to curl it wide. Hull should have scored from that opportunity given by one of our players. This is not something that Bilic can be blamed for.

One of the main reasons this loss is a real cause for concern is that both teams are equally frail in defence. Hull have conceded the second most amount of goals, whilst we have conceded the joint third amount of goals. Furthermore, both teams have given away the most penalties in the Premier League this season – Hull (11) & West Ham (8).Still not convinced that we are as poor defensively as a team that is in the relegation zone? Well, we have conceded the most goals in the opening 15 minutes of games, whilst Hull have conceded the most goals in the final 15 minutes. But guess which team conceded in the final 15 minutes this time?

On the flip side, we were good in attack. The attack is made up of just Carroll and Lanzini, right? Sure felt like it. Andy Carroll opened the scoring with his 50th Premier League goal. He is the 44th English player to reach that milestone. Former Hammers Carlton Cole, Trevor Sinclair and Lee Bowyer have also achieved the feat. Anyway, I hope he can maintain his fitness levels against Arsenal as the last time he played the full 90 minutes in four successive league games was back in April 2014. Can he make it a fifth with such short recovery time? Fingers crossed. Can he get a hat-trick like last season against the Gunners? Well, that’s a bit too ambitious.


One of the first things I had gathered about Bilic came from his first two Premier League matches as manager. They were a 2-0 win over Arsenal and a 2-1 defeat to Leicester. Big Sam would have got the results the other way around. I made a direct comparison with Bilic with the thought that he could win the difficult matches and lose the easy ones. It would be very Slaven-Bilic-like to get a win against the bigger team. We lost against Hull, so I’m hoping that he can replicate what he did in his first PL match in charge and beat Arsenal.

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