David Hautzig's Match Report

What was I thinking? After months of pure dysfunction, I thought the tide had turned. The departure of you know who, a few results saw us climb the table a bit, and the squad looked relatively content. Things were calm. Happy, almost.

Oops.

The articles and podcasts debating the pros and cons of the manager seemed to appear out of nowhere, Noble of all people lost his cool and was pilloried for it on the very platform that pushed his buttons in the first place, and the Chairman who cannot stay quiet took to the website to raise the temperature even more. For the record, all of the questions being debated are valid. And in today’s world, those questions escalating the way they have is par for the course. Personally, I think Bilic deserves the chance to correct his mistakes and build a better squad. I also think Kouyate and Obiang in midfield with Byram at right back is so obvious it’s transparent. Whatever the circumstances, both of those changes were made. But as I said to a Leicester supporter the other day, when he reminded me they hadn’t won an away game in the league this year, his side were visiting the perfect place to get off that snide. And I was unfortunately correct.

The first minutes of the match raised more concerns over Cresswell’s form, as Mahrez was able to slide past him and win a corner, albeit a contested one. West Ham were able to handle the set piece, but the reason for concern was there. And the worst fears were realized in the fifth minute when Mahrez looked to be curling in a cross. Cresswell sat back and gave Mahrez a lot of room, which may have caused Randolph to react late. The ball bounced right next to Randolph and into the net.

West Ham 0
Leicester 1

While I was typing the above paragraph, Leicester were awarded a free kick thirty yards from goal when Reid was called for a foul. In what looked like a perfectly rehearsed dance routine, Mahrez laid off the set piece for Albrighton who sent a ball into the box with the outside of his right foot. Robert Huth is the size of a small building, so it’s hard to understand how nobody picked him up. But nobody did, and Huth headed it home for his first goal of the EPL season.

West Ham 0
Leicester 2

In the 16th minute, Leicester continued to test the West Ham back line when Drinkwater tried to send a through ball behind Reid for Vardy. Reid stretched to make contact with the pass, and he was lucky not to need a stretcher to leave the match as his right thigh gave way. Instead of putting Ginge into his natural center half position, perhaps due to the speed in Leicester’s attack, Bilic inserted Snodgrass and the Kouyate in midfield “experiment” was over.

In the 19th minute, Antonio did a solid job holding off Drinkwater with his back to goal to win a free kick twenty-five yards from goal. Lanzini has been hailed as the man who must take over from that guy who screwed us over and moved back to France for “personal” reasons. When Lanzini struck the ball, nobody moved. I mean nobody. The ball sailed over the wall and past the static Schmeichel as if he were in a video game.

West Ham 1
Leicester 2

Minutes later, Antonio worked hard at midfield to win the ball and start a run at the Leicester defense. He threaded a lovely ball for Ayew to get onto, but after a few strides the 20 million pound man unleashed a wild shot headed nowhere in particular. Not exactly a way to endear yourself to a home crowd that needs you to do better.

One of the arguments I’ve heard put forward, often on The West Ham Way Podcast, is that the striker position isn’t necessarily a problem. It’s the lack of quality service to the existing strikers that needs to be addressed. That argument looked persuasive when Cresswell and Snodgrass couldn’t put balls into the box that Carroll could even get to, let alone score from, and then moments later Carroll himself delivered two crosses into the box that would have been quality had Carroll been able to clone himself.

In the 39th minute, Leicester won a corner after Mahrez and Albrighton worked well together, which was already a theme for the day. Carroll has rightly been credited for his defensive attributes. But as the set piece sailed in, Carroll looked to get his head on it and missed completely. The ball bounced around the box and created a perfect opportunity for a poacher. Well, guess what Vardy is? For a defense that has looked hopelessly disorganized all season that was yet again a goal that should have been avoided.

Halftime
West Ham 1
Leicester 3

When a team depends on one player too much, the physical and emotional strain that pressure carries is likely exhausting. Early in the second half, Lanzini did very well to orchestrate an escape from deep in the West Ham zone without hoofing the ball away. The ball eventually got to Antonio in the middle of the pitch, but the weight of the Claret & Blue world looked to be attached to his legs and the ball was easily snatched from him and what could have been a decent attack fizzled away. Minutes later Antonio again lost the ball in what seemed to be a moment of exhaustion, and I started to wonder if the ultimate Catch 22 was at hand. He’s our best player, and he’s too tired to make a difference.

In the 62nd minute, West Ham had their first kind of opportunity of the half when Okazaki fouled Lanzini and West Ham were awarded a free kick thirty five yards from goal. Lanzini went for it again, trying to duplicate his magic from the first half. And he almost made it, forcing Schmeichel to make a diving save and push the ball out for a corner. The delivery from that corner finally did what it was supposed to do and found Carroll. The big man headed the ball back into the box where Ayew was there with his cranium to push it past Schmeichel.

West Ham 2
Leicester 3

Leicester threatened to restore their two goal advantage in the 68th minute when Okazaki did well to hold the ball up with his back to goal and lay the ball off for Mahrez, but Cresswell timed his block well and the ball rolled out for a throw that West Ham handled well.

Not surprisingly, the game opened up with West Ham feeling the surge produced by Ayew’s goal and Leicester looking to counter. After some sloppy but energetic runs by Antonio and Ayew, the former won a free kick just outside the box. But Lanzini’s delivery was not good enough and the West Ham surge faded.

In the 73rd minute, after some nice work by Byram on the right, West Ham won a corner. Leicester cleared, but West Ham continued to attack down the right with a heavy reliance on the young right back. From the manager apparently having zero belief in him to being the focus of every attack. Who would have thunk it?

West Ham came so close to an equalizer in the 78th minute on an Andy Carroll header that many were waiting for goal line technology to buzz. Instead, Schmeichel punched it out for a corner. Minutes later David Sullivan would have been completely in his right to demand a refund from Swansea when Antonio threaded a ball behind the Leicester defense to a wide open Ayew in front of goal. All he had to do was guide it into the net. Instead he tried to blast it. He blasted it, all right. Nowhere near the goal. “He needs to go! You Cannot Miss That!” screamed my best mate Jon in a text. It was nothing short of pathetic.

After a West Ham corner in the 83rd minute, the ball fell to Kouyate right in front of goal. He turned and fired but Drinkwater was there to block it on or near the line. The ball rolled to Carroll who tried a low shot but after at least a couple of deflections the ball rolled harmlessly to Schmeichel.

In the 92nd minute, Ayew was fouled just outside the box setting up a free kick. Instead of Lanzini, it was Snodgrass who stepped over it. His delivery wasn’t good enough, but the ball bounced perfectly to Carroll right in front of Schmeichel. Like Ayew earlier, Carroll had the whole goal to aim at. Unlike Ayew, who I won’t forgive for that miss for a very long time, Carroll at least forced Schmeichel to make a spectacular stop. But Tony Gale said he should have scored, and who am I to argue with Tony Gale?

Right before the end, long time West Ham Twitter target Slimani was sent in on goal but Randolph came out to make the save.

Final Score
West Ham 2
Leicester 3

It seems that every week the narrative for our club changes close to the end of a match. I was planning a ruthless self examination as my final words, but West Ham were indeed all over them in the second half, and should have equalized. It may have been the best 45 minutes of football we have played all season, or at least up for consideration as such. As Nigel Kahn put it in a post match text, “Glorious in defeat. The West Ham Way”. So am I mad at our first half floundering, or proud of the second half fight?

Yup.

After the final whistle I couldn’t help myself but to look at the table. Not upwards, but downwards. Not only because of the result but because of the injuries to Reid and Obiang. I fear both will be out for some time. Nine points clear of the drop, and the GD improved against Hull. But Boro have two games in hand, while Sunderland has one. While doing that may sound absurd and paranoid, you should all know me well enough by now to know that’s how I approach West Ham. Start the day depressed and hope for a pleasant surprise.

The second half was pleasant, but I wasn’t surprised at how it ended.