The Blind Hammer Swansea Match Report
West Ham 1 Swansea 0.
West Ham won, to our massive relief, a difficult game with a solid performance under the most pressure they have endured this season. The game was variously described as the most important since our Blackpool Playoff final, the last chance for Bilic, a 6 pointer, and the most massive game of the season. Coming into the game neither Carroll nor Sacko was considered fit enough to start. Our defence had suffered injuries depriving us not only of Cresswell but more importantly Read and Obonna, in the latter cases, out for the rest of the season. The team was also weakened because one of our most recent effective midfielders, Obiang is also out for the rest of the season.
Despite the lack of these important resources, against the heat of the most intense pressure they have endured all season the team ground out a crucial win. It certainly was a 6 pointer. If we had lost Swansea would have been only 2 points behind us with a much easier run in. Instead tonight we sit 8 points clear of Swansea. Swansea now has to win three games to catch up with us, with games running out. It was a massively significant result.
Not only had we lost 5 games in a row but five of the previous 7 games at the London Stadium have also ended in defeats. In these reverses we demonstrated vulnerability to punishment on the break. Error strewn loss of possession cost us dear. This was compounded by general fragility in defence to an extent that we were also conceding from set pieces, especially corners in virtually every game.
Anybody who therefore turned up expecting West Ham to play an attractive expansive style which swamped Swansea needed a serious reality check. In mainstream media the game was described as “poor”. This may have been the view of the outsider but we new what were needed were guts and application, perspiration and dedication, character and determination. I am proud that our team proved to me that when the chips were down our team had those qualities in abundance.
I have heard descriptions that the match was a “poor game”. This seems completely unfair. The match was always likely to involved nervousness. The importance not just of the clean sheet but not conceding first cannot be over stated. Those bemoaning the lack of a flowing thrilling side to our game in the first half need to consider further. Consider what the impact of conceding first in a game like this would have been. When a team is riding high on confidence, conceding first may not be a disaster. Tottenham conceded first against Swansea but could still run out easy winners. Our confidence is in stark contrast to that of Tottenham. Comparatively our confidence is in shreds. Leading up to this game West Ham have conceded an average 2 goals a game, most often recently 3. We simply cannot continue like that, we need to win ugly for a while, draw boringly.So the risk of conceding first against Swansea was enormous. If we had conceded first all the negativity of the memories from games such as the Leicester defeat would have come rushing back.
Instead whilst we were not thrilling, we crucially nullified any threat which Swansea could pose. Byram according to what I could hear from a combination of stadium commentary and Radio London had his best game in a West Ham shirt. Collins whilst never comfortable in possession was responsible for leadership and crucial marking and blocking throughout the game. Masuaku had a confident performance at the left side of the defence and looks like he should be a first choice for the rest of the season.
Whilst this may be described as an “ugly win” Kouyaté’s winner in the first half was apparently a thing of beauty. Kouyaté is a class player who apparently experiences stress and sleepless nights when worrying about relegation. His delight at scoring was demonstrated by his goal celebration for which he was sadly booked. Kouyaté will probably, along with other members of this side only return to his rampaging best when he is hopefully able to play in a team without fear. A dream for next season.
In the meantime it was Kouyaté who was able to illuminate our afternoon with the injection of class which was enough to see us grab three crucial points.
So we must celebrate this win. It was ground out of overwhelming negativity coming into the game. I have queried Bilic’s judgements in recent weeks but for me he got things absolutely spot on. He put Carroll and Sacko on the bench as insurance for a desperate last 20 minutes but he did not have to call on them. Most importantly he showed that he could set up a team which did not routinely concede. It is a lot easier to win a game when you do not need to score 3. A chunk of my confidence in Bilic has been restored so this is a reason to be cheerful.
Further reasons to be cheerful are there in the application and grit shown by Collins, Byram, and Masuaku. Despite our depleted resources we held onto a clean sheet. With that background the brilliance of a Kouyaté strike could then prove the difference. In future weeks a solid rather than expansive performance may possibly allow our other class performers like Lanzini and Carroll to make similar telling interventions with their undoubted ability. If they can do this in a game where the team is not shipping goals then they could be much more effective.
The final reason to be cheerful was the crowd. I have read a lot of nonsense about the London Stadium, including allegations that the ground is riddled with people who are not really West Ham supporters. Whilst there may be individuals like that I am convinced that this afternoon I sat in a stadium of over 50,000 supporters who overwhelmingly really cared. The relief at the final whistle was palpable. For those of you who turned up and supported our team in this massive game, I am proud to call myself a fellow Hammer alongside you.