The HamburgHammer Column

WHAT A BLOODY RELIEF THAT WAS! 2:0 in our first home game of the season, and never in doubt! We had to win this and we did just that.

Everything was a bit different this week though, and all it took was our first home game of the season being selected for a Monday night kickoff. Which is why my column was moved by mutual consent from my usual spot to this one. In general I try to make it over for the first home game of the season as a matter of principle, but this time I somehow didn’t quite fancy it, especially with the Spurs game coming up so shortly after. I ain’t missing that one!

Germany was well represented though in my absence as I know that our dear friend Ebi found his way to the London Stadium for Huddersfield and it looks like his presence fortunately helped to lift the team and put the much needed three points in the bag for us.

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In a pouring rain that would give the average summer day in Hamburg a run for its money the game was tense right from the start. I was surprised to see both the lineup and the formation, but it was looking decent enough for us in the first half in which Joe Hart didn’t have to make a single save, testament to how well we contained Huddersfield, but also a sign that we had finally managed to play a full half without committing an individual defensive howler allowing the opposition to score easily.

West Ham created numerous half-chances, starting in the second minute already when Kouyate nearly reached the ball delivered by Carroll after a knock down, but the midfield maestro just missed with his slide to get us an early lead. One minute later Carroll himself missed with an early shot. We then breathed a collective sigh of relief when Collins was back up again eventually after going down with what looked like a head injury. I was impressed to see us closing down the opposition so much better in this game than previously, Zabaleta and Chicharito teaming up, hunting like a pack of wolves and winning the ball near the corner flag in the 9th minute.

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Chicharito then had the best opportunity to score, but his effort only found the crossbar. In the 26th minute it was Antonio, showing some blistering pace on the left wing, winning us a freekick in the process which only resulted in a Collins header that was easily saved by Huddersfield’s keeper.

It was Antonio again in the 29th minute, showing his pace once more to get past his marker on the right wing this time, with not much of an end product though.
There was a weak penalty shout from a tug on Kouyate in the box one minute later while Zabaleta showed some more intent upfront with yet another committed closing down of his opponent which was great to watch.

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There were a few more half chances from Carroll, Antonio and Kouyate late on in the first half and that was that, still goalless, but at least no goal conceded.
Start of the second half and it was more of the same initially, a quick counter attack led by Chicharito in the 53rd minute looking promising, but again with no end product to show for it.

Huddersfield got into the game better now and started creating some chances of their own which however were dealt with properly by Hart and our defenders. Hart had his first proper save to make in the 54th minute, Kouyate then sliced another effort wide two minutes later and then came the 64th minute and the first change for West Ham: Chicharito off, Ayew on. Judging by the crowd reaction I wasn’t the only one thinking at that point WTF ??? Ayew, as we all know now ended up a shrewd super sub, being man of the match after scoring one goal himself and setting up another.

There were also some nice deliveries from Cresswell throughout the game, both from corners and conventional crosses. He looked a lot more like the Cresswell from the final Boleyn season in this game.

And then the breakthrough came in the 72nd minute, Ayew setting up Obiang with a nice pass on the edge of the box, Obiang curling a beautiful effort that looked destined for the top left hand corner only to find Zanka’s back, taking a wicked deflection and sailing agonisingly slowly into the opposite corner…GOAL!!!! 1:0 to West Ham, they all count I suppose.

Boy, did we deserve that bit of luck there, I think it was a good shot from Obiang full stop and he might have scored even if there hadn’t been a deflection, but I won’t argue about a goal that set us up for our first league win this season!

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And only five minutes later it was that man Ayew again, scoring with a tap in (again) from two yards out after Fonte’s initial effort from a Cresswell corner was blocked.
That goal very much broke Huddersfield’s spirit although there was a very decent shot from Ince Jr. hitting the crossbar nine minutes from the end.

Two more substitutions late on (Sakho for Carroll and Rice for Obiang) and it was game, set and match and three points for the mighty Hammers, thank you very much!

So, what impressed me the most in the game ?

a) Our defense looked a lot more solid and I think this formation works very well for us. Zabaleta was fantastic, chasing down players time and time again and even Fonte looked fairly comfortable.
b) The overall effort looked spot on and the players were running and tackling their guts out which was good to see. Also we cut down on the number of stupid passes and silly mistakes, so we actually didn’t gift a goal to the opposition. Result: Clean sheet!
c) Carroll won plenty of balls for us and looked sharp and hungry. Long may it continue. At one point he put in a cross which made me think: Shouldn’t he be the one at the end of that cross ? Which sounds physically impossible though…:-))
d) Antonio was a menace for the opposition all game. Pace, tenacity, strength. With Arnautovic on the other wing this could get interesting.
e) We managed to win a game without Mr.West Ham on the pitch. I am happy to see Mark Noble back in the starting XI for us again when healthy, but it’s still good to know we can prevail without our skipper if need be.

I am really happy for Bilic that the team got this win for him (and us) and this should somewhat ease the pressure on the birthday boy now I reckon!
Has Bilic lost the dressing room ? On account of this game I highly doubt that.

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Away from West Ham, in other (more local) news, last weekend carried a distinctive female theme in German football, both in general and also for me personally. It all started with Bibiana Steinhaus becoming the first ever woman to referee a league game in the Bundesliga. And by all accounts she had a very impressive debut indeed, debut being a bit of a misleading word here as she has obviously umpired numerous games in the Bundesliga 2 before and also been on the sidelines as assistant referee or fourth official in the Bundesliga too.

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The best word to describe her refereeing performance is inconspicious which is the best thing you can ever say about a good referee. Her refereeing style is relaxed and laid back, but firm when she has to be. She is also a great communicator, laying down the law in a clear and concise manner, also explaining her decisions to the players.

And it seems to work fantastically well with her rarely being accused of putting her stamp on the game unduly. Some referees have the tendency to make the game about themselves a lot instead of leaving the limelight to the players.

Bibiana Steinhaus has earned rave reviews with her umpiring of the Hertha Berlin-Werder Bremen game, both from fellow referees (like her partner, former British referee Howard Webb who, like Steinhaus, is from the fuzz away from the pitch) and also players like Bayern’s Franck Ribery or goalkeeping legend Iker Casillas.
Steinhaus for instance correctly played the advantage in one instance which subsequently led to a goal. It’s stuff like that which shows that the lady clearly knows what she’s doing and she will definitely have a great future in the game. As a fan you rarely root for the guy (or girl) with the whistle, but in this case I’ll make an exception.

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As a sidenote, Hertha BSC as a club also showed a nice gesture to mark the occasion of the first ever game umpired by a woman in the Bundesliga by selling half-price tickets to female fans. With female referees it is a bit like with young players, if they are good enough it doesn’t matter about age (or gender in this case). Saying that I would now expect many more female refs to follow in Bibiana’s footsteps and it won’t be long before women umpiring football games at high levels will not even raise an eyebrow anymore, it’ll be accepted and seen as a normal and good thing for football.

On a personal level I was so starved of football that I did my very own Super Sunday last weekend. Strangely enough all three major Concordia teams were playing on the same day with little overlap, so I did the crazy thing and watched our newly formed Ladies team play their first league game away from home (but still close to my place), at the ungodly hour of 9 am (easy 4:0 win), followed by the Cordi 2 game at home at 11 am (I missed the first 15 minutes of the 5:2 win) to be crowned by Concordia’s first team beating Hamburg SV’s third string 2:1 in their afternoon game.

Concordia Ladies getting ready for their first win of the season

This being my first ever ladies game attended in person, I found it to be both an interesting and entertaining experience. It was more a girls’ team though, with most of the players being aged between 16 and 24. There was all the usual passion, joy to play football and team spirit I am used to whenever I watch lower league football.
But two things struck me in particular: One, the difference in playing ability was mind-boggling, both between the two teams, but also within the teams.

Some of the girls couldn’t control a single ball, but were good at running or blocking the ball. Others were the full package, with their passes always finding a teammate, some tricks and flicks too and great reading of the game.

The second thing that struck me was how the game went along without any fuss, no bad tackles or foul language, no arguing with the referee over decisions, if players weren’t genuinely hurt, they got up off the muddy clay quickly, no moaning, no bitching. It was a very unaccustomed, but pleasant way to watch football.
Don’t start me off on the nicknames though, one of the bigger girls was called regularly on the pitch by her less than complimentary moniker “Cherry Tart”. Needless to say I felt peckish eventually, hearing cake getting mentioned every two minutes…:-))

I will definitely watch another ladies game later this season. Of course West Ham games and also the Cordi lads will keep me occupied in the main, but I have to say that you can have a jolly good time as a connoisseur of the beautiful game when watching ladies football. There’s nothing girly about it, some of the ladies are tough as nails and when you see a nice free-flowing counter attack it is great to watch, no matter if the players in question are male or female.

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With the first West Ham home game (and win) finally out of the way now, let’s hope The Hammers are off to bigger and better things this season.
The start wasn’t great (what else is new?), but it’s still early days and we can have a pretty decent season after all. After the Huddersfield win I have hope again…COYI!

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