This always happens to us, just as we get confident and look like we have learnt from the old ways we manage to mess it up royally. Friday night was therefore a significant milestone. It wasn’t one so much what a load of rubbish as we didn’t give up and we didn’t ‘not try’, but it was a game where our current limitations were thoroughly exploited and certain things have become clearly significant and need to be addressed.
We’ve been proper mugged off!
A good starting point is to begin where Brighton’s preparations began, back early last week when Hughton sat them down and explained how to beat us. Hughton is a proper clever football diehard type of manager, he played for us of course and has managed a few clubs now including Birmingham and Norwich. Hughton himself would be the first one to explain that he makes a living out of shutting down and beating teams like us but the thing was it was all too predictable and we should have seen his tactics coming.
Now I wasn’t at Brighton’s training ground and my betting account suggests my psychic abilities do not exceed average for the population but clearly Hughton sat there and told them to press the three in midfield and don’t let them have anytime on the ball. He then would have told them to exploit the gaps left by our full backs pushing forward and then he would have told them to absolutely clatter as many of our key players as they could as soon as possible to soften them up for a Friday night TV battle clubs like Brighton are so used to.
Also quite typically when there’s a football match involving West Ham and another team why does the shrewd, footballing mastermind from Forest Gate always end up on the other side shafting us? I have got lots of respect for Hughton and Brighton but I was a bit disappointed in the studs first whack it mentality of the home side.
The Brighton players made their presence felt
Within a couple of minutes Yarmolenko had been clattered Sunday league style and was numbed, minutes later Obiang (who was clearly targeted and didn’t have time to think for most of the game) was also clattered. This set the tone for the game. Our midfield three couldn’t settle but due to Noble and Rice putting in tremendous effort we still managed to press for the first and last phases of the game and at times made Brighton look like they were hanging on against a better team. However, this was not the case for the main part of the match.
The goal itself was an error and in that sort of game it was a result defining error, one we are not supposed to make anymore. The goal was taken well but it should never have happened. Much has been spoken of Masuaku since, the general consensus is that he is only really playing because Cresswell is so poor but fundamentally we need to sort it out. Watching Shearer go into overdrive is just too much to bear, we have only conceded two in the last three but he was ready and waiting.
If that wasn’t enough the most worrying development of the match was the lack of impact from the bench. Antonio again was absolutely terrible, our performance stuttered when he was introduced. Perez also appeared to contribute very little and as impact subs they were just not up to the pace of the game.
It does seem perhaps that tactically Manuel and his side are still naïve. They still fall foul of clearly labelled banana skins and although there is a good deal more promise in the side now than six weeks ago it is now clear that this season will be a learning journey and may or may not lead to a multitude of fruitful harvests as time goes on. However, currently speaking, Pellegrini’s harvest festival is limited to three cans of lentils and a packet of angel delight as teams like Brighton and others act like Normans on horseback turning up to salt the fields and poleaxe our bumper crops.
By the time the international break is done and we face up against Spurs at Stratford the Indian Summer will be over and the dreadful cold will be upon us, maybe Carroll will be able to offer an option off the bench and warm us all up with a few well timed torpedo moves. Whatever happens, left hand side of defence omitting, I think the Brighton game was more of a blip in fortune and consistency rather than indicative of a systemic failing of the team. We will have more luck than that, we will be less naïve than that and we will face opponents far less well drilled than Brighton who can always make extra money as Khabib Nurmagomedov’s roadies such was their love for whacking people when they are not even looking.
The resurgence of Noble, continued austerity in defence and flashes of ability from some of the new signings means we may well avoid a winter of discontent and hit the second half of this campaign running. If Pellegrini can install as much savvy as he does creative brilliance we will be ready for everyone and ready to think as well as ready to play, but this is still a bit of an ‘if’ and it’s the if’s that get us every time.