David Hautzig's Match Report
West Ham 2, Birmingham City 0. Should That Have Been Easier?
I put my hands up. With a few very notable exceptions, The FA Cup has rarely meant as much to me as a league match. Maybe that’s what the stunning levels of money in the game has created. But when it has captured me, it’s been a blast. In the mid 90’s, I remember losing to Spuds at home in the quarterfinals, I believe. I watched in a fire hazard level crowd at McCormacks on 3rd Avenue in Manhattan by my old apartment. I think Kitson scored to cut the deficit to one, and I went nuts with the Hammer next to me. 2006 was a lone venture in my house, but I did book a flight and a train to Cardiff in case I got a ticket. Which I didn’t. The refund process for the train to Wales was excruciating by the way. And Slaven and Le Snake sure gave us a good ride, although it’s hard to deny our strength in the table played a large part in me enjoying that.
So this morning, using my brand new ESPN+ subscription, I tiptoed down to my basement after feeding the cat to watch Nasri, Silva, Captain Adrian and the fellas. I obviously wanted to win. I really wanted Silva to score and be set up by Nasri. I got neither. But at least I got another FA Cup weekend with something to do.
We have a rule in our house. No food or drink in the basement. Well, I ignored that rule with my second cup of coffee so I would be well caffeinated for kickoff. West Ham started with a similar spurt, winning two corners in the opening moments. The second was from a hard shot, albeit from a tight angle, by Xande Silva. The set piece delivery found Ogbonna, who in all honesty is a useful threat in the box from set pieces, who sent a hard low header that was saved by Camp. But he couldn’t control the rebound, and Arnautovic was there to calmly use his noggin to put it in the back of the net.
West Ham 1
Birmingham City 0
The visitors had their first moment of any kind in the 13th minute when they won a corner. Jutkiewicz was called for a foul in the box, so that was the end of that. The Hammers came back down and won a corner of their own from a deflected Diangana attempt, but the delivery sailed over everyone. Corner corner, nothing nothing.
Before the match began, the television cameras showed Arnautovic walking around with the left side of his shorts pulled up. I immediately wondered if he did that because he felt tightness. Whatever the reason, he was replaced by Carroll in the 19th minute. He did not look happy, and he appeared to voice his displeasure with Pellegrini. The whole affair could have turned disastrous seconds later when Carroll was put down by Gardner and rolled around in obvious discomfort. Thankfully he was able to continue.
While not creating any real chances, Birmingham did a good job of calming the match down and having some time in the ball. Some of that came on the heels of West Ham mistakes, but after the early goal and 88% possession for the hosts it could have been much worse.
In the 29th minute, after West Ham won a free kick and Diop forced Camp into a good save, Birmingham launched a counter that very well might have seen them equalize on another day. First they won a corner on a timely block from Ogbonna, and then Carroll cleared a Jutkiewicz header off the line. West Ham were now on their heels.
A few years ago, I had a moment on Twitter that I readily admit I felt a bit chuffed about. Lee Clayton has been kind enough to follow me, and I said that Andy Carroll is like having a boat. It’s expensive to buy and expensive to keep. But if you can afford a boat, have a damned boat. Lee retweeted it, and the big man himself liked it. Even at age 50, I rather enjoyed that. But as the first half progressed, something began to look clearer to me. As much as I like having the boat, the metaphor now includes the fact that we don’t exist anywhere near water. Without water, a boat is useless.
Birmingham could have equalized in the 45th minute when Mahoney badly beat Masuaku on the right and sent a low cross into the box. Antonio was there in front of goal to clear the ball out for a corner, but the shift in the nature of the match was complete. Birmingham were on the up, West Ham looked confused.
West Ham 1
Birmingham City 0
The second half began just as the first half ended, with the second division side looking more likely to score than the top tier side. An early corner, then a free kick from about 35 yards out. Then a volley just wide from Jutkiewicz. Against a side with more quality I shudder to think what the scoreboard would have looked like.
West Ham won a corner in the 56th minute when Nasri ran down the ball on the right and sent a cross into the box for Carroll to chase down. Harding did well to get in Carroll’s way and put the ball out for a corner, which amounted to absolutely nothing. A minute later, Nasri’s debut in Claret & Blue ended when he was replaced by Snodgrass in a move that at least appeared like a “get this game in the books” decision from the manager.
The Hammers looked a little more lively as the second half progressed, winning a couple of corners off the speed and guile of Diangana. But there was no end product. When a cross was needed, a little flick was attempted. When it was one on three, an ill advised run was the choice. In the other direction, Birmingham kept working and kept pressing. Even though the scoreboard said it was minute 70 and we were still in front, something felt off.
In the 72nd minute, the Hammers did launch a good counter attack with Snodgrass and Antonio at the forefront. The ball came to Antonio near the top of the Birmingham eighteen yard box and he tried a low shot that just rolled wide of the net. Moments later, Silva found himself open near the same spot as Antonio worked and let fly with a shot of his own. Instead of FA Cup glory, Silva saw his shot fly high over the bar.
Birmingham asked enough questions as the second half progressed, including two corners and multiple balls into the West Ham box, that Pellegrini decided he needed Anderson on the pitch. The pessimist in me said it was to find a winner AFTER Birmingham leveled. The optimist in me…..doesn’t really exist to be fair.
Birmingham won two more corners, their 9th and 10th of the match, in the 80th minute. The first was played out for the second by Diop, and the second was gathered up by Adrian. I started looking at the clock, something I never would have expected after a second minute goal.
West Ham could have put the game away in the 84th minute when a looping ball into the box from Anderson fell to Carroll. From ten yards out, you’d think he would at least hit the target. He would have, too. If the target were near the advertising boards behind the net.
The Hammers were given the gift of Heavy Touch in the 85th minute when Harding ran down a ball on the right side. He was alone on goal, but his first touch was too heavy and it allowed Adrian to get down and gather it up before Harding was able to recover.
Andy Carroll was literally gifted what should have been a goal by Anderson in the 89th minute. A little pass into the box by our record signing and big man was all alone. He really should have just drilled it home. But he decided to go around the keeper. That required a deft touch. Deft and Andy Carroll do not normally belong in the same sentence. This was no exception. The ball went too close to the end line and side netting was all he could find. But redemption was in the cards, and in added time Antonio floated a ball into the box for Carroll to attack. He did.
West Ham 2
Birmingham City 0
I’m glad we won. Of course I am. But after the incredible December run, the losses to Watford (my fault, for which I am currently serving a ban handed down by Nigel, Sean, mt friend Lester and Lester’s dad) and Burnley along with the draw against Brighton took some air out my balloon. Today didn’t help that. We need more strength at fullback. Masuaku isn’t a defender. Neither is Antonio, although he imitates one better than Arthur. Carroll, despite the goal, looks done for us. He’s a Grill Man, and we need Chefs. Pellegrini says we have a squad he’s happy with and no meaningful additions are needed in January. Practically speaking he’s probably right. We are better off waiting until the summer to do business. Relegation looks virtually impossible, which is a gift for us in and of itself. There’s only one thing left to do now.