David Hautzig's Match Report
Crystal Palace 2, West Ham 1. Was Anyone REALLY Surprised?
Last year I was in London with my family on Boxing Day. We had a lovely lunch at The White Horse in Parsons Green, and I watched us win the next evening on my IPad sitting at the kitchen table of our Airbnb. Anderson was brilliant, and I was quite optimistic about where the club was heading. This year I’m home, taking orders from customers, watching yet another Boxing Day fixture smack in the middle of a possible relegation battle. I am not in the least bit surprised by this, given that we are owned and operated by people with more failures on their CV than any of us could endure while keeping our jobs. And when it became clear that Roberto was back as goalkeeper, believe it or not I wasn’t that upset. I fully expected to lose today, so the Spaniard’s inclusion only meant a few more negatives in our goal differential. TODAY
When things are going badly, as they are yet again, I always start a match with the strange deal I make with the football gods. I’ll take a nil-nil draw, I say to them. That feeling was exasperated when I saw Roberto punch the early corner by Palace right to an Eagle waiting at the top of the eighteen yard box when literally every other keeper I have ever watched in Claret & Blue would have caught it.
Right back is an area where we are weak, and it shows the woeful transfer policy of our board. We went for a right back in Fredericks that joined from a relegated side with no transfer fee, to replace an aging right back we also signed with no transfer fee. Right backs aren’t that sexy to DS. When Zaha broke down the left with Zabaleta racing back as best he could, it was noteworthy and even impressive that Pablo got back, and used his experience to block Zaha off the ball and earn a goal kick.
From an attacking perspective, which was pretty much non existent, all we could muster in the opening twenty-five minutes was a single corner. Even with two up top, West Ham were lobbing hopeful balls over the Palace midfield. When Palace inevitably brought the ball back down to our end, it was clear they knew the weakness easiest to expose was the last line of defense. Roberto did himself no favors by continually punching instead of catching. I’d love to know why nobody on the coaching staff works on that with him.
Palace should have opened the scoring in the 31st minute when Zaha started an attack on the left. After beating Zabaleta, Noble, and Balbuena he sent a low ball across the box. Nobody was there to meet it, but Meyer got to it and rolled the ball back in front of goal for Ayew. Balbuena was challenging the man who scored the winner back in November at the London Stadium, and that bit of pressure might have meant the difference between a goal and the ball rolling just wide. Moments later, West Ham had their first attempt of the match when Antonio came in from the left and let a hard shot fly, but it flew right into the arms of Guaita.
Yes. I saw the almost catastrophic pass attempt by Roberto in the 41st minute. Ogbonna saved him. Don’t need to say much more.
Crystal Palace 0
West Ham 0
As the second began, it was actually interesting to see how ineffective we were. Without meaning to raise the ire of some of you, it didn’t look that much different to some of our matches under He Who Shall Not Be Named. There was no cohesion to anything we did. And such sloppiness inevitably leads to mistakes, as it did in minute 54 when Cresswell completely botched a back pass and Ayew jumped all over it. Unbelievably, it was Roberto to the rescue with a decent save. Moments later Milivojevic sent a rocket of a shot over the bar.
In between those two moments, something extraordinary happened. I’m sure we will hear more about it later. Noble and Cresswell looked to be in a heated argument, with Cresswell wrapping his arms around the captain. Antonio was in the mix as well.
When the television cameras came back to the action from the replay of that incident, Antonio had the ball near the top of the Palace eighteen yard box. He rolled a wonderfully weighted pass into the path of Snodgrass, who then curled a left footed effort past Guaita.
Crystal Palace 0
West Ham 1
The home side came very close to an immediate leveler when Van Aanholt took a hard, low shot that rolled across the face of goal. Moments later, he pulled his hamstring chasing down a pass from Zaha and had to come off, making the Palace injury list look like a West Ham one.
Palace won their fifth corner in the 66th minute when Zaha sent a beauty of a floating ball to the far post for Meyer, who volleyed it off Cresswell to win the set piece. The Hammers defended the initial delivery, only for Palace to keep coming back. With our problems on set pieces, it was easy to understand why they kept sending the ball into the box. The strategy finally worked when an Ayew headed a ball into the path of Kouyate, and the former Hammer kept up a tradition by scoring his first goal for his new club against us.
Crystal Palace 1
West Ham 1
The Hammers had a decent chance to re-take the lead in the 76th minute when Snodgrass crossed to Lanzini in the box, who laid the ball off for Antonio fifteen yards out but his shot went high and wide. Palace had a far better chance to take the lead moments later when Zabaleta played Wickham onside, and the former West Ham target was off to the races all alone, bearing down on Roberto. The deservedly maligned Spaniard made his best save for West Ham by a country mile, coming out to meet the challenge head on. His save went high in the air, cleared out by Rice.
West Ham almost got what might have been the winner in the 87th minute. After a very impressive spell on the ball, Snodgrass was teed up right in front of goal to get his second of the game. But Riedewald made a sliding tackled to block the shot that was so good that even Snoddy himself acknowledged the play with a little clap.
But the inevitable happened in the 90th minute. And just as he did at the London Stadium, Ayew scored a late winner. After dancing around the rather static West Ham defense, his quick feet and drag back made it through the crowd. A little chip over the defenseless Roberto, and that was that.
Crystal Palace 2
West Ham 1
So we are now one point above the drop zone. There is zero reason to think this latest version of Porn Barons Fight The Drop won’t last until April or later. I suspect we have enough to stay up, but it’s by no means certain. And today cannot be laid at Roberto’s feet. I’m not blaming Pellegrini either. We lost to a team that is clearly better than us. We have dropped 15 points from a winning position this season, the most of any team in the league. We are clearly nowhere close to being the team or club many thought we would become. We are West Ham. And we all know what that truly means.
There you have it.