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Spurs 2-3 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)


Filed: Thursday, 26th October 2017
By: HeadHammerShark


Sometimes it's easy to take things for granted. Sometimes it's easy to forget what made us fall in love with people, or places, or things or even, yes, football teams.

Since I started writing The H List again at the start of last season, I think I've forgotten a little of what it is that brings me to games, and that drives the love I have for my team. What it is exactly that has me excitedly texting my Dad before matches to see if he's listening, or rushing home from work so I can tune in to some far off evening game in the North.

There's plenty of things wrong with West Ham, but Christ when she dances she can really move.


Pretty, pretty, pretty good


So this isn't a night to talk about boardroom structures, managerial changes, xG or the training pitches at Rush Green. Tonight is a night to truly kick back and revel in the simple joy of being a football fan.

These are the nights we live for. Sure, Spurs fans are going to have spent all evening sending you sarcastic text messages, before deciding that this was suddenly a game they didn't care about. Forget them, our joy needn't be defined by anybody else. These are the games that make it all worthwhile.

Forget the jibes about it being our Cup Final too. Who gives a shit? If it was, well, we just went two nil down and came back to win it three - two. At Wembley. And you're trying to somehow use this to mock us? Fuck off and go and relearn what it is to be a football fan, brother.

Because on nights like this, when it all comes together and elevates us above our circumstances and grown men hug perfect strangers and people can't stop smiling and goalkeepers run seventy yards to celebrate a goal - that - that, is what being a football fan is all about. Certainly we have to put up with a lot of abject misery to get to this point, but that's just the base that flavours the cake.

It's that same feeling of lightning in the veins that has me sat here at 1.30am with The Stone Roses for company, pouring all of this out on to the page. For it's easy enough to take pot shots at the board week after week, but it's a rare treat to write about a match like this when young kids, old hands and unlikely heroes stepped out of the shadows and firmly on to the stage when we needed them most.

But this feeling....man, I love my children dearly and the best thing I can do for them is to let them know they are loved, keep them safe and help them grow up as decent people. But I wish I could bottle this feeling for them too and leave it under the Christmas tree. Maybe I'm in a post match adrenaline fuelled frenzy, but right now there is an awful lot to savour in this moment.

***

The crazy thing about this game is that the first half was awful. After forty five minutes we were two-nil down, and I had literally no idea what we were doing to attempt to score a goal. Andy Carroll was once more marooned up front like a pissed Geordie lighthouse and the formation behind him was so confusing that after twenty minutes I was reduced to assuming it was some sort of homage to Brownian Motion.

Mauricio Pochettino went full Spurs before the game by telling everyone that he was only interested in winning important trophies and that this wasn't one of them, before naming a team that had seven changes from Sunday but still had a very "Jesus, Poch, I thought you weren't taking this seriously" vibe to it.

By contrast, Bilic made nine changes and put out a group with a very "I got drunk and picked this out of a hat" feel. Two central midfielders, Rice and Kouyate, were in a back three while Andre Ayew came in to play in that weird netherworld between here and Narnia, which still didn't put him close enough to Carroll to have any impact on anything.

Meanwhile, Wembley was strangely flat as the home fans kept their powder dry for Real Madrid next week, and the atmosphere got lost in the wide open spaces. In fairness, we should have felt right at home.


Embed from Getty Images
Moussa Sissoko opens the scoring


Yet things began in customary style as Spurs scored after just six minutes, while our guys were apparently still doing an introductory ice breaker session in the centre circle. I'm not saying Moussa Sissoko was in a lot of space when he broke on to a Son through ball, but he could have been in a scene from the fucking English Patient, so isolated was he.

With that goal went the light canopy of hope that covered the West Ham end and attentions soon turned to the World Posturing Championships being held between home and visiting fans at the periphery of the away section. It's half term so both teams were strongly represented.

Meanwhile, on the pitch, after long periods of not very much, Dele Alli doubled the lead with a deflected effort, coming shortly after he had been brilliantly denied once already by Adrian. With that, all optimism went south and chants of "Sack The Board" could be heard in full-throated roar. When the away following turns, it won't be long before others follow. It felt like the start of a long night, especially as Spurs seemed to be barely out of first gear.

While this isn't a time for long detailed analysis, there was much to lament about that first half. Carroll has been roundly criticised this season, but it's hard to find fault with him when he's being played in a system so manifestly unsuited to his strengths. That said, his effort in the first half wasn't sufficient and with no pressure on the ball anywhere Spurs were dominating us as though we were a lower league team having a jolly day out in the Big Smoke.

To watch Spurs attack is to really see the difference between us and the business end of the league. Here they zipped and spun and glided and built their attacks like they were wearing ice skates on a frozen pond. By contrast, we seemed to be attempting to push a trebuchet up a hill, and so poor were we that our only effort of any note was a long range Noble strike that Michel Vorm could have kept out with a fairly solid exhale.

At half time some people left and I can't say I would ever do the same, but I also didn't have any more optimism than them. After a performance that seemed to scream "and you thought Brighton was bad", the only question was how much we could limit the damage.

***

When I was a kid I spent hours playing in my back garden, and my absolute favourite scenario was Spurs in the Cup Final at Wembley. We'd go two down and then I would lead a stirring fightback to claim the trophy with a stunning 3-2 win. I was a centre back at the time, so it did require quite a lot of imagination, some patient parents and also many daffodils died to bring you that little reminiscence.

So on a night of childhood fantasy, it seems fitting to me that the guy who probably had the exact same dreams as me was there to lead our fightback. Mark Noble gets plenty of criticism from people like me, but this was a beautiful two fingers to us all as he combined with the electric Lanzini to start, finally, pushing Spurs back.

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I mean, you wouldn't want to have to explain this to your wife


Some seem to think it was the Noble fisticuffs with Danny Rose that got things moving, or maybe that the lads were injected with "passion" at half time but I'm not sure I'd ascribe it to any of those things. Fernandes and Ayew went further forward and got closer to Carroll, Noble began to win the ball in midfield and Lanzini just started to run riot. As we began to win some loose balls, and finally get on top of Son, their best player, we edged into the contest.

Carroll too, began to work, with all the lugubrious effort of a shire horse in the rain and then in fifteen glorious minutes we were back in it. First, a Lanzini corner fell to Fernandes on the edge of the box and his low drive was only parried by Vorm to the waiting Ayew, who poked it home. The Ghanian does a very passable impression of Chicharito, it has to be said.

Five minutes later he was at it again, as this time Carroll produced a lovely deft header to free Lanzini, who in turn gloriously pulled it down with his left and crossed with his right for Ayew to finish sumptuously. At this point, there was a palpable sense of disbelief around the national stadium.

Spurs fans were perplexed at how their brilliantly coached, fluidly moving team were capitulating in the face of the first flush of competition they'd faced all evening and West Ham fans were wondering where the hell this had been all season and whether their half time pints had been laced with LSD. Better was to come as Ogbonna rose unchallenged to nod home a Lanzini corner, and in the space of fifteen minutes Slaven Bilic had written another one of his famous survival stories into the annals of his West Ham history.

And, in truth, that was that. As dangerous as they looked before the break, Spurs were completely toothless afterward. In the cold light of reflection they never threatened, and as our Ayew-led frontline continued to stretch them and harry them and dog them, it was tempting to wonder quite how much lasagne the home team had eaten at half time.

***

And what of Slaven Bilic? Well, if he has to take the criticism for losing 3-0 at home to Brighton, then he surely gets to stand on his desk and give people like me the bird after this. There are whispers that there was a team meeting in the week, but when you start giving credence to stuff like that you're on the slippery slope to believing in things like fairies and the existence of decent Vin Diesel films. Bilic is the manager and we don't get to attribute the wins to the players and the defeats to him. That's not how this works. It's not a US Presidential election - there are rules.

For Bilic, I hope this is the start of him saving his job. That might seem odd, given that I think he should have been sacked ages ago, but if he puts together a long run of fantastic results and drags us up to a top eight finish then that would be a very pleasant way to be wrong.

I don't want Bilic to fail - I just think he has, and will continue to do so. But here, when the spotlight was at it's brightest he did what managers are supposed to do. His team were awful in the first half, and he galvanised them to come back and beat a better opponent simply through the force of his own will. Had Pochettino done it, we'd be hearing about it forever.

I repeat, that's what managers are supposed to do.

Embed from Getty ImagesIt's happened again


Likewise, Andre Ayew deserves his moment of sticking it to the man. While he may be yet another confused signing with no discernible position or obvious use, there can be no denying that on this night he was a leader. His work rate and mobility, particularly in the second half, was the beacon that lit the way for others to follow. And when we needed him, his preternatural positioning allowed him to poach two goals that one assumed couldn't be scored without Chicharito on the pitch.

We can't get too carried away, but he is now our top scorer and surely deserves a place on Saturday at Palace, but crucially in whatever position it is that best serves him. I maintain that as best as I can determine, that is as a second striker. All the best with that, Slav.

Behind him, others stood tall when we needed them. Adrian continues to make a mockery of the notion that he is somehow inferior to Joe Hart, while Byram and Rice showed that there is at last some genuine competition in the squad for places. But perhaps the best thing about tonight was less the individual performances and more the collective pulling-together when it was most needed. Teams like us must be more than the sum of our constituent parts or else we will fall in the face of the greater firepower of teams like Spurs.

Take tonight, when Son was the best player on the pitch in the first half and yet isn't a regular starter for them. The gulf is huge, and while I tend to place my faith in analysis and proper metrics, I also accept that sometimes a team like ours can benefit from more prosaic qualities. Bilic took some abuse this morning for his confusing comments about the team not running enough, as though that was something outside of his control and also as though running around a lot is the sole reason for a team to be doing well.

But here tonight was a reminder that greater graft and the great drug confidence can be enough to pull a team back into a game. We should perhaps all remember that when times get tough again, and the choice is to either support our players or abuse them. Men like Arnautovic and Carroll could assuredly use a little more, y'know, support from their supporters.

***

So where to from here? I would suggest nowhere. Enjoy this moment and forget about the Palace game, or the continued slow starts, or the constant tinkering with the formation and instead take a moment to take in what happened tonight. I know it's only a Carabao Cup round of sixteen game, but never let people tell you what you're allowed to be happy about.

No, take a minute to savour the idea of brining on Marko Arnautovic when you're trying to defend a lead. Smile at the memory of Andy Carroll and Andre Ayew combining to snuff out last minute attacks in our box with the demented fervour of banshees. Laugh yourself silly at the shenanigans on Wembley Way because, let's face it, we're probably not going to be having that experience again any time soon.

Live in the moment, folks. We haven't had many of them lately, and whether you've been dreaming about this since you were a little boy or girl, or you came to this Club later through some unfathomably bad decision making on your part, it doesn't matter. Who cares if you're in England or overseas. It matters not if you were there or at home. All that matters is that you are West Ham and tonight our team gave us a gold plated reminder of why we follow.

3-2 in our cup final? Sure. Why the fuck not.

After all, that's pretty, pretty, pretty good.


Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.







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