Saturday, 22nd March 2014
We've had some notable and memorable victories in the last 20 year, but the truth is, we've now lost 10 of the last 11 league meetings, home and away. Only last season's 2-2 home draw has interrupted that dismal sequence.
The disappointment in today's result is the nature of the two goals and the limp second half performance. At the end of the first half, we deserved to be level. However slight a shove, however sublime a finish, Rooney did nudge Tomkins out from under the ball on seven minutes.
By that time, it must be acknowledged, the Reds might already have been 2-0 up. Fellaini had been allowed a free header, in the second minute, on a return cross from a half-cleared corner; Tomkins' ghastly cross-field ball, two minutes later, was well defended by Collins.
Adrian will certainly feel a bit embarrassed at the first goal. It's never nice to be caught out like that, and you can be sure it will be replayed time and again. Never mind the fact that 19 times out of 20 Rooney wouldn't have caught it just perfectly (he's already said, after the game, "I've tried it many times and thankfully it went in", which speaks volumes).
Never mind that, if he hadn't, it would have missed or been saved; never mind that a free-kick should have been awarded. It was one of those "once every few seasons" pieces of skill that will be remembered for decades to come.
So it goes. The complaint from many Irons' fans about the second will be that Noble was fouled by Fletcher and we should have had a penalty before they counter-attacked.
Whilst a huge shout went up, it was very much a 50/50 challenge, and I really couldn't see anything in it that merited a foul either way. Look at it like this - if that had been in our 18-yard area and a penalty had been given, we'd all, rightly, be screaming blue murder. The shame was that Noble then ran the length of the pitch to make a clearance...
That went straight onto Rooney's boot for the second. Unlucky? Just a little! The two goals aside? Adrian made a couple of good stops, especially on 24 minutes, when he managed to hold a powerful shot from Kagawa. On the whole though, in terms of play, it seemed to me to be pretty even. We had more possession than we have had recently, and did more with it.
The trouble was, Manchester's rearguard, despite the supposed weakness of having to play Carrick at the centre of defence, was well marshalled. Downing, who was my man of the match, made a mug of Rafael two or three times and had one of his best games for us, putting plenty of dangerous crosses in.
Alas, for all the threat on the flanks, almost none of it translated into genuine goal-scoring opportunities.
In the middle part of the box they either snuffed us out, or had so many bodies in the way that anything from the edges had little chance of getting through. Diame and Collins both had well-struck shots that never made it as far as the six yard box. We simply couldn't create a really good effort on goal.
Our best, almost inevitably, came from Carroll, but though he nodded down well it was straight at de Gea.
Nevertheless, it's not stretching reality very far to suggest that it could easily have been 0-0 at half time. If they had a couple of chances saved, and we created little, Rooney's second had a large slice of luck involved, and his first almost certainly should have been chalked off.
As for the second half, there's almost nothing to be said. For the first few minutes, it looked like we meant business, but The Other United simply squelched any aspirations we may have had. As a fan, you always hope, but we were never in the game to the same extent that we were in the first 45.
The Reds, though they had a few opportunities, seemed relatively content to sit on their lead. As a spectacle, the match rather died.
If half-time had been 0-0, we might have got something from the game. As it was, on the whole, I think we got what we were worth. Their goals might have been fortunate, for different reasons, but our performance in the second half simply wasn't good enough.
We perhaps deserved a goal for our first half efforts, but overall 2-1 to them would be a result that, I suspect, few would have been able to quibble with; 2-0 little less so.
There are some plusses to take from this, not the least of which is a very good performance by Downing. Sam's beloved stats will look a lot better too. Possession of 45% isn't great, but it's against Man U and biased down by that limp second half.
Compared with, for instance, a mere 31% against the Saints in our last home game, it doesn't look so bad. We had almost twice their number of corners, even if we we couldn't create anything from them.
In other words, it was far from an awful performance, and hardly an unexpected result. If we can manage four or even six points from our next two games (qt home to Hull on Wednesday, away to Sunderland on Monday week), our season will be just about about over.
With two performances like this in the next week(-ish), our Premier League status should be just about secure...
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Any and every goalie will feel they should have done better with the first goal, but that aside, he played decently and made a couple of important stops.
Solid defensively, but a bit wayward with his distribution.
Demel was, perhaps, slightly sub-6 whilst George was slightly plus-6; not enough so for either to be other than 6. Like Demel, solid defensively, but busier and better going forward.
Saved Tomkins' blushes early on, did what he needed to do, but didn't add anything beyond that.
Not one of his better games. Nearly cost us badly with one horrible cross-field pass, and was fouled off the ball far too easily by Rooney for their first. Did OK after that, but didn't really redeem himself.
Unlucky to give Rooney his second, but couldn't exert any real control in midfield and was rightly not awarded a penalty.
Threatened to threaten, rather than genuinely threatened, if you see what I mean. Worked hard enough, had one delightful little cameo in their penalty box, but ultimately didn't achieve any end result.
Worked really hard in the first half, scrapped for everything, but he's a class below what is required against a team at the top end of the Premier League (and there's no shame in that, might I add!).
By a reasonable margin, our Man of the Match. A constant threat in the first half. Some neat little flicks that always found another Iron, beat Rafael several times, and put in some really dangerous balls across the box. I question why he was switched to the other flank for 25 minutes in the second. He might have drawn a second yellow from Rafael, who he made look very uncomfortable.
After his good February, not having a great March; anonymous today.
Worked hard up front, won plenty of ball, but couldn't, for all his effort, generate anything for us today. His one genuine chance was very comfortable for de Gea.
Put one good cross in, ran around enthusiastically for 30-odd minutes. Everything else he did was poor, though. We'd have done better to keep Diame on.
In fairness, he had little chance to shine. On the other hand, he did nothing at all with what little possession he got.
Struggled on his first start last week; a mere 8 minutes against Man Utd isn't much of a chance to display his abilities. Made one error at the end, getting caught in possession by Fellaini.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Referee: Lee Mason.
Man of the Match: Stewart Downing.
West Ham United
Adrian, Guy Demel, George McCartney, James Collins, James Tomkins, Mark Noble, Mo Diame, Matt Taylor, Stewart Downing, Kevin Nolan, Andy Carroll.
Goals: None .
Booked: James Collins 33 Matt Taylor 39 .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
David de Gea, Rafael, Alex Buttner, Marouane Fellaini, Michael Carrick, Phil Jones, Ashley Young, Darren Fletcher, Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata, Shinji Kagawa.
Substitutes: Javier Hernandez (Wayne Rooney 77), Danny Welbeck (Juan Mata 78).
Subs not used: Anders Lindegaard, Patrice Evra, Nani, Tom Cleverley, Adnan Januzaj.
Goals: Wayne Rooney (8, 33).
Booked: None booked..
Sent Off: None sent off..