Saturday, 30th August 2014
Extending the "meal" metaphor, the Premiership is the main course, the FA Cup the dessert (alas that West Ham seem to be on a semi-permanent diet!). The League Cup, whatever it happens to be called in any particular season? Well, when you drop from three to two courses, it's the starter that's lost, isn't it? And how many people, when a three course meal is available, just don't bother with the starter?
So we're out. Big deal. So it was Sheffield United. So what? I care about them as much as I care about Millwall, which is to say not at all. We made enough chances to have comfortably won, and went out on penalties; it's a minor disappointment, that's all. I care far more about our latest opponents Southampton, if only because we're playing them! I mean, we've just played them...
In fairness, there is much to be admired about Southampton. The way they've battled back from the brink. Their genuine focus on youth. The attractive, attacking football they've played as they've come back up the leagues. Admittedly, acquiring a reasonably wealthy owner along the way hasn't hurt them in the least! But let's be honest. If, as a complete neutral, you had to choose a club to support, you could do worse than pick the Saints, right?
They're much changed this season from last. Most of their big names have been sold, and their manager, who I much admire, has also gone. A new manager, a new look-side, and what else? Not a lot. Same Saints as last year - neat and tidy, and largely sterile when they play West Ham. I don't watch every minute of Premiership football that I can, just every minute that I can of my team. Therefore, I don't know how Southampton fare against other sides, but their undeniably attractive style is curiously ineffective against us. Yes, they won. In a curious mirror to last week's match, where we were distinctly the better side but not dominatingly so,and won 3-1 away, ditto for them this week.
If they dominated possession, not for the first time, it does not follow that they dominated the game. As with our home victory in February, they did little with the ball. It was 15 minutes before they mustered a real effort, and that was well off target, despite having most of the play. The first half was odd; whilst it was a 45 I couldn't take my eyes off of ("One of these sides will spark into life in a moment..."), when Mike Dean blew the whistle to end it, my immediate thought was "Bloody Hell, that was dull!" Neither side ever did spark.
One-one was about right. I think we managed two good chances; the Saints, one. Vaz Te, who did little all game, had a shot well saved by the onrushing Forster. A bit jammy, perhaps, but as a rubbish retired member of the goalkeeper's union, I can only point out that you makes yer choices and takes yer chances. The only thing Forster could do was charge, spread, hope, and he got away with it. Had it been Adrian, I'm sure most Irons' would have been applauding, rather than grumbling.
Five minutes later, Noble's goal was fortunate, to say the least. Zarate showed his energy again, zipping back to rob Schneiderlin. Noble drove forward as a result, but his shot would have been comfortably saved, were it not for a big deflection off of Yoshida's shin. Mike Read managed to even things up just before half time. He gave the Saints a nothing free kick for a nothing coming together on the right touchline. We couldn't clear the dangerous ball in and, despite one flying block from O'Brien, Schneiderlin got a second bite at the cherry and equalised.
We might have gone in front again only a couple of minutes after half time. Kouyate went on a run and put a lovely ball across the area. Alas, it was just beyond Cole! And that was as good as it got. Both sides were rather average in the first half. Southampton were no better in the second, but we were worse. We simply didn't come out and play.
The performance of the ref didn't help. I am reluctant to criticise the officials, as a rule. It's too easy to do so, especially when we, as fans, have the benefit of hindsight, a dozen angles, and slow motion replays. But Read was poor today, especially in the second half.
Aside from the nothing free kick in the first half that resulted in the equaliser, he'd given us a mystifying goal kick when the ball clearly came off O'Brien's boot. After the restart, Read gave him the most ridiculous yellow I've seen in recent times (I'm ignoring Cheato's Dying Swan act that got Big Andy sent off last season). A rotten Tadic touch meant that Joey had every right to fly in at the ball. He got it. Momentum meant that he was always going to catch Tadic afterwards, especially since Tadic just stood there, but it was never a free kick, let alone a booking. A dangerous free kick resulted.
Little more than five minutes later, Read gets another goal kick / corner dreadfully wrong. Southampton get a corner when we should have a goal kick. We then go completely to sleep, too busy arguing the toss, and Cresswell, the only one awake, can't stop Scheniderlin popping it in at the near post.
On 82, the Saints put the game to bed. After sloppy defending, Adrian did well to beat out a shot-cum-cross, but such was our disarray that, when it fell to Pelle, he had an entirely unpressured finish. For the final 10 minutes, Southampton did what they had been doing for most of the game and simply knocked the ball around to no purpose. We, as for most the game, had no idea how to get it off them.
Man of the Match? The Editor might decide to pick one on the basis of my ratings but, quite honestly, I can't name one. Noble scored, but also gave the ball away and failed, as captain, to lift the team. Kouyate was energetic, as was Zarate, but neither created much. Reid and Tomkins were solid and didn't make any individual mistakes, yet we conceded three times. Adrian made a couple of decent saves, but was mostly let down by the ten men in front of him. Dear Mr Editor, I'd rather you didn't, but if you really must list a MotM, make it Adrian, if only on the grounds that he is less undeserving than the rest!
This was exactly the disappointing performance that I was musing about at the end of my report on the Palace game last week. Southampton weren't good; they were average all game long. The trouble is we were average in the first half, poor in the second, and the Saints travel back to the South coast with a deserved three points as a consequence.
Who to blame? Well, the players obviously didn't perform well, especially after the interval. Inevitably, though, you have to point a finger at Allardyce. Vaz Te, in his first two league games has been successively poor and insipid. So why was he starting again? He was better, but still sub-standard, and we have alternatives, Diame not being the least. Is he going to be leaving? What of it? You play your best team on the day and, if you do that, VT plainly shouldn't be starting for us.
Valencia was fit enough to play 120 minutes on Tuesday and Sakho, despite his supposedly tweaked back, was fit enough to be on the bench. So why was Cole; despite his effort, completely ineffective; not subbed before 78 minutes? No plan B, uninspired substitutions, same old Sam! And set pieces is one thing he is supposed to be good at. We were shaky all game long defending them.
We ought to have 4 points, because we never should have lost to Spurs, but there's no arguing that we were second best to Southampton and defeat was the right result. Still, we're above Man Utd in the table, and Liverpool embarrassed Spurs again. You have to take what little silver linings you can find!
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Adrian San Miguel del Castillo
Couldn't do anything about the goals. Made a couple of decent saves.
Wasn't bloody awful, wasn't bloody good either.
Did his best on an all-round off-colour day.
Didn't do anything horribly wrong, but who is leading the defence?
As per Tomkins. One of these two should have been bossing things, but neither seemed to be.
Scored. Gave the ball away. Ran around a lot. Failed to drive us on. He's better than today.
Energetic again, but... Learning curve, I guess.
Lively again, and created our goal, but couldn't inspire a poor team.
No lack of effort; he was defending behind JOB on more than one occasion; but did nothing going forwards. Possibly his worst game for us so far.
Ricardo Vaz Te
His best league game of the season. Which is not a compliment, given how rubbish he was in the first two! Must be dropped for the Hull game. Must be...
Not entirely his fault, because the service he received was lousy, but anonymous, ineffective, and I've no idea why he lasted 78 minutes. If he's shoved out the door before the transfer window shuts, this'll be a sad way to finish a dedicated, hard-working, and much-appreciated West Ham career.
(Replaced Zarate) Couldn't lift an under-par side.
(Replaced Vaz Te) Ditto.
(Replaced Cole) 15 minutes? He may be good, but he's not a miracle worker. No effect on proceedings.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Referee: Mike Dean.
Man of the Match: Cheikhou Kouyate.
West Ham United
Adrian San Miguel del Castillo, Joey O'Brien, Aaron Cresswell, James Tomkins, Winston Reid, Mark Noble, Cheikhou Kouyate, Mauro Zarate, Stewart Downing, Ricardo Vaz Te, Carlton Cole.
Goals: Mark Noble 27 .
Booked: Aaron Cresswell 56 Joey O Brien 62 .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Fraser Forster, Nathaniel Clyne, Maya Yoshida, Jose Fonte, Ryan Bertrand, Steven Davis, Morgan Schneiderlin, James Ward-Prowse, Shane Long, Graziano Pelle, Dusan Tadic.
Substitutes: Gaston Ramirez (Shane Long 66), Jack Cork (James Ward-Prowse 71).
Subs not used: Kelvin Davis, Florin Gardos, Victor Wanyama, Emmanuel Mayuka, Jos Hooiveld.
Goals: Morgan Schneiderlin (45, 68), Graziano Pelle (83).
Booked: Graziano Pelle (79).
Sent Off: None sent off..