Saturday, 18th October 2014
They not only gave us a game at Turf Moor, they gave us a hell of a lot of trouble in the first half. Come the half-time whistle, they could easily have been two or three goals to the good. Boyd crashed a shot against the bar as early as the fifth minute, with Adrian well beaten.
Only three minutes later, Adrian then pulled off a very good save from Ings. Jutkiewicz netted the rebound, but the goal was rightly ruled out for offside. Ten minutes later, our keeper was having to push a swirling free kick around the post. Later on, he had to race off his line to cut out a dangerous through ball.
Had I been declaring Man of the Match at half time, it would have been our goalkeeper, without a doubt. With the assistance of the woodwork, he'd kept us in it. There would have a few fives against West Ham names in the player ratings, too. The first half was another Southampton performance.
Credit must be given to the Clarets for the way that they played, but it's also fair to say we didn't get going. Our passing game, particularly, was off. Time and again we'd string a few passes together, only to give possession away with a poor ball; Song was particularly guilty, and even Noble had his blushes spared by Collins just before half-time.
Still, despite that, we did muster two decent chances. Sakho, under pressure, mis-directed a header past the near post, and Downing hit the outside of the post with a curling shot across goal only four minutes later. Whilst we weren't that great, Cresswell had put in a couple of lovely crosses in; the one that Sakho missed, and another that Sakho strangely didn't appear interested in.
Nevertheless, our left back also had his hands full defensively. Peterborough are actually my closest league club these days, so I've known about George Boyd for some time. He was a thorn in our side all game long and, if only the Editor allowed, I wouldn't hesitate to endorse the Burnley sponsors and name him Man of Match.
Adrian blew his chance of that award when he dropped a corner, on the hour, under not very much pressure. He was desperately demanding a free-kick but, frankly, it was a goalkeeping error. He misjudged the flight and found the ball dropping short of him. A ricochet later and Boyd was burying an excellent finish to cap a very fine display.
Unfortunately for Boyd and for Burnley, by the time they finally did score, they were two goals behind. Football, famously, is a game of two halves, and this was a shining example of that old saying. After the game, Sam said that he had changed from the diamond formation, because he didn't think it was working. What other words may have been said at half time we will never know.
It all had the desired effect, though. Four minutes after the restart, another peach of a cross from Cresswell found Sakho's head on the edge of the six yard box, and he deftly flicked it into the corner for one-nil. I particularly enjoyed his little "Irons" celebration!
Five minutes later... well, it wasn't precisely a carbon copy, but from the other flank Jenkinson put another lovely ball across. Valencia, from the penalty spot, nodded powerfully into the same corner. He was then withdrawn just before the hour, after his midweek international stint.
His replacement made an almost immediate impact. Sakho played Cole into space; Burnley scrambled it out for a corner. Cole rose highest, but his header was cleared off the goal line by the Burnley defence.
He got his goal ten minutes later. Downing earned another corner, and took it himself. A deep ball found Sakho, who nodded it back across a packed six yard box. A despairing dive from Heaton didn't make contact, and a stooping Carlton header evaded all the bodies this time and nestled in the back of the net.
For all that we were a far better side in the second half, and for all that we lead by two goals twice, Burnley were never out of it. Between our second and third; only a couple of minutes after pulling one back, in fact; Ings had flashed a header just wide of our post with Adrian well beaten again. Downing might have scored a fourth just after our third, but his 25 yard rocket flew a couple of yards wide.
But even at the end of the game, Boyd and Burnley had not given up, and sub Barnes hit the bar, for a second time in the match, from a fairly tight angle. That, alas, is often the Achilles heel of newly promoted side - the inability to score enough goals.
Certainly, whilst I thought we deserved our win by the end, I also can't argue that Burnley didn't deserve something, and might easily have won. The goal aside, they hit the bar twice, drew a very good save from Adrian early on, and might easily have come back from 2-0 down to equalise.
But therein lies the difference - we finished chances, and they didn't. The pre-match statistics were that Burnley were the lowest scorers in the league, with three in seven, and also have the lowest shot conversion ratio at just 5 per cent. Their goal brings them level with QPR and Villa, but with just the one from 17 shots, the latter stat has probably not changed.
If you're English, as I am, you probably can't help cheering on the underdog. It's practically genetic, like queueing patiently and in an orderly fashion! So one can't help but wish Burnley well. I fear, though, that the most they can hope for is to improve on their 30 points and -40 goal difference on their previous appearance in the Premier. Survival will surely be beyond them if they can't start scoring more freely.
As for us, we now sit in the heady heights of fourth, though that may only be temporary. A Man Utd win over WBA on Monday could see them pass us. Nevertheless, I can't remember the last time we were in the Champions' League places with more than a couple of games played. It's worth noting, too, that whilst our defence is still a bit leaky, we currently are the fifth highest scorers in the division, and have the fourth best goal difference. A bit of a change from recent seasons!
Man of the Match is a difficult one. Since I can't name Boyd, I'm tempted to name Sam. Yes, Sam. I'm one of those not shy to criticise him when I think he's getting it wrong; well, he certainly deserves the plaudits (and a very happy birthday) for getting it tactically right at half time, so praise when praise is due.
The change in the team is probably best epitomised by Amalfitano. He was practically anonymous in the first half; it was debatable whether he was even worth a five. In the second half, he played really rather well and was constantly involved.
It'll be sixes all round when I get down to the ratings, but despite the testing time he was given by Boyd, the sternest test he has so far faced this season, I think I'll plump for Cresswell this week. Whilst he struggled to cope with Boyd at times, the same can be said across most of the defence and midfield match-ups. However, he was also good going forward, and supplied several excellent crosses, especially the one for the all-important first goal.
Next week brings a 12:45 kick-off, and our hardest game of the season to date. Unsurprisingly, Chelsea and Man City look streets ahead of everyone else so far, and we play host to the latter. It will be interesting to see whether Sam has the belief in the new system and the players to play the same way, or whether he chooses to change things round...
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Adrian San Miguel del Castillo
Unlike a few others, a seven in the first half, but a five in the second for dropping a b*llock.
Wasn't tested to the same degree that AC was, but wasn't as good going forwards either.
Some great crosses today, and MotM just about. Too stretched by Boyd to really deserve a seven, though.
Solid enough, but no more. Talk of new DCs for Arsenal and Liverpool lately has not seen his name mentioned. I wonder why?
Functional, rather than fancy, as usual. Happily, no rushes of blood or silly mistakes on his return to the starting line up.
A curate's egg - good in parts, but not always e.g. that horrible giveaway at the end of the first half.
Almost entirely absent from the game in the first half, very busy and far more effective in the second.
Did decently defensively, but gave the ball away too much again, especially in the first half.
Tried to make things happen, not always successfully. Delivery from corners was better than his average, though.
Not as effective as in other games, but hard-working again and took his goal well. Benefitted most from a much improved team display in the second half.
Lovely header for the second goal, but not much chance to shine in the first half. Off just before the hour.
(replaced Valencia) Proved a handful from the moment he came on, and finished nicely to more-or-less finish off Burnley.
(replaced Song) Insufficient time to influence the game.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Ricardo Vaz Te
Did not play.
Referee: Kevin Friend.
Man of the Match: Aaron Cresswell.
West Ham United
Adrian San Miguel del Castillo, Carl Jenkinson, Aaron Cresswell, Winston Reid, James Collins, Mark Noble, Morgan Amalfitano, Alex Song, Stewart Downing, Diafra Sakho, Enner Valencia.
Goals: Diafra Sakho 49 Enner Valencia 54 Carlton Cole 70 .
Booked: Winston Reid 34 .
Sent Off: None. .
Tom Heaton, Kieran Trippier, Michael Duff, Jason Shackell, Ben Mee, George Boyd, Scott Arfield, David Jones, Michael Kightly, Danny Ings, Lukas Jutkiewicz.
Substitutes: Ashley Barnes (Lukas Jutkiewicz 65), Marvin Sordell (Danny Ings 83), Nathaniel Chalobah (Michael Kightly 83).
Subs not used: Matt Gilks , Kevin Long, Ross Wallace, Stephen Ward .
Goals: George Boyd (60).
Sent Off: None..