Tuesday, 2nd December 2014
We were just about the better side against Newcastle, but needed a bit of luck to score the game's only goal. Tonight, I thought, we definitely rode our luck at times. Against Everton, we were slightly unlucky (especially with poor decisions from the officials) not to take a point; on Saturday, we needed a bit of luck to take the three points; here we were definitely a bit fortunate to get the win.
All three games have been pretty tight affairs. This was certainly an improvement on Saturday's game, in terms of quality, but luck was ridden decidedly hard at times. Were it a racehorse, I don't think you'd see it on a course for a while!
We didnít start at all well. It took us nearly 20 minutes to begin getting into the game, and by that time we were a goal down. That was courtesy of three Tomkinsí errors in quick succession.
First, he miscues a short pass sideways to Jenkinson, putting the ball out for a throw 10 yards from the halfway line. Next, from the throw he gets too tight to Anichebe, trying to get round him, with a free-kick at the corner of the box the result, once he's wrestled him to the ground. Finally, from that, in comes a wicked flat ball that Carroll canít reach, and Dawson buries his header, having lost his marker. His marker? Tomkins. As far as I could tell, anyway.
Jimmy may have been Man of the Match against the Magpies for some people; mine, were it not for Noble; but he had a stinker for the first 20 minutes, and struggled to cope with Anichebe, who was a handful all game long for everyone. Indeed, he was rightly booked for fouling the Baggiesí striker in the 17th minute. He redeemed himself later on, not least with what turned out to be the winner in stoppage time at the end of the half.
The ball broke to Carroll on the edge of the area; one of the few times it did break our way. He laid it off well to Kouyate, who struck a good low curling shot from 20 yards that Foster palmed around the post. Downing then struck a perfect corner that Tomkins met with a perfect header to make it 2-1.
He had a hand, or a rather a head, in the equaliser too. Brunt, the Baggies captain, was booked on 33 minutes for a long, lunging challenge on Nolan 20 yards into their half. In fairness to Brunt, I thought he actually got the ball but, whilst he wasnít "studs up" at all, I did think that both feet had come off the ground, and the referee presumably thought the same.
The free-kick, taken by Downing, glanced off a West Brom head before coming to Tomkins at the back post. I am less than certain whether he misdirected an attempt on goal, or genuinely meant to knock it back across. Either way, when the ball came behind Carroll, he turned and, showing great agility for a big man, pulled off a sweet overhead volley. Whilst that went straight into Fosterís chest, You-Know-Who was there, 2 yards out, to nod it in.
Nolan, he of the chicken dance, has always been a predator in the box. The last time that chickens were predators was in the age of the dinosaurs, and dinosaur is an increasingly apt description for him in the later stages of his career. He was mostly the reason, along with Tomkins, for our poor start to the game. However, whilst any regular reader of my ramblings will know Iím no Nolan fan, this is not the prelude to another slating; far from it!
Nolan is actually my Man of the Match today. However, he seemed rusty and slow in the first quarter of an hour, and in that first part of the game, the midfield simply couldnít a grip of things. Consequently, our defense was exposed, as it rarely has been so far this season. Once Nolan started to get going, that changed.
By the time the half-time whistle went, we were more or less dominant. Nolan was involved in our first serious attack. Amalfitano had missed a difficult chance, but won a corner. From that, a mad scramble in the 6 yard box ensued. Neither Nolan nor Kouyate could force the ball in; predictably the incident ended with a free-kick for a foul on the keeper, though there was no foul on anyone that I could see.
A few minutes later, Zarate struck a good clean shot, seconds after a first effort had been blocked, but it was straight at Foster. Then Amalfitano robbed Lescott in the midfield, but any chance was stillborn with a poor pass to Jenkinson. Neat interplay on 28 minutes led to a flicked ball into the box from Amalfitano, after a pass from Nolan, that no-one followed in.
By this time, we were fully in control, goals seemed inevitable; Nolan and Tomkins duly obliged. At half-time, the lead was fully deserved, despite the dodgy start.
The second half was a rather different affair. WBA were pretty much throwing the kitchen sink at us by the end of the game. Unfortunately for them, it must have been an aluminium one. Thereís a core of iron in this confident Ironsí side nowadays. For all their endeavours, the Baggies only bounced off it.
Not without a certain amount of good fortune, it must be admitted. Nolan had to be in smartly to break up one attack with the second 45 barely underway, something he did more than a few times in the course of his Man of the Match winning "good" 75 minutes. Then Berahino had a wild shot at goal. On 52, it was "how did we get away with that?"
Mulumbu chipped a free-kick in to Lescott who, a la Tomkins, headed it back across. It ricocheted off of someone to fall kindly at the feet of Dawson. He couldnít do with his feet what he had earlier done with his head, though. With an excellent chance to at least get it on target, he screwed it just wide of the post.
Whilst it wasnít all one way traffic, the remainder of the game was largely full of alarms and scares for the visitors, rather than the hosts. Any number of times, attacks were broken up or scrambled away, and the bulk of the Baggies actual efforts were either off target or blocked, most notably when Jenkinson and Tomkins blocked two shots in quick succession from substitute Varela mid-way through the half.
By then, Valencia had replaced the not-wholly effective Carroll, and Collins was on for Amalfitano. Big Andy worked jolly hard, but struggled to bring his team mates into the game as well as he usually does; at times struggled even to play simple passes accurately. Amalfitano similarly had put in plenty of effort, but his distribution wasnít always what you might have hoped. The arrival of Collins signalled a back 5, rather than 3-5-2, and we sank ever deeper.
The change in formation helped Jenkinson a little, but he had easily his worst game in a West Ham shirt. He was turned inside out at least once and had his hands more than full all game long with, at various times, Sessegnon, Berahino, and Varela giving him a moderately torrid time. Nor were his forward endeavours any more successful, his crossing being more reminiscent of Jarvis on a bad day than Downing on a good one. Nevertheless, he stuck to his task manfully and never let up. Iím sure heíll learn as much, if not more, from this eveningís work as from any of his better games.
Downing, with Nolan taking his position at the point of the diamond, was less influential than he has been, but did deliver several good set pieces, including the two that led to our goals. Zarate fizzed and bubbled again, before going rather flat after the hour, being subbed by Carlton with 15 minutes left. In fairness, half of the good things he did, heíd had to go and win the ball himself, so he got through plenty of running.
Adrian pulled off two rather good reaction saves, both from the troublesome Anichebe. The best was just before the double substitution; a well-struck, hard, low shot at his near post, which he got down to to turn away for a corner. Near the end, it was a more straightforward one with the feet, albeit from closer, which then pinballed around the penalty box before being cleared.
Unfortunately, in between those saves, he showed his petulant temperamental side again. Faffing around, instead of simply picking the ball up, Anichebe bumped into him. Cue the Spanish arm-waving and verbals weíve seen before. Anichebe wasnít impressed, neither was I. I was even less impressed when he faffed again on 81 minutes, and was very nearly caught out as he finally snatched the ball up.
A minute after that, Ideye came on, for West Bromís final substitution, and the kitchen sink was well and truly in the air Ė no less than 5 attackers on! On 90, successive errors from Kouyate and Downing resulted in Tomkins mistakenly letting the ball run out for a corner. Adrian only half-punched it away, but that was enough.
Two minutes into 4 of stoppage time, we were treated to the amusing sight of Foster, having come up for the next corner, chasing a ball down against Adrian, a chase our keeper won comfortably. With only seconds left, Dawson volleyed the final chance over. Quite why some Baggies felt moved to boo their team when the final whistle blew, Iím not sure.
Iíve harped on about luck. One of the old saws of football is that when youíre down at the bottom, you donít get much of it, and West Brom didnít, any more than we did in the same circumstances last year. Itís a circular saw, of course Ė you get no luck when youíre down there, but youíre also down there because you get no luck.
Itís a saw that cuts both ways, too, in that when youíre at the top, because youíre up there and youíre up there becauseÖ as we are at the moment. The one thing that certainly didnít run our way was 50/50 challenges and ricochets, three-quarters of which seemed to fall their way. Including twice when at least 4 quick ricochets went nicely to Baggie players. In the first 20 minutes that was fair enough Ė thatís the sort of luck you make for yourself by hard work, and we werenít working hard enough. In the rest of the game, it caused a few worrying moments!
But, quite honestly, Albion deserved a point, and it wouldnít have been a travesty had they taken all three. I've seen hardly anything of them this season, but if they perform like this more often than not, I've no doubt that, come season's end, there will be more than 3 worse teams below them in the table. So the booing was a bit of a puzzle; this was hardly "West Ham vs Hull" of last season.
It wasnít a vintage performance from us, but we were on top for 30 minutes and took advantage. They did of their first 15, but couldnít for the last 40. Therein lies a significant difference between a team in form and in luck, and another out of both. There was quite a bit of "backs to the wall, never say die" from our side and, as I said earlier, thereís iron in the Ironís these days. If it wasnít a deserved three points, they were certainly hard-earned.
The Reds managed to overcome Stoke at Old Trafford, so we havenít yet regained our (tongue firmly in cheek!) rightful place in the (so-called) Champions League places, but weíre secure in 5th for this round of games. Those games come thick and fast at this time of year, and Sunday brings us Swansea who have been quietly taking advantage of the frailties of some of the so called "big sides"; literally in the case of Arsenal, defeating them last month.
Theyíre a mere two points behind us, so theyíll be no pushovers. If we can beat them, though, the Other Utd are at Southampton on Monday Ė we may well have our place in the sun back. Keep Dreaming, Keep Bubbling, You Irons!
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Adrian San Miguel del Castillo
A reluctant 7, since he showed his nasty, petulant aside again. Those two very good reaction saves kept us in front, though, and his kicking off the floor was much better than against Everton.
A good learning experience, I hope. Struggled all game to cope with Sessegnon, Berahino, and Varela, gave away free kicks and the ball, wasteful going forwards.
Quietly competent this time out, but didn't face the same level of threat as Jenks.
Defended adequately, some good, some bad.
Awful in the first 20, better (mostly) for the rest, thumping second goal.
Slow and rusty in the first 15, but steadily got into the game from there. Got the equaliser and quite a few important interventions in defence too.
Stout in defence, but couldn't really impose himself on the Albion midfield, and didn't contribute a huge amount going forwards, bar that one shot.
Worked hard again, subbed just after the hour. Passing was better than against Newcastle, but still iffy at times.
Nolan pinched his spot at the point of the diamond, was not as effective as he often has been this campaign as a result.
Went flat after the hour and unsurprisingly subbed on 77, but fizzed around up to the 60 minute mark. Worked hard, but had to to get into the game.
Battled well, lovely overhead volley in the run-up to no. 2, but a bit below his usual standards. Fatigue, perhaps? Expected him to be subbed first and was, but fitness up another notch.
(Replaced Amalfitano) No scares or alarms from Ginge in his 30 minutes.
(Replaced Carroll) Industrious half hour, but hardly a chance to get forward to any effect.
(Replaced Zarate) Despite only having 15 minutes, worked hard enough to be worth a 6 in a frantic finale.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Referee: Mike Jones.
Man of the Match: Kevin Nolan.
West Ham United
Adrian San Miguel del Castillo, Carl Jenkinson, Aaron Cresswell, Winston Reid, James Tomkins, Kevin Nolan, Cheikhou Kouyate, Morgan Amalfitano, Stewart Downing, Mauro Zarate, Andy Carroll.
Goals: Kevin Nolan 35 James Tomkins 45 .
Booked: James Tomkins 18 .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
West Bromwich Albion
Subs not used: .
Sent Off: None sent off..