Saturday, 11th April 2015
Ah. Collins is out with a dislocated shoulder, is he? That's a coincidence. Don't know your Collins from your Tomkins, Motty? I'm not surprised. I've often wondered if you have trouble locating your elbow, after all!
In actual fact, the only change from the last game was the welcome return of Valencia in place of Nolan. We started well, scored early, and were definitely on top for the first 15 minutes. Stoke worked their way back into game from there.
The rest of the half was entertaining, well-contested, and fairly even, though I felt we had the better of what chances there were. The second was scrappy, not terribly entertaining, Stoke pressed us back, definitely had the better chances, and scored with practically the last kick of the match.
They deserved their draw, no arguments, disappointing though it always is to concede so late and especially when it isn't for the first time recently. From a different perspective, it was a game where defences were resolute, midfields well organised, and good chances were at a premium. Only 5 shots on target out of 29 attempts between both teams tells its own tale.
As early as the first minute, Noble picked out the hard-working Valencia. From the resulting corner, Collins nodded down and Kouyate fired across the face of goal from a very tight angle. Jenks broke 2 minutes later, but his decent ball across the area was not attacked by anyone.
Two minutes after, Valencia dawdled on the ball 25 yards out and was nudged over from behind. Begovic guessed right, and was wrong as Noble ran over the free-kick and Cresswell bent the ball up and over wall, high into the top left corner. It was only one step to the right, but it left the Potters' keeper flailing in vain.
He did better a few minutes later. After a great run from Sakho, the ball almost ran through to Valencia, but Begovic beat him to it. He had an easy low save a few minutes later. There was a neat little sidestep from Kouyate that gave the opportunity for a 25 yard effort. It was well-struck, but lacked power.
Stoke were starting to find their feet in the game by this time, with one cross that was simple for Adrian to catch, and a corner that resulted only in a goal-kick. Collins got booked on 20 for being a split second late into a challenge. Almost immediately after, we had a sustained spell of pressure, but couldn't manufacture a clear chance.
The match was definitely evenly poised by this time. The visitors were generating half-chances, forcing blocks and corners, and enjoying a good share of possession. Their most dangerous players were Walters and Moses, and Jenks was getting a fair old test in defence. Cresswell had a much easier time of things on the other side.
Nevertheless, whilst Adrian had to be alert, he never had a save to make that's worth a mention. The one slightly contentious moment of the half came when Reid shepherded the ball out, under pressure, for a goal kick a little after the half hour.
The Stoke player slid in and hooked it back from just out-of-play, but the view of the linesman was wholly obscured by the Potters' body - he can hardly, then, be blamed for not awarding the goal kick. A chance did result, but Jenks deflected Moses' shot wide, the corner eventually finishing again as a goal kick.
Moses hurt himself in the act of shooting just wide, with Adrian covering, a couple of minutes before half-time and was immediately subbed. Unfortunate for him, but not for us, since he was becoming an increasing nuisance.
We ended the half on the attack, with probably the best chance of it, bar the free kick. This time marauding on the right, breaking from a Stoke corner, Valencia played in Kouyate. Unfortunately, the pass was very slightly behind Mr Duracell, and his first time shot slipped just wide.
That the ref then, mysteriously, played very nearly 4 minutes of added time, when only 3 were signalled, turned out to be a portent. Although he had had a couple of ironic cheers for awarding us decisions, in actual fact, I thought he had a very good first half.
Stoke are not a Pulis team any more. They were no more physical than most other top flight sides are, and certainly no more than we were. So, after that, it was a shame that the quality of Mr East's performance, along with the quality of the game, went right off the boil.
His most peculiar decision undoubtedly came 10 minutes after the restart. He decided that, after a foul on Diouf, there was no advantage and so called the game back. Fair enough, except that in the first place, Diouf jumped into our player. If there was an offence, it was against West Ham, not by West Ham.
Worse was the length of time that had passed. I may be exagerrating in suggesting it was a good 10 seconds later that he blew up, but it was certainly a long way past a legitimate advantage recall.
Many people think there is a specific limit of 3 seconds; in actual fact, there isn't. The rule is vaguely worded, presumably deliberately, and says only "within a few seconds". However you care to interpret that, "a few" is not "more than 5", which it most certainly was!
Ho hum. No advantage accrued to Stoke even with the doubly incorrect free kick, and we can hardly blame our second half performance on the referee. He may have been erratic in the second period, but he did nothing game-breaking.
We simply didn't match Stoke's desire sufficiently. Whether they had upped their performance or we had let our's drop is moot. They finished the match with 65% possession, which says something about the unevenness of the second half.
Not that we didn't have chances, because we did. On the hour, Downing whipped in a dangerous free kick that Reid couldn't quite meet; Begovic collected comfortably. Cole, who replaced Sakho just before the hour, battled well on the right 10 minutes later. The ball broke to Kouyate, who burst into the box forcing a save and corner.
A couple of minutes later, Valenica did sufficiently well on the right to induce Pieters to haul him down, thereby earning Stoke's only yellow of the day. And, up to this point, whilst we'd been a bit on the back foot, Stoke had had only one chance of note in the half.
Arnautovic finished off a "hat-trick" when he finally netted the equaliser. By then, he'd had no less than two chalked off for offside; rightly so. The first was on 68, when Jenks craftily stepped up and caught him out; the second already 2 minutes into injury time, when the flag went up immediately.
His "third" was certainly legal, and a good goal too. He drove diagonally across the pitch, passing two defenders, and then struck a low shot across Adrian's right hand, from the edge of the box and into the far corner.
Before all that, Shawcross, at the other end, was bullied into a mistake by Cole and Amalfitano, but Morgan went before Cole could slip the ball through, and was consequently offside himself. Diouf then, out of nothing, thumped a powerful header against the inside of the left-hand upright, only to see it flash across the face of goal and away. Adam, subdued for most of the game, had a late shot, but the excellent Jenks pressured him into putting it wide.
One-one, in the end, was a fair result. Stoke had a decent share of the first half, but one-nil was probably right at half-time. Although it got scrappy in the second and Stoke definitely had the upper hand, it wasn't crushingly so. The game still ebbed and flowed, with chances at both ends, so a point apiece is a fair return for both clubs.
Unsurprisingly, in a game that I felt the defences dominated, it's a defender that's again Man of the Match. More surprisingly, perhaps, no it's not Cressie. He may get into Garth Crooks' asinine BBC Team of the Week. On the basis of the free kick.
'Scuse me, Garth? Defenders? They're picked to defend. The clue is in the name... Cressie did OK, but was the least worked of the four. At half-time, I was leaning towards Reid, but he fluffed his lines more than once in the second period.
No, pick of the bunch today was Jenkinson. He had Moses and Walters coming up his side a lot. He coped pretty well with both, got Arnautovic caught offside, generally harried and blocked and tackled, and even got forward decently once or twice.
Next week will be Backlash Week. We don't get a lot at the Etihad, at the best of times. Not surprisingly, given the gulf in money between us and City. Their form may be bad lately, but they've just been roundly thumped in their local derby. They won't like that. They certainly won't want to give the teams below them any further cause for optimism over fourth place, dodgy form or no.
Oh, and we beat them at Upton Park. They won't like that either. Frankly, anything could happen, but the most likely is that they will want to set a few things straight - they have points to win and an even bigger point that they will want to prove. Right now, I'd take a good West Ham performance whilst losing two-one (it'd be nice to get a goal)! We shall see...
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Alert when he needed to be, but didn't have a huge amount to actually do, and could do nothing more than he did the 4 times he was beaten.
Man of the Match. Don't let Liverpool pinch him - Glen Johnson on a free, or £10M for Jenks? Jenks, please!
Spectacular goal, yes, but otherwise undistinguished today. Without the free kick a 6, with it, another not quite worth a 7.
Almost a 7, almost a MotM, but a few errors crept in in the last half hour.
An agricultural week this week for sure, after 2 MotMs. Some definite hoofs & fluffed clearances, though he otherwise defended stoutly enough.
An average Song game. Truth is, he looks an average top-half of the Prem player lately. Which is good, true. But he should be better.
Work-rate continues to impress, but couldn't outshine an equally hard-working Stoke midfield.
Worked hard as always, but found himself defending more than he'd have liked.
Doesn't shirk either, but not the player he was earlier in the season. Inspiring only fitfully.
Another not quite a 7, another whose work-rate continues to impress, but did get brushed off the ball too easily a few times.
Worked hard (I keep saying that!) for an hour, but didn't get the best service. Seemed to pick up a knock before being taken off.
(Replaced) Did enough to lift the Subs' 5 to a 6. Got booked late on for I know not what.
(Replaced Song) Replaced Song for just short of 30 minutes to no great effect. Got booked for.. well, being Kevin Nolan, really!
(Replaced) Had one or two interesting moments in his quarter hour, but no real opportunity to influence matters.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Referee: Roger East.
Man of the Match: Cheikhou Kouyate.
West Ham United
Carl Jenkinson, Carl Jenkinson, Aaron Cresswell, Winston Reid, James Collins, Alex Song, Cheikhou Kouyate, Mark Noble, Stewart Downing, Enner Valencia, Diafra Sakho.
Goals: Aaron Cresswell 8 .
Booked: James Collins .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Subs not used: .
Sent Off: n/a.