Thursday, 4th August 2016
So a new era begins. After all the shenanigans of the past few years we have a new home. I had visited the place once before a few years back when the lovely Samantha took a day off operating the laser-operated scoreboard and got tickets for the Anniversary Games. But this was different.
I erred on the side of caution and elected to go straight to the ground from work as there was always going to be technical stuff to sort out from my point of view. The auditioning of a new pre-match watering hole can wait. A few minor pressroom hitches were cheerfully sorted out by the club’s media department and it was off to my seat.
A top tip if you are on the West Side of the stadium: choose your entrance turnstiles carefully. If You’re in Blocks 201-208 your ticket may invite you to enter via turnstiles A or C. Ignore the “C” option. There’s no straightforward route from one end to the other once inside the stadium – the concourse level route is blocked off by the hospitality suites so you end up having to walk through the seats then go up and down stairways to by-pass the bits where there are blocking walls.
In amongst all the novelty of “the new stadium” (anag. “West Ham United”) it was difficult to remember that there was a game due to be played. So there was team news. It was good to see that club historian John Helliar had survived the journey in the removal van as he distributed the team sheets pre-match.
The news was that, having had a bit of a post-Euro 2016 break, Randolph resumed his role as Cup ‘keeper in place of Adrian, whose fine double save had kept us in the competition the week before. Antonio continued in the right-back role that divides opinion whilst the right-footed Byram continued on the left. Team: Randolph, Antonio, Byram, Oxford, Reid, Noble, Nordveit, Kouyate, Valencia, Feghouli, Carroll.
A noteable feature of the new place is the way Bubbles echoes nicely around the roof with a pleasingly authentic half second delay as the speaker systems kick-in in the other side of the ground. It’ll be interesting to see/hear how good it sounds when someone a bit bigger than Slovenia’s third best side turns up (no offence).
To the game then. We were better. Much better. Though obviously the performance could hardly have been worse. I’m not sure what the bookies were giving on Kouyate to score the first goal but I guess if you backed him you will now be able to afford to eat at the ground. With 8 minutes gone, good work from Valencia and Byram on the left saw Kouyate find space in the box to finish with a clever black-heel to level the tie. Or, if you are that way minded, effectively put us ahead on the away goals rule.
Having guaranteed himself quiz question immortality, Kouyate promptly repeated the exercise. A slightly over-hit crossfield pass from Carroll was turned into a splendid ball by Antonio’s rescue work on the right wing. The Slovenian marking was, er, slovenly, and Antonio’s cross found Carroll in acres of solitude. Carroll’s knock down found Kouyate in acreage equally as uninhabited by opponent and the midfielder calmly side-footed home past the ‘keeper, rendering the away goal redundant.
It could have been three and a hat trick a few minutes later. As a rare Domzale corner broke down Antonio broke into space the acreage of which made the previously-mentioned unoccupied acres appear as small as the Vatican in comparison. Antonio unselfishly eschewed the opportunity to shoot and played the ball in towards Kouyate whose arrival was a nanosecond too late to turn the ball in. I guess if you had stuck money on a Kouyate hat-trick and he had scored you would have been able to afford to buy the place outright. Or two burgers.
As the half came to a close the French officials did something our wonderful officials (yeah right) never have the bottle to do. They added no stoppage time. This is quite common on the continent where officials don’t feel the need to prove that they have been paying attention by adding a superfluous extra sixty seconds where none is required.
Second half was pretty similar to the first. Although early on in proceedings we had the sight of the ref halting play for no readily apparent reason. He then called the skippers together in the manner that suggested that he was not happy with something. However, despite not showing too many obvious signs of discomfort it appeared that the ref was actually injured and unable to continue. On came the 4th official whose first involvement in the proceedings was to award us a free kick for a foul on Valencia, prompting comments along the lines of “I prefer this ref”.
The visitors did create the odd chance here and there. Randolph had to be awake at his near post and he also turned away a low angled drive down to his left but, overall, it’s probably fair to say he will have busier evenings.
Up the other end there were signs that we might be adding to the scoreline. Feghouli was beginning to show signs of being adept at utilising the space between central defence and the full backs. He got into decent position in that mode on a number of occasions but the quality of the finishing failed to match the quality of the initial movement.
Valencia was also blowing a bit hot and cold. One minute some glorious footwork and a penetrating run. The next….well one finish was so far wide that the player buried his face in the ground out of embarrassment.
Subs arrived. For the opposition this appeared to involve the exchange of one player with a squad number in the 90’s for another. Oh, and much to the amusement of the crowd one involved the arrival of a player called Elvis.
For our own part we made our first change on 79 minutes when Obiang replaced Kouyate, who had had a fine game even without factoring the goals into the equation. Two minutes later the tie was effectively put to bed.
Once more Noble spotted the run of Feghouli between the left back and the central defender. This time Feghouli had got his bearings right and his low angled drive gave the ‘keeper no chance. After his celebration Feghouli found himself in the referee’s notebook, the linesman bringing the fact that he had covered his head with his shirt to the attention of the ref. Some might argue that the shirt was removed but the instructions to referees are quite clear. Shirt covers your head you get a yellow. Musn’t upset shirt sponsors must we.
Feghouli was given a few more minutes before being replaced by Quina – presumably to avoid another unnecessary yellow. Fletcher and Carroll also traded places as the clock ran down. With, maybe 3 or four of stoppage added (they didn’t hold up the board) the ref called time.
The performance: Well much improved on that of the previous week though there was still a little rustiness. Some of the passing was a bit short from time to time indicating a lack of sharpness. That will obviously improve as the season goes on. Also there will (hopefully) be some new players to take things on.
The stadium? Well it’s a magnificent beast to be sure. My own personal experience was better than I expected – I thought there would be many more teething problems than I actually encountered. However, I have the advantage of leaving for home well after the final whistle goes and it was clear that people didn’t trust the late evening walk to the station, with many leaving early over the last 15 minutes to ensure a reasonable home time. I guess that is something that will change as people get used to the place and get their personal routines sorted out.
So there is much to do to get ourselves ready for the season proper but the signs are we are progressing in the right direction. Now to sort out where can I go for my pre-match pint….
* Want to submit your match reports to KUMB.com? More details here ...
Click here to view all match reports by Gordon Thrower
Not overly troubled and dealt with stuff quite comfortably.
Much better than last week but I’m not as convinced as the manager as to the long-term viability of having him in that role.
Stuck to his task well but there were still “right back playing on the left” moments that stronger opposition might exploit.
Good solid runout for the Kiwi. Might have scored in the first half but couldn’t keep an awkward volley down.
Wonderfully mature performance from the youngster. The extra games in the Europa League, should we qualify for the group stages, will stretch the squad somewhat so we may see more of him than last season.
Broke up play well and is another who can spot a through ball. Stronger tests to come but looks to be a good ‘un on this showing.
Two very clever finishes added the icing to the cake of what was a MOTM performance.
A typical Noble performance. Popped up here there and everywhere and the ball to Feghouli for the third was superb. Remind me again where he was this summer. And how England got on without him.
Not much in the way of goal threat personally but they were so afraid of him others were allowed to flourish.
Fine goal – eventually. Some superb runs but the finishing could have been better earlier on.
You had to feel for the lad. One moment a sublime piece of skill the next a horrible miss. I was reminded of Luis Boa Morte of a few years back – when things were going wrong he just tried that little bit TOO hard.
It took forever to get him on – either the buzzer thing on ref no.2’s arm wasn’t working or ref no.1 walked off still wearing it. A quiet but effective ten minutes.
Only time for a couple of touches.
A couple of nice moments in a short cameo.
Adrian San Miguel Del Castillo
Referee: Fredy Fautrel.
Man of the Match: Cheikhou Kouyate.
West Ham United
Darren Randolph, Michail Antonio, Sam Byram, Winston Reid, Reece Oxford, Havard Nordtveit, Cheikhou Kouyate, Mark Noble, Andy Carroll, Sofiane Feghouli, Enner Valencia.
Goals: Cheikhou Kouyate 8 Cheikhou Kouyate 22 Sofiane Feghouli 81 .
Booked: Michail Antonio Sofiane Feghouli Enner Valencia .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Marava, Brachi, Dobrovoljc, Horic, Balkovec, Morel, Horvat, Majer, Crnic, Alvir, Mance.
Substitutes: Husmani (Horvat 62), Juninho (Majer 77), Brantanovic (Mance 68).
Subs not used: Milic, Vetrih, Repas, Blazic.
Booked: Crnic, Balkovec, Horic.
Sent Off: None sent off..