Saturday, 8th April 2017
A while back one of my favourite bands announced they were going to play a gig in Canada, a country which I have never visited (apart from that bit you cross into from the States to get a different view of the Niagara Falls).
I was sorely tempted to go in the company of “The Lovely Samantha” but held off booking until the fixture list came out. It’s fair to say that recent matches have had me questioning that decision.
Team news was that Carroll’s groin, which had led to his withdrawal at Arsenal earlier in the week, was of sufficient concern to move him down to the bench. Antonio had recovered from the sickness that had seen him go off at half-time in midweek to join the starting line-up. Randolph, whose position had been the subject of speculation, retained his place. Starting XI: Randolph, Byram, Masuaku, Collins, Fonte, Noble, Kouyate, Snodgrass, Ayew, Lanzini, Antonio.
Well the opening exchanges were nervy as one might expect given recent form. However, as the game settled down we had more of the ball and, though chances at either end were as rare as hens’ teeth, we certainly looked the more comfortable on the ball. Or, more accurately, we looked the less uncomfortable.
The problem was the final ball. All too often some promising work would come to an end as a misplaced pass went into touch, or was played short as the recipient went long. Or went long as the recipient went short. You get the picture.
As ever, when something different is required, we looked to Lanzini to provide it and on the quarter hour a typically mazy run came to a typically unceremonial end with the player being brought down by Ayew (J). Lanzini took the resulting free-kick, which was close enough to provide the statutory “oooh” from the crowd but in truth it would probably have been covered by Fabianski had it been low enough to have required intervention.
We went a bit closer five minutes later. Some good work on the right from Byram saw the full-back cross deep. Antonio kept it alive and eventually crossed for Snodgrass who rose well only to see Fabianski keep it out – just.
Fabianski was called into action again on the half hour. Noble picked up a loose on in midfield and strode forward. After a couple of step-overs the skipper laid the ball into the path of Ayew (A) who used a defender as a shield to curl a left-footed effort that brought a fine one-handed save out of the visiting ‘keeper low to his right.
With about seven left of the half we had the sort of couple of minutes that sum up the sort of luck we are getting this season. Chasing a Randolph clearance Antonio seized up clutching his thigh in the manner that 57,000 people could immediately diagnose as “hamstring”. He hobbled back onto the pitch as play continued.
Fer attempted to break through on the edge of the box. Noble’s tackle seemed to take the ball cleanly but this didn’t bother referee Friend, who, to add insult to injury, cautioned Noble who will now miss the next match.
The free-kick was delayed whilst Antonio was assessed and replaced by Calleri. When it finally came Sigurdsson’s effort had power but Randolph gathered well and, cruicially, held on to the shot with opponents hanging around in case of rebound.
We took the lead on 43 minutes. Fine goal it was as well. Kouyate fed noble and continued his run. Noble played the ball into Snodgrass, whose first-time pass was simple but effective, allowing Kouyate to carry on the forward run with the minimum of break of stride.
Kouyate took a couple of touches before hitting (I believe I am supposed to say “unleashing” at this point) a low powerful shot into the bottom corner. A goal fit enough to grace a better match than this one maybe but hey we’ll take it. The one sour point of the exercise was referee Friend’s ticking of a box in cautioning Kouyate for celebrating with the fans. That was pretty much it for the half.
The visitors made two changes at the interval with Narsingh and Llorente replacing Routledge and Carroll (T), presumably in recognition that they had created almost nothing of note in the first 45 minutes. However, the first chance of note went our way.
Noble made a superb tackle on the left allowing Ayew (A) to move forward. Ayew (A) drifted out left and his cross wasn’t particularly good but Olsson’s attempt at clearing took the form of an air shot. Byram stole in at the back post but found only the side netting,
Just short of the hour Lanzini entered the referee’s notebook. A clever turn bought him some space on the edge of the box but he pushed the ball a little too far ahead and threw himself to the ground. A deserved yellow and not what I want to see from a West Ham player.
I would like to ask Friend how many Man City, Liverpool, Arsenal and Leicester players he has cautioned for the same offence this season though. Lanzini’s wasn’t the only dive I saw yesterday and you can add that to at least half a dozen up at Arsenal on Wednesday all of which escaped caution. I guess it’s a claret and blue thing for referees.
On 68 minutes we made our second change, Feghouli coming on for a less then over-the-moon Snodgrass.
As with the first half the visitors produced little though they went close on 75 minutes when Narsingh hit a rising drive that beat the angle of bar and post. It was claimed that Randolph got a touch but it would have been the lightest of touches and a goal kick was the verdict despite protestations.
We had a number of chances to put the game to bed. With five minutes of normal time left Calleri played the ball in from the left. The ball found Ayew (A) by way of a defender and his shot brought out another decent save from Fabianski. That was Ayew (A)’s last contribution to the match as he was replaced by Fernandes, who had been waiting to come on for ages.
As five minutes of stoppage started (if that makes sense) Lanzini’s sublime turn on the touchline took two defenders out of the game. He moved into the box and crossed for Calleri whose first time effort was identical to Byram’s earlier on, including, unfortunately, his finding only the side netting.
We survived stoppage, though a corner was worrying enough to make us wonder if all those missed chances would prove costly. The final act was a fine piece of defending by Byram that forced a goal kick that brought him the sort of appreciation from his team-mates that one might normally see reserved for a goal up the other end. And that was it.
In terms of the relative merits of the two sides this was without doubt the right result. Swansea were woeful and, had those chances gone in a final score of 3 or 4-0 would not have been flattering. However, that’s part of our problem. Like the Leicester match we could easily have suffered from not taking the chances we made. Still all’s well and all that…
A win brought out smiles all round and after a birthday pint I got to considering whether on the whole I would rather have watched what was a mediocre 90 minutes featuring two sides short on confidence or have gone to Canada.
Nah – football every time for me!
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One shot to save all day but his failure to command at the corner at the end worried me a bit.
Fine performance. Good in defence and got forward well. I think I’ll give him MOTM.
The lack of attacking threat from the visitors allowed him to get forward well.
Only caught for pace once and thankfully they didn’t twig. For the rest of the match they played to his strengths. Did well to not get sunburn.
A nice comfortable afternoon for the centre half who probably needed one of those.
Solid in the middle and notched a superb goal.
Came into the game as it progressed but should have scored late on.
Decent turn out for the skipper. The harsh booking will give him an extra week off thanks to it being his tenth of the season.
One of those who tries too hard when, as at present, things aren’t going exactly to plan. Nice little pass around the corner for Kouyate’s goal might convince him of the merits of simplicity.
As ever he was the focal point of creativity in a match that was rather short of the stuff. I do not want to see him dive again though.
Unlucky son. If that knock is as serious as it looks that might well be it for the season unfortunately.
I could see the point of bringing him on ahead of Carroll or Sakho in that we were set up to have more mobility up front. And to that end he did well working his socks off to keep the visiting defence occupied. Needs confidence with his finishing though.
Ran about a bit to little effect.
Another cameo that gave him little chance to shine.
Adrian San Miguel Del Castillo
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Man of the Match: Sam Byram.
West Ham United
Darren Randolph, Sam Byram, Arthur Masuaku, James Collins, Jose Fonte, Cheikhou Kouyate, Andre Ayew, Mark Noble, Robert Snodgrass, Manuel Lanzini, Michail Antonio.
Goals: Cheikhou Kouyate 44 .
Booked: Jose Fonte Andy Carroll .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Subs not used: .
Sent Off: None sent off..