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Premier League
Saturday, 6th February 2016

Southampton 1
West Ham United 2

by Gordon Thrower

Dear Jekyll, Happy New Tear. Yours sincerely, Hyde.

The injury crisis that has hampered our progress over the past couple of months claimed another victim as Aaron Cresswell’s tight muscle ruled him out of contention. This meant a return for Jenkinson, albeit to an unfamiliar left-back slot. There were welcome returns to the bench for Manuel Lanzini and Andy Carroll after their own particular injury absences leaving us with a starting XI of Adrian, Tomkins, Cresswell, Collins, Ogbonna, Noble, Song, Kouyate, Antonio, Zarate, Valencia. There was also a change in referee, Michael Oliver stepping in for Robert Madley who had originally been listed for the match.

Well it all looked promising. For about 12 minutes or so. Possession looked ok and we’d had a couple of – admittedly wayward – sighters from Zarate and Kouyate. For those 12 minutes we looked as comfy as those slippers that you got for Christmas and are wearing while you are reading this. Then things went pear-shaped. Big time.

Ginge didn’t get anywhere near a long ball pumped from the back. Long nodded on and picked up a return ball on the overlap before crossing low into the six-yard box where Tadic was originally credited with the conversion, though replays later showed that his effort was actually going wide and that Jenkinson was actually the goalscorer. It seemed so typical for West Ham to go one down to a team that had still not mustered a shot on target.

The goal seemed to throw some sort of switch in the collective circuitry of the team – and not in a good way. From that point onwards we seemed unable to do undertake the simplest of tasks without messing things up. Imagine, if you will, a football team whose tactics seemed to have been obtained by watching a box set of Miranda Hart videos – the sort of thing a well-meaning but clueless relative gives you for Christmas without having the faintest idea of the error they are making.

We couldn’t string one pass, let alone a number of passes together. Things were over-hit, under-hit or, on those rare occasions when a ball was played into the general vicinity of a team-mate, hit with such ferocity control was impossible. Yup it was just like a Miranda Hart dvd: awkward, clumsy and, above all, totally unfunny to watch.

Southampton started to realise that their opponents were in one of those moods to take advantage of and set about trying to do so. Long got the better of Ogbonna and his pull-back found Davies on the edge of the box, Collins being on hand to block for a corner. Zarate’s attempted pass inside as we brought the ball out was suicidal and we were fortunate to see the resulting cross from the right flash across goal.

They were queuing up to have a go. After Romeu pulled an effort wide, Davies nicked the ball in midfield and, with nobody bothering to cut out the run fired a shot that was narrowly wide – though Adrian looked a lot less concerned than I was.

We had a moment of comedy as Tadic threw himself to the floor with a cry of pain of an order seldom heard outside the confines of a maternity ward. There had been zero contact on him and not even the ref was fooled.

The true nature of the incident can be determined from the fact that his team-mates pulled him to his feet and, with absolutely no input from the visiting medical team, the player ran off as fit as he had been before the incident. This ought to have been the cue for Oliver to have yellow carded the player but Oliver’s never been noted for an abundance of bottle and he ignored that particular law of the game as they so often do.

The half ended in predictable style – we won a free-kick but the one minute of stoppage expired before we could take it and a thoroughly dispiriting half came to a close. After our interval refreshments we made two changes. Carroll replaced Zarate and Lanzini came on for Song. Actually we made three changes – Jenkinson and Tomkins swapped sides. The difference was astonishing.

Almost immediately after the restart we could/nay should have equalised. Carroll forced a corner out on the right. Lanzini’s cross was sent goalbound by Collins whose header was cleared from under the bar by a defender – possibly Bertrand. Noble kept the ball alive and his cross came back off Tomkins for Carroll to blaze over from six yards. Oh, as Neik Sedaka once wrote and sung, Carroll (though those who analyse these things maintain that Sedaka had his mind on matters other than a possibly costly miss in front of the Bobby Moore Stand).

We then saw a number of yellow cards – in each case the perpetrator had transgressed in identical style in the first half but had previously been unpunished by anything more than a free-kick. First Martina went into the book for a foul on Valencia. Then Romeu ended a break out by Lanzini with a sly trip. In both cases things might have been interesting had Oliver applied the same laws in the first half as seemed to apply in the second but I would refer you to my earlier comments on the subject of Oliver and bottle.

Just to even things up a bit Tomkins went into the book for handball, an offence which seems to have been an amendment to the laws since Boxing Day when Mike Dean seemed to be actively encouraging the development of basketball skills amongst the Villa defence.

Tomkins then crossed for Carroll but Van Dijk just did enough to prevent Carroll getting enough on the header to seriously trouble Stekelenberg. Bertrand was next to see yellow – his termination of Antonio’s promising run being equally as cynical as anything his teammates had produced.

Southampton by this time had pretty much given up on the idea of being an attacking threat and were concentrating on keeping eleven behind the ball. We were passing better but a degree of patience was required, patience that was rewarded on 69 minutes in somewhat bizarre fashion.

Ginge played a diagonal ball out to the left. Martina got caught underneath it and his header only served to play in Antonio. Antonio cut in on goal and looked to be tripped. At this point, until I saw a replay I hadn’t a clue what happened. We all leapt up to scream for the penalty and the next thing I knew the ball was looping over Stekelenberg into the net. The replay showed that Wanyama’s clearance had cannoned off Antonio into the net. Antonio was lying face down on the floor at the time and knew as much about it as your average Chelsea supporter knows about the year 2002. Or, as the BBC text update put it: “Michail Antonio header from centre of goal into top left corner”. Quite.

The bit was between our teeth by now. We continued to push forward and the passing had improved beyond all recognition, as if we’d found the receipt for the Miranda Hart DVD box set, taken it back to the shop and exchanged it for a copy of “Life Of Brian” or at the very least “Holy Grail”. Lanzini pulled a shot narrowly wide whist Valencia pulled a save out of Stekelemberh.

It wasn’t all sweetness and light though. A dangerous looking ball was played in and Bertrand blocked off Carroll. A blatant penalty – and possibly a second yellow. However, if you’ve been paying attention you’ll have noted Oliver’s reputation for bottling the big decisions and he stayed true to form, awarding a free-kick to the visitors whilst putting an ad in the situations vacant column for the position of a spine, the lack of which was underlined by his subsequent failure to caution Long for a blatant dive followed by a clutching of his face, an incident that was as embarrassing as it was unpunished.

We took the lead with about 10 minutes left. Valencia seemed to pose no threat in the inside right position. However, he was given time and space to gather himself to play in a dangerous cross which Carroll and Fonte both went for and missed. Antonio’s late run connected with a header which hit the underside of the bar bouncing just wrong side of the line from our point of view. Fortunately, Carroll was on hand to nod the rebound into the net.

Valencia was replaced by Obiang to bolster the midfield for the last few minutes as Southampton pushed forward in search of the equaliser. They forced a couple of corners one of which was cleared to Antonio on the edge of the box. Antonio embarked on a lung-buster of a 70 yard run but his legs let him down at the end and he buried the shot into the Bobby Moore with Kouyate handily placed in the middle.

That, after four minutes of stoppage, was basically your lot. The transformation from the first half was astonishing – if you’d told me at half time we would win 2-1 I’d have had you sectioned. When you play that badly in a half the likelihood of your being able to change things around is, statistically speaking, somewhere on a par with the chances of your meeting an intelligent Spurs supporter.

After all those draws a win was most welcome and it was a quite pleasant way to finish off the year. We do have players coming back from injury and, with the return series of fixtures about to commence, it would be nice to take the opportunity to start running up the odd double or two. Saturday would be a good place to start perhaps…..

Happy New Year!

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Player Ratings

Adrian San Miguel Del Castillo
No chance with the goal but otherwise decent runout that on occasion kept us in the game in the first half. Dealt with a number of difficult corners well despite opposition attention that was sometimes less than legal.


James Tomkins
Given that he’s neither a right back nor a left back by trade he put up a creditable show in both positions defensively speaking, though his defensive priority mindset does reduce our attacking options from out wide when he plays there.


Carl Jenkinson
Looked exactly what he was in the first half: a right sided defender asked to play on the left. His lack of a left foot was a problem in the first 45. Wisely switched to his more familiar right-back role by Bilic after the interval he seemed infinitely more comfortable in the second half.


James Collins
Partly culpable in the build up to their goal there were a couple of heart in mouth moments, notably in the second half when he kicked an opponent up in the air just after the offside flag had been raised. However, take those moments out of the equation and he was immense, dealing well with Long’s usual antics, particularly in the second half.


Angelo Ogbonna
Got caught out of position quite a lot in the first half – often when trying to cover for Jenkinson. However, the full-back swap in the second half saw him regain some composure.


Cheikhou Kouyate
The withdrawal of Song meant his role was more clearly defined in the second half and the improvement was pivotal in our resurgence.


Alex Song
Seemed to be playing in the wrong position – he and Kouyate seemed to either be in the same place or the wrong place in the first half. His withdrawal restored a bit of balance to a midfield that was as unbalanced as a Donald Trump supporter.


Mark Noble
Kept finding opponents in the first half but his passing improved in the second half and he came up with a number of storming tackles towards the end.


Michail Antonio
Clearly purchased with one eye on the future, he has been brought into the first team picture ahead of schedule and is beginning to make a case for inclusion on a more regular basis once we get everyone fit. At times he represented our sole attacking presence. Marvellous finish for the goal (!) which, note to editor, if we introduce a Carlton Cole Memorial Award for best Comedy Goal Of The Season must surely be a shoe-in. MOTM.


Mauro Zarate
Seemed to be over-aware that his presence represented our main creative source in the first half and he was consequently guilty of trying to do too much – a dangerous combination in a player whose decision-making skills are not always at their best.


Enner Valencia
A lot of running off the ball which may have gone unnoticed. Had us all worried towards the end when trying to chase down a defender and he seemed to fall awkwardly but his late withdrawal seemed to be mainly due to his being knackered.


Substitutes


Andy Carroll
(Replaced Zarate) His mere presence seemed to unnerve the visitors’ defence. Took the winner in fine poacher style.


Manuel Lanzini
(Replaced Song) A welcome return – in the second half he was everything that the luckless Zarate had tried to be in the first.


Pedro Obiang
(Replaced Valencia) Brought on in the closing stages to bolster the midfield. Did so.


Darren Randolph
Did not play.


Stephen Hendrie
Did not play.


Reece Oxford
Did not play.


Josh Cullen
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: Mike Dean.

Attendance: 38193.

Man of the Match: Michail Antonio.

West Ham United

Goals: Michail Antonio 69 Andy Carroll 79                

Booked: James Tomkins 57          .

Sent Off:      .

Southampton

.

Substitutes: .

Subs not used: .

Goals: .

Booked: n/a.

Sent Off: None sent off..

 
Gordon Thrower's Man of the Match: Michail Antonio


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