Premier League
West Ham United 2 Norwich City 2

Saturday, 26th September 2015
by Gordon Thrower

Did someone whisper “respect the point”?

Well League Cup notwithstanding there seemed to be a general air of optimism about the place, though in the traditional KUMB management pre-match meeting (generally a quick two second "see you after the game" as UtJ arrives in the press room just before I go up to my seat - that's if he's early!), we both admitted to a slight inkling that this might not be as straightforward as everyone was thinking.

Team news was that we pretty much had what most were saying would be our best starting XI amongst those available, namely: Adrian, Jenkinson, Cresswell, Tomkins, Reid, Noble, Kouyate, Lanzini, Payet, Moses, Sakho.

A bright start lasted just under 10 minutes. We had been remaking just a few minutes previously that the cross-field passes we were indulging in were a little bit casual. Our worries were borne out as Noble played a terrible loose ball across the middle selling Tomkins short in no-man's land. Brady won the easiest of races and had a clear run on goal before tucking it away past Adrian.

The goal had a detrimental effect on the team's confidence. Whereas the first ten minutes had seen us at least looking dynamic, even if the passing wasn't 100%, we retreated into our shell and went to pieces for 20 minutes. We were second to every ball, the passing was off and we handed control over to the visitors.

Of course there's no game so bad that Mike Dean doesn't want to try and make worse. Dean, who is to refereeing what Sepp Blatter is to the rest of football, gleefully ignored a forearm smash into Payet's throat by Whittaker despite looking straight at the incident. The main query should have been whether to have issued a yellow or red card but Dean didn't even give a free-kick smiling joyfully as he realised there was another moment in the spotlight for him. Funnily enough, I'm sure Dean's reaction might be slightly different if I were to go up to him in the street and do exactly the same thing to him. Not that I would advocate violence of course but it sure as hell would be nice to be able to at least make him answer the hypothetical question.

It should have been worse. Brady, who nobody seemed interested in challenging, fed Jerome whose shot when clear on goal was wasteful. If the effort was supposed to serve as a wake-up call it didn't show, although we did have a mild flurry of excitement as Sakho chased Lanzini's excellent through ball. Martin should really have dealt with it rather than shielding it back to Ruddy who spilled it, only to retrieve the loose ball at the second attempt. However Sakho did not have too long to wait for his luck to change.

Jenkinson won a ball deep in oour half and found Noble who played the ball up to Sakho. Sakho hit a fine pass first-time on the turn out to Payet on the right. Payet controlled and brought the ball to the right of the box. If Sakho's ball to Payet had been good, Payet's return was even better and Sakho, having cleverly checked his run happily buried the ball from 6 yards. I say "happily", though for some reason the player's celebrations were remarkably understated, a couple of pats on the back and a manly handshake apparently being the order of the day.

The goal had come in a manner completely alien to the way we had been playing but, somehow, it was as if a lightbulb had been switched on. It was akin to those moments when you're putting together a bit of flat pack furniture and the diagram suddenly makes sense and tallies with the instructions translated from the original Swedish by someone who is only barely literate in Tagalog and Swahili. "Oh THAT's how it works" seemed to be the feeling on the pitch. Suddenly we started to win balls, something achieved by the time-honoured process of "actually looking interested."

Noble dispossessed Howson. Payet picked up the loose ball and went on a run. Three Norwich players had a kick at him, Dean correctly (for one of those incredible rare moments in his corrupt little life) pulling things back for the free-kick once no advantage had ensued. Lanzini's free-kick beat the wall but was a tantalising couple of feet wide of the left hand post.

We continued to push forward. Payet's lovely cross-field pass found Lanzini on the left. The Argentinian cut in and hit a shot towards the far post that took a deflection off Martin, wrong-footing Ruddy but creeping just wide for a corner. The corner itself was quite inventive. Payet played the ball between the two defenders covering the short corner to Cresswell, whose first time effort was cleared out by Bassong for another corner.

The follow-up corner was only partially cleared and the ball played out wide to Lanzini. Ruddy came out all the way to the edge of the box for one he was never going to get within a light year of. The ball fell down to Sakho but the bounce was not in his favour, the striker hooking over the bar.

We kept forcing corners, Cresswell and Lanzini combining before the full-back's cross was blocked. Payet's corner fell invitingly for Reid whose header was accurate but lacked the power to cause Ruddy too much concern.

Half Time: West Ham United 1 Norwich City 1

The second half had a pleasing ebb and flow to it. Howson's 25 yard effort was turned over in fine style by Adrian. After Kouyate had been left dazed by a clash of heads by Sakho, Tomkins free-kick was headed wide by Sakho after which we had a first for me. While we were waiting for the goal kick Howson trotted over and picked up what appeared to be an injured pigeon, depositing it safely over the advertising hoardings. I'm sure you've all made up your own jokes about taking birds along to football so I shan't bother myself. Howson received generous applause for his efforts, whilst the East Stand pies might be worth avoiding for a while.

We ought to have taken the lead on 55 minutes. Moses, who had had a quiet one, got town the right and found Sakho unmarked in the box. Sakho's header was too good and Ruddy made a fine save with his legs. The ball fell out to Kouyate who made a complete mess of the rebound, his "shot" going out for a throw-in. That was pretty much Moses' last involvement in the game with Obiang coming on to replace him a minute later.

Payet had a good chance a few minutes later. Sakho picked up a loose one and ran at goal until he encountered traffic. Checking the run he fed Payet whose little flick as the defender committed himself was a joy to behold. Ruddy saved well at his left hand post. Payet's resulting corner was met by Sakho whose header went wide.

Mike Dean hadn't been the centre of attention for a while and, given that he hates being upstaged by players he wasn't going to play second fiddle to a pigeon for long. Howson kept the ball in and Jerome got the wrong side of Tomkins to volley straight at the 'keeper who made the save with his face. Clearly dazed by having a bag of leather hit him at 70mph from close distance, Adrian sat up slowly only to discover that despite the strict instructions given to referees on head injuries, Dean was allowing play to go on, hopefully allowing the visitors a goal that we could all be talking about the next day. Adrian very gingerly got to his feet (and by that I mean "shakily" rather than in the manner of our sub centre-half) and was relieved to see Whittaker's cross go safely wide. Another question for Dean - if I kicked a football straight at you from 5 yards at 70 mph how much of a state do you think you'd be in to count the money you're stealing out of the game? I reckon you'd need a minute or so to clear your stupid head.

With about 20 left Carroll replaced Lanzini and almost immediately there was a sharp intake of breath as he went down after an attempted tackle. Thankfully he ran it off but it did take a while and he was hobbling for a good few minutes.

With 8 minutes left we went behind. Predictably Dean was involved at the start. Hoolihan's dive was pathetic. I won't even say that Dean fell for it because he knew full well it wasn't a free-kick but gave it deliberately. He does that sort of thing far too often. Brady's free-kick was probably going wide but was close enough for Adrian to take no chances. We failed to clear the corner, Noble did far too little to deal with Redmond who curled in a shot from 10 yards through a crowd of players.

Noble, who hadn't been at his best, was replaced by Zarate and we had to go for broke for the equaliser. We had chances too. Payet's cross was headed back by Jenkinson. Ruddy blocked Sakho's effort and Reid's follow up was locked by Whittaker with Ruddy punching out for the throw. Payet's nice ball in from the throw saw Carroll bring the ball down but without sufficient control to prevent Ruddy throwing himself on the loose ball.

Three of the four allotted minutes had gone when Bassong gave away a stupid foul on Reid. Payet played it in, Ruddy punched the ball onto Carroll and Kouyate made no mistake in burying the loose ball to the delight of all, giving the score a more realistic flavour.

There was just enough time for one more effort, Zarate getting down to the byline for Kouyate to hit an effort from distance that was goalboun. d but blocked at which point Dean decided to go home and count his cash and blew the final whistle.

The draw in what had been a decent and fairly entertaining match was probably the right result. We'd played well and dominated in spells as had they so nobody could really have any complaints on that score and I guess it's a measure of improvement since last season that towards the end of games we now seem more likely to score than to concede. There was a lot of rubbish talked in the past about "respecting the point" and the difference nowadays is that we are at least going for three in the first place.

Meanwhile, if Delia is reading this, does anyone know a good recipe for pigeon?

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Player Ratings

Adrian San Miguel Del Castillo
Made a number of good saves and, whilst the corner that led to their second may have been going wide, it was close enough to worry about so we'll give him that one.

Carl Jenkinson
Another so so game. There were spells when he looked great, others when he seemed to lack concentration.

Aaron Cresswell
Had his moments going forward but had some shaky oned as well in defence.

Winston Reid
The pick of the defenders - again - though he struggled against sub Mbokani who jumped at Reid pretty much every time they clashed.

James Tomkins
Reasonable game but we'll draw a veil over that shot from 30 yards shall we?

Cheikhou Kouyate
Kept plugging away and might have had more than the one goal that he got.

Mark Noble
The passing game was not up to scratch today. Got a lot of break-up challenges in but was culpable to one extent or another for both goals.

Victor Moses
Created one chance for Sakho but otherwise a quiet game.

Manuel Lanzini
Another not quite up to the heights he can reach but still not a bad game until he was subbed.

Dimitri Payet
Not quite as dominant as he has been of late but still at the heart of all our good moments. MOTM

Diafra Sakh0
The work he puts in is astounding. Held the ball up well and brought others into play.


Andy Carroll
(Replaced) Still not quite there and who else held their breath when he went down in the second half. However, he caused a major nuisance and his presence led to the equaliser.

Padro Obiang
(Replaced) Another quiet and efficient runout. The "foul" that he was supposed to have perpetuated on the diving Hoolihan was a complete joke.

Mauro Zarate
(Replaced) Looked sharp when he was on which made me wonder how things would have transpired had he come on earlier

Darren Randolph
Did not play.

James Collins
Did not play.

Michael Antonio
Did not play.

Nikica Jelavic
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Adrian San Miguel Del Castillo, Carl Jenkinson, Aaron Cresswell, Winston Reid, James Tomkins, Cheikhou Kouyate, Mark Noble, Victor Moses, Manuel Lanzini, Dimitri Payet, Diafra Sakh0.

Goals: Diafra Sakho 33 Cheikhou Kouyate 90                .

Booked: None.

Sent off: None.

Norwich City: .

Subs not used: .

Goals: .

Booked: n/a.

Sent off: None.

Referee: Mike Dean.

Attendance: 34,857.

Man of the Match: Dimitri Payet.