This won’t take too long.
For reasons that will become obvious I won’t give too much detail about where we spent pre-match. I was the first to arrive of our group. During a general chat with the chap on the door he expressed some doubt on discovering the purpose of my visit to the area.
“We used to put out a general welcome for away supporters” he informed me. “Then Liverpool pitched up. They got on their mobiles and swamped the place. Stuff went missing, things got broken so we decided that the few bob extra income wasn’t worth the hassle anymore.”
Best supporters in the world my backside. Thankfully he allowed the few of us who did turn up to stay and avail ourselves of some decent hospitality.
A brisk walk to the ground saw us get inside just in time for the heavens to open and to discover there were no changes from the eleven who had started against Hull on Monday night, namely: Hart, Reid, Fonte, Collins, Zabaletta, Cresswell, Kouyate, Obiang, Antonio, Carroll, Hernandez.
Well you will have gathered that this was a match of little quality. Indeed an observer beamed in from another planet blessed with a rudimentary knowledge of the game gained from all those old MOTD broadcasts that are currently washing up on planets 50+ light-years from Earth might reasonably have asked “which side is the home side again” such was the paucity of ambition from West Brom.
The problem was that we lacked the creativity and guile to break down a side who, having its collective backside slapped by Brighton the previous week, reverted to the Pulis stereotype.
In fact the match was so bereft of quality this may have been one of those matches where I paid tribute to Daily Express match report I read as a kid in the 1970s. I remember Coventry were involved but I can’t remember their opponents.
The report read something like “The quality and entertainment value of this match can be summed up as follows:” The rest of the column was left blank. I suspect that’s the sort of thing a sports editor would let a journo get away with once in a career.
Not being a professional journalist (I know, you can tell) and having used that particular trick at least once in the past hereabouts, I was wondering whether or not I could get away with invoking the spirit of said report again, when, out of the blue, something happened.
Obiang picked up a pass ten yards into opposition territory, let the ball run a few yards before letting fly with a powerful curved drive that caught Foster off his line only to rebound from the crossbar. Foster recovered enough to collect the loose ball chested back to him from the nearest defender. It was a “What is he doing? Blimey!” moment.
Other than an earlier shot from Antonio and a header from Morrison from the home team from 12 yards out that was so poor it actually disappeared for a throw-in, that was about it for the first half.
My good friend Maltese Hammer and I have a bit of a running joke over the use of the old football cliché “a game of two halves” and at the interval I found myself hoping it was going to be one of those. Where the second half was a completely different kettle of fish. Unfortunately this was not to be the case, this particular kettle of fish stinking the place out just as much as the first one had. Possibly more so.
Just shy of the hour we were forced into our first change of the day. Ginge had had treatment in the first half on a troublesome ankle but had recovered to see out the half. However, picking up the ball on the left, something gave and he collapsed in a heap as if shot.
Now it was clear that the player had sustained a serious knock that would probably end his involvement in the afternoon’s proceedings. This didn’t stop the home support booing as he hobbled off, in direct contravention of the generally accepted norms of behaviour for football supporters. It was at this point one couldn’t help feeling that West Brom have the manager and team they deserve.
Arnautovic replaced Ginge marking a switch to a more traditional back four, not that the home side troubled either the three or the four in any case.
A few minutes later came the half’s principal talking-point. Clearing up after a rare foray into visitor territory by the home side, Antonio played the ball up to Carroll whose headed flick on was right into the path of Hernandez who beat the onrushing Foster to the ball.
The ‘keeper lunged into a challenge with studs up and both feet off the ground, factors that would have seen a straight red for an outfield player. Sadly, ref Tierney found himself unable to deal with two concepts at once.
Clearly thinking only of whether or not the incident constituted denial of goalscoring opportunity (it didn’t because of the direction in which the ball was moving) completely forgot to thing about the nature of the challenge itself. If you collared Tierney now he might tell you that he did consider the challenge itself. He’d be lying.
Tierney’s apparent lack of knowledge of the laws of the game he is supposed to uphold was to further manifest itself A West Brom defender cleared a cross as far as Obiang who was keen to keep the attack going. The defender, seeing that there might be trouble ahead, collapsed to the ground clutching his head.
Tierney stopped the game for the head injury, which was the correct course of action, whereupon the defender got to his feet and jogged away. This was a clear case of feigning injury which referees have been told to clamp down on.
Worse still, Tierney dropped the ball at the feet of Foster unchallenged. Did it not occur to any of our players that we had the ball and that, if the ref wasn’t going to give the indirect free-kick the play-acting deserved, we were well within our rights to contest the drop?
Ayew came on for Hernandez on 75 minutes and a less-than-gruntled looking Carroll trudged off to be replaced by Sakho with eight minutes left. None of which had any effect on the game.
With two minutes left sub Robson-Kanu nodded a weak header into the arms of Hart. I wouldn’t normally mention such a non-event save for the fact that it was a) the first attack on target the home side had mustered all afternoon, and b) an effort that produced ironic cheers from those amongst the home support who hadn’t already given up on the match and left.
Five minutes of stoppage were added for substitutions, injuries (both real and imagined) and the time it was taking for Foster to take every goal kick. If the ref had had any sense of humanity or common sense he’d have knocked off a few minutes to spare the paying public a few more minutes of misery but, the absence of those qualities being a prerequisite for any sort of role at PGMOL, we had to endure the full 300 seconds of misery before the final whistle went.
This was a game that was crying out for two things:
1) A footballer who could do something different, something creative to get past the “parked bus”. Something, well, Lanzini-like really; and
2) Someone on our side who could put a decent cross into the box.
We did get into some good positions out wide on a number of occasions but the delivery, even by the admittedly low standards with which we have started the season, was shockingly poor. Overall then a game to consign to the banks of those you have to actually look up to see if you were actually there.
The journey home was fairly dispiriting quite apart from the usual inability of SouthEastern to run a service - the last 10 miles took longer than the journey between Birmingham and London.
The early part of the journey had been punctuated by the tale, told proudly at great volume by a middle-aged woman up the other end of the carriage, of how she had drunk so-much wine on the way up to the match she threw up in the middle of the pub on arrival.
This was vaguely amusing for the first few minutes of the journey but sort of lost its appeal after the 50th re-telling, and merely contributed to my resolve to not identify our own choice of watering hole.
Still I was cheered up when the train home stopped at Wembley Stadium to allow on some very glum-looking Spurs fans, who, as usual, caused great mirth on arrival at Marylebone by their inability to operate simple machinery such as a standard ticket gate, one prize specimen placing his paper ticket on the oyster reader then moaning that the thing wouldn’t open! Which is why they will probably leave the gates open at Stratford next week!
Joe Hart (6) Scored points mainly for managing to avoid hypothermia as the heavens opened in the first half. And that save he made.
Pablo Zabaleta (7) A wily old head. Doesn’t look out of place as a wing-back.
Aaron Cresswell (5) The problem is that, yes the defensive stuff was ok and, yes he got into some promising positions. But boy his delivery was dreadful in this match. Crossing practice required I think.
Winston Reid (7) Dealt with what little threat the home side could be bothered to pose.
James Collins (6) Ankle ligaments is the diagnosis. Fingers crossed it’s nothing too serious.
Jose Fonte (6) Huddersfield was his best game in the shirt. This wasn’t as good as that but he still looked comfortable.
Pedro Obiang (6) Goal of the season candidate had that shot gone in. Tried another effort from distance later on. With slightly less impressive results.
Cheikhou Kouyate (6) A solid if unspectacular turn in the middle. Got stuck in, broke up play, that sort of thing.
Michail Antonio (7) Probably shaded it for MOTM, though in truth it was all much of a muchness today. His direct running caused a few problems.
Javier Hernandez (6) I don’t know if it’s by instruction, a function of the system or just down to the player himself but with Carroll on the pitch it seems a bit of a waste to have him stuck out on the touchline. The Foster incident showed how this could be developed as a partnership with just a little thought.
Andy Carroll (7) Caused problems for the home defence. Unfortunately, he and Chicharito haven’t quite built up that understanding yet.
Marko Arnautovic (5) Struggling to remember any meaningful contribution
Andre Ayew (5) Same as Arnautovic really...
Diafra Sakho (5) His mobility might have asked a few different questions of the home defence had he been given more than a few minutes to try and influence matters.
Adrian San Miguel Del Castillo (0) Did not play.
Arthur Masuaku (6) Did not play.
West Ham United: Joe Hart, Pablo Zabaleta, Aaron Cresswell, Winston Reid, James Collins, Jose Fonte, Pedro Obiang, Cheikhou Kouyate, Michail Antonio, Javier Hernandez, Andy Carroll.
Substitutes: Marko Arnautovic, Andre Ayew, Diafra Sakho, Adrian San Miguel Del Castillo, Arthur Masuaku.
West Bromwich Albion: Foster; Hegazi, Evans, Dawson, Gibbs (Nyom 85’); Barry, Krychowiak, Phillips (McClean 76’), Morrison, Brunt (Robson-Kanu 72’); Rodriguez.
Subs not used: Myhill, McAuley, Yacob, Rondon.
Booked: Foster 66’, McClean 83’
Referee: Paul Tierney
Man of the Match: Michail Antonio