On a blustery day in South Wales, West Ham were blown away by the harder working, harder running of Cardiff. Manuel Pellegrini’s men were brushed aside in one of Cardiff’s easier wins this season, taking a well deserved 2-0 loss.
Pellegrini sent his side out unchanged from their comfortable win over Newcastle, but rather than another performance to cling onto a chance at 7th place, West Ham offered a limp showing that showed why they lag behind Wolves and Watford.
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West Ham reportedly arrived only 2 minutes before team sheets were due in and started the game with a similar attitude. The Irons had won their last seven in a row against the Bluebirds, and they started like a side who assumed they would add an eights.
Cardiff were at it from the off, starting with a high tempo and on the front foot. The crowd were fervent, up for the relegation fight. West Ham fans who remember relegation battles know that home ties against mid-table sides are always a target.
West Ham didn’t weather the storm. Instead, it was 1-0 after three minutes.
The impressive Camarasa was allowed to drive through midfield and at Cresswell. The left back felt compelled to close him down, but that left Murphy free down the right wing. Camarasa rolled the ball down the line to him and Murphy was under no pressure as he played a cross along the deck into the box.
It found Hoilett free in the area from six yards out. The winger had been allowed to run free by Diop, seemingly by choice, and just flicked it into the net with minimum fuss.
It didn’t wake the Hammers up. They were just not in the game, not playing any football, not settling into the match. Niasse got in behind multiple times early on, once stopped by a late, desperate Diop tackle, another time getting in between Diop and his goalkeeper when neither dealt with a poor pass into the box.
After 20 minutes, it looked like the only way into the game would be Harry Arter getting sent off or Cardiff’s endless “injuries” and physio breaks leaving them with too few players on the field to complete the game.
Anderson was off his game, Snodgrass finding poor passes and easily dispossessed, Hernandez doing his best to disappear.
Cardiff’s energy did fade, and they were happy to then drop deep and allow West Ham to have the ball. Much of the play was neat and pretty in harmless areas, but the interplay 30 yards from goal never amounted to anything close to a threat.
In contrast, Cardiff held a threat with direct play, use of long throws and Niasse endlessly running in behind to chase clearances.
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As half time came closer and closer, the only notable West Ham attack was memorable for the wrong reasons.
On the only occasion that Hernandez was found with some space to manoeuvre in the box, he used his chance to cheat. Receiving the ball to spin on the left side of the box, Hernandez never really looked to beat his man or go for goal, instead waiting for a challenge. It didn’t come, so the Mexican tried to manufacture contact. He couldn’t, and instead just fell to the floor. He was rightly booked.
At half time, Pellegrini replaced Anderson with Arnautovic, reportedly through injury.
It changed little.
An outsider would assume the players were told in no uncertain terms that Cardiff could not be allowed to outrun and outfight them with another fast start after half time. Whether they were or not, it didn’t stop Neil Warnock’s side again trampling all over Pellegrini’s men again in those early stages.
It took only seven minutes for Cardiff to get a second and the game to really be finished.
Whilst Cardiff deserved the win, the second goal was a real gift. Ryan Fredericks made an intervention on the right, but knocked it out of his control and down the right channel. He was beaten to it on the chase by Hoilett, who then turned him with ease and chipped a cross into the area.
Murphy peeled away from a frantically backtracking defence and headed the ball down to the far post. Camarasa peeled away and slid towards the ball. Fabianski scrambled across and did the same, but Camarasa won out, poking the ball into the back of the net and extending Cardiff’s lead.
All eyes turned to the assistant referee, but the flag stayed down. Replays showed that Fredericks hadn’t stepped up after his poor play down the right. It was a harsh lesson for Fredericks, and he had a poor second half defensively.
Sluggish defending again and they were punished.
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Moments later, Lanzini was caught in midfield and Niasse got the ball. He flicked it round Diop like the defender didn’t exist and then drove into the area. Fortunately for West Ham, his stutters and delays only put the striker off, and instead of finishing things, he fell over himself and flicked the ball wide when one-on-one with Fabianski.
With half hour to go, Lanzini(whose substitution goes as a huge compliment to how well Gunnarsson played) and Noble were off and Pellegrini rolled the dice, bringing on Antonio and Nasri. Snodgrass and Hernandez were playing poorly, not making any positive impact on the game, and Pellegrini’s performance with all three substitutions will be questioned.
It remained much the same, West Ham playing neatly in front of Cardiff’s defence and threatening very little - it ended with West Ham having 70% possession.
Again, it was Cardiff who created the next notable moment. Fabianski made a fantastic double save after a Murphy cross. First, Niasse volleyed from inside the six yard box and the ‘keeper flew across the goal to block. It fell to Camarasa, but his effort was too straight and saved again by Fabianski, the Pole rising to his feet almost instantly to stop another goal.
It took until 70 minutes for West Ham to threaten the goal. It came from Rice, beating one outside the area before driving an effort against the post, Etheridge beaten.
A few minutes later, Marko Arnautovic got space in the area to have West Ham’s first effort on target. It was saved easily.
The game petered out completely from there. The ground seemed almost half-empty with five minutes to go, so secure in victory were they that it probably seemed much smarter to get out of Cardiff before 30,000 Cardiff fans combined with delighted rugby fans in the city.
As the final whistle went, Cardiff took three fully deserved points and showed that they are ready to fight for every last point in the race for Premier League survival.
The same couldn’t be said for West Ham’s hunt for 7th place. It was another performance against a team who would mix it up physically, to go with Watford, Wolves and Burnley, where this side found no answer.
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Substitutions, preparation, attitude and approach were all questionable, and a number of players must be about to lose their places before the international break.
The Hammers stay four points behind Watford and Wolves, staying in 9th place with Leicester a point behind and Bournemouth and Everton only two. Now, there is more looking down than looking up.
Lukasz Fabianski (6) Couple good saves, brave punch when booted in the face, weak on the second goal.
Ryan Fredericks (4) Defended poorly throughout. Second goal was his fault on three points. Was a threat in the first half, but only compared to what little West Ham offered. Hoilett made him look lower league at times.
Aaron Cresswell (6) Caught out on the first goal but that’s due to how bad the midfield were. Odd good cross but let down by poor performers around him.
Issa Diop (5) Some moments where Niasse seemed too easy for him to handle, others where he was the architect of his own downfall. Let’s Hoilett score the first goal.
Angelo Ogbonna (6) Calm for the most part, making ten clearances. Part of an inconsistent defensive unit but without the blatant errors of others.
Declan Rice (6) Moments in the second half where he seemed exasperated by how bad his teammates were. Made some good challenges, struck the post, but not at his best.
Mark Noble (6) Weird substitution, as he was one of the few passing forward who was finding players and not looking worried by Cardiff’s hassling in midfield.
Felipe Anderson (5) Ineffectual before substitution at half time.
Manuel Lanzini (6) Weird substitution, as he was one of the few passing forward who was finding players and not looking worried by Cardiff’s hassling in midfield.
Robert Snodgrass (5) No reason he should have finished that game, he was poor throughout. Didn’t really help Fredericks, lacked creativity, lost the ball.
Javier Hernandez (4) A poor performance that reminds of his limitations. No threat on goal, not a good passer, dived needlessly in his only moment of influence in the box. Shouldn’t have stayed on. 28 touches in 100 minutes of football.
Marko Arnoutovic (5) (Replaced Anderson) Quiet and reasonably ineffective, but did produce the first shot on target.
Michail Antonio (5) (Replaced Noble) Gave a change of approach, but didn’t really force much. 50% pass accuracy.
Samir Nasri (5) (Replaced Lanzini) Drifted around without much influence.
Adrian San Miguel del Castillo (0) Did not play.
Arthur Masuaku (0) Did not play.
West Ham United: Lukasz Fabianski, Ryan Fredericks, Aaron Cresswell, Issa Diop, Angelo Ogbonna, Declan Rice, Mark Noble, Felipe Anderson, Manuel Lanzini, Robert Snodgrass, Javier Hernandez.
Substitutes: Marko Arnoutovic , Michail Antonio, Samir Nasri, Adrian San Miguel del Castillo, Arthur Masuaku.
Booked: Javier Hernandez 36
Cardiff City: Etheridge, Peltier, Bennett (Bacuna 62), Morrison, Ecuele Manga, Arter (Paterson 84), Murphy, Gunnarsson, Camarasa (Ralls 68), Niasse, Hoilett.
Subs not used: Smithies, Zohore, De Cordova-Reid, Harris.
Goals: Hoilett (4), Camarasa (52)
Booked: Arter, Morrison
Referee: Graham Scott
Man of the Match: Angelo Ogbonna