Saturday, 8th January 2011
After the farce that was Newcastle away, Avram Grant rang the changes, giving starts to a number of fringe players. Winston Reid came in to partner Tomkins in the middle whilst Luis Boa-Morte was given a start in an unfamiliar left-back role. Scott Parker was given a rest in midfield with Jonathan Spector coming in alongside Mark Noble, who continued his rehabilitation from his hip problems. Zavon Hines and Frank Nouble were given rare starts whilst, in the absence of Upson and Parker, Grant handed the captain's armband to Robert Green, giving a starting line-up of Green, Faubert, Boa-Morte, Tomkins, Reid, Hines, Spector, Noble, Barrera, Nouble, Obinna.
Though it was a slow start to the half, a pattern started to emerge. That pattern was that Tykes' 'keeper Luke Steele had decided to take us on all by himself. Some might recall the Barnsley cup run that saw them get to the semi finals a while back in which Steel won plaudits for his performances, particularly against Liverpool and Chelsea. Well for the first 45 minutes it looked for all the world that we'd have to have him abducted by the same aliens who seem to be experimenting on Kieron Dyer if we were to score.
Nouble was first to suffer, Steele turning his shot on 7 minutes around for a corner. A few minutes later Steele was at it again denying Hines twice in succession. However, it wasn't just Steele that was the problem – even in good positions when we had the beating of the 'keeper we couldn't stick the ball away. Obinna's first time effort from over his shoulder was a case in point. Ten out of ten for giving it a go, sure, but the time and space afforded to him in the box meant that he almost certainly had the time to take a touch to control the ball. Had he done so, the result would probably have been different to the skewed shot that went past the post. Similarly profligate was Barrera who, given the most tempting of crosses from the left hand side by LBM, somehow contrived to head wide when it looked easier score.
So, with the opposition producing little and with their 'keeper in inspired form it was all set up for a spot of giant-killing. However, the nerves were calmed (a little) just before the half hour. Noble, who basically ran the first half, found himself on the edge of the box and tried to curl a shot goalwards. His effort took a deflection but fell kindly into the path of Spector who buried the loose ball to give us what was a deserved lead on the balance of play.
Mind you we nearly threw the lead away five minutes later. In what was (in the first half) a rare sortie forward for the opposition, Lovre got the better of Tomkins in the box and really ought to have done a lot better with his shot, scuffing a weak one straight at Green.
A few minutes later we ought to have got a penalty. Obinna was first to a loose ball in the box and was felled by Steele who wasn't even in the photo as Obinna arrived. Unfortunately the ref bottled the decision and gave a corner which, frankly, was the one decision it should have been impossible to reach.
We had further chances to double the lead, notably when Barrera managed to get in a decent cross for once and Hines only had the 'keeper to beat. It was a decent save again but you couldn't help feeling that a) the youngster ought to have done better and b) this being West Ham, we might still live to regret not taking the chances that had been created. Steele's fine double save from Nouble only served to underline the point.
The interval did us no favours really. The momentum we had gradually built up in the first 45 minutes disappeared and, though Green was rarely tested, we can be thankful that the visitors failed to grab the initiative that was afforded to them by virtue of our lax passing and failure to retain possession.
Barnsley might have had a penalty ten minutes into the second half. Butterfield, who had been introduced only a few seconds earlier, worked his way into the box before going down under a challenge from Reid. Not having had the clearest of views at the time the one comment I would make was that Butterfield did seem to be going down well before contact had been made. It would have been nice to have seen some analysis of the incident on the highlights programme but the nanosecond afforded to us on ITV prevented that. I suppose we ought to be grateful that they bothered to show both goals.
We had another chance to the lead as Hines found himself one on one with the 'keeper with an attack on the break. However the time Hines had seemed to prey on his mind and he pulled a weak shot across the face of goal.
Such chances were few and far between however and we sat back, seemingly happy to counter on the break, although there was precious little of that going on. Even the relatively untested Green caught the general air of malaise, a weak clearance playing the defence into trouble, though we were able to smuggle the ball away unconvincingly.
Parker replaced Obinna with 15 minutes left, a move that worried some of us given the importance of Parker to the team and the importance of the next few matches to the club. Thankfully he survived unscathed as did Piquionne who arrived with 8 minutes left. The final player to enter the fray was youngster Anthony Edgar who arrived on the stroke of full time. Edgar had his chance to make a name for himself almost immediately but his shot went wide.
If the first half had been fairly eventful, the second had lacked much in the way of excitement. However, both sets of supporters were on their feet deep into stoppage time. At first it seemed our wastefulness in front of goal might have proven costly, Hammill moving forwards and hitting a drive which seemed to take a slight deflection onto the bar. The ball was smuggled out as far as Piquionne who ran at the Barnsley defence, sending the defender the wrong way with a feint before burying an unstoppable drive past Steele to finally kill off the match.
The result was, overall, probably about right. Barnsley seemed a bit overawed in the first half – presumably the DVD of the Newcastle match got stuck in traffic on its way to Oakwell. Whilst we sat back in the second period, it was significant that Green had barely a save to make and what few problems we had were often of our own making. It was still a close run thing at the end mind, the shot off the bar could well have resulted in a replay which was the last thing we would have wanted.
Let's hope that the lesson about wasteful finishing was not lost on those that start the match on Tuesday night in the League Cup.
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Skipper for the day, he was barely tested.
Was allowed a couple of forays forward but when he does so his crossing is awfully erratic.
Luis Boa Morte
Did ok for a makeshift left back, though I'm not sure I'd want to see him in that position against anyone stronger.
Generally ok though he did seem to be out-muscled a couple of times.
Difficult to judge given the level of opposition but did little to convince that he's up to doing a Premier League job in case of injury. His rash challenge might have produced a penalty on another day.
Tidy enough game in the middle, obviously cup matches bring out the best in him.
Ran the game first half, less so in the second but still our most influential player and our MOTM.
He's been a big disappointment this season. A start against lower level opposition was an opportunity for him to take a match by the scruff of the neck but it was an opportunity he failed to take.
Some lively moments in the first half but snatched at the chances that fell his way and faded in the second half.
Needs more composure in front of goal – could and should have seen his name on the score sheet.
Caused the visitors a lot of problems in the first half but, in common with the rest of the side, seemed to leave his inspiration in the changing room at half time.
(Replaced Obinna, 76 mins) Came on in the second half and woke things up a bit.
(Replaced Nouble, 83 mins) On for a mere eight minutes plus stoppage time. Fine goal though.
(Replaced Hines, 90 mins) Just on for stoppage time. Might have scored but for a bit of a rush of blood to the head as he went for glory.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Referee: Neil Swarbrick.
Man of the Match: Mark Noble.
West Ham United
Robert Green, Julien Faubert, Luis Boa Morte, James Tomkins, Winston Reid, Jonathan Spector, Mark Noble, Pablo Barrera, Zavon Hines, Frank Nouble, Victor Obinna.
Goals: Jonathan Spector 29 Frederic Piquionne 90 .
Sent off: None.
Steele, Hassell, Shackell, Foster, Hill, Trippier, Doyle, Arismendi, Hammill, Lovre, O'Connor.
Substitutes: Butterfield (Lovre 56), O'Brien (Trippier 69), Colace (Arismendi 77) .
Subs not used: Preece, Neumann, Gray, Bennett.
Sent Off: None.