Saturday, 17th March 2012
The undefeated run may well have stretched to eight games but with Southampton and Reading both recording wins this weekend; we lose more ground on our promotion rivals.
In all fairness, a point at Elland Road against a rejuvenated Leeds side who have been on form and on a high since Neil Warnock took charge is not a bad result. And the last minute equaliser courtesy of new boy Danny Collins made the point seem that much sweeter.
However, all in all the performance yesterday was uninspiring and average at best. The last three performances, all ending in one all draws are not performances of a side trying to gain automatic promotion back to the Premier League. With ten games to go, we need to start converting these points into three or otherwise another nervous playoff campaign will have to be endured.
West Ham took 4,000 fans to Yorkshire, making for an electric and intense atmosphere. Julien Faubert, Papa Bouba Diop and Winston Reid were all ruled out, all of which were big losses. For me, Diop has been a major loss in the past few weeks as he is the only defensive midfielder we have and offers us great power and drive in the middle of the park. Faubert has been very good this season and his pace, which we often lack from elsewhere, and width has been key recently.
Big Sam went with a starting line-up of Green in goal, OíBrien, Faye, Collins and McCartney at the back and a midfield trio of Tomkins, Noble and Nolan. Collison and Taylor played wide with Nicky Maynard being the solitary man up top. The bench consisted of new loan signing Stephen Henderson, Gary OíNeil, Ravel Morrison, Sam Baldock and Carlton Cole.
I think given the options available to Allardyce, the team was not really surprising. Perhaps playing Maynard over Cole was the toughest decision to make but given our performances away at Blackpool and Cardiff, where Maynard started, it was fair to stick with him up front.
The game in truth was not the most pleasing on the eye and never really got going until the final 10 minutes. In the first twenty minutes of the game there were very few chances for either side as the game developed into a midfield battle. The dangerous Robert Snodgrass fired a hopeful shot wide and a very optimistic penalty claim for handball from Leeds was all the game could must in the early stages.
Just after the twenty minute mark we produced our first meaningful chance. After some good football in the midfield Nolan found Taylor who flicked it into the path of Maynard. The frontmanís touch took it away from the Leeds defender but unfortunately was just too heavy. Maynard and Leeds keeper Andy Lonergan met the ball at the same time and unluckily for West Ham Lonergan came out with the ball.
Just minutes later Leeds almost found a way through. After some good work from Snodgrass cutting in from the left, his pass looked to have put in Ross McCormack who had the goal at his mercy. However back came Matty Taylor to crucially intercept and clear his lines to keep the scores level.
From then on until the half time whistle, chances really were few and far between. It just seemed that neither team were brave enough to attack in numbers and really take the game to the opposition. Nolan sliced a shot horribly wide after Collison had dragged it back from the byline. While looking very solid at the back, we were struggling to break Leeds down and lacking creativity and width.
Leeds had their best spell of the half for the final ten minutes before the break. Snodgrass hit a 25 yard free kick agonisingly wide, although Iím sure Green will tell you he had it covered. Five minutes before the break Adam Clayton fired just wide from the edge of the area after some pinball in and around the West Ham box.
We managed a couple of corners late on in the half with Faye rising highest for one of them, only to see his header cannon off the defender and wide. Leeds did find the back of the net in added time but the goal was disallowed by referee Peter Walton after a clear push on Nolan. There were no complaints from the Leeds players.
It was a dour first half and no surprises that the game was still 0-0 at the break. I feel this time Allardyce got it wrong. I have no problems with playing 4-5-1 away from home and it certainly has worked for us this season on our travels. However we were consistently knocking 40 yard balls from the back up to Maynard who isnít the tallest and greatest in the air and therefore he unsurprisingly won very little against the Leeds defenders. If you are going to play that way, then Allardyce had to play Cole up top as he is a big presence and can hold the ball up there. We were giving the ball away far too much in the first half and our midfield was just not affecting the game enough. A big improvement was needed in the second half.
I would love to say the second half was a completely different game and was action packed. Unfortunately up until the final 10 minutes it was much of the same. Even more disappointingly James Tomkins, who suffered a knock just before half time didnít come out for the second half and was replaced by Gary OíNeil. I couldnít tell what injury Tomkins had suffered but he was limping badly but hopefully itís not too serious. He has arguably been our player of the season this year and has even been doing an excellent job in an unfamiliar midfield role over the past few weeks.
The game just couldnít get out of first gear and both sides seemed content with the point. Aiden White shot comfortably wide after a Luciano Becchio knock down in the only chance early on in the second half. Our creativity was next to nothing and Allardyce had to change things up and he did. 10 minutes into the half Carlton Cole was brought on for Nicky Maynard, who had found it difficult all afternoon being isolated and receiving very poor service. I would have liked to see Maynard stay on and Allardyce go to 4-4-2 just to mix things up and give Leeds something different to think about.
Cole almost made an immediate impact just before the hour mark. He took the ball down well out wide and put in an inviting cross. Unfortunately the ball just eluded Nolan who swung a leg at it just eight yards out. Coleís introduction certainly gave us a lift and we began to take control of the game and enjoy our best bit of pressure.
Abdoulaye Faye headed wide a Noble corner and just minutes later Collisonís audacious volley was blocked and found its way to OíNeil whose goalbound header was blocked by a defender. Then came probably our best chance in the 68th minute. A typically excellent delivery from a free kick out wide from Taylor found Cole, whose header went narrowly over. It was a good spell from the Hammers but we just couldnít find the breakthrough.
Back came Leeds. Ross McCormack whipped in a vicious cross which was flicked on by Matthew Connolly and brilliantly saved from Green. For the first time the game had opened up and it felt like a goal was coming. And with 10 minutes left a goal finally did come.
Snodgrass crossed it to the back post, Connolly rose highest and saw his header cannon off the bar. However, fortunately for the home side the ball kindly fell to Becchio who nodded home from three yards.
It was an unlucky goal to concede and one which Leeds didnít deserve. We had been defensively solid throughout and certainly didnít deserve to lose the game, even if we hadnít done enough to win it.
Initially our response was poor. Leeds, clearly on a high from the goal, looked the more likely to score again and dominated possession for the last 10 minutes. However when it looked as though the 4,000 travelling claret and blue were going back down south disappointed we got a corner as the official put up four minutes additional time.
Mark Noble delivered an inviting ball and up stepped Danny Collins to head home and send the travelling fans into delirium. Despite not playing well, it was certainly a deserved equaliser and who knows how important that point may be come the end of the season.
It was Collinsí first start for the club and in truth I thought he did look shaky at the back and struggled against Becchio for large periods of the game. However he popped up with a crucial goal and it will do his confidence the world of good.
All in all, unlike the previous two draws, I think we have to be happy with the result. Leeds are a decent side and could still just sneak into the playoffs if they finish the season well. Defensively we were solid, which we generally have been all season barring a couple of disaster displays. Abdoulaye was immense at the back and marshalled the defence quite brilliantly. Attackingly once again we were poor and lacked creativity. There was not enough pace or guile in the midfield and Faubert was a big loss out wide. In hindsight, Allardyce should have started with Cole as he looked dangerous when he came on and there is simply no point in just hitting long passes up to Maynard.
It was very disappointing to hear Southampton had turned it around to beat Millwall and that Reading had thumped Barnsley as both moved further ahead of us at the top of the table. However we still need to be positive and if we win our game in hand we go level Reading and two points behind Southampton.
There are still plenty of ups and downs and points to play for this season and who knows, we all might be looking back on that late Danny Collins equaliser at Elland Road as a crucial crucial point.
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Had very little to do throughout the game but dealt with everything when called upon. Made one excellent reaction save from a Connolly header in the second half.
Joey O Brien
Defensively solid but offered very little going forward and gave the ball away far too often.
Typically consistent performance from McCartney. Solid yet unspectacular. Always gives it his all.
Struggled with Becchio throughout and was almost bullied at times. Improved as the game went on and took his late equaliser well.
Solid as a rock. Won everything in the air and the Leeds frontmen couldnít find a way past him. MOTM.
Did nothing wrong in the first half and produced some nice touches before going off injured. Hopefully he isnít out for long as he is crucial for us.
As always put everything into the performance but struggled to have impact on the game. Battled well and great cross for Collins goal.
Another disappointing display from the skipper. Hardly in the game and sacrificed possession too frequently.
Anonymous for most of the game and was replaced by Morrison with 10 minutes left. Played wide right which is not his best position. Should be central.
Worked well from a defensive point of view but struggled to have impact going forward. Put in a couple of inviting crosses.
Felt for Maynard as the service to him was poor. On the few occasions we got the ball to his feet, he looked dangerous. Would prefer him up front with a partner and not on his own.
Gary O Neil
(Replaced Tomkins, 46)
Battled well in the second half but like many other struggled to have an impact on the game in an attacking sense.
(Replaced Maynard, 56)
Gave the side a boost when he came on and held the ball up front well. Probably should have started.
(Replaced Collison, 81)
Hardly touched the ball but was good to see the highly rated youngster been given a chance by Allardyce.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Referee: Peter Walton.
Man of the Match: Abdoulaye Faye.
West Ham United
Robert Green, Joey O Brien, George McCartney, Danny Collins, Abdoulaye Faye, James Tomkins, Mark Noble, Kevin Nolan, Jack Collison, Matt Taylor, Nicky Maynard.
Goals: Danny Collins 90 .
Booked: Mark Noble 26 .
Sent off: None.
Andy Lonergan, Paul Connolly, Tom Lees, Darren O'Dea, Paul Robinson, Robert Snodgrass, Michael Brown, Adam Clayton, Aidan White, Ross McCormack, Luciano Becchio.
Substitutes: Danny Webber (Aidan White 76), Mikael Forssell (Ross McCormack 76).
Subs not used: Zac Thompson, Danny Pugh, Ramon Nunez.
Goals: Luciano Becchio (83).
Booked: Paul Robinson (61), Michael Brown (72).
Sent Off: None.