Saturday, 27th October 2012
There’s something extra specially deflating about defeat at Wigan. It’s sort of misery squared. Where criminally lacklustre performance meets an inexplicably successful club supported by confused rugby league fans all collected together in a soulless, cavernous spirit-sapping car park of a stadium. And that’s without even mentioning Dave Whelan.
Oh crap, I just have. Sorry.
I think I dislike the DW more than any other stadium. Everything about it screams ‘humanity vacuum’, right down to the tiresomely ego-driven trick of naming the stadium after yourself. Classy. Even the full bits look (and sound) empty. If IKEA made stadiums even they’d reject the DW for lacking flair.
Sadly, the one thing that does have an abundance of flair is their team. How their belligerent bore of a cut-priced trainer salesman has ended up with such a good and loyal manager and team consistently able to produce more than the sum of their parts baffles me, but credit where it’s due, on the pitch they were comprehensively better than us in every conceivable department.
Things actually looked promising to start with. Sam had sent out an attacking line-up which looked to have goals and creativity aplenty. And for the first minute or so we closed down the opposition and pressed forward with Wigan looking nervy and unsure how to deal with our attacking threat.
The turning point seemed to come when we won a free kick in a promising position that looked ideal for a left-footed dead-ball specialist such as, for example, Matt Taylor. Sadly he was on the bench, so Carroll stepped up. In all honesty, I don’t think I’d ever actually noticed that Carroll is left footed. He could be no-footed for all I’d know such has been the manner in which he’s been deployed thus far.
Nolan went through his eternally entertaining routine of annoying the goalkeeper while Carroll dead-eyed the ball, then the keeper, then back to the ball. Then, taking a few strides back he thundered up and cannoned it shin-high into the first man.
Sadly, this was very much a sign of things to come, and remedial-level set-pieces are becoming a worrying and entirely predictable failing. Corners (mostly courtesy of Noble) rarely made it past the first man and free kicks might as well have been given as goal kicks such was their comprehensive ineffectiveness.
It seems like a lifetime away since Mark Noble scored that lovely free kick at Wolves on the opening day of some past season. Since then, for all his other qualities, he seems to have substantially regressed in this regard. Last Saturday’s freak goal aside, he’s not looked threatening from corners or free kicks for years. And unfortunately with Big Sam’s fondness for set-pieces, a lack of quality delivery is a major issue.
From that point on Wigan took complete control, with the decidedly off-colour Irons succumbing to the inevitable around the ten minute mark. Beausejour won a corner, which he himself swung in towards the penalty spot to find an inexplicably unmarked Ramis, who had shrugged of Winston Reed’s attentions with worryingly little effort. The finish was tremendous, hook-volleying it past Jussi Jaaskelainen; but Allardyce’s coaching staff will be wondering how the former Hammers target was afforded so much time and space in such a dangerous position.
The hoped-for Hammers rally never really materialised, with things remaining scrappy from an Irons point of view for the remaining half hour. Jarvis struggled to exert any kind of influence on the game, whilst on the other flank Benayoun’s main contribution seemed to be losing possession.
In the main, the midfield looked completely anaemic. Nolan put in a shift to little constructive effect, whilst Noble was uncharacteristically meek and ineffective. However by far the worst culprit in the middle was the previously imperious Mo Diame. Perhaps the pressure of returning to his old club was taking its toll, but he seemed to be approaching the match like Charles Bronson, careering around like some lone vigilante trying to win the game single-handedly, and in doing so being guilty countless times of making the wrong decision.
He was extremely fortunate to win a promising (and obviously wasted) free kick after losing control of the ball having tryied to waltz his way through the Wigan defence when he could easily have slipped in an unmarked Jarvis for a much simpler chance. Then were the occasions where he would attempt to pirouette his way through multiple challenges, inevitably coming unstuck when a simple ball would have maintained possession.
The frustrations were not limited to the midfield either. Tomkins is a talented footballer, but a buccaneering right back he is not. Whilst James Collins, who otherwise put in a credible defensive performance was frequently guilty of agricultural airborne lumps out of defence which ultimately squandered possession when in fact he had plenty of time to control and find a teammate.
Chances for the Irons were few and far between. A goalmouth scramble that could have gone either way, and useful McCartney cross (after he and Jarvis had conspired to get in each other’s way) resulted in Carroll being sandwiched out by an alert Wigan backline. Our first chance of note came when Jarvis cut inside on the left to whip in an enticing curling cross. Sadly Yossi failed connect by millimetres and the impressive Ali Al Habsi had to react smartly to shift his body shape to tip the cross-shot round the post.
If Sam was looking for a reaction 2nd half, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a reflex reaction to pick the ball out of the West Ham net. But within seconds of the restart that was what was happening. The Hammers keeper smashed one of his trademark shanks straight to the grateful boot of a Wigan midfielder, before they knocked it around a bit as if to taunt the hapless West Ham defence before James McArther (who had bossed much of the first half) thumped the ball past the rooted Irons’ keeper.
We stumbled through the remaining 45 minutes waiting until injury time to register a shot of note. Maiga had replaced the ineffectual Benayoun at half time, with the Malian’s only notable contribution apart from fruitless hustle and bustle being a frankly embarrassing dive that was blatant even from the other end of the ground.
In truth Wigan looked completely in control, with the Hammers attacking threat effectively blunted by astute tactical awareness from Martinez. Carroll was well marshalled, but their masterstroke was the lack of space they afforded the supporting attackers such as Nolan. This meant that even though Carroll won way more than his fair share of flick-ons, there was frankly no one to flick them on to.
Presumably in an effort to insert some element of competition back into the game Wigan even resorted to gifting us set pieces, with Al Habsi somehow defeating the laws of mathematics by slicing a clearance that somehow went out for a corner.
Inexplicable substitutions followed with Carlton Cole brought on to play on the left wing n place of Mark Noble (yes, that’s right, notable pacey winger and close-control specialist Carlton Cole) followed by the more straight forward O’Neill for Diame.
Tomkins hit the bar in injury time and that was pretty much that…
Oh, sorry, no we scored didn’t we? Apologies, I’d practically deleted that from my mind being as it came from an actual piece of quality play, so I had just mentally filed that under a different game. Carlton did his normal battling hard 100% work rate thing to play in McCartney. He fed Nolan who showed fantastic presence of mind to play a delightful back-hell back into the path of McCartney who dinked over a perfectly weighted cross for Tomkins to head through a wall of bodies into the net.
After that there was just time for Jussi to save smartly from Kone, only to pick that one occasion to roll the ball out to a defender when a bit of Birmingham-style hoof-ball seemed the only logical choice.
And that was pretty much that. The 86 Wigan fans and their teeth-grindingly annoying drummer went home happy, and the 4000 travelling Hammers trudged off wondering what forms they’d have to fill in to apply for that 90minutes of their life back.
I love watching West Ham away. There’s something wonderful about the sense of adventure, camaraderie and the support is always undyingly optimistic. But I suppose you need the odd unremittingly grim occasion like this to enhance the effect of the good ones. It’s testament to how far we’ve come that this seemed like such a damp squib as there was a time where a defeat like this would have been absolutely routine. But that doesn’t make it any easier to stand through, I promise you.
MOTM: The half time pie. But failing that, Nolan, on the basis of being, on balance, probably the least rubbish.
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A good save right at the death immediately followed up by maddeningly poor distribution. A microcosm of the game, and his season some might argue. Ultimately at fault for the second goal too.
Looks no more like a right back than my Jack Russell. And at least the dog is mobile. Looks a threat from set pieces as always though, we just need someone who can consistently deliver to him. Like, say, a extremely expensive winger perhaps? Now where might we find one of those…?
The partnership with Jarvis hasn’t quite found its feet yet and still looks borderline at this level, but I’m struggling to think of too much he did that was obviously wrong. Nice work for our (undeserved) goal too.
One fantastically committed challenge in the second half when he looked a distant second best to get there ahead of the forward and gave his all as always. But too often guilty of dispatching the ball as if it was the physical manifestation of some obscure form of medieval witchcraft.
Lost his man for the first goal. Nice recovering tackle late in the first half when he appeared to have been turned by his man. Not a great day though.
Yes, yes, it’s Mark Noble, he’s local and we all love him etc etc… but look, this whole set piece thing (penalties aside) is now starting to become an issue and on days like this where play seems to be passing him by you start to question what he’s really there for. Ineffective in breaking up play, ineffective in creating play. Hopefully just an off day.
A shocker. Desperate to prove himself on his old stomping ground, but guilty of making the wrong decision on almost every occasion. “That’s why we let you go” sang the Wigan crowd on at least half a dozen occasions. Ouch.
Tactical guile from Martinez meant his runs from deep were consistently blocked off, but shorn of his traditional value-add he got stuck into to trying to make things happen for himself. Results were mixed, but at least he gave it a go.
Seemed keen, but his passing was woeful. Ran into trouble on countless occasions and seemed positionally confused.
Utterly anonymous for the first half hour before starting to exert some influence in the closing stages of the first half. Sadly it wasn’t to last and he reverted back to predominant anonymity once more. Looking some way off a double-digit million pound winger at the moment.
Did what he was asked to do in winning the vast majority of stuff lumped his way, but unfortunately astute tactics by Wigan meant there was rarely anyone to knock them down to. Aside from that there was a woeful free kick and he failed to connect with a tasty Jarvis cross in the second half. His poorest game for us.
(Replaced Benayoun, 46)
Ran around a lot without much to show for it. Seems to want to do it all himself when there often looks to be a better option and a frankly shameful dive that loses him a point.
(Replaced Noble, 64)
Despite initially looking like someone who’d won a competition to play left wing for football team, he applied himself well in an unfamiliar position. His graft ultimately lead to the goal.
Gary O Neil
(Replaced Diame, 73)
His main contribution was not being Diame, who by that stage was a liability.
Did not play.
Joey O Brien
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Man of the Match: Kevin Nolan.
West Ham United
Jussi Jaaskelainen, James Tomkins, George McCartney, James Collins, Winston Reid, Mark Noble, Momo Diame, Kevin Nolan, Yossi Benayoun, Matt Jarvis, Andy Carroll.
Goals: James Tomkins 90 .
Booked: Mark Noble 55 Modibo Maiga 61 Gary O Neil 91 Winston Reid 95 .
Sent off: None.
Ali Al Habsi, Ivan Ramis, Gary Caldwell, Maynor Figueroa, Emmerson Boyce, James McCarthy, James McArthur, Jean Beausejour, Arouna Kone, Franco Di Santo, Shaun Maloney.
Substitutes: Ben Watson (Franco Di Santo 78).
Subs not used: Michael Pollitt, David Jones, Jordi Gomez, Callum McManaman, Mauro Boselli, Ronnie Stam.
Goals: Ivan Ramis (8), James McArthur (47).
Booked: Ivan Ramis (18), Franco Di Santo (39), James McArthur (89).
Sent Off: None.