West Ham United 2 Hull City 1
Wednesday, 26th March 2014
Despite this game having been nominated as a big six-pointer, next Monday night at Sunderland will be just about the biggest of the season for us.Bruce and Allardyce have both said they think 38 points will be enough for survival; I think they're being overly cautious. I can't honestly see any of the bottom three passing 36 points, so with our much-superior goal difference, both clubs should be safe with that few.
Which is just as well, because we've reverted to January form. We're pedestrian everywhere. We don't press quickly enough or closely enough; we don't move off the ball quickly enough to create good options; we don't pass the ball quickly or accurately enough. Even when we do have options, we take six or more touches. It's all so bloody slow.
I have to sympthise with Bruce when, after the game, he says he feels Hull should have had something from the game. They should have. The ten men were embarassingly dominant in the second half, doing exactly what we should have been doing, exactly the opposite of all those things just mentioned.
On the other hand, I can only laugh when he complains about about a Diame handball, and wonders what might have happened if they'd had 11 men throughout. Let's take the latter first and look at the opening 20 minutes, shall we?
On four minutes, Long beat Collins in the air rather too easily. Fortunately for us, Jelavic handled it on the edge of the box. On 14 minutes, they had a free-kick into the 18-yard area that was comfortably bundled away. Beyond that, they were not in the game.
We were hardly dominating, to be fair, but we had more of the ball and had created a couple of good chances. A decent low strike by Downing was smartly turned away for a corner. That corner led to another decent strike, this time from Taylor (practically his only noteworthy contribution in the game), deflected away for another corner.
The only other memorable incident was one of the Hull players, I forget who, doing a creditable impersonation of Chico Flores when Nolan failed to make contact with him. On that showing, what Hull would have got with 11 men was exactly what they did get with ten - nothing.
Then comes the penalty incident. Mark Noble is becoming unpleasantly reminiscent of Ray "The Crab" Wilkins, always going sideways or backwards. On 20 minutes, though, he picked up the ball in the middle of the half and did something he does all too infrequently - he went forwards and past a couple players.
The ball was half-flicked, half-bobbled in behind Diame, where it very definitely went ball-to-hand and onwards, and before Mo could do anything with it, he was taken out completely by the on-rushing McGregor. Confusion ensued...
Initially, Mike Dean gave nothing, only belatedly blowing the whistle with the ball fast approaching our penalty box. A lengthy delay ensued as both players needed treatment, McGregor eventually ending up in hospital with kidney damage (let's hope he's OK).
From the haranguing of the ref by the Hull players, they appeared to know what was unclear to most fans until the keeper was finally able to get to his feet - red card and penalty. Bruce can complain as much he likes about the handball & the sending off. It serves only to highlight the hypocrisy that exists in football.
The ball did hit Diame's hand, though the ref may have been unsighted. Nevertheless it was clearly ball to hand, with Diame unaware that it was happening, and it's not as if he was hanging his arm out anywhere it shouldn't have been. Any wholly arguable benefit he might have derived from it was completely inadvertant. He was then absolutely clattered by the keeper just six yards from goal.
Had Adrian done that to, say, Huddlestone and the handball had been awarded, Bruce would have been fuming. Had the handball not been given, but Adrian not been sent off, Bruce would have been fuming.
There is simply no argument that, aware of the handball or not, Mike Dean, largely on the advice of his linesman it must be said, made entirely the correct decision. Oh, plus Bruce has a short memory - what about that far more blatant hanball at the KC by Livermore, with his arm in a distinctly unnatural position, eh, Steve?
To nobody's surprise, Noble easily slotted home the penalty. Then it all went wrong. We tried to play patiently, but simply looked purposeless. Credit to Bruce; most managers would pull off one the two forwards at that point, but he kept them both on.
As the half went on, the Tigers looked increasingly comfortable. There were a couple of chances either way, but we lacked any sort of creative spark to unlock a determined Hull side. It finished with a stinging long range effort from Figueroa, easily turned away by Adrian, that proved a harbinger of things to come.
The second 45 began with panic in our defence and, after two minutes, a free kick from Huddlestone took a huge deflection off the arm of Jelavic to fly past a stranded Adrian. And the only thing to add is that it was as much a handball as Diame's was, which is to say not at all.
A bare 6 minutes later we were back in front, courtesy of the unfortunate Chester shinning a comical clearance past the hapless Harper, from a hopeful but fairly hopeless left-footed cross from Demel. It was hardly deserved, but who cares? We've had little enough go our way when we have deserved this season.
For the rest of the game, whilst we occasionally showed flurries of life, we were a poor second best to a Hull side who dominated but didn't create anything really dangerous. For such an important game, it ultimately turned out to be rather insipid & uninspiring.
Picking a man of the match is nigh on impossible in the circumstances. If The Editor will allow me to get away with it, I'm actually going to nominate Mike Dean. He didn't have a faultless game. There was a corner for each side that he gave as a goal-kick. There were a number of 50/50 decisions that I felt were given the wrong way, or weren't given when they should have been.
Nevertheless, he was even-handed, and you can't ask for much more than that. He even allowed the game to become surprisingly physical in the second half, not blowing up at all for a number of challenges that usually are punished one way or the other. And he remained even-handed - what he let go, he let go for both sides.
Importantly, he got the major decisions right. He gave Nolan a talking-to for that reckless slide on 15 minutes, but correctly saw no contact & didn't book him (or worse). Three minutes later, he rightly booked Livermore (and no worse) for a similarly reckless challenge that did make contact with Noble.
He was brave enough to take advice from his assistant, and therefore got the penalty & sending off right, whatever Bruce thinks of it. What ref ever has a perfect game? But, frankly, he did his job better than any of the players did theirs!
And if The Editor decides to be mean... James Tomkins. He's immediately disposed of Saturday's poor game. Whilst I wouldn't go so far as to say he was imperious, he won everything in the air in the first half, almost everything in the air in the second, and most things on deck all game.
I just wonder what all those complaining after the Man Utd performance made of this? I thought we were OK in the first half, limp in the second in that one. It certainly wasn't our worst performance of the season; I'd reserve that label for our pathetic effort in losing 3-0 to Chelsea in November.
But if Hull wasn't quite as bad as the Chelsea game, we were pretty awful for 70 minutes against the ten men of a side inferior to the Reds. If only we can avoid defeat against Sunderland on Monday night, we should be safe, given the points difference between us & their run-in. We'll need to pull our socks up, and roll our sleeves up, though. Playing like this is unlikely to score us any points at all!
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Stranded for their goal, a couple of acrobatic but comfortable saves, quick and decisive off his line two or three times when he needed to be.
Much as he was against Man Utd, adequate if a little below his own decent average.
Again, much as against Man Utd, not brilliant, but rarely beaten and did his best to get forwards.
Beaten far too easily in the air by Long on four minutes; off injured on eight.
The pick of a not very good bunch. He at least seems to have put Saturday's poor performance behind himself immediately.
Apart from the run through to create the penalty, failed to drive the side forwards again. I know it's not a one-man game, but he needs to stop defaulting to turning backwards.
The good and the bad again. Somtimes dazzles defenders with his footwork, sometimes trips himself up. Burst into the box well to win the penalty, but looked a bit lazy at other times.
He normally can't cut the mustard against the better teams, but Hull ought to be meat and drink to him. Apart from one good shot at the start and one awful one near the end when he should have laid the ball across, went almost entirely missing. His worst game for some time.
Work ethic was reasonable, but crossing was poor.
Much better than he was on Saturday, and was usually involved in our most threatening moments, especially in that dreadful second half.
Hard-working, but poorly served & worse-supported. Half the time Nolan wasn't anywhere near him, and when Nolan was, nobody else was. We're not going to create much if that continues.
Made a couple of decent defensive headers and took a nasty accidental crack in the face from Long. Overall though, showed again that he's not good enough, even against Hull, and his distribution was awful.
Looked lively and energetic for 20 minutes, but with the team playing so poorly, was unable to have much impact.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Ricardo Vaz Te
Did not play.
Did not play.
Match FactsWest Ham United: Adrian, Guy Demel, George McCartney, James Collins, James Tomkins, Mark Noble, Mo Diame, Matt Taylor, Stewart Downing, Kevin Nolan, Andy Carroll.
Goals: Mark Noble 26 James Chester og 54 .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Hull City: Allan McGregor, James Chester, Alex Bruce, Curtis Davies, Ahmed Elmohamady, Jake Livermore, Tom Huddlestone, David Meyler, Maynor Figueroa, Shane Long, Nikica Jelavic.
Subs not used: Robert Koren, Sone Aluko, Matt Fryatt, Stephen Quinn.
Goals: Nikica Jelavic (49).
Booked: Jake Livermore (18).
Sent off: None.
Referee: Mike Dean.
Man of the Match: James Tomkins.