Sunderland 1 West Ham United 2
Monday, 31st March 2014
And that should just about be that. Sam may reckon we need 38 points, but I think 37 is going to be more than sufficient this season.It may even turn out that 34 will be enough, given the poor form of the bottom three. The only thing that remains now is whether we can beat Stoke to tenth place and a slightly larger share of the prize money.
After the controversy and angst of Wednesday, there was never much likelihood of booing tonight. Away fans are the die-hards, after all! More to the point, tonight's performance had all of the commitment, fight and pressing that the Hull game lacked.
I don't condone booing, but I can understand it - it was the performance and not the result that was jeered four evenings ago. Win, lose or draw matters little when the performance was as poor as it was. Tonight was not, and that's as we all want, isn't it? Well, OK, maybe not all, but it's a start!
Against Hull, we displayed January form. Against Sunderland, after a below-par game against Stoke, and the aforementioned Hull, we rediscovered February. It wasn't always pretty, though we played good football at times. It was effective, where Hull, despite what one of our players claimed, was largely ineffective as well as ugly. And very, very sub-standard.
Not that tonight was perfect; far from it. Noble got himself booked for a stupid and blatant challenge with no more than two minutes on the clock. Diame more than once was lackadaisical defending down the left, allowing the opposition far too much space. Reid looked decidedly rusty at times and was rightly booked on 86 minutes for clumsily bringing down Gardner. Again, we conceded far too much possession.
But we were worth the three points. The Sunderland goal, an admittedly sweet strike from Johnson (thank goodness he didn't start the game!) just after the hour, came almost out of nowhere. As in February, whilst we had much less of the ball, we restricted the opposition to very few real opportunities.
Carroll scored a thumping header on eight minutes from a corner. There was a small element of good fortune in the second for Diame five minutes into the second half, but it was a result of good play; a terrific knock down from Carroll and fortunate, rather than outright lucky. When all is said and done, Sunderland simply didn't create enough real threat, whilst we did.
Adrian made only two saves of note, notwithstanding the fact that the Black Cats apparently managed 26 shots. Unfortunately for them, only seven of those were on target and, barring Johnson's goal, almost all of them were straight at our 'keeper.
His first, with his shins, was from a weak Cattermole shot before the quarter-hour; the second was the better, preventing an equaliser. On 68 minutes, he rather spilled a Sunderland effort, but recovered very quickly to make a good second save and preserve the lead.
Mannone, apart from being beaten twice, was also not overly stressed, most of our efforts being either wide, weak, or straight at him. He did, however, have to pull off a fine finger-tip save to prevent Downing making it 3-0 on the hour. Strangely, that was given as a goal-kick, rather than a corner, but any fears of another poor performance from Howard Webb proved groundless.
As always, there were a few errors (refs have perfect games no more often than players), but for once his errors favoured us, on balance. His most difficult decision was to correctly not give a Sunderland free-kick just after the half hour, when there was minimal contact between Tomkins and Borini.
Well, aside from the one moment of controversy when he failed to award a spot-kick against Nolan for what looked a fairly clear handball. I can only imagine he was at the wrong angle to see the movement out of Nolan's elbow and felt it was ball to hand.
We got our first real look at Pablo Armero when George had to be subbed at half-time. He certainly looked lively, pacy and keen. Although he made a couple of errors his speed allowed him to either recover them, or recover his position. It'll be interesting to see whether he gets a bit more game time now that we're more or less safe.
Finally, man of the match. It'd be easy to nominate Carroll, who scored one, made the other and worked hard all evening.
I'm going to give it to Noble, though. He's struggled a bit to impose himself in some of the recent games. The stupid booking aside, he played well tonight, worked as hard as anyone on the pitch, and was central to much of the good football that we played, and to the generally tight defense as well.
Next up is Liverpool on Sunday. Quite honestly, with the form they are in, a performance like tonight's will see us thumped again, but I can live with that. You can respect a very good team taking you apart. Just so long as the effort and commitment is there from your own side, there's no shame in losing to the considerably better men (if that is what happens).
Besides, if it helps the Premier League go elsewhere than the Etihad or Stamford Bridge (Old Trafford being well out of the equation this season), that would make a nice change, wouldn't it?
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A couple of good saves; no chance with the goal. Not really tested apart from that.
Solid game all night, the highlight being the closing down of Borini on 70, making him screw a shot wide.
Made sure there was very little threat down his side. Johnson might have caused him more trouble, but a hamstring problem meant he was subbed after a solid first half.
If, as rumoured, he thinks he should be an automatic pick, he needs to do better than this. Adequate, but caught out more than once; rusty, I suspect...
The pick of the defence; not much got past him or away from him.
Man of the match, just about, from Carroll. Worked hard in the middle, distributed well, crabbed sideways / backwards less, went forward more. Was at the heart of much of our good play.
Dangerous going forwards and ran well onto Carroll's knock down to score. Lazy again at times though. Could have had a goal on 14 but didn't attack a cross; sometimes weak defensively. Also spent too much time moaning about free-kicks he didn't deserve not being awarded. Get on with the game, Mo!
Typical hard-working game, so back to his usual self after a poor game against Hull.
Might have made it 3-0, but for a fingertip save. Decent game, but wasn't as threatening as he has been this season, and distribution was a bit erratic at times.
Hard-working game. Can't think of any stand-out moments, but nothing silly (apart from that handball!) and wrongly booked for once, in my opinion.
Towering jump above O'Shea to thump home the first, set up the second for Mo, worked hard all night.
First real look at him after 10 mins at Stoke. Didn't set the world alight. Caught out a couple of times, but recovered any problems through sheer pace. In time, if he stays, could be a very good addition to the squad but rather an unknown quantity at the moment.
15 minutes of comfortable anonymity. Not even certain he touched the ball...
10 minutes of anonymity. Definitely did touch the ball, ran around enthusiastically, but was hardly in a position to influence the game.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Match FactsWest Ham United: Adrian, Guy Demel, George McCartney, Winston Reid, James Tomkins, Mark Noble, Mo Diame, Matt Taylor, Stewart Downing, Kevin Nolan, Andy Carroll.
Goals: Andy Carroll 9 Mo Diame 50 .
Booked: Mark Noble 3 Kevin Nolan 67 Winston Reid 88 Adrian 90 .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Sunderland: Vito Mannone, Santiago Vergini, John O'Shea, Wes Brown, Phil Bardsley, Liam Bridcutt, Lee Cattermole, Marcos Alonso, Sung-Yeung Ki, Fabio Borini, Connor Wickham.
Subs not used: Jack Colback, Jozy Altidore, Carlos Cuellar, Oscar Ustari.
Goals: Adam Johnson (65).
Booked: None booked..
Sent off: None.
Referee: Howard Webb.
Man of the Match: Mark Noble.