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Premier League
Saturday, 17th December 2016

West Ham United 1
Hull City 0

by Gordon Thrower


Normally if you’d told me that we would be two points ahead of the reigning champions at Christmas I’d have taken it but...

Bit of a funny old day this one. En route I received a message that the gig I was due to attend in the evening was in jeopardy due to the small matter of the band and road crew being stuck in Holland due to fog. Some of the fans had been roped in to unload so that the gig could go ahead and it was suggested that I might join them.

Obviously the football took priority but believe me there were times in this match when lugging a drum-kit up a load of stairs would have been slightly more pleasant.

Team news was that we were unchanged from the eleven that started the Burnley match in midweek, namely: Randolph, Kouyate, Ogbonna, Reid, Antonio, Cresswell, Obiang, Noble, Lanzini, Payet, Carroll.

Well we started poorly though for a while Hull didn’t look like they would be able to take advantage of what appeared to be some sort of viral strain of lethargy that was running through the team. So, in what is becoming an increasingly – and depressingly – frequent occurrence this season, we decided to give them a bit of a hand.

Cresswell’s back pass lacked pace, direction and, well, just about anything at all that might have made it useful as a back pass. With Randolph stranded in no-man’s land Mbokani had any number of options but, unwisely as it turned out, elected to play the ball first time. The ball came back off the post and was smuggled away to safety.




What should have happened was that we should have heeded the warning.

What happened was that the visitors took the sign as a boost. Ref Mason, whose performance throughout was down to his usual atrocious standard, awarded a corner that had clearly been played out by the Hull man. Snodgrass’s delivery found Maguire who, not having anything like a challenge to cope with, powered a header goal bound. Randolph saved well, though Noble was on hand to clear had the header beaten the ‘keeper.

Apart from the tendency to make errors-a-plenty this season, another worry has been our vulnerability to corners. That’s corners we’ve won rather than conceded. Every time we get a corner we look shaky on the break. Sure enough on the half hour a fast break after one of our corners saw Mbokani feed Clucas who, thankfully, stuck his shot well wide.

From memory I think we had our first proper effort on 35 minutes. Carroll got upended by Livermore who received a yellow for his troubles. Payet’s free-kick failed to trouble Marshall in the Hull goal though.

Obiang evened up the yellow count with a late one on Clucas and for the remainder of the half it was largely a matter of Hull getting into good position and wasting opportunities with Mbokani, Livermore and Clucas all missing or failing to get enough on shots to worry Randolph. Our one effort on goal at this point was a header from Reid from a corner but failed to get direction. Despite all that no goals were forthcoming and, somehow it was goalless at the interval.

Clearly something had to change and the manager elected to hook Lanzini who had been having a mare and replace him with Ayew. Obiang had done little wrong but a yellow hanging over his head and a referee as poor as Mason on the pitch probably tipped the scales when Bilic was considering trying to bring something different to the midfield. Fernandes was his replacement.

The second half started in similar vein to the first, with a mistake. Reid handled an awkwardly-bouncing ball in dangerous position outside the box but they failed to do anything useful with the opportunity.




Noble then had an interesting few minutes. Firstly he picked up a yellow for a late one that was nowhere near being the red that Sky’s brain donor co-commentator was trying to suggest in an attempt to make it look as if he had something interesting to contribute.

Then, with everything coming down our right hand side, the skipper instinctively stuck his head out to cut out a cross. The ball flew off and thundered off the post. As if twice wasn’t enough, Robertson came down that right hand side again and hit the far post.

Well I mentioned the idea of learning lessons after a let-off earlier on. It had taken three rebounds off the metalwork but somewhere a light switch went on in the collective heads of the players and the last half-hour showed a marked improvement. Ogbonna chanced his arm from outside the box, his deflected shot earning a corner. Ayet headed goalwards but his effort was cleared off the line.

The increased effort was reflected in a bit more from the crowd who had been as edgy as the team. Antonio’s shot from a tight angle was probably a bit optimistic and Fernandes’ effort after some good work by Ayew was blocked.

Hull were still giving it a go and Snodgrass’s effort wasn’t too far over but they then made a couple of substitutions which, to be honest, probably helped us more than it helped them. Off came the troublesome Mbokani to be replaced by Diomande whilst Livermore came ashore to be replaced by Henriksen.

Antonio was beginning to come into the match more and more, and, increasingly, Hull’s only answer to his long mazy runs was an illegal one, Dawson picking up a yellow for upending him in dangerous position. It was a bit too far out for Payet to seriously consider a shot. However his delivery caused all sorts of problems. Marshall came for the ball, Dawson didn’t get that memo and headed from in front of his ‘keeper. Amongst the vultures gathering under the loose ball was Antonio who brought it under control but went down on the turn .

I’ve seen it again and I’d say it was an “Anfield Penalty”. Huddlestone’s slight tug probably constituted “contact” but had it happened up the other end I would have been seething. I realise that if we get three of these a game until the end of this season we might just get back to parity in terms of bad decisions over the last 10 years but that doesn’t make it right.




Nice as it is to get one of these every blue moon I’d be slightly more impressed if nutters like Mason weren’t allowed anywhere near a top class football match again. Unfortunately, turkeys don’t vote for Christmas. Undeterred by his failure against Burnley, Noble calmly rolled the ball to the right as Marshall went off in the other direction and we were 1-0 up.

I guess hitting the post three times and going behind to a soft penalty would be enough to knock the stuffing out of most teams and Antonio and Payet drew a couple of free-kicks in dangerous territory. Payet’s first effort wet over unaided, his second required assistance from Marshall.

Four minutes of stoppage were announced during which Nordveidt replaced Payet. These were seen out without much to fret about and another three points were in the bag.

Hull will feel cheesed off that their efforts didn’t get them any reward and, given the nature of the penalty, I do have a small bit of sympathy for them. But there again if you dominate two-thirds of a match, spurning dozens of chances in the process there is an argument that you might have only yourselves to blame, unless of course you are Sheffield United when of course it’s always someone else’s fault.

Us? Well despite the lotto lucky-dip nature of the victory the last 30 minutes were encouraging in a “I’m desperately trying to take something positive out of this other than the three points” sort of way. We will obviously need to improve having now got our dodgy penalty for the next decade out of the way.




I sincerely hope that those in charge have a few ideas about recruitment in the January sales. Although in terms of numbers we brought in more than left in the summer those that came in have had little or no impact and any recruitment needs to be better targeted. Quality not quantity.

Still we are two points clear of the champions and the band managed to get to Islington in time for the gig so the general theme of the day was “all’s well that ends well”. I suppose.

Merry Christmas!



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Player Ratings

Darren Randolph
Looked solid with one fine save and quite a few more routine ones.


Cheikhou Kouyate
Our lack of defensive capability on the right saw him covering two or three positions at once. Not bad under the circumstances.


Aaron Cresswell
Still some way from his best and that back pass was a shocker.


Winston Reid
Given a hard time by Mbokana. It probably ended up all square.


Angelo Ogbonna
When Mbokana wasn’t tormenting Reid he moved on to Ogbonna with similar results.


Pedro Obiang
Slightly unfortunate to be hooked at half-time but something had to change.


Michail Antonio
As the game progressed he became more and more of a threat. Went down a bit too easy for the penalty for my liking though. Not something I’m keen on.


Mark Noble
Stuttered a bit. A few good minutes here a dodgy moment there. Judged that header on to the post to perfection. Didn’t he?


Andy Carroll
More of an influence defensively than as a striker, which, in case you had forgotten, is what he is there for.


Manuel Lanzini
Not at all unfortunate to be hooked at half time because something had to change.


Dimitri Payet
Anonymous for an hour. Better in the last 30.


Substitutes


Edimilson Fernandes
A decent half.


Andre Ayew
Still not sure where he is supposed to really be playing but was much more influential than Lanzini and was unlucky not to score.


Havard Nordtveit
Brought on to run down the clock.


Adrian San Miguel Del Castillo



Reece Burke



Lewis Page



Josh Cullen




Match Facts

Referee: Lee Mason.

Attendance: 50,000.

Man of the Match: Darren Randolph.

West Ham United

Darren Randolph, Cheikhou Kouyate, Aaron Cresswell, Winston Reid, Angelo Ogbonna, Pedro Obiang, Michail Antonio, Mark Noble, Andy Carroll, Manuel Lanzini, Dimitri Payet.

Goals: Cheikhou Kouyate 8 Cheikhou Kouyate 22 Sofiane Feghouli 81              .

Booked: Michail Antonio  Sofiane Feghouli  Enner Valencia       .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Hull City

.

Substitutes: .

Subs not used: .

Goals: n/a.

Booked: .

Sent Off: None sent off..

 
Gordon Thrower's Man of the Match: Darren Randolph