- by HeadHammerShark
- Filed: Monday, 19th December 2016
Whenever I get in the car after my wife has driven it, it is always left in the same state. The wheels are turned inwards, the indicator is on, windscreen wipers will be going and the radio will be tuned to Capital and blaring out some unlistenable shit at a ludicrous volume. That's not to say she's a bad driver - far from it - but just that once she's completed a task she doesn't spend any further time thinking about it. Even if she's killed two cats in the process.
I would encourage you to take the same approach to this game of football.
Why? Well, we were awful for a start, but worse was that Hull absolutely played us off the park. Our goalpost was chosen as Man of the Match in the Club's online poll, winning 57% of the vote, and my only question is who on earth the other 43% voted for.
Is it possible for a win to be bad? Maybe not, given that West Ham are a professional football team, so obtaining three points is their ultimate objective when they turn up to work, but this felt like a bad win.
Hull weathered a brief storm (*) in the opening exchanges, when Payet was frequently on the ball and we had enough movement around the box to cause them all sorts of problems. But they blocked our shots - yet again our shot location was unbelievably poor - and gradually hauled themselves back into the game, and then eventually into a point of total dominance. I repeat again that we were playing HULL today, as I appreciate none of the above sounds plausible.
Let me tell you, however, if I was a Hull fan I would have been reporting this game to the Police as a heist.
The West Ham team plan today's victory
(*) Light rainfall
2. Darkness On The Edge Of Town
There were signs that today was going to be a struggle from the moment a mist settled over East London like something from a Bronte novel. For the entirety of my journey to the station I was looking around in case a Mr Rochester type ran me over with a horse and let's be honest, given the quality of the service into Stratford lately, a horse is about as likely to appear as a train these days.
As this is my birthday weekend, my dad and daughter came with me so we slipped into Westfield for a bite to eat prior to the game. Sadly, it's easier to get a seat in the Houses of Parliament than in the Westfield Food Court so that took an age, and so we were generally a bit flustered by the time we got to the Stadium.
As our tickets were purchased via the Hogwarts Triwizard Ballot system, we had no choice over the seat location and so were magically allocated a row next to the away fans yet again. I mean that literally by the way, as we had the entire row to ourselves and no one sat behind us either. This did at least mean my daughter could stand up freely without the risk of starting a twenty man brawl, which was a pleasing new development.
3. Real World
Hull are shit. They are going to be relegated and it won't be terribly close. If there are any Hull fans reading this I am not saying this to be a dickhead (although I wouldn't blame you for thinking so), but more in the spirit of providing some context to today's omnishambles.
The visitors were clearly better than us after they got through the first twenty minutes and I honestly can't recall a team dominating us this much and losing for years. For all our nice approach work in the opening quarter we were completely unable to fashion a proper opportunity, and the nearest we came was a Payet wriggling run that seemed destined to end in a goal, but simply finished up as one of a multitude of blocked shots.
The decline began when Aaron Cresswell managed to misplace both a pass and his cerebrum in the same movement, and gave the ball straight to Dieumerci Mbokani who ran through and hit the frame of Darren Randolph's goal. In the second half, as the pressure ramped up, an Andrew Robertson cross was deflected by Mark Noble against the base of the post, before Robertson himself hit the other post a few moments later.
At this point most of us were wishing that the mist would roll back in, as Harry Maguire had a header cleared off the line and it became clear that we had somehow, incredibly, turned in a worse performance than the Burnley game.
Even as Hull were schooling us it was fairly obvious that they're not much better than an top half Championship team, which isn't to denigrate their players who showed a conviction and belief that we are sorely lacking. It was interesting too that their 3-5-2 system actually works, presumably because it's the best way of playing for their squad, as opposed to the least worst option available, as it is for us.
4. Brilliant Disguise
I wish I had the tactical and linguistic knowledge to accurately describe our second half formation to you. We started with our customary 3-4-2-1 and this had it's customary limited effect. Neither wing back could do much as Hull matched up to us exactly, and as on Wednesday we were unable to engineer any situations for them to get high up the pitch in space.
At half time Bilic replaced Obiang with Fernandes (the former was on a booking), and Lanzini with Luis Ayew Morte. The Argentine looked like he was carrying an injury, but it could also have been that he was simply spending too much time on this particular plane of existence, and Bilic wanted someone who could run the channels between the various existential fields of consciousness, at the same time as getting the wrong side of Michael Dawson. So on came Schrodingers Ayew to simultaneously be present and absent at the same time. I'm pretty sure he played the whole second half, but fuck knows.
What was particularly bonkers was the change in our formation. I think we began with a 4-4-2 whereby Kouyate moved to right back, Ayew went to right midfield and Antonio went up front. So for those keeping track at home that's a central midfielder at full back, a forward on the wing and a winger up front. Somewhere Alan Curbishley was purring in admiration for so many players being misused at once. Had Spurs and Burnley suddenly emerged and kicked off their game playing from East Stand to West this would have been entirely in keeping with the playground football style of play.
Rush goalie, yeah?
Thereafter we went full mental as Antonio and Carroll dropped deeper until the latter was basically playing as a screening midfielder, and heading away balls into the box like a pissed Geordie rhinoceros. What was especially disturbing about this was that at no point was it obvious what Bilic's plan was to rescue the unfurling farce in front of him. Against the worst team in the division he had his players operate under about six different tactical systems and not one of them gave us a foothold in the game. We can talk all we want about this being a results business, but performances are important too as they act as indicators of what we might have to look forward to in future, and this was absolutely dismal fare.
If we continue to play like this we will go down. We have scraped past Burnley and Hull on the back of two dubious penalties, luck like 2015 Leicester and some heroic defending from Winston Reid. That is not a recipe for continued success.
5. This Depression
Where exactly do we go from here? On the face of it, this past week couldn't have gone much better. A point at Liverpool, two clean sheets and six points from relegation rivals has seen us pop up to the dizzy heights of 13th.
You could, however, take the alternative view that we scraped a fortunate point at Anfield and then stumbled past two of the worst teams around by ludicrous good fortune. We barely survived Hull's left side yesterday as Robertson, who is excellent, and Sam Clucas, who is 12 years old, tore us apart.
The distressing tactical shenanigans aside, we seemed generally bereft of confidence, and played with an uncertainty that suggested the players had no idea what they were supposed to be doing. Even if that wasn't the case, it sure looked like it, and Bilic has to carry the can for such an insipid pair of performances.
To go one step further and describe this as an Allardyce type display, as some have, is actually to give it too much credit. Even when his teams were fumbling going forward, Sam's teams were generally well organised in defence and the lack of offensive ambition was usually because there was an underlying plan to ensure we didn't concede.
We have none of that now. The defence is a shambles, with nothing on the right side and only Reid looking himself in terms of decision making. Cresswell was poor today, a rarity, but he is prone to lapses of concentration and Ogbonna seems to have regressed all the way back to the womb as he sits on the edge of the 18 yard box and sucks his thumb while opposition strikers run past him like London commuters ignoring Christmas carollers.
I hate to say it, but I saw this load of shit today and wondered if Bilic can truly be the man for the job. I've not considered this previously, as I still remember that with three games left of last season we were still technically in with a shout of getting into the Champions League. However, what has become painfully evident is that last year wasn't the new normal - it was the outlier. The first 17 games of this season have been one long regression to the mean, as it has hit home just how aimless much of play has become.
But where do we go? There is no chance of a remarriage with Allardyce as that divorce was messier than was let on, so I have heard, and does someone like Mancini really inspire confidence that he is up for a relegation battle? I think Bilic will survive, because Sullivan and Gold are patient to a fault, but once the crowd turns it could be a different story. For now he's probably safe as long as the boos keep dissipating up into the sky with the rest of our atmosphere, and there continue to be peculiar scapegoats around like Brady and Nordtveit to take some of the flak.
6. Point Blank
Let's get down to it. We create nothing. We're like Mark Ronson - things are being produced, but nothing is original or creative or in any way useful to society. (Huh - it turns out I do have an opinion on that talentless prick after all).
I once again went to Paul Riley's marvellous public tableau and had a look at the shot maps from this game. Here is ours, which the BBFC have stated is an 18 certificate so no children should be seeing this.
Look at the state of that. Only once did we force Marshall to save anything from inside the area, and just generally we were fucking useless going forward. Even Payet couldn't summon any magic to help us as he had three free kicks and all were non events.
By contrast, have a look at this shot map from HULL, the worst team in the division.
Note how rarely we block shots compared to Hull, and many more of their goal attempts were taken from inside the area. This is the crux of our problem, and it's hardly earth shattering to state it, but this is the reason why we are so shit. We create no good chances inside the box, and our defence allow far too many attempts on our goal from close range.
It's a good job that we are dangerous from set pieces otherwise we'd be doing a decent impression of Sunderland. So far this season we have scored six times from open play, and it's not hard to see why. No striking threat for much of the time, we can't get into the box, and have no cohesion to our attacking play. This is dire. Make no mistake that these two wins have been anything other than burglaries and it can't continue. If we play like this at Swansea and Leicester, two other dreadful teams, we will drop points we can ill afford to lose.
7. Local Hero
Mark Noble was awarded the freedom of the London Borough of Newham this week and he repaid the favour by doing the same thing for Tom Huddlestone.
Huddlestone actually gets bigger every time I see him. He's enormous these days and by the time we get to the return fixture he'll probably look like the Stay Puft man from Ghostbusters. That didn't stop him today though as he and Jake Livermore took hold of the midfield and didn't let up until they ran out of steam in the final 15 minutes.
Noble was disconcertingly off the pace for most of this game, which was a disappointing regression after a couple of strong performances. Obiang got booked early and Bilic gave him the hook at half time which probably saved him from a red card as he was simply having to do too much defensive work to survive.
Fernandes came on and was his usual energetic self, but he lacks invention and we really lost all our drive through the middle in the second half. This made it even more distressing to see Cheikhou Kouyate being played at right back when he should have been rampaging all over the place causing havoc like a Russian hacker.
It's seems to me to have escaped a lot of attention but Kouyate's disappearance from our midfield has robbed us of our dynamism, and is thus yet another piece of evidence that our summer recruitment has failed. The lack of a right back is hurting us in multiple ways, and not the least of them is that it's forcing so many players to play out of position.
For all that, Noble notched the winner with another penalty. He slotted it home in basically the same position as his miss on Wednesday against Burnley, and once again it would have been saved had the keeper gone the right way. It continues to appear that his ability to send keepers the wrong way is an actual skill.
Here is the heat map for the latest effort from the amazing penaltykickstat website.
8. The Price You Pay
I know it won't be a surprise to you if you read this, but January is looming like the ghost of Transfer Windows past. God only knows what Sullivan made of this latest adventure in incompetence but there's no doubt he will be diving into action as soon as practicable.
I see two very obvious issues;
a) everybody knows what we need most - a right back and a centre forward - and they are also aware that we are terrible in the transfer market. This will lead to some horrific negotiations as rival clubs look at our offers and then point to Ayew and say "Yeah, but you thought he was worth £20m"
b) a lot of these current problems can probably be attributed to the sheer volume of transfers made in the summer. Sullivan does this all the time, but bringing in six or seven players at once is a nightmare, especially when they're arriving at a team with seemingly no idea what they're doing on the pitch. It's not like there is a seamless tactical framework for them to slide into. We're playing everyone out of position and praying to every conceivable deity because at this point we have no ideas left to try out. Keep an eye out for this. Bilic couldn't assimilate seven new players in the summer, with an actual pre season in which to do it. He's got no chance of doing it on the fly in January.
9. Land Of Hope And Dreams
I went to see Rogue One today and it was brilliant. I am currently sitting with a wonderful warm, contented, nostalgic feeling inside me - probably like Nigel Farage got the first time he saw American History X.
With that in mind I thought to myself that I should find something positive to say about this game.
As I had my daughter with me, she wanted a drink at half time, so we ran out to the kiosk as the fourth official held up his added on time sign. We jumped in the queue, and then moved about as much as Andre Ayew. In fact, we stayed there for the entirety of the half time break, emerging only after the second half has started.
"Wait a minute" you're thinking, "that's not positive". Well, firstly you're presupposing that missing any of this game was a bad thing, but secondly I asked for, and paid for a Mars Bar. The guy went off to get that for me and then returned to tell me they'd sold out. He instead presented me with a pack of Maltesers, which have a higher RRP than Mars Bars.
I suppose it's possible that something on the pitch was positive but this would require me to watch the game again, and the only way that's happening is if the Americans capture me and take me to Guantanamo Bay and play it to me as torture. So my confectionary adventures remain the brightest spot of the afternoon.
10. Better Days
Let's not part like this, on such a sour note.
Do you remember Alessandro Diamanti? Of course you do, he was a lunatic.
Anyway, click on this link to see a frankly orgiastic set of tweets from Nikos Overheul about a performance he once put in for Bologna. It is uh-may-zing. It features this screenshot, which captures him actually taking a shot at goal from here:
This is my Christmas present to you. Please enjoy, and have a very Happy Christmas. I love you all. Except for Mark Ronson.
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