Premier League
West Ham United 0 Stoke City 1

Saturday, 31st August 2013
by Gordon Thrower

If one has an off day thatís one thing. When six do thatís an entirely different matter. And the result is not usually nice to watch.

Team news was that Joe Cole was on the injured list, giving us a starting XI of JJ, Demel, O'Brien, Reid, Collins, Noble, Diame, Downing, Jarvis, Nolan, Maiga. Other news was that Sky had chosen the match to trial its new-fangled "Ultra High Definition" system. Whilst I appreciate that the prospect of seeing, say Steve Bruce, in UHTV is not one that should appeal to anyone without parental controls on their telly, Sky must have been questioning the wisdom of their choice of match as JJ continued in the fluorescent orange 'keepers top that seems to in vogue at home. Which wouldn't have been too bad but for the rather nauseating contrast with the fluorescent green and black socks worn by the visitors.

Right from the start we seemed out of sorts. We were awake and nervous and the ball was being treated as if it were something to give away at every opportunity. This of course handed all initiative to the visitors, Tellingly it was a good quarter hour before either side could muster an effort on goal. Equally tellingly, it came from a free-kick given away in a dangerous spot, by Mark Noble who brought down Adam. Adam took the free kick himself and beat the wall but JJ smothered the effort well.

Ten minutes later JJ was in action again An Adam shot was blocked falling to Wilson a good 30 yards out. Wilson showed fine technique to get over the first time volley which came at JJ through a crowd of players. The Finn, understandably given the late view he had, could only parry the effort but did superbly well to recover to block Walters' follow-up effort. Just to rub it in for the hapless Irish striker, JJ's save came back off him for a goal kick.

We sat there wondering what thought process would need to be set in train for the players to realise that, with two wingers on the park, it might be a good idea to work the ball wide once in a while. In the end Jarcvis and Downing swapped wings, presumably in the hope that the change of view might catch the team's collective eye. It should have paid off when Jarvis did his full back and crossed only for the lacklustre Maiga to head wide when he really ought to have done better.

That's about it for the first half - I really am struggling to remember anything else of note. Save for the alarming sight of ref Jon Moss trundling up and down trying to keep up with play. Since Phil Dowd has obviously discovered the joys of salad, Moss appears to have taken over as the (so-called) Select Group's resident buffet slayer, so it was probably as well that the first half contained little in the way of end to end action.

Half Time: West Ham United 0 Stoke City 0

Surely we couldn't be as bad in the second half? Er....

Well we started, well promisingly is probably stretching it a bit, but at least we were going forward a bit. Demel got into a promising position on the right but the cross was too deep for Maiga to do anything with. Diame then collected from Reid and burst forward before dragging a shot hopelessly adrift.

Reid than had a bit of a scare. Rising for a header, Jones, who was looking a bit chunky himself, backed in as he had been doing all day without punishment, Reid landed awkwardly and appeared to be in some distress. Thankfully he was able to continue after treatment but it was a nasty fall that could have caused serious injury.

With creativity and skill at a premium from either side, it was with some relief that we saw the introduction of Morrison just after the hour. Any one of six could have had no complaints at being withdrawn but, in the end, it was Downing who came off. Arguably it proved to be the wrong decision.

Morrison at least lent some skill to proceedings, making a number of promising runs with the ball, attacking defenders where nobody else had had the nerve. Morrison was brought down on a number of occasions, most memorably on one occasion cutting in from the right hand side before being unceremoniously dumped on his backside, only to note that ref Moss had his back to just about every player on the park. Lord knows why. It wasn't the first time that this had happened in the game and one can only presume that he'd spotted a stray uneaten pie-crust over in the Chicken Run.

The only problem was that the tracking back that Downing had been doing seemed to go by the way with the introduction of Morrison, and shortly after Diame had got into promising position only to see his shot blocked wide , Hughes elected to try and exploit the space that was being donated down the Stoke left by bringing on Pennant, with Whelan also being introduced at the same time. It was a change that was to prove decisive.

Stoke, as everyone in football knows, like to take liberties with the laws of the game. Their former boss openly boasted of such things and, let's face it, Mark Hughes is not the sort of boss to change such things. The one person who seems to think that we have a new era of law-abiding Stoke players would appear to be Jon Moss who, presumably stunned at the thought that a Stoke City player could actually be as unsporting enough to dive, decided that Whelan's theatrical tumble to the floor when Diame looked at him in a stern manner must have been a free-kick. Reid picked up a yellow card for pointing out the obvious.meanwhile Nolan, whose umpteenth loose ball had played Stoke in for the dive, just looked sheepish.

Whilst Pennant's strike was excellent, one should point out that, as usual, Stoke found themselves unable to execute a set-piece legally and one can only speculate that the wall might have been a bit more effective had Shawcross not blatantly barged into it at the appropriate moment. You may think that a referee that was looking straight at such an incident without doing anything about it collected his pay under false pretences. I certainly do.

Collison came on to replace Noble, another who had found opposition feet with monotonous regularity. You've got six minutes Jack. Er thanks boss.

Of course then the usual time-wasting started. Hilariously so when, having been awarded a goal-kick Shawcross walked all the way to the edge of the box before remembering that he had just developed a really nasty injury that involved his going down on one knee for a minute or two before getting to his feet again. This happened a few more times with other players - N'Zonzi's head injury manifested itself with nobody near him. For example - but Moss seemed as oblivious to the tactic that is common knowledge to the rest of the world. Points deductions for financial indiscretions? I'd give them to sides who show contempt for the game myself.

Of course teams that time waste might be less inclined to do so if there were some prospect of the time being added on but with Moss deciding that a laughable four minutes would be the add-on (N'Zonzi alone had been down for three minutes) it was obvious that they knew they'd get away with it again. Though to be honest Moss's incompetence probably did us a favour - another three or four minutes of that dross probably constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the Geneva Convention.

Elliot Lee was the final hiding to nothing sacrificial lamb - had we still been managed by a certain ex-manager with a twitch I'd have taken the replacement of Diame as a message to the board that we need a new striker pronto.

The game petered out - Ginge picking up a yellow for complaining about a free-kick awarded by Moss for dangerous play. He had a point - Jones' challenge on Reid that could have ended his career was miles more dangerous than Ginge's raised foot two yards away from an opponent.

In truth we deserved exactly what we got from that match - poor refereeing notwithstanding. We showed the square root of the contents of Arsenal's trophy cabinet as an attacking force and with so many players not performing at once the only surprise was that we didn't lose by a lot more. I suppose we should be grateful that we saved such a performance for a team as average as Stoke - had we been playing someone a bit better we'd have probably been on the end of a right tonking. As it was JJ had little to do, especially in the second half. The problem being that neither did Begovic.

There, the worst home performance since our return to the top flight. Thank you for making me re-live it. I NEED an international break after that!

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Player Ratings

Jussi Jaaskalainen
Two good saves in the first half. Nothing to do in the second. Maybe a bit poorly-positioned for the goal.

Guy Demel
Ok first half but struggled against Pennant when stripped of the protection afforded to him by Downing.

Joey O Brien
Was that a Cruyff turn I spotted in the second half? Solid enough defensively.

James Collins
Battled gamely against the chunky Jones. Probably MOTM as the pick of an average bunch.

Winston Reid
Stuck to his task well despite the illegal attentions of Jones which could have proved costly injury-wise.

Mark Noble
Mark mate, we're the ones in claret and blue.

Mo Diame
Can influence matches much more than he did in this one. Also needs to get his sights adjusted - his shooting was very wayward.

Matt Jarvis
Ok without service wingers are always going to struggle but even on the rare occasions we did feed him he didn't look dangerous.

Stewart Downing
As with Jarvis he was starved of service though he did get through some hard work defensively - he was more noticed when he had gone.

Kevin Nolan
Poorest game for the skipper for ages. Gave the ball away in dangerous positions, something that was, ultimately, to prove costly.

Modibo Maiga
Ok we're not exactly playing to his strengths but he simply didn't look interested. Even the chasing down of opponents looked like token "efforts".


Ravel Morrison
Showed some welcome class when he came on but this was at the expense of having defensive cover on the right.

Jack Collison
Like those few minutes were really going to give him a chance to alter things.

Elliot Lee
Nice to get a run-out I suppose but even as a spot of desperation it looked a bit of a pointless substitution.

Did not play.

Razvan Rat
Did not play.

James Tomkins
Did not play.

Matthew Taylor
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Jussi Jaaskalainen, Guy Demel, Joey O Brien, James Collins, Winston Reid, Mark Noble, Mo Diame, Matt Jarvis, Stewart Downing, Kevin Nolan, Modibo Maiga.

Goals: None                   .

Booked: Winston Reid 81 James Collins 90        .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Stoke City: Asmir Begovic, Geoff Cameron, Ryan Shawcross, Robert Huth, Erik Pieters, Jonathan Walters, Steven Nzonzi, Charlie Adam, Marc Wilson, Matthew Etherington, Kenwyne Jones.

Subs not used: Thomas Sorensen, Marc Muniesa, Peter Crouch, Oussama Assaidi, Cameron Jerome.

Goals: Jermaine Pennant (82).

Booked: None booked..

Sent off: None.

Referee: Jonathan Moss.

Attendance: 34,946.

Man of the Match: James Collins.