West Ham United 2 Tottenham Hotspur 0
Saturday, 3rd May 2014
The burning question: Is it the players or is it the manager? Against Spurs, they dominate, even when playing eleven; against Hull, dreadful when the opposition are reduced to ten. They lift themselves for Liverpool and Arsenal, yet fall flat playing WBA and Palace. Who is responsible?The question is, of course, somewhat false. The manager must always bear some proportion of the responsibility. The real question is how much of it is down to the players? Critical though I am of his stewardship of our club, this is not "yet another" Sam-bashing exercise.
This game, though, gives a vivid illustration of our season; a season that ends next week with the prospect, however unlikely, of leaving Manchester down in the dumps again. The team can put out perfomances like this when it suits them, but they seem incapable of doing it week in, week out. However much allowance I'm willing to make for the horrendous injury problems we've had, it's still been a real disppointment.
There's been a lot of angst in the last 37 games, and a lot of critical words. Almost all of the squad have been slated at some point, even Noble. The truth is, I suspect, that they try to play the way they've been drilled to play. Drill them differently, they'd play differently; give them more choices, they'd choose more ways to play.
Even after the satisfaction of beating our biggest rivals three times in one season for the first time ever, 78 per cent of a very large sample surely can't be wrong in wanting a change of manager? But the players are not blameless in this disappointing season. They've played (or failed to play) their part.
There's been too many poor performances since we played the now relegated Cardiff in the first game. Injuries aside, Sam's sometimes peculiar selections and often limited tactics aside, indiviudals aside, too often the team has not performed well as a whole. It's a C- and "Must do better" come the end of the season. How to apportion the lack of credit - Sam or the players?
Enough preamble; beyond that, what can you say? Roasted Spuds washed down with six points and a cup of cheer; three wins in a season over our nearest and dearest - luvverly! The only real test Adrian faced was at the match's end; a neat little jinking run and powerful shot from Danny Rose that he did well to turn over.
Just as well, because he was surprisingly nervous and indecisive. He could have cost us in the first minute; until that 91st minute, his best save was catching, at full stretch, a back header from Reid. Only a feeble Adebayor effort and an equally easy edge-of-the-box header from Paulinho gave him anything at all to do in saving the ball.
The rest of the game was us. Us, us, us! The pressure wasn't incessant, but something close to that, in the first half anyway. In the second, the pace of our game inevitably slacked off, but Spurs were out of it by then, 2-0 and a man down.
Oh, the joy of beating Tottenham! And again!! And again!!! I think I know more Spurs fans (no, I don't work in an asylum ;-) ) than I do Hammers. You may be sure I will enjoy myself this week...
"A right old roasting" is how I described what Jarvis did to the Baggies' Reid last week. Downing did all that and more to Rose this week. It's a disservice to Diame and McCartney to suggest that it was all up the right, but Downing did more damage to Spurs than Jarvis to WBA last week, and that had been plenty.
I can never make my mind up whether I like or dislike Steve Bruce, but one thing I can say for sure is that Tim Sherwood doesn't have his courage. When Hull went down to ten men, Bruce kept both of his forwards on. When Kaboul was rightly sent off for clumsily felling Downing on the edge of the box halfway through the first half, Sherwood didn't.
When the kerfuffle had been dealt with, we profited indirectly from Carroll's powerful free-kick as the resulting corner was nodded powerfully back across by Carroll himself. The unfortunate Kane instinctively flicked at it with his head, but could only direct it into his own net.
Immediately after that, he was sacrificed. Good for us, not so good for Spurs because, up to that point, he'd been their liveliest and most dangerous player. Not that Spurs had had much of the ball, or much chance to attack. Afterwards, it was the Hugo Lloris show.
Saves ranged from merely terrific to outright brilliant. The first was a two-hander from the aforementioned free kick, which was just a little too close to the 'keeper. Then came better ones from Taylor's fine volley, Diame's brilliant overhead effort early in the second half, quickly followed by foiling Nolan, and then Taylor again.
The best of those was probably the first from Taylor, when Lloris did brilliantly to get down low, turning the ball round the post. And so far I've not even touched on his excellence dealing with crosses, back passes, and through balls. Were it not for Lloris, it could easily have been 5-0; were it not for Downing, I'd be naming him man of the match!
On another day, that might have been Big Andy or Nobes, both of whom had excellent games. Carroll terrorised the Spurs centre backs all game long, and hit an excellent powerful free-kick which earnt the corner that allowed him to create our opener. About the only thing he didn't do was score.
Which Downing did, of course. I suspect there's one shot of this match that may be oft-repeated. Not the free-kick itself, which, in Moses-like fashion, caused the wall to part right down the middle. Rather the immediate aftermath, when Paulinho and Adebayor, who both turned inwards, were left standing just looking at each other in embarassment. Highly amusing!
Noble pretty much ran the midfield, going forwards rather more than his all-too often sideways-and-backwards routine. Taylor alongside snapped at every Tottenham heel, never mind a couple decent (for a change!) shots.
Diame, on the left, ensured that every one of the Spurs back four had an uncomfortable afternoon, and had one of this best games of the season. Jarvis, who came on for an insignifacant few minutes at the end, can rightly feel disappointed to have been dropped.
I could see Sam's intention, though, the moment the team was announced. He wanted Terrier Taylor in the middle, rather than risk an indifferent, idle effort from Diame. Do you then play Diame or Jarvis on the wing? In the event, no-one can complain about the performance we got from Mo.
Our centre-backs had a relatively trouble free game, though George had a bit more to do, coping well with Lennon's superior pace. Demel had surprisingly little defensive work, but linked well with Downing, got into the box on several occasions, and had a couple of efforts at goal himself.
Even Nolan had a reasonable afternoon, hard-working at least. Even if he didn't manage to do anything of any great signifance, apart from that one effort on 55, he did nothing blameworthy either, and lifted himself from the level of his two recent abject performances.
All in all, a very satisfactory afternoon, and a terrific way to sign off at home, even if it is one of too few highlights in an otherwise fairly dour season. Sam will no doubt bask in the glory while he can, but he needs to go back to that opening question - why so few Tottenham performances; why so many Hull-esque ones?
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His worst game in our shirt. Dealt poorly with three admittedly poor backpasses, dropped a routine catch out for a corner, looked hesitant and indecisive, in contrast to normal.
Wasn't overly troubled in defence, was dangerous working forward, including more than one good chance to score. If he were 5 years younger, we'd be sorted up the right for several seasons, with him and Downing working well together.
For a change, had less opportunity to get forwards and more defensive work than Demel. Facing Lennon had everything to do with that; coped very well, nevertheless.
Almost a 7. Like JT, was fairly untroubled, but more involved, as he seemed to be playing "First CB", attacking a lot of what came through the middle. Definitely his best game after his return from injury.
Aside from one super tackle after 12 minutes, had a pretty quiet afternoon against a pretty toothless Tottenham.
Your best game is always the last one, so they say. Nevertheless, I can't remember him playing better this season, so if this wasn't the best of his season, it was close to it.
One of his better games in an inconsistent seaon. If he didn't torment Naugthon as much as Downing did Rose, Naughton still had an uncomfortable afternoon. Plus one extended, if fruitless, piece of trickery in the box and a brilliant overhead effort saved by Lloris.
A wonderful week for Mattie. His daughter is much better, he is restored to the CM berth where he has shown his best form this season, he puts in his usual tigerish display. Almost capped it with a goal, too; denied by a terrific Lloris save.
Almost a 10; almost the unlikely 10. Hardly put a foot wrong all game (one rubbish cross on 67. Shock! Horror!). Play like this all next season, please. We may end up putting you on a pedestal next to Devo and Trevor if you do!
The least of our players again (Adrian aside), but at least he was noticeably on the pitch this time. Worked hard in both attack and defense, even if he didn't, ultimately, seem to contribute anything significant.
On another day, would be battling with Nobes for man of the match, except that Downing left them both in his wake. Caused no end of trouble in the Spurs defence. Earned the first goal, even if it isn't credited to him.
Despite having less than 15 mins, our dominance meant he had opportunities to worry their defence. Which he did.
On for Nolan on 87, had no chance to do anything meaningful.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
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Ricardo Vaz Te
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: Harry Kane OG 27 Stewart Downing 44 .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Tottenham Hotspur: Hugo Lloris, Kyle Naughton, Michael Dawson, Younes Kaboul, Danny Rose, Aaron Lennon, Joe Paulo Paulinho, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Christian Eriksen, Emmanuel Adebayor, Harry Kane.
Subs not used: Brad Friedel, Nabil Bentaleb, Alex Pritchard, Zeki Fryers.
Booked: Kyle Naughton (19), Michael Dawson (43), Roberto Soldado (71), Raniere Sandro (84).
Sent off: None.
Referee: Phil Dowd.
Man of the Match: Stewart Downing.