Premier League
West Ham United 0-1 Tottenham Hotspur 

Saturday, 16th August 2014
by Raedwulf

And so we begin ag'in, after the summer football drought...

There once was a man named Michael Finnegan,
He grew whiskers on his chinnegan,
The wind came up and blew them in ag'in,
Poor old Michael Finnegan (begin ag'in)

World Cup? What World Cup?! With a new attractive brand of football having been decreed (or demanded, if you prefer) by those on high, I'd half-expected to be handed an opening day fixture at Anfield or the Etihad. At either, I'm sure, sexy football will be in short supply, from us at least!
Still, Tottenham at home looked a rather tasty opener, and a strange juxtaposition with our last home fixture of the previous campaign. Some other things also look just the same - Carroll injured in pre-season. Nevertheless, there's several new signings, two starting today and, contrary to Sam's usual practice, most of them are younger pro's.

A chance for a fourth consecutive victory over our nearest & dearest for the first time since the days when West Ham, I'm sorry, I mean England were World Champions ended up falling flat, however. We started slowly, Spurs bossing possession for most of the first quarter of an hour, before we got into the game.

For all that, they didn't create any real chances until Townsend forced Adrian into an acrobatic but comfortable save on 70 minutes. By then, we could & should have had the game won. Not least because of a (reluctant) scrapbook moment - a Mark Noble penalty miss. Justice was, perhaps, done. There was little doubt about the penalty, unless you're a Lilywhite, maybe. We had begun to create pressure, without having made more than one clear cut chance early on when Cole curled a shot just over the top corner.

There were several dangerous balls across the box, mostly from Downing. A couple of those had fallen just behind Cole. A Cresswell throw flicked along the six yard line by Carlton with no-one coming in on it. A poorly executed strike by Vaz Te from a corner.

But the penalty? Downing won a free-kick which he delivered, causing consternation in the Spur's defence, winning us a corner. Then he delivered the corner. Knocked back in from the edge of the box, Nolan rounded on it and hammered it into Naughton's upraised arms. Yes, it was at very close range, but why were the defender's hands above his head?

I don't think there can be too much argument about the penalty, but referee Foy, who appeared to award the penalty on his assistant's advice, then brandished a red card, seemingly also on his assistant's say-so. To huge cheers, of course, but I thought it was a very harsh sending-off.

At this point, we're all looking forward to 3 points again, aren't we? Shades of that last home game of last season, with Kaboul off halfway through the first period? Only Noble does what he never does and misses. Literally. Rolls the ball just past the left-hand post. Twelve inches to the right & it's a perfect penalty. Instead, it's still nil-nil, though the opposition are wrongly a man short for over an hour.

It didn't seem to make a great deal of difference to Pocchettino; Spurs continued to attack when they could. Though they were having considerably more trouble gaining possession & maintaining it, they still countered dangerously at times. I can't recall a decent chance they made, until we were also reduced to 10 men, but they were keeping our defence on their toes.

Unfortunately, the best chances we manufactured fell to Vaz Te, who couldn't have buried a corpse today. Apart from the miss from the corner, he also made an awful hash of a shot on 35, and then muffed a free header near the end of the first half. That was apart from standing around far too much, or unintelligently running in straight lines.

He was poor today, I thought, and the only reason he doesn't get Muppet of the Match is because Collins clearly does. On his day, he is a solid no-nonsense defender. This was not one of those days. He'd already been caught out a couple of times in the first half, with no serious result. With less than 10 minutes on the clock in the second period, though, he clumsily felled Lamela to pick up one deserved & unnecessary yellow. Less than 10 minutes later he blatantly, needlessly, body-checks Adebayor, and picks up another.

Kouyate, who has played centre back quite a bit for Anderlecht, slotted quite naturally into Collins' vacated berth. With the sides now even-stevens numerically, Tottenham naturally started to come into the game more, and Adrian started to have more work to do. Which included over-reacting to an Adebayor challenge just before the latter was substituted.

Whilst it's usually a relief to see him depart, as it turned out, it was his replacement, Kane, who slotted a delicious ball through for Dier to run onto in the 92nd minute & pinch an undeserved win. Before then brilliant running from Kouyate had made a chance that Noble failed to pass past Lloris.

In the 87th minute, Lloris did even better to foil Downing (whose low 52nd minute effort he'd comfortably pushed away). Some neat interplay, in the middle of the pitch for a change, saw Nolan back-heel the ball through to Downing. The onrushing Lloris, alas, made sure that Downing didn't quite have time or space to really get the shot away well, and the opportunity went begging.

As to the new attractive style of football, if you could see it, you've got better eyes than me. Don't get me wrong, it was a decent performance today. A draw probably would have been a fair result (a defeat certainly wasn't deserved), given that we missed the penalty and failed to press home the man advantage. Had we scored it, it's difficult to imagine that we wouldn't have gone on to win.

But the style looked exactly like any other typical Sam performance, good or bad. We faff around with it at the back until we can go up the flanks, short or long. If the flank is blocked off, we come back & faff some more. We may knock a 50 yard cross-field pass, as Downing did a few times today, usually very accurately so. We may go across the field in several passes.

But we almost never pass up the middle (unless it's a long ball). We play in straight, narrow lines up & down. The passer doesn't move quickly enough or far enough, when he has passed, to create an angle, and the recipient rarely has a forward angle for a short pass to someone else either.

In short, although it was far from a poor performance, although it included 3 less than sterling individual performances, it looked exactly like anything we did last season. New style? Couldn't see it today. And the lack of adventure from Sam; no real attempt to make the most of the extra man; that's bog-standard too.

Which leaves only the Man of the Match to award. Noble was busy as always, but got caught out a couple of times. Oh, and missed a penalty! So it isn't him. Cresswell had a very decent debut. Frankly, he was more threatening going forward than the bloke that was supposed to be doing that job in front of him, and did his defensive duties reasonably well, too. A worrying moment just before the hour, when he seemed to twist his knee (just what we need!), but he made it to the end of the game.

Downing is obviously a candidate. I'm far too... errr... old to have a favourite player, and if I did, I don't think it'd be Downing. Nevertheless, I'm aware that I've awarded him MotM several times since The Editor has been kind (or desperate) enough to publish my reports. More than to anyone else, I have a feeling.

Today, he picked up where he left off last campaign. He is, by a comfortable margin, our most creative player when he is in the sort of form he showed today. He caused trouble for Spurs all day long today, some fine crosses & set-pieces were delivered, and he might well have scored the goal we so badly needed.

But my Man of the Match, on his debut, is a man who, on today's showing, I think is going to prove a real hit at Upton Park this season - Cheikhou Kouyate. His energy & work-rate were amazing in this game, running more than half the length of the pitch & then chasing back, more than once even late in the game. He's combative, and won the ball well, without foul play, on several occasions. His anticipation looks good, allowing him to get early challenges in. He looks comfortable on the ball. Unless Nolan finally gets dropped (little chance of that, I fear), Mo may find it very difficult to get a centre-mid berth back!

As to the result, meh. A narrow & unfortunate defeat to our biggest rivals, and we're currently bottom of the division on alphabet. It can only get better... Can't it?

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Player Ratings

Comfortable for most of the game, although he didn't face anything too threatening, until the goal. Which I thought he could have done better with, albeit he might still not have stopped it.

Joey O Brien
a decent game, nothing too rash, and managed a couple of decent crosses too, as a bonus.

Aaron Cresswell
A very promising debut. I may yet not regret McCartney's departure!

James Collins
Has always been an intermittent liability and cost us badly today. I wasn't impressed with his performance anyway, but picked up two stupid, needless bookings to even the sides up just after the hour.

Winston Reid
Didn't have a great deal to deal with for most of the game, as Spurs didn't threaten much; generally tidy enough in what he did.

Mark Noble
Industrious as always in midfield, but caught out a couple of times and also, alas, missed that penalty!

Cheikhou Kouyate
Duracell Bunny Man of the Match; never stopped running. Even at the end of the game was challenging for the ball winning it, running 60 yards and chasing back. Solid in defence after Collins was stupid, and looks good on the ball, too.

Ricardo Vaz Te
Lightweight, as all too often. Doesn't move enough or intelligently enough, and wasted a couple of good chances.

Stewart Downing
A real problem for Spurs, particularly in the first half. A few wayward crosses, but several dangerous ones too, worked back as well, and foiled by Lloris late on.

Kevin Nolan
Apart from winning the penalty and setting up Downing late on, was largely anonymous.

Carlton Cole
Decent effort from Carlton, but his touch was poor at times and he faded as the game went on.


Guy Demel
(Replaced O'Brien) Was two steps too far back, playing Dier onside for the goal, but otherwise defended well enough & tried to get forward in support of Downing.

Mo Diame
Looked lively for the last quarter of the game but, as too often, spoilt some of his good work with poor end product.

Enner Valencia
Only had 10 minutes or so at the end, but won a huge cheer for bullying Kaboul into giving a corner away. Time will tell, but looked useful in his brief time on the pitch.

Jussi Jaaskelainen
Did not play.

Reece Burke
Did not play.

Diego Poyet
Did not play.

Mauro Zarate
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Adrian, Joey O Brien, Aaron Cresswell, James Collins, Winston Reid, Mark Noble, Cheikhou Kouyate, Ricardo Vaz Te, Stewart Downing, Kevin Nolan, Carlton Cole.

Goals: None.

Booked: James Collins 54 Cheikhou Kouyate 90        .

Sent Off: James Collins 63    .

Tottenham Hotspur: Hugo Lloris, Danny Rose, Younes Kaboul, Aaron Lennon, Emmanuel Adebayor, Erik Lamela, Eric Dier, Kyle Naughton, Christian Eriksen, Etienne Capoue, Nabil Bentaleb .

Subs not used:  Brad Friedel, Roverto Soldado, Michael Dawson, Ben Davies .

Goals: Dier (90+3).

Booked: None booked..

Sent off: None.

Referee: Chris Foy.

Attendance: 34,977.

Man of the Match: Cheikhou Kouyate.