Premier League
Sunderland 1-1 West Ham United 

Saturday, 13th December 2014
by Raedwulf

This was a match we could have lost but should have won. Brevity is the soul of wit, so the saying goes; I could leave it at that, but I don't think The Ed would be very impressed!

Besides, I suppose I ought to comment on the couple of controversial moments in the match. Those always involve referees. Dowd has been around long enough that every club has fans that will remember the times "he got it all wrong". Now is the time to discover whether you are two-eyed or one-eyed.

Do you only see, only remember, the things that go against you? You're one-eyed. Dowd ought to have booked Nolan in the 10th minute. He lunged, got nowhere near the long-gone ball, clipped Vergini from behind. It was an innocuous enough challenge in an innocuous area, but technically it was a booking. Dowd applied a bit of common sense and kept the card in his pocket.

How about the booking for Wickham on 81? Yes, his foot was was high, but he couldn't have known Tomkins was coming in a little low from behind to head the ball. Yes, Wickham caught Jimmy and it was a free kick; a card was excessive. That's a mistake by Dowd, but in our favour. Will those two be remembered? Then, of course, there's Reid's handball some ten minutes earlier.

That's a tricky one and the second moment of controversy. There's no doubt that ball hit hand, and from a fair distance too. On the other, errr, hand, there was absolutely no hint of hand to ball. Reid's hand was not in an unnatural position. He froze his posture as he realised he couldn't reach the cross with his head, that it was going to hit his hand.

Then there's the penalty given. Tomkins pushed his forearm into the side of Johnson's ribcage. A soft penalty, yes, but a penalty nevertheless. Allardyce went ballistic on the touchline, and after the game called it a dive. That's as stupid as the stupid forearm from Tomkins.

One-eyed? Don't agree? If that had been Brown on Downing and no penalty given, West Ham fans would have been a howling mass of indignation and Allardyce would have been ballistic all over again. Adrian did what all too many keepers do, moved too soon, made it easy for Gomez, and we were one down on 20 minutes.

Ironically, there were very similar penalty incidents in the Arsenal - Newcastle game. Welbeck misjudged a defensive header and found the ball dropping onto his hand. The penalty again was not given, so perhaps it is the right call. Dummett shoved Welbeck over, penalty given; Alnwick moved far too soon, to make Cazorla's life easy.

Admittedly, Dummett's was a rather firmer shove than Tomkins', but at least Dummett was trying to make a legal shoulder-to-shoulder challenge. If you really want to insist that Johnson cheated, you must also acknowledge that Tomkins did too, and did it first.

He was not attempting to challenge for the ball; it was simply a piece of deliberate foul play. Whether it's diving, shirt-pulling, stealing yards at a dead ball, or shoving someone in the back (and, if it wasn't much of a shove, it certainly wasn't "a slight nudge"), deliberate foul play is cheating.

If Tomkins doesn't do it, Johnson doesn't have the opportunity to make a meal of it and go down. Jimmy took a chance and didn't get away with it. A soft penalty, yes, but a penalty nevertheless.

And I've heard plenty of comments from Hammers' fans in the past to the effect that "So-and-so should have been crafty and gone down" about one of our players. Unfortunately, many of our fans will condemn Johnson for doing something they'd be only happy to see one of our own do. One-eyed!

Which is an awful lot of words on only two incidents in what was a very a decent game!

The surprising stat of the day is that Sunderland apparently finished with 57% of the possession.. That was the half-time stat too, but they spent long periods of the second 45 under pressure. Thirteen shots, with only 4 on target, as against 19 and 8 perhaps paints a truer picture of the match.

We threatened as early as the 4th minute. Song manoeuvred terrifically under pressure in defence (oddly enough, Coloccini also tried the same thing for Newcastle and got it horribly wrong). Finding Downing with his clearance, the latter ultimately found Carroll with a cross, but his header was weak and easily saved.

Only a minute later, Song played one of several delighful balls in towards the corners. It wasn't quite accurate enough, Jenkinson realised that and intelligently held off slightly. His reward was a weak defensive header that fell nicely for a volleyed shot. It was more or less straight at Pantilimon's feet, but our attacking intent had been adequately demonstrated.

The truth is, until the controversial penalty, Sunderland hadn't had an effort worth noting. When they did have the ball, resolute defence left Adrian with little to do, and certainly no save to make.

By the time we were a goal down, we'd already had half a dozen chances of varying quality. The best was from Jenkinson again, just before the quarter-hour. Another terrific cross-field pass from Song, Jenks controls well, steps inside the defender., but his left foot shot is straight into the keeper's midriff.

Until shortly before half-time, Sunderland may have had more of the ball, but they couldn't fashion any meaningful chances. On 44, a quick free kick and some half-asleep defending by us produced a very dangerous ball across our box. It didn't result in a chance, though, as no Black Cat could connect with it.

Having said that, only seconds before the half-time whistle, we had a massive let off. Larsson, often troublesome, drove to the goal line, and pulled a terrific pass back across our goal. With it coming slightly behind him, Altidore could only fumble his touch. Jenkinson was on hand to clear as Dowd blew for the interval. It could easily have been a second goal for the hosts.

By that time, we'd long been deservedly level. We'd continued to create chances, undaunted by going behind for the third consecutive match. Downing, who, along with Song, was an integral part of everything good, hit a grass-cutting equaliser in the 28th minute.

There was a slight deflection from a Sunderland defender that took it just past the out-flung hand of the giant Pantilimon. It was, nevertheless, a sweetly struck shot. One a-piece was about right at half-time. Their penalty may have been arguable, but Altidore had missed that sitter. On the number of chances we'd had, +1 on our side of the scoresheet was well-merited.

Our pressure on the Sunderland goal resumed with the restart. Reid went down injured, from a corner won by Sakho, only 2 minutes in. Brown had, entirely accidentally, clipped Winston in the back of the head with his boot. It looked like the former had pulled down the latter before falling over him, though. A penalty shout? Not given.

We were much the more creative side, though. A lovely Song ball to Downing, a flick through on the edge of the box found a surging Cresswell run just on the hour. Cressie took one touch too many. Whether he was trying to shoot or square it, I am not sure, but Panitilimon is the tallest player in the Prem at the moment. Take it too close to him and he'll likley smother it. He did.

Moments later, Sakho, Kouyate, and Jenkinson combined well up the right. Whilst nothing resulted from that, 5 minutes later, Song down the right (yet again) to Downing, Downing to Carroll. Sakho went to his knees in the box asking for a (non-existent) foul, Andy pounced on the rebound, but could only chip it over the bar, having cleared Pantilimon. Cue unwarranted, if unsurprising, jeers from the Geordie-hating Mackems!

Had Sakho stayed on his feet, he would surely have had a better chance than Andy, and a better chance to win a penalty too. Within the next few minutes, Reid had, from a corner, flicked a back header over their bar, quickly followed by a great move and a Cresswell cross from which Carroll won a corner.

Nothing resulted, Alvarez came on for Johnson, then an almost delicious through ball from Song almost played Kouyate in. Just a shade too heavy, it was an easy gather for Pantilimon.

Not that it was one-way traffic. Sunderland had their periods of pressure too, if generally shorter than ours. They won 3 successive corners early in the half, but couldn't manufacture a good effort from any. Ten minutes in, Song handled just outside our box; a moment of careless inattention. The free kick was powerful, but straight at Adrian.

On 71, moments after Reid got away with his inadvertant handball, the ball squirmed past a poorly positioned Tomkins. Substitute Fletcher latched onto it, but Adrian saved his fierce, low shot well. A flying fingertip save, from Wickham on the edge of the box, followed a few minutes before the end.

Overall, though, I would say that the shot statistics reflect the game more truly than the possession. Wickham had the last word with a wild shot in the 94th minute, but Carroll had barely missed the Sunderland goal a minute before the normal 90 passed.

The ball ricocheted to him on the edge of the area. His instinctive low shot curled, but missed the post by about a foot. From 3 yards further back, who knows? I'm not sure even Pantilimon's telescopic arms would have kept it out had it been just inside, instead of just outside...

Ten draws in sixteen says that Sunderland are a hard side to beat, so even-stevens on their territory is no bad result. Only 4 teams in Premiership history have won 3 on the trot having gone a goal down. Arsenal were the last, a couple of years ago. If we couldn't match that, seven points from nine from losing positions is no small return.

Despite the Black Cats' chances, I still can't help feel that we should have won. We had more pressure, more opportunities. Poyet doesn't agree; no great surprise! But I thought his after-match comments were as fair and reasonable as you would expect from him.

He seemed a bit dubious about the penalty they did get, but thought the one they didn't ought to have been given. I'd have put it the other way round myself. It's difficult, however, to argue with "We could have had two, we should have had one and did, and it all evens out over the season", which is the gist of his remarks. Very well said, sir! If only all managers (including Sam) were so clear-sighted and measured.

The Mackems remain only a couple of points about relegation, but I wouldn't be too worried, were I a fan. After the aberration of the 8-0 defeat to Southampton, the only concern is the goal-scoring, and the consequent failure to turn some of those games into wins. In the modern age, 5W 5L +0 GD is far more valuable then 10D +0 GD. Another 5 points would put them above Liverpool, and in the top half of the table.

They nevertheless played good football, caused us problems, created chances, and could have had a less than deserved win. If a draw at the Stadium Light against a hard-to-beat Sunderland side is no bad achievement, I'm sure their fans will concede that a point against an unusually high-flying West Ham side is much the same. There are more than 3 worse teams than the ex-Rokerites. I'm sure they'll be safe come season's end.

Man of the Match? Easy - Jenkinson. It wouldn't be hard to make it Song for his fourth consecutive game, and I could make you a case that the roaming, creative Downing could have it too. I don't think we had a single attacking move that one or the other, or both, weren't a part of.

Jenks it is, though. Wickham, though properly a centre forward, was asked to play on the left. He did well too, but only once, just before the hour, did he get the better of Jenks, who got caught the wrong side. To no effect. Jenks got back, blocked the shot, and then managed to shepherd the ball out of play for a goal-kick.

Defensively solid, his positional sense was excellent too, that one moment aside. As noted, not only did he hang off Song's through ball to strike a good volley early on, there's also right at the end of the first half. He can't have been expected to have stopped the Altidore chance, but he was in the right place to scramble it away.

Going forwards, I have been critical of his erratic crossing and passing, but he was very good in this latest match. Even more importantly, whilst Wickham may not be the greatest at covering back, you still need your fullback to take advantage. Jenks did that in spades, and was a constant outlet for Song, and for Downing when the latter wasn't up the right flank himself. Top man!

Burnley, who are not only fighting but now also winning, turned over Southampton, so we're 4th by right. Man Utd have, unsurprisingly, beaten Liverpool comfortably, so that's as good as it gets for now. Nor, with Utd, 3 points and goal difference ahead, visiting Villa next week, is it likely to get any better. It's our games and our results that matter most, however.

We welcome Leicester to the Boleyn next Saturday. It's the first time in more than a decade that that has happened in the top flight (in Jan 2002, we won 1-0, courtesy of of a Di Canio goal, for whatever that might be worth). The Foxes will be bottom, and 5 points adrift of safety, but they put in a pretty good effort againt Man City this week.

Coupon-buster anyone? We are West Ham, after all. Perhaps not; not with this team. Keep Dreaming, Keep Bubbling, You Irons!

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Player Ratings

Adrian San Miguel del Castillo
Kicking was poor in the first 20, and didn't do at all well with the penalty. However, he was generally safe for the rest of the game & pulled off a couple of very good saves to keep the scores level.

Carl Jenkinson
Man of the Match. Need I say more?

Aaron Cresswell
For me, still battling with Song for signing of the season, but this was a fairly average performance. Wasn't pressed too hard in defence, didn't make the best of his several chances to get forward.

Winston Reid
This may be the first time this season that he's out-shone his DC partner. A clumsy foul on Altidore late in the first half (for which he was booked after an advantage) costs him a 7.

James Tomkins
Erratic lately. Stupid against Everton, pick of the defence against the Geordies, awful for 20 minutes against WBA, a less-than-good day this time.

Kevin Nolan
In some respects, a quiet game, but also an effective one. Never the quickest, but often in the right place. If it was only to block an angle for a pass, that is an unglamorous but wholly necessary part of the game.

Cheikhou Kouyate
Doing a good job as the midfield "enforcer", but doing the mucky stuff restricts his chances to shine, so still only a 6.

Alex Song
Unless FFP blocks it, by all that is holy, unholy, or wholly atheist, please sign him in the transfer window before someone pinches him!

Stewart Downing
Another great game. When allowed to roam freely, he is so, so dangerous. Slightly fortuitous equaliser is a plus!

Andy Carroll
Battled hard, as always. Better touch, too, and found his team-mates more often than in the last couple of matches.

Diafra Sakho
No lack of effort, but is suffering slightly from a tendency to aim first at Carroll. I don't know whether Sakho / Carroll or Sakho / Valencia is our best strikeforce, but Sakho is definitely in there!


Enner Valencia
(replaced Nolan) Surprisingly, the only sub used, and then only on 80, replacing Nolan. Did enough in defence and attack to raise the sub's default 5 to 6.

Jussi Jaaskelainen
Did not play.

James Collins
Did well shoring up things.

Joey O Brien
Did not play.

Morgan Amalfitano
Did not play.

Mauro Zarate
Did not play.

Carlton Cole
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Adrian San Miguel del Castillo, Carl Jenkinson, Aaron Cresswell, Winston Reid, James Tomkins, Kevin Nolan, Cheikhou Kouyate, Alex Song, Stewart Downing, Andy Carroll, Diafra Sakho.

Goals: Stewart Downing 29                  .

Booked: Winston Reid 0 Stewart Downing 0        .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Sunderland: Costel Pantilimon, Santiago Vergini, John O'Shea, Wes Brown, Anthony Reveillere, Lee Cattermole, Adam Johnson, Sebastian Larsson, Jordi Gomez, Connor Wickham, Jozy Altidore.

Subs not used: Vito Mannone, Liam Bridcutt, Will Buckley, Sebastian Coates, Jack Rodwell .

Goals: Jordi Gomez (pen 22).

Booked: Jordi Gomez, Connor Wickham.

Sent off: None.

Referee: Phil Dowd.

Attendance: 41,694.

Man of the Match: Carl Jenkinson.