West Ham United 0-1 West Bromwich Albion
Saturday, 25th January 2020
by Chris Wilkerson
West Ham were dumped out of the FA Cup in the fourth round for the third successive season as a first-half goal was enough to give West Bromwich Albion a 1-0 win at the London Stadium.As boos rang out around the ground, Slaven Bilic could celebrate his return to an old stomping ground, winning on his first trip back to West Ham since being sacked in November of 2017.
He was replaced by the man opposite him in the dugout, but David Moyes showed for the second time in a matter of days that he could well be lacking any of the charisma or nous to rescue this West Ham side from their slumber.
The Hammers played 20 minutes of this tie against ten-man, against a Championship side missing their two best players and rotating their squad. 38-year-old Gareth Barry marshalled the midfield. And it was the home side who lacked energy, aggression and movement.
If you missed the game, consider yourself lucky. West Ham may have played worse here than even the midweek embarrassment at Leicester.
Out went Snodgrass, Ogbonna, Masuaku and Noble, with Balbuena, Fornals, Ajeti and Sanchez given a chance to prove themselves. Not one of them performed, and two of them should be embarrassed that they took money for those performances.
Never was there any fluency to the West Ham play. Balbuena was more guilty than anyone, misplacing five passes under no pressure, repeatedly giving the ball away, only relenting to just stroke a pass out of play with it hard to ascertain who he was passing to.
It was symptomatic of a laziness in the play, whether that be through arrogance or complete disinterest. Few passes were hit well, many undersold their recipient and forced a poor touch or turnover of possession.
West Brom seemed the opposite, ignoring a run of form that has seen them win one of their last seven games, and not win under the pressure of their promotion push since the 14th of December.
They attacked with energy and verve, bursting into channels, exchanging quick passes and showing a desire to attack their Premier League opponents.
Their bright start was rewarded inside ten minutes. Issa Diop lost a weak header in the middle of the park, presenting the West Brom attack a chance to drive at the jittery backline. The initial attack faltered, giving Carlos Sanchez the chance to kick the ball needlessly against Diop, with time to do just about anything else. The ricochet fell to Conor Townsend, taking on the strike first-time to arrow a sweetly struck shot into the far corner, evading Randolph?EUR(TM)s desperate attempt at a save.
Moyes?EUR(TM)s men had never really started playing, and decided that the effort to come back into the match was far beyond them. Having won one of the last eight games at home, they never really looked like stopping this extending to one in nine. Liverpool at home is next.
The Baggies continued to pass through the centre of the park, Sanchez both sitting deep in midfield and also somehow always caught ahead of the ball.
Playing a 4-4-2, Fornals and Lanzini could be expected to add some width. They never did, whilst somehow managing to offer absolutely nothing through the middle either.
Rice tried his best to drag his teammates forward, and it says a lot when he is the only West Ham player to have a shot in a half. Both efforts were tame and the wrong choice.
Ironic cheers went up as the home side managed to pass to teammates, but they were nearly completely silenced as Charlie Austin, finding some spring in his knees, headed wide when unmarked eight yards from goal. Neither centre back knew where he was.
The half was summed up by a passage of play just before the break where Rice ran twenty yards backwards with the ball as no teammate offered him a pass. Eventually giving it back to Randolph, the goalkeeper needlessly kicked with his weaker foot, the ball skewing up aimlessly. Recovered by Fornals, he attempted a pass to Cresswell that was overhit. The full back may well have made it in time to keep it in play, had he not delayed his run to make sure he could shout and gesticulated at Fornals first.
It was behaviour, let alone performance, like this that earned the home side the boos that rang around the ground as they ambled off at the half-time break. They can consider themselves lucky this was a more family-friendly crowd.
It was the most insipid half of football West Ham have produced since Wednesday, but whilst the Leicester performance was in awe of a better side, this was driven by an atrocious attitude that has pushed this team into a relegation battle just as much as their lack of pace on the ball or across the turf. When modern West Ham teams go bad, they also have a habit of being terribly unlikeable footballers too.
Moyes rang the changes, making a triple substitution that saw the awful Balbuena, amateur Sanchez and effectless Fornals taken off and replaced by Ogbonna, Noble and Antonio.
It lifted the crowd momentarily, all aware that much of anything good that is produced by this team is through the sheer force of will of Michail Antonio. Unfortunately, West Brom managed him handily.
They started the second half on top once more, Austin again with a free header that he should have done better with.
Again, West Ham offered little. 62 minutes in, Haller scuffed a half chance wide to punish any fans in the home end who may have got excited as an opening presented itself. The Frenchman had little excuse today for just how poor he was, allowing Ajeti to look the more dangerous of the two in a competition that neither can claim to have won.
Minutes after, Cresswell slightly overhit a freekick from the halfway line that not one West Ham player even ran into the opposition area for. Leadership was never on show, Noble?EUR(TM)s presence and the manager?EUR(TM)s half time words not enough to see anyone on the pitch actually start to try.
Then a lifeline was thrown their way. Ajayi, booked in the first half, received a second yellow as Ajeti cleverly dribbled across his path and got the big centre back to bring him down. With 18 minutes of regulation time to play, the Hammers had an advantage.
But having an extra man is only an advantage if you know how to use it. Usually it is exploited through speed of passing and spreading the play. If I could list a most notable West Ham weakness, it is passing quickly in attack.
And so it proved, with West Ham instead taking multiple pot shots from outside the area, all drifting harmlessly wide. Antonio had been rendered impotent as the West Brom defence dropped deeper, although he may just have had all hope drained from him by having to play more football with those teammates.
The Hammers did create two late chances.
First Diop managed to completely miss heading the ball as Noble?EUR(TM)s wonderfully floated cross instead hit the French defender in the shoulder, the centre back free in the six yard box but unable to head a football.
And then in stoppage time, that cliched one big chance came. With Noble driving at their deep defence, he created space for Antonio out wide, feeding the talismanic forward. His cross was weak, but the defender?EUR(TM)s near post block could only slide the ball perfectly into the path of Noble, rolling slowly towards him twelve yards from goal. The captain stepped up to it, leaned back and guided his effort wastefully over the bar, ensuring there would be no final hurrah and no more FA Cup for West Ham United this season.
Fans had attended with some hope, the hope of a cup run, the hope of beating a Championship side, a hope that a different challenge might elicit a positive response from the team they adore.
Instead they were offered tripe, which is the kindest way to describe it. This was a performance not only of a very poor side, but a poorly managed one that neither knew what it was doing or cared.
25 days into the January transfer window, it was a side that could not even allow Mark Noble 90 minutes out of the team against Championship opposition, the captain forced into play with Carlos Sanchez so predictably failing to meet the standards of a professional footballer. He was still better than Balbuena.
It made West Ham one of only two Premier League teams to depart the fourth round of the FA Cup so far, the third time in succession for the club, with a chance now to focus on the quite draining misery of clinging to Premier League football, the cash cow always the important goal of a club that would only be interested in a cup run if they could loan it first and at half its market value.
Boos echoed around as the final whistle blew, the figure of Slaven Bilic restrained in celebration as West Ham wilted once more in front of him. What life can be found in this squad remains to be seen, with even an optimist struggling for positive words.
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Player RatingsLukasz Fabianski
Dealt with what little he had to do with aplomb; he's face tougher tests in the coming weeks.
This would have been a good test for the wing back but he pulled up early doors with what looked like a hamstring.
A very busy night for Masuaku, who Moyes clearly views as someone with more to offer going forward - hence his inclusion at wing back.
Looked good in Moyes' new three-man defence and dominated throughout.
Busy and frequently in the right place to win a header or stick out a foot, whenever the Gills threatened.
A commanding performance which was punctuated by frequent forays into the opposition half; given license to roam in areas where he'd previously have suffered a nosebleed.
Solid if unspectacular and a bonus mark for applauding the home fans too, which was well appreciated by the Gills fans.
A busy boy although he failed to provide the cutting edge required.
A particular favourite of new manager Moyes and he was unsurprisingly involved in much of West Ham's attacking play.
Restored to the starting XI and reinvigorated under Moyes' leadership. The Brazilian was a constant menace and tormented Gillingham's defence.
Missed an absolute sitter before finding the woodwork from an acute angle; he'll need to improve in order to persuade Moyes he deserves a regular spot in the starting XI.
(Replaced Fredericks) It's taken three years but he was delighted to finally score his first goal for the club - as were we as it broke a tense deadlock.
(Replaced Snodgrass) A smashing cameo from a player who is improving with every performance. Scored the goal that put the tie to bed.
(Replaced Anderson) A strange sub, with only a few seconds of the game remaining. Perhaps Moyes is in on a cut of his appearance money.
Roberto Jimenez Gago
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Match FactsWest Ham United: Lukasz Fabianski, Ryan Fredericks, Arthur Masuaku, Issa Diop, Fabian Balbuena, Angelo Ogbonna, Declan Rice, Robert Snodgrass, Manuel Lanzini, Felipe Anderson, Sebastien Haller.
Goals: Pablo Zabaleta 74 Pablo Fornals 90 .
Booked: Pablo Zabaleta 0 .
Sent off: None.
West Bromwich Albion: Bond, O'Shea, Ajayi, Hegazi, Townsend, Barry, Brunt (c), Phillips (Tulloch 62), Krovinovic (Bartley 74), Edwards, Austin (Zohore 70).
Subs not used: Al Habsi, Livermore, Harper, Willock.
Goals: Townsend (9).
Booked: Barry, Ajayi.
Sent off: None.
Referee: Stuart Attwell.
Man of the Match: Michail Antonio.