Fulham 0-0 West Ham United
Saturday, 6th February 2021
by Chris Wilkerson
A lot of hot air is expelled over the subject of VAR, but no system fit for purpose, no standard of refereeing fit for purpose, comes to the conclusion that sees Tomas Soucek receive a red card and a three game suspension. The decision was labelled 'embarrassing' by David Moyes post-game, and he did well to not go further than that.West Ham drew 0-0 tonight at Craven Cottage against an attractive but blunt Fulham team, but the football is becoming the side show to the officiating in the Premier League, and the background to the Mike Dean Show. The referee had been criticised in the week for his decision to send Jan Bednarek off in the Manchester United game against Southampton, the red card later overturned.
In stoppage time, with a freekick to launch into the box for one last attack, Tomas Soucek raises his arm out of the grasp of Mitrovic to try move it around him and get space to run. As he does so, his elbow unintentionally flicks the striker in the head. His reaction was laughable but expected, and he at least atoned by clearly telling Mike Dean it was not an aggressive or intentional strike of the elbow.
Two minutes later, Lee Mason sends Mike Dean over to check the VAR screen. That?EUR(TM)s already egregious enough, that a trained referee thinks that incident warrants further attention. He will have seen it himself multiple times, to even consider it a red is laughable.
That Mike Dean, the type of child in your primary school class who would pour water on his lap to make you look at him, took two minutes to come to the conclusion that it was an intentional act of aggression and produce a red card is not a joke. It?EUR(TM)s beyond that, it?EUR(TM)s the telling evidence of a referee who is not fit to do his job.
You may have come here for the match report, but this is the incident that will dominate discussion in Saturday?EUR(TM)s football. Not the matches themselves, not great defending, wonderful goals or movement in the Premier League table. It will be every voice in football condemning the red card for Soucek in stoppage time of an incredibly dull 0-0 draw.
The question really is whether VAR should be taking the flak for poor officiating. Video screens showing an incident don?EUR(TM)t make decisions, officials do. Lee Mason and Mike Dean won?EUR(TM)t be made to explain that decision, and I think we can all wait on bated breath to see how their former colleagues and friends in the media justify that. And if it isn?EUR(TM)t overturned, it will be a purely political decision, which really brings into question the integrity of the officials and authorities.
As for the game itself, West Ham never got going. At any point, really. Never truly threatened, couldn?EUR(TM)t handle the passing of Fulham and looked completely flat. There was one change to the starting eleven that so convincingly beat Aston Villa, with Jarrod Bowen taking the place of Ryan Fredericks on the right wing.
To their credit, what they did do was adapt to their inability to perform by instead settling into a disciplined shape and keeping control of themselves. It adds to the examples of resilience this side has, but the game ended with a red card to our top scorer and best player, and with Antonio subbed off after gesturing to be replaced, holding his hamstring and pulling up chasing a ball afterwards. You can see why optimism may drain from the spirits of West Ham fans ahead of an FA Cup tie against Manchester United midweek that the fanbase could not be more desperate to win.
There were little moments, but they were incidents where the side threatened to do something dangerous, rather than actually getting into the positions or creating the final chance.
On the other hand, Fulham did get into positions and did have chances. The pattern of the game started with Scott Parker?EUR(TM)s side on top and it stayed that way throughout. They will feel they should have won, and on other days Ruben Loftus-Cheek may well have had a couple of goals on the way to a precious three points for his side. Equally, that they couldn?EUR(TM)t score may very well be the epitome of why they will more than likely be relegated.
An early flurry of shots blocked inside our own area, close to goal and rather desperately done, set a tone that West Ham never really recovered from. The players started slowly, and always seemed a step behind Fulham throughout. The passing through midfield in particular was uncharacteristically easy. Many will question Noble?EUR(TM)s introduction in the second half, but the midfield could not be left to continue as they were.
The first half drifted to a close, leaving fans pondering that things could only improve. But they didn?EUR(TM)t, they stayed at almost exactly the same level. It would be hard to call it the worst performance of the season, the floor was found from the first game against Newcastle, but it was poor from start to finish and worrying to see.
Instead it was a game for Lookman and Loftus-Cheek to control, the two Englishmen playing with a control of the ball and smart movement that often found them creating space where they should not have been able to.
Before the sending off, it may well have been the introductions of Noble and Yarmolenko for Benrahma and Bowen that caused the most post-game consternation among West Ham fans. Recent performances from Bowen have become a real concern, his spark missing, his threat gone with it and his contribution to attacking moves down considerably. Whether it is fatigue, knocked confidence or both, he has been a key part of our threat this season and his loss of form is affecting the team.
The decision to bring Noble on was undoubtedly the right one, however unpopular it may have been. The midfield was short on numbers and not imposing themselves on Fulham at all. It is not so much the individual strengths of Noble that were important, merely his presence as a captain and an extra body. The question may be whether Fornals could have been used instead, but there is no question that the captain is the man Moyes turns to when he wants to shore things up and settle things down.
The Hammers did create one big chance, almost out of nowhere. Indeed, Coufal arrived to meet Lingard?EUR(TM)s far post cross unseen by his marker and unseen by the viewers at home, the right back coming from out of shot to meet the ball and head it against the crossbar.
The commentators then missed Michail Antonio gesture to the bench to be substituted, and failed to mention him holding his hamstring soon after as he helped defend a corner. There was one more sprint after a long ball, but the striker pulled up during it and eased off. That he didn?EUR(TM)t go down or show clear signs of a tear will lead to optimism it was more cautionary than truly damaging; who needs to sign a backup striker?
He was replaced by Fredericks, who came on down the right wing and saw Yarmolenko moved up front. It is also worth noting how uncomfortable the Ukrainian seemed dealing with the physicality involved as a striker, pulling away from defenders a few times to complain to the referee about being held. Whether he was or not is besides the point, he needs to accept it and continue playing the game if he is to be a useful option through the middle.
Any semblance of threat West Ham carried petered out with Antonio?EUR(TM)s withdrawal and Fulham took complete charge of the game, desperately searching for a late winner. They have scored the least second half goals this season, only 7, and when Tosin Adarabioyo headed over from eight yards in the middle of the goal, the ball striking him more than he himself heading it, it started to be obvious why.
Throughout the game, no one could question the hard work and the endeavour of their forward players, but they also lacked the instinct, the desire or the movement to turn good play into goals. Mitrovic was thrown on late, a player it appears who is left out because he doesn?EUR(TM)t add the hard work Parker requires to his obvious goal threat, as well as Josh Maja, a striker West Ham were linked with but did not sign.
The incident has been discussed and will be discussed all weekend. There is little more to say that can be published politely.
So instead we move on, a disappointing 0-0 draw that we were lucky to escape with. Considering we were lucky to beat them earlier in the season too, Lookman?EUR(TM)s stoppage time penalty now quite mundane compared to the madness this game ended with, we can move on knowing the four points is better than we deserved.
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Player RatingsLukasz Fabianski
Except for one sloppy bit of handling on a high ball, Fabianski commanded his area well, caught crosses and his quick movement off the line thwarted one Loftus-Cheek chance.
The man is a very good defender. Deserved to score too for the way he attacked that header. The forward players were off their game, so the resilience of the defence was important. Coufal has resilience in spades.
Defended well, the unit was well-drilled and together. A couple of good crosses too, but it just wasn?EUR(TM)t happening going forward.
Desperate defending and throwing your body at blocks is very much in Dawson?EUR(TM)s strengths column. Blocks early on saved us from going behind. With the midfield struggling, he stood up to the task.
Much the same as Dawson. Just did his work effectively and limited the real danger in the box, which should have been much more frequent considering the pressure they had.
It was a steady performance in a game where their midfield outnumbered ours, but a last minute interception in the box stopped Fulham from having one last, and very good opportunity. Tried to make things happen on the ball, and found a wilting forward line not up to task.
Made a lot of clearances and was forced very deep by our poor ball retention going forward. Maybe could have done better with a first half header. What else to say on the red card? It was so clearly accidental, not reckless and not aggressive.
Looked sluggish and was always on the periphery. The dip in form has lasted long enough to be a real concern. Made 8 passes in 55 minutes.
Where against Villa he was finding space and moving the ball smartly, today he looked a rusty player new to the team. The link with Benrahma was gone, and he will probably appreciate the midweek rest.
Another one it just didn?EUR(TM)t happen for. He worked hard and got back defensively, but it didn?EUR(TM)t click. Rinse and repeat for all the front four. Only made 10 passes.
Didn?EUR(TM)t have a shot on goal, didn?EUR(TM)t ever look like it was going to happen either. When your forwards just aren?EUR(TM)t on it, there?EUR(TM)s going to be a lack of chances for the striker and Antonio suffered the brunt of that. And then the hamstring.
(Replaced Benrahma, 56) His 35 minutes wasn?EUR(TM)t sparkling, but it was necessary and he at least made more impact on the game than Bowen, Antonio and Benrahma.
(Replaced Bowen, 56) He attempted to be a bit more direct than Bowen, but he couldn?EUR(TM)t get to the pace of the game, and by the time he did, he was moved up front and doesn?EUR(TM)t appear suited to it.
(Replaced Antonio, 74) Got up and down the wing and, as we got stuck into a defensive shape, he defended well.
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Match FactsWest Ham United: Lukasz Fabianski, Vladimir Coufal, Aaron Cresswell, Craig Dawson, Angelo Ogbonna, Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek, Jarrod Bowen, Jesse Lingard, Said Benrahma, Michail Antonio.
Booked: Angelo Ogbonna 75 Lukasz Fabianski 90 Andriy Yarmolenko 90 .
Sent Off: Tomas Soucek 90 .
Fulham: Areola, Tete, Andersen, Adarabioyo, Robinson (Maja 79), Lemina (Mitrovic 79), Reed, De Cordova-Reid (Anguissa 83), Loftus-Cheek, Lookman, Cavaleiro.
Subs not used: Rodak, Hector, Ream, Bryan, Aina, Onomah.
Sent off: None.
Referee: Mike Dean.
Man of the Match: Vladimir Coufal.