David Hautzig's Match Report
I am one of the eight listeners of Moore Than Just A Podcast, in case anyone was wondering. Last week’s episode was aptly named Much Ado About Nothing. Ol’ William was likely none too pleased to have one of his titles attached to a two hour and forty-five minute discussion of cheese, Nigel’s birthday (all the best mate), and postal codes. There was no earthly reason for me to enjoy any of it, but I did. Particularly the debate between Sean, Nigel and Canning Town Len over tribalism and postal codes. I laughed pretty heartily at times, actually. Within that conversation Nigel mentioned a very good mate of his who is a Tottenham supporter, and Nigel admitted that historically he doesn’t hate those arrogant, spying, low life North London swine merchants. I do. I mean, I respect them. Yesterday was a masterclass from Mou and his band on defending and counter attacking. But I have never and will never root for them against anyone. Same goes for today’s opponent. Our historical rivalry with them isn’t that historical. It’s less than fifteen years old and centers entirely on a single clause in a contract of a single player. Grow up and get over it, Blades. You went down because that year you were crap. End of. This year looks destined to end the same way. But as happens all too often, teams on the snide need only a little time with West Ham to find some form.
For a team that has only scored four goals thus far this season, The Blades certainly started like a side that knows where the net is. A low cross in the first minute was only a few inches away from McBurnie in the West Ham eighteen yard box, and then a pass over the top of Masuaku found Baldock in the box. Fabianski cut down the angle and made a good save with his right leg. Sheffield United used those early half chances to create some confidence and it was the home side asking all the questions, including a corner in the 9th minute that West Ham thankfully cleared. But the bottom of the table side opened the match looking like a team challenging for Europe, while we looked like a team soaking up pressure while we waited for a break.
West Ham played themselves back into the game a bit, winning a corner in the 19th minute after a decent spell of possession. Cresswell’s delivery found Ogbonna but the central defender’s header had no pace and Sheffield cleared. Only for a moment, however, and Bowen was able to try a low shot from the edge of the area that was blocked by Egan. At least some of the play was happening in their end.
Sheffield United had a great chance to open the scoring in the 24th minute when a badly played pass from Cresswell allowed the home side to break with numbers. Baldock took the ball down the right and rolled a pass to McBurnie. The Scottish international had a good look at goal, but Fabianski palmed the effort away. West Ham couldn’t clear, which allowed another low but weak shot that the West Ham keeper gathered up.
The Hammers had their first chance of the day in the 28th minute. It started with a fine move by Masuaku in a tight space on the left. He passed to Bowen, who should have shot but instead rolled a pass to Coufal on the right, and the right back’s low effort was palmed away by Ramsdale. Nigel Kahn in the unofficial VAR booth said Masuaku had been guilty of a handball in the buildup, so who knows what might have happened.
A few minutes later West Ham should have taken the lead when Haller got on the end of a cross and sent Soucek on goal with a flick header. With Bowen in front of the net, Soucek tried to beat Ramsdale and sent his shot wide. He buried his head in his hands because he knew one way or the other it should have ended in the back of the net. Moments later West Ham won another corner, but it amounted to nothing but Atkinson’s whistle. Offside? Foul? Don’t know, and frankly don’t really care.
Sheffield almost scored from a truly innocent cross by Baldock that McBurnie went up high to meet. His header was destined for the corner of the net but Fabianski dove to his left to meet it and make the save. Minutes later Bowen had a great chance inside the Sheffield eighteen yard box but Egan made a fine block of what would have been a point blank shot on target. West Ham won a corner, but the delivery to Soucek ended with a soft header over the bar.
Sheffield United 0
West Ham 0
As the second half begun, the inevitable questions about Haller felt like they were at the forefront. Not because of the half chance he had after a looping pass from Masuaku. It was more about the type of movement he offered. He does not stand still as many detractors say. But his runs are not, for lack of a better way to say it, scary. When Antonio moves, it has to be terrifying for defenders. They don’t know what he will do or where he will go. With Haller, it’s as if defenders have a decent idea of what to expect, so they react accordingly. That leaves our midfield with fewer options, and thus fewer chances.
Yet in the 56th minute, movement wasn’t the point. Pure power was front and center. After a shot by Fornals was blocked near the top of the box, the ball landed at the feet of Haller. The only part of him that moved was his right leg. And that leg catapulted the ball at a very high rate of speed into the top corner. It was a great finish. It was an equally angry finish.
Sheffield United 0
West Ham 1
The Hammers had a great chance to double their lead in the 61st minute when Bowen went on a run down the left after a blocked pass by Cresswell. He had Haller in the middle, but he cut to his right and tried to slice himself through the box. Instead he crashed into Haller. Bowen stayed still, the ball rolled away. It was a chance that could have been handled far, far better. A few minutes later The Hammers won a corner, taken by Bowen. After a bit of pinball action the ball found it’s way to Rice but his shot was partially blocked and Ramsdale handled it easily.
West Ham had another chance to double their lead in the 69th minute when Rice sent a lead pass to Masuaku on the left, who kept the run going before sending a hard, low pass to Haller in front of goal. The pass was actually too hard, and Haller couldn’t direct the ball where he wanted. Instead it ricocheted off him and out for a goal kick. A few minutes later West Ham won a corner. Cresswell found Rice in the box, but the man who scored his first for England last week hit the bar.
Sheffield United came inches from a leveler in the 75th minute after Masuaku lost the ball in midfield, which allowed the home side to counter. McBurnie was sent in on goal all alone, but his rifle shot went off the bar with a very loud clang.
West Ham had good spells of possession as the game wound down, with Masuaku in particular showing confidence on the ball. But even after a number of solid passes and movement, we would make one poor pass or one poor decision that allowed Sheffield to get back on the ball. But the hosts weren’t fluid enough in their own movements, and as normal time ticked way it didn’t look like they would find a way through.
Sheffield United 0
West Ham 1
An away win at the team on the bottom of the Premier League table would not normally be significant. But I think it was. None of need to be reminded of the regularity in which teams on a bad run found their fortunes from ours hiding. We have often been the cure to all that ails our opponents. But two wins on the bounce with two clean sheets against teams down there is what I consider the next level for us. Moyes has brought a spine, a spirit, and a level of game management we have not had in a very long time. I defended his appointment both times, and I doubt anyone would argue that today.
West Ham. United.