David Hautzig's Match Report

West Ham 1, Bristol City 0. A Win Is A Win.

“Mid table and a good cup run. That’s all I’ll ever need to be happy”

That is the mantra I have heard from my friend Derek, who along with his brother and father had season tickets at Upton Park for years, since the day he infected me with the West Ham virus. And I have lived by those rules ever since. During seasons in which we struggled and fought against relegation, the cups were nothing more than reminders of how bad things were. I rarely watched them, actually. Some will understand the mentality that says football itself provides zero enjoyment when your team is a disaster. But for the first time since 2006 the FA Cup is a priority in Casa Hautzig. And when I found out two days ago that Fox Sports would be showing our game at Bristol City, I was chuffed.

A 9am kickoff over here meant I had plenty of time to drink a couple of cups of coffee, make a little breakfast for the wife and kids, and set myself up in front of the 40 inch Sharp in the living room. Life was good.

And then it wasn’t. Five minutes before kickoff, the power went out.

With the theme from Mission Impossible playing in my head, I sprung into action.

Shut down all apps except Twitter and Messages on my iPad to conserve battery power.

Check.

Turn on very old Mac laptop and find illegal stream from some place like Taiwan or Indonesia.

Check.

Put on socks. It’s cold in here.

Check.

My Internet service at home is very poor, so video streams don’t load quickly and they often freeze. From what I read on Twitter during the opening ten minutes or so, that may have been a blessing in disguise. Bristol City came out flying and another upset by a lower league club was very much in the cards. Early on Matt Smith forced Noble to clear his header off the line, and Alex Song was apparently suffering from some sort of passing dementia.

In the 15th minute….my stream came on. Lots of closing the window and re-launching did the trick. Or maybe it was a coincidence. Whatever, I got the game back on. Not that I got to see anything particularly enjoyable. Thomas put a shot wide from the top of the box, and then Carroll took his turn as defensive savior by clearing another effort from Smith off the line. If the stream hadn’t failed again moments later I might have turned it off.

Back to Twitter. One frustrated Tweet after another. Rich, Mark Harrison, Liam Spencer. Everyone was saying we looked awful, particularly Song and Valencia. One Tweet tried to be positive saying that it’s unlikely we will ever see Alex Song play this poorly again. Thank heavens for small favors, I guess.

The stream came back on during halftime. I guess enough users shut down during the interval that I was able to sneak in. Even with grainy, choppy video I could see Song was having a mare. It’s so hard to see the numbers for the game time online, but the first number looked like a five when he gave the ball away in midfield, then gave up a free kick trying to win it back. The ensuing free kick from Thomas was straight at Adrian. Minutes later Song was put out of his misery and replaced by Amalfitano. At the same time, I saw Valencia coming off but couldn’t make out who was coming on.

Oh my. Sakho. Senegal isn’t the most stable of countries to begin with. I could picture the heads of their FA as cartoon characters with steam coming out of their ears.

A few minutes later, the Stream Space Time Continuum wobbled. Twitter said Downing and Nolan played a nice one-two but Downing’s shot went over the bar. My screen said a Bristol City player (turned out to be Little) lost the ball for a West Ham throw in. A few moments later, the screen caught up and I saw Downing’s shot. What to do? I stayed the course with both sources of information.

Even with a two inch screen surrounded by dubious click through advertising, Sakho’s effort in the 74th minute made me throw my head back. His flick over the defender to himself was the kind of skill that can make the difference in a game like this, and he almost put West Ham on top but his shot skimmed off the crossbar and behind the net. A few minutes later, my Twitter feed went berserk with joy. What will it be? A quick check of the battery power on my Mac assured me I wouldn’t miss the goal that was on its way through cyber space. And when you know it’s coming, you watch differently. More analytically than emotionally. Carroll used both his tremendous strength and his skill to keep the ball, and his lob across goal to Sakho was superb. With the ball in mid air, I knew what was coming. Analytical Dave move over. Fist pumping, jumping up and down while screaming Dave step on up.

West Ham 1, Bristol City 0.

With ten minutes to go, I switched my attention to Twitter. I wanted the game over and with my phone a few minutes ahead of my laptop I jumped on that train.

Smith this, Smith that. I feel like I’m in The Matrix! Will somebody on West Ham become our Morpheus or Neo and get on this guy before he replicates himself?! The actual plays didn’t look as bad as some of the Tweets suggested, but the danger he presented was very real.

Come on. See it out. Be over. Pleeeeeaaaaase.

With only 18 minutes of battery power left, the final whistle blew. Three minutes later, my power was restored. Seriously. You couldn’t make it up.

The football gods decided to have some fun yesterday. They looked down, saw how the game was being managed and decided everyone needed a good, round kick in the arse. Russian Billionaires and Arab Royalty in particular. By all accounts, Bristol City should be very proud of their efforts. They probably deserved a replay. And if the game had been played yesterday, the gods may have granted them that. Or more. Normal Service, however, has been restored and the Premier League saw all three of it’s teams in action today advance to the 5th round.

Time to turn up the heat and make more coffee.


David Hautzig's Match Report

West Ham 3, Hull City 0. Redemption Is Indeed Sweet.

Stories of redemption in sport are not rare. While you all may have different examples because of your side of the pond, in most cases redemption comes after a defeat of some kind. For West Ham, and to a greater degree Sam Allardyce, today was a chance to redeem themselves of one of the more infamous and controversial nights Upton Park had ever seen. Would Sam be able to cup his hand over his ear to listen to the jubilant cheers of the West Ham faithful? Would West Ham be able to bottle the tremendous joy from Tuesday night and pour it over a weakened Hull City?

The first few minutes of the game were the polar opposite of what we expected. Despite only having one Premier League goal, Sone Aluko started the game like the most dangerous striker on the pitch. In the opening seconds, he made Tomkins look more like a statue outside of Upton Park than a defender inside it and won two quick corners. Minutes later, he chased down a ball that Tomkins gave up on and sent a cross to an unmarked Elmohamady that should have put Hull in the lead. Fortunately for West Ham he dragged his shot wide. If our back four underestimated Aluko going into the match, the alarm bells were ringing loud and clear.

When Aaron Cresswell took the free kick that hit the post against West Brom, it seemed like the world of West Ham supporters sat up, took notice, and wondered if we had a new free kick specialist in the form of our left back. When he stood over the ball in the seventh minute to take a free kick, he made another case for being in that role. His thirty yard strike rolled inches wide of the post. More of that, please.

With Diafra Sakho out with another back injury, saving him from the hands of the evil, dangerous Physio Devil Of Senegal, we have waited for the partnership of Andy Carroll and Enner Valencia to show what it can do. Before Tuesday’s FA Cup win, it hadn’t shown much. That night showed glimpses of what they could achieve. That bit of promise continued in the 8th minute. Carroll took a throw, held off Dawson, and teed up Valencia on the edge of the area. His shot, however, was poorly struck and rolled wide. Minutes later Carroll curled a beauty of a cross into the box that Curtis Davies cleared out before Valencia could reach it. Tomkins came close on resulting corner from Noble but his header went over the bar.

The win over Everton on Tuesday will always be remembered for Adrian. He had already achieved cult status at the club, but that night elevated him to Superhero. In the 14th minute, he made the kind of mistake that could have created an alter ego villain when he completely mishit a pass inside his own penalty area that David Meyler latched onto. Jenkinson won’t have to buy any rounds for a long time because he tracked back and forced Meyler to run the ball out for a goal kick. Pass the tab over to the Spanish guy over there, sir.

There had been debate on Twitter and on some blogs over the past few weeks about our midfield. Was it good enough to be a solid top eight side? The first twenty minutes today produced a resounding, and upsetting no to that question. Noble was losing possession and making some dangerous challenges. Downing was out wide and thus not as effective as he could be. And Nolan looked off the pace, although some say that is nothing out of the norm. For a moment, I found myself wanting a bit of long ball to bypass that part of the pitch.

James Tomkins poor first half continued in the 24th minute when Aluko once again made him look stationary, darting past him on the edge of the area to collect. Tomkins tried to recover, and on another day his challenge from behind could have caught the eye of the referee. Just as Aluko was about to fire on goal, James Collins flew in and cleared it out for a corner.

West Ham’s best chance of an otherwise forgettable first half came in the 39th minute. Noble chased a ball down and looped a cross into the area that Collins got on the end of. His header was going wide, but Alex Bruce and Elmohamady collided trying to clear it out of danger and Bruce went down in a lump. Martin Atkinson allowed play to continue when arguably he shouldn’t have. Downing then used the outside of his left foot to send the ball back into the box, which Valencia headed towards goal. A combination of the cross bar and Allan McGregor kept it out, but with Bruce still taking a head butt induced snooze the Hammers kept attacking. Downing sent another cross to the far post that Tomkins headed down and towards goal, but this time McGregor caught it and held on.

Hull finished the first half with three consecutive corners, none of which caused West Ham any real problems. But it was indicative of a first half where the walking wounded of Hull were made to look a much better side than they are.

Halftime. West Ham 0, Hull 0.

Hull made a notable change at halftime, with Harry Maguire coming on for Bruce. You know things are bad, if not downright tragic, when a team has to put a central defender on as a makeshift striker. I wonder if Mladen Petric is looking for work? West Ham, on the other hand, didn’t make any substitutions to start the second half. But Downing appeared to be back on top of a diamond, right behind the strikers. There was also a notable change in attitude and energy. Whatever Sam said to them inside at halftime clearly had an effect, because the team came out firing on most, if not all, cylinders.

In the 47th minute Jenkinson sent a great through ball for Downing on the right side of the penalty area. He sent in a cross that took at least one small deflection before finding Kevin Nolan at the top of the 18 yard box. His volley was so close that Jon Champion initially called it a goal, but was inches over the bar and inches away from his 100th goal in the Premier League.

There was a moment in the first half, I don’t recall exactly when, that Andy Carroll got his concrete skull on the end of a rather long pass. As he often does, he flicked the ball into an area that he expected someone to run into. Nobody, particularly Valencia, made that run. AC wasn’t happy, and he let Enner know. In the 49th minute, Carroll demonstrated that actions speak louder than words. Valencia fired a shot from the edge of the area that McGregor stopped, but couldn’t hang onto the ball. Carroll did what good strikers do. He didn’t give up on the play. He wanted it more. And that’s why he was there to tap in the rebound.

West Ham 1, Hull 0.

From that moment on, the game was essentially all West Ham. Carroll appealed for a penalty a few minutes later when his cross hit Dawson’s hand, then he found Downing open but his shot was blocked. It should have been 2-0 in the 57th minute when Song sent a terrific ball onto the path of Valencia with nothing but green between him and McGregor, but the flag incorrectly went up.

In the 66th minute West Ham made the substitution that effectively killed off the game when Amalfitano came on for Noble, who quite frankly didn’t have a very good day. Amalfitano has many fans among the Twitter faithful, and he immediately showed why those calling for More Morgan have a strong case. Song, after intercepting the ball at midfield, made another fine pass to Valencia off the outside of his right foot. Valencia controlled it with his chest, turned quickly, drew the defenders to him and laid the ball off for Amalfitano. The Frenchman’s finish was calm, composed, and clinical. If I may, I’d like to quote an American sportscaster, the late Stuart Scott, who passed away earlier this month. I liked him, and I’ll miss watching him.

He’s as cool as the other side of the pillow.

West Ham 2, Hull 0.

West Ham have never finished a Premier League season with a positive goal differential, but that may change this year. West Ham made it ten on the plus side in the 72nd minute when Song made another sublime pass, this time to Stuart Downing to send him in alone on goal. Showing his own version of calm, composed control, Downing slid the ball past McGregor and into the back of the net.

West Ham 3, Hull 0.

There could have been more. Nolan came close on an impossible angle, and Amalfitano almost had a second after some lovely football with Valencia. We looked more like the West Ham that graced our presence at the start of the season than we had in a few weeks.

Final Score. West Ham 3, Hull 0.

In hindsight, I think our poor first half display today was a blessing in disguise. If Allardyce does have a bias to certain players and certain tactical setups, he set those aside in the second half and made the changes needed to take control of a game we really needed to win if a top eight finish is our target. Sam, feel free to cup that ear again. Only this time it should be to hear the applause.


David Hautzig's Match Report

West Ham 1, West Brom 1. A Point That's Tough To Respect.

I think social media has added an extra and welcome dimension to our game. Allowing supporters to connect with each other almost instantaneously has been as valuable to me as watching the matches on Fox and NBC. Our game is far more about community and bonding than any American sport could ever hope to be, and without things like Twitter and blogs I’d never have “met” Iain, ExWHUEmployee, Hugh Southon, the folks at KUMB, or any of you. I’ve also become friendly with supporters of some other clubs, one of which is West Brom supporter @AndyfromNewHamp. I first got to know Andy through a daily radio program over here hosted by Chelsea TV’s Neil Barnett, former Newcastle midfielder Ray Hudson and a few others. We’ve gone on air together to preview matches between the two clubs, and we chat via Twitter regularly. Which we did again yesterday.

Before television coverage over here became arguably better than in the UK, it was brutally difficult to get any info on any club other than Manchester United, Liverpool, and maybe Arsenal. So for an American, history is not ingrained. It’s learned. Not so for UK born and bred Andy, and I got a great little lesson from him.

“Our clubs share a tradition of style over substance, of generating talent from within. Geoff Hurst started his career as a Hammer and ended it as a Baggie. But above all else both clubs were at the forefront in embracing black footballers when racism was rampant. Your Hammers provided inspiration with Best, Barnes and Coker. We followed suit a couple of years later with the trio of Regis, Cunningham and yesterday’s recipient of an MBE, Brendan Batson. Our clubs may not have the silverware of more celebrated rivals, but it can be argued no two clubs have had a great influence in opening the doors to black players than the Baggies and the Hammers.”

With what has happened here in the USA recently, hearing that gave me even more reason to wear my now 20 year old jumper with pride.

Even sitting in the stands, I suspected Tony Pulis to have some kind of impact on his new club. He beat us in his first game in charge of Crystal Palace. Actually, if memory serves me, wasn’t Roy Hodgson appointed West Brom manager the day we overcame a 3-0 halftime deficit to draw them at The Hawthorns? While that season was an absolute nightmare, the draw that day wasn’t half bad. I can’t say I feel anything like that today.

I was waiting for the starting eleven with the hope that Valencia and Sakho would lead the attack again. Pretty dumb of me, I guess. At least Amalfitano kept his place.

Early yellow cards to important players will always cause uneasy feelings, and those feelings were provided in the 4th minute when Kouyate made a reckless challenge and brought down Sessegnon from behind. The free kick didn’t cause many problems, but the ball came back to Sessegnon giving him room to make a run into the West Ham box and unleash a hard shot that was blocked out by Collins. It was the first of many problems caused by Sessegnon.

The first chance for West Ham showed some impressive movement with and without the ball. The only thing missing was the final touch, and when Downing and Cresswell combined for a nice one-two in the penalty area our left back appeared to be pulled down by McAuley just as he shot. The attempt went over the bar, and the referee ignored Cresswell’s protests for a penalty.

When West Ham have looked their best this season it has been the added pace and skill of players like Sakho, Amalfitano and Cresswell that have made the difference. Downing has basically been a new signing with his switch to the top of a diamond formation, and he combined with the aforementioned three to give West Ham the lead after ten minutes. Downing sent a chip to Amalfitano at the top of the eighteen yard box. After quickly turning towards goal, Amalfitano made a gorgeous pass with the outside of his right foot to Cresswell on the left side of the box. His cross found Sakho doing what he does best, running into a dangerous area to receive a pass and have a go at goal. Pass received, ball in net. Simple.

West Ham 1, West Brom 0.

It could have, and maybe should have been 2-0 a few minutes later when Song found Downing speeding down the left flank. Downing cut inside and beat McAuley, but his angle was tight and his hard shot was well saved by Foster.

By the number of comments posted on virtually every article on this site, it’s plain to see that you all like to debate and discuss. Well, I want to throw this out there right now. In the 16th minute, Cresswell sent in a long cross that was obviously intended for Carroll. Foster came out to collect the ball in his gloves before AC’s skull had a chance, and that was that. Here’s my question. If it were Valencia out there with Sakho, would Cresswell have even made that pass? Or would he have looked for a one-two with a midfielder to get deeper and allow the strikers to run into areas? Or something like that. Anything but a long cross into the box?

Sam recently said Adrian is as good a keeper as DeGea, and that he should be challenging for a spot on the Spanish national team. Based on his save in the 22nd minute I won’t argue with him. After beating Song on the right side, Mulumbu sent a cross to Baird on the edge of the box. The defender took his shot straight out of the air and would have ripped the net if Adrian hadn’t gotten his left hand in the way.

From that moment on, until halftime, West Ham looked complacent. Unworried that West Brom could hurt them. We gave up the ball in midfield and looked like we didn’t believe there could ever be any consequences. Sessegnon and Wisdom combined in the 25th minute with a quick series of passes inside the West Ham box before Sessegnon’s shot went wide. Sessegnon then sent Brunt down the left but his shot also went wide. Next came a free kick from Brunt after Mulumbu was taken down by Song that didn’t have enough hook or bend and went wide. Add in an attempt by Morrison that curled over the bar and you have a long stretch of West Brom dominance.

The inevitable finally happened in the 42nd minute after West Ham lost possession for the 641st time in the half and led to a counter attack by Sessegnon. He cut towards the box and found Berahino running at goal and he side footed the equalizer behind Adrian. I’m guessing Sam will blame Collins for backing off Sessegnon, and probably Reid for not marking Berahino. And both of those accusations would be true. But those two mistakes were only a small part in the larger picture that led to the goal.

West Ham 1, West Brom 1.

At halftime I took to Twitter as I usually do to gauge what the West Ham faithful were saying. I wasn’t surprised to see the majority calling for Valencia to come in for Carroll, who simply had not been a factor in the first half. If we all could see that Valencia’s pace might be a better option to Carroll as a target man against this particular defense, then the 13th highest paid manager in the world would see it as well, right?

There I go again, being silly. No changes to start the second half.

Early in the second half Downing found Sakho breaking into the box but our leading scorer was called offside. Note to Teddy. Work on Sakho’s timing on runs a bit because he is called for offside quite a bit. A couple of crosses later that Foster collected easily and it was all West Brom again. Berahino got a little help from a deflection off Collins to force a good save from Adrian, and then Mulumbu and Sessegnon combined on the right side but the latter’s shot hit the outside netting. With so much space in front of him and so much time on the ball, it’s a miracle Sessegnon didn’t score or set up two or three goals.

Over the summer there was a rumor that West Brom were interested in Matt Jarvis. Remember him? Speedy winger who was supposed to be the best crosser on the planet? Cost us a lot of dough? Yeah, that guy. Well, he came on for Amalfitano in the 54th minute. The TV showed Pulis sending messages down to the bench a lot during the game. I wonder if he sent one to Sam asking him if he could have a look at that Jarvis fellow. A few minutes after entering the game he did beat two West Brom defenders before sending a low cross into the box. It was meant for Carroll, but it went to McAuley.

West Ham came inches away from taking the lead and possibly all three points in the 59th minute after Mulumbu fouled Sakho outside of the box to earn the Hammers a free kick. When Cresswell stood over it to take it I was surprised. After his kick went off the post I see why he took it and hope there is more from him like that in the future.

There were more than a few cynical Tweets today about Valencia coming on. Sure he would, the Tweets said. But not for Carroll. The conspiracy theorists promised it would be for Sakho. In the 70th minute, Downing collected the ball on the right side of the West Brom penalty area. After a few twists and turns he sent a low cross in for the onrushing Sakho, but the striker couldn’t get his feet on the ball and Foster smothered it. Sakho stayed down, and seemed to tell Foster he was OK. But he got up slowly, holding his lower back. The same part of his body that was assaulted by the Senegal team physio. So even if Sam wanted to take Carroll off for Valencia, he couldn’t. I wonder how Sam felt about that.

Valencia showed what his pace can do in the 75th minute when Song sent a probing ball down the right side. Valencia looked like he had a different gear available than the West Brom defenders and ran onto it right before the touchline. His cross found Jarvis running across the area but he couldn’t get more than a slight touch and the ball rolled comfortable to Foster. We can only wonder what might have happened had Valencia at least come on earlier.

After what can only be said was a non-descript performance, Carroll came off in the 84th minute for Carlton Cole. I’d like to say more about that…but I won’t.

For the final five minutes of the second half and the four minutes of added time, the only side that looked to have a second goal in them was West Brom. Sessegnon had tons of space in front of him in the 89th minute but his shot was poor. Then he and Morrison linked up well, ending in a pass towards Varela that Reid was able to intercept.

Final Score. West Ham 1, West Brom 1.

Let’s look at today in a vacuum, forgetting our strong start this season. Are we so good that a loss/draw to a team like West Brom is a shameful result? No. Are we a work in progress, in which there will be stretches where we play out of our skin and others where we are dire? Yes. I’m not happy, and I’m guessing many of you aren’t either. We had a full squad available to us today, and we were generally outplayed by West Brom. Some may disagree, but I think Sam cost us points today. Despite being flagged offside many times, Sakho’s ability to get behind the Baggies back four was our one tactical bright spot. A spot that would have been even brighter had Valencia started alongside him instead of Carroll. My fear is that this will begin a very tough stretch for us, with more frustrating results like we saw today. And when the going gets tough for Sam, he digs his heels in and retreats even further into the system he is most comfortable with. The system we thought we had left in the bin.

I wonder what David Sullivan is thinking right about now.


David Hautzig's Match Report

West Ham 1, Arsenal 2. A Tough Pill To Swallow.

Football has a very different take on the Theory Of Relativity than Albert did. For example, Arsenal.

The last time they finished outside of the top four The Right Honourable John Major MP for Huntingdon was the Prime Minister of England, and Bill Clinton was finishing his first term as President. They have also advanced to the group stage of the Champions League for 15 consecutive years. Or, in a more contemporary context, since Taylor Swift was ten years old. Those facts, to my way of thinking, lead me to conclude that Arsenal are indeed very good at playing football and have been for quite some time. Yet some Arsenal supporters see things differently. Relatively speaking, or maybe just relative to a few other teams, they are crap. Awful. And their manager is to blame.

I, however, would gladly take their level of perceived crappiness for our Happy Hammers. Relatively speaking, we are having an outstanding campaign so far. Yes, Boxing Day was a bit of a reality check. But that didn’t stop me from genuinely thinking we should get something from today’s game. My last trip to Upton Park saw us beat them 1-0 on a late Harewood strike from Etherington, followed by a near strike to Pardew’s jaw from a livid Wenger. Dinner that night at Gordon Ramsay’s Maze finished off a pretty spectacular day. I wanted, and even somewhat expected, another good day today.

Oh well.

Sam had spoken of the need to rotate the squad with two games in 48 hours, and that’s the reason he gave for not starting Song or Sakho on Friday. I had no problem with that, and by extension I didn’t see how Carroll would start today. I fully expected to see Sakho and Valencia up front with AC ready to enter in the second half. Sam had other ideas and big Andy stayed in the starting eleven.

A lot has been made of Andy Carroll’s overall game. In one corner, you have those that say without his aerial game he doesn’t offer much. The other argument states he’s much better with the ball at his feet than he is given credit for. In the 4th minute, Carroll won the game’s first corner when Monreal conceded after some good hold up play by our number nine. Szczesny came out to get the ensuing corner, a theme replayed many times during the game, but West Ham attacked the clearance and won another corner.

It was that second corner, only five minutes in, that will be the talking point of the match. Downing’s delivery came out to Song who rifled in a volley into the bottom corner. The crowd roared. The scoreboard on TV showed a 1-0 West Ham lead. Even the app on my IPhone that alerts me of goals dinged. And then it all went away. The linesman’s flag was up or offside. Replays showed that Kouyate was in an offside position. But he wasn’t in the line of site for the shot, didn’t seem to interfere with Szczesny at all, and regardless of all that it didn’t look like the keeper had a hope in hell of getting there. Maybe if we all knew exactly what was and what was not offside it would have been easier to take the decision. But nobody seems to know, and I will go to my grave thinking a good goal was unjustly taken away.

In life, timing can be everything. Today, Alex Song was not blessed with a good version of it. Suffice it to say he had his worst game for West Ham. In the 9th minute our most trusted midfielder for many a year lost possession for what would be the first of many times on the day. And if there is one guy on Arsenal you don’t want to see bursting into your penalty area on the break it’s Alexis Sanchez. Thankfully for West Ham Joey O’Brien was there to break it up. A minute later history repeated itself with another run by Sanchez, only this time Reid was there to stop it.

I thought Arsenal picking up Danny Welbeck in the summer was a very cunning move by Wenger, adding both pace and strength to the Gunners attack. In the 15th minute he won a fifty-fifty ball from O’Brien, started forward and was brought down by Song, resulting in the first free kick of the game for Arsenal. Cazorla’s ball found Sanchez running into the box but his header went wide for a goal kick.

West Ham went back on the attack in the 19th minute, and it could have been more dangerous than it ended up being. Kouyate intercepted an errant pass by Mertesacker. But with time on the ball, and help coming into the box, he elected to shoot instead and it was easily handled by Szczesny. A minute later, O’Brien sent a high cross towards Carroll who easily beat Mertesacker near Szczesny’s right post. However, Carroll’s shot…or pass…went out for a corner. It was cleared as far as Reid, whose shot went wide. It was a promising spell for the Hammers, especially in terms of Carroll beating his man to a cross.

Arsenal won three quick corners a few minutes later when their dangerous quartet of Sanchez, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla and Welbeck turned up the pressure. They won their first when Sanchez had a shot deflected out by O’Brien, their second when Cresswell cleared Ox’s (easier to type that if you don’t mind) cross behind the goal, and the third when Cazorla found Ox with space on the right hand side. No matter how well we might think we’ve played this season, as we would soon find out those are players not to be trifled with.

After his fifteen minute spell against Chelsea, West Ham supporters were pretty unanimous in their desire to see Amalfitano get more time. I think he showed on many occasions why we were correct, one of which was in the 30th minute when he left Monreal completely off balance and won a corner. When others immediately look to cross, Amalfitano will first see if he can do something on his own, run at the defenders to make them commit, and then put a cross in if that’s the best option. Szczesny came out again and gathered it, but the buildup was what he offers.

Oh, a quick note to Debuchy. If you’re going to try and get Carroll booked, as he did in the 35th minute for being nothing more than smaller than Andy, maybe you should watch a film of Chico from last season. I mean, if acting is something you want to try after your football career is done and dusted, you’d better work on your final product.

The 37th minute saw West Ham waste a golden opportunity to take the lead, or should I say take the lead AGAIN, when Downing sent a looping ball into the box that found James Tomkins. Alone. Onside. With time. But instead of controlling the ball and finding a spot in what could have been a wide open net he tried a one time volley that flew high over the bar. And like so many times in so many games, a close chance on one end was quickly followed by converted chance on the other when Cazorla retrieved a deflection off of Reid right inside the West Ham penalty area. Reid fell backwards, and when Cazorla tried to go past him to get to the ball he went over Reid’s right leg. The referee pointed to the spot, and Arsenal’s first shot on target became Arsenal’s first goal.

West Ham 0, Arsenal 1.

It’s hard enough to go into Halftime down a goal when you have been the better side. It’s harder still when you feel a perfectly good goal was disallowed. It’s almost unbearable when, out of nowhere, that deficit is doubled. After a quick throw in, Oxlade-Chamberlain ran towards the byline and sent a low cross through Reid’s legs. Tomkins was there, and I think he should have cleared it, but instead he stopped and the pass rolled onto the sliding leg of Welbeck.

West Ham 0, Arsenal 2.

West Ham had a good chance to bring one back a minute into added time when Downing got on the end of a poor Arsenal clearance at the top of their area. But his shot went wide by more than a few inches.

The second half began calmly when compared to the first half, but that calm was broken in the 52nd minute. Debuchy found some space on the right to send in a cross that Adrian gathered and threw out to start a counter. Sakho got behind the Arsenal line and sent in a cross that Mertesacker cleared for a corner. From that corner, Tomkins dinked a cross that Kouyate won over Debuchy and headed it past Szczesny.

West Ham 1, Arsenal 2.

The Hammers were lucky not to go down by two goals again a few moments after getting themselves back in the game when Oxlade-Chamberlain ran at the West Ham defense before pulling it back for the onrushing Cazorla. His shot was blocked out by Adrian for a corner, which offered Debuchy a chance to restore the two goal lead but his shot went over the bar.

The difference between going on a goal scoring streak and goal scoring drought can be a matter of inches. Or millimeters if the metric system is your thing. In the beginning of the season, every ball that came close to Diafra Sakho ended up in the back of the net. Some will say it’s because he was paired with Valencia. Others will say it’s because defenders didn’t know how to play him. The past couple of games those bits of fate have not gone his way. In the 60th minute Kouyate got the ball on the left and sent in a cross that Sakho just missed. A minute later, Carroll showed a bit of skill on the floor before sending another cross that Sakho came close to before he was taken off for Enner Valencia. I’m sure the tide will turn in his favor again. I only wish it had been today.

As kids, in all sports, we are taught not to stop playing until the official tells you to. That basic lesson almost cost West Ham in the 67th minute. Carroll lost the ball near the sideline, and thought he was fouled. Other Hammers agreed. While they stopped to look at the referee in disgust, Cazorla kept playing and fed Sanchez. His shot was blocked by Reid for a corner, and Koscielny was called for a foul when in the box trying to attack the delivery. If that had gone in Sam would have burst more than one blood vessel.

Arsenal came at West Ham again five minutes later when Sanchez and Oxlade-Chamberlain combined for a quick one-two that ended with the latter’s header flying towards the net. But Adrian got his right leg out and against all odds, and maybe even a few laws of physics, kept the ball out. Two minutes later Sanchez drove in alone after beating Song but his low shot was also stopped by an Adrian leg. How ironic that the one guy that can use his arms….blah blah blah.

I hope the 76th minute of this game will be the worst moment of Stuart Downing’s season. It could have been a lot worse when his weak crossfield pass towards Song was intercepted by Welbeck, and he had nothing between him and Adrian. Maybe after Adrian’s terrific saves, Welbeck though he’d better aim high. He did, but it was way over the bar and Downing was let off the hook.

West Ham made their final two substitutions a moment later when Guy Demel and Kevin Nolan came on for O’Brien and Kouyate. One could only hope for better crossing from Demel or a poachers moment from Nolan.

The vast majority of West Ham’s crosses today ended up comfortably in the arms of Szczesny. While the deliveries were sometimes poor, particularly from O’Brien, nobody can say that Szczesny’s positioning inside the box wasn’t excellent. In the 80th minute, Valencia tried a new approach with a low ball whipped in after beating Debuchy. That didn’t work, either. A few minutes later Demel tried his luck with a cross from the right side that Carroll won but couldn’t get a shot away. Demel had another chance in the 89th only to see his wasted cross sail into the crowd.

Five minutes of added time gave the home side and it’s supporters a bit of hope, and it was the most predictable of combinations that got the extra time going when Carroll flicked a pass from a long ball to Nolan, and his low drive dipped and swerved a bit before Szczesny gathered it up. West Ham had one final chance on a free kick in the 95th minute. Szczesny came out to punch it away, but for the first time all afternoon didn’t get to the ball cleanly. Carroll headed it back into the box towards Valencia at the far post. Time stood still as the ball arked….onto the top of the net.

Final score. West Ham 1, Arsenal 2.

As the song says, “don’t it always seems to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone”. And when the choice is Joey O’Brien or Guy Demel you realize how incredibly valuable the fullback position is in the modern game. If Jenkinson had been the one attempting all of the crosses that went nowhere off the foot of O’Brien, we might have seen a very different outcome. And maybe if Song had not chosen today to be off his game, I’d be writing a happy report instead of a mildly down one.

The last two games, in my opinion, have told us that in order to be a top club you can’t have any weak links at all. All of your full backs have to be able to overlap and deliver quality into the box. You can’t have only one or two midfielders who are comfortable with the ball on their feet. Your forwards have to be able to dribble, see spaces to run into, and not only finish chances but create them as well. I’m over simplifying things, I know. And you all know these things. But it’s cathartic to say it, and I’ll sleep better because I did.

I still believe we are going in the right direction, and if I were to choose one club that will be the next big party crasher I certainly like our chances.

But there is still work to do.


David Hautzig's Match Report

Chelsea 2, West Ham 0. Questions, questions.

A few years ago I went to pick up the kids from school. It was the dead of winter, and the teacher had this incredibly bright light sitting on her desk. I asked her what it was, and she told me it was a special light used to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder. SAD as it is referred to at times. According to Wikipedia, the U.S. National Library of Medicine notes that “some people experience a serious mood change when the seasons change. They may sleep too much, have little energy, and may also feel depressed. A large percentage of them also support West Ham United during the Christmas season”.

OK. I added the last part.

I’m pretty cool when it comes to withholding judgment on people and their maladies, real or imagined. Life can be rough at times. As I drove around yesterday running a few errands I remembered my own version of SAD that clobbered me so many seasons during the Christmas fixture insanity. Basically, I wanted to hibernate and hope that when I woke up we had gathered just a couple of points to help in our relegation battle. Looking out of my car window at the grey sky, muddy roads, and bare trees it all looked familiar.

Except it didn’t feel the same. I was looking forward to today. In fact, I was relishing it. You want a piece of us, Jose? You got it, homen.

Every rational bone I had in my body was not bothered by getting a result today. Or Sunday. All I wanted was for our team, our lads to go out there and show the world that win, lose or draw we have every intention of eventually crashing this party. In my mind I tried to stop questioning, perhaps only temporarily, every lineup or substitution decision made by Big Sam. And there were many lineup changes today that caused a Twitter stir. But the guy has been doing this for a long time and maybe I should have some faith that he wants to win at least as much as I do. I mean, if Sam walked into my house and told me I was choosing the wrong wines for my customers I’d tell him to go lay down in my driveway while I call for the plow. But after it was all said and done, I couldn’t stop a bunch of questions from re-surfacing.

We had gone into the game expecting Eden Hazard to be on the sideline. I guess Kouyate thought so as well, and early on decided maybe he could make that dream a reality with a nice little hip check on the Belgian. Unfortunately for us, he was fine.

Carl Jenkinson has not taken many bad steps this season, but in the fifth minute he stepped off the edge of a cliff. Willian drove down the right side and sent a cross into the box towards Oscar. It was, in essence, a nothing ball. By letting it go past him, Jenkinson turned it into quite a something ball that Oscar should have buried for an early 1-0 lead. Instead his shot went over the bar, and Jenkinson was pulled off the edge. Chelsea continued to attack, led in large part by how far up the pitch Willian and Ivanovic pressed. In the 9th minute, Willian ran up the right and passed to Matic, who crossed to Cahill but the Chelsea defender’s header went wide.

Chelsea’s ball movement was so strong and so fluid right from the opening whistle, as compared to West Ham where Carroll looked totally isolated. The Hammers were pressed back to such a degree that the midfield, such as it was, couldn’t do a thing and any attempt to build from the back ended in a long ball. Stoke tried to do that with Crouch on Monday and it didn’t work. Would Sam realize that before it was too late?

The best hope West Ham had to get something from the game was to use it’s pace, and in the 18th minute we finally gave it a try. Valencia made a run and fed the ball to Downing who won a corner from Azpilicueta. His low corner, however, was poor but Noble intercepted the Chelsea clearance and won a free kick. Valencia stepped over the ball, and I dreamt of a repeat of his blast at Hull. I woke up as it sailed out for a goal kick.

For most teams, creating opportunities in and around the penalty area takes a lot of work as well as a lot of skill. For Chelsea, it looked so easy and they continued their attack in the 20th minute. Hazard beat Downing before Reid cleared it out for a corner. Moments later, Fabregas fed Cahill who slammed a volley towards the top corner that Adrian got a hand on for a terrific save.

Before the season started, Mourinho knew exactly who he wanted and why. Costa to score goals, and Fabregas to create the chances that would lead to those goals. Along with West Ham’s superb series of signings, that “bit” of business has had the biggest effect on the Premier League so far this season. The mantra of Fabregas to Costa was repeated so many times today it sounded like a vine. In the 31st minute, that combination created Chelsea’s opening goal when Fabregas put a corner into the box for Costa to head to the back post. There it was met by the one guy we really didn’t want to see on the list of goal scorers, John Terry. But there he was, and he easily guided the ball into the net.

Chelsea 1, West Ham 0.

The Hammers tried to respond when Valencia ran down the left and tried to earn a free kick. Michael Oliver didn’t agree with our Ecuadorian speedster, and when Cresswell tried to regain the ball from Oscar the young referee showed the young defender a yellow card. A minute later Hazard gave the ball to Matic and the big Serbian attempted to curl a 25 yard strike past Adrian but it was pushed wide by the keeper for a corner. Five minutes later Costa made the West Ham back line look like pylons, dicing and slicing his way through before his shot was deflected out for another Chelsea corner.

The 42nd minute was a microcosm of the first half and summed up the difference between the two sides. Noble won the ball around the center circle and wanted to build something that would at least resemble an attack. But there was little to no movement from any other West Ham player, and Noble even raised his arms as if to say “help me for gods sake”. Instead, he was forced to pass back to Collins who lost the ball for a Chelsea throw and yet another attack by the Men In Blue.

In the final minute of the first half, Ivanovic tried to win a penalty when Carroll brushed him in the box. It was a dive for sure, and a number of West Ham players voiced their fury. Adrian appeared to raise his hand near Ivanovic’s neck, which could have been a disaster on another day. I’m not saying our keeper should have seen red. I’m saying he could have seen red, right or wrong, and halftime could not have come soon enough.

The second half started better for West Ham, with Valencia trying to take advantage of Ivanovic pressing so high up the pitch. In the first few minutes Valencia got behind his counterpart twice but on neither occasion it led to anything. The 48th minute saw Kouyate join in on the act by pressing higher up. West Ham were trying to get into the game, but that was easier said than done. Despite having some possession and stringing a few passes together, West Ham hadn’t tested Courtois at all.

That couldn’t be said of Adrian, who was called upon yet again in the 52nd minute when Willian gathered the ball at midfield. As he ran at the West Ham defense, all that separated him from Moses parting the Red Sea was a big stick. He slipped a pass down the left to Hazard who cut to his right before slamming a shot at Adrian. Another quality stop by our keeper who had been our only real bright spot.

When watching footballers at this level, there are some skills that make it very easy to see what separates the very good from the sublime. One such skill is the ability to control the ball in very tight spaces, with opposition players seemingly on top of you. Chelsea have many players who can do that, most notably Eden Hazard. In the 54th minute, Hazard won a free kick when Reid had no other choice but to foul him or else a waltz on goal was destined to happen. Willian’s free kick went over the bar, but the class that created it was notable.

West Ham only have one player with that ability, Alex Song, and Sam decided it was time to put him on as part of a double substitution. Carroll and Noble gave way for Sakho and Song. The former I understood and agreed with, but Noble instead of Nolan? I know, I know. I said I would try to stop questioning Sam so much. At least the Sakho-Valencia tandem was back in action.

We all hoped for a quick goal after the substitution. So did Chelsea, apparently, and that is what they got three minutes later when Kouyate lost the ball in midfield to Hazard. One pass to Costa, and the rest looked all too easy for the Blue’s star hitman as he directed the ball past Adrian and into the far corner.

Chelsea 2, West Ham 0.

West Ham tried to respond quickly a minute later when Song put a through ball into the box for Valencia. A race to the ball commenced between the West Ham striker and Courtois, and the keeper got there a split second earlier to smother the ball and West Ham’s hopes of getting right back into the game.

There is a famous announcer over here named Marv Albert. He used to be the play by play guy for The New York Rangers ice hockey team, and one of his signature lines was “kick save and a beauty” when the goalie (as they are called in ice hockey) stopped a shot via a quick reaction with his leg. I heard those words in my head in the 67th minute. Oscar forced a save from Adrian from a set piece that resulted in a corner, which came to Matic. He deflected the ball with the outside of his right leg towards Adrian, who reacted like he had a nervous tick with his leg and kept the ball out.

Despite being down 2-0, and likely out of the game, one thing was more than just a little obvious since the substitutions. When Song is in the game, the midfield actually exists. And when the midfield exists, everything changes.

Last year, or should I say in the 19th century, West Ham came away from Stamford Bridge with that valuable point in no small part because of the number of times defenders threw themselves in front of cannon like shots on goal. That fact wasn’t lost on Winston Reid in the 72nd minute when Costa tried to play the role of provider instead of scorer when he fed Oscar in the box. His running shot slammed off of Reid, and that block likely prevented the score from being 3-0.

Two minutes later Sam made his final substitution when Amalfitano came on for Nol…..What?!?! Downing? My attempt to stay quiet on the issue of player selection ended less than two hours after it began. Downing had not been at his best, but he also was once again played in a wider position. Nolan, on the other hand, hadn’t shown he was able to offer much of anything in any position.

At least Sam got half of that final move correct, because the three finest attacking moments of the game from West Ham’s point of view all came from Morgan Amalfitano. In the 79th minute he and Song worked together to create a chance for Song but his shot went wide. In the 86th minute the roles reversed and Song crossed to Amalfitano whose header went just wide. Then, in added time, Amalfitano beat Cahill in the box and dinked a shot over Courtois that hit the post. I have no illusions that had that shot went in we would have gone on to find the equalizer. But had Amalfitano played a whole half? I just wonder.

Final Score. Chelsea 2, West Ham 0.

When my kids get their grades from school, there are two sets. One is the mark for the actual work, their knowledge of the subject matter. The other is for the effort they put in, regardless of how many questions they got right or wrong. I didn’t expect to win today. I would have like a draw, but didn’t expect that either. What I did expect was for West Ham to show Chelsea and the world watching the only EPL game available what has gotten them off to such a fine start. I don’t think we did that today, and even within the context of rotating the squad during this challenging period I think we could have done more. We had players in Amalfitano, Poyet, and Zarate that could at least try to create in the midfield and link up with the strikers. The final 15 minutes proved that. Which is why in many ways, apart from the result, this year’s visit to Chelsea was disappointing. We are a very solid team this year, and Sam is doing a terrific job. We could have had a go at them today. We had players available to ask them some questions.

Instead, the only questions I have are for Sam.


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