David Hautzig's Match Report
“We’ll smash them”.
Those were the words, via text, from none other than Nigel Kahn. I disagreed, arguing that Fulham had actually looked decent in the second half last weekend against Manchester United. Ranieri had added a little spark. And we are who we are. Winning four in a row seemed unthinkable. Yet the pundits on various podcasts agreed with Shedman, pointing out that the West Londoners don’t score many goals and concede a horrifying number of them. We didn’t smash them. Not even close. But in the end, Nigel was more right than wrong.
The first opportunity of the match came in the sixth minute when Masuaku did what he should do as often as possible and get forward. He won a corner, but Snodgrass didn’t do what he should always do when taking a corner and that’s beat the first man. He wouldn’t have beaten said man even if he were three feet tall. A few minutes later, Schurrle tried a long range effort that didn’t miss by much. Moments later, Mitrovic timed a perfectly weighted pass to Kamara in the box. With only Fabianski to beat, the West Ham keeper got his right hand down to deny the French international. Without that stop, the day could have ended quite differently.
Fifteen minutes into the opening half, West Ham looked to be on the path to another Brighton or Huddersfield away. But then Noble, riding the wave of more premature reports of his demise, sent a terrific pass down the left to Anderson. Showing his new toughness, he fought off Odoi and marched towards goal. Once the Fulham defense committed, he sent a pass with the outside of his right foot to Snodgrass near the top of the eighteen yard box. A quick look up followed by a curling left footed shot and West Ham took the lead.
West Ham 1
Fulham should have leveled in the 26th minute when Kamara got control of a bouncing ball inside the West Ham eighteen yard box. He sent a looping ball towards goal, and while every West Ham defender took a nap Mitrovic came streaking towards goal. He was alone when he got his head on the ball, but his effort went wide. Moments later Kamara got his noggin on the end of a cross but it was slightly behind him so he couldn’t get much power behind it and Fabianski made the save down to his left. Kamara had another chance a minute later, but his hard shot was right at the West Ham keeper.
How many times have we experienced West Ham having half chances galore, mixed in with a couple of very good chances, only to rue those opportunities later. So to have the shoe on the other foot felt odd. In the 28th minute, it felt incredible. Anderson once again started it all with a pass from the left to Hernandez. Lil Pea, who was a doubt for today in some circles, flicked the ball to Antonio all alone in front of Rico. With a calm and cool that sometimes eludes him, he rolled the ball into the back of the Fulham net.
West Ham 2
Fulham kept pressing, and in the final minute of added time Schurrle had yet another look at goal from around twenty yards out. Again, it went wide. Then they moved forward after a truly horrible giveaway by Noble near the center circle, but West Ham got back in numbers and thwarted the attack.
Despite the lead, it could be argued that West Ham had done very little to deserve the advantage. The Hammers only had three shots, and scored on two. Fulham had plenty of chances, 13 to be exact, and for whatever reason the West Ham defense looked somewhat disorganized. I hoped Pellegrini would talk more about that at halftime than the two goals.
West Ham 2
Fulham started the second half the way they played the opening forty-five. On the front foot. Mitrovic headed a ball towards Fabianski, and Seri tried to beat the West Ham keeper to the ball. The two goal lead was safe when Fabianski gathered the ball and hugged it tight. Moments later Cairney and Christie combined on a one-two, but nobody was there to bury the chance right in front of goal.
Fulham kept asking questions, and in the 60th minute won a corner after Zabaleta made a very good sliding tackle to clear the ball behind the West Ham goal. The set piece found its way to the skull of Mitrovic, who headed it down into Balbuena’s chest. There were shouts of hand ball, but Mike Dean had none of it. Without a red card to show to the world and it’s cameras, Dean isn’t that interested to be fair.
The 67th minute had more Fulham when Cairney danced into the West Ham box and forced Balbuena to slide in and send the ball out for a corner. The delivery was very poor, and West Ham cleared. The Hammers then had a nice period of possession, with Anderson the standout player. Yet for all of the passing, West Ham couldn’t muster a single shot.
But the clock kept moving.
When Andy Carroll came on, West Ham lined up for a free kick. Snodgrass whipped it into the box but Cairney headed it over the bar for a corner. Then, with the big man in the box, Snodgrass took the corner short to Masuaku, who then passed it to the guy four rows back texting with his mates on where to grab a drink and warm up after the final whistle. AC gave a look which I kind of understood. He’s in the box. He’s a target. That’s what he’s there for. What are you doing?
In the 86th minute, when the wind literally took the ball from Obiang and gave Fulham a throw, something dawned on me. I hadn’t written a word in a long time. We were just seeing the match out in a reasonably professional way. Anderson and Carroll broke on a counter, then Diangana showed his confidence with some nifty footwork and won a free kick. It was all fairly….normal.
West Ham 2
Pellegrini has said repeatedly that he wants West Ham to think and play like a “big club”. I don’t necessarily think we are there yet, and who knows if we ever will be. But the last time we won four in a row it capped off with a win at home against Norwich. A late header by Ginge, then a deflected shot by Diame. We went to tenth in the table and I was relieved as hell. Today we are ninth, and relief isn’t the current state. It’s more curious. Next week, I will be at The London Stadium with my wife and two kids. I kind of expect to win. What does all of this mean? Are we really moving towards a slightly better existence? Can we enjoy football while looking up the table rather than fear it looking down? Time will tell.
But the signs are positive.