David Hautzig's Match Report
I normally don’t give a damn what Lawro says. He does seem to have fun poking us on social media by virtually always predicting us to lose. Which he did again for today, pegging us for a 2-0 loss. But Newcastle are on a good run of form, playing three up front and looking energetic. Not necessarily a Rafa Benitez signature style of play. If we stayed as organized and resilient as we did on Wednesday, I don’t know why Newcastle would score more than Manchester City. Yet that would be boring, and at home against a side below us in the table that might not please the natives. Put that all together and I can’t say I sat down to watch today with a great deal of confidence. By the final whistle, I was calmly optimistic.
The opening minutes of the match were about West Ham possession, with good interplay between Snodgrass and Fredericks. In the 7th minute, Noble won a corner and Snodgrass, in many ways the player I admire most because of the class he has shown in a truly classless environment around him, stepped up to take it. From a delivery standpoint, the born again Scottish international is about as good as we have had in a long time. Including you know who. Of his 18 career assists in the EPL, 11 have come from set pieces. He whipped the set piece in, and Rice was there to head it into the back of the net.
West Ham 1
The visitors looked to get on the front foot for an equalizer, and in the 17th minute won a free kick from just outside the West Ham eighteen yard box after Ritchie was pulled down by Snodgrass. But the duo of Diop and Ogbonna held firm.
Midway through the opening half I realized I had barely written a word. It wasn’t like nothing happened. But nothing seemingly did. Both sides worked the ball around but rarely got it anywhere near either keeper. I’d have probably signed up for that until the final whistle, as my anxiety over this club persists.
With his call up to Brazil, I was hoping to see a strong performance from Anderson. With no goals in nine games he was due. But the enigmatic midfielder ran into brick wall after brick wall, with a successful pass nowhere in sight. In the 30th minute he had two passes intercepted within seconds of each other, both times stopping what could have been a useful attack. Moments later West Ham had what was their best “chance” since the Rice opener when Snodgrass tried to loop a pass over the Newcastle defense into the box but it was just a bit too high for the not particularly tall Lanzini.
The Hammers won a free kick in the 37th minute when Anderson decided to run into the brick wall as opposed to passing into it. Lanzini put it right into the Newcastle wall, (yes, I’ve used the word “wall” too many times but I’m knackered.), yet the ball came back to Lanzini, giving him a chance at redemption. However his cross was too high for anyone in the box.
Minutes later, after a yellow card to Longstaff for a challenge on Snodgrass, Anderson sent the set piece into the box for Hernandez. After a quick move to his left, he was taken down by a clumsy challenge from Lejeune. It’s the type of movement inside the area that can make him so valuable. Obvious penalties for us don’t always result in actual penalties for us. So I was pleasantly surprised to see the referee point to the spot. Noble stepped up and drilled it into the top corner.
West Ham 2
As first half added time wound down, Newcastle earned themselves two corners. The lead up to the second one could have been a far scarier for West Ham. Diop’s clearance of the first came back into the right side of the box. The ball landed at the feet of Schar. With a good look at goal and Sonny Bono nowhere to be found, Diop made a truly goal saving tackle. Masuaku, who replaced the injured Cresswell, headed the ball out of danger off the corner and the whistle blew.
West Ham 2
The visitors started the second half brightly, with Ayoze Perez getting behind the West Ham back line and into the box. He sent a low ball across the face of goal and if either Rondon or Almiron had been one step closer it would have been an easy tap in. Instead it rolled out for a goal kick. Five minutes later, after showing a more aggressive press, Newcastle won a corner but again the West Ham defense held firm. Minutes later Rondon was able to turn in the box and get their first shot on target of the match, but Fabianski made the easy save.
Ryan Fredericks made a very slow start to his West Ham career, which only got worse with an injury that kept him out for a few months. But he has looked quite good of late, including a MOTM performance at Manchester City the other night. In the 60th minute he showed what he can bring to the table with a bursting run down the right. His ball into the box was excellent, but Hernandez couldn’t stretch quite enough to get a shot on target. Seconds later it was Masuaku who put an equally delightful ball into the area that Hernandez reached but the angle was too tight to challenge Dubravka.
There’s an old saying from a baseball pitcher here named Lefty Gomez; “I’d rather be lucky than good”. In the 72nd minute, Masuaku may have embodied that when a long ball found Rondon in the box. His header headed back across the face of goal, and it might have gone in had it not hit the face of Masuaku instead. Newcastle were awarded the corner, but West Ham handled it without incident.
Newcastle had a strong chance to cut the lead in half in the 82nd minute when Atsu broke down the left and sent a low pass to Rondon in the box. But Ogbonna took his turn to play defensive hero and made a superb, goal denying tackle. Minutes later Diop was booked for a challenge on Ayoze Perez, giving Newcastle a free kick from 25 yards out. Rondon took it and beat Fabianski, but he couldn’t beat the woodwork and the clean sheet remained intact.
In added time, Newcastle had a number of chances in the box as the ball bounced around like a pinball machine. Newcastle shot, West Ham blocked. Newcastle shot again, West Ham blocked again. It felt like it happened a dozen times, although I doubt it was more than three.
West Ham 2
Billy Bonds deserved a win today. And thankfully the football universe saw fit to let that happen. While West Ham weren’t earth shattering, we were professional, organized, and took our chances. On a day like this, life in Stratford looks just fine. It was the first time we have gone five matches in our new surroundings without a loss. With a run of games against teams we should be confident against, we might just make 7th place something we can achieve.