THE furore over a late equaliser ruled out by the Video Assistant Referee should not be allowed to detract from the huge shortcomings in the West Ham squad. Robert Snodgrass’ injury time shot that cannoned into the Sheffield United goal off a post was disallowed after consultation with VAR for a “handball” in build-up play by Declan Rice. Even if Hammers fans will be smarting over a point denied, the reality is trouble is brewing that needs to be sorted out within this transfer window.
Manager David Moyes started the game with three youth team players on the bench, a 34-year-old Pablo Zabaleta at right wingback and the 32-year old legs of Mark Noble expected to provide the running in midfield. One win (against an injury-hit Bournemouth) appears to have persuaded Chairman David Sullivan his club weren’t “really” in a relegation scrap. Quite likely he’s already assured himself he isn’t one of the most parsimonious Chairmen in the game.
Furthermore, with all the tactical acumen of Lord Cardigan ordering the Light Brigade to fling themselves on the mercy of the massed guns of the Russian army, Sullivan decided immediately following the busy Christmas period would be a really good time to ignore football reality and convince his head coach to throw all his chips on a cup run. Injuries followed with all the predictability of David Gold appearing on Twitter following a rare win.
From an already unbalanced and paper-thin squad West Ham were already missing Michail Antonio, Ryan Fredericks and Andriy Yarmolenko (all hamstring), Albian Ajeti (note from his mother), Carlos Sanchez (the shits – not his stomach – but playing style) along with long-term absentees; Winston Reid (attempting to grow a leg back following amputation) and Jack Wilshere (green monkey fever).
Add to which Lukasz Fabianski (thigh) and Felipe Anderson (back – reports of a lack of spine are unconfirmed) hurt themselves during the game. The remaining players will no doubt be forced to play on with minor niggles ensuring that what started as a manageable injury list grows exponentially.
Moyes has come into the job without a backroom team. As well as a box-to-box midfielder, a full-back and a striker on the playing staff, he desperately needs to get himself an injury prevention team. In that regard it was interesting to witness before the second half Blades players were warming up with short sprints. It might also be worth looking at why two of his goalkeepers were injured in the same way on three occasions this season.
On the pitch old failings dominated. A Mark Noble-shaped hole in midfield was the only evidence the skipper was playing, while in support of striker Sebastien Haller, Anderson and Manuel Lanzini were frankly dreadful and provided little support. The Argentinean hasn’t looked a patch on his old pre-injury self and was largely anonymous in a creative role. Given a golden chance to equalise he failed to square the ball to unmarked Haller and messed the shot up himself.
Anderson is the most frustrating player. If Arsenal’s Mezut Ozil has been described as “A cat tiptoeing around the game”, so Anderson more closely resembles a fat Tom disturbed from his rest by the clanging of dustbins. Good players buy themselves time, make the game look easy and make good decisions. The Brazilian plays not to the “Samba beat” of repute but chases about with little purpose and less end product. A free-jazz footballer if you will, he is devoid of any on-pitch intelligence.
Finally, it needs to be said loud and clear, VAR is not in itself a problem – but the idiotic implementation is. The whole point of the thing was to clear up obvious errors by match officials – instead of which fans are seeing more.
Who in the name of holy fuck thought it a good idea accidental handball should suddenly transform into a deliberate act only when a goal is conceded? No referee in the country would have adjudged Rice to have handled live – but up step the halfwits at Stockley Park to decide otherwise and reinforce their growing reputation as the kind of jobsworths that don traffic warden apparel or work on security in the Co-op. Who would bet against them wearing hi-viz during game time?
When the powers that be decided a player’s armpit or toe could be offside had they never realised that when the margin of error becomes that tiny, it might be a good idea to follow the lead of cricket and have a football equivalent of umpire’s call? Instead of which the technology, implementation and interpretation are all effectively being trialled in the richest, most watched league in the world.
Worse, us paying fans must endure it.