Sheffield United 1-0 West Ham

Know how you feel Moyesie

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).

Know how you feel Lukasz

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.  

Peak West Ham

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.

Oh fuck off!

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.

West Ham 1-1 Sheffield United

THE contrast could not have been greater.

Watching on TV as England humbled the almighty All Blacks with a brilliant display of precision and power and coming away from the game breathless and exhilarated. Then later in the day trudging through the Stratford drizzle to see West Ham bumble and fumble their way to a lame draw against recently promoted Sheffield United.

Yes, they are different sports being played at quite different levels but if you aspire to be the best it must be worth adopting the processes that lead to being the best in all codes. There are parallels to be drawn, particularly as West Ham’s financial turnover is roughly equivalent to that of the RFU.

Ignore those telling you the boys with the red rose on their chest won because they showed “passion” (possibly one of the most overused and meaningless words in sport) and bellowed the National Anthem with gusto. England beat New Zealand because they analysed the opposition and sought weaknesses before putting in place a blueprint to exploit the flaws they found.

Coach Eddie Jones picked a team of individuals best suited to maintain discipline and carry out the game plan as the implemented individual skills to for the greater good. Most of all trusted they their defence, brilliantly organised by John Mitchell to hold out safe in the knowledge they had the players to hurt the Kiwis in attack.

It isn’t clear if Hammers manager Manuel Pellegrini uses statistical analysis to prepare his sides. Frankly, it’s doubtful; certainly, he never mentions it at pre or post-match pressers preferring to keep his comments as anodyne as possible and repeatedly speaking only of “big-team mentality” (heaven only knows what that means).

Team selection and formation against the Blades seemed capricious. Having struggled with a lack of midfield presence the Chilean decided to remedy the situation by playing Declan Rice on his own in a 4-1-4-1 formation(!) Andriy Yarmolenko and Felipe Anderson wide with Robert Snodgrass and Mark Noble given the job of supporting striker Sebastien Haller.

A not uncommon sight; West Ham six against six in defence

Arthur Masuaku, Ryan Fredericks, Angelo Ogbonna, Manuel Lanzini and Pablo Fornals were dropped from last week with Aaron Cresswell, Fabian Balbuena, Pablo Zabaleta, Robert Snodgrass and Yarmolenko coming in. Changing three-quarters of a back four seems odd, especially when the problems at Everton last week were further forward. Rather than a set of changes to improve the whole it appeared as though a frustrated and confused manager was punishing various players for heaven knows what. As a friend commented: “This is a team picked by Twitter”.

The system failed. The game plan had not been thought through. Without a tackler alongside him to break up play Rice was repeatedly outnumbered. Worse, the attack was a mess. Nobody was able to get alongside Haller, never mind advance in front of him leaving the Frenchman isolated and frustrated as he attempted to hold the ball up and play in … nobody. Meanwhile the wide men and fullbacks hit crosses in to … nobody.

Haller is an incredible striker with so many skills in his repertoire but the team are not playing to him. Pellegrini’s pre-match criticisms seemed both out of character and inappropriate. Without a second striker (given our lack of central midfield options we wouldn’t advocate 4-4-2) or better still a goalscoring midfielder coming from deep the former Eintracht Frankfurt player is wasted. Essentially Pellegrini is attempting to recreate the style he used at Manchester City without the individual skillsets.

The home side scored, as Pellegrini sides seem to, not through overwhelming the opposition but by a piece of brilliance – in this case a lovely cushioned volley from Yarmolenko that set Snodgrass away to finish calmly just before half-time. The Northerners equalised mid-way through the second half after two failed headed clearances by Issa Diop allowed an unmarked Lys Mousset to mishit his shot under a collapsing Roberto Jimenez in the West Ham goal. The rest of the game degenerated into sloppy pub football.

Once again we faced the drizzle.

It’s happening again

West Ham Vice Chair and OSB leader Karren Brady

West Ham’s Official Supporters Board, best considered an arm of the club’s commercial department, have been at it once more.

When it comes to ill-considered and embarrassing outbursts on social media, they are at least on a par with the club they represent.

Did we say “represent”?

Of course we did; any claim they look out for supporters was surely buried by yesterday’s Tweet, pictured here.

Nobody could trust such an organisation to look after fan interests so long as the OSB act as a shill for the club by promoting a sponsorship partner. They do not and cannot be seen as an honest broker between Hammers followers and the club.

Furthermore, tagging Sheffield United in the Tweet and thereby inviting Blades to become involved was at best a misjudgement, at worst could lead to serious trouble.

Yes, the internet is open to all but Saturday’s game is a grudge affair, the presence of away fans in home areas is a current and ongoing issue and assuming the tickets aren’t located in the Director’s Box it seems a poorly thought out effort to invite our opponents to participate.

Of course, we may be completely wrong and the OSB took a well-deserved break from antagonising their own fans in order to aim a sly dig at our friends from Yorkshire.

In which case we are less than pleased to remind you West Ham lost the pictured game 3-0.