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.

Southampton 0-1 West Ham

Where does it go from here
Is it down to the lake I fear?

Haircut 100 – Love Plus One
Haller and Snodgrass celebrate

WEST HAM manager Manuel Pellegrini won the game he required to stay in a job. The rules are less than clear but presumably the Hammers’ next fixture, away to Crystal Palace on Boxing Day is also a “must win” game for the boss. If so, the club Board have merely pushed the day of reckoning forward a week or so and have most likely narrowed the pool of available replacements.

The problem with ultimatums of this type are that although the Hammers were victorious at St Mary’s all the win proved was how badly the Chilean has been managing the club the rest of the season. To get a result yesterday he pretty much tore up all the tenets of the “Pelle-ball” he has been arrogantly insisting upon – and demonstrated very clearly his method is not suitable for a club of our mid-table standing.

Even after the team were humiliated at home by the poorest Arsenal side many have seen, Pellegrini insisted the fault was with the players’ lack of “big team mentality”, code for attacking the opposition all game. Yet against the Saints that fiction was scrapped in favour of vigorously defending a lead by shutting down midfield and insisting on wingers having a role protecting the back four.

No penalty given

The Irons boss was helped in his endeavours by some real luck with injuries; Aaron Cresswell returned from a knock to replace the useless Arthur Masuaku at left-back. Perhaps of greater fortune was a tweak sustained by wide-man Felipe Anderson in training on Friday. This blog was highly critical of the Brazilian’s defensive commitment against the Gunners and a resurgent Pablo Fornals (now starting to look like the £24million player signed over the summer) showed far greater acumen without the ball.

It may well be the manager was going to drop Anderson anyway but credit must be given for altering the formation to face up to Southampton’s terrible home record (won two, scored just nine times in eight games and conceded 24). For all the romantics may wish to believe Pelle reverted to a favoured 4-2-2-2 formation, the reality is against the Saints he opted for a bog standard 4-4-2. A warning ahead of time: The set up will not be suitable for many other occasions and will never allow for the selection of either Anderson or Andriy Yarmolenko (a reported combined £54m worth of talent) due to their laissez-faire attitude towards defending.

The formation meant the Hammers were forced into moving the ball forward much more quickly than is customary as well as promoting crosses into the opposition penalty area. The fruitless tippy-tappy football 25 yards from goal was gone as Michail Antonio set about terrorising Saints’ backline with his pace and power. The England international also proved the perfect foil for striker Sebastien Haller, whose lack of a strike partner has been accommodated with all the joy of an unannounced visit from the Trump family.

The French international is said to want away from the claret and blue because of his disgust with the manager. Yet he saved the latter’s bacon with the same attached irony of Diafra Sakho scoring a late winner against Swansea to rescue Slaven Bilic’s career. Telling was Haller’s dash to celebrate with Issa Diop on the substitutes bench. There is said to be a group of players including, but not limited to, the non-English/Spanish-speaking players at West Ham who want the manager gone – something the big striker’s embrace of his compatriot further emphasised. Pellegrini stood watching much as Unite the Union leader Len McCluskey would have greeted Thursday night’s exit poll – there was a party going on – but he wasn’t part of it.

Clear handball by Antonio

Two things remain to be said: The performance from referee Martin Atkinson and his back up VAR team under Jonathan Moss were well below par. Even if Antonio’s disallowed goal did look a clear handball, the man in, er, yellow consistently penalised the Hammers man merely for being stronger than his opponents. A first-half incident when both Antonio and Haller appeared to be impeded by Southampton defenders following Cresswell’s cross was first bottled by Atkinson, then the officials at Stockley Park. This seemed exactly the sort of decision VAR was brought in to adjudicate upon. Unless and until refs have pitch-side monitors this evasion of responsibility by all parties will continue.

Having finally taken a pragmatic approach to team selection Pellegrini’s substitutions were worse than puzzling. Yarmolenko for Robert Snodgrass and the woeful Carlos Sanchez for Haller were misjudged and gave an initiative to Southampton they very nearly grasped. Diop for the fading Mark Noble only emphasised how the skipper can barely manage 90 minutes these days.

So here we are, another game gone and nothing resolved. Pellegrini hangs on, the players mistrustful and fans underwhelmed. Quite what does it need for our wretched Board of Directors to take accountability for the mess the club is in?

VAR from the madding crowd

JUST as some West Ham fans are prematurely writing off £24million summer signing Pablo Fornals, we believe the Video Assistant Referee should be given time to flourish. That is not to say the system isn’t without its faults. VAR has been brought into the Premier League too quickly, without full assessment and minus any thought for us, the supporters who pay for the privilege of attending games.

Nevertheless, we believe if implemented properly we might see the twin benefits of a reduction in big-team bias, a feature of top-flight football ever since we’ve been watching, as well as a welcome reduction in referee error, leading to a fairer game for everybody. Those of us who prefer consistency to “common sense” in officiating would benefit.

First a description of how the system works: Administered from Stockley Park in West London VAR is concerned with four areas only; goal/no goal, penalty/no penalty, red cards and mistaken identity. A referee, assistant and Hawkeye operator are in communication with officials at the ground.

The criticism falls broadly into two camps: The information given to supporters and the way it is implemented. We see no reason why the decision under consideration shouldn’t be more clearly explained – a retaken penalty in the first game of the season against Manchester City was handled farcically with few people in the stadium aware of what was happening.

Big screens (except at Old Trafford and Anfield where none exist) have the capacity for far more information than at present. An audio feed from the referee would surely help. Replays of the incident under review are routinely played on television. There is no good argument for match-going fans receiving less information, especially as the vast proportion will be in possession of a smartphone. Any suggestion crowds might be “incited” by being better informed is ludicrous.

It is useful to compare the use of VAR with rugby union’s Television Match Official – a sport where initial scepticism has matured towards an understanding and appreciation of the usefulness of a video referee.

In rugby, the referee will make an on-field decision and ask the television match offical (TMO) whether it is correct. If an official is doubtful over an event they ask the TMO something like: “Is there any reason why I can’t award the try?”

In football, the only time this seems to apply is for offside and only after a “goal” has been scored. When it comes to penalties and red cards, VAR only comes into play when there is a “clear and obvious error” – a subjective criterion which has created a reluctance for VAR to get involved.

The different use of replays creates an unequal balance in the relationship between officials. In rugby they seem to work as a team whereas the football referee is at the behest of his colleagues in the box – something FIFA were keen to avoid (“The referee is the sole judge of fact in law”). Rugby fans’ awareness of why, say, a try is disallowed and being able to follow that decision via a miked-up referee and replays on screens seems to enhance their experience, with the bonus of correct decisions being reached.

It is with a wry smile we recall one of the big pre-launch arguments (and one we never subscribed to) was VAR will “Kill post-match argument around decisions”.