My seat right behind the left hand post was the perfect position from which to witness most of the key moments of a dramatic and memorable Saturday afternoon. I had a perfect view of Naughton’s unwise decision to surrender in front of Nolan’s shot, Noble’s incompetence from twelve yards and Eric Dier’s impeccable finish from Kane’s perfect through ball. I wasn’t in the best position to see much that happened elsewhere but apart from Hugo’s tremendous stop from Downing late on I’m not sure there was a whole lot and certainly not much that was good for us.
Any West Ham fans cynical of Big Fat Sam’s apparent agreement to play more attractive football this season would’ve been mumbling “told you so” after only a few minutes as the home team sat back waiting for something to happen in front of them. Unfortunately for us, very little did. We began by whisking the ball from side to side but there was little sign of penetration, instead Eriksen, Lamela and Lennon took it in turns to give the ball away and let the Hammers hit us on the break – exactly what they were hoping for of course.
Stuart Downing has spent years producing garbage in games against us but here he looked like a world beater as, with the help of O’Brien he bamboozled Danny Rose and crossed time and time again towards a luckily mostly inept Carlton Cole and Vaz Te who constantly were in space or able to win their battles with Kaboul and Dier. Rose was utterly ineffectual in his attempts to stop the ball coming in from his side and unless Davies was injured (and he was on the bench so I suspect he wasn’t) I’m at a loss to explain what he was doing on the field. He appears to have learned nothing since the summer, at least twice getting caught too far upfield and unable to defend balls played in behind him – it’s becoming his signature move. On the other side Naughton was doing his best to combine and overlap Lamela but the Argentine was eager to overdo things and, as I’ve said already, lose possession instead of keep it simple.
Before Naughton’s sending off it looked like we were going to concede any minute – bizarrely though things seemed to improve once he’d gone. Last season West Ham were the only team to fail to take us apart following us going down to ten men and so it was once more. The pressure on our goal seemed to noticeably drop once Capoue dropped into the back four and Eriksen moved alongside Bentaleb. Lamela and Lennon worked their socks off and we kept the home team mostly at arm’s length especially in the second half when the space that Downing had enjoyed in the first half was much reduced. It appeared to be much to our benefit that the home side weren’t expecting to spend so much time on the front foot and neither were the crowd judging by the total lack of noise coming from home fans.
On one of our few breaks forward Adebayor tempted Collins into his second rash challenge of the game and Foy showed him red (this time correctly – Naughton was very unlucky). Allardyce responded by moving the impressive Kouyate into the back four and Townsend and Holtby, who’d only just been sent on, made hay with the resultant extra space and we looked the more likely to score. Having said that, Lloris’s trademark speed off his line to get to Downing after he’d bundled through was the difference between defeat and ultimate victory.
The home fans in what’s left of the Chicken Run had just finished a presumably ironic chorus of “nil nil in your cup final” when Dier appeared from nowhere to take Kane’s perfect pass, round an overly committed Adrian, and slide the ball home with his left boot. Cue mayhem. By the time the game restarted the home stands were half empty, the remainder listening to endless rounds of “Yid-a-ho”.
So three points that looked very unlikely after half an hour. It was a poor showing though and the win shouldn’t be allowed to disguise that. Kaboul and Rose were rubbish with Eriksen, Lennon and Lamela only slightly better. Capoue was my personal man of the match; I think he did very well at centre half given the inexperience and incompetence alongside him. We looked lightweight almost everywhere. We’ve a long long way to go. Townsend may have played himself into next week’s side, Holtby too did well. I wonder how Dawson and Soldado are feeling knowing that they’re behind Dier and Kane in the pecking order now?
Still, that last two minutes was sensational. At least there’ll be no follow up West Ham Treble DVD this season. COYS.
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