And to think our reward is three games against Chelsea in less than three weeks’ time. But this was an expected result and game, even if the particulars might have been somewhat surprising. If Antonio plays it’s probably pens or worse, but so be it. We defended well when we had to; survived a colossal error by formerly dependable Dier; saw our captain come up big; and scored from unlikely but, on this night, deserving combinations.
I’ll start with the selection, which revolves around two basic facts. First is that Tanganga and particularly Rodon are not to be trusted. They will play v Morecambe—but that may be it and at least one of them is probably headed elsewhere in January. Second that a Skipp-Hojbjerg central midfield, which seemed inevitable a week ago, offers some things that Winks and Tanguy do not (as does Lucas vis-à-vis Dele) but also can’t produce some things Tanguy and Winks can. Hojbjerg to his credit played a big part of the first goal and Skipp defended brilliantly a few times. But generally they are not the duo that will flip the field, attack with gusto and ping accurate passes ahead to our forwards. I think this may be a mix-and-match for Conte at least through the festive period and these two Chelsea cup games—then we shall see who stays, who arrives, and who is trusted going forward.
As for the forwards, I can’t criticise either Bergwijn or Lucas since the Dutch treat contributed to both goals, particularly his own when he held the ball up, swung it to Hojbjerg and then was in perfect position for a finish. Lucas had a couple of typical 1 v 4 moments, but he sent a brilliant through ball to Kane that nearly produced a goal and he was in perfect position for the winner. They each outshone Kane (frustrating night again—some very good play but a couple of selfish possessions when a smarter move could have created a real threat) and particularly Son (a terrible heavy touch on what was his best chance and should have been a goal)—and since those latter two will get the vast majority of the minutes, it’s nice to know Conte has other options. Reguilon was fine down the left—he and Davies were not as effective as they have been, but maybe that’s because we seem to be becoming a right-handed team—with at least two-thirds of our attack going down the right flank—maybe if and when Gio begins to play again we can mix that up. Doherty, I thought generally impressed—nothing spectacular but several good crosses, nice possession, and he defended fairly well when called to.
And Lloris was magnificent. Three similar saves in the first half where the outstretched hand just barely got there to tip the ball over the bar. And perhaps his best play, anticipating Bowen’s possession in time to deflect the ball away before the Hammers’ biggest threat all night had a chance to tee up what would have been an equalising goal. I hope and trust the contractual situation will be ironed out—I’d like Hugo to stay at least another couple of years- and six months ago I thought something entirely different.
All in all, it was closely fought as nearly all games with the Hammers have been in recent years. We nicked it because we finished better than they did, and perhaps more importantly, defended a bit better than they did. But the pressure in the second half was constant, and our counters weren’t as lethal as they could/should have been. But this team is growing in confidence. Haven’t lost to a Premier League since Conte arrived, let’s hope we can still say that by the time the Morecambe fixture rolls around.
Have something to tell us about this article?