After some decent displays on the road which have yielded minimal gains, the first of three home games on the spin against sides from below stairs in the table commenced with the visit of West Ham.
The Hammers have been on the wrong end of some inexplicably bad tonkings at L4 down the years – even conceding a 5 and a 6 under the coma inducing pragmatism of Walter and Archie.
Serving up a monster webbing to the Hammers was distinctly unlikely given our recent profligacy in front of goal combined with our visitor’s key strengths lying at the back. Allardyce’s mob have kept more clean sheets than any other team in the League (13) including four shut outs in their last five – four of which they secured wins in despite an average possession share of just 36%.
Clean sheets, second balls and territory are Big Sam’s currency and swinging in crosses from Downing and Jarvis on the flanks are central to his evil plot. You always get the sense with the league’s benchmark food trough extractor that even if he found a few hundred million in his oversized pantry he’d probably still play the role of the stubborn underdog.
He is also a keen advocate of ‘teck-nolo- geh’ although prefers to use his prozone data for the purposes of evil, like knowing the most effective position on the pitch to volley Pienaar up the arse – a tactic the slack jowelled misery has used repeatedly down the years. You could well imagine him and his golfing oiks Moyes and Coyle at the back row of the LMA conference shouting ‘gimp’ and flicking bogies whilst blue sky self facilitating media nodes like Martinez and Brenny deliver their end of term seminar on ‘The power of visions in the post modern epl’. Anyway, I’m going way of subject here.
West Ham dodged a bullet with Traore and with the freakish lunk seemingly dead and Lukaku – who got the winner in the return fixture from the bench – only fit for the bench, Naismith kept his place at 9. At the back, Stones came in for Jagielka. Managing expectations specialist Allardyce named an unchanged line-up for the fourth game on the spin with Jack Fulton tinned burger loving fiend Kevin Nolan ensconced behind Carlton cole in a 4-2-3-1 ish setup.
1st Half / West Ham Approach
It’s hard to imagine someone who represents the antithesis of the Hammers style more than the rotund misery guts of ‘Big Sam’. Noble, a decent ball player, was predominantly tasked with picking up Barry when Howard got the ball to prevent him playing through into midfield – a tactic which worked as Barry didn’t receive once from Howard.
Despite us having a plethora of shots (22 in total) most where wayward and it’s easy to see how our visitor’s collate so many clean sheets such is the amount of bodies they get between the ball and their keeper.
A reluctance to not compromise their shape meant they created virtually nothing in open play and mustered just one shot on target in the entire game – that coming from a long shot. With the emphasis clearly on not being caught out numbers wise the Hammers committed minimal numbers forward meaning Carroll was an isolated figure for the most part. Our visitors top passing combination was the keeper to Carroll – who played only 60 mins – and it was indicative of a flawed approach based around containment and territory.
The gargantuan geordie is a colossal threat though, and one that Barry and McCarthy supported the back four with superbly when the ball was punted downfield in the general area of John Stones. Gareth Barry won all 8 of his headers and competed superbly in the air whilst McCarthy was adept positionally in picking up the loose second balls – winning 6 – which was more than any of his teammates.
What changed in the second half?
It’s all well and good moaning about negative tactics from the opposition, but being able to find a way through such well organised defences is something we need to become better at doing.
Given the way we play i.e the ‘death by a thousand cuts’ approach of controlling games and wearing opponents down, we are always going to come on stronger in the second period of games. This is shown by the fact that 21 of our last 29 league goals have come in the second half of games and so it proved again here.
It’s perhaps stating the bleeding obvious but getting Baines into the game more in the second period was crucial. In the first half he was fairly peripheral, creating minimal and a victim of the ball tending to sway more to the right flank which would invariably culminate in a Deulofeu dribble or shot. The Spaniard did ok with Pienaar his main support passes wise, particularly with one mazy run that turned Collins in knots but overall he was well shackled by the competent McCartney.
In the second period the amount of passes from Pienaar to Baines more than doubled and this enabled Baines to make the most attacking third passes from either side in the second period which led to him creating 5 chances from open play after the break – more than West Ham fashioned in the 90 minutes. The duo fashioned two good openings just after the break, with Downing switching off in front of Demel enabling Pienaar two decent chances, both of which he should have scored from.
The introduction of Lukaku was an added tonic given that our delightful approach work has been undermined since the turn of the year by bluntness at the sharp end of the pitch. When Pienaar found Baines on 81 mns the wing back was able to pick out Lukaku who would slot for his first goal in ages. It was also Baines first assist of the season. West Ham’s defence – which had been ruthless all afternoon – where guilty here of defending too deep with Collins and Tomkins leaving Lukaku far too much space in the area to pick his spot.
This was one of the more insipid games we’ve seen at Goodison all season and the Hammers were even less adventurous than the inexplicably negative Aston Villa. Whether it be the six pint pre match haul in the newly refurbished Winslow or ‘other factors’, for large periods the game seemed to drift with virtually nothing happening as we went from flank to flank in search of picking a hole in a well organised defence.
Despite not being on top of their game the Blues had enough players who were ‘at it’, no more so than the driving force of McCarthy who week in week out delivers the great combination of regaining possession and moving it onto the more attacking minded players, and his application was again a key factor in the win.
In summary this was a deserved win achieved in difficult circumstances against a stubborn opponent and sets us up nicely for an altogether different proposition next week at Arsenal.