Do not despair

If this picture* – no prizes for guessing when it was taken – captured our only moment of joy at West Ham, there would be no reason NOT to despair.

Losing 3-1 to a very average team at this stage of the season, with so few points chalked up, would normally inspire deep misgivings about the months to come.

But we know, and this is a view that must be shared by all neutrals in the watching world, that the game ought to have ended with not one but three points to Sunderland. If West Ham continue to enjoy the sort of luck they had on Sunday, they can look forward to qualifying for European competition.

We outclassed them for large parts of the game, especially in the second half, and if Kenwyne Jones’s outstanding performance had been blessed with more composed finishing, an away win would have been assured by the time Craig Gordon’s foot gave the Hammers their thoroughly undeserved 2-1 lead.

Most of the people at the expats’ club where I saw the game in Abu Dhabi had eyes glued to other screens showing Lewis Hamilton’s unsuccessful attempt to land the Formula 1 championship. Much as I may respect the drivers’ skills and courage, motor racing isn’t even a sport in my book, more an industrial exhibition.

And the few club members watching West Ham v Sunderland also saw an exhibition of sorts, with an unfancied away team producing bright and attractive attacking football that merited better returns than valiant defeat.

That is why I am not in abject despair today. We cannot play like that on a regular basis and fail to get proper rewards in terms of points.

In Jones, we have a player who threatens to be a matchwinner over and again. Miller’s midfield play gets stronger and classier. But on Sunday, we again conceded stupid, sloppy goals and the defence needs urgent attention.

Poor Halford had an atrocious first half, with his miscued passing and dangerously ponderous clearances, and not even a marked improvement in the second half, especially going forward, suggested he is anywhere near to cutting it at Premiership level. There was an air of menace each time the Hammers attacked our flanks, and despite the plaudits he has received elsewhere, Nosworthy did not strike me as commanding enough in the middle.

These are issues that Roy Keane must address, and quickly. In the meantime, however, I am content to take heart from the hope that we will never again this season play as well and lose.

* Credit to my colleague Laura Koot for recording Salut! Sunderland‘s dignified and restrained reaction to Kenwyne Jones’s headed goal. She’s Canadian, and therefore has a patchy appreciation of football, but her camera was poised from the moment we won the corner and I announced that our equaliser was imminent

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