Malcolm Dawson writes……….Pete Sixsmith is used to getting up early, what with next door but one’s dog to walk and the papers to deliver to the great and good of Shildon, so catching the coach to West Ham was no hardship. Watching the match might have been but for 94 minutes it looked like he could have been celebrating a 50 per cent improvement in our points total on the long journey home. That he wasn’t isn’t a novelty, but still he goes along most weeks to bring you his insightful views of how the Lads performed. Here’s what he rattled off before journeying forth to take in the Under 23s’ match this lunchtime.
Another weekend, another refusal to read the sports pages, watch Match of the Day (despite a desire to show solidarity with Comrade Lineker) and be even grumpier than usual. The games are stacking up – the points aren’t.
This one was an unfortunate way to lose, but it is the third time we have lost in the last minute this season and the fourth time we have conceded a late goal. That’s not unfortunate. That smacks of a team that is not good enough and of managerial decisions that are proving to be catastrophic.
We had defended well after a shaky (in that the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD was shaky) start but for the last fifteen minutes we were pushed back and sat far too deep by a West Ham side who seemed to have but one tactic, i.e. give the ball to Payet and hope that he can do something special or failing that (and he did), fall down inside or outside the penalty box and hope that the referee will buy it.
The goal came when every Sunderland player was defending deep. A corner was not cleared, the ball fell to Winston Reid and despite the vain attempts of John O’Shea and Jermain Defoe to close him down, his shot travelled through a forest of legs and into the corner of the net.
And that was it. Robert Madley blew his whistle. The over loud refrain of the world’s most tedious footballing song was blasted out of the (very) loud speaker system and we had lost again.
There may have been a Hammer’s player standing in an offside position and that may have affected Pickford’s sighting of the shot but the point was that for the last fifteen minutes we dropped far too deep against a home team who do not seem to relish playing at their new stadium. Sometimes you have to take a risk and go for it. We didn’t.
We had survived a scary opening twenty minutes where West Ham played with pace and verve. Most of their attacks came through Dimitri Payet and he showed what good control and balance he has, with one mazy run which the excellent Pickford stopped with his legs. There were other last ditch tackles as we grimly hung on and had there been an effective striker in claret and blue instead of Zaza, we would have been down and out before 3.20.
But there wasn’t and we climbed back into the game and began to push forward, helped by a towering performance by Lamine Kone at the back. His mind set this week was probably something along the lines of “If I am going to get out of here in January, I need to show prospective clubs that I can play a bit.” He did.
There were a couple of half chances before the break but the big one came just after, when defending of the like we have seen far too often by the lads in red and white this season, allowed the industrious Wahbi Khazri to bear down on goal. He needed to put it to the right of Adrian as the keeper was balanced to go left. Instead he went for the left corner resulting in a fine save and the failure to convert our only clear cut chance of the game.
We had a shape and kept it better than we had at Stoke. Manquillo looked much better, tackled well and read the game, while Van Aanholt settled after an opening twenty minutes when he was all over the place. Both O’Shea and Kone looked safe in the middle although they will not come up against a player as feeble as Zaza very often in this league.
Once again though, the midfield consistently gave the ball away. Time after time a promising move was spoiled by a careless final pass from Watmore, Ndong, Rodwell or Pienaar. All of them made positive contributions but the failure to pick out a telling pass or not to run into defenders is a major weakness. Ndong started well but he tires easily and when that happens he drops back too much. He does not look a snip at £13.5m at the moment and he needs to show more authority in that crucial central role.
Pienaar and Rodwell would be good players if they could go back five years and have solid men like Osman around them. As it is neither are quick enough nor sharp enough to dominate a midfield. Both are ultimately hugely disappointing.
Khazri had a busy game and looked as if he too had a point to prove. Watmore still runs with his head down and does not supply enough high quality crosses or shots on goal.
Then we have the substitutions. It is an art getting it right. Allardyce was castigated at Southampton last season for taking off Kirchhoff and replacing him with O’Shea in an attempt to run down the clock as we held on to a 1-0 lead. In the time added on for that Southampton equalised and we trudged home thinking we were doomed.
Yesterday Moyes replaced Khazri with Jones in an attempt to run the clock down and bolster the defence. It didn’t work. Jones did nothing wrong but those few seconds appeared to give West Ham one last puff of second wind and they came at us. Result – Reid’s goal and deflation in the visitors’ end.
Had they not scored we would have been celebrating a hard earned point that would have kept us just about in touch with those above us. As it stands it is beginning to look like Wearside and Humberside are going to become detached from the rest.
The stadium is the best athletics stadium I have been in – far better than Gateshead. As a football ground it is good rather than great. The environs are fine and the Aquatic Centre is a genuinely beautiful piece of architecture. Not so the dreadful sculpture which reminds me of something I saw when I visited the Exhibition of Economic Achievements in Moscow in 1975.
It was also good of a (very) small minority of West Ham fans to remind me of those days when they started scuffles around the coaches after the game.
Arsenal arrive at the Stadium next week and chances are that they will not be as blunt as West Ham were. We need better ball retention, more incisive passing, greater concentration in defence and an attacking option if we are chasing a game.
Not much to ask for there then.