Thursday, 29 January 2009

West Ham v Hull (John Simkin)

Francis Bacon once said that “hope is a good breakfast, but a bad supper”. After the game Zola and Clarke went into a two-man huddle and had a quiet chat. There was a look of satisfaction on their faces and it would seem that they are gradually producing a team that should provide a diet of success for the long-suffering Upton Park fans.

After the loss of Bellamy we feared the worse as he appeared to be at the heart of what was best about West Ham as an attacking force. On his performances up to then, David Di Michele did not seem to be an adequate replacement for Bellamy. However, in the last three games this Italian has been a revelation. He is clearly a much fitter player than he was when he first came to the club and he is now willing to do his fair share of running-back. The presence of Savio Nsereko on the bench clearly helped to motivate him and he had his best ever game for the club.

Di Michele and Cole caused the Hull defenders problems all night. After the game Phil Brown claimed that “the front two were the difference between the two sides.” Brown might want to believe this but in reality West Ham were better than Hull all over the pitch.

West Ham had three good opportunities to take the lead before Di Michele curled a lovely shot against the post in the 16th minute. Soon afterwards a mazy run by the Italian resulted in him being heavily tackled in the area. Di Michele’s claims for a penalty were turned down but three minutes later Cole was brought down by Ricketts. Cole made the most of the challenge but Howard Webb clearly made the right decision by awarding a penalty.

After going almost a year without a penalty, this was Mark Noble’s fourth spot-kick in as many weeks. The previous three had been successfully directed to the left of the goalkeeper but it seems that Duke had done his homework and was able to get his hand to the ball.

As recent games have shown, West Ham no longer get disheartened when things go against them. The team continued to press forward and first Cole and then Di Michele missed good chances. In the 33rd minute Cole found himself on the edge of the area and tried to curl the ball behind Duke. This time the Hull goalkeeper got a hand to the ball but only managed to push the ball to the feet of Di Michele and at last we had our deserved lead.

The highlight of the first-half took place in the 39th minute when a lovely exchange of passes between Cole and Di Michele ended in a shot from Collison hitting the post. This was followed by Cole escaping the offside trap but his shot rebounded off Duke and spun towards the goal-line before the goalkeeper, racing back, was able to push the ball out for a corner.

In the 51st minute Di Michele fired against the upright but the ball came out straight to Cole who reacted quickly and it was 2-0. Although his finishing still leaves a lot to be desired, Cole was scoring in his fifth consecutive league game, equalling the record previously held by Tony Cottee, who scored in successive games against Sheffield Wednesday, Leicester City, Manchester City, Nottingham Forest and Newcastle United in the 1985-86 season.

Hull made a better job of closing West Ham down in the second-half and in the 57th minute Bullard’s crisp shot was well saved by a fully stretched Robert Green. West Ham continued to make chances and substitutes Faubert and Boa Morte both missed good chances before Savio Nsereko was brought on for Di Michele in the 87th minute. The crowd called out for the team to pass to the youngster, but it was to be Cole in the 3rd minute of stoppage time who was given the final opportunity to increase the margin of victory over Hull. Once again he failed to hit the net but it was another impressive display by this vastly improved player. After the game Cole reflected on these misses and vowed to get better. With the help of Zola and Clarke I am sure he will.

The main concern is not with the first-eleven but the quality of the players on the bench. The idea of bringing on players like Faubert and Boa Morte does not give you too much confidence. In recent weeks they have come on to help hold onto leads but I doubt if they have the ability to win games for us. I note that Junior Stanislas has been recalled from Southend and maybe he will be on the bench in future. There is also the possibility of midfielder Radoslav Kovac, agreeing a loan deal for Spartak Moscow. I believe young James Tomkins can do a good job for us but feel we need more cover at full-back.

This was the ninth game on the trot that Zola’s team have played well. Parker and Noble have developed a great partnership in the centre of midfield and they are ably supported by Behrami and Collison. This has enabled the Hammers to dominate games and even though they did not get victories over Aston Villa and Newcastle, there was no doubting who was the better team on the day. The team is brimming with confidence and they rarely give the ball away.

The real test comes on Saturday. Can they perform at this level against Arsenal? If they can, then, as long as we don’t get too many injuries, we can really compete for a place in the top six.

Green: Very little to do but an excellent save from Bullard in the 5th minute (7)

Neill: As Hull played without wide men he had little to do in defence. Provided some good crosses in the first-half. (6)

Collins: Dealt competently with everything that came to him. (6)

Upson: Was not really tested but his defensive headers were impressive and he played an important part in the second goal. (7)

Ilunga: Never troubled in defence and spent most of the time going forward. (6)

Behrami: Hunted down the Hull midfielders whenever they had the ball. Another very impressive performance by this workaholic. (7)

Parker: At the centre of everything that went on in midfield. He is the player we must not lose in the transfer window. (8)

Collison: A player I love watching. His upright stance reminds me of Brooking. Has the potential to be as good as Carrick. Let us hope we keep this one. (7)

Noble: Developing a great partnership with Parker at the centre of midfield. Poor spot-kick but was unlucky with a delightful chip in the 78th minute. (7)

Di Michele: Hit the post twice and scored a simple tap in. More importantly, he worked hard for the team and provided some good passes to Cole. (8)

Cole: Scored in his fifth consecutive league game and therefore equalled the club record set by Tony Cottee in the 1985-86 season. Although he missed four other good chances, his all round play makes him one of the most difficult strikers to play against in the Premier League. (8)

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