Tuesday, 17 March 2009

West Ham v WBA

Although the Hammers had been in reasonably good form recently, the omens were not good for the game against WBA. It had been over a year since West Ham had won a game with Carlton Cole in the side. Behrami and Collison, two of our most influencial players in recent months, were both out with long-term injuries.

Even so, after a reasonable start to the season, WBA are now rooted firmly at the bottom of the league, and clearly the worst team in the division. Surely a patched-up West Ham would be able to beat a team that cannot score and has the worst defensive record in the top tier.

The suspensions and injuries gave Zola the opportunity to give a first start to our record signing, Savio Nsereko. Another, relatively untested 19-year-old, Freddie Sears, was also in the line-up. So also was James Tomkins, as James Collins was still unfit to play alongside Matthew Upson. The warm sunshine in the afternoon suggested that maybe it was going to be the first day of Spring for West Ham fans. Unfortunately, the buds failed to blossom and by the end of the game fear, rather than hope, was the overriding emotion.

It was not long before it became clear why Zola had resisted calls to play Savio from the start. He was clearly nervous but even making allowances for this there was little evidence that this was a future premiership star. He was a willing runner but his touch constantly let him down. He got back to help his full-back but his defending was na├»ve and he was passed very easily. Savio managed a few shots and crosses but I don’t remember any of them reaching their intended target. I know that he is very young but I thought, given the large fee that has been paid for him, he would have shown a lot more potential than he did.

Freddie Sears showed a bit more composure than Savio and looked much more comfortable on the ball than his expensive colleague. However, he never looked a real threat in front of goal and irritatingly was constantly getting caught offside. Mind you, the service he got was appalling.

At the current time, Tomkins looks the best prospect out of this trio of teenagers. I like the way he always seems to have plenty of time to do the things he needs to do as a central defender. The way he reads the game reminds me of a young Bobby Moore. His contribution became even more important after Upson was stretchered off after landing awkwardly in the 29th minute. A promising display but it has to be remembered that Tomkins was facing a forward-line that had only scored 25 goals in 29 games this season.

The main problem was in central midfield where Zola played two holding players, Kovac and Parker. Noble, who is primarily an attacking player, was forced to play wide. He is clearly not happy with this role and he constantly drifted inside to a crowded midfield. Kovac offers nothing going forward and even though Parker did try to add support to the forwards, it is clearly not the strongest part of his game.

Di Michele was awful. He was constantly caught in possession and when he did manage to pass the ball it rarely reached a colleague. He did manage two shots on goal but both were so wide that they went for throw-ins. Di Michele was not alone in this and Carson did not have to make a save all night.

Junior Stanislas replaced Savio in the 68th minute. He was a slight improvement and definitely had less difficulty holding onto the ball. However, his crosses into the centre were wasted as the rest of the forwards treated the WBA box as a no-go area.

Despite showing their complete lack of quality, WBA had the best chances and Green did well to block Morrison’s shot after he casually waltzed through the West Ham defence in the first-half.

In the 70th minute Greening did the same thing but luckily for the Hammers he lifted the ball over the bar. However, the closest WBA came to scoring was when Jonas Olsson’s elbowed Green in the face, leaving Shelton Martis to head against the bar.

After the game the former referee, Graham Poll, described the incident on television: "Olsson comes in with his arm. He is looking, knows where Green is and catches him across the chin. If seen, it is a red card offence. I think it was deliberate." That was my assessment as well and I fully expect retrospective action to be taken against Olsson. Green commented: “He caught me with a good one. Luckily, it was on a sturdy part of my face rather than an eye socket or nose that could have done me some proper damage.” Green is to be commended by his reaction to the challenge. He reminds me of those English goalkeepers in the 1970s who never made a fuss when they were whacked at corners.

With a little bit more ambition WBA could have won the game against a lethargic side that seemed to think they were still playing beach football in Marbella. Let us hope that it is the last time that Zola thinks it is a good idea to take the squad on a mid-season break to the seaside.

Last night’s game showed that what shrewd observers have been saying for sometime. The main starting line-up is not too bad but the quality of the rest of the squad is just not good enough. On this form we have no chance of holding onto 7th place and a few away days to remote European towns and cities.


Player Ratings

Green: Good save from Morrison and as usual commandeered his area with authority. (7)

Neill: Gave the ball away several times when moving forward but was not really troubled defensively. (6)

Tomkins: The way he reads the game reminds me of a young Bobby Moore. (8)

Upson: Was not really troubled before he was stretchered off after landing awkwardly in the 29th minute. (6)

Ilunga: His worse game so far for the club. Rarely got forward and when he did he had difficulty keeping the ball in play. (5)

Noble: Will not reach top form until he is played in central midfield. He is clearly not happy with this wide role and he constantly drifted inside to a crowded midfield. (5)

Kovac: Does not look good enough for this level. As soon as he gets the ball he passes sideways. Would much rather see Noble play in this role. (5)

Parker: Worse game for sometime. Made a few efforts to get forward but nothing came of his advances upfield. He was also slow to get back and showed signs that he is suffering the consequences of a hard season. (5)

Savio: He was clearly nervous but even making allowances for this there was little evidence that this was a future premiership star. (5)

Di Michele: He was constantly caught in possession and when he did manage to pass the ball it rarely reached a colleague. He did manage two shots on goal but both were so wide that they went for throw-ins. (4)

Sears: He never looked a real threat in front of goal and irritatingly was constantly getting caught offside. (5)

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