Ball-players and attackers a-plenty, an attack minded formation and some real intent to take the game to the opposition. After recovering from shock at the team news and line-up, a big smile came across my face. The first thing I said to the guy next to me in the pub before kick-off was “forget the result, this was a defining moment for West Ham, and for of those clamouring for a change of both personnel and style (or up until last nights match, distinct lack of it).”
The fact that Diafra Sakho, Enner Valencia, Mauro Zarate and Stewart Downing were on the same pitch from the off was just huge in itself. The anticipation from Hammers fans in the pub was palpable, the excitement greater than I’ve known for a long, long time. This side looked and performed like a West Ham team of old. Ball-players, pace, trickery, movement, triangles being worked and space being created. The ball was moved with pace and purpose, and to see waves of West Ham attacks with decent numbers available for a pass, runs being made behind the front man, overlaps and crossovers a-plenty, and determined goal-bound dribbles from our new three musketeers, well, it was so refreshing, so welcome and so uplifting.
This was all about the positive set-up and pattern of play; post influx of new players, and for once SA did not disappoint us. From seasons of watching an isolated lone striker desperately trying to find space and maintain possession, we now had a visibly energetic, active and engaged team who passed the ball around to feet, and gave each other good support. The opposition defence were given a torrid time, and when was the last time us Hammers fans can honestly say that was the case?!
The improved pace and movement of this side gave us a good possession percentage, and the highest number of pass completions for the best part of four seasons. Mark Noble, our pass master, was able to slide a series of to-feet through balls forward and must have purred at the choice of team mates willing and able to receive his supply. There was no need to keep passing sideways or backwards last night, and for Mark’s detractors, if he can play forward, he will. It’s just that until last night there were few forward options for him to hit!
I have said to anyone who would listen that until creativity movement and pace were added to the team, we would always be a one-dimensional dinosaur of a side, easily read and easily countered. The long ball was little used because options were there all over the pitch. Why clump a 60-yard hopeful ball when two claret and blue shirts were close by, unmarked and available. Thoughtful movement and availability breeds confidence for the man on the ball, and by god did it show Monday night. If players are given a platform to pass and move, they will take it. Most professionals at this level are capable of two-touch play if the conditions are there for them. At times it was like watching a five-a-side match and the passages of slick inter-play only served to make us wonder why on earth Sam Allardyce had persisted for so long with his one-dimensional nonsense. Even the elusive third man runs were a feature of Monday’s performance, and it’s these clever off the ball moves that create chances and ultimately goals. More please!
On the downside we virtually gifted two goals to Hull City, especially the second where the schoolboy error of a mis-controlled cross field throw in was compounded by James Tomkins simply retreating from his man and allowing the hitherto average Mohamed Diame a chance to fire past Adrian. More coaching needed for both Aaron Cresswell and Tomkins please!
That said, I enjoyed the Hull game more than virtually any other since our gum-chewing gaffer took the reigns, obvious matches aside. No bewildered Carlton Cole god bless him, no indecisive and unfocused Kevin Nolan, no lazy and witless Ricardo Vaz Te, and no oh so average Joey O’Brien. In Zarate, Sakho, Valencia and Cheikhou Kouyate we have belief, speed, movement, and boundless energy, qualities lacking for so long.
I realise it’s but one match, but if this IS the shape of things to come, and if Sam Allardyce has himself perhaps seen the light, then this could well be a season to savour. And a message to one T. Sheringham Esq.; if you played but the smallest part in setting up an attack minded performance like this THANK YOU from all of us!
West Ham United played with some class, style, positivity and intent. This was the West Ham way that generations have harped on about. It’s exciting, it’s skilful and it’s entertaining. Monday night I felt proud to be a Hammer again.