So the dust has just about settled on out latest trip to Old Trafford, and many of has been left with a mixed bag of emotions. This was definitely West Ham’s best chance for some time of leaving Manchester with all three points, and I cant remember many games, if any, where I’ve been quietly confident of actually beating United in their own back yard and at their own attack minded game.
So what went wrong, and what went right? Giving away two cheap and preventable goals was the first major hurdle, and once the game plan of keeping it tight and not conceding early flew out of the window, then Hammers backs were always going to be up against the wall and life was going to be that much more difficult.
Looking in detail at the United efforts, it’s got to be said that the hitherto excellent Aaron Cresswell could and should have found Row Z but tried to be too clever on the touchline. An easy ball into space for the raiding Rafael left him time to pick his cross, and the retreating James Tomkins lost his man in the worst of areas. Whilst marking space outside the box is something you can get away with, losing a finisher like Wayne Rooney so close to goal was an error, pure and simple. This was swiftly followed by old campaigner Alex Song demonstrating that he isn’t yet match sharp. An easy chest or touch back to his supporting players (three of them) was the easy call, the right call, but by dwelling on the ball and losing possession in dangerous territory, he hung the defence out to dry and Van Persie pulled the trigger. The two goals were great demonstrations of how quickly and savagely top strikers punish errors, and if lessons were learnt by all involved then all well and good. This is the Premier League where decision-making needs to be quick, and it needs to be right.
The real turning point for me was the poor miss by Enner Valencia when put clean through by a nervy Manchester United defence. With time to get it down and strike across the keeper, our man flailed like a drunken giraffe blinded by car headlights and the ball went where Aaron Cresswell should have put it some minute earlier, Row Z or possibly beyond! A goal then would have been a psychological godsend and made United’s makeshift defence collectively reach for the Vallium; it was not to be and a golden chance to silence the stadium was gone.
With the new look Hammers side still moving the ball well, even at two down I always felt things could change if we pulled one back. The rookie United defence had to be tested and pressured, and our man Diafra Sakho showed why he could well be the pick of the new boys with another goal, and all round, another energetic and powerful performance. We have looked bigger, stronger and more organised at set plays than for some time, and a goal effort always looks on the cards…as long as the delivery clears the first man!
Rooney’s dismissal was bizarre if most welcome. There appears to be a fair few Reds who seem to be confusing an attempted trip with assault and battery. Poor Stewart Downing could well have spent several hours along with the United ground staff searching the stadium for a pair of family jewels had young Wayne’s psychotic scythe been even further off target; at least our man lives to fight another day! From then on in it seemed like a matter of time before we were level or better. The possession stats showed a total domination post Rooneygate, and it made for exciting but hard watching as wave after wave of West Ham attacks just fell short of the mark.
An equaliser would have been deserved and morally just, we all know that, but this is football and it has a regular and unwelcome habit of kicking you where it hurts. I’d rather the disallowed Kevin Nolan effort had never happened. It was beyond cruel. That split second where your heart almost explodes from your chest before that sickening feeling in the pit of your stomach takes hold and you realise a precious away point has been denied you by a wheezing, puffing, and anxious looking linesman. Give us a bloody break. What an end that would have been. But no.
Overall a gutsy performance with, thank god, more attack minded ground play (did you notice the long ball count rose notably once Carlton Cole took to the field??) and passing options all over the field. In days of old this would have been a park-the-bus effort and hope we escaped with a two-goal defeat or better. Not anymore with the new template, and boy, doesn’t it make for a better watching and supporting experience? Mark Noble was missed no doubt, but young Diego Poyet looked calm, assured and involved, and I can only see good things ahead for the lad. Lets hope he gets more outings in the games upcoming.
So, disappointed with the result, but actually buoyed and upbeat for the rest of the season. The change in playing style has changed everything; even defeats are tolerable as long as we have had a go, got men forward and created some chances. 13 chances at Old Trafford, even against ten men for much of the game says it all. The energy levels in the side are superb, the commitment cannot be faulted, and we now have a team we can genuinely believe in. West Ham did us proud on Saturday, and I think I will be saying the same thing more than once over the season.