Bilic decided to give Carroll his first start since January. This seemed harsh on Diafra Sakho who had been playing well since his return from injury. Given the opposition's defensive problems, one could understand Bilic's thinking, but I was surprised not to see Sakho on the bench. Bilic said Sakho had a "minor injury" but his body language reminded me of a student who had not done his homework.
Carroll had a poor start to the game. His touch was poor and as early as the 4th minute, he got a yellow card for a bad tackle on Laurent Koscielny. If it was later in the game it might well have been a red.
The main problem for Carroll is that he kept on receiving the ball on the ground. However, in the 14th minute, Carroll tried an overhead kick and the ball fell kindly for Lanzini who had little difficultly in scoring. However, the referee Craig Pawson, decided to take the linesman's advice and ruled him offside, even though, everybody except the two officials, could see that Héctor Bellerín was playing Lanzini onside.
My mood was not helped when two minutes later, when Iwobi threaded a pass into Özil who dispatched the ball past Adrián. He could easily have been given offside but the referee was right to give the goal. Bilic, had set up the team with three at the back and Antonio, who was playing as a wing back, was spending too much time in attacking positions. When he did defend he tended to wander inside and as a result the Arsenal forwards were finding plenty of space down out right-hand side.
Although we were looking dangerous when attacking, it did not come as a great surprise when Arsenal took a two goal lead in the 35 minute. Iwobi dinked it to the unmarked Sánchez, who was just onside and had no trouble putting Arsenal two up.
It was not until the 44th minute that West Ham got their service to Carroll right. A great cross from Cresswell was headed in firmly by the big centre-forward. In the second minute of added time, it was Noble turn to provide a good centre. This time it was too low for his head and he tried to bring the ball down on his chest, but his attempted volley was mistimed. However, the ball came back off the defender and Carroll made no mistake with his second effort.
At half-time Bilic took off Tomkins and went to a back four. Emmanuel Emenike came on and was clearly told to give Antonio help. This worked and Arsenal rarely looked dangerous after this change to the system. On 50 minutes, Carroll put Ospina and Koscielny under pressure and the ball ran loose to Payet who put the ball into the net. Carroll did have his hands on the defender and so it was probably was the right decision, but it was another example of why West Ham is top of the league for having decisions going against us.
Glenn Hoddle has claimed that Antonio is a great right-back or right-winger but only a moderate wing-back. It is an interesting comment and in the first-half he did seem he was all at sea. He was a different player after the break and in the 52 minute he made a great run and his cross to Carroll was perfect. Three goals in 11 minutes and West Ham was in front.
However, as we have done in the last five games, we lost our one goal lead and only got a draw. Wenger substituted Coquelin and Elneny and brought on Ramsey and Giroud. Arsenal rallied. Lanzini made a fine goal line clearance to turn away a pile driver from Monreal but soon afterwards. In the 70 minute the ball bounced around the area and Koscielny was able to score the equalizer.
It now looks like we are going to miss out on a top four place and this makes Wednesday's FA Cup quarter-final replay against Manchester United is going to be even more important. Although I am confident that we will be the better team I fear we will lose the game on a referee's decision.
It seems we will have to do without Diafra Sakho. Since the game against Arsenal it has emerged that Sakho went on a sulk after discovering he was on the bench on Saturday. His claim that he was injured was not believed and according to Bilic's post-match interview, Sakho is unlikely to be in the team. That's a shame because he does provide as with more variety up-front and provides more of a goal threat than Valencia or Emenike.
West Ham Utd: Adrián (5), Tomkins (5), Reid (7), Ogbonna (6), Cresswell (8), Noble (7), Kouyaté (7), Antonio (6), Lanzini (7), Payet (6), Emenike (6), Carroll (8), Emenike (6).
West Ham's hopes of reaching the top-four suffered a terrible blow on Saturday. Poor referee decisions has cost us over the last three games. The four points lost against Chelsea and Crystal Palace and being denied a victory against Manchester United, could prevent us from realising our dreams this season.
The panel of experts used by Team Talk agree that these decisions were wrong and we are now clear bottom of the bad decision's table. We now are a rating of -9 compared to the +7 of Leicester City and Manchester United. It is not a coincidence that other teams challenging for a top four place such as Tottenham(+4) and Man City (+4) are near the top of the table.
Watching the game live it was clear to the vast majority of observers that Mark Clattenburg had made a terrible mistake when he gave Cheikhou Kouyaté a red card for a tackle on Dwight Gayle in the 68th minute. It was a consequence of a heavy touch and referees always seem very intolerant of defenders who are trying to rectify a mistake. It is a shame that officials are not more harsh on tackles where someone is clearly trying to injure a creative player. Kouyaté had his eye on the ball and even though his foot was high it was pointed down.
West Ham manager Slaven Bilic, who left the pitch in conversation with Clattenburg, said after the game: "We have every right to be very disappointed with that decision because anyone who has anything to do with football would find it easy to judge that it was not a red card. For me, personally, not a yellow card." He was supported by Crystal Palace's manager, Alan Pardew, who said: "The sending off was a key moment and for me it was harsh. If I had made that tackle I would have been disappointed to have been sent off."
Graham Poll was highly critical of Mark Clattenburg's performance, pointing out that: "There have been just 49 red cards in the Premier League this season compared to 59 at this stage last season and yet seven have now been overturned - a damning statistic. It is very difficult to argue against the first six decisions to rescind red cards as all were wrong. But the decision to dismiss Kouyaté for a high but not excessive tackle on Crystal Palace’s Dwight Gayle was harsh at worst and not a clear error... West Ham would be well placed to claim a Champions League place had decisions not gone against them regularly in recent games."
Slaven Bilic has to take his share of the blame for Saturday's draw. Kouyaté tired rapidly in the second-half of the game against Crystal Palace. For someone who had spent the week in Africa I was surprised that he was in the starting line-up. He coped well enough in the first-half but a few minutes before the sending off he gave a terrible back-pass that resulted in Cresswell clearing off the line with Adrian well-beaten.
When the referee sent off Kouyaté I fully expected Bilic to bring on Obiang for Sakho. Instead, he brought on Enner Valencia, a forward with little defensive instincts. Obiang was eventually brought on in the 80th minute but by this time Palace had equalized after a mix up between Reid and Ogbonna. Defenders of Bilic will say that tactically he is always trying to get his team to score rather than defend a lead. Some people would say he is always positive but others would accuse him of being naive.
All teams need to be able to close down games when in front. Would the current league leaders, Leicester City, be in this position if they did not know how to win games 1-0? However much we appreciate Bilic's attacking policy, it is only a matter of time before he changes his approach when West Ham gets a one goal lead. Maybe, it will happen against Arsenal on Saturday.
West Ham were sloppy for the first 15 minutes and after an unnecessary foul by Ogbonna. Bakary Sako's free-kick caused panic in the West Ham defence and Adrian, who appeared to see the ball late, managed to push the ball into the air and onto the head of Delaney.
This proved to be a wake-up call and for the next 30 minutes West Ham dominated the game. Within three minutes they were level. Michail Antonio's deep cross was headed back by Sakho and when Scott Dann scuffed his clearance, Lanzini drilled the ball low into the net.
I imagine the Palace defenders were told not to give free-kicks around the penalty area. That is easier said than done as Payet and Lanzini are very good at tempting defenders into mistakes. In the 41st minute Joel Ward mistimed his tackle on the French player.
Hennessey, put seven men in the wall in order to protect his top right-hand corner. He stood by his left-hand post but as Payet approached the ball, he took one step to his right, but was unable to stop the ball curling over his head in the top left-hand corner.
When he launched his guided missile it looked like the ball was going to clear the ball. Delaney, who was standing in the wall said: "When he (Payet) hit it as it went over the wall I thought that one's going into row Z, I swear to god... I think someone in the wall shouted 'see ya' to Payet, I think Wayne Hennessey probably thought it as well." "It was a brilliant goal, simply unbelievable," Bilic said. "Unsaveable," was Pardew's accurate verdict.
The second-half saw a more attacking Crystal Palace. Pardew replaced Wilfried Zaha with Dwight Gayle and moved Yannick Bolasie to the wing where he tested Antonio's defensive abilities. I was surprised that Bilic did not bring on Tomkins at right-back with Antonio taking an advanced position, that would have forced Bolasie back into his own half.
Even before the sending off of Kouyaté we made very few goal-scoring chances after the break. In fact, in some respects, we were lucky to end the game with a point. We are now three points away from a top four place and have Manchester United in front of us in 5th place. Hopefully, after the weekend's round of games, we will be in better position. However, if we fail to beat Arsenal, it is probably going to be the Europa League next season.
West Ham Utd: Adrián (5), Reid (6), Ogbonna (6), Cresswell (8), Noble (7), Kouyaté (6), Obiang (6), Antonio (6), Lanzini (8), Payet (7), Emenike (6), Carroll (5), Sakho (7), Valencia (4).
Although West Ham were unable to hold on to their lead on Saturday, it was probably their best performance of the season. One only has to compare this with the one they gave last season at Stamford Bridge, to see how far Slaven Bilic has taken this team. After trying to repeat the 0-0 achieved the previous season, we lost 2-0, after rarely leaving our own half.
Bilic, unlike Sam Allardyce, does not believe in parking the bus. Straight from the kick-off, West Ham attacked Chelsea in numbers, with wonderfully fluid football. In the first minute and excellent move ended up with Valencia being caught offside. A few minutes later Cresswell's dangerous cross was just cut out by Fàbregas.
The Chelsea defence had real difficulty dealing with the inter-passing of Payet and Lanzini. They also had to deal with Cresswell and Antonio, our two overlapping full-backs and the energetic strike-force of Sakho and Valencia. It was no real surprise when Lanzini opened the scoring. West Ham's quick passing took them through the defence and Payet was just about to play the killer pass when he was tackled by Mikel John Obi. The ball broke loose to Lanzini, who was 25 yards out. He quickly assessed the situation and decided to take on the goalkeeper. The ball was beautifully struck and curled over Courtois before dipping under the bar.
Most teams, given the fact that they now had a 1-0 lead at Stamford Bridge, would get ten men behind the ball. West Ham did the opposite, they continued to surge forward and in the 30th minute they went close to getting a second. A flowing move ended with a delightful flick from Lanzini that went straight to Cresswell, but unfortunately his shot was deflected wide by Ivanovic.
By the time we neared the half-time break, the only time West Ham's defence got into trouble was when Payet attempted a difficult pass-back to Adrián. He controlled the ball on his chest, juggled the ball on his thigh and volleyed it clear. The only other opportunity was a Remy header that went straight to Adrián.
However, in the final seconds before the break, Chelsea played a long, high-ball. Instead of heading it away, Reid tried to control it on his chest. The ball dropped to Oscar and as he attempted to go past the Kiwi, he brought him down. While the referee, Robert Madley, marked out the ten yards, Fàbregas, pushed the ball back a couple of yards, therefore giving him more space to get the ball up over the wall and down below the bar. Madley ignored the West Ham protests and actually booked Ogbonna after the free-kick went in the top corner.
One would have expected a more defensive display in the second-half but that clearly was not Bilic's strategy. Once again they attacked Chelsea with energy. Cresswell and Antonio continued to play as wingers and in the 56th minute the left-back hit the cross-bar.
In the 60th minute Carroll replaced Sakho. A couple of minutes later Payet run at the defence before passing to Carroll who firmly struck the ball past Courtois. Once again we were in front and I was hoping that Bilic would shut-up shop by replacing Valencia with Obiang. However, the manager had other ideas and in the 75 minute replaced him with Emenike.
West Ham continued to make chances and Carroll went close with two headers. The first was saved by Courtois and the second was cleared off the line. Obiang came on for Lanzini in the 82nd minute but that did not mean that West Ham had given up on a third goal. With a minute to go, an attack in numbers broke down, William led the charge and by the time the ball was passed to Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Antonio, was just behind him. The Chelsea substitute slowed down and changed direction. Antonio tried to stop but he clipped the heel of the forward and he went down. Madley immediately gave the penalty even though it looked outside the area. Later, slow-motion replays showed that the referee had made a serious mistake. Fàbregas sent Adrian the wrong way and the game finished 2-2.
A win would have taken West Ham into 4th place above Manchester City. We are definitely playing better than the clubs around us but I fear that the lack of caution in the last 25 minutes might cost us at the end of the season. Bilic was furious with the referee. "I don’t like to moan or find excuses because the way the boys played, we have to be really proud. But now we have to play a replay against Manchester United because a big decision went against us and then to concede this kind of goal, it was not close to the line. It was simply not a penalty. He wasn’t sliding, so it shouldn’t be difficult for the referee.”
David Sullivan was also upset and saw a pattern in referee decisions: "It was really hard to see us concede a late goal two weeks in a row and for two weeks in a row to draw games we could and should have won. It clearly wasn’t a penalty on television, but nobody can blame the referee for getting such a marginal decision wrong in real time rather than a slow-motion TV replay. What hurts me is we get no such marginal calls our way. The Dimitri Payet penalty at Manchester United could easily have been given and there are a dozen occasions this season where we could have got penalties and didn’t. We have not had an away penalty in the league in four seasons and we have had less penalties in four seasons than any team in the Premier League." Sullivan gets support from Team Talk who claim that we are bottom of the "dodgy decisions table".
West Ham have been fearless under Bilic, beating Liverpool home and away, winning at Arsenal and Manchester City, overwhelming Chelsea and Spurs at Upton Park. With eight games left, they are firmly in the fight for Champions League qualification. They are also getting better. One of the reasons for this is those players who have been out injured for sometime, Lanzini, Payet, Carroll and Sakho, are all getting fitter.
Lanzini, known as La Jowa (the jewel), was the outstanding player on Saturday. Bilic revealed after the match: "I would be lying if I said that I was thinking when we got him that he would play like this, so consistently at such a high level. But he always had that potential. He was a target when I was at Besiktas. He was playing for River Plate, and when a club like River Plate gives you the number-eight shirt when you are only 18, they give you that for a reason, because they know you can also take the responsibility and cope with the pressure. So he had it all the time. That's why we got him, and he clicked straight away, which was also a surprise for me because he is still young.”
West Ham Utd: Adrián (7), Collins (7), Ogbonna (7), Cresswell (7), Noble (7), Kouyaté (7), Obiang (6), Antonio (7), Lanzini (8), Payet (7), Emenike (6), Carroll (7), Sakho (7), Valencia (6).
After 68 minutes in the game against Everton, Song, who had been brought on to give West Ham's defence more stability, made an unnecessary tackle on the edge of the area. Anthony Taylor, who made several wrong decisions during the match, incorrectly judged it to be a penalty.
Despite being the better team, the penalty gave Everton the opportunity to take a three goal lead. The main reason for this was that Romelu Lukaku appeared to be carrying out a personal vendetta against the Hammers. His goal in the 13th minute meant he had scored in eight consecutive fixtures against us. He had also created Lennon’s goal that had put Everton 2-0 up.
Lukaku now stepped up to take the game beyond the Hammers. However, it was a poor penalty and Adrian was able to beat the ball away. Since his debut, Adrian has saved twice as many penalties as any other goalkeeper in the Premier League). A few minutes later Lukaku was one on one with Adrian but again failed to get the ball past the goalkeeper.
West Ham surged forward thinking that these two let-offs still gave us a chance of getting something out of the game. Andy Carroll had been brought on at half-time for Reece Oxford who had found life difficult against Lukaku (one of Bilic's great assets is he is quick to correct his mistakes). Diafra Sakho replaced the largely ineffective Emmanuel Emenike in the 61st minute. In the few times that Carroll and Sakho have been able to play together, they have seemed a lethal combination.
However, the first West Ham goal came from the amazing Antonio. With just over 10 minutes to go, Payet corner, was blocked and the ball rebounded to Noble. His cross went into the danger area and with Carroll and Sakho causing panic in the centre of the defence, it was Antonio at the far post who got his head to the ball.
Three minutes later it was 2-2. After good build up play by Antonio and Payet on the wing, the French international's perfect cross was smartly headed in by Sakho. A draw was not acceptable to Bilic and the team really went for a winner. This left gaps in behind and Lukaku set up Muhamed Besic who shot just wide.
In the 90th minute Cresswell played a lovely cross-field ball that Andy Carroll managed to head forward to Sakho who back-flicked it to Payet who coolly slotted it past Robles. A lot has been said about Payet's creative play and his nine assists this season. However, this man has all the instincts of an excellent striker and his 10 goals makes him the club's top scorer.
Three wins in a row has put West Ham in fifth place, and only one point outside of the top four. Arsenal in 3rd place is only 3 points ahead and they still have to visit Upton Park. In fact, in recent games, only Leicester City, the league leaders, can match us for consistency. At the beginning we were 1000-1 to finish in the top four, now you have to search around for 6-1.
Bilic said after the game: "I think this is a permanent shift at the top." He argues that the Premier League is being radically reshaped by the resources all of its members now enjoy. Bilic believes the best cannot become much better with a bigger budget, whereas the rest can. "Say Man City buy Karim Benzema... They have Sergio Agüero already, so there is no big gap for them to improve. There is no big space to get much better. Chelsea can sell Diego Costa and buy Robert Lewandowski, yes, but they are only different; not better.. But clubs like us, Crystal Palace, West Brom, Leicester: we can still improve with the money. Two years ago West Brom maybe could afford Salomón Rondón, but they would have had to sell Saido Berahino to get him. Now they can keep Berahino, so next year, with more investment, you can keep those players. Crystal Palace can keep Yohan Cabaye and bring another one in."
The increased income from the new TV deal has enabled West Ham to give Dimitri Payet a new £125,000-a-week contract. In the future, teams like West Ham will be able to compete with Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal. The most important factor will be those of the 1960s, scouting, youth development, team-building and astute management.
On West Ham forums fans have been speculating if this is the best team in their lifetime. At the moment I would opt for the team that won the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1965. Managed by Ron Greenwood it featured Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst, Martin Peters, Johnny Byrne, Ronnie Boyce, Ken Brown, Peter Brabrook and John Sissons. We played great football that season and our performance against TSV Munchen in the final was superb. I watched the DVD recently and my memory did not fail me.
However, we lost too many games near the end of the season and finished in 9th place. Our best players were still developing and we had high hopes for the future. However, the club did not add to the squad and the next few seasons saw a gradual decline in our fortunes. I don't think this will happen this time and I definitely think this team has the potential to be the best in my lifetime.
West Ham Utd: Adrián (7), Collins (7), Ogbonna (8), Cresswell (7), Noble (8), Kouyaté (8), Obiang (7), Antonio (8), Oxford (5), Lanzini (6), Payet (9), Emenike (6), Carroll (7), Sakho (7).
Spurs arrived at Upton Park last night as Premier League favourites. They had the best away record in the division and were unbeaten on their travels since the first day of the season. A victory against the Hammers would have put them top of the table. They also had the best goal difference, eight better than their main rivals, Leicester City. They had also won their last six league games. I have seen every West Ham game this season and consider Spurs the best team we have played against.
Despite these facts and figures, I fully expected a home win. Since being defeated in our first two home games of the season, Upton Park has become a fortress. West Ham are unbeaten here in 14 league and cup games, winning nine and drawing five, and have kept five clean sheets during the last seven home league games.
As long as we started well I was convinced we could get a result. When the teams lined up it became clear that Bilic had changed his tactics. He played three at the back (Kouyate, Collins and Ogbonna) with Antonio and Cresswell as wing-backs.
When this system was employed at Southampton it resulted in a 1-0 defeat. However, this time it worked a treat. Kane was easily kept under control and Spurs seemed unwilling to push up players to support him. Noble and Obaing protected the back three and this enabled Payet and Lanzini to work their magic in front of them.
In the 7th minute West Ham took the lead. Payet, whose delivery was impeccable all night, took a corner that was superbly headed in by Antonio. Lloris got his hand to it but it was so powerful that he could not keep it from crossing the line.
The rest of the first-half was fairly comfortable with Spurs unable to get one shot on target. This was the first time this season that this has happened and the stats show they usually manage at least ten shots during the first period of a game.
The main worry was that West Ham had not managed to score more during the first 45 minutes. Noble had a great shot saved by Lloris and had another shot blocked by a defender. Antonio got the ball in the net but Emenike was ruled offside. Antonio also had another powerful drive hit a defender. Not bad for someone who was playing as a wing-back.
Spurs were more of a threat in the second-half. Their best effort was a Toby Alderweireld shot from long range that was parried by goalkeeper Adrian. The ball came to Kane but Kouyate was able to react quickly enough to stop him from scoring. Even the introduction of Dele Alli to support Kane made little difference.
West Ham was handicapped by an injury to Ogbonna, who limped through the whole of the second-half. Collins could not run off his knock and was replaced by the 17-year-old Reece Oxford. This was a brave decision considering that the highly experienced Song was on the bench. However, with the tutorage of Kouyate, he managed to get through this difficult test.
Despite their lack of possession, it was West Ham that had the best two chances to score in the second-half. In the 55th minute, Aaron Cresswell mistimed his header from Dimitri Payet's cross. After 66 minutes, a Payet free-kick from the right side was met on the volley by Antonio but he was unable to make the right contact and it went over the bar.
Spurs were made to look an average team as a result of the commitment, drive, energy and aggression of West Ham. Kouyate, Ogbonna, Antonio and Obiang were all magnificent in defence and Payet provided several moments of outstanding skill. However, it was our captain Mark Noble, who really caught the eye with the way he dominated the midfield. Surely the England manager cannot continue to ignore his claims to be in the squad. The sight of him standing in the centre-circle with his clenched-fist at the final whistle brought a lump to the throat.
West Ham are now just a point off Manchester City’s fourth place. In the form they are in they could go the rest of the season unbeaten. As they still have to host Arsenal and Manchester United and visit Leicester City, this could mean a top four place.
West Ham Utd: Adrián (6), Collins (7), Ogbonna (8), Cresswell (6), Noble (9), Kouyaté (9), Obiang (8), Antonio (8), Oxford (6), Lanzini (6), Payet (7), Emenike (6), Carroll (6), Sakho (6).
Slaven Bilić is without doubt, the best manager we have had since the creation of the Premier League. This view is backed up by the statistics. West Ham have never had this amount of points at this stage of the season. Bilić also has the highest percentage win-rate of any Hammers manager in our Premier League history.
It is therefore not surprising that I have agreed with virtually every decision he has made this season. This includes team selection and the use of substitutes. Maybe he persevered too long with Jenkinson but he eventually got it right by playing Tomkins in that position.
My main disagreement with Bilić concerns his tendency to employ Payet in a wide position. I assume that he does this because he knows that Payet will track back and help protect his full-back. As Sunderland showed on Saturday, Payet is easier to contain when he plays in this role. His body language suggests to me that like most talented, creative midfielders, he is beginning to sulk when he is asked to play in this role. It was only when Lanzini was taken off and Payet moved inside, did we see him come alive.
West Ham are just a competent Premier League outfit when Payet is not given the freedom to find space in danger areas. For most of the game, Sunderland, who every chance of being relegated this season, were our equals. If Defoe or Rodwell had not missed very good chances to score, we could have got beaten.
We looked more of a threat when Lanzini went off and Payet moved inside and supported Carroll. Five minutes Payet found Moses with an excellent pass but unfortunately his weak shot was easily saved. He was also involved in the best move of the game that ended up with Carroll hitting the bar. In the 82nd Payet collected a flick-on from Carroll but shot narrowly wide.
The only goal in the game came from the most improved player in the squad. In the 29th minute Byram attempted to play a long ball to Antonio. It got caught in the wind and instead of clearing in first time, Van Aanholt tried to bring the ball under control. Antonio seized his chance and headed into the penalty area, a defender managed to get in a weak tackle but the ball bounced kindly for the West Ham player and his curling drive went in just inside the post.
Bilić is full of praise for the former non-league player. "Antonio is a workaholic. He is a perfect example for all the young players, or new players, or the players who change their level. He was doing that (playing well) last year in the Championship, came here, he was dreaming about the Premier League. He had to wait for his chance but then he didn't moan, he continued to work hard and he got his chance because of a few injuries. Since then he's been really good for us. He improved a lot in training, technically, tactically, and the pace and energy they were always there. He is becoming, or he has already become, a player of massive importance for us."
After the game Bilić was asked if he thinks the team can play in the Champions League next season. He replied: "If I say no, we don’t have a chance people will say I don’t believe in my team. If I say yes, people will say I have become big-headed. So I’ll leave it to you to make a calculation. All we are trying to do is win as many games as possible, and secondly win them by playing a nice kind of football, the sort that is entertaining for the fans. If we improve the way we are doing it, that should get us high, but where I don’t know. There is a long way to go, but at least we are safe, and for every club apart from the big ones, that is always the priority."
We will know much more about where we are likely to finish after the game on Wednesday. Byram, who was booked for the 10th time this season, will miss the next two games, leaving us with a problem at right-back in the squad. This was the same problem in the cup game against Blackburn Rovers and we solved that by playing Antonio in that position. Another selection dilemma concerns the striker.
West Ham Utd: Adrián (6), Byram (6), Collins (6), Ogbonna (6), Cresswell (6), Noble (7), Kouyaté (6), Antonio (7), Lanzini (5), Payet (6), Moses (6), Emenike (5), Carroll (6).
West Ham have done well this season but the limited number of players able to play at this level is a problem. Understandably, the team looked extremely tired after playing extra-time against Liverpool in the FA Cup last week.
Not much happened in the first-half and Valencia had the best two chances. Enner Valencia received an excellent Noble's through ball, but a poor first touch allowed Sebastien Bassong to recover and shepherd the striker away from goal. He was much better a few minutes later when in a poor position he managed to produce a vicious shot that Ruddy tipped over.
I was amazed that Bilic had not taken Antonio off at half-time. He has been brilliant over the last few games but he looked shattered in the first-half and posed no threat at all when on the rare occasion he received the ball. However, he did try to become involved and in the 54th minute he found himself in a central area 30 yards from goal. Noble played what should have been a safe pass but Antonio dwelt on the ball and was caught in possession by Brady. He advanced 10 yards and with his weaker right foot curled the ball beyond Adrián.
Bilic made a double change after 62 minutes, bringing on Andy Carroll and Victor Moses for Enner Valencia and Alex Song. However, two minutes later, Norwich constructed their best move of the game. It resulted in a weak shot from Steven Naismith that was blocked by James Collins. The ball spun up and over the defender’s head and landed at the feet of Hoolahan, who was just onside and passed the ball past Adrian.
The introduction of Carroll and Moses definitely provided more energy and for the final 20 minutes West Ham battered Norwich. In the 74 minute Carroll headed on the ball on the touch-line. Antonio flicked it on and Moses was away. Just as he was about to shoot a defender brought him down with a tackle in the penalty area. Moses, instead of appealing for a foul, quickly got to his feet and got a strike on goal. Ruddy saved but the ball ran straight to Payet, who had the technique to get his foot over the ball and steer it into the net.
Two minutes later West Ham was on the attack again. Amazingly, Payet was left unmarked and Carroll made a clever pass into the penalty are. Payet quickly turned on the ball and he rolled a superbly weighted pass to the advancing Noble on the edge of the box. Noble's fine strike gave Ruddy no chance.
West Ham were not satisfied with a point and continued to press forward. Emmanuel Emenike, who had replaced Antonio, had our best two chances. Both were created by headed passes by Carroll. The first was fairly difficult and it was not too surprising to see him fire wide. However, the second found Emenike in front of goal but he got so little on the ball that it looked like a pass-back to Ruddy.
Noble had another inspiring game. It was the skipper's 196th minute of football this week but he showed no sign of tiredness and run over 7 miles on Saturday. Obiang, who will rarely make headlines, had another impressive outing in midfield, and should play instead of Song when Kouyaté returns from injury.
Dimitri Payet was very quiet until the last twenty minutes. However, once again he showed our vital his interventions are in games. Payet now has seven Premier League goals and five assists this season. While he continues to do this most fans will probably not complain about his new deal that is worth £35million over the next five years. This is a £50,000-a-week pay rise and now receives £125,000-a-week. The new deal probably expunges or increases a get-out clause in Payet’s original contract. Gold and Sullivan will think it is money well spent if he helps to sell-out our new 54,000-seater stadium.
West Ham Utd: Adrián (6), Byram (6), Reid (6), Ogbonna (6), Cresswell (6), Song (5), Noble (8), Obiang (7), Antonio (5), Moses (7), Valencia (6), Payet (7), Carroll (6), Emenike (5).
Once again West Ham started slowly and the opening minutes Southampton had several chances to score. The goal came after nine minutes. A corner was not properly cleared and the ball ended up near the opposite corner flag. Payet wandered over and then did not go with Victor Wanyama's run, Reid appeared to have the situation under control but Valencia running back put in a weak tackle that deflected it past the defender and it went straight to Maya Yoshida who had little difficulty scoring.
The goal woke up West Ham and for the rest of the game they dominated possession, having the ball for 67% of the time. They also had eighteen shots compared to Southampton's eight. However, only two were on target and Reid's first-half header from a corner, that was well-saved by Fraser Forster, was the only time they looked like scoring.
In the 53rd minute Wanyama was sent off for a terrible tackle on Payet. Like in the game against Everton, the midfielder appeared to be trying to hurt our playmaker. This seemed a strange decision as he appeared to have had little difficulty in using legal methods to keep Payet quiet. At the moment Payet seems to be lacking in energy and even though Bilic tried playing him in the middle he was largely antonymous.
Andy Carroll was brought on after an hour but West Ham were unable to get any crosses in that went anywhere near the big striker. Emenike, who was brought on in the 73 minute, had more luck and soon after he came on he got good contact with a Valencia pass but headed it wide of the goal. He did not look fit and contributed very little, which was in direct contrast to the recent introductions of Jelavic.
West Ham was limited to shots outside the area that rarely got anywhere near the goal. Song, who spent much of the game just outside the Southampton penalty area, was the main culprit. However, Valencia, was not far behind. Time, and time again, he got into good positions but instead of passing to better placed colleagues he fired the ball high and wide.
I am not sure how long Bilic will persevere with Song in midfield. He is far too casual and is constantly being caught with the ball. He also slows the game down when we need to pass the ball more quickly. Obiang would be a much better option as he would bring desperately needed energy to this position. Unfortunately, Kouyaté was not fit enough to play and his surging runs were really missed.
As always, Slaven Bilic's accurately summed up the game. "They were very good at defending in the box. They deserve this... We did not create enough. Our crosses were quite poor, they defended really well." He also commented about West Ham's poor start to the game. Bilic now has to make sure it does not happen again because every time it does, we lose the game.
West Ham Utd: Adrián (6), Tomkins (6), Byram (5), Reid (6), Collins (6), Cresswell (6), Song (5), Noble (7), Antonio (6), Moses (6), Valencia (5), Payet (5), Carroll (5), Emenike (5).
West Ham seem to have a serious problem against teams in the bottom half of the table during the first-half of games. This happened against Bournemouth, Norwich, Watford, WBA, Swansea and Newcastle. Last night history repeated itself against Aston Villa, a team that seems certain to be relegated. For the first 20 minutes it looked like it was West Ham who were bottom of the league.
The home team looked tired and did not seem willing to close the opposition down. Villa dominated possession as the Hammers found it difficult to mount any attacks of note. In the opening five minutes Winston Reid was forced to clear from under his own crossbar following Leandro Bacuna’s dangerous inswinging corner. In the 10th minute Gabby Agbonlahor crossed and as Michail Antonio leapt up in the attempt to block, the ball hit his dangling arm. Antonio had his back to the ball and was very close to Agbonlahor. However, his arm appeared to be in an unnatural position and some referees may well have given a penalty.
Villa continued to put West Ham under pressure until a moment of madness reduced them to ten minutes. Jordan Ayew objected to the close attention of Aaron Cresswell and elbowed him in the face. It is difficult to understand what goes through the mind of a player when he acts in that way. As the player walked off Rémi Garde refused to look at him. Garde's tactics seemed to be working, now he had to change his planned strategy.
Villa now retreated into two defensive lines with no real intention of attacking West Ham. For the rest of the first-half the Hammers had difficulty creating changes. The best two moments came from James Tomkins who was now playing as a winger. In the 31st minute Enner Valencia really should have put West Ham ahead when he headed over right in front of goal from James Tomkins’ cross/shot. A few minutes later Tomkins stole the ball from Gil at the edge of the area but was unable to get his shot on target.
West Ham, as in previous games against the bottom teams, was much better in the second-half. The home side came close several times. In the 51st minute, Dimitri Payet, who had a very quiet game, crossed for Mark Noble who hit it first-time on the volley. Unfortunately, it was at a good height for Mark Bunn and he was able to push it out of the danger zone. Three minutes later Payet's free-kick hit the upright.
Just before the hour mark West Ham made its breakthrough. A good built up resulted in Mark Noble, positioned just inside the opposition half, producing an excellent driven pass that sailed over the head of the Villa defenders. Antonio timed his run perfectly and from a tight angle on the right of the Villa area, managed to head the ball just inside the post.
Villa continued to have great difficulty having any possession at all in the West Ham half. However, in the 84th minute a long ball from the back resulted in a Villa corner. The ball was cleared and Payet managed to pass it to Valencia on the edge of the area. Valencia now hared forward. Only the long-striding Chiekhou Kouyaté was able to keep up with him and when he received Valencia's perfect pass, the Senegalese was able to clip the ball over the advancing Bunn.
Manchester United also won last night but West Ham have now created a five point gap between themselves and their nearest challengers, Southampton and Liverpool. A top four place is still a possibility.
West Ham Utd: Adrián (6), Tomkins (7), Reid (6), Collins (6), Cresswell (7), Song (7), Noble (9), Kouyaté (8), Antonio (7), Valencia (6), Payet (6).
It has been claimed that if you only include the results of the top ten clubs West Ham would be top of the league. So far we have had wins against Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool (twice), Southampton, Crystal Palace and Chelsea. I fully expected a good performance on Saturday against the team that most pundits expect to win the league.
However, when I saw the team-sheet my confidence fell. Tomkins had not recovered from his injury and Jenkinson was playing right-back. I don't mind him coming on for the last ten minutes as a wide man who helps provide cover for the full-back, but he has shown time after time this season that he is a poor defender. Of course, this is why Sam Byram has been brought to the club. Bilic obviously thought that it was too early to start him against Manchester City.
West Ham have always done well this season if they play with high intensity in the first fifteen minutes. I was therefore pleased by the way West Ham attacked Manchester City from the start. With only 50 seconds gone Kouyaté got the ball and raced into the penalty area. His cross hit a defender and bounced nicely to Valencia who hit it first time and Joe Hart was unable to get down in time.
Five minutes later West Ham were attacking down the right-side when Jenkinson lost possession. We were now fully exposed to the speed of Sergio Agüero. Collins raced from the centre to cover for Jenkinson. So unfortunately did Adrian and Agüero curled a lob over the goalkeeper's head. Fortunately for the Hammers the ball hit the upright and Reid was able to chest it back to the relieved Adrian.
I would have thought that after reading the team-sheet Manuel Pellegrini probably told his forwards to target West Ham's right-side. In the ninth minute Sergio Agüero got the ball just inside the penalty area. However, all Jenkinson had to do was to force him towards the by-line. Instead he dangled out a leg and brought down the forward. The hapless full-back, has only made a few starts this season but he has conceded more penalties (3) in the Premier League.
Agüero converted the penalty and we had lost the early lead. Jenkinson was injured when he made the tackle and he was waiting to return to the pitch when Bilic decided to replace him with Byram. His first involvement was to control a bouncing ball and then deliver a 90 yard pass to Payet on the left-wing. I have seem Byram play several games for Leeds over the last few years and believe me, he is real class and will be a regular for England in a few years. We definitely looked a better defensive unit when he came onto the pitch.
West Ham played well for the rest of the first-half with Payet showing some great touches. This included a superb through-ball to Antonio. He pushed the ball past Martín Demichelis and then only had Joe Hart to beat. Demichelis, aware of the danger, hacked Antonio down. It looked a certain red card but Craig Pawson, who had a clear view of the incident, gave him a yellow. Dimitri Payet reproduced the free-kick against Bournemouth but Joe Hart, showing great athleticism managed to get a strong hand to the ball. It was the best save I have seen this season.
West Ham continued to play well in the second-half and it was no surprise when they took the lead. The power and pace of Antonio caused Manchester City problems all afternoon but it was it another asset that he brings to the team that resulted in the goal. Antonio took a quick, long-throw, that went over the heads of the City defenders. Valencia was the first to react and it was 2-1.
For the next twenty minutes the West Ham defence looked fairly comfortable although the team found it difficult to maintain the intensity of the first-half. West Ham also lost energy when Antonio was replaced by Moses. I can understand why Bilic made the change as Antonio did look tired but Moses's contribution was very disappointing. It just illustrated the importance of Antonio to the current team.
In the 81st minute Kelechi Iheanacho went on a run. Unfortunately, Aaron Cresswell, tackle caused the ball to loop up and landed at the feet of Agüero who had little difficulty putting the ball in the net. West Ham, led by the excellent Noble, were unwilling to accept a draw and he drove his players forward.
The substitute, Nikica Jelavic, had two reasonable chances to score and in the final action of the game, Dimitri Payet's excellent free-kick was headed against the bar by Cheikhou Kouyaté. It was a splendid performance by the Hammers and the Upton Park crowd are really enjoying the way the side is playing.
Slaven Bilic said afterwards: "When we got back in the dressing room my prayers and staff were so disappointed. And that is good. I am disappointed, but my pride is bigger than my disappointment. We played well. We were confident. Other teams have done well against City by defending, but we attacked them in numbers. We played well as individuals and as a team. But the good individual performances were just the cherry on the pie."
West Ham Utd: Adrián (7), Jenkinson (3), Byram (7), Collins (7), Reid (7), Cresswell (6), Song (7), Noble (8), Kouyaté (8), Antonio (7), Valencia (7), Payet (9), Moses (5).
After the great performance that put us in fifth place, there was much talk about the possibility of winning a Champion's League place this season. However, after the defeat at Newcastle on Saturday, most supporters seemed to change their mind and posters on West Ham forums were claiming that a top eight finish is the best we can hope for. I disagree with this pessimism but acknowledge that we desperately need to increase the number of it players in the squad.
The large number of injured players has put a tremendous strain on those who are available. They have played a lot of games over a short period of time and they looked extremely tired against Newcastle. The energy needed to close players down, was just not there on Saturday. It was disappointing that so far during the transfer window we have not added to the squad. We are told that we cannot sign any new players until we sell some of the existing squad. It is rumoured that West Ham would like to off-load, Mauro Zárate, Nikica Jelavić and Joey O'Brien. However, this is taking time and is costing us valuable points.
Slaven Bilic said after the game that " I don’t know why we started slowly. We should have started with more confidence than them. That wasn’t the case. We have to give them credit for starting so brightly, but we definitely helped them.... from the first minute of the game they were getting to second balls and looked hungrier, sharper, quicker." That is definitely true but the two goals were both very good and most teams would have had difficulty stopping them. Both goals were created by West Ham fan, Jonjo Shelvey. Steve McClaren pointed out: "The speed of Jonjo’s pass give us an extra two seconds and means defences can’t recover."
Payet was surprisingly quiet and rarely got involved in the game. In the first-half West Ham rarely looked dangerous. However, we did have two opportunities to score. Fabricio Coloccini’s splendid interception prevented Michail Antonio from getting to Aaron Cresswell’s excellent cross. In the 42nd minute Pedro Obiang played an excellent through pass but Cheikhou Kouyaté shot straight at the goalkeeper.
Nikica Jelavić replaced Obiang at half-time and within three minutes he had intercepted Chancel Mbemba’s terrible backpass and was able to round Rob Elliot before rolling the ball into the empty net.
Although they were much better in the second-half West Ham were unable to create many clear-cut chances. The best opportunity came near the end when Kouyaté managed to get his head on a cross from Jelavic, but Elliot managed to get his body in the way. Bilic commented: "In the second half, we improved a lot. In the end we could have nicked a point when we had a great chance to equalise. But, overall, they deserved to beat us."
West Ham Utd: Adrián (7), Tomkins (7), Jenkinson (6), Collins (7), Ogbonna (6), Cresswell (6), Obiang (6), Noble (5), Kouyaté (5), Jelavic (7), Antonio (6), Valencia (5), Payet (6), Moses (5).
West Ham had a very impressive first fifteen minutes at Bournemouth. A poor back pass after ten seconds was seized on by Antonio and Boruc was only able to push the ball out to Noble who unfortunately blazed over the bar.
The Hammers appeared to be intent on getting an early goal and Carroll looked dangerous every time he got the ball. In the 9th minute he showed pace that I did not think he had when he raced down the wing and his cross was just out of the reach of Antonio. After that run I said to myself that I had never seen Carroll look so fit. I then saw Carroll sitting on the pitch shaking his head. His body was unable to take that burst of speed and he had pulled his hamstring.
It was not only the fans who were upset by the sight of Carroll being replaced by Jelavic. The whole team seemed to be unsettled by this early set-back. The game completely changed and it was now Bournemouth who dominated and in the 17th minute they took the lead when Adrián misjudged a tame shot from Arter. Three minutes later it should have been 2-0 when new signing Benik Afobe got free from Ogbonna but headed the ball over the bar. Not long after Junior Stanislas played a delightful through ball to Afobe and with only the goalkeeper to beat he lost control of it and Adrián was able to pick it up unchallenged.
This missed chance seemed to galvanize West Ham into action and in the last 15 minutes of the first-half came close to scoring three times. The largely anonymous Jelavic managed to get in a cross that deflected off Steve Cook but Boruc was able to readjust his position and make a fine save. Tomkins had a good effort from a corner that landed on the netting attached to the bar and in the 44th minute Payet had a great shot tipped over.
After the break West Ham continued to dominate Bournemouth. Obiang, Noble and Payet controlled the midfield area and Antonio looked dangerous in attack. Payet played one great 35-yard ball that split the defence but Valencia's first touch was poor and he was unable to trouble Boruc. Valencia is playing well at the moment but he is struggling in front of goal and until the Bournemouth game he had no scored a premier league goal for nearly a year.
Antonio is emerging as a really important player in the team. He scrupulously does his defensive duties but has the energy to go on long, powerful runs. It was one of these that led to the first goal. Adam Smith realised that when Antonio went past him there was no way he was going to catch him and so he dragged him back. It was not the best position for a free-kick but Payet managed to get it up over the wall and to dip just under the bar. It was the kind of free-kick that no goalkeeper in the world would have been able to save.
In the 74th minute Payet received the ball close to the corner-flag. His way to the goal appeared to be blocked by two defenders, one behind the other. Most players in that situation would have thought of passing the ball back along the line. However, Payet is not like other players. Somehow he managed to wriggle past both defenders and he then delivered a pass to Valencia that he smashed into the net.
Bilic said after the game: "West Ham fans love a player with a bit of magic and he has more than a bit. I do not know why people are so surprised because he came from one of the biggest clubs in Europe. Maybe we are giving him more responsibility but he is enjoying it and we are enjoying him. He is deciding the games, he is doing things that are very hard to do in football and he is bringing the whole team 20 yards up without even kicking a ball.”
Payet went off in the 77th minute and was replaced by Alex Song. However, with Antonio still on the field we still looked dangerous. After another good run two Bournemouth defenders joined forces to bring down Antonio. It was virtually in the same position as the earlier foul. It also ended up with the same result. This time it was Valencia who curled it into the top corner.
Overall it was a great performance and we fully deserved the three points. We are now in fifth place, one point better than Manchester United and only one point behind Spurs. The injury to Carroll, who is expected to be out for six weeks, is a great concern. Jelavic is clearly not up to the job and Bilic will have to bring in a replacement as Sakho is still several weeks away from being able to play.
One possibility is the Croatia international striker Andrej Kramaric, who has only made a couple of appearances this season. It seems that Jamie Vardy, Shinji Okazaki and Leonardo Ulloa are all in front of him in the pecking order. However, Leicester City spent £9 million on him and I don't think we will be willing to pay that sort of money for him. Claudio Ranieri might be unwilling to sell to a club he sees as being a rival for a top-four place. Juventus and Inter Milan are also believed to be interested in the player.
We might have to look at the championship to find a good back-up striker. There are several young players who have the ability to make it at the top level. This includes Moussa Dembélé (Fulham), Jonathan Kodjia (Bristol City), Jordan Rhodes (Blackburn Rovers) and Andre Gray (Burnley).
West Ham Utd: Adrián (5), Tomkins (7), Jenkinson (6), Collins (7), Ogbonna (6), Cresswell (6), Obiang (7), Noble (7), Carroll (6), Jelavic (5), Antonio (8), Valencia (7), Payet (8).
West Ham's victory over Liverpool on Saturday extended their unbeaten run to seven games and completed a league double over Liverpool for the first time in 52 years. Both goals were headers. The first from Michail Antonio after ten minutes and the second came from Andy Carroll.
After the game Slaven Bilić gave an interview which suggests that he has not been too happy with Carroll's performances so far. "He (Carroll) looks really good and fit and it’s all about him now. Is he going to maintain and progress and look after himself, or is he going to go the other way? He has history in that and I’m not his dad, I can’t demand things from him. But I’m expecting that to be fair."
In his recent published autobiography, Sam Allardyce, also suggested that Carroll has not made the most of his abilities. Allardyce, managed Carroll at Newcastle United and brought him to West Ham after his £35m transfer to Liverpool had not worked out for the powerful striker: "He treats life too casually. He also gets himself into situations off the pitch which a manager can do without – and so can he." This adds to the commonly held view that he simply does not care and work hard enough.
Carroll may well have an attitude problem but in many ways he has been badly treated. Brendon Rogers got rid of him fairly quickly as he felt that while he was in the team, the other players would resort too often to the long-ball. His time at West Ham has not been very successful with him scoring only 11 goals in 41 appearances. This is poor for when he was signed it was suggested by Allardyce that he would be scoring 15 goals a season for us. The fact that he is often injured (six times in 2015) and when he plays he is rarely match-fit.
However, the main problem is that he is usually played as a lone-striker. To play that role successfully, you need pace, energy and to be able to hold the ball up. The modern lone-striker also needs to run the channels. Players like Carroll are easily dealt with by playing two centre-backs who are good in the air. The only way to counteract this is to get other players close to Carroll when the centres come in. This is what happened when Carroll scored against Chelsea. Carroll would not have been able to get his header on target if it had not been for Sakho taking John Terry away from the striker.
Slaven Bilić is clearly aware of it and the presence of Michail Antonio in the area was vitally important in his goal against Southampton. The same was true on Saturday for when Noble's perfect cross came in the Liverpool defenders had left him unmarked as they were concentrating on the runs of Valencia and Kouyaté.
Carroll had his best game for sometime on Saturday. One of the major reasons for this was the way that Antonio and Valencia were able to join up with him in the penalty area. Antonio looks like he is going to be a great player for us. Maybe he will do for us in the second-half of the season what Jamie Vardy did for Leicester City in the first-half of the campaign.
In the 10th minute Tomkins gave the ball away and Alberto Moreno surged forward on the West Ham right. Antonio raced back and made a successful sliding-tackle near the corner flag. After passing the ball to Tomkins he went on a 100 metre dash that enabled him to meet Valencia's excellent cross with a diving header.
Antonio's power, pace and energy makes a big difference to the balance of the side and hopefully will keep his place in the side when Moses returns. Noble also contributed a great deal to the victory covering 7.5 miles during the game.
Some people might complain about the fact that we only had the ball for 36% of the time. This is not a problem as long as you make good use of the ball when you do have it. During the game we had eighteen shots with ten of them on target. For all their possession, Liverpool only forced Adrián into two regulation saves.
It was also great to have Lanzini back in the team. He keeps the ball well and is always aware of the people around him (unlike Zárate) and nearly always makes the right pass. He is also a fine striker of the ball and came close to scoring when his swerving shot completely bamboozled Simon Mignolet who stood and watched it hit the post.
Slaven Bilic was devastated when Lanzini was forced off in the 39th minute with the return of his thigh injury. "If you watch the games again, the impact he made against Southampton and the way he orchestrated today with 22 players on the pitch, but with him bossing the game, you can see what he means to us.... It is not the hamstring or the muscle, it is some kind of abductor and the tendon."
However, with Payet coming on for twenty-five minutes and Winston Reid and Victor Moses expected to be ready for Saturday's game against Wolves, we coming close to being able to put out a team that could challenge for a top six place.
West Ham Utd: Adrián (7), Tomkins (7), Collins (8), Ogbonna (7), Cresswell (7), Lanzini (7), Obiang (7), Noble (8), Kouyaté (6), Carroll (7), Antonio (8), Valencia (7), Payet (6).
West Ham was booed off at half-time against Southampton. It was clearly the team's worst 45 minutes this season. Slaven Bilic had clearly set-up the team very badly. The injured Cresswell was replaced by Jenkinson. He clearly does not fancy Stephen Henrie who was on the bench. Jenkinson is such a right-sided player that every time he advanced forward he was unable to cross the ball.
Bilic also played Song as his most advanced midfielder. Without the pace to drive forward, we lacked energy in attacks. Meanwhile, Kouyate, who has looked very tired in recent weeks, was playing the holding role.
Southampton's main tactic was to swarm around Zárate every time he got the ball. It does not take a tactical genius to realise that Zárate is reluctant to pass the ball. His first instinct is to dribble with his head down. His colleagues don't even get into positions to receive the ball anymore. I lost count of the number of times Southampton dispossessed Zárate and then attacked our defence at speed.
West Ham were completely outplayed and was extremely lucky to only be one down at half-time. Southampton started the game with the kind of slick passing that brought the easy victory against Arsenal on Boxing Day. However, the goal came from Maarten Stekelenburg’s punt upfield. James Collins misread the ball and Mane’s clever backheel was met by Davis and he sent the ball out to Shane Long on the left. Tadic got his toe to Long's cross but it was enough to fool Jenkinson, who inadvertently touched the ball past his own goalkeeper.
Jose Fonte, Shane Long and Steven Davis all had good chances to extend the advantage. Afterwards their manager, Ronald Koeman, commented that “if you play good football in the first 45 minutes and you don’t score two or three goals and you don’t kill the game" then you are likely to have problems.
At half-time Bilic took off Song and replaced him with Lanzini. Although he was clearly not match-fit he gave the midfield much needed energy. Zárate was taken off and Carroll took his place. Jenkinson was sensibly moved to the right-hand side and could now be an attacking threat.
West Ham went after Southampton as soon as the referee blew the whistle. In the 47th minute a cross, following a corner, was only half-cleared and as it bounced invitingly for James Tomkins but before he could fully react, Carroll swung his foot at it and it went high over Stekelenburg’s crossbar.
Carroll found it difficult to get into the game and it was the rampaging Michail Antonio who was causing the Southampton problems. One has to admire Antonio tremendous enthusiasm that is matched by an incredible strength on the ball. This is in marked contrast to Zárate and Valencia who go down so easily when tackled. As they make no real attempt to stay on their feet they rarely win free-kicks.
In the 69th minute Antonio got the ball wide on the left. He immediately headed for the penalty area. Several tackles came in and eventually one brought him down. Michael Oliver was about to blow the whistle to give a penalty when Victor Wanyama booted the ball against the grounded Antonio and it spun into air and finished up in the back of Southampton’s net. It was a lucky goal but it was fully deserved.
Ten minutes later Valencia hit a fine cross that hit a defender and ballooned into the air. The always available Antonio dashed in and headed powerfully against the bar. Carroll, unmarked in the penalty area, completed the simple task of heading the ball past the stranded Stekelenburg. Southampton looked crestfallen by the goal and rarely looked like getting an equalizer.
Slaven Bilic said after the game: "After the goal we were totally down and I waited for half-time because I didn't want to humiliate the players by changing them before. I was happy when the referee blew, because they could have been 2-0 up. At half-time we made some changes but it was a change of character, of approach, of determination and will. They did try in the first half, but this was a different West Ham. We equalised and continued to chase, and at the end of the day we were rewarded for everything we did in the second half."
Bilic added: “For a couple of months we are without those kinds of players who are making things easier for other players.” This view was reinforced by the introduction of Lanzini. The rumour is that Payet might be on the bench on Saturday against Liverpool. We are currently in 7th place in the league. That is better than I expected we would be by the time Payet returned.
West Ham Utd: Adrian (7), Tomkins (7), Collins (7), Ogbonna (6), Jenkinson (5), Song (6), Noble (7), Kouyate (6), Zárate (3), Carroll (5), Antonio (7), Valencia (6).
The last game West Ham won was against Chelsea on 24th October. Payet's injury has indeed caused us serious problems. However, we have only been beaten once since we lost our main playmaker. The defeat against Spurs was followed by draws against WBA, Manchester United, Stoke and Swansea. That is not too bad and a victory against Aston Villa, who had not won since the opening day of the season was expected.
Although decisions went against us, we did really deserve the three points. Aston Villa was clearly the better side in the first-half and it was against the run of play when on the stroke of half-time, Michail Antonio played a cross-field ball to Aaron Cresswell who produced a rasping 20-yard drive, which flew low past Brad Guzan. It was West Ham's first goal since Zárate's free-kick against WBA.
Villa had most of the ball but they were not really looking dangerous until in the 62nd minute Rudy Gestede got the wrong side of Angelo Ogbonna after pulling him back. Gestede does not have the pace to get away from defenders and so it should not have been a serious problem. Gestede is a shrewd player and as soon as he got in front of Ogbonna he put on the brakes and the two collided. Of course, the referee, Mike Dean should have seen the earlier foul but once he let that go, Ogbonna should have been more careful. Jordan Ayew easily converted the penalty.
The defence, which had looked good in the previous three games, began to look vulnerable. Villa tried hard but they lacked the quality to take advantage of the situation and it was West Ham who came the closest to getting a winner. Leandro Bacuna would have felt hard done by if Dean had given a penalty for a shot that hit him on the hand. The second incident was clearly a penalty when Ashley Westwood stopped a Song through-ball with his arm. Westwood looked anxiously at Dean but the referee, who was well-positioned, did not give it.
West Ham nearly won it in the last minute of play. Antonio went on one of his long, powerful runs, that could only be stopped by an illegal tackle. Valencia free-kick was well-saved by Guzan but we did not deserve the three points.
James Collins gave another tremendous performance and has been very impressive since he came in for Reid. Afterwards Bilic said of Collins, who had signed a new two-and-a-half-year contract on Thursday: “He was again outstanding. He is in good form. It’s not just today, it’s ever since I came here. At the beginning he didn’t play a lot, but every time he’s played he is not only reliable, he has been magnificent. It’s great to have him. We decided to offer him a new contract way before and he deserves it. He’s a good player and I watch him in training every day and he’s good on the ball. It’s not just kicking the ball around. His presence is a very dominant one. I wouldn’t call those players old-fashioned, he’s just a really good centre-half.”
The most disturbing aspect of the game was the hamstring injury to Aaron Cresswell. Mark Noble later commented: "I'm the first one to say we have a good squad but we miss the players we've got. We miss the players who create stuff and score goals.... We have managed to cope with it and I'm proud of the players for digging in and picking up the points. These teams are playing their full squads and we're asking six or seven players to play when they are not fit."
Most of the teams are resting four of five players in the games over Christmas. However, we are having to play people like Cresswell, Noble and Kouyate in every game and they are looking tired and fear that we might well struggle against a Southampton team that beat Arsenal 4-0 in their last game.
West Ham Utd: Adrian (7), Tomkins (7), Collins (8), Ogbonna (5), Cresswell (7), Song (6), Noble (6), Kouyate (6), Obiang (6), Zárate (5), Antonio (6), Valencia (6).
Dimitri Payet was clearly our best player in the first-part of the season and most fans feared the worst when he was injured by McCarthy's horrendous scissors-style tackle against Everton. It was no real surprise when we lost 4-1 to Spurs the following week. Slaven Bilic, understandably decided to change the way we played and in the last four games we have managed to get four draws and three clean-sheets.
Payet's importance to the team is illustrated by the fact that we won six out of the twelve games when he was in the team and none since he was injured. Whereas we scored 1.9 goals per game with him, it has been 0.4 without him. Payet is not the only one missing from the team that provided such good performances in the games against Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool. Other key players such as Winston Reid, Manuel Lanzini, Diafra Sakho and Victor Moses are also out injured.
Andy Carroll was also missing from the team against Swansea. Although, he has not been that impressive so far this season, I was sorry to see him not playing on Sunday. I thought he had his best game of the season against Stoke and was probably benefiting from having Michail Antonio in the team. Antonio often wandered inside and his pace meant that the Stoke could not play a high-line against us.
Bilic picked Jelavic to replace Carroll on the grounds that he has been looking good in training and did not think Enner Valencia was fit enough to start. I suspect his inclusion had more to do with loyalty than form. When we signed him, a friend of mine, who is a season-ticket holder at Hull, said that although he is a willing runner his legs have gone and he is no longer good enough for the championship. He was woeful on Sunday and it is probably the last-time we will see him in the starting line-up.
West Ham seemed happy to let Swansea have the ball (73% possession) and to deny them space in the final third. Although they had twenty-two shots at goal, Adrian only had to make two saves. The nearest Swansea came to scoring was when a fierce effort from Ki Sung-yueng hit Collins on the hand. Most fans will say that Collins was too close to the South Korean to avoid the ball. However, others will point out that if Collins dived at the ball in order to stop it entering the net, and that if it hits the hand in the process, it should be a penalty.
Mauro Zárate had a couple of speculative shots in the first half but overall his performance was unimpressive. Michail Antonio worked hard in defence and managed a couple of times to pose problems in the Swansea penalty area. Valencia looked sharp when he came on for Zárate in the 60th minute and he forced Lukasz Fabianski into a fingertip save late on. Jelavic also had an opportunity to score just before the whistle but his first touch was poor and was unable to get a shot on goal.
Bilic was satisfied with the performance even though it meant seven games without a win. “We were very resilient, very stubborn in a positive way, we defended really well and I think we deserved a point. It’s all about the squad but why I want to praise the team is that we didn’t sink. Four or five weeks ago when we were really hit with these injuries, I said the only way we are going compensate is with teamwork, and that’s exactly what we’ve done in the last three matches."
Most fans will probably agree with what Bilic has done over the last few weeks. However, I am not sure that will be the case if he plays that way against Aston Villa on Boxing Day.
West Ham Utd: Adrian (7), Tomkins (7), Collins (8), Ogbonna (6), Cresswell (7), Song (7), Noble (6), Kouyate (6), Zárate (5), Antonio (6), Jelavic (4), Valencia (6).
Although they have not won since beating Chelsea 2-1 on 24th October, a winless run that was stretched to six matches after a draw against Stoke, West Ham was applauded off after a commendable effort against opponents who will be competing for a top-six place in the league.
All the talk before the game was of the club's injury crisis. Manuel Lanzini, Victor Moses, Dimitri Payet Diafra Sakho and Winston Reid were all unavailable. These were all key players in our good run earlier in the season. With Enner Valencia only fit enough for the bench, Andy Carroll started as the lone striker. This does not suit the way we play and in the last ten games he has started we have only won one game. However, the inclusion of Michail Antonio made Carroll more effective on Saturday. Antonio often wandered inside and his pace meant that the Stoke could not play a high-line against us.
Antonio, having his first start for the club, posed a constant threat and made several dangerous runs but unfortunately he could not provide a good final ball. On one occasion, when he was battling in the centre with Carroll, he hit a powerful shot that unfortunately went straight at Butland. Cresswell and Kouyaté also had shots well saved by Butland and Noble should have done better when Shawcross allowed him through on goal but his lack of speed meant that he was muscled out of it before he could shoot or to pass to the better positioned Carroll.
Mauro Zárate came closest to scoring when after an inter-change of passes with Antonio resulted in a run along the edge of the penalty area which ended with a shot against the post. However, Zárate was largely ineffective in the areas that mattered and does very little defensive work, which meant that he gave inadequate protection to Aaron Cresswell and was often left exposed to the runs of Glenn Johnson. Zárate's corner-kicks were also very poor.
Enner Valencia looked lively when he came on for Song in the 64th minute and he had a free-kick well saved by Butland. In the final minute of added time an overhead kick by James Tomkins was headed off the line and Kouyaté's follow-up went straight at Glenn Johnson. It would have been an undeserved victory as Stoke had the better chances and Adrian made two fine saves from the Stoke substitute Diouf. In the first-half, Afellay and Van Ginkel fluffed their opportunities. Stoke definitely caused us more problems than Manchester United did last week.
Stoke City probably have the best defence in the Premier League. They have now kept seven clean sheets in their last nine Premier League games. Jack Butland has the best saves-to-shots ratio in the Premier League so far in 2015-16 (82.5%). The club have not conceded a Premier League goal while Ryan Shawcross has been on the pitch this season (497 minutes). It is good to see England producing such good players and it is amazing to me that clubs such as Manchester City waste such large sums of money on inferior foreign players.
Although he does occasionally give the ball away, our defence definitely looks more secure with Tomkins at right-back instead of Jenkinson. It is no coincidence that Tomkins has played in every game this season when we have managed to get a clean-sheet this season (Arsenal, Liverpool, Newcastle, Manchester United, Stoke).
I was impressed with Antonio and I am sure he will make an impact at this level. Slaven Bilic was also pleased with his performance. "Michail did really well. He worked hard and has been waiting for his chance. Now he has got it and he used it really well. Sometimes it is hard for a player to come in and take their chance when they get it. But he did exactly that and I am really pleased for him."
West Ham Utd: Adrian (8), Tomkins (7), Collins (7), Ogbonna (6), Cresswell (7), Song (7), Noble (6), Kouyate (7), Zárate (5), Carroll (6), Antonio (7), Valencia (6).
West Ham's away performance against Manchester United on Saturday was not unlike those achieved against Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool and Crystal Palace. It looked a much more solid unit with Tomkins replacing Jenkinson. We seem much better in getting back into our defensive shape when we play with only one attacking full-back. The magnificent Winston Reid was immense in the centre of defence and Song, Noble and Kouyate did a good job of breaking up play.
Manuel Lanzini did not play because of a groin strain. This enabled us to play another defender and Zárate played just behind Carroll, who had his best game for sometime. Although it was a defensive formation, Zárate and Moses made sure that he was never isolated up front.
Unlike the other great away performances this season, West Ham failed to score and therefore we did not get the three points. However, this had nothing to do with the defensive formation and we made a series of good chances that unfortunately we were unable to convert.
The first good opportunity came in the 11th minute when Daley Blind had wrong footed his own defence by passing straight to Mark Noble. He quickly gave it to Victor Moses and with only David de Gea to beat, he fired it straight at the goalkeeper. If we had obtained this early lead it would have made it a very different game.
West Ham continued to make regular attacks and from a Zárate corner Reid hit the upright. David de Gea fumbled a cross and Smalling's attempt to clear hit Zárate on the head and then crashed against the post. With a bit more luck we could have been 3-0 up at the break.
Victor Moses had to go off with a hamstring injury in the 36 minute, but his replacement, Michail Antonio, did not lessen our threat going forward. It was Antonio who helped to create West Ham's best chance of the afternoon. In the 55th minute Antonio crossed to Carroll who with a delicate touch played Zárate in behind the home back line. With the goal at his mercy he sliced his shot wide.
For the last twenty minutes West Ham came under a lot of pressure but such was the quality of their defending, A only had to make one save. The crowd chanted "attack, attack, attack" and they did but they decided they could not get past our back four and relied on long shots from outside the area. These were either blocked or went wide.
Slaven Bilic argued after the game: "Considering that we came here without four key players and we played against the team that conceded at home only one goal so far, we’ve done enough to score and we deserved at least a point."
I hope that Bilic uses the same formation against Stoke. Lanzini is expected to be fit and should replace Zárate. As long as we keep a clean-sheet I am sure we have enough talent to score goals.
West Ham Utd: Adrian (7), Tomkins (7), Reid (9), Ogbonna (7), Cresswell (8), Song (7), Noble (8), Kouyate (8), Moses (6), Zárate (6), Carroll (7), Antonio (7).
West Brom had kept four clean sheets in their six away league prior to the game against West Ham on Sunday. Tony Pulis's tactics definitely make entertaining football difficult, but with Manuel Lanzini in fine form, the Hammers played some nice football in the opening exchanges. A good chance was even created for Mauro Zárate but he sliced it into the side-netting instead of hitting it across the goalkeeper.
In the 17th minute Gareth McAuley held on to Diafra Sakho right in front of referee, Martin Atkinson. Although it was a foul these are not often given. Zárate stepped up and curled the free-kick over the wall and into the top corner from 25 yards. It was of the best free-kicks of the season.
Albion seemed shattered as they had not previously conceded a first-half goal away in the league this season. They lost their shape as they did not seem to know what to do now they were behind. West Ham were now playing some of their best football of the season and should have scored at least another two goals. Cheikhou Kouyaté glanced a header wide from eight yards after an excellent cross from Aaron Cresswell. Lanzini then took the ball from Claudio Yacob in midfield, and after running towards the goal hit a swerving shot that Boaz Myhill just managed to save with his feet. The goalkeeper foiled the same player again five minutes later. Sakho and Moses also missed reasonable chances before the break.
Not surprisingly, Pulis changed it at half-time. This, plus the strong wind behind them, it was now WBA who looked the most dangerous side. It did not take them very long to get an equalizer. A long ball in was headed out by Jenkinson. Unfortunately it went straight to Fletcher who ran forward with it before passing to Lambert hit it first time. The ball was going well-wide but hit Winston Reid on the arm, deflecting past Adrián who had already started to dive to his right.
It was a very lucky goal but it was enough to spur WBA on and they definitely had the better chances during the rest of the game. James Morrison miss-kicked in front of goal and Salomón Rondón, who aimed a powerful header straight at Adrián.
Andy Carroll came on in the 64th minute but except for giving the ball away a couple of times, he had no impact at all. Nor did Jelavic, who arrived ten minutes earlier. With WBA playing with four centre-backs, this was no real surprise. Antonio looked more dangerous but he was only given eight minutes to impress his manager.
West Ham are desperately missing Payet. He would have had a field day in the first-half. However, we are now to lose Sakho for two months after sustaining a thigh muscle injury. Sakho is very important figure in the way we play. Carroll has already shown that he does not have the pace or mobility to replace him. Jelavic is not the answer because he is just a poor imitation of Carroll.
We could use Moses in that role but I am not sure he is strong enough to hold the ball up. Maybe we need to give Antonio a go in that position. I have seen him do it in the championship over the last two seasons. I know this is the premier league, but it seems, we don't have many other options.
West Ham United: Adrián (7); Jenkinson (5), Reid (6), Ogbonna (6), Cresswell (6), Obiang (6), Kouyaté (7), Lanzini (7), Zárate (7), Carroll (4), Jelavic (4), Moses (5), Sakho (7).
One of the features this season is the success that clubs have had with collective pressing. On Saturday evening, Manchester City had a great deal of trouble dealing with Liverpool's closing down of their defenders. No one plays this type of football better than Spurs and they started the game against West Ham on a 11 match unbeaten run.
Slaven Bilic would have known what was coming and no doubt the team spent the previous few days considering how best to deal with these tactics. With this in mind, I was very surprised by the team selection. The only change from the game against Everton was the return of Diafra Sakho for the injured Dimitri Payet. I was hoping that for this game we would play a defensive midfielder instead and Sakho should have come in for Carroll. Bilic was probably thinking of the havoc that Sakho and Carroll caused Chelsea in the air during the last fifteen minutes of the game at Upton Park. That was against ten men who were extremely tired. Would the West Ham full-backs get forward enough to give the kind of service that Carroll needs?
The first fifteen minutes were uneventful as Spurs took time to get into their stride. I suspect this was pre-planned as Mauricio Pochettino was not urging his players forward from his technical area. Then all of a sudden Spurs upped the pace and the Hammers were unable to deal with it. The most noticeable change was the intensity and speed of their collective pressing. This caused real problems for our defenders who have obviously been coached not to play the ball long. This enabled Spurs to play a high line with the knowledge that Carroll, our lone forward, did not have the pace to cause them any problems. Sakho, who does have this ability, was spending all his time helping out his full-back.
Eriksen began to get the ball in dangerous areas and started to probe out weaknesses. He was also the first one to get a shot on target but Adrián repelled his drive, which took a slight deflection off James Tomkins. A few minutes later and Spurs were ahead. Alli's strike was blocked, before it came back off him towards Kane. Jenkinson was positioned just behind him and seemed to have the situation under control. However, the striker used his strength to roll away from him and thrash a shot high past Adrián. Jenkinson was left with his hand up, apparently appealing for offside!
Jenkinson is good going forward but does not have the instincts of a defender. He is very slow to react to danger and makes mistakes at vital times. I thought West Ham's best defensive performance was against Arsenal when he was not allowed to play in the game. Tomkins played as right-back with Angelo Ogbonna joining Winston Reid in the centre of defence.
West Ham could have been level a few minutes later when a Noble’s shot had looped up, enabling Cheikhou Kouyaté to leap into an overhead kick and crashed the shot against the crossbar. Kouyaté was clearly standing in an offside position but the flag was not raised and the goal would have been given if the shot had been a few inches lower.
In the 33rd minute West Ham went 2-0 down. Toby Alderweireld escaped from Reid at an Ericksen corner (Reid was unintentionally blocked by Sakho) and made a quick dart towards the near post. Carroll was supposed to be controlling this area but he failed to move towards the ball and Alderweireld was able to rise in front of him to crash his header home.
Slaven Bilic stubbornly refused to make any changes in half-time. One of his flaws is that he refuses to believe he has set-up his teams wrong. I suppose it is only coaches with supreme confidence that are willing to accept their mistakes in public.
Five minutes into the second-half and the game was over. Tomkins, attempting to play out from the back, rolled the ball straight to Eriksen who passed it quickly up to Kane. His low shot flicked off Reid and fizzed underneath Adrián who seemed to have it covered.
It was all Spurs now and except for the woodwork and some fine Adrián saves, the score could have reached near to double figures. However, they only managed one more when Kyle Walker played a give-and-go with Son Heung-min before curling home the fourth with the outside of his foot. Manuel Lanzini managed to get a consolation goal in the 87th minute. It was a fine strike but the score-line flattered West Ham.
Slaven Bilic brought on Mauro Zárate in the 62 minute. He gave a disgraceful performance who appears to be sulking for being left out of the side. The most worrying aspect of his play is his unwillingness to defend. The sight of him jogging back and then standing still to watch Walker score the fourth made my blood boil. I cannot see why Bilic does not give Michail Antonio a chance to show us what he can do by bringing him on as a substitute. At least he would give us some pace and energy.
After the game Slaven Bilic admitted: "The performance matches the result. They were better than us. We just couldn't produce on the pitch. They were more a team. They were physically quicker and stronger and better in transitions.... They wanted it more today than in a normal game, but we simply were not good enough to get anything out of that game." This is all true but it would have been more honest to admit that he had made some serious tactical mistakes. If he does not address these problems we will be sliding down the table over the next few weeks.
West Ham United: Adrián (7); Tomkins (4); Jenkinson (4), Reid (6), Cresswell (5), Noble (5), Kouyaté (5), Lanzini (5), Carroll (3), Jelavic (5), Moses (5), Sakho (5), Zárate (3).
Last week Slaven Bilić gave an interview to discuss Roy Hodgson's decision not to call-up Andy Carroll for the matches with Spain and France. "If he continues to play as he did against Chelsea when he came on, or against Palace or Norwich, then he has got every chance to go there," said Bilić.
Bilić likes the idea of the tall, strong striker who is excellent in the air. "Those strikers were very popular when we played and even before... Then they were not so popular. Now they are back in business and everybody loves to have a big No.9... The midfield is so thick and it is very difficult to go through there by passing but they can't be one-dimensional players that they were 30 or 40 years ago. If he continues to play as he did against Chelsea when he came on, or against Palace or Norwich, then he has got every chance to go there (UEFA EURO 2016)."
It is true that Carroll played an important role in obtaining points from Chelsea, Crystal Palace and Norwich. However, he has not been a great success in the games against Watford and Everton. You don't have to be a master tactician to work out why Carroll appears to be far more effective if he comes off the bench. When he starts a game, Carroll plays as a lone striker. In this role he is fairly easy to deal with. Bilić said in the same interview that to be successful, the big man up front has to be "versatile" he "can't be static". This is of course Carroll's major problem, and that is why he is unlikely to play for England again.
When he starts in games Carroll is fairly easy to deal with. On Saturday, whenever a ball came close to him, he had Stones and Funes Mori in close attention. However good you might be in the air, if you are being marked by two men it is very difficult to make the kind of contact you need to be dangerous. This explains why Carroll has been effective when he comes off the bench. Bilić keeps Sakho on the pitch and in this way you get a bit more space to do your damage. That is why he was able to score against Chelsea. It was why Heurelho Gomes, the Watford goalkeeper, said that the team were pleased when they saw that Carroll was playing as a lone striker.
Carroll’s skills are not those that easily dovetail with those of Lanzini and Payet, West Ham’s two most influential playmakers. Within five minutes of the match kicking off, you could hear groans when Cresswell aimed a long ball at Carroll, when the nearest teammate was 25 metres away. Despite these problems, West Ham were the better side in the first-half, with Payet causing Everton all sorts of problems. In the 30th minute they deservedly took the lead. Victor Moses, who was having his best game for a while, started the move, cutting in from the right and firing in a shot that took a deflection before rebounding off Stones. It landed at the feet of Lanzini on the edge of the penalty area, but instead of hitting it straight towards goal, the Argentinean got the ball under control and then produced beautifully-measured shot into the top corner of the net. It both curled and dipped and passed Tim Howard in about the only place where he could not get it.
Unfortunately, the most important event of the afternoon, took place a few minutes later. McCarthy made an horrendous scissors-style tackle on Payet. He received a yellow card but it should have been red. McCarthy clearly made the kind of tackle that intended to put Payet out of the game. Terry Venables once said that he never played under a manager who instructed defenders to try and hurt the opposition's most creative players. Most managers seem to have given these instructions when they play West Ham. This includes Roberto Martinez who tries to give the impression that he is a decent man. It was noticeable that Noble suppressed Barkley without resorting to illegal methods.
Payet was clearly badly hurt and should have left the field. Instead he bravely struggled on but in the 43 minute he was dispossessed by Barry who gave it to Gerard Deulofeu who threaded a perfectly weighted through-ball between defenders Winston Reid and James Tomkins into the path of Lukaku. He duly took the ball around Adrian and passed it into the net. The Belgium striker has kept up his 100 per cent scoring record for Everton against West Ham. He has now scored in each of his last seven appearances against them. The only other Everton player to do this was Dixie Dean.
Without the injured Payet, the second-half was a much more even affair. It was good to see Winston Reid back in the centre of defence. Over the last three Reid-less matches, West Ham have made two grave defensive errors, both of which have led to goals. In a team that has made the fourth-most defensive errors in the league, Reid himself has made no contributions to West Ham’s total of nine. Reid's defensive colleagues always look more assured with him in the team Reid also had the Hammers best chance in the second-half but from a corner his header just went over the bar.
Bilić has several different ways of dealing with the long-term absence of Payet. On the surface the most obvious option would to play Zárate in that position. I think that would be a disaster. Zárate is always looking to score and rarely passes to players in better positions. He also does not do his defensive duties, something that Payet was very good at. My choice would to bring in Pedro Obiang and that would allow Noble and Kouyaté to be more offensive.
In January, Bilic will probably have to buy a playmaker. One possibility is Croatia's new young sensation, Alen Halilović. He is the youngest ever debutant for the Croatian national team, and is considered to be one of the most promising young talents of European football and has been described as the “Croatian Messi” due to his overall skill and ability. When he was seventeen Halilović signed for Barcelona in March 2014 for €2.2m. However, he still has not played for them and the increasingly frustrated Halilović might be tempted to join his fellow countryman at West Ham.
It has been suggested that other Croatian youngsters are worth looking at. For example, Andrija Balić and Nikola Vlašić both play for Hajduk Split. Some of the top European clubs have shown interest in these players and Valencia have already offered €10m for Balić and Vlašić.
West Ham United: Adrián (7); Tomkins (7); Jenkinson (6), Reid (8), Cresswell (7), Noble (7), Kouyaté (7), Lanzini (8), Payet (7); Carroll (5), Moses (7), Valencia (6), Zárate (5).
Nikola Jurčević late arrival, due to work permit problems, as Slaven Bilić's assistant manager and chief coach, coincided with West Ham's recent good run of form. However, Saturday's performance suggested that we still have the same problem as we did before. Whereas we have beaten Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Crystal Palace, we have struggled against teams such as Bournemouth, Leicester and Sunderland. The same was true against Watford who fully deserved their 2-0 victory.
After the game Bilić admitted: "From the start we were basically second best. They were better in every football department and totally deserved to beat us. We didn't have energy. They were quicker, more hungry than us." That was clear to see from anybody watching the game. But why does it happen only against the weakest teams? Are the players over-confident? Is Bilić not preparing them right for these types of games? Do the teams in the bottom half of the table work harder than us?
Probably the most significant factor in Saturday's defeat was the absence of Diafra Sakho as a result of a minor injury. In a recent television interview, Crystal Palace's Scott Dann, said that Sakho was the best striker he has played against this season. Sakho is always on the move and draws defenders out of position, leaving space for players such as Payet and Lanzini to run into. The selection of Andy Carroll appears on the surface to be an obvious replacement. After all, in the last three games he has made major contributions when he came off the bench. However, he does not have the mobility of Sakho which is so vital to the way we play. Heurelho Gomes, the Watford goalkeeper, said that the team were pleased when they saw that Carroll was playing instead of Sakho.
One of the features of all the games this season when we have dropped points is that we concede goals in the first-half by making silly mistakes. That was true on Saturday. In the 37th minute, Ben Watson, whose set-piece delivery was a threat throughout, chipped in a free-kick, into the West Ham penalty area. Carroll initially failed to head the ball, but a failed attempt to clear it, sent it high into the air. Carroll went to hit it on the volley but realizing that Moses was just in front of him, decided to let it drop. He then attempted to do a Cruyff turn, but was robbed by Nathan Ake, who crossed for Odion Ighalo to bundle the ball into the net.
At half-time Slaven Bilić showed his displeasure at the team's performance by taking off Lanzini and Moses and replacing them with Valencia and Zárate. The withdrawal of Moses was fully understandable and his recent performances suggest he was very lucky to start. However, the Lanzini decision was a strange one. It is true he had a quiet first half but he provides valuable protection to Jenkinson who is often out of position. This was the case in the 48th minute when Watford attacked down our right-hand side and when the ball came in James Tomkins failed to clear Anya's weak cross and it turned into a pass to the lively Odion Ighalo, who hit the ball into the top corner.
Watford were now able to defend deep and West Ham were only able to create a couple of chances. The first followed a terrible back-pass by Craig Cathcart. It was easily intercepted by Valencia, but lacking the confidence to take the ball past the goalkeeper, hit the ball first time against the post. The ball bounced towards Carroll, but he clumsily failed to control it and when the tackle came in, he threw himself to the ground in a vain attempt to get a penalty.
The second chance also fell to Carroll. A delightful pass from Payet found him inside the penalty area. However, once again he looked technically inept and sliced the ball wide. Carroll, along with Tomkins and Noble, probably went into the game with the hopes that a good performance would result in a call-up into the England squad. Instead they gave all the information that Roy Hodgson needed to ignore them again.
James Collins, who had been given the runaround by Ighalo all afternoon, went in extremely hard and ridiculously late to this talented striker, and received a red card from the impressive Keith Stroud. Slaven Bilić did not disagree with the decision: "I can’t have any complaints... I have more complaints about how we played and how we helped them, with the greatest respect to them... they have a good team but we gave them a hand. We helped them. In the Premier League you can lose games, of course you can, but you can live with defeats if your team gave everything. Today they didn’t."
West Ham United: Adrián (7), Tomkins (6), Jenkinson (5), Collins (5), Cresswell (6), Noble (5), Moses (4), Zárate (5), Kouyaté (6), Payet (6), Lanzini (5), Carroll (4), Valencia (5).
When the Hammers beat a team in the top six all the media want to talk about is the failings of the team that lost. In doing so, they fail to truly analyze the quality of West Ham performance. It happened after the victories against Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City. Saturday's win over Chelsea got a similar response. It was all about Matric being sent off rather than another superb performance from the well-drilled Hammers.
It is no coincidence that West Ham have won every game so far against the clubs that finished in the top six last season. In previous years you have had outsiders, such as Southampton and Swansea, who for a while were in the top four. However, in all cases, they never did very well against the top teams. That is clearly not the case with West Ham.
Bilić's great talent is an ability to prepare a team for a game. As Andy Carroll pointed out: "We've got a great atmosphere at the training ground. It's fantastic to be a part of. Slaven is a top manager - he analyses the opposition and then tells us how to beat them. We all thought we could beat them today. It wasn't about Chelsea, it was about us."
The away victories against Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United have given the team confidence. In a interview given last week, Adrián commented: "The team has the defensive work that Sam Allardyce instilled and we’ve added the new attacking players and the philosophy that Bilić has, to try to keep possession, with quick attacks but always with the ball. I think the team is more competitive, more complete across the pitch and we’ve shown it in these early matches. He (Payet) has brought some magic. He has something different, he is not an ordinary footballer. He can play a pass where nobody sees one, or have a shot where nobody would expect it. He’s the kind of footballer who brings a touch of class, and when you play with good footballers, you all improve."
If West Ham can beat the top teams surely it is possible to stay in the top four? Not according to the football pundits. Before the game on Saturday, Jeff Stelling on Sky Sports, asked Matt Le Tissier, Paul Merson, Phil Thompson and Charlie Nicholas if West Ham could finish above Chelsea this season. They all said no. Stelling then asked them if they would change their mind if West Ham won the game at Upton Park as they would then be nine points ahead of Chelsea. They all replied that even if this happened, West Ham would still finish below Chelsea.
This was also the view of the bookmakers, for after the game Paddy Power was offering Chelsea at evens and West Ham at 12-1 to finish in the top four (Liverpool are 5-2 and Spurs are 3-1). There are several reasons given for this lack of faith in the Hammers. It is pointed out that they were in the top four during the first few months of last season but later dropped down the league. It is argued that the present squad is not very different to the one that Sam Allardyce had last year. For example, on Saturday, only Payet and Lanzini were not available to Allardyce. Of course to most pundits, Allardyce is a fantastic manager and they refuse to believe that Bilić' is that much better than him.
The most valid argument against West Ham finishing in the top four is the quality of the squad. What will happen if a couple of our key players get injured? This is true of any club. Would Chelsea have won the title last year if Hazard and Matic had suffered long-term injuries? I think most of us would agree that if we lost Payet for any length of time we would have serious difficulties maintaining the present form. But if he remains fit I think we have a reasonable chance of qualifying for the Champions League.
In their game against Dynamo Kiev on Tuesday there were signs that Chelsea were getting back to the form that saw them win the title last year. The early exchanges appeared to show the teams as evenly matched. Once again Payet appeared our most dangerous player. One shot of his went too high and after Cesc Fàbregas brought him down in the 15th minute, his free-kick forced Asmir Begovic to tip the ball over the bar to concede a corner. Payet delivered the set piece and Diego Costa botched an attempted clearance, allowing the ball to bobble out to the edge of the area, where Mauro Zárate showed great technique to hit a splendid low shot into the net.
The next real chance fell to Chelsea. Kurt Zouma came close to equalizing from a corner when his header appeared to be going in just inside the upright. Manuel Lanzini blocked it with his chest but it spun towards the goal-line. His second attempt at a clearance was more successful although the Chelsea players were claiming a goal. The review technology showed that even though the vast majority of the ball was over the line, only a couple of centimetre stopped it from being a goal.
West Ham, growing in confidence, began to play some sparkling football. A long ball from Adrián was headed on by Sakho, a defender got to it first but could only kick it up into the air. Noble headed it forward to Payet, who with a delightful flick, put Lanzini clear. It looked like West Ham was about to double its lead but Lanzini clipped the ball over the advancing Begovic, but it landed on the netting above the bar.
In the 44th minute Chelsea hit us on the counter-attack. With four Chelsea players racing towards two West Ham defenders, Willian slipped a pass through to Fàbregas, who cracked a low shot into the corner of the net. Adrián made no attempt to save it as he saw the linesman raise his flag for offside. It was a close call and one could understand the Chelsea players being upset by the decision. However, they then seem to lose the plot and soon afterwards Matic was sent off for a second yellow card offence. The assistant first-team coach, Silvino Louro, was dismissed for haranguing the fourth official and José Mourinho was banished to the stands at half-time.
This decision seemed to disrupt West Ham's game strategy. They allowed Chelsea to have the ball in mid-field and hoped to catch them on the break. Therefore, for the opening period of the second-half, Chelsea dominated possession and it was no real surprise when they equalized. A corner was headed on by Zouma and as the ball went loose, Adrian dashed out to get hold of it. Noble, who was guarding the inside of the far post, went with him. Gary Cahill got to it first and his shot went in where Noble had been standing.
Slaven Bilić responded by urging his men forward. He also sent on Andy Carroll, signalling his intent to feed his striker with high crosses into the penalty area. Allardyce of course used this tactic last season. However, at the same time he used to take off one of his big strikers. Therefore, Carroll would find himself being marked by three central defenders. To overcome this problem Bilić kept Sakho on the pitch.
In the 79th minute Terry's attempted clearance only reached Noble, who fed it to Cresswell, who was free on the left. His perfect cross would have been headed out by Terry but for the attention of Sakho. Standing just behind him was Carroll who sent a powerful header into the net from 10 yards.
This victory puts us into third place. There were fine performances again from Payet, Kouyaté, Cresswell and Tomkins. However, it was Lanzini, who has taken a more central role in Bilić's attacking lineup recently, who really caught the eye. Slaven Bilić recently claimed: "I have never seen a player who reminds me of Luka Modric as much as Manuel Lanzini... Luka is my favourite player. He is my prototype of a great midfielder. I put Luka in the Croatia Under-21s and then in the senior team and we have a special kind of bond. But Lanzini has the same kind of qualities... What I do know is he is making our other players better."
West Ham United: Adrián (7); Tomkins (8); Jenkinson (6), Collins (7), Cresswell (8); Noble (7); Zárate (7); Kouyaté (8); Payet (8); Lanzini (8); Sakho (7).
West Ham News (1) (16th June - 25th June, 2015)
West Ham News (2) (26th June - 6th August, 2015)
West Ham News (3) (9th August - 17th October, 2015)