When Mame Biram Diouf glanced home to give Stoke City a 2-0 advantage on Saturday, many fans were anticipating a performance reminiscent of the forgettable visit of Southampton earlier in the season.
Then suddenly, out of nowhere, West Ham were back in the game with a brilliant goal from Enner Valencia, four minutes after Stoke had scored their second. Downing then finished expertly to complete the comeback, something that simply wouldn’t have happened last season.
The performance over the first 60 minutes was actually very poor. The midfield were constantly getting caught in possession as Stoke pressed high up the pitch and the service to an isolated Enner Valencia was minimal. One player who was outstanding in West Ham’s difficult opening hour was Adrian, a player that hasn’t received as much praise as he should have had over the course of the season due to the focus on West Ham’s new attacking play.
He was very solid against Manchester City, producing a number of good saves including a fine stop to deny Stevan Jovetic’s long range effort as City tried to break West Ham down. The performance against Stoke was exceptional; he made 4 saves, including a fine stop to deny Diouf on the stroke of half time. He was very quick off his line, spreading himself well to produce an excellent save with his feet. I’m also pretty certain that, despite West Ham getting a goal kick, he managed to brilliantly deny Geoff Cameroon who was so close to scoring from only a few yards out. There wasn’t anything Adrian could do about the two goals he conceded and there is a sense that he is continuing to adapt to the English game. At only 27 years old, there is the potential for the Spaniard to get even better; he could be a reliable performer for West Ham for many years to come.
Overall, Stoke dominated stats in an attacking sense. They had more shots on goal (21 to 10), completed more passes (325 to 206) and attempted a massive 40 take-ons compared to West Ham’s rather desperate 7. However, one of those 7 take-ons was the successful work on the right flank by Stewart Downing on his way to crossing superbly for Enner Valencia to score. When West Ham looked doomed, a moment of individual brilliance from Downing gave West Ham a route back into the game.
When the stats of Stewart Downing are analysed, they show that the England hopeful actually played very well once again despite the poor performance of the team overall. He had an 89% pass completion rate with 12 of his 28 attempted passes occurring in the attacking third. It became very clear that once the formation changed and Downing was given more freedom to roam, it became increasingly difficult for Stoke to keep tabs on him and the momentum of the game changed.
It is worth mentioning that his superbly crafted assist was with his weaker foot, planting the ball into an area that is a guaranteed happy hunting ground for a striker of Enner Valencia’s quality. His well taken, powerful finish in the 73rd minute was also executed with his right foot, which shows the confidence he has in his ability at the moment.
Another player who was influential to the successful comeback was Enner Valencia. Just like Downing, the Ecuadorian produced a goal and an assist that rounded off a very effective second half for Valencia on a personal front. With the addition of Carlton Cole up front, it allowed Valencia to find more space and create problems out wide, something he simply couldn’t do in the first half due to his lone role up front.
Overall, it seems that Sam Allardyce may have learnt his lesson in terms of playing one up front. Two strikers help to bring the best out of Enner Valenica and it also allows Stewart Downing more freedom in a central role. In terms of the result, it was a fantastic point, especially when Diafra Sakho missed out.
Hopefully the game against Aston Villa will produce not only a win but a better performance too.