After dispatching champions Manchester City at the Boleyn Ground, West Ham traveled to the Brittania Stadium on the highest of highs, with victory a quite attainable goal.
While that obviously didn’t happen for us, the positive attitude and morale boost that our comeback draw against Stoke City produced is almost worth as much as all three points.
It was a quite desperate first half for the boys in Claret and Blue (or just blue on the day), as poor passing, poor formations, poor understanding and a relentless Stoke attack left West Ham on the brink of letting the match slip away before the referee blew for half time. With star striker and new found East End deity Diafra Sakho on the bench, Sam Allardyce decided to drop the diamond and bring back the dreaded “one up top” formation with Enner Valencia as the sole striker and place Stewart Downing back in his more familiar (but less effective) wing position. From the word “Go” things just didn’t seem right; our formation was scattered beyond belief, with an attacking midfielder being changed randomly from attack to attack. Downing had become frustrated by a lack of service on the wing within 30 minutes and rightly so, his teammates didn’t seem to know where he or anyone else was.
This scattered formation was emphasized by Alex Song and Morgan Amalfitano, who seemed to randomly abandon their posts to take up a more central attacking role in support of the isolated Valencia. Stoke, on the other hand, continually threatened and finally scored a deserved, albeit lucky, goal. If not for the heroics of Adrian this game would have been 2-0 right before the end of a half that West Ham would have been thanking their lucky stars to see end at 1-0.
The second half began similar to the first, with the only change of note being Carlton Cole replacing the impotent Amalfitano to switch back to a 4-3-1-2 formation. Stoke came out fighting again and profited on a rare mistake from the ever present Aaron Cresswell to make it 2-0. The bubbles were bursting and hopes were crashing back down to Earth, with a two goal deficit at the Brittania spelling certain defeat. Last season this may have been the case, but not with the new and vigorous squad of 2014/15.
In a rare foray forward, Stewart Downing delivered a world class ball into the box with the lethal Enner Valencia delivering a spectacular diving header into the side netting. Spirits were raised and the 3,000 traveling Hammers let out a mighty roar as they knew that their team was right back in the thick of things. After withstanding additional Stoke pressure and a quite glaring miss from Mame Birame Diouf, West Ham found their equaliser. The goalscorer Valencia this time turned provider, collecting a loose ball following a corner and tormenting Stoke defenders before drilling a low cross across the box for Downing to fire home with his “weaker” right foot. An exuberant Downing celebrated wildly in front of the equally ecstatic away supporters who had just seen their team complete what was, in the end, a quite remarkable draw.
But now that our trip up north has produced points, what’s in store for next week? We face as Aston Villa side that is in such a poor run of form that they recently had to cancel their “Goal of The Month” awards for October on the grounds that they simply didn’t score one! What’s more is that Belgian man mountain Christian Benteke will miss out after his fisticuffs during the match with Spurs this past weekend. So, surely a simple win, right? Wrong.
It’s an old and overused cliché but there simply are no “easy” games in this Premier League. Aston Villa have a few players that can still cause issues, with Andy Weimann and Gabby Agbonlahor being their main threats. That said, we should still be confident that we can take all three points against our similarly coloured neighbors from Birmingham. The return of Diafra Sakho and Winston Reid (who was taken off in the first half against Stoke) will be a major boost to what is still one of the strongest West Ham sides in at least 15 years. There’s even talk of, and I don’t want to jinx anything, a return to action for fifteen million pound man Andy Carroll. I’m personally predicting a 2-0 victory for the Hammers, with Sakho and Valencia continuing their recent form with a goal each.
But let’s stop thinking and start preparing for a big game at the weekend. Come on you Irons!