Most football supporters feel emotionally gutted when their favourite team loses a game.
Although we ended up losing an entertaining encounter to Southampton, for the first time in ages, I came away feeling quite positive. Most objective pundits have suggested that a draw would have been a fairer outcome in this match.
I am sure there will be much debate relating to the penalty awarded to Southampton in added time, which robbed us of a much deserved point.
In contrast to the Old Trafford disaster, our players showed a lot of spirit and nearly everyone improved significantly.
Let’s take a look at the individual performances: Joe Hart was competent between the sticks, although he had the crossbar to thank on a couple of occasions. I believe that Adrian would have been just as good, if not better, due to his enthusiastic effect on the defenders.
We were very unfortunate to miss Winston Reid, evidently due to a calf-muscle strain he picked up in the warm-up just before the start of the game – he was sorely missed! That said, the defenders performed admirably, especially after Marko Arnautovic’s sending off in the 33rd minute.
Despite the issue of the penalty, Pablo Zabaleta put in a heroic effort and showed an incredible level of fitness and stamina. Some of his tackles could deserve inclusion in a ‘master-class’ manual for defenders.
Young Declan Rice showed maturity well beyond his youthful years; he was a stalwart and received a rousing applause when he was subbed late in the game. Aaron Cresswell made a welcomed return to the team, after a disappointing effort from Arthur Masuaku last outing. It was his delightful cross which found Diafra Sakho’s head, and lead to Chicharito’s equalising goal in the second half. The one exception in defending was Jose Fonte, who looked very uncomfortable on and off the ball. Perhaps he is carrying a niggle or is just short of match fitness..
It was pleasing to see Pedro Obiang and Edimilson Fernandes return to good form in this game. In particular, Obiang showed some great composure in some very pressurised situations. Mark Noble put in an inspirational captain’s display, always trying to encourage his team-mates to keep battling on. However, his place in the starting team may be jeopardised by the presence of Rice and the imminent return of Cheikhou Kouyate.
Andre Ayew expended a lot of energy but, unfortunately, with little to show. It is perplexing to know where he is best suited – central or wide? His position could also be in doubt with the likes of Marcus Browne, Nathan Holland and Martin Samuelsen showing so much skill and pace in the U23s.
The much awaited return of Michail Antonio came to fruition in this game. His presence made an enormous difference to the dynamic play of the team; he made some exhilarating runs of up to 50 metres, and it was his well struck left-footed shot which set up Chicharito’s first goal for the club just on half-time. His display, whether used as a winger or as a centre-forward, must have done him no harm for selection in England’s up-coming international games. He really showed why he was voted Hammer of the Year last season, and he has become a firm favourite with the West ham fans.
Marko Arnautovic was not on the pitch long enough to say much other than he was very undisciplined in the tackle that led to his dismissal. In the 7thminute he had a golden opportunity to score, but made little of it. I did recall him taking our first corner, which was a disastrous effort. Until he gets his crossing sorted out, we might do better to leave corner kicks to the likes of Antonio, Cresswell or even Noble.
While he ponders his folly during the next three weeks, there may be a chance to introduce Sead Haskabanovic, who was most impressive against the Swindon U23s last week; in that particular game he took some beautiful corners and made some penetrating runs down the flank. He came to West Ham with a lot of experience in the Swedish Premier League; he is one to watch!
Chicharito was on song all day – he never stopped trying and was frequently seen assisting in defence in the second half. His uncanny ability to turn up in the right place at the right time is a strong reminder of how valuable he is likely to be.
Leaving aside the untimely dismissal of Marko Arnautovic, our defence was once again under nearly constant siege.
Fortunately, they performed well as a unit and it took two penalties to overcome our efforts. That said, we continue to struggle for overall possession – 33% in this match, although this may not mean too much with 10 men.
I was hoping that we would fight for dominance and control in the first 30 minutes of this game. However, upon observation of Bilic’s favoured 4-2-3-1- formation, I thought the going would be tough. If we are serious about our fortunes this season, we surely would have been expected to beat Southampton, which many football betting tips sites like Top Football Tipster would’ve been backing.
If Bilic chooses to persist with this formation – even allowing for the possible signing of William Carvalho – it could be a long, difficult season for our team. We are better than that; just dissect out the squad players and U23 potentials, insert them in a better jig-saw puzzle and we will start winning games.
I have suggested the 3-5-2, the 4-4-2 or even the 3-4-3, which surely must strengthen the midfield and enhance the opportunities created for goal scoring. We have one of the best goal-poachers in the business, but he will continue to be isolated with this maladaptive formation.
For everybody’s sake, let’s hope that the gaffer shows better discrimination for the next away game at Newcastle.