In a match that felt all too similar to the shock humiliation against West Brom just a few weeks ago, West Ham have unfortunately continued their post-Christmas slide with another hapless defeat at the hands of Crystal Palace.
It was a game that simply saw very little go right for the Hammers. Both Mark Noble and the newly acquired Nene saw close efforts painfully strike the woodwork, several more of Alan Pardew’s men could have in-fact been given their marching orders for a few suspicious off-ball incidents – but perhaps worst of all – was the fact that Crystal Palace managed to put three goals past West Ham’s defence despite turning up to the game with an apparent shortage in the striking department.
Such a testing performance should therefore be best forgotten by the Upton Park faithful as soon as possible, yet without sounding like too much of a pessimist in what has so far been a much improved season for the club, the defeat nonetheless highlights a few important problems that are seemingly inherent within Big Sam’s squad.
Whilst the players themselves must take the lion’s share of the criticism for what went wrong last weekend, does Sam Allardyce’s role in the defeat also have to come into question, and if so, to what extent does the blame lie at his door?
One aspect of Saturday’s shortcomings certainly comes in the form of Big Sam’s tactics. The former Bolton, Blackburn and Newcastle boss has faced a constant barrage of ‘long ball’ complaints since he first took up major coaching duties in the dug-out, and although many within the footballing community have sympathised with Allardyce over the subject, his critics can nonetheless use the poor showing against Crystal Palace as further evidence for their claims.
Despite Alan Pardew’s side particularly favouring aerial battles at the back, with the likes of Mile Jedinak, Scott Dann and Damien Delaney proving somewhat comfortable with the physical aspect of the game, all West Ham seemed to want to do in the first half was to pump long balls up to the likes of Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia – two strikers who incidentally thrive when the ball is played with pace on the deck.
Both Alex Song and Stewart Downing have subsequently faced a great deal of criticism for their respective performances in the match. Whilst both players, who have certainly been two of the brighter sparks throughout the 2014/15 campaign so far, really didn’t shine themselves in the greatest of lights with their own individual performances, it can’t have helped their cause to see long ball after long ball constantly flying over their heads.
The likes of Adrian and James Tomkins somehow kept persisting with such a tired and predictable approach, and as it is ultimately down to the manager to get the team playing the correct way, the buck seemingly has to stop with Allardyce.
Aside from a brief up in tempo towards the closing stages, everything was simply far too slow, lethargic and lacklustre pretty much from beginning to end. The team seemed to play as if Andy Carroll was still operating up top, but as we all know that won’t be happening again any time soon this season, such a habit must stop – and quickly!
For as bad as the overall performance and result were however, the game itself wasn’t quite all doom and gloom. After scoring a much needed confidence booster of a goal late on, Enner Valencia finally started to display what he can really offer this current West Ham team, and looked more and more dangerous as the game played on.
New signing Nene also looked sharp in his approach, and from his brief cameo appearance in the second half, the Brazilian seemed like a player the Upton Park faithful may eventually grow to love.
As that was about it in terms of positivity though, thoughts of the upcoming match-up with Chelsea are now being met with an altogether more pessimistic outlook.
Yes, the players certainly let their manager down against Palace, and yes, the referee didn’t quite help matters from a claret & blue perspective either, but as West Ham simply got their tactics so badly wrong on the day, Big Sam shouldn’t be able to shake off his long ball critics so easily this time.