West Ham United 2-0 Hull City
As predicted by yours truly, City switched to 4-3-1-2, with Kilbane making a third central midfielder and Geovanni playing behind a front two. The Tigers started brightly and enjoyed a very good opening 15 minutes. We kept the ball well, under lots of pressure from their midfield, and looked pretty confident. Geo saw enough of the ball to be a threat, Ricketts looked to exploit the wide open space on their left and Cousin held the ball up well. Unfortunately, whenever the ball came into our half, it was panic stations. They were capable of moving the ball well and sliding passes into the terrific front pairing but we were too often undone by basic long balls. Zayatte was all over the place. He misjudged everything, he let the ball bounce, let strikers run past him and when he did clear the ball, it seemed to be a scoop over his head every time because he'd let it run on. Neither Turner nor Duke looked to take command and we were at sixes and sevens. They got a lot of joy down our right, Ricketts didn't stop anything coming in. Di Michaele curled against the post from out on our right, the cross for the first goal came in from that side, Collison hit the post from a cross from that side and Turner dealt with two other balls in from that side. As poor as Ricketts was, a lot of the blame has to go down against the gaffer. It's immediately obvious from watching any West Ham game that Ilunga is a massive part of their attacks. To not have someone tracking him down the right was naïve. We had two let off's before they scored. Di michaele curled a beauty from the left hand side of the penalty area. It was in from the moment it left his boot, Duke absolutely helpless, but it just failed to curl the last couple of centimetres and hit the post. They were then awarded a soft penalty when Ricketts got in front of Cole but the big man threw himself over Ricketts thigh and the "best referee in the country" fell for it. Though the decision was poor, we brought it on ourselves by allowing another cross in, allowing Cole to chect the ball down yards from goal and then twist and turn. Justice was done when Noble's well struck penalty was superbly saved by Matt Duke. The shot was close to the post and about 4 feet off the floor. Dukey did an incredible job to get across and get a hand up that quickly. The goal was sloppy. A harmless looking drive from outside the box was pushed away by Duke when he should probably have gathered; Cole ran onto the ball first, exchanged passes and then with no pressure at all on the ball, crossed the back post. Duke could only flick it straight into the path of Di Michele who'd escaped the sleeping Dawson and tapped in. it could've been worse. Collison hit the post, as mentioned, and Duke made a terrific save when Cole was allowed to run through one on one and then scooped the rebound almost off the line. Everytime the ball came into our box, we looked vulnerable. At the other end, we turned down several good opportunities to shoot from distance. We had some good ball in wide area's, particularly through Ricketts but failed to find a decent cross time and again. The only good cross of the half was headed tamely at Green by Manucho, who should definitely have buried it. At half time, we could only stand and wonder how we'd gone from a very promising start, complete to being lucky that we weren't 5-0 down. After having good possession and looking comfortable on the ball early on, midfield had barely had a kick for 25 minutes.
It was screaming out for a change at the start of the second half. I wanted Fagan and Bullard, preferably with Manucho and Marney departing. We did get that pair on but not until we were two down. We made another terrible hash of defending a corner and the resulting shot across goal was tapped in by Carlton Cole. A 6ft 2in striker in the form of his life, somehow invisible inside our penalty area and not for the first or last time in the game. The substitutions saw the departure of Manucho and for some reason, Geovanni. He'd been quite for a while but I totally fail to see the logic in bringing on a player who can pick out Geo and then withdrawing him. Marney and Kilbane had been far less effective than Geo too, one of them should've gone. The introduction of Bullard did have a positive effect on our game. He might look like a girl you've picked up in Tower and then woken to find without her make up on but he's a terrific footballer. He grabbed a hold of the game, went looking for the ball all of the time and every second pass went through him. He brought with him some foreign concepts, like passing and, get this for strange, moving into space. He also kept passing the ball and then wanted it back again. What's that about? Not only that, but he kept taking free-kick's quickly and shooting from distance. I don't think he'll fit in at all. Joking aside, he really was good. He looked a bit rusty but showed a ton of promise. His best shot from distance was arrowed at the bottom corner forcing a super save from Green. If that had gone in, we might've gone on to get something but it wasn't to be. West Ham were a constant threat on the break and with our Circus defending, they might have picked us off two or three times but for woeful finishing. At the other end, we had lots of the ball, we got the ball wide into Ricketts and Dawson but from there, we never threatened. We rarely got around the full back, crossing from deep positions all of the time and with no quality at all. Cousin headed well form a long throw but straight at Green and did well to climb to a Dawson cross but met it way too high to be able to get it on target. When Mendy was introduced, we finally had someone looking to beat a defender and cross from the bye line. Earlier in the season, we'd have defended well and taken one of the two or three half chances we had. As we are at the moment, 2-0 was a decent result.
I was very disappointed not to see Myhill in goal. I won't apologise for it, I'm a massive fan of Boaz and I feel 100% more comfortable with him between the sticks. In all fairness though, Duke did a great job. He made good saves, he got off his line quickly, he got his angles right and he kicked well. The penalty save was world class. He didn't come for crosses but he couldn't really. West Ham had big Cole right in front of him and made sure the ball was delivered around the 6 yard line and into traffic. With the modern balls, no goalkeeper in the land is coming for those crosses. Actually there are a few who'd come (*cough* David James *cough*) but they wouldn't take them. We needed Turner, Ashbee, Zayatte and Cousin to be winning those headers and they never did. Describing the defending is too depressing to contemplate. Zayatte has had several poor games recently. To be fair to him, he normally rebounds very well, but if we're going to get into a pattern where 1 out of every 3 games is wretched, then it's just not acceptable. Turner was all over the place alongside him, he didn't know what to do. He's a terrific defender but he's no leader and he's not the sort of person who can talk a team mate out of trouble. Mind you, even if he could, Zayatte wouldn't understand a word. Ricketts wasn't good enough. He didn't defend well enough and for all his possession, which must have been as much as anyone else on the pitch, if not higher, he just didn't deliver anything at all. Dawson had a solid game but was missing for the two goals. The problem in defence is that we have no scope to change things until Gardner is fit, Brown gains 3 yards of pace or McShane comes back on loan. Some harsh words and hard work is necessary on the training ground before Saturday.
Midfield weren't good enough again until Bullard came on. Strangely, Ashbee had been OK prior to his introduction, but went to pieces after it. He barely made a pass, he gave Bullard a hospital ball and played a terrific through ball for Di Michele! Marney was anonymous and Kilbane, though he worked hard to get back and defend, didn't really affect the game at all. Watching West Ham's midfield three showed up just how inadequate ours are. They have three terrific players who have great engines, love a tackle and are incredibly comfortable on the ball. They always had someone running forward to join the front pair, so when Di Michele pulled off into space, which he did with such ease, he was a joy to watch (unfortunately), his place was filled by an on-rushing Collison or Noble. Similarly, when going backwards, Ilunga could bomb on knowing that Scotty Parker would always fill in. Depressingly, we had one midfielder with a great engine, one who loves a tackle and one who's comfortable in possession!
Up front, Cousin put in another fine shift but as the service dried up, he fell further and further out of the game. He showed on a couple of occasions that he's dangerous in the air but the balls in didn't give him enough opportunity to threaten. Manucho was pretty dire again. One or two nice lay off's but otherwise, he wandered around aimlessly, didn't get involved and didn't take the best chance we created. We were far better with Fagan on. Geo looked up for it early, found some good space around the box but couldn't pull the trigger. Again, to compare to West Ham, they played noble between midfield and attack and he was central throughout the game, picking up second balls and playing passes. We had Geo stuck out wide, receiving the ball and playing it backwards to the full back for the most part. We either need to play 4-4-2 with balance or play 4-3-1-2 and let Geo roam through the middle. Be cautious or be brave, you can't have everything, it just doesn't work.
I'll end with the positives, because there were some. Our start and finish to the game were good. We got the ball wide quickly and we had players around the box. At the end, we had Bullard pulling the strings, Mendy causing aggro and Fagan being a pain in the arse and getting close to Cousin. We dictated the play for the last quarter and looked pretty accomplished. There were far, far too many individual mstakes, enough for a dozen games but that hasn't been the norm. After Man City, we rebounded well against Villa. After Everton, we rebounded well against Arsenal. A performance on the rebound as good as either will be enough to beat West Brom. We have to have the belief that we can go out and beat them. Hopefully Bullard's infectious personality can have a positive effect on the team in the next couple of days. They all need a calming influence and some positive support. We can stay up and we will stay up but we've all got to believe it. We are good enough; there is no doubt about it. Now let's bloody show it.
Ratings: Duke 8, Ricketts 5, Turner 5, Zayatte 4, Dawson 6, Marney 5 (Mendy), Ashbee 6, Kilbane 6, Geovanni 6 (Bullard 8), Cousin 7, Manucho 5 (Fagan 7).