"I'd rather see the world the way it used to be, a little bit of freedom all we're left
So catch me if you can, I'm goin' back"
- The Byrds, "Goin' Back"
I'm not into ruining your enjoyment of films, so if you haven't seen Mad Max: Fury Road and want to avoid spoilers then feel free to skip down until you see a shot map and start your West Brom experience there. You won't miss much.
But for those who have seen it, or don't care, then you'll know what I mean when I say that this game had an oddly familiar storyline. Fury Road is built upon a fairly flimsy plot that sees Charlize Theron, playing Imperator Furiosa, escape from a post apocalyptic Australian warlord by the name of Immortan Joe, with a handful of his "wives" in tow. Along the way they pick up Tom Hardy's Max Rockatansky, and battle their way past various pursuing forces to escape to a mythical Green Place where they presumably all plan to change their names to something sensible. The problem is that when they get there, it's just as barren as the rest of the world.
I was feeling a bit Furiosa myself until that last minute winner
Realising that only place around with any water and plants is Immortan Joe's hideout, they do the craziest thing possible....they turn around and go back.
Which not-at-all-crowbarred link brings me to David Moyes and this performance. Because we've made a bit of progress ourselves recently, and depending on how generous you feel, one could make the argument that we are a good penalty taker and a competent referee away from sitting comfortably in mid table. All of which has been achieved without Andy Carroll, and based largely on a more solid looking defence and a surprisingly decent number of goals scored, primarily due to Marko Arnautovic sparking into life.
And yet, with all of that in the bank, Moyes took the seemingly crazy decision here to revert back to the old Bilic style of play. Carroll was chosen up front at the tip of a particularly blunt spear, and we went back to that disastrously hopeless hybrid style of play where we smash lots of ineffective crosses in Carroll's general vicinity, while also trying to pass the pall through him as though he were a different type of player altogether. As it was, we reverted all the way back to last season and pulled out one of those typically awful Bilic wins with a late goal and we're mighty grateful for it, but...still.
This Moyes reign has been built on attempting to move past those familiar flaws and creating something different. What the last three games have told me is that with this particular set of players, and against similarly mediocre opponents to ourselves, we still have some enormous problems that have to be remedied this month.
But for all that, if this was a backwards step it was still a pretty productive one. Last minute winners have that extra frisson of wonderment because you know the opposition cannot come back, and in that sense are beautifully liberating. Your mind doesn't immediately start to process how long you have to cling on, and instead you can just hand yourself over completely to a moment of pure, unadulterated happiness. In such moments we remind ourselves of how even the most moribund game can be rescued by a fleeting moment of joy, and remember precisely why we fell in love with this whole bloody thing in the first place.
Wet Tuesday nights aren't generally great for epiphanies, but in the buffeting winds and constant rain of Storm Eleanor, it sure was nice to steal a win and take a step forward in our relegation struggle, even if we did it by going back.
"I'll never forget you, although at times we couldn't shake it
You're my joy, always remember me"
- The Noisettes, "Never Forget You"
I won't lie. When I saw that Carroll was starting this game, my heart sank. So much of his play this season has been uninspired and immobile, that to watch him now is to be reminded of Boxer being taken slowly and unwittingly to the knacker's yard. Truthfully, and this may sound ludicrous considering his goals, I didn't see much in his open play to suggest that analysis is particularly flawed. Sure, that's very "what have the Romans ever done for us?" and there were certainly occasional lovely moments of chest control and laying off, but by and large he looked forlorn and isolated as the game generally seemed to pass him by.
But, for all that, this shot map from Caley Graphics shows we did actually create a decent number of opportunities in the box, even if the low xG is reflective of how many men West Brom tended to get in front of those chances. Our first half attacks mainly relied on Manuel Lanzini arriving late and pouncing on second balls after Carroll had crashed into something in front of him, and the visitors were reliant upon some good saves from Ben Foster as a result. One piece of skill in particular from Lanzini, to pluck a swirling high ball from the sky, belonged to another, better, game.
Despite our pressure, West Brom had their own opportunities and after Rondon went close, James McClean picked up a loose ball and went on a long, mazy dribble that should have led to him taking a pointless long range shot in front of our goal. Instead, it hit Obiang, looped up and caught Adrian flat footed and gave the visitors the lead. They celebrated this by all running to the sideline and standing there drinking water until the referee eventually coaxed them back to the pitch. Thus began another long, boring exhibition of West Brom timewasting.
But football is a strange mistress and her whims cannot always be predicted or rebuffed. After that generally dreadful first half we were rejuvenated slightly by the half time introduction of Mark Noble for Pedro Obiang. I felt the Spaniard was a little bit unlucky insomuch as Cheikhou Kouyate was once again playing as if being remote controlled by an uninterested spaniel sat in the crowd, but he does always offer the mobility that is sadly lacking elsewhere in the team.
But with Noble came control, and finally some structure to our forward play beyond simply giving it to Masuaku and hoping for him to beat five men. And as poorly as I felt Carroll did in terms of linking up play, there can be no doubting the sensational quality of his goals. The first was what we once might have termed a typical Carroll goal, as Cresswell swung in a sumptuous cross and he greeted it like a pissed Geordie pirate swinging from the deck of one ship on to another and smashing opposition sailors into the sea. It was a thing of murderous, visceral beauty and even though he seems to do it less frequently than ever, there is still something irresistible about watching such a goal unfold.
Andy casually waits for a cross
I felt the second was better, if only because it required a more difficult technique. Noble and Lanzini combined to free Arnautivic down the left and his cross eluded everybody except for the exhausted Carroll, who brilliantly turned it back into the goal from the narrowest of angles with his weaker right foot. It was harsh on West Brom, although relegation battles are no place for sentiment, and also vindication for Moyes. For while I thought Carroll's inclusion simply sent us back to halfway house of Bilic's worst days, the man scored twice and won us the game, and that's not to be sniffed at. It's also likely that Moyes eyed up our stupid playing schedule and decided that playing him here against a knackered, slow team like West Brom, was preferable to having him play at Wembley against Spurs.
The worry with these brief resurgences from Carroll is that they have tended to cloud manager's minds and cause them to persist with him for long barren spells that we can ill afford. Equally, it's hard to ascertain whether he has reined in his crazily physical style because his body can no longer take it, or because Moyes has told him to for the sake of his disciplinary record, but there is no doubt that he seems slightly diminished as a physical threat at present.
But until we get a new striker who can offer more than the seemingly one dimensional Carroll and Hernandez, then we will have to go with what we have. And, if nothing else, Carroll doesn't ever give up and keeps working as hard as he can. I wouldn't play him, but I can see the appeal.
"Pack it up, pack it in, this is who I should have been
But instead I waste my time"
- Turin Brakes, "Timewaster"
There is a rule in association football which states that goalkeepers may not hold on to the ball for longer than six seconds. This rule does not apply to Ben Foster. Instead, he simply holds on to the ball for as long as he decrees is reasonable because the concept of linear time is beneath him. Even as you sit reading this, Ben Foster is wandering around the eighteen yard box at the London Stadium while referee Mike Jones looks lovingly at him, taps his watch and then fails to add any time on.
Far be it for me to agree with Eric Dier, but Foster pulled this exact same shit with the exact same referee last month in a game at Wembley, and he got away with it here too.
So, it's actually possible?
I don't hate West Brom. In fact, they're not too dissimilar a club to us in the sense that they've had to play second fiddle to local rivals, while having to battle with a lack of finance and boardroom competence. To me, there is always a spiritual connection between those of us who have to be permanent whipping boys for the Top Six. But...and I say this without meaning to offend any Baggies fans, I fucking despise this iteration of their team.
It's not even much to do with the players, but simply a legacy of having Tony Pulis as a recent manager. And so it is that they waste time, foul cynically, play boringly and generally do everything that you would imagine the Patron Saint of Anti Football would instruct them to do. It's Alan Pardew's team now, of course, but it will take a while for him to rid them entirely of such DNA.
I asked Mark Segal of Opta about the stats for this game and he confirmed that out of a game time of 97:59 the ball was in play for just 57:34. In fairness to West Brom, this was nowhere near as bad as Newcastle who managed to restrict our recent game to just 50:31 of game time with a world class display of procrastination. In both cases the referee added just four minutes.
But it's a frustrating trait either way, because it is so rarely punished effectively by officials. I wrote after the Newcastle game that the authorities must do something about this and move to a straightforward system of playing for sixty minutes and discounting any time when the ball is dead. There is no doubt that Pulis types would find a way to try and game that particular system, but it would be nice if they at least tried to give paying spectators something close to a full match for our inflated tickets.
All of that being true, I still do sympathise with West Brom having to play us just two days after their last game while we had five days rest. The problem for us will come when we play Spurs on two days rest, and then go to Shrewsbury to play our under eleven team in the hope of getting knocked out and reducing our fixture load. Giving sides such disparate preparation time is manifestly unfair, and it was greatly to the visitors credit that one would have been hard pressed for most of the game to determine who exactly was supposed to be the rested team. That said, who cares. Thanks for the three points, Pards.
"Don't let it bring you down, it's only castles burning
Find someone who's turning, and you will come around"
- Neil Young, "Don't Let It Bring You Down"
Kouyate, Reid and Madley. Not much good stuff happening here
A distinctly depressing part of our season so far has been the precipitous decline of some of our older players. Here Kouyate was once again atrocious, and Winston Reid joined him with yet another inconsistent and worrying display. Both are on long contracts that no other Premier League team would ever offer them, so it's hard to imagine them moving on purely because their financial situation is so strong here. This is the folly of having the 13th biggest wage bill in Europe and spending it on the second oldest squad in the Premier League. Indeed, Reid was even given a contract extension earlier in the season which he immediately celebrated with a soft muscle injury at Southampton. Sometimes we really are like a parody of ourselves.
But their inconsistency leaves Moyes with a headache. Reid will almost certainly play at Spurs because Cresswell is injured, meaning we may revert to a back four which has generally seen us leak like the post iceberg Titanic. Even Angelo Ogbonna's marvellous recovery tackle here to stop Oliver Burke making it 2-1 was only necessary because our defence had been totally split open by a straightforward central ball over the top. I'm not sure Harry Kane will be so profligate.
As for Kouyate, you'd imagine he will play too, because he can't seem to function alongside Obiang, and therefore with Noble a certainty to return it will be the Spaniard who drops out. This is all made more difficult by the fact that Moyes has no depth in central midfield whatsoever, meaning that he only really has an apparently declining Kouyate or a wildly inconsistent Obiang to choose from. I actually think the latter has been miles better when partnered with Noble, but if his passing disappears as it did here then he's not really a great deal of use, especially when we have so few genuinely good attacking options these days.
Geo at Hammers Chat put together this video on our central midfield options, which I think does a decent job of capturing how rubbish Kouyate has been all season. This was really highlighted here when Noble came on, and seemingly revolutionised our play by simply putting his foot on the ball and looking for effective passes. By contrast, Kouyate - never much of a passer on his best day - simply ran around a lot and then made more two yard passes than I think I've ever seen. The guy who destroyed Spurs almost single handedly at the end of last season is not the one we are seeing now. In an odd way, you'd hope he is injured because if not then we might have to face up to the reality that he is another one who has fallen off that same cliff as Carroll, Zabaleta and Reid. What a squad we've constructed.
One player who isn't in danger of stumbling off any cliffs is Marko Arnautovic who has gone full circle from being a £24m waste of time to terrace hero all in the space of about four weeks. His work rate is impressive and visible, meaning that he was getting ripples of applause in the first half silence simply for running about a bit and pressuring defenders. At times, we can be very easily pleased.
What he continues to do well, and where he is more useful, is popping up in areas of danger and linking cleverly with Lanzini. You sense that those two will have to do most of the attacking work in the absence of Antonio, but given that we've scored ten goals in our last four games there are certainly signs that we are carrying more threat. The indications also seem to be that Hernandez isn't going to be a Moyes player, as he's been reduced to a bit part role whereby he comes on late and hangs around in the box waiting for Carroll to maim someone and give him a knock down. The main thing I've drawn from watching our attacking in these last couple of games is that the single biggest boost we could get in January would be a fit and firing Michail Antonio back in the team.
And on that point - while these points are precious and have inched us closer to safety, and importantly, away from Swansea and West Brom, there can be no doubt that we need help. While I am still not convinced that we have any money, and I can't wait for those accounts, there can be no argument any more that we shouldn't be adding players. Sneaking past a knackered West Brom in the last minute is all good fun, but hardly the signal of a burgeoning renaissance.
So, it's the worst time to buy, and we have the worst recruitment team in the league, but we still need bodies. We are ludicrously exposed to injuries and suspension, and if Lanzini or Arnautovic were to go down for the season we would have next to no creativity available to Moyes. Although there is no chance that Stoke will sell to us, a reported bid for Joe Allen does make a sort of sense given that he would immediately become our best option in the middle. As much as I'd like to see Sakho get a chance that seems to be a dead duck, so he needs to be replaced, and we could really use some mobility in that back line too. And with our January fixtures being against Huddersfield, Bournemouth and Palace, we could really do with those reinforcements arriving as soon as possible.
"And yet he tries so hard to please, he's just so keen
For you to listen, but no one's listening"
- Blur, "Charmless Man"
I am so sick of this shit.
Honest to God, I am fed up of the constant barrage that West Ham fans have to face because a section of our support cannot behave in a manner that is consistent with the standards of civilised society.
The latest excuse for the world to pile in has arisen because Jake Livermore was substituted here and then went into the crowd in an altercation with a fan. I saw none of this, because I sit in the upper tier and thus would need a high powered telescope to see anything that far away. Therefore, the first I knew of it was the following morning when I began to read accounts on social media from fans of other clubs. Most of these were insistent that the cause of the ruckus was racial abuse, while others were equally sure that it happened because a fan abused Livermore over the death of his infant son. The only thing that most of these accounts could agree on was that they had no idea what was actually said and were guessing based on their own prejudices. That's what you get for reading social media, I guess.
Having followed it more closely today, both clubs have now issued statements, with West Brom explicitly stating that Livermore reacted to a comment from the crowd about his son, while West Ham's just says that they are looking into it and removed the fan at the time. Having read a couple of accounts from people around the scene, each state that this in fact wasn't what was said and that actually Livermore misheard a comment referring to him as a "Yid". That hasn't really percolated through to the majority of media outlets, who have simply reported the West Brom statement and little else.
As a West Ham fan, I feel I need to point out that if the version of those supporters is true it doesn't really reflect much better on the supporter in question. Calling someone a "Yid" is pretty much always done pejoratively by West Ham fans, and symptomatic to me of a problem that we have with anti Semitism among a small, but loud enough section of our support. I know that there are those who may dispute that, but when we were 2-0 down at Wembley I heard that godawful hissing bullshit again and we'd be better off to admit we have that element among our fans than try and deny it and allow it to bubble under.
So what we're left with here is another unsavoury incident that drags us all through the mud and fills up our social media timelines with yet more broad brush characterising of West Ham fans as scum. Of course I should ignore that and rise above it, but the problem is that these days, that is how a lot of people consume their news and opinions. I haven't read a hard copy newspaper in a long time because I read everything online. And with that ease of access comes the democracy of opinion - which is to say that everybody has one, and now we have to hear it. So my frustration is that these actions by individuals or small groups just tar all of us with the same loose tag, and continues to diminish the standing of the club.
So let's get this in perspective - this was apparently one person in a crowd of fifty thousand screaming reprehensible things. Whether he used the word "Yid" or kid doesn't change that, but it was just one person. No West Ham fan condones that, but a few too many of us get involved in screaming abuse at players of all stripes. I've been thinking a lot about this recently, and in particular this notion that the game of football is all about opinions. And I am forced to ask myself - why?
Because here's the thing about that - the opinion of this guy who yelled at Jake Livermore wasn't really worth hearing was it? The opinions of the fans who threw bananas on to pitches in the Seventies weren't worth hearing either. Richard Keys opinions have never been worth listening to. So I guess what I'm saying is that I really don't understand why anyone would think it's okay to stand five feet from a professional footballer and scream personal abuse at him. I think that makes you a dickhead. And there you go, that's my opinion.