Mayday, mayday, West Ham have an emergency
West Ham’s early capitulation at Manchester City leaves them with a mountain to climb in the battle for survival.
Remember Bolton at the Reebok just four weeks ago? Clearly that memory has been erased from the minds of the West Ham players because at Eastlands on Sunday they committed exactly the same crime.
At Bolton they were 2-0 behind in 20 minutes after barely touching the ball, this time it took just 15 and once again it was totally inexcusable.
Just what sort of pre-match team talk manager Avram Grant delivers before sending his side out makes the mind boggle.
We have long known that the boss is unlikely to inspire the team with rhetoric worthy of Winston Churchill, but to send the team out as uninspired and presumably ill-prepared as they were on Sunday is more reminiscent of the nodding dog in the Churchill insurance adverts – ‘Oh No’!
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West Ham played some good stuff in this match, just as they did at Chelsea last week in another losing cause, but we will never know whether that was because City took their foot off the gas after easing into a two-goal lead, or if the Hammers actually have something to offer in this nerve-shredding run-in.
“I think we showed what we could today, after a very bad start, we had a great comeback. We saw in this game and in the last game as well what we are capable of,” said Grant, brushing over the fact that to give a team of City’s stature a two-goal start is simply footballing suicide.
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Without Scott Parker, Wayne Bridge and Mark Noble this was always going to be a tough afternoon for West Ham, but right from the start it looked as if they were not good enough for the task.
They had barely touched the ball when City grabbed a 10th minute lead.
David Silva and Mario Balotelli had already seen shots blocked when Aleksandar Kolarov’s corner was poorly cleared by Thomas Hitzlsperger to the edge of the box, and as the German failed to make up for it by rushing at the waiting Nigel De Jong, the Dutchman fired the ball through a crowd of players and into the corner of the net.
West Ham looked shell-shocked and five minutes later it got worse. Balotelli’s clever pass released Pablo Zabaleta into the area and when he centred low, Lars Jacobsen’s attempt at a clearance ended with the ball sitting in the back of the net.
City’s fans celebrated by turning their backs on the game and acting out their Polish victory dance, West Ham fans could have been forgiven for simply turning their backs.
What is so galling about the Hammers’ early surrender in this game is the fact that when they did get a foothold in the game, the home side looked nervous and maybe there for the taking.
The turning point came on 32 minutes. Jonathan Spector spotted Robbie Keane’s clever run, but as the Spurs striker went clean through, he failed to lift the ball over the advancing Joe Hart.
It was a golden chance for West Ham and Keane’s second glaring miss in as many games, but it was forgotten just a minute later when the Hammers threw themselves a lifeline.
Hitzlsperger’s cross from the left seemed to be handled by Joleon Lescott, but as some turned and appealed to referee Howard Webb for an obvious penalty, Demba Ba reacted quickest to hook the ball into the net and make it 2-1.
It was Ba’s fifth goal since his arrival from Hoffenheim in January, but it was to prove a fruitless one against a Manchester City team ran with Italian defensive precision in the second half.
“We showed a lot of spirit and character in the team to make it 2-1 and Robbie Keane also had a great chance to score,” said Grant.
“There were a lot of positive things to take for the next game and the next game is the most important one.”
At half time, West Ham were certainly still in this match, but few would have predicted that there would be no more goals after the break.
It was not for the want of trying, though the clear-cut chances fell to the home team.
Balotelli hit the bar, then saw another effort cleared off the line by James Tomkins after he was set up by Silva’s darting run.
James Milner and Edin Dzeko shot straight at Green and twice more Silva was denied, while at the other end West Ham’s chances were severely limited, despite the introduction of strikers Carlton Cole and Victor Obinna.
The pair combined for perhaps the Hammers best chance of that second half when Obinna’s impressive long pass picked out the West Ham top scorer, but when he cut in from the left, his shot was blocked by Lescott, this time not by his hand.
“When we had a good month in February, Gary O’Neil, Scott Parker, Mark Noble and Wayne Bridge were a major part in this,” said Grant.
“We played without them against Manchester City and we showed the difference wasn’t great.”
If we are being honest, nobody expected West Ham to grab any points from their trips to Stamford Bridge and Eastlands, so the fact that is exactly what the Hammers delivered should be no surprise to anyone.
What did surprise a lot of people and what West Ham did glean from these two games, was the performance of the team. Two late goals flattered Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, while here the opening 15 minutes proved the death knell for any hope at Eastlands.
The Hammers will not find the likes of Blackburn, Wigan and Sunderland as awesome, but they will find at least two of those teams scrapping and battling for every single point they can muster.
If the Hammers don’t turn up for any part of those 90-minute battles then the chances are they will be playing in the Championship next season – it really is as simple as that.
West Ham: Green, Jacobsen, Gabbidon, Upson (Da Costa 26), Tomkins, Sears, Hitzlsperger, Spector, Boa Morte (Obinna 79), Keane (Cole 66), Ba.
Unused subs: Boffin, Reid, Kovac, Piquionne.
Referee: Howard Webb 7.