“The best team always wins, the rest is just gossip.”
So said buck-toothed Notts County legend Jimmy Sirrel. And generally speaking, I’d agree with him. If your keeper has a blinder to give you a 1-0 win, then you’ve earned your win – he was your keeper. I’ve been attending football matches since the early 80s and I’ve very rarely seen a game to disprove Mr Sirrel’s theory.
Saturday was one of those days. And it was a horrible one for Hull City AFC.
Lining up against The ‘Ammers in that stadium from the telly were the following:
Dawson Davies Maguire
Elmohamady Livermore Huddlestone Clucas Robertson
It was harsh on Adama Diomande, one of our better attacking players this season. It remains harsh on Eldin Jakupović – palpably a better goalkeeper for Hull City than David Marshall. But the formation was correct and we had a couple of promising displays to build upon. And build upon them we did…
It was – as it almost always is – a formless first 10 minutes. Andy Carroll was to worryingly brush Michael Dawson aside a couple of times, Payet wasted a promising free-kick for the home side, Marshall looked to be badly injured but managed to carry on – standard fare for a game we’re going to lose 1-0. Except the standard was about to be raised. And how.
As an attacking force, West Ham’s afternoon had essentially peaked by this point, save for a few unthreatening corners and an intervention from a friendly official. After this it was to be all Hull City in our finest afternoon’s work since the opening day of the season. After this, we’d be bottom of the table.
On 13, Robert Snodgrass – majestic all afternoon – gets in a decent cross that no amber and black shirt can get on the end of. On 15, Dieumerci Mbokani – a handful all afternoon – puts through Snodgrass whose tame shot is blocked. Eyebrows are raised among the City faithful. We’ve done something good; a small mercy we should be thankful for. Except there’s more.
On 18, Mbokani is played in nicely and shoots wide. He should have done better but he’s clearly got the home defence rattled in a way that Carroll isn’t managing at the opposite end. On 20 Mbokani gets an even better chance. A Cresswell backpass falls kindly to him leaving him with only the keeper Randolph to beat. Sadly, the Congolese shoots to the keeper’s left only to hit the side of the post. We should be 1-0 up. We really, really should be 1-0 up.
But we keep coming. Snodgrass and Mbokani are linking beautifully, Jake Livermore and Sam Clucas are running the midfield, Tom Huddlestone is stroking the ball about nicely, enjoying the security blanket of three centre halves being behind him. Andy Robertson and Ahmed Elmohamady are enjoying their football in a manner in which I don’t think they have for some time. On 23, the majestic Harry Maguire heads a corner goalwards, only to see Randolph pull off a spectacular save. How are we not winning? On 29, Snodgrass plays in Mbokani, whose throughball to Clucas running down the right channel is a thing of beauty. Sadly, Sam’s composure in front of goal leaves a lot to be desired and another chance goes begging. On 35, Mbokani makes a meal out of some scraps and volleys just over. We’re good. We’re really, really good. But it’s still 0-0.
We’re not finished though. Maguire shoots from distance on 37 only to see his shot saved. On 42, Snodgrass plays in Livermore only to see Jake spanner the ball high and wide. Aaarrrggghhhhh!!!!! Then Maguire – in full Beckenbauer mode – brings the ball out of defence, finds Robertson on our left but continues his run. Robertson finds Harry, who’s crowded out by a couple of defenders whose intervention still finds the side netting. Half time falls just after Snodgrass wastes a promising looking free-kick won by Mbokani. There’s been one team in it. But it’s nil f*cking nil.
Mindful of the battering his team have taken, Bilić makes two changes for the home side at half time. But it doesn’t matter. We’re still the better team. And by some distance. On 55 a counter attack falls to the energetic Clucas advancing on the West Ham goal but sadly the home defence make up the ground to clear for a corner. From the corner, Maguire – who won every header he went for – nods it across goal but no one’s there to finish it off. On 57, closer still. Snodgrass sends Robertson – who visibly improved as the game went on – off down the left. The Scotsman bore down on goal and sent in a cross that Mark Noble dived towards and diverted beyond the hapless Randolph. Sadly, the post was still to be beaten. It stood firm. Two minutes later the post is to stand firm again as Huddlestone plays through Robertson only for the left wingback to hit a wonderful shot against the far post. Clucas then makes another counter-attacking break that was only snuffed out at the last ditch for a corner. From the corner, a Maguire header is cleared off the line.
A goal had to come. It just had to. We just needed no one to do anything silly.
Let’s take a break from the match report to play ‘You’re the Manager’ for a second. Your team has been struggling but has recently shown some promising form. You’ve tweaked the formation, and away at a side that will probably be in a relegation battle with you, your team is in the ascendancy. Your centre-forward, fresh from not playing for a couple of weeks and soon to be heading to the African Nations Cup, is battering their defence and winning pretty much everything. Your midfield has beaten theirs, to the point where their star centre-forward seems to be playing right-back for some reason. There are more than 20 minutes left. So, do you:
A) For the love of god just leave things the f*ck alone.
B) Tell the centre-forward and one midfielder that they’ve got another 10 minutes left so to leave it all out there.
C) Take off said centre-forward for a player with half the physical presence, and one of your most industrious midfielders for a player who’s done the square root of f*ck all since joining in August.
If you chose A or B, you are a sensible person who’d probably have left the Olympic Stadium with at least a point on Saturday. If you chose C, you’re an idiot.
Look, I really want to like Mike Phelan. I want it to be an us – ‘us’ being the manager, the players, the fans – versus ‘them’ (the opponents, the officials, our owners) situation every week. But when he does stuff like take off Mbokani and Livermore for Diomande and Markus Henriksen when he did on Saturday, it’s hard not to fear that he’s out of his depth. In one crass move, the initiative was surrendered. West Ham – through no action of their own – were handed the game.
Well, they needed a bit of help. And that’s where Lee Mason comes in. Mason is just a poor ref. And I get the impression that he likes giving decisions. I’m not going to lie, the melée that led to West Ham’s penalty was so far away that I could barely make anything out. But I could see that Mason was hunched down looking for something. And when Huddlestone made minimal contact with a player in claret and blue, he couldn’t blow his whistle quick enough. Lee Mason is a cock.
Mark Noble – an overrated player if ever there was one – sent Marshall the wrong way and grand larceny was on the way to being committed.
In truth, from thereon in, West Ham were ever so slightly the better team as they exposed the holes left by a City side chasing the game. Payet wasted a couple of dangerous free-kicks but in truth we were cooked. All the impetus was gone from our game. Jarrod Bowen was introduced late on and showed a few nice touches but we’d raised the white flag in the 68th minute with our substitutions and West Ham had meekly accepted the gesture. The final whistle was blown by the man in sherbet lemon and for the second time in four days we were leaving London empty-handed.
We’d played well – really well in places. Mbokani may not score goals but he does create mayhem. Snodgrass is a class act, too good to go down. Clucas and Livermore ran and ran and ran. Huddlestone looked more like the Huddlestone we fell in love with in 2013. Elmo and Robertson had their best games in ages. Curtis Davies and Dawson were solid and Maguire was simply majestic. But we’ve played ‘well’ for three games on the trot now, and we’ve got one point to show for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is relegation form. And it’s no less than the hateful Allams deserve. The fans, however, deserve better.
Richard Gardham (report first appeared on the Tiger Chat mailing list)