West Ham should not panic
West Ham United’s 4-2 reverse in today’s crunch clash with Reading would have seemed apocalytic if it were not for the torpor that the home support showed in adversity – fortune wasn’t so much hiding as participating in out and out hermit status as the team tumbled and even the bubbles had to be artificially produced via vents at the pitch side.
But Sam Allardyce needs to be judged on what happens at the season’s end – not one jittery afternoon. For half an hour, Hammers completely refuted those who have them down as a reworking of an Egil Olsen or Dave Bassett XI. Mark Noble and Gary O’Neil bossed the centre midfield and Ricardo Vaz Tê enjoyed the freedom of Upton Park down the right – his battle with Ian Harte forcing the veteran Irishman to drop exceedingly deep. Carlton Cole pounced adroitly to give the claret and blue an early lead and Kevin Nolan was his usual abrasive self. True – this particular bunch of east London representatives are physically imposing but the ball was very much kept to feet – whatever the Press Association might tell you in tomorrow’s papers.
Of course five slack pre-half time minutes altered things but Hammers should have had no reason to panic. As a member of proto-punks, The Cockney Rejects remarked over the tannoy at the break – ‘they had two chances and scored two goals’ – obvious as that statement was, he wasn’t wrong.
But panic they did and unfortunately, the leader of the charge was Big Sam himself – mystifyingly promoting James Tomkins to the midfield holding role while withdrawing the effective Noble – an injury could be the reason, although Tomkins had looked uncertain with ball to feet when playing at centre back, so how he was supposed to have an impact on the game in a position that demands the sphere be taken care of, heaven only knows?
Shorn of Noble’s drive, Hammers ceded the central areas and Danny Collins was left to deal with an increasingly lively Reading attack. Then, further hastiness ensued – Abdoulaye Faye compounding a first half gift to Noel Hunt with a clumsy challenge to concede a penalty – and yet 35 minutes still remained against a Reading side forced to substitute the injured Jem Karacan and his replacement Jay Tabb.
John Carew destroyed Reading single handedly in an FA Cup quarter final in 2010 but it was lower league captures Sam Baldock – looking diminutive both physically and mentally in this company – and Nicky Maynard whom Allardyce chose to introduce subsequently. By then though, the team was falling apart – Vaz Tê’s climb quickly cancelled out by a farcical Mikele Leigertwood goal – indeed, Reading could have matched the goals tally they racked up at West Ham’s expense back in January 2007 by the end.
There was a compactness about West Ham in the first half and the system that sees Nolan play off the shoulder of Cole with Matty Taylor and Vaz Tê roaming the flanks, is a formation with which very little is wrong. Last week I bemoaned Ian Holloway’s tendency to chop and change his Blackpool side – Allardyce would do well to heed this too – in February 2007, the Irons lost 4-0 at the Valley but it was their opponents Charlton who were to end up being relegated the following May while Hammers retained their Premier League status – calms heads may just produce the same final outcome in 4 weeks’ time.