West Ham: Jaaskelainen, O’Brien, Reid, Tomkins, McCartney, Noble, Nolan, Diame, O’Neill, Carroll, Maiga Subs: Spiegel, Cole, Taylor, Collins, Demel, Spence, Hall.
Stoke: Begovic, Cameron, Huth, Shawcross, Wilkinson, Whelan, Adam, Nzonzi, Walters, Crouch, Etherington. Subs: Sorensen, Palacios, Jones, Upson, Kightly, Shotton, Jerome.
Clash of the giants? No, not in terms of a showdown for Premier League supremacy but definitely in terms of the physical stature of the players. A total of seventeen players tower over 6ft. tall between these two teams but their respective bands of vertical macho-men have produced contrasting fortunes for these two teams. West Ham are fresh of promotion and faring well in the Premier League thus far, sitting handsomely in sixth place after eleven games. They don’t play the most attractive football in the league; Juan Mata or Gareth Bale do not study their games vigorously searching for beneficial attacking tips but possess a dangerous weapon in Andy Carroll. Not dissimilar to the impressive Santi Cazorla or the impossibly dazzling Juan Mata, Andy Carroll is a vital cog in the mechanism of the team in which he operates. Whereas Mata and Cazorla leave supposedly world-class defenders at sixes and sevens with their passing, pace and penetration, Carroll feeds the likes of Kevin Nolan and Ricardo Vaz Te through hanging in the air above everyone else, leaving them mere spectators as he prods the ball with his head onto the feet of one the Hammers’ advancing midfielders. Peter Crouch operates in a similar style for Stoke, utilising his freakishly tall frame to give him the edge on despairing defenders, lollop towards the net and occasionally score.
It promises to be a, well decent match, if both teams can muster up the energy to actually pass and move and conjure up imagination and craft then maybe we’ll have a feast of fine televised footy. But probably not. Stoke have scored a dismal three goals from open play this season and Tony Pulis has left Michael Kightly on the bench, the only player who has the potential to excite and penetrate West Ham’s steady back four. Unfortunately, it is a likewise situation for another traditional winger in Matt Jarvis of West Ham who has picked up a niggle and is unable to participate in tonight’s proceedings.
On a night when West Ham really could have consolidated their commendable start to the season, the Upton Park faithful were left disgruntled and embittered by a sub-standard performance from the Hammers. A cold November evening, the stadium lit up in the London skyline as a cauldron bubbling with a special atmosphere. It’s the kind of unrivalled footballing fervour you have come to expect from this particular corner of the sporting world, echoing the spine-tingling harmonious chanting heard on a Champions league night in say Anfield or Parkhead. However, the match failed to live up to supporters’ expectations. It was never going to be a frenetic nine-goal thriller peppered with unforgettable attacking flair or eye-catching skill and craft but almost instantly the match fell into the sort of pattern which would have been easy to foresee. Plenty of scrappy clearances and head-tennis with the odd shot dribbled towards either keeper characterised what was a poor first half, especially for West Ham.
The pre-match effervescence portrayed from the West Ham patrons vanished upon witnessing a great moment of set-piece innovation. Glenn Whelan whipped in a low corner to be met with impetuous timing by Jonathan Walters, who starting his run at the back post had arrived nearest to Whelan by the time the ball had reached his foot and cracked home a low shot through the legs of a despairing Andy Carroll who was too busy impersonating Michael Flatley with his legs. A shock. Stoke have been exceptionally poor in front of goal this season; netting a measly 9 from 11 games before tonight. Furthermore, Stoke haven’t won on their travels in sixteen Premier League matches, dating back to a 2-1 win at Ewood Park over Blackburn last December. What was more shocking for the West Ham fans is that it didn’t warrant the response they expected. They became increasingly disillusioned with their side who looked bereft of ideas or imagination.
Queue the half-time rollicking by ‘Big Sam.’
Nervously throwing a few Wrigley’s Extra into his mouth, Allardyce watched from his technical area as his side came out in the second half utterly recognisable to the lacklustre oafs of the first and they were rewarded with a goal from the most unlikely of sources in Joey O’Brien. The Irish right-back latched onto a cross from Gary O’Neil and lifted it high into the roof of the net for the equaliser, sparking Upton Park into life once more. (Two goals and one assist for the Irish tonight)
Disappointingly, the match failed to materialise into a hotly-contested affair as both sides struggled to impose themselves attackingly. Modibo Maiga, handed his full league debut by Allardyce for West Ham, failed to make an impression as did Andy Carroll who visibly mouthed sweet nothings in the ear of Allardyce as he stomped past him on the to the bench having been replaced by fellow beam-pole striker Carlton Cole. The only other real action was Steven Nzonzi’s thunderbolt of a shot from 20 yards canon of the underside of the crossbar which, had it bounced down over the line, would have provided Stoke with a possible winner and their first away win in almost a year.
It was a night of frustration for the Hammers, with even the impressive Mohamed Diamé failing to influence the match in any notable way. A consummate bulldozer of a midfielder, the Senegalese international has looked West Ham’s most irresistible force this season since arriving on a free from Wigan in the summer. However, it’s not just brute force and power as personified by Diamé that the Hammers will need, they will be required to muster up craft and guile upfront and a striker who actually puts the ball in the net if they are to compliment a steady defence with an exciting attacking set-up.
For Stoke, the eternal boredom of the Premier League, they will have to consider it an over-achievement if they finish in the top half of the table this year. Tony Pulis continues to load his team with 6ft plus giants in an attempt to make an impression by sending his men out to play with children but to no real avail. How long can they be contempt with scraping 1-0 wins and scoring from Peter Crouch headers and goal-mouth scrambles? They need more of Michael Kightly and, a direct and exciting winger who scored at Old Trafford with a remarkable individual effort but found himself at the heart of the bench tonight. Steven Nzonzi could also prove to be an integral part of the ‘hoof it up to Crouchy’ system Stoke implement and find his eye-catching abilities obscured by the conservative and defensive tendencies of his side.
Match rating 5/10