On the hottest day of the year it was time to kick-off the new season back in the Premier League. Upton Park was the venue for this battle of the two sides who don the claret and blue kits.
The match saw competitive starting debuts for new signings James Collins, Jussi Jaaskalainen, Mohammed Diame and George McCartney, although the latter of the four it probably felt like a normal start in the shirt having spent the previous season on loan.
As the game kicked off, few would be blamed if they felt it was going to be an evening of frustration. A lot of stray passes missing their targets and Aston Villa looking comfortable on the ball, it didn't start as many may have hoped. I can't blame the players, the opening fixture is normally a cagey affair and you just want to make sure you don't make yourselves foolish. Aston Villa had a very early strike at goal through Brett Holmann that Jussi watched stray past his right post. Following this strike their appeared to be about 5 minutes worth of fouls by each team, some seemed fairly light, but it may have been Mike Dean stamping his authority and letting the teams know they he wasn't letting players do anything silly. After that Villa had another shot go wide right of the goal.
After this short spell of dominance in the opening 10 minutes from Aston Villa, West Hams midfield started winning the ball more in the middle of the pitch and it soon appeared that they were growing into the game. Trying to spread the ball out wide and get some crosses and also winning a couple of free kicks in dangerous areas near the goal. It soon came from one of these free kicks that Ciaran Clark was booked for a foul on Mohammed Diame. Noble then sent the ball into the box from the far left with the free kick, the ball seemed to float over everyone apart from Wembley hero Ricardo Vaz Te who then put the ball back in for Nolan to tap home from close range and put West Ham 1-0 up. Something tells me Nolan's goal scoring ability could be a huge asset to our season. The game carried on much in the same way in the second half, with cheap fouls being conceded, Aston Villa looked happy to pass the ball around, but never really seemed to create anything and debutant Collins and Reid in the centre of defence dealt with any high balls by being commanding in the air. Half time came and it was so far so good, going into the break with a 1-0 lead.
The second half arrived and the sun was still shining. West Ham started the half brightly winning an early corner and from that corner winning a second instantly after, it felt as though the team may have started feeling confident. Still no threat from the Aston Villa attack, Collins proving what a buy he was as he kept Bent quiet and maybe made the Villa fans question why they sold him. Possession seemed to flip between each team in short spells, Diame looking very comfortable at fending off players when in possession and taking the odd player on to feed through to the attack as well made for a very promising future for the Senegalese.
At the 73 minute mark West Ham brought off their skipper and goal scorer Nolan for academy player Tomkins, both players met with a thunderous round of applause and an opportunity to see if Tomkins could manage in a midfield role like he had a few times in the Championship. It almost felt as though we were shutting up shop. Which probably made a few people nervy as nobody likes to see a team try to defend a 1-0 lead. This wasn't quite the case though as West Ham had their best opportunity to double the lead shortly after, a beautiful delivery from Matty Taylor was met by the head of Cole, who saw this header run agonisingly close but just wide of the post, it has to be said, the reaction of Collins face said it all, he couldn't believe it hadn't been a second.
On the 80th minute West Ham were then introduced to another new signing, Modibo Maiga was put on to replace Cole. It then felt like the quietest 10 minutes of the game as neither team really kept hold of the ball when pushing forward to produce anything. The fourth officials board was then put up to announce there would be 4 minutes of added time, much to the disbelief of the home support, as nobody could really tell where they had amounted 4 minutes from. Villa then tried route one to get themselves back level and salvage something from a game where they seemed to have not turned up. Once again Reid and Collins rose to the challenge, clearing their lines comfortably. 2 minutes into added time and we finally got to see what Maiga was made of, a long ball was lofted over for him and he had beaten the Aston Villa defence for pace to run through on goal, he then rounded the oncoming Given and struck a tame left footed shot at goal which was cleared off the line, so unfortunate for the man from Malia, as he looked to have done enough to cap his debut with a goal in front of the home crowd, unfortunately for him though, his touch past Given made it a tough tight angle and he couldn't get an easy shot on the goal.
Shortly after the full time whistle was blown. West Ham capped their return to the Premiership with a 1-0 home win and it was definitely deserved. Although the side didn't perform outstanding, they had definitely proved to Aston Villa that we weren't hear to be taken lightly. Our defence especially deserved fantastic credit for coping with everything that was thrown their way. James Collins marked his debut with a man of the match performance and I wouldn't be surprised if Diame was a close second and Reid just behind him.
Demel, Collins, Reid, McCartney (71)
Diame, Noble, Nolan (73)
Vaz Te, Cole (80), M.Taylor
Henderson, Tomkins (73), O'Brien (71), Diarra, O'Neil, Maynard, Maiga (80)
Baker, Vlaar, Clark, Lowton
Ireland, El Ahmadi, Delph (77)
N'Zogbia (74), Bent, Holman (61)
Guzan, Lichaj, Bannan (77), Herd, Gardner (74), Weimann (61), Burke
Saturday, 11 August 2012
With the new season drawing near, the thought has crossed my mind of just how ready we are.
I know pre-season is a very hard to judge moment, such as the fact we won every game under Avram Grant and then went onto watch one of the most painful league seasons that I can remember witnessing since I've been a West Ham fan. This season appears to have been rather the opposite, we have had a few games with struggled, the stand out game being the Ipswich match where we lost 3-1, but then last night we drew 1-1 with Braga and we kept trying for the full 90 minutes, even when we were a goal down. That sign of not giving up, despite it only being pre-season has to be one of the promising signs of our team. The age old saying of pre-season was always that it is about getting that match fitness back, the result not being important, I have to say overall this is the main thing, but having a win can do well for your confidence, but overall, it’s all about making the work you put in count come the start of the season.
Transfer wise I feel we have actually been very successful. Getting McCartney on a permanent basis is good as he has already settled in with the players, Jussi and Henderson are two good goalkeepers and I feel they will be good replacements for Green who left, Maiga coming in to help make this 451/433 formation flow much better as he is used to playing in this sort of formation will be a big asset I hope and could provide with a very tough front line of either Taylor, Vaz Te, Cole, Maynard or Maiga in there, we’ve also brought in Diame and Diarra who are both good holding midfielders and I’d say they will easily feature more that Diop last year and are possibly better than him, these two being good in the holding role will definitely give more freedom to the likes of Noble, Collison and Nolan who I would think may play just in front of Diame or Diarra, I also feel this will be perfect for Nolan, he chipped in last season with a lot of valuable goals and I feel this will only benefit him more as we won’t be exposed when he does charge into the box to help the strikers. I also would not be surprised if we’re still keeping an eye out for a couple of players, with rumours of us potentially signing Jarvis from Wolves, who would be like our own Matty Taylor but for the right hand side of the pitch, I feel we would be very well equipped for the new season, it would give us the options of 433 with say Vaz Te, Cole and Maiga or a 451 with for example Taylor, Cole and Jarvis, if being the main word regarding the Jarvis rumour, but I see a right midfielder as providing us with the perfect foil to mix our teams against those who we think could pressure us, or where we feel a decent delivery will put their teams into a panic. The only other position I could see us strengthening is right back, it’s hard to say just how good Demel is, as I felt he was never fully fit last season and the O’Brien seems to be a little hit and miss at times, but maybe Sam has faith in these 2.
Unfortunately this is all just speculation on my behalf but by 3pm next, we will all be watching in anticipation of what to expect, it’s great just to be back in Premiership, but if we can hold our own and then slowly build to push forward each season, then we can only look to the future and hope. Let’s show the big guns what they’ve been missing. Come On You Irons!
Firstly I would like to credit Jason Hannen for part of my inspiration for this post after reading his comments regarding our very own Sam Baldock here. If you agree or disagree and want to talk to him with it then you can find him on Twitter as @JayHannen
Sam Baldock is really causing quite a stir before the season has even begun. He is a very strong fans favourite, this is probably for his non-stop running and eye for goal, he seems to have that never give up attitude that every fan would love, but then there comes the issue…
Last season he wasn’t given many chances, quite a lot to the frustration of the West Ham faithful, especially heard at the game away to Burnley when we were 2-0 down before half time. As the players, coaches and manager headed back to the tunnel you could hear a lot of the away fans chanting “We want Baldock”. In this game, they got their wishes and, it paid off, as we came back to draw 2-2. Even though he didn’t score, he looked like much more of a threat that game than most of our other strikers.
It is clear to most fans that Sam Baldock isn’t Sam Allardyce’s favourite, which is one that brings a lot of debate and to some even confusion. So here I am going to do my best to analyse what is causing this.
Baldock is a short, pacey, centre forward. He has an eye for goal, which is great but, he doesn’t have the strength or power like other players we have like Cole or Vaz Te. In a world where it appears the 4-4-2 system is dying very quickly, especially at the top level, it causes problems for Baldock, who seems to be a player who likes to feed off the other striker who can hold the ball up and thread a pass through for him to run onto.
He is your ideal little man in the big man and little man 4-4-2 but, with the formation not being used very often and, especially under Allardyce, we don’t see it much at all. That’s going to already be a slight struggle for Baldock. West Ham clearly use a 4-5-1/4-3-3 system under Allardyce, with the big centre forward holding the ball up to invite the wingers into play.
Vaz Te, for one, appeared to strive under this formation, playing out wide and running onto balls so he could cut inside and have a strike at goal, or run to the by line and try a cross. I don’t think Baldock has the ability to play in that wide position, he doesn’t seem like a wide man, even though his pace could work were he to run inside to shoot.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see him leave, much to the frustration of a lot of fans, but it seems he is not Allardyce’s favourite and also if he wants to further his career, he will want to be much more than a bit part player. Nicky Maynard has already admitted he was willing to change his game style to suit the Allardyce way, maybe Baldock isn’t so willing, which is why his chances have been slim.
I personally hope he stays, I like the guy as a player and he appears like he wears the shirt with pride and wants to do well in the claret and blue. Also, he has been our best finisher in pre-season. I know a lot of people will say that pre-season means nothing apart from getting your fitness up, but I’m sure it would also fill a player with confidence if they are doing well.
Furthermore, having Baldock could mean we can mix up our formation, rather than sticking to the one system, while he could also be developed into a winger who can cut into play and strike a goal. He could become a very deadly opponent for others, but he would also need to work on tracking back, as this season will probably be one of the toughest for our sides and our defensive play will need to be at the strongest it has ever been.
Maybe the best move for Baldock would be to go on loan, build up his experience and fitness, then he can try to prove to Allardyce what he is missing and maybe, just maybe, Allardyce would admit he was wrong about him and give him a chance.
It’s tough to say…I personally think he needs to prove he can play in a different system to which he prefers and then take his chances as soon as they arrive.
What are your thoughts on him? Do you think he deserves a chance, or is he not good enough in your opinion? Leave a comment, or tweet me @conflictinbanno as I’m very interested to see the views of the fans.
As everyone should be aware by now, our very own James Tomkins made it into the Team GB Olympic Squad for the games. I feel this was very much deserved as he had a very good season, especially at centre back, but even now and then when being forced into a defensive midfield role, the only times I remembered him looking uncomfortable was when he was forced to play at right back, although he tried, it was clear he was unsure of his positioning at times. All in all though, he was one of my stand out players of the season and really deserves a chance to shine. Hopefully he will be a starter for the squad, but there are a lot of good youngsters in the side. For him it must be a great sign for the future, from breaking into the West Ham side, to representing England at youth levels, to now appearing in the Team GB squad. It could really help his confidence and as I’m sure everyone will hope, is for him to keep doing well and get the opportunity to represent England at senior level.
I have a lot of faith in him to reach this goal one day, he is still very young and he is coming on leaps and bounds defensively and even looks a good threat in the box from corners and free kicks. I do feel he will keep improving, especially under a man like Allardyce who is a man who likes to be very tough to beat at the back and good from set plays.
As for the Team GB squad, it’s hard to say how well they will do, the squad looks good, but then there will be lots of teams hoping to do well. I think there first aim would be to get at least a medal, but with the squad they have I’m sure the gold isn’t completely beyond them. I look forward to seeing this team in action and below is my starting line up for the games. Whether I’m right or not is anybodies guess!
GK – Butland
LB – Bertrand
CB – Tomkins
CB – Dawson
RB – Richards
LM – Bale
CM – Ramsey
CM – Giggs
RM – Sinclair
ST – Sturridge
ST – Bellamy
LB – Bertrand
CB – Tomkins
CB – Dawson
RB – Richards
LM – Bale
CM – Ramsey
CM – Giggs
RM – Sinclair
ST – Sturridge
ST – Bellamy
Mohamed Diame is also representing Senegal at the Olympics and they are opening their campaign against Tomkins and Team GB on July 26th.
Good luck to the both of them and come back fit and ready for action for the big Premier League kick-off!