Apparently it is never too soon for a relegation six pointer. That was how Saturday’s clash between Wolverhampton Wanderers and West Ham United was billed. Yet the climax of that build up did not result in a frenetic or splenetic affair. A point a piece was the final result as Mark Noble’s second half penalty cancelled out Matt Jarvis’ volleyed goal. Molineaux was the last venue where West Ham won an away match in the league, on the opening day of last season. Returning here was not as cathartic as some may have wished but a draw makes it five games unbeaten in all competitions for the Hammers. Thus the away team will be more contented as Wolves now face the division’s top four in succession.
Everyone needs a bit of luck
West Ham remain at the foot of the table, level on points with their weekend opponents and mighty Liverpool. In order to climb the table and negate the added pressure which inevitably comes from being in that precarious position, a slice of luck is always welcome. Mick McCarthy felt the opposition were fortuitous to be awarded a penalty early into the second half. Victor Obinna surged into the area and was duly upended by Kevin Foley. The Nigerian appeared to fall rather easily but the well positioned Mark Clattenburg noticed the defender’s boot make contact with the attacker’s calf. Mark Noble despatched the spot kick with gusto but lady luck was not shining on the team as they searched for that elusive, winning goal. Frederic Piquionne rattled the crossbar after collecting Luis Boa Morte’s through ball. The Frenchman had seemingly won the game with the final kick of the ball. However the referee decreed that before scoring he had controlled a one-two with his arm. The replays suggested otherwise but Avram Grant was conciliatory after the match. The best way to criticise referring decisions is to prefix any comment with an assertion that the individual official is one the league’s best.
Green to be an augury for West Ham’s season
A fantastic clean sheet at home to Spurs, facing his World Cup tormentor and being recalled to the England squad all contributed to the sense that Robert Green had turned the tide. Inconsistency has plagued his season thus far and that trait was in display once more on Saturday. Wolves lost their artistic captain, Jody Craddock within the first few minutes but were not deterred from accelerating the pace and by extension the pressure on their opponents. Early corners were a sign of their dominance and crosses from open play continually caused West Ham problems. They packed the box with bodies and when Steven Ward’s cross was weakly punched by Green, Jarvis capitalised emphatically. Always keen to atone for his errors Green made a superb save from Daniel Jones and made a vital intervention to deny Richard Stearman a free header. Much like their goalkeeper, West Ham’s season may be defined by moments of exhilaration, such as beating Tottenham, and the inability to build on that success.
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Calling Herita Ilunga
For the second week running Ilunga, the Hammers’ only senior specialised left-back warmed the bench. In addition for two games in a row the manager has only utilised one substitution. Arguably the Congolese full-back is not the same player who shone during a loan spell in the 2008/09 season. After earning a permanent contract, his performances together with his regularly updated blog ebbed away. However the former Toulouse man has missed a lot of playing time due to a long standing back problem. Once again Grant fielded three tall, powerful centre-halves in defence with Tal Ben Haim and Danny Gabbidon exchanging full-back duties on Saturday. Muscling up and being robust is no bad thing after repeatedly conceding three goals a game in the early stages of the campaign. Nonetheless the team have reaped the benefits of eventually fielding a traditional right-back in Lars Jacobson. The left side will surely benefit from reintroducing a conventional, buccaneering full-back in the form of Ilunga.
Grant preaches NBA lessons
Ensuring that players, including the aforementioned Ilunga, perform at their full potential is a predicament for any manager. Former boss Alan Pardew was reportedly a believer in the importance of sports science and psychology. New fangled ideas may be scoffed at but inferably have worth when a manager is tasked with directing players who cannot be described as the best in the business. Grant feels his team can learn from coaching techniques practiced in American basketball. It transpires that the Israeli is a close friend of LA Lakers’ Phil Jackson who previously managed the triumphant Chicago Bulls team of the early nineties. Jackson sought Grant’s advice after Chelsea’s disappointment of losing the Champions League final on penalties and now the American is repaying the favour. “I think you can take a lot, and I spoke with the players about what we can take from basketball,” Grant said. Whether or not their second half comeback was inspired by a basketball time-out, the manager’s pep talk evidently buoyed the troops. West Ham turned the statistical tables on their heads, emerging with superior position and more shots on target after ninety minutes.
The Parker Problem
The mid-week news that summer signing Thomas Hitzlsperger, yet to make his competitive debut, will be sidelined until the new year with a thigh injury was a huge blow. Notwithstanding the frustration at losing a highly experienced German international it would be difficult to see how he would have immediately returned to proceedings barring his latest setback. He featured in a midfield three in pre-season but that formation has since been displaced for a conventional 4-4-2. Both Noble and Scott Parker have been in excellent form this season. The latter continues to be saddled with unrelenting praise and demands of an England call up. Whether defending or attacking the all-action midfielder continues to be crucial to the team. The consensus amongst seasoned sports hacks on Saturday was that he owned the midfield in the second half, instigating West Ham’s offensive moves. Should injuries or suspensions curtail his involvement, the absence of Hitzlsperger will be sorely felt. Valon Behrami is eager to return to the Italian capital and Radoslav Kovac’s qualities are dubious in comparison to the No8.