The Premier League recommenced with a mouth watering tie at Upton Park, as the two London rivals met in front of a sell out crowd at the Boleyn Ground.
Typically, there had been much unrest in East London in the run up to the new season. Despite six summer signings and manager Sam Allardyce smashing the club’s transfer record, many sections of the Hammer’s faithful remained unhappy. Pre-season had hardly been a success and there seemed no evidence of the attacking football Allardyce had been politely told to play by his employers. I reminded myself that Rome was not built in a day and made the trip to Upton Park full of high hopes for the current campaign.
The game started brightly, in particular for the visitors who had in the most part been worryingly quiet in pre season. It was clear Pochettino’s mantra of close, concise play had been instilled and as a result, West Ham enjoyed very little time on the ball. That being said there were glimmers of hope. New singings Aaron Cresswell and Cheikhou Kouyate looked impressive and there appeared to be a new resilience and in my eyes at least, an attempt to play the ball on the ground in an attacking style.
We more than matched the visitors in the opening exchanges but in all honesty there was very little to write home about in the first half. So much so, I got carried away watching events in one of the boxes. A group of lads draped a Lazio flag from the box. Security, came twice to ensure it was moved cue vociferous chants of ‘Viva Lazio’ from the Alpari Lower and Trevor Brooking. It was replaced with a picture of a walrus and the words ‘BFS we love you.’ Far more to Security’s liking.
It appears I was not the only one who was slightly underwhelmed by the football as a lively supporter made his way on to the pitch and after running the full length of it, stopped to take a shot with the match ball. This was potentially the first shot of target and sparked the crowd into life as he left rotund security guards in his wake before being wrestled to the ground and dismissed.
West Ham continued to pressure the Tottenham box and from a corner, the ball landed at Kevin Nolan’s feet who hit the ball goalward. Kyle Naughton raised his arms and after much remonstration by the home team and deliberation from the officials, a penalty kick was awarded. Naughton’s block was deemed to be deliberate and he was in turn given his marching orders.
Celebrations were wild, the crowd erupted into ‘it’s happening again’ because Mark Noble doesn’t miss penalties. Until now. The ball skewed wide of the left hand post and Tottenham were handed a new lifeline. Still 11 played 10 and West Ham were certainly in the ascendancy.
The second half started again with pressure from the home side. There was an attempt to pass and keep the ball, more than I saw at any stage last season. However, the luck was not on our side and the likes of Stewart Downing and Carlton Cole huffed and puffed but sadly to no avail. Tottenham did continue to threaten on the break and with the arrival of Lewis Holtby and Andros Townsend, the pace of the threat augmented.
James Collins was booked for a cynical challenge, which stopped a Tottenham attack and not long after with Adebayor in a fairly innocuous position, he decided to aggressively barge the forward to the ground and referee Chris Foy correctly sent him off.
Alarm bells begun to ring around the stadium as Tottenham’s belief rose their chances grew.
Bentaleb forced a diving save from fan favourite Adrian and the West Ham defence begun to look shakier as time wore on.
Allardyce introduced Guy Demel for Joey O’Brien, presumably for a niggle of some description. Mo Diame appeared in place of the ineffective Vaz Te but the greatest applause was saved for new signing Enner Valencia who arrived in place of beleaguered Carlton Cole.
Valencia looked lively from the off and chased balls that Carlton wouldn’t have even jogged for, winning West Ham an unlikely corner in the process. The game ebbed and flowed, both sides threatened, but in the 94th minute, Tottenham broke and Erik Deer on debut was put through on goal, rounded the keeper and placed the ball perfectly into Adrian’s net.
As the away fans went wild, the home ones left in their droves, just in time to see a Spurs fan, who had clearly overexcited himself, being removed by the stewards. Smiling and inciting the Trevor Brooking Lower during his exit, events certainly took a darker turn, most certainly for the female security guard tasked with restraining a large handful of East London’s finest at melting point.
Back to the football and despite the disappointment of the result, West Ham played rather well in my opinion. Downing, Cole and Vaz Te were decidedly poor yet despite this, had the ever reliable Mark Noble converted, I think we would have won comfortably. No-one in the ground would have wanted to score more than he, so it was heartwarming to hear chants of Mark Noble straight after the miss.
Kouyate looks like a fantastic player, big strong and playing for the shirt. Tin minutes of Valencia was not enough but again he looks like a handful. Cresswell did well and surprisingly Nolan put in a very good shift. Rumours abound that he returned to pre-season fitter than ever, perhaps worrying about his place in the side? This can only be a good thing.
Ravel Morrison is back in training too and Diame looked tricky when he came on, so I am afraid I am not jumping on the Sam out bandwagon just yet. It’s Crystal Palace next week and if the football gods are evening scores like it felt today, it surely has to be an away win for the Hammers.
O’ Brien 6
Vaz Te 5