West Ham 3-1 Southampton

Bowen strikes

THE club narrative that protests harm the team has been thoroughly dismembered. Protests at Liverpool resulted in defeat but a sparkling performance against the Champions-elect. Thousands of protestors before the Southampton game preceded the most complete onfield performance of the season as the away side were brushed aside by the Hammers pace and power.

There is little doubt however, the David Sullivan-inspired PR offensive will continue with the latest instalment (more offensive than PR) involving rolling out a former ticket tout and alickadoo named Terry Creasey claiming “Bobby Moore would be turning in his grave” at the protests.

Aside from the fact his quotes in the Mail are so on-message they appear to have been written by Sullivan himself, they open the intriguing prospect of further revelations from “the other side”. As a manager himself Ron Greenwood would assert David Moyes must pick Pablo Fornals. And protest organisers Hammers United will have missed a trick if they don’t employ a medium to prove Vic Watson has always loved #GSBOUT.

Fans protest

There is a serious side to this – Sullivan has long sought to monetise the memory of Moore – to now use his legacy as a propaganda tool sits perfectly with a classless and cynical attitude towards death. This is the man who, let’s not forget, used the suicide of former lover and porn star Mary Millington as an excuse to release a posthumous exploitation film described by IMDB as a “tawdry tribute” that featured a lengthy interview by himself. For the record, Sullivan dumped Millington prior to her untimely death after drug abuse and depression (hers) affected their relationship.

As much as writing about Sullivan’s squalid and seedy past is a chore, Saturday’s game was a delight. Supporters were re-energised by both the pre-match protest and Monday night’s efforts against Liverpool that promised better results against less accomplished sides. Southampton, with the sort of lethargy often exhibited by mid-table sides at the fag-end of the season played their part.

Manager David Moyes played a side to have a go (he won’t play such a side for every game) and striker Sebastien Haller, relishing the space created as Michail Antonio and Jarrod Bowen regularly got themselves in front of the “Baguette Batistuta” played hell with the Saints defence. At the other end of the pitch it was obvious work had been done on set plays with six men defending the goal area at corners – also striking was a new attitude – perhaps a result of the appointment of motivator Kevin Nolan to the coaching staff. On that point it’s worth saying football whispers suggest Moyes’ struggles to appoint back room staff was due to a widespread feeling that stay up or go down staff would all be released at the end of the season.

Goals from Bowen, Haller and Antonio were more than enough to dispatch the South-coast visitors and leapfrogged the club above Bournemouth on goal difference and out of the relegation zone – a net return of only minus three against Manchester City and Liverpool away now looks a good return. The only negative from the day were the fading legs and lungs of poor Mark Noble. His lack of pace was directly responsible for Southampton’s goal and the days of him being an automatic choice appear numbered.

#GSBOUT

Southampton 0-1 West Ham

Where does it go from here
Is it down to the lake I fear?

Haircut 100 – Love Plus One
Haller and Snodgrass celebrate

WEST HAM manager Manuel Pellegrini won the game he required to stay in a job. The rules are less than clear but presumably the Hammers’ next fixture, away to Crystal Palace on Boxing Day is also a “must win” game for the boss. If so, the club Board have merely pushed the day of reckoning forward a week or so and have most likely narrowed the pool of available replacements.

The problem with ultimatums of this type are that although the Hammers were victorious at St Mary’s all the win proved was how badly the Chilean has been managing the club the rest of the season. To get a result yesterday he pretty much tore up all the tenets of the “Pelle-ball” he has been arrogantly insisting upon – and demonstrated very clearly his method is not suitable for a club of our mid-table standing.

Even after the team were humiliated at home by the poorest Arsenal side many have seen, Pellegrini insisted the fault was with the players’ lack of “big team mentality”, code for attacking the opposition all game. Yet against the Saints that fiction was scrapped in favour of vigorously defending a lead by shutting down midfield and insisting on wingers having a role protecting the back four.

No penalty given

The Irons boss was helped in his endeavours by some real luck with injuries; Aaron Cresswell returned from a knock to replace the useless Arthur Masuaku at left-back. Perhaps of greater fortune was a tweak sustained by wide-man Felipe Anderson in training on Friday. This blog was highly critical of the Brazilian’s defensive commitment against the Gunners and a resurgent Pablo Fornals (now starting to look like the £24million player signed over the summer) showed far greater acumen without the ball.

It may well be the manager was going to drop Anderson anyway but credit must be given for altering the formation to face up to Southampton’s terrible home record (won two, scored just nine times in eight games and conceded 24). For all the romantics may wish to believe Pelle reverted to a favoured 4-2-2-2 formation, the reality is against the Saints he opted for a bog standard 4-4-2. A warning ahead of time: The set up will not be suitable for many other occasions and will never allow for the selection of either Anderson or Andriy Yarmolenko (a reported combined £54m worth of talent) due to their laissez-faire attitude towards defending.

The formation meant the Hammers were forced into moving the ball forward much more quickly than is customary as well as promoting crosses into the opposition penalty area. The fruitless tippy-tappy football 25 yards from goal was gone as Michail Antonio set about terrorising Saints’ backline with his pace and power. The England international also proved the perfect foil for striker Sebastien Haller, whose lack of a strike partner has been accommodated with all the joy of an unannounced visit from the Trump family.

The French international is said to want away from the claret and blue because of his disgust with the manager. Yet he saved the latter’s bacon with the same attached irony of Diafra Sakho scoring a late winner against Swansea to rescue Slaven Bilic’s career. Telling was Haller’s dash to celebrate with Issa Diop on the substitutes bench. There is said to be a group of players including, but not limited to, the non-English/Spanish-speaking players at West Ham who want the manager gone – something the big striker’s embrace of his compatriot further emphasised. Pellegrini stood watching much as Unite the Union leader Len McCluskey would have greeted Thursday night’s exit poll – there was a party going on – but he wasn’t part of it.

Clear handball by Antonio

Two things remain to be said: The performance from referee Martin Atkinson and his back up VAR team under Jonathan Moss were well below par. Even if Antonio’s disallowed goal did look a clear handball, the man in, er, yellow consistently penalised the Hammers man merely for being stronger than his opponents. A first-half incident when both Antonio and Haller appeared to be impeded by Southampton defenders following Cresswell’s cross was first bottled by Atkinson, then the officials at Stockley Park. This seemed exactly the sort of decision VAR was brought in to adjudicate upon. Unless and until refs have pitch-side monitors this evasion of responsibility by all parties will continue.

Having finally taken a pragmatic approach to team selection Pellegrini’s substitutions were worse than puzzling. Yarmolenko for Robert Snodgrass and the woeful Carlos Sanchez for Haller were misjudged and gave an initiative to Southampton they very nearly grasped. Diop for the fading Mark Noble only emphasised how the skipper can barely manage 90 minutes these days.

So here we are, another game gone and nothing resolved. Pellegrini hangs on, the players mistrustful and fans underwhelmed. Quite what does it need for our wretched Board of Directors to take accountability for the mess the club is in?