West Ham 3-3 Brighton

Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together

George Eliot
Glenn Murray scored against West Ham. Again

WEST HAM absolutely West Hammed the fuck out of their must-win game against Brighton at the London Stadium on Saturday. Normal rules just don’t apply at the London Stadium – three-one up with a little over 20 minutes to play a substitution from manager David Moyes precipitated a horrible capitulation and turned three points into one.

Michail Antonio is a notoriously injury-prone player who had just returned from a hamstring tweak. All the evidence suggests 60 minutes or so is the maximum a player should stay on the pitch in those circumstances before fatigue massively increases the likelihood of further injury.

Likewise the decision to change the formation to a more defensive system and move debutée  Tomas Soucek to a more defensive role was textbook. Premier League clubs don’t give up two goal leads against sides as week in attack as Brighton.

Unless you are West Ham.

Antonio’s replacement Arthur Masuaku’s very first action was to put team-mate Aaron Cresswell under pressure with a stupid cushioned header when he would have done better just knocking the ball upfield. His second was to use all his £60,000 a week judgement to hit the ball not up the line to a waiting Declan Rice but straight at a Brighton’s Leandro Trossard lurking infield. The ball ricocheted over Angelo Ogbonna as Issa Diop inexplicably played “After You Claude”, dallied over a clearing header and allowed Pascal Gross to poke home.

Worse followed. Albion’s Glenn Murray is a 36-year old striker who only ever seems to score against the Hammers – and he was goalless this season coming into the game. Masuaku lost his man on the left wing, a cross came in, Ryan Fredericks hacked at fresh air and Murray slotted the ball home after having appeared to control the ball with his arm. Referee Michael Oliver certainly thought so and awarded a free-kick only for the decision to be overturned by VAR and a goal awarded.

There are very many things wrong with video replay as used at present and if you want the ultimate takedown there is no better than this Twitter post by Hammers supporter Daisy Christodoulou. This blog believes football should take a leaf from cricket when the evidence is dubious and stick with a referee’s decision – but that would be far too sensible.

At this point a story about a mate and a foreign experience. Please bear with, there is a point to all this: He and his wife landed in St Petersburg, Russia as part of a Baltic Sea cruise where they were ferried around the sights by minibus. Due to repeated warnings of pickpockets our protagonists had taken the very sensible precaution of placing all valuables in a zipped bag kept safe by the driver. A wise and cautious decision.

After nearly a day of seemingly interminable gold-leaf adorned corridors our man, tired of the bling and with permission from tour leader and missus, left a procession through yet another house to take some air in the park outside with a promise to meet up in half an hour. Only after appreciating the solitude did our guy realise he wasn’t wearing a watch and had no mobile to tell the time by. Not to worry. Until nobody turned up at the allotted meeting place and at first 45 minutes then, he guessed, an hour passed. Panicked, he retraced his steps to the car park to find the minibus gone. It was only then that without any means of communication, money, identification or passport it dawned on him that if he didn’t find the group, due to the local vagrancy laws, he as fresh meat would be spending at least one evening in a Russian prison*.

Just as a series of ostensibly good decisions led to calamity, so with Moyes. The lesson in both cases is to look at a wider picture – the traveller needed to be much more cautious in a foreign country – and West Ham are not anything like the competently-run football clubs Moyes has largely been associated with.

Critical non-essentials were the small things in the detail of everything the team did in its preparation and playing that could be improved to set the England team apart from its rivals, and create a winning mindset which would influence players’ behaviour.

England World Cup winning coach Sir Clive Woodward
Sir Clive Woodward

Elite sports coaches look to imbue in their charges an atmosphere where every slightest variable is controlled down to the minutest percentage. It is those tiny intangibles that make a difference between victory and defeat. In contrast the Hammers chuck away entire blocks of advantage without a thought.

Good clubs trade in the summer to build a balanced squad for the type of football they want to play. West Ham buy a player on the last hour of the January transfer window and get whoever they can meaning the manager didn’t have recent signing Jarrod Bowen available to replace Antonio.

Efficient sides build top quality training facilities to instill an atmosphere of professionalism in players and give them no excuse for failure. West Ham’s look more akin to the former traveller encampment that Basildon residents so enjoyed before it was ripped down with police assistance.

Innovative teams use an analytics and video teams to study opponents and instigate strategies at both ends of the pitch to better confront opponents. They have a big injury prevention team to minimise soft-tissue issues. West Ham allowed both to atrophy as former boss Slaven Bilic “didn’t rate” them.

Top squads have a Director of Football overseeing a network of scouts across Europe to identify and buy young talent. David Sullivan gets on the phone to his agent friend.

Sporting success breeds on a “can do” attitude. West Ham “make do” with an “it’ll do” mindset. The inevitable result is the on-field shambles we saw against Brighton.

*In case you were wondering, in time the minibus returned to pick my friend up. It remains to be seen if West Ham can blunder their way out of the current mess.