FOX Soccer Exclusive
Trouble looms for sorry West Ham
Late goals from James Collins and Mohamed Diame gave West Ham United their third win in a row -- and their fourth clean sheet in a row for the first time ever in the Barclays Premier League -- to take the relegation-threated club all the way up to tenth, 2-0 over Norwich.
Their big result came on a drab Tuesday night overall for the top-flight, with only five goals scored in total. Southampton edged Hull 1-0 thanks to a goal that Jose Fonte shuffled over the line, while Chelsea failed to extend their lead atop the table in drawing West Brom 1-1 thanks to Branislav Ivanovic and Victor Anichebe trading goals. The biggest losers? Cardiff, who played well but again failed to take full points as they were held scoreless at home by a barely creditable Aston Villa.
The results mean that Arsenal and Manchester City can both clamber back atop the table on Wednesday, depending on the results of their matches. Arsenal face a critical test against Manchester United while City should make easy work of Sunderland at the Etihad – but then again, little in this Premier League season has been easy.
But to the Hammers, Collins’ goal in the 85th came when Diame was allowed to float in a ball uncontested off a bungled free kick. John Ruddy inexplicably wandered out and then failed to claim the ball, leaving a stunned Collins alone to run on and nod it into the back of the net. The Bobby Moore stand exploded behind him, but their joy could not erase the fact that this has been a desperately poor match that for long patches, looked nothing like a Premier League contest.
Diame’s goal in stoppage was even sillier; lumbering down the field, he stumbled in the box as he shot, only to see the ball take a wicked cut. Ruddy fell down, the wrong way, and watched as the ball sailed past his boots.
West Ham and Norwich both entered the game in dire straits. The bottom eleven teams in this league are separated by just eight points after Tuesday’s results, and with 12 games left, the margins remain razor thin. In fact, the Hammers are only five clear of the drop zone -- but a full 12 points off the traditional mark for safety: 40 points.
And you could see why from the outset. Both teams played a negative 4-5-1 formation that stranded a lone striker upfield and congested the midfield. Neither side was able to cut into space; neither team was very skilled at marshaling the ball either. There was a good five-minute spell where the ball was off the floor as the sides batted it about. At times it looked more like a match better suited to the Conference than a league that claims to be among the best in the world.
Carlton Cole, who at one time was considered a striker with true national team potential, was so abject he was hauled off by Sam Allardyce after an aimless half in which he only touched the ball a handful of times. And Norwich weren’t much better, attempting to pass the ball -- but failing to do so with any regularity.
You can see why the Hammers were willing to sue over Andy Carroll’s suspension, of which he has a game left to serve. Without him, the Hammers have no one to hold the play up top, and no target to hit. Plus, Stewart Downing was reducing to passing the ball sideways, and Kevin Nolan, so inspirational in their last two matches, looked very tame indeed.
But if the Hammers are grim, then spare a thought for Chris Hughton, a man whom many thought would be sacked by now as Norwich’s manager. He doesn’t seem to have anyone to call on to change games, and the “contribution” of Ricky van Wolfswinkel showed that in spades. A late sub on Tuesday night after his involvement in the Yaya Toure imbroglio earlier this week, he simply disappeared after entering the field of play.
Amazingly there are teams poorer than Norwich: West Brom and Sunderland, are preventing them from being in the drop zone while Cardiff and Fulham look near-certainties to go down. But on the evidence, any of six teams could reasonably go down if not more -- and not one of them could have much to complaint about it.
Certainly not West Ham, who even in triumph, look dismal. And surely not Norwich, a team for whom glory looks very far off indeed.
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