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Hammers Beat United As Champions Squander The Advantage

West Ham 2-1 Man Utd

There are days when you will have to hand it to the opposition. As much as I hate to say it, I would be forced to concede that West Ham were the better team yesterday. They outplayed, out scored, out ran and outnumbered (in midfield) us right through the game. And yes, they had that extra intensity to go on and win the game.

It is fairly simple (and sometimes, even boring) writing a match report following a win; you go through the usual format of reportage, saying how good such and such player was. Writing a report after a defeat is a far more enlightening experience, although it must be said that it is extremely hard to get motivated and get to the writing part in the first place.

So here we go with the report.

SAF fielded a midfield containing Fletcher and Hargreaves in the middle, and a forward line with Saha and Tevez. Ronaldo and Giggs started on the wings with our best possible back four.

It’s a pity seeing how fickle some fans can be blaming SAF’s judgement with regards to selection. True, it was a mystery why Rooney didn’t even make it to the bench, although there were reports that said he was down with some infection/stomach bug. But I did have my doubts when SAF fielded Carrick and Fletcher at the Stadium of Light; we had little trouble dismantling the Mackems. I am sure, had we struggled, people would have turned on the boss for his selection.

It’s entirely unfair on our part to be blaming SAF’s judgement for the slightest bit of squad alterations.

What happened yesterday was solely performance related. Even then, our report wouldn’t have been as morbid. Ronaldo’s penalty, if converted, would have effectively killed the game and knocked the stuffing out of the Hammers. Instead, the miss galvanised them and, courtesy some defensive errors, got them all three points from set-pieces.

Alan Curbishley got them coming at us from the start. They didn’t need any more motivation. It was United after all, and we were lucky to see Mark Noble miss a gaping wide goal. Our goal was top notch, much against the run of play, and surprisingly despite the goal, didn’t help us settle at all.

Tactically, Curbs got it right. Mullins, Noble and Parker were too much for Fletcher and Hargreaves. Hargreaves did okay, given the situation, however we’ve seen better from him. What he lacked was someone who could spray the ball to the forward line. Fletcher couldn’t do that and the battle was won in midfield.

While we created very little going forward yesterday, I feel terribly annoyed if we single out people like Giggs and Saha for criticism. Let’s remember their roles in creating our first goal. And they didn’t do too much wrong. It’s just, and for the millionth time may I add, that West Ham outplayed us on the day.

There was a general listlessness on the field, though. We gave the ball too easily and never really showed the urgency needed to get on with things and finish off teams. Was there some complacency? Even cockiness? Perhaps. I am not sure, but I did see an element of cockiness in Ronaldo while taking the penalty. Or was it me being so over-confident whenever Ronaldo steps up to take a penalty? I don’t know.

There has been a lot spoken about why he didn’t even manage to hit the shot on target, thus test the ‘keeper. Well, it had to happen someday, didn’t it? Ronaldinho has missed penalties, so has our own Ruud. If you think about it, it’s good he missed one. It would urge him on and remind him to never take such situations for granted. At his age, such disappointments are a part of his footballing education, and it’s good that it happened in a league game and not in a Cup final.

I wouldn’t single out anyone for criticism. At least, I think it’s unfair in the context of the bigger picture — they have given us an outstanding 2007. But it would have made things pleasant had we remained top at the end of 2007.

There is a long time left for the season to end. I had said in the beginning, when we had a wretched start to the season, that this season would be too close to call, and that our rivals will drop points. I don’t have anything different to say even now. Such setbacks should only make us stronger in the longer run. A right bollocking will be meted out to the players by SAF, make no mistake. Any hints of complacency should have been blown off after yesterday, hopefully, and let’s instead look forward to beginning 2008 by stuffing McLeish’s men at Old Trafford.