Saturday, February 28

Set piece woe as Hammers fail to storm Palace

Brian Williams at the Newham Bookshop
West Ham United 1 Crystal Palace 3

There’s a big gathering round the World Cup winners statue on Barking Road as Stephanie Moore welcomes Jonjo Heurrman who has riden 800 miles in aid of the Bobby Moore Fund. Meanwhile Brian Williams signs my copy of Nearly Reach The Sky at the Newham Bookshop, and it's nice to know he remembers my 1980s Midweek article’s quote of “Don’t worry Cottee, Snow White and other six will be coming soon!” from the Chicken Run.

Inside Ken’s Cafe sit Matt and Michael, who has just seen 90-year-old William Russell (Ian Chesterton) from Doctor Who at a Whovian event in Barking. Mike’s wearing a suit and is off to his old school reunion after the match. Pretty much his perfect day if there wasn’t a West Ham match in between. DC arrives dispensing Rosie Lea with his wee man Fin. It’s Fin’s second match, his first having been the home defeat to Southampton. Let’s hope it’s not another catastrophic 3-1 home defeat then.

West Ham have a decent start with Cresswell shooting over. But then the play becomes curiously lethargic, as the side that played so well at Spurs doesn’t look as up for it as Palace. Murray gets in on goal and has an effort well-saved by Adrian. West Ham are unlucky when Noble hits the bar with a great free kick, but apart that we don’t have an effort on target in the first half. Kouyate and Song, so dominant against Spurs, just don’t get to grips with the midfield and Downing looks diffident all game.

In the 38th minute there’s a minute’s applause for Dylan Tomibides and his new charity. So much applause appears to bamboozle the West Ham defence as Murray is allowed a one-on-one versus Adrian, which the keeper again does well to save. We’ve been warned. But on 41 minutes Palace win a free kick and Murray’s header goes in as Jenkinson slices his attempted clearance into the net.

The anticipated rollicking hasn’t worked after the break. In minute 51 Dann rises up above Reid to head home a simple corner. Minute 63 sees Murray glance home Puncheon's free kick. This is the first time an Allardyce side in the Premier League has ever conceded three goals from set pieces. Michael suggests that William Russell might be better at defending set pieces than our back four.

Finally we start too play a bit at 3-0 down. Nene has come on for Song and the Brazilian curls a fine effort against the outside of a post. Valencia scores with an effort from the edge of the box that Speroni might have done better with. Murray is sent off for a second yellow after fouling Reid.

“Oh no, we’ll really struggle against ten men,” I suggest.

We have chances. Valencia produces a beautiful shot that Speroni does well to tip over. Nene over-elaborates at times but looks to have skill, gets on the ball and makes a difference. Sakho has a penalty claim. Jenkinson hesitates when he should shoot first time and Downing prods wide. But it’s all too late and there's a worrying lack of spirit until the final quarter of the game. 

We can’t even pull it back for Leonard Nimoy, who would have found supporting West Ham most illogical, as Scott Dann and co prove an impenetrable final frontier as we grope for the undiscovered country of their net. It’s not been the voyage home we wanted today.

“Super Alan Pardew!” echoes from the away end and we’re tempted to join them.

“Be just like us to lose to Palace and then beat Chelsea,” I muse hopefully.

“Well, you got one part of it right,” suggests Fraser.

At least Allardyce says the right things afterwards, stating that he is “shocked” and we failed to get the basics right. One win in ten. We can’t let our season fizzle out like this. A big, big performance is needed against Chelsea.

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 6; Jenkinson 5, Reid 5, Tomkins 5, Cresswell 5; Song 5 (Nene 6), Kouyate 5, Noble 6, Downing 5; Sakho 5, Valencia 6.

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