Date: 21 August 2016
We’re evidently starting this season the way we ended the last – i.e. dreadfully – and the new signings, if having any impact at all, seem to be simply making matters worse.
I like the Olympic Stadium, alias London Stadium, alias Queen Elizabeth stadium! The route to the ground from Hackney Wick station looked a bit rough, but the return route to Stratford was much more pleasant and the station coped really well given that 50,000+ people had attended this match. I liked the chosen pub – which again was nothing like as congested as I’d feared – and the eating/drinking facilities at the ground itself. There was little visible security, apart from the inevitable bag-search, especially outside the ground; and in my case the view of the pitch was good too (though some colleagues lower down were less pleased). (We had to stand of course. That seems to be standard for away supporters in the Premier League!) It’s odd being the ‘other’ team at someone else’s celebration – like the final match at Chesterfield’s old ground – but this was West Ham’s first league match at this stadium; and for various reasons I’m sure both teams are glad they’ve now got that out of the way!
With Lewis Cook unavailable we abandoned last week’s 4-3-3 set-up and returned to the more familiar 4-4-1-1, Fraser coming in on the left wing. For my money, Fraser was our best player, ever busy on that flank. Ibe, on the other flank, was disappointing: always drifting in-field and hence leaving the right-wing position vacant. So, any crosses had to come from the left (Daniels/Fraser). And herein lay our other problem: there was never anyone in the box when needed. Wilson, despite the summer break, has still not returned to his pre-injury form of August 2015. And another worry was some dodgy defending from Francis, who’s not looking as comfortable at centre-back as he did last season. One of his first-half passes was so messed-up that the Hammers almost scored from it.
But it was a pretty dire first half, West Ham on top but (with several key players out injured) unable to capitalise. There were no corner kicks until the last five minutes, when we were awarded one on the left – that was taken too long – and then one on the right, that no-one seemed to want to take at all! In the end captain Francis stepped up to do so, but it was ineffectual as the previous one. Half-time: 0-0.
Our best spell was at the start of the second half, with at least three chances in the first ten minutes to go 1-0 up. The best of these fell to Ibe, in the box with a clear view of goal and with the ball at his feet courtesy of Arter. And then the oddest thing: having been apparently unwilling to pass to another Bournemouth player last week or this, he now attempted to do just that rather than putting in a shot at goal. His square pass inevitably came to nothing. Not long after this King did get a shot in – but it was saved.
We remained marginally on top in terms of play, with just one breath-stopping moment when a West Ham shot hit the side netting. But then disaster struck when Arter received his second yellow card of the afternoon and trudged off. A few substitutions were made, to try and shore up our defence and hold out for the point. But the inevitable happened: on 85 minutes a West Ham set-piece was crossed into the area and headed into goal. It was of course the result the home fans wanted and, despite shots from both King and Francis during the four minutes of added-on time, the 1-0 scoreline held.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
Smith (6), Francis (5), Cook (6), Daniels (6);
Ibe (4), Surman (6), Arter (6), Fraser (7);