Sunday, 21 February 2010

27: West Ham United 3 - 0 Hull City - 20/02/2010

This was as poor a day as Hull City has ever had in the Premier League. A bad team performance, some awful discipline, individual horror shows and at least one bad injury. The fortnight's break ahead is, for once, well timed as everyone involved needs to get their heads right.

Yet again, we find ourselves deciding exactly what worth Craig Fagan truly brings to the team. On his day he can be a useful workaholic, but too often he resorts to the childish, the daft, the red mist, and doesn't offset such peccadilloes with footballing prowess. His sending off was the work of a complete idiot and although the Tigers weren't pulling up trees even before he received his second yellow, the deficit was only 1-0 at the time and an equal number of players per side had preserved the opportunity.

Fagan's only consolation, lukewarm though it may be, is that pretty much nobody could emerge with credit. Phil Brown should include himself in this for dropping Jozy Altidore and giving the still-unfit Amr Zaki his first starting place. There was no justification for this decision. Altidore wasn't injured, Zaki is not ready and picking a player because he was a high-profile signing and might start kicking up a stink if he doesn't play is no way to go about shaping a Premier League team. And now Altidore, who was beginning to show real promise and heart as a Tigers centre forward, will need to have his confidence rebuilt.

No other changes were forthcoming, but you can bet anything you like that there will be ample by the time we play again. Fagan's sending off, Anthony Gardner's nasty looking injury, Jimmy Bullard's expected return (which, despite endless mooting, didn't happen at Upton Park) and a host of wretched displays should prompt a whole new outlook.

West Ham, ahead of the Tigers only on goal difference before the match, started as brightly as City began sheepishly. Boaz Myhill had to change direction to scramble away a ball in from Alessandro Diamanti, but was powerless a minute later when a bad pass from Andy Dawson put Tom Cairney under pressure, and Valon Behrami robbed the youngster of the ball, fortuitously exchanged passes with Guille Franco and slid it home. Three minutes had not quite elapsed, and already it felt like it wouldn't be a good day.

Dawson's gaffe was not his first. Even this most likeable of footballers is not immune to searing criticism and while context is always an issue, there's no doubt that the stuff being thrown his way as he committed error after error was justified. It was a horrid day for a great servant and professional.

He wasn't alone, though. His fellow full back Paul McShane was a distribution and possessional nightmare. Zaki up front showed willing but aside from his lack of shape, his default position upon receiving the ball seemed to be to throw himself on to the turf each time. Cairney was startled, as if he had been suddenly reminded of his inexperience. Stephen Hunt was guilty of his worst performance in a Tigers shirt ever. Fagan was beyond inhuman. Others struggled for room or ideas or composure. Only Myhill, George Boateng and Steven Mouyokolo could say they had done their jobs well.

City did make a chance courtesy of a Cairney free kic, which Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink headed towards the far corner, forcing Robert Green into a good, stretching save. But it was the Irons who were in charge, and a rapid throw-in gave Julien Faubert a crossing opportunity which beat Myhill but was a little too long for Diamanti to divert back towards goal.

Gardner then cut out a through ball to feed Dawson but the pressured full back was quickly relieved of possession by Behrami, but his drive was well beaten out by Myhill.

Fagan was then booked for a late challenge on Scott Parker. Retribution could have been an issue, given that Parker's tackles have played a role in two of Bullard's last three knee injuries. But it was a shockingly timed challenge and the yellow card was deserved. Fagan's focus and professionalism was plummeting very quickly.

Myhill made a wonderful save from Behrami's far post header as the City keeper found himself travelling in the opposite direction to the ball. This briefly inspired the rest of the team, and Cairney miskicked a half chance wide before Boateng made room for a thumping left-footer which Green tipped over acrobatically. Half time and though a poor performance, the damage was reversible.

Then, after a good spell of early second half pressure, the damage was done. Not by a second West Ham goal, but by Fagan's stupidity. Robbed of the ball on the flank by Jonathan Spector, he tripped him up. Not malicious, but dense, as well as pointless. Spector was going nowhere but backwards. Fagan felt a fool, but didn't look more so like one as when he saw the red card brandished before him and had to walk the breadth of the pitch to the tunnel, cursing.

Ten men, and even though it was only Fagan who had gone - and the brand of Fagan who is useless to any team effort anyway - the chance to claw back into the match went with him. City couldn't reshape themselves and West Ham soon took advantage, with Faubert's sublime through ball missing Gardner's last-ditch stretch and allowing Carlton Cole an easy opportunity to place his shot beneath Myhill for 2-0.

Brown made three substitutions at once, withdrawing Cairney, Hunt and Zaki, all of whom had flattered to deceive, to be kind. Of the three who replaced them, Nick Barmby took over as unofficial organiser and Altidore made himself a chance from a Vennegoor of Hesselink flick, but steered the opportunity just wide. Diamanti then had two goes, one of which was from halfway, but each were just off target, though Myhill did help the distant effort out to make sure.

A West Ham corner was met by Matthew Upson, but his header was cleared by Barmby. More tellingly, and worryingly, Gardner landed very badly after challenging Upson and was stretchered off with what was initially diagnosed as a problem with two separate sections of his leg. Dawson was already limping on a bad ankle knock so essentially City were dying with eight men. The final whistle couldn't come quickly enough, though the entertainin Faubert had time in the added minutes to batter a swerving shot past Myhill and make the scoreline ultra-conclusive for the home side..

A totally chronic afternoon for the Tigers, succumbing to a relegation rival with barely a whimper and a whole host of recriminations to dig out. Fagan will deservedly get the brunt of it but too many ineptitudes were on show on and off the pitch, and the Tiger Nation should also feel disappointed with a very quiet show of support in their corner of the ground. A day to forget on so many levels, but the absence of a game next week will make it hard for a bit.

West Ham United: Green, Faubert, Spector, Tomkins, Upson, Parker, Kovac, Behrami, Diamanti (Collison 85), Franco (Ilan 63), Cole (Mido 79). Subs not used: Stech, Da Costa, Noble, Stanislas.
Hull City: Myhill, McShane, Dawson, Gardner, Mouyokolo, Boateng, Cairney (Barmby 65), Hunt (Olofinjana 65), Fagan, Zaki (Altidore 64), Vennegoor of Hesselink. Subs not used: Duke, Zayatte, Kilbane, Garcia.