West Ham 1 v WBA 1
Author: Matthew Kirk. Published: 29 November 2015 at 8:23pm
West Ham and West Bromwich Albion drew even, 1-1, today on a windy November afternoon at Upton Park. In a match dominated by the Hammers in time of possession and shots, Slaven Bilic’s side nonetheless was only able to muster a single point for the effort today. The claret clad fans came to the Boleyn Ground today with more uncertainty than at any point of the season. Last week saw West Brom beat Arsenal 2-1 while West Ham had its most embarrassing defeat of the season, losing at Spurs 4-1. Once again, without their top playmaker, Dimitri Payet, the Hammers desperately needed a victory.
The first half began with West Ham showing an aggressive attacking style that was certainly lacking at White Hart Lane. Manuel Lanzini and Mauro Zarate played possibly their finest football of the season during the first 45 minutes. The high point was Zarate’s goal in the 17th minute when he perfectly placed his free kick shot just beyond the diving reach of Boaz Myhill and inside the nearside post. The feel inside the stadium at that point seemed that West Ham would win the day by some margin. Albion’s midfielders had trouble defending the speed of Victor Moses and Diafra Sakho, and West Ham enjoyed a 62%-38% time of possession advantage over the first half. But Zarate’s early strike was West Ham’s only goal and the Baggies’ back four lived up to their reputation as a strong defense.
After the break, Tony Pulis’s side regrouped and showed a more aggressive attitude than their first half display. In the 50th minute, Ricky Lambert – who was a halftime sub – fired towards goal and it deflected off of Winston Reid and into the goal for the West Brom equalizer. For large portions of the second half, the Hammers were forced to play on their heels as West Brom did attempt some close calls on set pieces and upped the pressure on West Ham’s back line.
Looking for a late spark, Bilic brought Andy Carroll on in the 63rd minute to replace Obiang. Also late in the match, Sakho suffered what appeared to be a thigh injury on an attack and was replaced in the 72nd by Jelavic. The only other interesting move was Bilic’s replacement of Zarate by Michail Antonio. As strong as Zarate played in the first half, his second half wasn’t as impressive, and the West Ham faithful had long called for Antonio to get his chance on the pitch.
Late in the game, including the four minutes of added time, West Brom played to slow the clock; apparently content to secure the single point away from home. West Ham was certainly the aggressor in the final moments. Once Aaron Cresswell’s free kick from beyond the penalty area didn’t find the goal, the match ended.
Supporters who braved the cold and the wind to watch the Hammers had to take heart at the aggressive attacking mentality their side showed today. After playing flat against Spurs a week ago, watching West Ham dominate time of possession 61%/39% showed great heart. Also, the play shown by Lanzini and Zarate was a welcome sight to a fan base that has had a tough few weeks. The renaissance of Zarate this season continues to surprise after his dreadful loan spell with QPR last year. Whether Bilic has “coached him up” or he has always had this potential, no one could have predicted that he would contribute so much to this season. Also it was interesting to note that Bilic kept Carl Jenkinson in the line up after an uneven outing last week. Jenkinson had an improved day over his previous appearance.
Despite those bright spots, West Ham now prepares for a visit to Old Trafford without both Payet and probably Sakho, as well. This team has seemingly played its best this season on big stages at opposing stadiums. There is no bigger stage (with regard to global exposure) than against Manchester United. Sitting at the top half of the table, Bilic and company have a great opportunity ahead of them. Hopefully they can overcome the injuries and restore the early season momentum.