I’ve got a pretty simple theory and it’s one that Hammers’ faithful are only too familiar with having been victim to it on many occasions during the Allardyce/Bolton era. The away side arrives, immediately sets out a defensive formation that is virtually impenetrable, then let the home side wear themselves out trying to unlock the code before they get a set piece which delivers a scrappy goal.
They then sit back and put the increasingly desperate home side to the counterattacking sword by picking off opportunities on the break. The end result when it works is a satisfyingly sadistic process that leaves opposing fans foaming at the mouth and unable to enjoy their post-match pint without launching into a tirade about the pointlessness of winning ‘ugly’ and the unacceptable damage that such Machiavellian machinations do to ‘the beautiful game’. And so it was with Tottenham. They were served due warning of the risk from set pieces at an earlier corner and then outmuscled by the physical threat of the Hammers as the pleasingly adroit (for a defender) Reid slipped in the first while Spurs were in disarray.
Vaz Te then delivered a rather fortunate second before Raveldo gave us a glimpse of the ability that so many reputable observers have spoken about. Not surprisingly, the 3-0 score line has prompted all sorts of plaudits for the ‘innovative’ Allardisi method. However, in fact what we observed was a well-tested tactic that has rarely delivered for the Hammers on away journeys since their return to the Premiership.
Although we had the best away record in the championship during 2011- 12, Premiership defences concede less at set pieces and are considerably less vulnerable to counter attack football as one of the major differences between defenders at these two levels is pace with few Premiership sides foolish enough to field a defence that includes two slow centre backs. In fact, prior to the White Hart Lane success, West Ham had the worst away record of any side (excluding those relegated) principally due to our inability to score the crucial first goal that provides the platform for the smash ‘n’ grab raid that Tottenham endured.
Away from home the Hammers persistently achieve less than 40 per cent of possession and defend too deep to generate enough set piece opportunities that the method relies upon. Moreover, if the normally clinical Jermain Defoe had cashed in on two relatively simple opportunities either side of half time, things would have been so very different and, despite the score line, we enjoyed a paltry 39 per cent of the possession
In short, for every White Hart Lane-2013 result, there are half a dozen Hull or Newcastle performances that occasionally deliver a point but provoke the scorn of opposition fans due to the gratuitous negativity and reduction of the game to a minimum of watchable action. Sure, we are unlikely to get relegated under Big Sam but seem destined to forever languish in mid table obscurity.
This is not the anonymity that the Bubbles boys have been reared upon and come the Olympic stadium it’s likely that a growing desire (and even expectation) for the excitement of European football will force the Hammers to reconsider their approach to away matches in order to generate enough away points to force our way into the top six of the Premiership. Expect the itchiness to start as soon as the Olympic stadium is upon us.
Until then we are in the business of establishing a secure Premiership footing and hopefully the core of a side that can alternate between a closed shop and a more open approach that encourages carelessness amongst more cautious home sides. Right now, let’s just celebrate the moment and enjoy the Spurs implosion – referring to the Hammers as a ‘small’ club smacks of a deep-seated arrogance that will see AVB’s troops suffer further ‘embarrassing’ defeats while the humble Hammers we remain ready to punish anyone who underestimates our professionalism and organisation under ‘Allardisi’.