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Sunderland AFC v west ham (a)...
match report

Sunderland were condemned to defeat in virtually the last kick of the match after a lacklustre performance against West Ham. A horrific opening half was followed by an uneventful second, with the only real highlight of the match presenting itself as the last-gasp striker from Winston Reid, to win the game for the Hammers. Sunderland couldn’t hold on for a point, after never looking like winning it.

It would be nice if we could put this season on pause and leave it for a few months, or years, but unfortunately an away test at West Ham faced us on a cold and wet Saturday that could be better spent doing something we enjoy; something that doesn’t hurt us. David Moyes found himself under pressure going into this game, though his team selection showcased a stronger group of players than the fixture previous.

Pickford
Manquillo Kone O’Shea Pva
Rodwell Pienaar NDong
Khazri Watmore
Defoe

West Ham engineered their first chance after just a minute, when Antonio worked well down the right wing and sent a ball into the centre towards Zaza, but Kone did enough to send it out for a corner. The delivery was dangerous, whipped into the edge of the 6-yard box, only to be dealt with effectively by John O’Shea.

The home side then persisted to attack us in waves, with Antonio continuing to find space on that right-hand side, and Zaza looking the liveliest in the centre. Payet attempted to curl one around Pickford, but the shot was just wide of the mark. Our defence looked terrified and disorganised, with plenty of wrestling and handling (with subsequent penalty appeals) inside the box, but the referee didn’t fancy pointing to the spot. We were very lucky not to concede a penalty after Manquillo obstructed Winston Reid.

Dimitri Payet was exploiting the space in the centre of midfield, space left unoccupied by Rodwell and NDong, while Kone and O’Shea did little to suggest they were a comfortable defensive partnership. Sunderland were barely out of their half in the opening 20 minutes, and that is no exaggeration.

When West Ham won a free kick 30 yards out, Sunderland looked to set up their defensive line on the edge of the box, as one would expect. In a baffling and frustrating twist, however, John O’Shea ran back to the goal line to defend Payet’s shot, meaning there was no longer a vital offside trap. Payet simply laid the ball off to another West Ham player, who had a free run and shot at goal. Luckily, there were now too many bodies in front of goal to allow the ball a clear passage, and it was cleared. This was one of the most calamitous defensive tactics I’ve ever seen in professional football. Speechless.

Dimitri Payet struck the post after skipping past several players on the edge of our box. The booking of Jack Rodwell followed by Didier NDong demonstrated how difficult they were finding the match, but we managed to dig our claws into proceedings around the 30-minute mark, when we won a free kick 20 yards out. Khazri and van Aanholt stood over it, but it was the Dutchman who took it, striking the wall. We would win another free kick soon after, which was floated onto the head of Rodwell, but the £10m midfielder couldn’t keep his effort down after pressure from the defender.

Defoe had an opportunity to put Sunderland one-nil up after some clever footwork allowed him to get a sight of goal. His legs gave up on him, though, meaning his eventual shot was a poor one that was dealt with easily by the Hammers. Pienaar became the third Sunderland player to go in the book after a cynical foul to break up a West Ham counter attack.

Following an acrobatic attempt by West Ham’s Zaza, the half-time whistle blew, to the relief of Sunderland. West Ham would go in at half-time the more disappointed of the two sides, after scuppering such a spell of dominance in the opening half an hour. But SAFC could hardly hold their head high, after inviting pressure and looking more pedestrian than they even have previously, which is an accomplishment.

Sunderland found themselves in on goal less than a minute after the restart, after a deflected Pienaar through ball found the fun of Wahbi Khazri. The Tunisian had to adjust his body to get on his favoured right foot, and this was enough to skew his shot straight into the path of the keeper. A poor finish, and a waste of a good chance, but still an improvement on the first half. Kone had to deal with a run from Zaza, but luckily found the pace and the strength to get in front of and then outmuscle the advancing attacker.

While Defoe and van Aanholt are the only two players to score in the league for us this season, it’s no wonder why, given that they are the two players that look the most intent on scoring. Despite PVA’s defensive role, he always tends to be the player who finally pulls the trigger after our persistent attempts to breach the defensive line. Khazri had another attempt at goal, though this one was from his own half, trying to test the keeper off his line from around 70 yards. Maybe next time.

Without being too facetious, the most positive thing to impact the game was the departure of Michel Antonio, who had been a constant thorn in Sunderland’s side before he went off with a thigh injury. A good break for Sunderland saw Watmore tripped, but an advantage allowed the ball to reach Defoe. The veteran striker tried to create space for himself before going down too easily, and was penalised for diving. Sums up our luck really. Defoe was by far our most threatening player, but even he couldn’t do enough to beat West Ham on his own. Watmore was showing plenty of energy in behind him, but the two appeared to be on different wavelengths.

Lynden Gooch came on for Watmore, which would surely prompt a change of shape — Khazri perhaps moving more central while our midfield shifts to a flat four. McNair then came on for Pienaar, after the South African midfielder played a dangerously slack pass across the centre of midfield, which West Ham intercepted but could not capitalise on.

From around 75 minutes onwards, the game became very stoppy starty. The referee set an early precedent for pausing the game, and the quality of football suffered because of this in the last quarter of an hour. Not that either team looked particularly eager to start pinging the ball around, mind. Defoe became the only Sunderland player inside the West Ham half, after we made protecting the 0-0 a priority as the game entered its climax, if there was to be one. Gooch was doing his best to block the delivery of anything coming from the right-hand side, and this resulted in a corner at the death.

GOAL – West Ham – Reid – 94

I don’t believe it. Though, that’s not entirely true. The ball came out to the edge of the box where Winston Reid was given time and space to set himself for the shot, rifling a strike through the centre of the Sunderland defence and right into the corner, beating Jordan Pickford. Absolutely horrifying.

Full time.

Final Score: West Ham 1-0 Sunderland

Man of the Match: Travelling fans, who were once again outstanding in spite of their hopeless football team.

Chris Thompson

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