If West Ham United came to Selhurst Park to see what a team under threat looked like, they will have been unpleasantly surprised. Sam Allardyce's side fell to a dismal 1-0 defeat to Crystal Palace and it was very obvious indeed that they are in for a long and difficult winter, in which they must fight against the drop just as fiercely as anyone else.
For all the experience of their manager, the superiority of their players, their years of top flight nous,
West Ham are now just three points and four positions above Tony Pulis' Palace. It was their new manager's first home game and bounces do happen but they did at least play with all the spirit and discipline he demands from his sides. They even scored their eighth goal of the season, Marouane Chamakh heading in the only goal just before the break.
“It was a great result,” said Pulis afterwards. “The players have been fantastic. The attitude and commitment has been absolutely wonderful form the first minute I walked in.”
Allardyce could be nowhere near as happy with his players. They did have an equaliser questionably disallowed but his team were poor throughout. Sam Allardyce did not give the post-match press-conference, assistant manager Neil McDonald saying he was still “a bit livid”, with the officials and his team.
The lack of a usable fit striker is the story of their season. Allardyce gave Carlton Cole his first league start for eight months and was rewarded with not very much. He turned back to Modibo Maiga for the last half hour but without visible improvement.
“We did not have enough cutting edge, that was the problem for us” said Sam Allardyce afterwards, not for the first time this year.
The closest West Ham came to scoring were two free-kicks in either half. Just before Chamakh put Palace ahead, Mark Noble had a free-kick on the edge of the box which he flicked over the wall into the path of Kevin Nolan. The captain, usually a master in these situations, could not quite get enough power on his swivel-volley.
Then, mid-way through the second half, Joe Cole swung in a free-kick from deep. It eventually fell to Stewart Downing on the edge of the box, and he beat Julian Speroni at his near post. That would have been 1-1 but Lee Mason spotted a foul - seemingly by James Tomkins on Chamakh - and ruled it out. McDonald said afterwards that West Ham were “very disappointed” with the decision and understandably so.
But West Ham have now taken five points and scored five goals from their last seven league games, three of each of those coming against from the fatal generosity of Martin Jol's Fulham team. When Andy Carroll returns they will certainly improve but until then they just do not have an effective way of playing.
Palace do not have an awful lot but they did at least have that, using their two muscular forwards well enough to cause enough trouble for West Ham's defence - again lacking the security of Winston Reid. Palace did not try to play expansive football, but they did not need to.
All it took, as is often the case in games like this, was a flash of skill and a quick slip to create the goal-scoring chance. With three minutes left before the break, and no obvious signs of a forthcoming breakthrough, Barry Bannan hit a poor corner to the near post. When the ball came back to him, though, he produced the game's single moment of technical excellence, clipping in a delightful curling left-footed cross, the touch of the match.
Chamakh had drifted away from Joey O'Brien and it was a simple chance, which he nodded in between Noble and Nolan on the line for West Ham. Allardyce called it “the most ridiculous goal, from our point of view, that I've seen for a very long time”.
West Ham needed to improve after the break but in fact they got worse, gifting Palace the chances with which they should have killed the game. James Collins had to deflect a Puncheon shot onto the post, Kagisho Dikgacoi missed a free close-range header and Jerome raced through on goal but shot straight at Jaaskelainen.
After the disallowed goal there was very little threat. The closest West Ham got to unsettling Palace was when Ravel Morrison pushed Joel Ward in the face after the final whistle, for which he was booked, putting him out of the game at Anfield on Saturday. December will be a tough month.
Man of the match Bannan.
Match rating 4/10.
Referee L Mason (Bolton).
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