Goals are exciting, of course, but there are other satisfactions to be derived from football and West Ham United can be rightly proud of an impressive afternoon’s work in Southampton.
This was a particularly goalless 0-0 draw, not desperately memorable, and will not be sold as a DVD in either clubs’ shop any time soon. But Sam Allardyce was justified in being as pleased as he was. He designed the right game plan and his West Ham players executed it perfectly. What more can be asked than that?
The basis for Allardyce’s approach is to keep clean sheets. “Every time you don’t concede a goal you know you’ve got a point at least,” as he said last year. This was West Ham’s third shutout from four league games this season, and it was hardly ever in doubt. They are a team very well designed to stop the opposition from scoring – with a rigid shape, a hard-working midfield and reliable experienced players in goal and at centre-back. It all came together yesterday in a near-perfect display of defensive austerity.
That, in essence, was the difference between the two sides yesterday. This is Allardyce’s third season in charge and the team are playing almost exactly as he would want them to. Mauricio Pochettino, though, has been the manager at Southampton for only eight months and, after a summer of new signings, he is still working to blend his mixture of youngsters and imports into a coherent team.
When that happens, though, Southampton will be a very exciting side. They played with four attacking players yesterday – Jay Rodriguez, Dani Osvaldo, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert – ahead of their midfield engines, Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama. Osvaldo, for whom Saints paid Roma £12.8m, was the most gifted and imaginative of the four but he is clearly still learning about the English game and his team-mates.
The Italian (below), who started playing behind Lambert but moved across the front line, had Saints’ only good chance of the first-half. After 11 minutes, Rodriguez burst past Guy Demel on the left wing and cut the ball back to Osvaldo, loitering with intent around the penalty spot, only for his shot to go within reach of Jussi Jaaskelainen.
It was the first of Jaaskelainen’s many excellent saves, and he was – along with Winston Reid and James Collins – among the best players on the pitch. Those two centre-backs were almost faultless throughout, barring one understandable slip from Collins on the sodden turf late in the first half. Osvaldo darted forward but Reid, helping out his partner, cleared the danger. There are not many safer pairs in the league.
West Ham would have been the happier team at half-time, and it could have been even better had Matt Jarvis not been flagged offside seconds before Kevin Nolan put the ball into the net.
In the second half, though, Southampton started to play faster and smarter, creating chances that Jaaskelainen needed to save. He tipped over Wanyama’s shot from distance before Lambert headed the resultant corner against the top of the near post. Jaaskelainen then rushed off his line to deny Lallana, put through by Osvaldo, before making two brilliant diving saves to his left later in the second half.
The first came after Southampton’s best passing move, which went through Schneiderlin, Lallana and Rodriguez before Schneiderlin volleyed towards the bottom corner. The second, a few minutes later, was when Rodriguez drove down the middle and fed Lambert on his left, who curled the ball towards the far top corner.
It was a fairly difficult afternoon for the England forward, who has scored just one goal – that from a penalty – in four club games this season. “Strikers need to score goals,” commented Pochettino afterwards, “that is their bread and butter, and he hasn’t been able to do that, but none of them were able to do that. So I am frustrated.”
The game grew feistier, if not more dramatic, as it went on and in the second half there were a few tackles that might be generously described as overenthusiastic. Wanyama was booked for a late tackle on Ravel Morrison, who was smart and sharp in midfield on his first ever Premier League start. Joey O’Brien received the same punishment for a worse foul, from behind on Lallana. And Schneiderlin might have been sent off for a two-footed lunge on Mohamed Diamé.
“We are disappointed that Schneiderlin is still on the pitch,” Allardyce said. “It is a two-footed challenge which we are told by everyone in the referees’ department is a straight red. It was a really poor decision.”
Had Schneiderlin been sent off West Ham might have created more, but they made only one good chance and it fell to the worst possible person. Their problem was that, without the injured Andy Carroll, they have no alternative threat up front and Modibo Maiga barely touched the ball in his 68 minutes before he was replaced by Ricardo Vaz Te.
With six minutes left Vaz Te won a corner – in itself more of a contribution than Maiga made – the ball was not cleared and it fell to Mark Noble. He darted down the right, got to the byline and pulled the ball back into the box. But it fell to Collins, not a renowned goalscorer, and the centre-half skewed the ball far over the bar. Everything else had gone to Allardyce’s plan, but this one did not.
Southampton: BORUC 6/10; CLYNE 7; FONTE 6; LOVREN 6; SHAW 7; LALLANA 5; WANYAMA 5; SCHNEIDERLIN 6; RODRIGUEZ 5; LAMBERT 5; OSVALDO 6
West Ham: JAASKELAINEN 8; O’BRIEN 5; COLLINS 7; REID 8; DEMEL 5; JARVIS 5; NOLAN 6; NOBLE 7; MORRISON 6; DIAME 7; MAIGA 3
Subs: Southampton Ward-Prowse (Lallana, 72), Chambers (Shaw, 77). West Ham Rat 6 (Demel, 61), Vaz Te 6 (Maiga, 68), Taylor (Morrison, 77).
Booked: Southampton Wanyama. West Ham Diame, Noble, O’Brien.
Man of the match Reid. Match rating 4/10.
Possession: Southampton 59%. West Ham 41%.
Attempts on target: Southampton 5 West Ham 1.
Referee A Marriner (West Midlands). Att 28,794.