West Ham 0 Sunderland 0 match report: Festive fare in short supply for the faithful

The Calvin report: Striking ineptitude of West Ham and Sunderland, the teams with the all-time worst scoring records in the Premier League, leaves both sets of supporters fearing the worst

Upton Park

A wretched game, distorted by tension and defaced by bumbling incompetence, felt like a Championship fixture. The booing which greeted the merciful release of the final whistle suggested those who wasted their afternoon at Upton Park suspected they had been given a glimpse into the future.

Sunderland picked up only their third away point of a calamitous season and, since they have been on a starvation diet, such gristle and gruel felt like a banquet. West Ham, who face Manchester United, Arsenal and West Bromwich Albion before the New Year, delude themselves they have a finer palate.

Don’t be fooled by their presence a point above the relegation places. A team of such bluntness, banality and lack of bite has a deathly pallor. The pressure on their manager, Sam Allardyce, is growing. He could have done without the obvious inference of his opposite number Gus Poyet’s comment that “today we didn’t look like the worst team in the Premier League”.

Statistics confirm an inconvenient truth. This was a contest between the clubs with the worst collective Premier League record since its inception in 1992. Sunderland have a overall goal difference of -215, West Ham one of -171.

The last time West Ham were in such peril their then manager, Avram Grant, was proclaimed as “a Millwall legend” on a banner trailed by a small aircraft hired by some loveable scamps from south-east London. It may be a little too soon to scour the market for a Tiger Moth, but Allardyce understands the danger.

His afternoon did not begin well. David Sullivan, a theatrical owner with a tenuous grasp of diplomatic niceties, announced that had he understood the complexity of the striker Andy Carroll’s injury issues he would never have sanctioned his £15 million signing.

“Given the size of the investment I can understand why he said that,” Allardyce said. “We’ve got to get Andy fit, but it is not his fault. He is a major player who can make us the team we want to be.”

Nevertheless, given West Ham’s paucity of options and chronic lack of impact in front of goal, Sullivan’s criticism rang true. Allardyce has always been accepted under sufferance at the self-styled Academy of Football, and another palsied performance did not augur well.

Even the prize draw, which offered a game of Cluedo as a prize, invited scorn. Who dunnit? Inevitably, the prime suspects were Allardyce, in the dressing room with a hammer, and Carroll, in the local Accident & Emergency Department with a spare aluminium crutch.

Sunderland are no strangers to such low comedy. Their plight encouraged examination of their managerial priorities and principles, and summoned an awful sense of déjà vu. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Having rid themselves of the turbulent figure of Paolo Di Canio, they appear to have invested inordinately in another excitable former player with an urge to spend, a penchant for florid overreaction and a habit of criticising his players.

Poyet lived up to his promise to “control the emotions”, but Sunderland’s most pressing problem is the lack of depth in a bloated squad, thrown together on a whim and a prayer by the previous regime. “This is the first time I can say, ‘This is my team’,” he insisted. “We didn’t get what we deserved”

The absence of quality was ominous, and the atmosphere, that of a whist drive for the over-90s, revealed a common sense of dread. The 81-year-old lady feted for attending her first match will not be rushing back in a hurry. Modibo Maiga’s weak header in a good position at the far post presaged a typically hapless performance from West Ham, but the lumbering Jozy Altidore was equally inept for Sunderland.

The most entertainment was provided by Andre Marriner. His erratic refereeing enraged the locals, who were unconvinced that Guy Demel deserved to have a goal disallowed midway through the first half, for a push on Fabio Borini. Their sense of grievance was fostered by Mark Noble’s booking for another foul on Borini, who failed to make the most of being clear in on goal when Altidore blocked a West Ham free-kick without retreating 10 yards.

That was the American’s only positive contribution, apart from a weak shot which preceded his substitution. West Ham, static and regimented, could not profit from such largesse and have only three League wins this season. Sunderland came closest to a goal 10 minutes from half-time, when Phil Bardsley hit a 25-yard drive which was touched on to the crossbar by Jussi Jaaskelainen. They were the better side for long spells, but that is not saying much.

“Merry Christmas,” said the public-address announcer at the end, in defiance of the dash for the exits. He was ignored. Yo, ho ho.

Line-ups:

West Ham (4-4-1-1): Jaaskelainen; Demel (O’Brien, 57), Collins, Tomkins, McCartney; Diamé, Jarvis (Collison, 55), Noble, Morrison; J Cole (C Cole, 74); Maiga.

Sunderland (4-1-3-2): Mannone; Celustka, Brown, O’Shea, Bardsley (Dossena, 82); Cattermole; Giaccherini, Larsson, Ki; Altidore (Fletcher, 72) Borini (Johnson, 72)

Referee: Andre Marriner.

Man of the match: Ki (Sunderland)

Match rating: 4/10

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