At this time of year, in this type of match, nothing should matter except the result. West Ham United beat Hull City 2-1 to clamber above them to 11th in the table, probably just one league win away from safety.
But this performance from West Ham was so poor, so lacking in everything fans want from their team, that its towering badness managed to overshadow the fact of the three vital points. The West Ham fans booed at half-time - at 1-0 up - and with far more intensity at full-time.
Sam Allardyce responded by cupping his hand to his ear as he walked down the tunnel. In his post-match press conference he laughed and said that he had “not experienced that before in my time in the game” and that he “could not quite believe it”.
It was unusual but it was not surprising. Some West Ham fans have never been convinced by Allardyce and it does not take much for them to turn on him. This performance was certainly bad enough to do that. For 70 minutes West Ham played against 10 men and yet they were out-manoeuvred by a far more imaginative and enterprising Hull City team.
West Ham went ahead with a Mark Noble penalty that should never have been given and won the game thanks to a farcical James Chesters own-goal. But they created very little of any merit themselves, never showing any confidence, imagination or skill on the ball. Adrian had to do far more work than he would have anticipated when he saw opposite number Allan McGregor sent off.
Allardyce, to the surprise of no-one, said that the result was all that mattered. “Obviously for us, today was all about coming off with three points whether we played brilliantly or indifferently,” he said. “I have to remind everybody about the situation playing against 10 men, we are brilliant at playing with 10 men, we beat Cardiff and Swansea and that proves how good we are.”
Steve Bruce said that Hull were “absolutely terrific” and he was absolutely right. Had Mike Dean given a hand-ball against Mohamed Diame after 20 minutes, they would surely have won. Diame controlled a loose ball with his right hand as he burst into the box before being tripped up by Allan McGregor.
It was a nasty collision and McGregor was sent to hospital with kidney damage. Dean took a while to assess the situation before awarding a penalty and sending off McGregor, forcing Bruce to sacrifice his own son Alex for Steve Harper. Mark Noble scored the penalty.
“It was a blatant handball,” said Bruce afterwards, who wanted to know why Dean took so long to award the penalty and on whose advice he was acting. “So it is a calamity of errors. With the big stakes, we have got to improve the standard. It is happening week after week.”
But West Ham failed to take any advantage and Hull finished the first half stronger. James Chester misdirected a header from a Tom Huddlestone free-kick, and Adrian had to scramble to save from Maynor Figueroa in added time. West Ham knew that had more to do.
After their own fortunate goal, West Ham could have no complaints about the equaliser, just three minutes after the restart. Tom Huddlestone arrowed a 30-yard free-kick towards goal but it caught Nikica Jelavic on the shoulder and flew past Adrian and in.
The home fans were anxious and not very impressed when good fortune intervened again. Guy Demel curled in fairly a harmless cross from the right, but it bounced in front of James Chesters and he sliced the ball over Harper's head and into the net.
Back in front, West Ham still did nothing to assert themselves. Hull, the better team, continued to create the better openings in the final minutes. Adrian was called on twice at the end, tipping Huddlestone's shot over the bar and dashing off his line to gather from Yannick Sagbo.
But West Ham hung on and climbed up the table, probably now just one win away from safety. “When we look at the table tomorrow when we get up,” Allardyce said, “the performance hardly really matters.” The fans may not agree with him.
Man of the match Noble.
Match rating 2/10.
Referee M Dean (Wirral).