Home defeat for shot-shy Hammers

Posted by Peter Thorne

Stoke's defence prevented West Ham getting a sniff of goal.PA PhotosStoke's defence prevented West Ham getting a sniff of goal.

It's been an odd week at Upton Park and there was an air of inevitability about the home defeat that ended it. Stoke City looked much the better side at the Boleyn and the solitary goal that won the game -- a Jermaine Pennant free kick that was superbly whipped around the wall and into the corner of the net -- was no more than the visitors deserved.

The Hammers, however, were a major disappointment. Joe Cole was out with a hamstring injury and without his flair, the home side looked bereft of ideas. Worse though, the midfield gave the ball away countless times and neither Matt Jarvis nor Stewart Downing could conjure anything from wide positions. Mind you, not that it mattered, for sadly, with Modibo Maiga up-front, you don't feel confident that any few chances that may come up are likely to be converted.

Maiga looks totally at a loss at the Boleyn and whether it's the Sam Allardyce tactics that do it for him or, as many now think, the Premiership is just a step too far for his talents, it's clear that the Malian is now a forlorn figure in the limited Hammers forward line. So poor is his presence and link up play, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the midfield are now playing around him with Kevin Nolan looking particularly vulnerable as a result. The captain gave the ball away too much against Stoke but you sensed at times that he wasn't really sure what to do with the possession when he had it, looking for spaces and runs that he takes as a given when Andy Carroll is playing. It was, in truth, awful to watch at times.

Of course, credit will go to Stoke who look a much more enterprising outfit under Mark Hughes but you would be forgiven for suspecting that City keeper Asmir Begovic is unlikely to be as comfortable this season, as he was against this powder-puff side. The Bosnian enjoyed a very warm afternoon in the sun and, barring a couple of half-chances from centre-back Winston Reid, the keeper could have donned sunglasses and got out his deckchair.

It was a shame not to see Ravel Morrison start the game after his impressive performance in the mid-week Capital One Cup game and it's impossible to believe that Ricardo vaz Te wouldn't have seen action in this game if he hadn't slapped in a transfer request. However, you have to have some sympathy with the Portuguese forward, he must be looking at Maiga and wondering what he ever did to upset Sam so much.

For all the manager's praise for the fact that, until the 82nd minute of this match when Pennant scored from his free-kick, the Irons had looked solid in defence this season, the statistics show that the claret and blue did not have a single shot on target at the Boleyn and had only one in their last league game against Newcastle. David Gold has warned that the new Financial Fair Play rules mean there is little money in the kitty for another striker but the performance against Stoke will surely sound alarm bells and though there is little time, something will surely need to be done to conjure some type of striking rabbit from a hat by Monday's transfer deadline day.

The fans' best hope would seem to be that something can be done involving Vaz Te and possibly even Maiga himself, although West Ham's target of Honduras striker Roger Rojas fell through earlier in the week, when the forward failed a medical. I'm not sure how much a player of the calibre of Rojas would have added to the wage bill but it does suggest there is some room for movement. l hope so, it may have been a glorious summer day in the east end but September has arrived now and another afternoon like that against Stoke might start to remind of the chilly winds of Autumn.


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