Awful defeat at Carrow Road

Posted by Peter Thorne

Tom Dulat/Getty ImagesJussi Jaaskelainen's penalty on Gary Hooper turned the tide in West Ham's 3-1 defeat at Norwich City.

This 3-1 defeat to Norwich City was a shocking setback that ensures West Ham go into the international break knowing that when they emerge, they will surely be involved in a relegation scrap.

- Report: Norwich City 3-1 West Ham

In the classic 'game of two halves', the Hammers dominated the first-half in a display that looked like something from the training ground; pinging the ball around, finding space at ease, drifting past opponents, opening the scoring courtesy of Ravel Morrison and generally looking a class above a hapless Norwich side who appeared statuesque, bereft of belief and any type of understanding. The home supporters booed their team off at half-time and it looked as if the Hammers had stamped their mark so irrevocably on the match that it would be difficult for Canaries manager Chris Houghton to raise their shattered confidence. Shipping four goals against Manchester United, then seven against City is one thing -- but watching a Sam Allardyce side pass you off the park is another.

Then the second half -- and it was the type of thing that football throws up so often and every fan fears; the narrow lead, the half-time opposition manager rant and the hell-for-leather, "let's go for it" attitude that turns a team in command into a car wreck. What made this worse though wasn't so much the way the way the game unravelled for the Hammers, but how hard it was to identify just what had gone wrong. So let's look at the facts.

Jussi Jaaskelainen's reaction to the award of the penalty was unusual for a man who has seen it all in his career and is normally implacable, even when conceding a goal. The finger-wagging and shaking of his head suggested there was something amiss about the spot-kick awarded in the 54th minute when the Hammers keeper dropped a relatively routine cross and fouled Gary Hooper as he tried to retrieve the situation.

Later TV replays showed the Finnish keeper had gathered the cross relatively comfortably but then suffered a kick on the hand that caused him to lose control allowing the ball to roll lose. It's hard to say if the referee should have spotted it or not; Jonathan Moss seemed to be well placed and was in exactly the same spot as when he saw Jaaskelainen's hand reach out to send Hooper tumbling in a dramatic fashion that the mere brush hardly warranted. But in the melee surrounding the incident perhaps it was hard to see.

That moment though was the turning point in the match. After Hooper dispatched the penalty -- his first Premiership goal for the Canaries -- the home side found a belief they hadn't previously shown and suddenly the space West Ham had enjoyed somehow disappeared.

There was no better example of this than the figure of Norwich midfielder Leroy Fer, a man who had stood and watched in the first-half as the game was played around him. So immobile was he, so static, that he looked bemused and lost as he trooped off at the end of forty-five minutes. Thirty minutes later Fer looked like the Dutch international he is, running at the Hammers defence and gliding past markers as if they weren't there.

If the penalty was a setback, worse was to follow after 72 minutes when Robert Snodgrass curled an unstoppable free-kick around the West Ham wall and into the net. The kick had been given at the end of a period in which Norwich had seen a Jonny Howson shot hit the bar from 25 yards, the ball wasn't cleared and James Collins, following up, fouled Snodgrass as he attempted to get a header in.

Nothing could have been done about the foul, nor the resulting kick, but the Hammers coaching staff couldn't fail to realise that -- for the fourth time this season -- the Hammers have suffered from unstoppable free-kicks. Compare that to the miserable attempts that the Claret and Blue wasted in the first-half. With the awarding of two kicks in very dangerous positions, the players looked at each other in confusion, no-one seeming to know who was going to take the opportunity let alone where to put it, the two attempts simply striking the opposition wall without a Canary yellow shirt moving.

For most teams the gaining of a vital free-kick in a dangerous position is a heaven-sent opportunity to score a goal; for West Ham it's just another move, another chance to waste a bit of a time to defend a lead or claim a scoreless draw. I know Allardyce isn't keen on discussing West Ham's history, but this is a club identified with the quick free-kick and a near-post corner -- moves that revolutionised football and the way it was played in this country. Sorry, but slamming it into a wall after a week on the training ground is not good enough.

A 2-1 defeat would have been bad enough but Norwich rubbed salt in the wounds by grabbing a third goal in the 90th minute and the fact that it was Fer who slammed home after breaking from midfield is not without significance.

It all leaves an unsettling feeling at the end; West Ham's dominance in the first-half should have brought more than the one goal lead it did. Football is as much a psychological game as it is a physical one: Had Norwich gone in two down at the break, their ability to break back may have been completely undermined. Similarly, the Hammers' inability to kill a game off -- after all, it's not a situation they are going to find themselves in often -- must affect the mindset of the team. After the penalty, West Ham seemed to lose their way, but it must be in the back of the players' minds that they are unlikely to score a second, playing as they are without a recognised striker.

It all remains deeply disturbing and results like this are not helping. It was inevitable that Norwich would try and bounce back from the two hammerings they took in Manchester, but West Ham surely can't have expected to have had such an easy time as they did in the first half, and getting such a chastening experience over a mere 45 minutes is difficult to take.

The period to the January transfer window is looking more and more like a damage limitation exercise.

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