There’s no harm in being proved wrong now and again, I reckon it helps make you a more rounded person and, not for the first time or the last, I was miles out in my pre match predictions yesterday. I looked at the West Ham team, and in particular, their midfield and decided City were going to get beat with my selection being by 2-0. What I had done though was look at the Premiership quality individuals in the middle of the park for the Hammers and just assume that they would blend into a unit which would dominate proceedings. For a short while they did just that and, after the kick off was delayed for a while to present Hammer’s captain Kevin Nolan with this season’s Championship trophy, City endured a rocky first twenty odd minutes during which they could easily have conceded a goal or two.
However, an incident about a quarter of an hour into the game offered a microcosm of what was to follow as Scott Parker (who I have always thought of as a superb player) found himself with what looked like a clear run in on goal, but the England midfield man lacked the pace and, ultimately, the composure to finish the chance off as Anthony Gerrard came across to cut out the danger with a good tackle. Parker wasn’t alone in lacking a bit of pace – apart from the erratic Sears, West Ham looked short of it in midfield and up front and, gaining confidence from this, City were able to work their way back into the game. They were never dominant, but, for the last hour of the match, City were able to often pass the ball with more purpose than their illustrious opponents and, increasingly, they began to look like they carried a goal threat.
If I got the outcome of the game wrong, then there were others left with egg on their face following City’s late winner. About half an hour into the game, threads were started on both of the main City messageboards condemning Kenny Miller. Now, speaking as someone who likes to give any new players five or six games before I start forming any firm opinions on them, that seemed way, way too early to start having a go to me, but I wasn’t altogether surprised to see it happen because, from what I have seen of him throughout his career, Miller is not a player who impresses too much when he isn’t sticking the ball in the net. You’re not going to get him dropping deep, then showing neat control to turn his man before hitting a raking crossfield pass like Jay Bothroyd used to. When that one chance came along though yesterday, he instinctively found a bit of space before taking a touch and firing off a well struck shot towards the corner of the net – yes, Rob Green probably should have done better with it, but I think he might have been surprised by the power and the placement of a shot hit when the ball was heading away from his goal.
Have a look at this video showing the twenty two goals Kenny Miller scored last season for Rangers – how many of those goals could you call eye catching? There was a decent lob, a good header and a shot from outside the penalty area, but in the main, they were just examples of a striker efficiently putting away good chances – Miller does this better than most and that, rather than his footballing ability, is why he has fifty plus international caps and has had so many big money moves in his career. He didn’t do much before his goal though and, if there was a negative aspect to yesterday’s match, it was that there was little or no proof offered to show those (like myself) who feel a Miller and Earnie partnership won’t work because they are too similar, that they are wrong. Perhaps it was because of the emotion of his first game back at Cardiff, but there was none of the awareness of what was going on around him from Earnie that had impressed me at the end of last season – he showed his old habit of keeping his head down when in possession and only seemed interested in getting shots away when within about twenty five yards of goal.
If Championship defences know exactly what they are going to be up against when they face Miller and/or Earnshaw, I don’t think the same can be said of Rudi Gestade. Perhaps this unfamiliarity was a factor in the impact that Gestade made when he came on – the West Ham defence didn’t seem to know how to cope with someone who showed himself to be good in the air, but also mobile and quick enough to cover a lot of ground before robbing Ilunga in the build up to the goal. Whatever the reason, Gestade showed that he can be a viable option for us at this level and it seems to me that a strong performance on Wednesday against Oxford in the League Cup (surely he has to start that night?) would put Malky Mackay under pressure to include him against the wurzels – I don’t think I’m overstating things when I say that Gestade’s introduction turned the game yesterday.
If City didn’t entirely convince up front then, there was much to commend in other areas. David Marshall was a serious candidate for City Man of the Match and looked what I believe he is – a good quality Championship goalkeeper. In front of him, McNaughton and Taylor were solid at full back and, even when playing at the ground of the favourites to win the league, showed more inclination to get forward than we became used to seeing under Dave Jones. Although they both made early mistakes that could have cost us dearly, Hudson and Gerrard both had strong games with the former making some fine blocks and the latter showing the confidence he must have gained while playing for a team who kept plenty of clean sheets away from home last season.
As mentioned earlier, I thought it took our midfield a little while to come to terms with their opponents, but, once they did, there was much to admire – it’s too early to come to any firm conclusions yet, but what I saw definitely made me hopeful that we will be stronger in this part of the pitch than we have been in the last few seasons. City played pretty narrow and so even our one “winger” was often seen in central positions – Craig Conway wasn’t as effective as he had been against Parma, but he epitomised the work ethic that Malky Mackay is insisting on. Aron Gunnarson didn’t do anything spectacular, but he showed a nice range of passing in the second half and was effective in neutralising Nolan as he patrolled the area in front of the back four, while Peter Whittingham didn’t suffer by comparison with the high quality midfielders that he was up against and became an increasingly influential figure as the game went on. Watching the match again last night, there were three occasions where I said “that was good” about something a City player had done and, each time I went back to see who it was, it turned out to be Don Cowie. Like Whittingham, Cowie lasted the game well and, although I suppose a bit more pace would come in handy for someone who plays wide midfield a lot of the time, I’m struggling to see any real weaknesses in his game at the moment.
Finally, just a few words about Sam Allardyce – is he delusional or what? Okay, I accept that we rode our luck at times and that a draw would have been a fairer result, but to claim that his team created fourteen chances to our three as he does here is just not true. I’m still not convinced that the appointment of the arch pragmatist Allardyce at a club with the reputation of West Ham is going to work. Because of the type of football his teams have played in the past (to be fair, I saw little evidence of it from West Ham yesterday mind), the fans at Upton Park will not be as tolerant of him if things are going wrong as they would be of, say, Tony Mowbray – despite what happened yesterday, I still see West ham as strong promotion contenders, but there have been suggestions that Allardyce has lost his last two jobs because of the type of football his teams play and I certainly wouldn’t rule out that becoming three over the next few months.