It’s been a strange start to the season for the mighty ‘ammers. First off, we managed to lose the first game, at home to the Spuds, when we should really have won it. Having been awarded a penalty and seeing a Spurs defender sent off for the offence, Noble then pulled the spot kick wide of the post. We played well in the rest of the game, and it was notable that we were playing a more expansive game and the “hoofs” were much limited compared to recent seasons. Unfortunately we didn’t take advantage of the apparent superiority and also went down to 10 men when Ginge was sent off. Then we got caught by an added-time sucker punch to lose a game we should have won. New boy Kouyate had a fine start, as did Aaron Cresswell.
Next up was Palace away. With Nolan injured, it meant we saw Zarate for the first time in claret & blue, and his opening strike – a volley demonstrating excellent technique – was perhaps the highlight of a fine team performance, although Downing’s goal capped a good move from out of defence. Apart from a nervy few minutes after Palace pulled a goal back, we played well throughout, and Cole’s strike for our third goal saw us out comfortably for the win.
The League Cup tie against Shitfilled United was a strange affair, where once again missed chances cost us the match. After taking the lead through new boy Sakho (making his first start for us), and playing reasonably well, we then conceded a Reid own goal. The game remained deadlocked so it came down to penalties. Yet another of the new boys, Enner Valencia missed our 5th kick, and we were out. The positives were that Valencia & Sakho both had decent games, short of taking a few more opportunities
Now for the ridiculous – Southampton at home. As poor a performance from us as you’d never wish to see. We looked lacklustre (to say the least) all over the park and couldn’t seem to do anything right. We lost 1-3 and deservedly so.
Thanks to Sky, we had a Monday night trip to Hull (don’t bother to worry about the traveling fans, Murdoch!). After the Southampton debacle, some changes were required, but even so, I don’t think many Irons expected the team selection and formation that BFS came up with. Out went Cole and Vaz Te, to be replaced by Sakho and Valencia, both making their first league starts for us. The shape of the team was changed from a 4-5-1 or 4-3-3 depending on your point of view, to a midfield diamond, with Downing as the attacking point. Although we managed to concede the first goal, we played well in the first half, with the new boys up front causing all sorts of problems for the Hull defence. Soon after the break, we pulled ourselves level through a stunning 25 yard strike from Valencia. Then the inevitable happened when former Hammer Mo Diame managed to find the net in his first game for Hull. Fortunately we equalised within a few minutes, with a Sakho shot that went in off a defender. We continued to look the better side and very nearly won it at the death when a Valencia header was cleared off the line.
Now for the sublime – following the encouraging performance at Hull, we faced Diverpool at home. Despite the Scouser’s dodgy start to the season, this was likely to be a tough fixture, particularly given we’d lost all 3 of our home games so far this season. We certainly couldn’t have imagined the sort of start we got. Starting with the same line-up as at Hull, with Song replacing Zarate for his first start for us. From the off, not only were we were right in Liverpool’s faces, chasing down every ball, but our movement and pace up front was causing their defence all sorts of problems. In seven minutes, we found ourselves 2 up through Reid converting a well worked free kick move, and then Sakho lobbing the keeper for the second. We had further opportunities to score again, but it was Liverpool who scored next through Sterling. The second half was always likely to be tougher, and we didn’t impose ourselves on the game as much, particularly after the excellent but tiring Song was replaced and Kouyate was carrying a knock. But we largely defended well, limiting them to a few half chances. Even so, I felt we were always likely to create more opportunities on the break, and so it proved as yet another new boy, Amalfitano nipped home a late third to clinch the win.
We started that game with 5 of our summer signings (Cresswell, Kouyate, Song, Valencia & Sakho), and 2 more came on as subs (Amalfitano & Jenkinson). Song looks class, but is not yet fully match-fit. Hopefully that will come soon, as we will be a much better team with him in it. The strikers, Valencia & Sakho, look to be very useful acquisitions, both pacy and with good movement and Sakho seems to know where the net is, having scored on each of his 3 starts for us. Kouyate has the potential to be a beast of a player for us, with bundles of energy and no little skill. Cresswell has looked useful, but needs to build up experience at this level. His poor throw-in at Hull cost us a goal. Amalfitano and Jenkinson have only had a couple of subs appearances each so far, so can’t really judge what impact they’ll have for us. As well as the 7 who played the last game, we’ve also seen an eighth newby in Zarate. He had a fine game at Palace, but since then has been a bit hit and miss. Assuming the others maintain form and fitness, I can see him being only a bit part player. If we can maintain the level of performance seen in the Hull and Liverpool games, one wonders where club captain Nolan and record signing Andy Carroll will fit in once they’re fit again. It’ll be an interesting dilemma for BFS – I hope he doesn’t bring them straight back in at the expense of in-form players, but I have a horrible feeling that’s what he’ll do.
Overall, Southampton apart, it’s been an encouraging start to the season, but where results mostly haven’t matched the performances. It’s been good to see us play a more attacking style on the deck. Hopefully the results will pick up as the team gels both with the new players and the new style.