A tough defeat saw Sam Allardyce outmanoeuvre Tim Sherwood once again, as our Premier League clash finished West Ham 2 Spurs 0 at the Boleyn Ground.
The key was how Big Sam used and deployed Stewart Downing, as he switched him over from his usual position on the left to an inverted role on the right.
I’ll get in to this more in a minute, as initially we were fast out of the traps.
Spurs fast start
The game opened quite quickly with both sides looking to make a fast start, but we created the better chances.
The key was West Ham’s susceptibility to counter attacks.
Both Liverpool and Man Utd have had success at the Boleyn Ground by hitting the Hammers on the break. We looked at this in the Tottenham tactics prior to the game and here we did the same.
Our best chance presented itself after just 5 minutes. West Ham were caught with numbers up-field, as Mark Noble was trying to work a crossing situation.
The ball was quickly moved forward to get it behind the West Ham midfield. This was something we highlighted as key to successful counters prior to the match, as Mark Noble and Matt Taylor are excellent at breaking up attacks.
The ball rapidly moved to Harry Kane who had pulled centre back James Tomkins well out of position on the touchline. He then turned and put Gylfi Sigurdsson through in to acres of space.
The Icelander found Christian Eriksen, who in turn played in Emmanuel Adebayor, but the Togolese striker could only fire a tame shot at goalkeeper Adrian.
Not long after this, another good chance presented itself on a counter attack. Kyle Naughton broke forward to cross for Paulinho, but Adrian also easily saved his header.
Tactical use of Downing
Although we started quickly, the main crux of the game centred on Stewart Downing and Sam Allardyce’s use of him.
Downing usually operates on the left and is the Hammers main source of crossing, but here Allardyce switched him over to the right to supply the service.
The reason why he did this was simply to take advantage of Christian Eriksen drifting inside and to leave him 1v1 with Danny Rose. Downing had much more space to go to work and West Ham looked to find him at every opportunity.
Here he was the key figure as Danny Rose had an afternoon to forget.
The turning point of the match was of course Younes Kaboul’s sending off, but Eriksen being caught in-field, leaving Downing 1v1 with Rose was crucial.
Our centre backs were too high up trying to squeeze the Hammers in. As Mark Noble’s challenge/pass looped up, Rose was caught trying to jump up and play offside.
Kaboul and Dawson were too high to recover, but Rose trying to play offside with Downing starting his run in his own half was suicidal. This rookie knowledge of the rules was compounded given that he should’ve been able to see Kyle Naughton across the field also sat at the same level as him.
The high line was understandable against West Ham’s lack of pace and to keep Andy Carroll from wining headers away from our goal. The execution of it was sloppy and communication, a key component of any active defensive system, seemed to be lacking.
Downing raced through and went over on feeling contact with Younes Kaboul. A red card was inevitable.
With us down to ten, West Ham really started to press, especially down our left side. They were doing it to start the game, but really stepped up after the sending off. They increased the intensity to take advantage of that fact that Eriksen was still drifting in field even with a man disadvantage.
This pressing was key in the scoring of their second goal, as Downing started and finished the passage of play.
The former England international pressured Danny Rose, whose sloppy pass was over hit. Mark Noble nicked in before Gylfi Sigurdsson could get to it and was off towards goal.
Michael Dawson fouled him on the edge of the box, as he and Vlad Chiriches crossed over, another faux pas.
Downing then curled the ensuing free kick through our wall, as Adebayor and Paulinho for some reason turned away from a very mildly hit ball.
This kind of casual defending throughout the entire passage of play has been a hallmark of Sherwood’s time in charge.
Downing not only had a major part to play in the sending off and West Ham’s second goal, but his crossing was a feature of much of the game. This was from open play as West Ham looked to exploit the space on his side, but also set pieces.
West Ham set pieces
The Hammers were given far too many set pieces for a team that contains an aerial power player such as Andy Carroll.
It was no surprise that their opening goal arrived in this fashion and it was from solid coverage of the six-yard box. This is something we looked at in the Tottenham tactics prior to the match and West Ham’s good spacing saw them take the lead from a corner.
Granted we didn’t have Kaboul on the field, another player to cope with the aerial threat, but the Hammers stuck their usual screening player on the keeper (1). Then they equally spread the six-yard box equally with four other players (2-5).
This is done to not only get the initial ball, but also to control rebounds or knock downs, as they have a player in each area where the loose ball could possibly go. This has been a feature of Allardyce teams over the years.
Andy Carroll won the initial header and it was unfortunate that Harry Kane flicked the ball in to his own net.
Overall we just gave away too many set pieces against a team that thrives on them. The Hammers could’ve been three up had Kevin Nolan been able to finish when point blank against Hugo Lloris. Danny Rose, who wasn’t having the greatest of games, played him onside after a free kick was sent forward from halfway towards Andy Carroll.
Were it not for Lloris’ excellent goalkeeping, this game could’ve got out of hand.
Down 2-0 the game was pretty much over with, but we were given some optimism with some changes.
After retreating in to a standard 4-4-1 formation, Sherwood withdrew his two central midfielders and replaced them with a holding player and a striker. The system shifted to a 4-3-2 and we actually slowed West Ham down, whilst creating some decent chances ourselves.
Christian Eriksen was given a floating role with Sandro sitting behind him, now the Dane could get on the ball and create.
However, the biggest change to the game was to move Aaron Lennon to the left. West Ham were suddenly less effective trying to get the ball to Downing’s side as Lennon was now filling the space that being vacated by Eriksen drifting inside.
To add to this, Adebayor was dropping deeper and Roberto Soldado was brought on to run beyond the defence.
At Valencia, Soldado was often found early in the attack as he ran in-behind. This is something he brought to Spurs that has been rarely used. Here, Eriksen was now free to create from the centre and he set up two decent chances for the Spaniard doing just this.
Soldado really failed to do anything with these chances though, looking like a player even shorter on confidence from his time sat on the bench.
At the death, Danny Rose almost pulled a consolation goal back but found Adrian in his way. The full back could now get forward with the support of Lennon to fill in for him, without having to worry about leaving Downing free.
West Ham 2 Spurs 0 overall
Many of the headlines and pundits focussed on Andy Carroll. His aerial power was a factor, but this game was won and lost around Sam Allardyce’s use of Stewart Downing. Switching him over to the other side got him in to the space that was being vacated by Eriksen and the Hammers exploited this.
They got the ball out to him at every opportunity, but also pressed us hard down this side as they knew Rose would be hung out to dry with Eriksen moving inside.
Tim Sherwood shifting Aaron Lennon to the left later in the game nullified Downing’s threat and gave Rose the support he needed. However, it was a move that was made far too late, as the damage had already been done and the game was well and truly gone.
Final score: West Ham 2 Spurs 0.