SATURDAY’S win at Upton Park was a well earned and dogged victory given that it was against a side with an enviable home record and the fact that we had to battle more comedy officiating after Osman’s early goal was bizarrely chalked off.
There was a surprise selection with Anichebe and Jelavic both starting further forward; the duo operated in wide areas and looked to pull the Hammers’ centre-backs out of their positions and enable Osman and Pienaar to exploit the space in between.
We had the bulk of possession (62%) and kept it better in the final third with pass completion of 92% compared to our hosts’ 44%. Allardyce is more concerned with territory which we shaded 50.9% to 49.1%. Generally we were more positive on the ball and crafted 12 chances to the Hammers’ five.
Pienaar was the game’s stand out performer. The diminutive South African schemer made the most attacking third passes on the pitch with 88% completion from the 27 passes he made in the Hammers’ defensive zone.
West Ham’s approach to combat him wasn’t particularly sophisticated, preferring the tried and tested Big Sam method of volleying him up the backside as soon as he crossed the half way line. As a consequence, Pienaar was the most fouled player on the pitch, gaining 5 free kicks and it was from one such situation that proved a catalyst to our fightback after Pienaar’s run was unceremoniously checked.
Baines and Pienaar combinations were again a feature; the duo linked up 37 times, and from the resulting free-kick they combined to pick out Anichebe to expertly head home.
More pint sized mayhem ensued shortly after and resulted in Pienaar adding to his assist with the winning goal. We’ve now fallen behind 10 times this season but only lost one of these games which is a sign of the spirit and determination in this group of players
Following Wigan, attention will turn to the festive period’s stand-out Toffees fixture against Chelsea and the loveable Rafael Benitez. The Spaniard’s petty jibes at us down the years were designed to ingratiate himself to the Anfield faithful which funnily enough is the same reason for the level of hostility he has received from his own ‘fans’ since arriving at Chelsea.
It’ll be a tough ask given the absence of big offensive hitters Fellaini, Mirallas and potentially Gibson. Moyes record against Benitez at Goodison isn’t as bad as you’d think, winning three and losing four of the seven games at L4.
Most have been cagey affairs with both bosses liking to tweak to negate the threat of the other and the game promises to be a tight, tactical joust, hopefully with a good ending to a great calendar year.