Fan’s View 2019/20 – no.15 – EFL Cup Round 3 – West Ham United

Article by Paul Beasley Friday, September 27th, 2019  



It’s not very often, if ever, in the history of a football club that back to back performances like we produced at Lincoln and here are put together. They’re both right up there with the most memorable I’ve witnessed in my 50 plus years of following OUFC.

How quick form, belief and fortune can change. After Fleetwood the prospects for the rest of the season felt grim to say the least. Since then in four games we’ve not let a goal in, have scored ten in the last two games and have made it to the last 16 of this competition. It really is unbelievable stuff.

Whilst understanding that the League rightly takes priority my first feelings on hearing our starting line-up, which saw six changes to that at Sincil Bank, were of slight disappointment. That was until I remembered that such an approach had paid off against Millwall in the previous round. Karl knows best.

Our visitors, as you would expect as a Premier League outfit, made even more alterations – nine. Two of their starters are regulars, keeper Roberto only plays in the EFL Cup and Nathan Holland was making his senior debut with the other seven getting a few minutes here and there or coming in when injuries or suspension have played a part. They had experience in their ranks and players they’d paid very big money for. They’d splashed out £24m for Pablo Fornals from Villareal in the summer and Fillipe Anderson who came on as sub in the 66th minute cost them £40m. It’s farcical when you stop to think about it.

I actually found the first half quite a strange one and thought that it never really took off in cup tie style with the home crowd getting behind their team. Why that is I don’t know. There were 8,937 people present who weren’t in the away section but I guess there were a good number of day trippers amongst that number. The East stand had no colour and of course no Ultras. That does not help nor did the fact that we were kicking towards the fence in those first 45 minutes.

In this period I thought it noticeable that some of the players brought into the team were a bit rusty and not immediately up to the standard of those left out for reasons of injury or being awarded a rest. For me West Ham were just playing the better football but there was no question we fashioned the better chances. Cameron Brannagan mis-hit a shot when he should have done a lot better and Anthony Forde, following a good move, dragged a shot wide. On Saturday just about everything we’d aimed at goal was done with perfection. Robbie Hall’s free-kick that struck the angle of the goal frame before going over wasn’t far off deserving this description.

One player who had a really big positive influence from the beginning was George Thorne. He has a presence, was clearly a talker and encourager and a top passer of the ball. I never thought he’d make the 90 minutes due to lack of match fitness but to last just a quarter of the game before injury struck is cruel indeed. With that dislocation he’ll be out for a while; obviously it’s now just a case of the severity of the damage being determined.  It goes without saying that a full and speedy recovery is wished for. I feared that our chances of achieving a positive outcome on the night had been reduced somewhat when he departed. He is one talented player.

Throughout the entirety of this game I really admired the way we kept our shape and it says a lot about how well this worked because West Ham had 63% possession yet never hurt us in the way we hurt them. If I’d been asked to guess at those stats I would have said about 50:50.

It’s not very often that a team can nail down all areas of the pitch to smother the opposition and stop them playing. Where it appeared we were most likely to get caught out, particularly in the first half, was down the flanks. I thought Sam Long was a strong contender for man of the match but when he was perfectly positioned to hold up a claret shirt there was often another running with no Oxford man tracking him. The closest the visitors got to exploiting this vulnerability was when Simon Eastwood saved after an attacker had run clear into the box.

On the other side there were many occasions when Josh Ruffels was in a more central position than I’d like to see for a full-back but it is the way that role is often played these days and I have no doubt he was operating as instructed. It was also noticeable that when play developed in a certain way he got himself wider with haste and also contributed to the clearance count from well inside the penalty area.  In KR and the coaching staff I trust.

I was expecting the Hammers to raise their game, if not at 0-0 then at least when they went behind. They didn’t nor did they do so as our lead grew. Couldn’t they handle the situation or weren’t they interested?

It was us who asserted ourselves after the interval and kicking towards the home end the atmosphere grew. I think one incident set the spark and that was when Roberto made a hash of a back pass after Jamie Mackie had put a defender under pressure. An own goal could have resulted but instead it was a corner.

As the goals went in our football flowed but it wasn’t until the 71st minute that the second came and even then I still felt great tension. How could a team of West Ham’s talents not spring to life and come up with something? Thirteen minutes later when number three was scored I just about thought we were safe and it wasn’t all a fantasy.

The opener came from a free-kick which Forde launched into the penalty area. Moments earlier we’d had a similar opportunity and as here sent Elliott Moore up. Then I got quite irate because we took it short without even waiting for our opponents to retreat 10 yards, got into a bit of a mess and ended up sending the ball back to Eastwood. Now we were going to see, possibly for the first time, how the Hammers defence could cope with the high ball. Rob Dickie, who’d started the game shakily twice giving the ball straight to WHU players, won the header. The ball came to Moore who controlled and passed to Mark Sykes who had come to life in this half and on the form he showed should be kept very close and not sent out on loan. I’m not one for yelling shoot but thought someone get a shot off in this situation. Patience paid off.  With Holland about to put in a challenge, Sykes turned away from goal then back to the bye-line. Moore once again showed he can control a football and although looking quite well marshalled, turned and shot along the floor with Roberto flat-footed. Every West Ham player was back but still they couldn’t keep us out.

Celebrating the opener. Photo, Simon Jaggs

Roberto then produced a prodigious leap to somehow keep out Mackie’s angled volley from another Sykes delivery. In the 70 minutes before he was subbed Mackie had typified the work rate within the team, not only being a nuisance up front but defending at corners where he headed a number away.

The second goal came from passing football and seemed so easy. Hall found Shandon Baptiste who was starting to look like a world class player (by that I mean if any of you PL effing clubs come in for him you’ll have to pay £80m because no-one in a Hammers shirt could hold a candle to him). His close control was exemplary and he found the unmarked Sykes who again delivered a ball begging to be slotted home. We didn’t, until recently, have a player who would be in the right place to do this slotting. Matty Taylor, Mackie’s replacement, is such a player and he duly obliged.

West Ham did still do a bit of attacking and had a corner from which a goal resulted. With the usual crowd scene we got the ball to Tariqe Fosu who, still in his own penalty, area played it the way he was facing back to Taylor. It wasn’t just a hopeful clearance MT played but a long pass for Fosu to chase. Chase he did but with Arthur Masuaku much closer, Fosu wasn’t even second favourite. When the WH man slipped to the deck it said loud and clear, this ain’t your night you boys from the PL. At that point Fosu was still in our half. His first touch took him into theirs. His fourth touch was a jink round Roberto and the fifth scored the goal. A point worth noting here was that Long had incredibly gone unnoticed up field to give an option should Fosu have been in need of help.

That was the goal of a man full of confidence which is hardly surprising given what he did at Lincoln. Not long after he came on though he was a bit too cocky and lost the ball quite easily in what could have been a costly situation if we’d then been hit with a pacey attack. At 2-1 the game would have had a very different complexion.  That was the only thing he did wrong though and he is very much a talent amongst a group of talented players that are now clicking.

Of all these talents is Baptiste the very best? His goal in stoppage time was something else altogether. At no time did we just try and see the game out but always continued to play our football without exposing ourselves to unnecessary risks. All a bit like Lincoln.

My nephew had a 3-1 Oxford win at 66/1 and when the unmarked Fornals powered a header goal wards for a split second that looked very much on the cards. Eastwood denied him, Ruffels brought the ball out, passed to Fosu who first time gave it to Baptiste who gave it him back. In a flash Fosu had progressed to just outside the penalty area where he gave it to Forde who let one go. Roberto kept it out. The ball was then picked up by Taylor as if in a gentle training session. He just stroked it back to Baptise. The pass was perhaps just a little short but SB with a tiny chip and skip beat Fornals with ease. Zabaletta might as well not have been there and the subtlest of feints to his left as he went right left another defender statuesque before he then sent the ball home past a non-moving Roberto. I’ve already got that as one of my all-time favourite Oxford goals. On reflection Mackie’s four days earlier is too.

Just after the final whistle. Most West Ham fans had gone, and I can’t say I blame them.

Right – on Saturday we play Gillingham at Minchery Farm. They’re managed by Steve Evans. They won’t allow us to play football as West Ham did.  The referee is unlikely to be as good as Robert Jones was. We’re still in a position where we’ve lost more league games than we’ve won.

I’ll finish with the words of KR, “It’s about the players, about the fans and about the community of Oxfordshire and the big thing for me now is the people who came here for the first time in a long time, that they buy a ticket and come on Saturday”.  I wish, I really do. Sat next to us was a young lad, of primary school age and his Dad. They might go regularly and sit in a different part of the ground but I’ve never seen them before.  The youngster was quite restrained early on but by the end he was leaping around like a good ‘un and going absolutely mad. I’d love to think he’s been properly converted for life and will come to appreciate and suffer the good and bad times that our football club gives us.

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