Tuesday 20 August 2019

Randolph helps nervy Hammers stop the rot

West Ham 1 Burnley 0

West Ham's Ashley Fletcher in action Picture: Reuters
West Ham's Ashley Fletcher in action Picture: Reuters

Jonathan Liew

It is a fair old walk from the dugouts to the touchline at the Olympic Stadium, but during these 90 fraught minutes, you get the feeling Slaven Bilic paced every single inch.

He fidgeted with his pockets. He ran his fingers through his hair. He crouched at the side of the pitch like a ski jumper. But mostly he walked. The importance of these three points was evident in every single shuffling step.

And eventually they arrived, although West Ham stubbornly refuse to make things easy for themselves. Despite claiming a deserved lead through Mark Noble and enjoying 58.9pc of possession, they never quite managed to assert their authority on the game, and paid for it in frayed nerves and bitten fingernails.

No matter. After a very creditable draw at Anfield, they face Hull this weekend, with the bobbing life raft of mid-table tantalisingly within reach.

For Burnley, it was their sixth defeat out of seven away from home, and although had the opportunities to scramble an equaliser in the second half, too often they are being forced to chase games that with a little enterprise would require no chasing.

Everybody knows how they play now - narrow, deep and with a sly clip of the heels if necessary - which need not be a flaw in itself. But their fightback in the second period merely underlined the paucity of their ambition in the first. This side really can play; if only they tried it once in a while.

Noble's penalty on the stroke of half-time, a contentious one, gave the match a pep it certainly needed. West Ham had been building towards it after a weak, translucent first half-hour in which they looked like a team trying not to contemplate defeat, and thus forcing themselves to contemplate it.

If Burnley's strategy appeared to be to prevent anybody from discovering what they intended to do with the ball by relinquishing it at every opportunity, then it worked a treat.

Burnley's Ben Mee (left) and West Ham United's Ashley Fletcher (right) battle for the ball Picture: PA
Burnley's Ben Mee (left) and West Ham United's Ashley Fletcher (right) battle for the ball Picture: PA

So they pawed at each other like awkward lovers: West Ham fiddling and fumbling, Burnley watching them with a carnal indifference, before booting rusty long balls in the general direction of Sam Vokes. The trick with spurning possession, though, is knowing where to spurn it. And in this respect Burnley remain surprisingly naive, giving the ball away too often in midfield.

West Ham grew in confidence as the half continued. Now Burnley dropped deeper still, allowing Pedro Obiang enough space to clatter a left-footed shot against the base of the post. When Noble curled the ball against the opposite post from 20 yards, West Ham had hit both poles in the space of 10 minutes. Now they filled the gap.

With half-time impending, Bertie Mee tripped Winston Reid. It looked a soft penalty. Tom Heaton saved and then fumbled the penalty, allowing a Noble to polish off the scraps.

Sprang

That was the cue for Burnley to push 10 yards up the pitch, turning the game into a scrap. They had chances: Darren Randolph sprang brilliantly to his left to keep out Scott Arfield's curling free-kick. Vokes headed over from six yards after the superb Aaron Cresswell made an important block on the goal-line.

Cross after cross threatened to cause havoc in the West Ham penalty area. In the second minute of injury time, substitute André Ayew had the chance to settle matters from a tight angle, but put his shot wide.

Still, West Ham had done just enough. There are yet plenty of issues dogging this team, not the least of which is confidence. At full-time, Bilic blew out his cheeks, shook hands with his opposite number Sean Dyche, and beat a hasty retreat to the dressing-room. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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