Monday, 8 December 2014

West Hammered, but not the end of the world

Last season a poor showing at West Ham cost Laudrup his job as Swansea boss. Eric Imhof explains why, poor showing aside, there were positives on show

Andy Carroll gets West Ham's first at the Boleyn Ground

The trip to West Ham was always going to be a tricky one, and if recent history was any indication it’s small wonder that the Swans came away empty-handed, especially considering yet another “controversial” (read: terrible) call going against them (more on that later). Monk said after the match that it was the worst his squad had played all season, and in fact the final whistle hadn’t even blown before people in the twitter-sphere were making comparisons to Laudrup’s Waterloo at this ground earlier this year.  

But was this blunder as much of a regression as many people think? In my opinion, the answer is a resounding “psh.” Like I wrote last week, the Swans are still on track for any reasonable goal you like (even Europe, albeit lofty), and this match was a tad closer than the scoreline reflects. 

Still, this fray did have some similarities to the aforementioned 1815 battle. Let’s analyze the factors that led to both Napoleon’s and Monk’s defeat, shall we?

First, both suffered from a touch of delusion. Not that Monk had the air of invincibility shown by the man who crowned himself Emperor of the French, but after the opening strike yet another early Bony goal - which came against the run of play, it may have occurred to Garry and Co. that this game might be an easier ride than initially estimated. Oh how wrong that assessment was, and once again the Swans conceded right before half-time, which was less than helpful. 

Second, like Napoleon against a coalition of more than six states when he advanced on Belgium, Monk was just downright outgunned going in. West Ham are a physical team, they have the biggest aerial threat on the pitch, and they have more attacking options than ever before in recent memory. Simply put, the Swans don’t match up well against this team, and with Fernandez and Taylor both out, and with no big bully in defensive midfield, the Swans were bound to struggle. 

And like the heavens spewing the rains that delayed the French attack in 1815, giving the British and Prussian forces time to regroup and rejoin, the football fates provided some game-changing circumstances that Monk could do nothing about. Not to be one of those people who constantly makes excuses for their team, but the red card for Fabianksi is one of the most baffling decisions I’ve ever seen in all my years watching the Prem.

I’ve watched the replay about fifty times, and still don’t quite see any foul from Fabianksi (he pulls back at the last minute and gets bowled over), let alone an out-of-the-ordinary action that impeded a clear goal-scoring opportunity. Without being facetious, isn’t the whole point of the defense, and especially the goalie, to impede goal-scoring opportunities? 

Never mind the fact that it was a hand-ball before the “foul”; ask yourself if the Swans, in an infinite extrapolation of time, would ever get a call like that: where they get to take a shot, miss, and then get the opposing goalie sent off anyway, in some kind of miraculous consolatory mulligan. And once again, one can’t blame the loss just on this one call, but red cards do tend to change games, don’t they?

However, to end, lastly, on a positive note: I will say that like Napoleon at Waterloo - a little too self-assure, out-gunned, and in the face of capricious circumstances - Monk did something pleasantly surprising: he went all out on the offensive. Putting in Dyer and Gomis suddenly recharged the team, and I really thought a few times near the end a draw might still be salvaged. It was strange to see West Ham defending desperately down the stretch, as if they were at a numerical disadvantage. 

Alas, putting more men forward leaves the vulnerability of a counter, and with some strange defending combined with a cold goalie, West Ham were able to put the game away late with a cannon strike. But for all the similarities, there is one key difference between Monk’s defeat and Napoleon’s; unlike the latter’s conscripts, the former gets to dust off and try again next weekend. 

Thanks to Eric for his ongoing contribution - you can follow him on Twitter @AustinJackArmy