Nolan and Fulham face the drop and other things we learned at West Ham
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West Ham’s heartbeat is home-grown
If Mark Noble wasn’t out on the pitch in the claret and blue, he’d be in the stands wearing it. You only have to watch 90 minutes at Upton Park to see that. Like a passionate supporter he chases every ball, throws himself into challenges and busts a lung to support a team-mate in possession.
Against Fulham the East End boy recovered the ball 11 times – matched only by team-mate Mohammed Diame. Both players were also the game’s top tacklers as they attempted 8 challenges apiece, with Noble winning 5 to Diame’s 7.
But the Senegalese midfielder couldn't match Noble’s use of the ball. Only Scott Parker used it more effectively than the former England under-21 international over the 90 minutes. Noble completed 54 of his 69 attempted passes, 20 of which came in the attacking third – 7 more than his closest rival Stewart Downing. Collecting the ball from the back four, he knits the team together and keeps possession. The Hammers’ No.16 fights like fan and plays like a pro.
Big Sam’s substitutions made all the difference
The Hammers weren’t playing badly before Joe Cole, Carlton Cole and Ravel Morrison came on, but they hit top gear when the trio entered the fray.
Up until Joe Cole’s introduction in the 68th minute, the home side had put in 32 crosses, but only 8 had found an intended target – a success rate of just 25%. The man charged with converting these crosses – Modibo Maiga – was doing OK (by his standards), winning 10 of his 20 aerial battles. West Ham were a goal ahead and in control, thanks to a deflected shot from Diame, but lacked a cutting edge.
Then Joe Cole came on and he provided a new dimension to the attack. The former England international displayed the guile and intelligence of a top player, one capable of changing the course of a game – and that’s exactly what he did. His movement made him more difficult to shut down than Matt Jarvis. The former Chelsea man knew when to tuck in or cut inside, whereas Jarvis stuck to beating his man on the outside. Joe Cole had two shots – one which was saved, one that found the back of net to make it 2-0.
Nine minutes later, captain Kevin Nolan was replaced by Morrison. With a point to prove after being dropped, Morrison showed his precocious talent. In 13 minutes he caused havoc. He created three chances, including an assist for Joe Cole’s goal, and completed four successful dribbles.
Morrison also played a deliciously weighted pass to Downing who picked out the third and final substitute – Carlton Cole. Sam Allardyce re-signed the striker in October on a three-month deal, but has used him sparingly despite the team’s lack of firepower. Within a minute of coming on for Maiga he made a striker’s run into the box and turned in Downing’s brilliant cross. Time to give him a starting berth, Sam.
Fulham do not play Total Football
Under the guidance of a Dutchman you’d expect Fulham to play fast, free-flowing football, but they actually play slow, predictable football. The visitors attempted 403 passes on the day, completing just 308 – a success rate of 76%.
When they won possession in their half and launched a counter-attack, it was all too laboured. Their top passer – Scott Parker – was accurate with his distribution (90% found their target), but conservative. Many of this passes were sideways, rather than forwards. More worryingly, Fulham didn’t hit the target with any of their 10 shots at goal over the 90 minutes.
Kevin Nolan doesn’t do much
Nolan is at his best working off a target man and making late runs into the box, but in the absence of a striker his role has changed.
In previous games the captain has been charged with leading the line himself and against Fulham he had to shoulder much of the responsibility with the out-of-form Maiga up front on his own. This rendered him ineffective. He only made 16 passes in the entire game – 17 players had more influence with the ball. He had two chances to add to his tally of just one goal this season, but failed with both attempts.
In his defence, he did create three goalscoring opportunities. However, when he was replaced by the more dynamic Morrison the game changed. The England under-21 international got on the ball and made things happen as he played his part in two goals to put the result beyond doubt. With Andy Carroll out injured, Nolan might be better placed on the bench.
Fulham need more from Adel Taarabt and Darren Bent
Taarabt’s talent is not in question, but his decision-making cancels out his ability. Time and again the Moroccan chooses to dribble when he should pass. He attempted 13 take-ons – more than any other player – but lost the ball 7 times, often in promising positions.
He attempted 20 passes in the attacking third, but just 12 found their target – that’s a completion rate of just 60%. He failed to create one goalscoring opportunity. When you’re in a relegation battle, you need your match-winners to make a difference, but Taarabt is all style and no substance.
Bent, a proven goalscorer at this level, is lost in this Fulham side. He didn’t manage one shot on goal and only completed 73% of his attempted passes. The former Aston Villa hitman is most effective when he plays on the shoulder of the last defender. When he did peel off his man and make a run the pass never came.
Instead, Fulham pumped the ball forward for Bent to compete with James Collins and James Tomkins. Inevitably he lost 11 of his 12 aerial duels. Bent is a poacher, not a target man.