West Ham's damage limitation ends with second half of hope
PUBLISHED: 11:55 30 August 2016 | UPDATED: 11:55 30 August 2016
The Hammers could have been thumped by Manchester City but came away with pride intact
Well, it could have been a lot worse.
After just 20 minutes of this game at The Etihad, patched-up West Ham were 2-0 down, under constant pressure and in danger of conceding a hatful of goals in the time remaining.
At that point, the final score could have been anything against slick, powerful Manchester City, so it is highly commendable that Slaven Bilic’s team not only made a game of it from then on, they actually scared the home side.
“You can break it down to two halves of football,” said Bilic.
“They were much better than us in the first half. They were quicker, more aggressive than us and better on the second balls.”
They certainly were. City earned two corners in the opening two minutes and by the 18th minute they were 2-0 up through Raheem Sterling’s sweep and Fernandinho’s header.
“We gave them way too much space and time on the ball and of course, they have plenty of class,” added Bilic.
City were superb, but some of West Ham’s first half pain was self-inflicted. Bilic opted for three centre-backs, mainly because Sam Byram is so off form at right-back. That meant Michail Antonio playing as a wing back which proved little better than when he plays as a defender.
But just when it looked like a cricket score was on the cards, the manager shuffled the pack, with five at the back after Byram’s arrival and took off anonymous Gokhan Tore to push Antonio further forward where he belongs.
“In the second half it changed and of course, the goal helped,” said Bilic. “We put them under a little bit of pressure. They had their chances too, because we were open, but in the second half I was more than happy.”
West Ham won at The Etihad last season, but just three of the players that started that game did so on Sunday and few teams could cope with so many regulars out of action.
Bilic said: “At half time I wasn’t happy, but I asked the guys to show the character, the spirit, the attitude and mentality which they basically did in the second half.
“I have praise for the team for the second half, it’s just a shame we conceded the late goal.”
It was, as in the end it gave a glossy look to the result that City didn’t quite deserve.
They deserved to win, but even this makeshift West Ham side gave them problems and with players rapidly returning and new men coming in, the rest of the season looks a lot rosier.
There were still some problems. Tore needs to do more, Byram needs to improve still and Cheikhou Kouyate needs to get involved in the game.
On the plus side, Arthur Masuaku looks impressive, Ashley Fletcher looks promising and Manuel Lanzini is back.
Perhaps the real season starts after the international break.