Where to start, really. This was an absolute horror, make no mistake. The repercussions could be catastrophic. That there are positives to be drawn from the performance, that we have played worse, significantly worse, this season perhaps makes it all the more horrific.
This was astonishing. I mean, it was many things, and you can find a convenient list under “magnificent” in your thesaurus. But it was astonishing, first and foremost. There will be some comments about how the performance throws the rest of our under-achieving season into sharp relief, but they’ll miss the point. The point being that we could not possibly have expected eleven players to over-achieve in such an extraordinary manner. Not to that extent. Not for that long. Way beyond “spirited”, this was a brief and tenuous, but very real, bridging of that impossible gulf. It happened. Even more remarkably, it happened for ninety minutes.
Ade Akinbiyi scored twice to help Stoke complete a superb comeback at Watford. Heidar Helguson had put the Hornets ahead as early as the fourth minute, but on-loan defender Gerry Taggart levelled just 11 minutes later with a firm header.
Good taste precludes me from attempting to compare it with the worst of this and other managers’ reigns, but we can’t have seen much worse for a while, especially given the importance of the fixture and, no offence, the quality of the opponents. As we’ve discovered in recent weeks, victories can turn into draws and draws can turn into defeats by the merest playful twist of fate. Results are fragile things, easily changed by accident as well as design. None of that applies here, though. Stoke didn’t need a late goal. We were beaten, and by a margin that ought to embarrass us into a considerable and immediate improvement.
With five minutes to go, we decided we’d seen enough. “When did you last leave the game before the final whistle?” I asked a twenty-year season ticket holder as we walked back to the car. “Can’t remember – a long time ago,” came the sullen reply.
BSAD report:As is regularly mentioned on these very pages, the First Division of the Nationwide Football League is a very strange place. There are games that delight you, the recent trip to Norwich being one. There are games of free-flowing football with goal scoring chances aplenty and excitement beyond compare. There are also wars of attrition, games high on honest toil and endeavour, but low on skill, thrills and entertainment. Frankly, they are best described as dull. The fact that this is a third (or fourth, I lost count) attempt at writing this report flings this game into the final, instantly forgettable category.
So, West Ham are in the First Division again. Judging by the sell-out crowd, this is the cause of some excitement, a bit of a novelty. A nail bar in an old-fashioned part of town, rapidly becoming part of the scenery. Nottingham Forest. Derby County. Sheffield Wednesday. Sunderland. Queens Park Rangers. Norwich City. And so on. It happens very quickly indeed, and you suspect that this fixture will probably be taking place in front of, say, seventeen thousand people next season. Fourteen thousand in two years. Still, ‘Ammers fans, it’s not all doom and gloom…the weather might’ve perked up by then, eh?
You’d rather hope that our ambitions might stretch a little further than that, of course. Being a bit better than Bradford isn’t exactly a towering achievement, after all. But it’ll do for now, I guess. For all that the season started with fairly high expectations, not being in the bottom three seems like a useful point from which to begin again. It could be worse. And it might get better.