West Ham were booed off the pitch, despite gaining a vital 2-1 win against 10-man Hull City in a bizarre evening of football at Upton Park.
Hammers' boss Sam Allardyce couldn't understand how his victorious team were jeered off after what he described as a "huge win", Hull boss Steve Bruce was "baffled" by referee Mike Dean's 23rd minute decision to send off Tigers' goalkeeper Allan McGregor, James Chester was flummoxed at how a speculative Guy Demel cross somehow curled off his knee into the Hull defender's own net while the West Ham fans were just generally confused all night. It was that type of game.
West Ham started brightly enough; Stewart Downing getting in a low shot as the midfield buzzed and Andy Carroll settled in for the usual job of winning high balls, but when James Collins limped off after nine minutes to be replaced by Roger Johnson, there was a feeling it might be one of those nights for the home side. Hull's strike force of Nikica Jelavic and Shane Long have looked a good combination recently, and there was a concern that Johnson and partner James Tomkins might struggle. As it happened though, Johnson had an excellent game alongside his team-mate and the pairing was probably the highlight of West Ham's evening.
The game came alive in a fashion few understood after 20 minutes. Mark Noble was instrumental in playing in Mo Diame whose goal bound shot seemed to be going into the net as Maynor Figueroa tried to clear off the line. Suddenly Diame and McGregor were on the floor, arms were waving, the officials were all on the pitch and there was mayhem and confusion everywhere.
As the two teams swarmed round Mike Dean, nobody was at all sure what they had just witnessed. A section of the ground seemed to be celebrating a goal, believing Diame's shot had crossed the line, some seemed to think Hull had won a free kick, while most supporters just looked bemused. It was a full three minutes before fans -- seeing Mark Noble pick up the ball -- realised a penalty had been awarded and another three minutes after that before the medical team helped a clearly injured McGregor to his feet, only to see the referee brandishing a red card at the Hull keeper.
Later reports seemed to indicate that Diame had collided with McGregor after first handling the ball -- something the referee missed -- while the keeper was adjudged to have fouled Diame, ending in hospital with a serious kidney injury for his pains -- while Mike Dean had only awarded the penalty minutes after, following consultation with his linesman. In truth, there's few in the ground would testify to anything bar the not insignificant fact that Noble subsequently powered in from the spot past substitute keeper Steve Harper.
West Ham now played their best football of the night. With Hull looking shell-shocked, the Hammers do what they seem to do best nowadays, harrying defenders, getting in blocks and chasing lofted balls to unsettle the opposition. There was a feeling though that, despite being a man to the good, the Hammers needed another goal before the break as it was likely Bruce would shuffle his pack and make things difficult for the home side after half time. And so it proved -- although surely not as well as even Bruce could have predicted.
Within three minutes of the restart, Hull were level and it was another farcical moment. Putting the Hammers under immediate pressure from the kickoff, Hull won a free-kick which Tom Huddlestone took. The kick was some way out but the former-Spurs man has a reputation, so Adrian supervised a wall only to see the kick deflect off Jelavic and catch the Hammers' stopper in no-man's land as the ball flew into the near corner.
At 1-1, the crowd were restless. Despite being a man down, Hull now seemed to have an extra player -- as West Ham pumped balls anywhere and put themselves under pressure, passing back trying to retain possession but too often giving it away, the Tigers looked lively and inventive. Ironic then that after 53 minutes, Demel broke down the flank and put in a speculative ball to Carroll that the England forward failed to get too. The ball did reach James Chester though -- the Hull defender somehow guiding the ball in an impressive fashion past his own keeper to put the Irons 2-1 up.
So neat was the execution of the goal, the home fans chanted "Sign him up, sign him up". It was a fine touch that West Ham sadly lack currently.
Hull were behind again but determined to put things right and it was this passage of play that so frustrated the home fans. As Hull poured forward in waves, always finding an extra man and winning the midfield battle comfortably, West Ham were content to let play and possession go on in front of them and try to hit quickly from the back. Sadly though this tactic was not done with any great skill; the ball being skied whenever possible, usually for the opposition to pick up and push forward again. As the game wore on and West Ham had no answer but to defend stoutly, fans grew restless, expecting a late equaliser that Hull probably deserved but which never came.
When the final whistle blew, jeers and boos rung around a quickly emptying Boleyn Ground as fans continue to argue about the best way to gain vital points -- as these certainly were -- to ensure the Hammers don't end up back in the relegation dogfight. Big Sam will point to his tried and trusted methods; expressing his surprise after the match and explaining that he had never been booed after winning a game before.
"I've never been in a place where I've won and got booed," said Allardyce. "Fans affect players. We don't need them on players' backs when we are coming off three defeats. They have to stay and help them win.
"At half-time, the players were talking more about fans booing them than the game. I had to make sure they kept focused on the field. I started playing at 16, got in a first team at 18 and am 59 now, but I've never been in place where I won and got booed."
West Ham fans are in turmoil currently though, stuck between a rock and a hard place as they come to terms with the fact that their club have become the type of side that -- in previous years -- they had formally turned their noses at.
As the debate goes on about the ends justifying the means, Allardyce will point to the nine-point gap he now takes to the Stadium of Light next Monday. The argument will surely now continue into the summer, though, as Allardyce plots another season in the Premier League. Job done? You decide.