So, how do we reflect on that performance? Manchester United's goal was extremely lucky and they rarely looked like scoring after the thirty seventh second of the game. We, on the other hand, had five or six decent chances, far more than I was expecting. So can we look back on a heroic and unlucky performance, or was this really a missed opportunity, a failure to steal a point or three off a distinctly off colour Manchester United?
To begin, Ferguson used squad rotation in a way that suggested he anticipated a comfortable victory. True Scholes was suspended, but there was no Giggs, no Ferdinand, no Fletcher and Young started on the bench. A central defensive pairing of Evans and Smalling screams out vulnerability, and a decent striker would have been licking his lips at the prospect of matching up against those two. The trouble is, we have Carroll and Cole vying for the role of non scoring centre forward. And to be fair to both, we had no invention, creativity nor flair in our midfield.
Without Benayoun we lack invention and without Noble we lack control. Ball retention last night was appalling. Apparently only 55% of our passes went to a man in a West Ham shirt. Noble's pass completion rate is in the mid to high 80s. And his percentage of passes forwards matches Steven Gerrard's exactly, destroying the argument that he is a sideways and backward passing clone of the older Ray Wilkins.
Diame is a conundrum. When he powers forward he looks awesome and when he makes a successful challenge, he looks a powerhouse. But he plays with his head down and his first instinct is to run with the ball, no matter what the situation, his position on the pitch and the availability of team mates. There was one classic moment last night when he ran the ball directly into touch! When Noble is in the team, he has an easy out ball and can move into space fairly certian of a return pass, without Noble, he tries to do it all alone, and loses possession.
Jarvis was also bitterly disappointing last night. Perhaps he is still struggling for fitness but his pace looked far from electric and his crossing was straight out of Faubert's 'Little Brown Book of Merde'. For Carroll to be effective, he needs balls into the box to attack, and there were precious few.
The problem remains one of balance. When set up to defend, we can nullify the opposition, but we have no way of opening up the opposition because we sit too deep and Carroll and Nolan lack the pace to hit the opposition on the break. Meanwhile, our full backs can defend when screened by the midfield, but should we try to move onto the offensive, we are vulnerable down the flanks.
At the end of the day, I saw enough to suggest that we can survive this season. But to push on, we need more pace and more guile.