A pulsating game, played in yet another raucous atmosphere which, even if it is the only thing we can take from a season which was always going to be a struggle will still have been worth the experiences, saw Town strain every sinew to gain a point against a West Ham side with obvious quality, if sporadically employed.
Ultimately, a draw was a fair conclusion – for the second game in succession, Town’s opponents were forced in to tactical and personnel changes at half time, though the Hammers were significantly more adroit at changing course than Fulham had been and overcame a largely flat first half performance to gain a point.
Preceding the game, a moving and nicely pitched Remembrance Day ceremony, featuring a haunting rendition of The Last Post on a solo trumpet and an excellent display in the Britannia stand served to provide sombre perspective.
The frantic opening minutes saw Town determined to add to their meagre home goal total with Fabianski making a fine save on to the bar from Mounié’s powerful header while West Ham’s counter thrust left Arnautovic in the clear only for him to be foiled by an excellent save from Lössl.
Undeterred, Town attacked again but Mounié’s tame overhead kick was easily gathered. The danger wasn’t over for the Londoners though as their attempt to play out from the back was thwarted by the Terriers’ high pressing which resulted in Rice losing possession to Pritchard. The diminutive, ever active forward played a one two with Hogg before firing a low shot in to the corner with Fabianski flat footed.
An early lead ramped up the volume from all four stands as the confidence flowing from their first win coursed through Town veins, but a break from Anderson – who was afforded far too much space for comfort throughout the first half – past Zanka allowed the Brazilian to whip in a cross towards Arnautovic only for Schindler to clear the danger.
The home side were soon back on to the front foot, however, and within minutes, Fabianski had been beaten by a Billing cross/shot which went over his head and on to the post. Typically, the ball came back off the post rather than deflecting in and managed to evade the flailing body of the West Ham keeper.
Having hit the woodwork twice, Town finally leapt over Manchester City at the top of the thwarted by timber league table.
Mounié and Mooy both had good chances to shoot across Fabianski after being released in to the area by Pritchard and Hogg respectively but both hit the custodian instead.
A second goal would have been just reward for an excellent first half performance but a combination of weak finishing and recurring rank bad luck rather let off West Ham whose undoubted talent up front flickered from time to time but less frequently than their simple errors forced upon them by their aggressive hosts.
The positives of a good half for Town were somewhat soured by an injury to Löwe, who appeared to be cut down as he made another incisive break, though the referee, who seemed pretty lenient of West Ham tackles throughout, opted to pull Town up for Mounié being offside. The German, who had played well, was stretchered off to applause and replaced by Durm. Unfortunately for Town, this precluded a rather obvious change for later in the game – Hadergjonaj could have been replaced by the more effective Durm but stayed on to not a great deal of success.
West Ham changed to two up front in the second half with Hernandez replacing the pacy Diangana who looks a good prospect if a little raw, and the Mexican nearly levelled for the Iron within minutes of the restart. Having beaten Schindler with a nice first touch he was thwarted by Lössl only for the ball to squirt up in to the air, but he headed the opportunity over the bar.
The visitors imposed themselves on the game and looked significantly more threatening than they had since Arnautovic’s early attempt and it was clear that Town would need to call upon the same resilience they had utilised to see off Fulham.
On the hour, a header flashed across Town’s goal from a corner which Hernandez was only inches away from converting at the back post and with Snodgrass beginning to shine – he overshadowed Arnautovic for most of the game – and Antonio brought on to add more pace and threat, Town’s challenge became even tougher.
It wasn’t all one way traffic, by any means. Pritchard and Mounié harassed the visitors with the diminutive scorer having one shot comfortably saved and another opportunity when played through only for his lack of pace allowing a defender to block and the Benin striker winning a lot in the air and making productive use of much of his work.
The equaliser was a scruffy affair, even if the finish to the sequence of events was excellent. An attempted shot by Arnautovic became a miscued pass to Hernandez who was denied by Lössl at close range but the ball fell kindly for Anderson who smashed in the leveller in to the top corner past the many Town bodies trying to protect the net.
With their confidence soaring, the Hammers looked the more likely winners and Town were grateful for a goal line clearance by Mooy from a Diop header and a collective sigh of relief interrupted the now constant noise from the stands.
To the home side’s credit, they finished the game strongly and could have grabbed a winner in the closing stages. Mounié managed to out muscle his marker in the box but could only shoot weakly at Fabianski when a more confident striker would probably have converted. He also won a header which found Durm for a good effort which went just wide from outside the box and substitute Mbenza had an effort which was only five yards from the corner flag. He’s getting closer.
The best chance, however, fell to Depoitre who had replaced Mounié with the clock running down. A cross from the impressive Durm was perfectly placed behind defenders and out of Fabianski’s reach but the Belgian chose to try to connect with his foot rather than flinging himself at the inviting opportunity.
With 4 points collected at home against a relegation rival and a talented if somewhat depleted West Ham, this was a good week for the Terriers. The intervention of the woodwork, yet again and again, is hugely frustrating but the performances have been brimming with the spirit we have to show to compete.
By the end, the players were exhausted – Pritchard ran himself in to the ground to pick up a well earned man of the match – and the effort they are putting in is highly commendable and offers some hope.