West Ham's excellent smash-and-grab victory against Manchester City demonstrated the best parts of their play.
They took two excellent chances, played some smart football during the first half and then dug in superbly in the second.
Any one of Dimitri Payet, Diafra Sakho or Winston Reid deserved man of the match, and these pieces of excellence were justly covered by many of the match reports.
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However, barring one that mentions its prevalence, the post-match writings of this undoubtedly spirited victory overlooked the rampant Time wasting that the Hammers resorted to during their rearguard action.
Virtually from the moment Victor Moses opened the scoring, West Ham took every possible chance to slow the game down. Every goal kick was drawn out; every throw-in was deliberately ponderous; every injured player chose the longest route to leave the field when ordered.
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Obviously, the Etihad Stadium frequently erupted with anger at these innumerable acts of gamesmanship. Just as obviously, however, this was West Ham's right.
As much as purists will bemoan teams that sink to these kinds of tactics, it is the right of any team to win a football game however they can so long as the referee allows it. That is exactly the issue: the referee allowed it.
Time and again, as a player limped to reposition of free-kick for the third time or the goalkeeper moved the ball to the opposite side of the six-yard area, the match referee did nothing to stop it.
The occasional tap of the watch intended them to speed up but did nothing. His weak, passive officiating allowed a team to time waste for approximately 75 of the 90-minute football match.
Even as the game approached injury time, when West Ham's skipper Mark Noble actually hauled Carl Jenkinson to his feet to stop his unnecessary stoppage, the referee just stood and watched. West Ham had the right to try it, but a strong referee would have killed it before the half-time whistle.
What a waste of money
Among those who regular watch live matches – paying large amounts to enter the stadium or a committing to hefty TV subscriptions – there are few things as frustrating as time wasting. It is a perfectly logical tactic to defend a lead, but it seen by many as an affront to those paying small fortunes to watch a game they love.
It is a series of acts that fundamentally undermines the game as a piece of entertainment or theatre, and yet increasingly it goes unpunished. West Ham's performance is but a drop in an ocean where this sort of gamesmanship has become frighteningly commonplace.
Fan unhappiness on this issue is lost in a media discourse and game reality that ignores it after the fact. Games that were defined by it are redefined in the match reports, thus further reducing supporter influence in the game's development and permitting gamesmanship's continued acceptance.
Drawing a line
Every year, there is much media debate about the changes to the footballing laws (especially in the Premier League) and what new emphasis referees will have. Many, such as on diving, have been popularly received. For too long, however, attention to gamesmanship has declined.
Players can now wait until injury-time to receive a token referee warning for a game's worth of deliberate time wasting while fans watch refereeing cowardice contribute to a reduction in game speed and intensity.
To reassert timely punishments fortTime wasting - something seen brilliantly in last season's Champion's League for instance - stamps it out of that encounter. It benefits the flow of games, it reinvigorates the fans, and it removes a blight on a game that is now, more than ever, marketed to a global audience as an example of extraordinary entertainment. Teams can still try if they wish, but referees should have the courage and direction to tackle it before the unpleasantness has had its intended impact.
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