Resilience in adversity
The win against West Brom was not West Ham’s best performance of the season, far from it but it is up there as one of the most resilient.
The often hard to quantify trait of ‘character’ was in abundance. The pressure was really on the Hammers at kick-off.
Following a run of just four points from the previous 15 available West Ham had slipped down the table but suddenly Europa League football was back in their hands thanks to Spurs losing 2-1 to Aston Villa.
David Moyes said after the game Tottenham’s result had no impact upon his team, but the players would not be human if a small part of them was not acutely aware of the ramifications of Spurs dropping points.
Even before the game West Ham were dealt a blow when losing Lukasz Fabianski in the final moments of the warm-up to a knee injury.
Darren Randolph had just 20 minutes to prepare himself for a huge match, a testament to his professionalism that he was ready to go.
The Hammers started the match with two glorious opportunities to take the lead inside the opening seconds of the game. First Michail Antonio should have scored when one-on-one with Sam Johnstone, but after delaying his shot won a penalty instead.
Declan Rice stood up and saw his effort rebound clear off the post.
Heads could easily have gone down, and even more so after West Brom took the lead through a combination of a wicked Matheus Pereira corner and Tomas Soucek’s head.
Instead what happened was West Ham dug in and held off a number of West Brom attacks and set-pieces, with the Baggies clearly inspired by a wonderful home crowd.
Tomas Soucek made amends for his part in the West Brom goal with a simple tap-in at the far post following a perfect delivery from the rejuvenated Said Benrahma just moments before half-time.
The Hammers were much improved in the second half but for a long period, it looked like the winner was not going to come, with Pablo Fornals tamely shooting on a couple of occasions and Antonio just unable to reach the ball to tap home.
But West Ham kept coming and eventually Angelo Ogbonna scrambled home his third of the season to give the Hammers the lead. A third goal followed soon after on the counter-attack as West Brom pushed men forward in search of an equaliser to calm any final minute nerves and seal all three points.
Make no mistake West Brom were up for this game with their fans creating a wonderful atmosphere, this was a hard-fought win for West Ham, a fully deserved one and a huge result that could have a massive effect on the club going forwards.
Europa League football brings extra prize money, will help attract better players to the club, and provides the fans with a bounce as they come back to support their team.
The extra matches and less preparation time have a downside of course and next season will not be easy to balance continental football and a domestic campaign, but it is a challenge Moyes is eagerly awaiting.
As mentioned the crowd were fantastic at The Hawthorns and a credit to their team. The impact a home crowd make can be hard to quantify but there was a buzz inside and around the stadium before kick-off.
When the Baggies players came out to warm-up the noise was incredible and even more so when the teams emerged from the tunnel. For almost 90 minutes bar a silent shock at such an early West Ham penalty the stadium was rocking.
The Rice miss brought about a cheer almost as loud as when West Brom took the lead, it was a truly wonderful atmosphere and it gave everyone, including the West Ham players, a lift.
In one stoppage in play, a lone voice was heard shouting something rather rude but equally funny at Antonio, with the striker clearly amused by what he heard and beaming back into the stands.
Craig Dawson’s every touch was roundly booed, with the former Baggies player getting a particularly loud reception when he attempted and shinned an overhead kick. Dawson to be fair took it all in good spirits and at the final whistle went to applaud the home fans which was warmly received and reciprocated.
It is a cliché to say that the noise of the crowd gave one goosebumps, but they really did. As Moyes pointed out it was even more impressive considering West Brom were recently relegated yet there was not a single moment of booing or jeering towards the home side.
The presence of the crowd clearly had an impact on Moyes and has made him even more excited to welcome 10,000 Hammers supporters into the London Stadium on Sunday.
“I am really looking forward to it because if they are as noisy as the West Brom fans tonight then we are in for a treat because I thought the West Brom fans were terrific tonight,” Moyes said.
“For a club which has just been relegated I thought they got right behind their club and their team tonight.”
Post-match there was a lot of talk about ‘Big Sam’, after the Baggies manager Sam Allardyce released a statement with the club to confirm he was stepping down as manager at the end of the season.
However, on the final whistle, it was ‘Little Sam’ who caught the attention. Sammy Lee, Allardyce’s trusty assistant bounded onto the pitch and made a bee-line for Vladimir Coufal and in particular Tomas Soucek.
The trio were too far away to be heard but it was clearly an animated conversation with Lee doing the majority of the talking with body language suggesting he was being effusive in his praise for the Czech duo.
Lee has a lengthy coaching career and his playing days as a midfielder brought about huge success with Liverpool. The former England international won four league titles, four League Cups and two European Cups, he knows a good player when he sees one.
Small things like Lee’s conversation with Soucek and Coufal often go unseen but on this occasion, his efforts were noticed and deserved to be appreciated. It was a nice touch from the Baggies assistant manager and something he did not need to do but clearly wanted to.
The former Hammer Grady Diangana was involved as second-half substitute eight months on from his acrimonious exit from the London Stadium.
At the time his transfer was met with sadness and anger inside the West Ham dressing room, Mark Noble led the protests with his infamous tweet.
“As captain of this football club I’m gutted, angry and sad that Grady has left, great kid with a great future.”
Noble was not the only Hammer upset with Arthur Masuaku replying with a broken heart emoji to the news of his teammate’s transfer.
At the full-time whistle last night it was clear that Diangana is still close to a number of Hammers players. Rice and Antonio were first to head his way and embrace the DR Congo international followed by a number of other ex-teammates.
This campaign has not quite gone to plan for the 23-year-old but his transfer is still a controversial one and with squad depth, an issue for West Ham this season the decision to let the talented midfielder go still seems an odd choice.
Moyes could not have had a better view to scout a potential signing this summer. Matheus Pereira is a very good footballer and he does not belong in the Championship.
The Brazillian will be heavily linked with a move away from The Hawthorns and if he does depart, West Ham should be looking very seriously at this immensely talented player.
The Hammers have their own set-piece expert in Aaron Cresswell, eight assists this season speak volumes for the quality of his delivery and he added another important one against the Baggies with the corner to set up Ogbonna’s game-defining goal.
Cresswell also hit the post with an audacious long-range effort that had Johnstone in the West Brom goal motionless as it flew towards the woodwork.
But even with Cresswell’s expertise around a deadball Pereira’s delivery was on another level last night. His corners were almost impossible to defend.
With good teamwork, the Baggies players crowded out Randolph and Pereira’s delivery was right on the money, fast, accurate, and with a brilliant whip on them, it was no surprise West Brom’s goal was awarded to the Brazilian and not a Soucek own goal.
His directness and willingness to take on opponents is a key feature of his game and would add another option to the West Ham squad.
Pereira would be an excellent replacement for Jesse Lingard if the loanee is not to return to the London Stadium but even if he does, squad depth is needed and the Baggies No. 12 would be an excellent addition to the team.
Source by Football London