Resolute Hammers end their horror run with deserved win at Chelsea
Chelsea 0 West Ham 1
Just when they needed it most, West Ham came up with the perfect away performance to halt that sinking feeling.
They changed their goalkeeper, dropping the hapless Roberto, in favour of a 33-year-old debutant in David Martin, and he had a fine game.
But the win owed much to sea-change in attitude and application, as well as the use of a new keeper. It was epitomised by staunch defending and a return to excellence by Declan Rice in midfield. Manuel Pellegrini’s men worked their socks off.
The players’ reaction at the final whistle spoke volumes of the importance they placed on taking this rare win at Stamford Bridge. They rushed to join Martin in celebration and took the salute of their ecstatic fans.
This triumph ended a run of eight without victory for the Hammers and was their first since 2002 when Paolo Di Canio scored twice in a 3-2 win.
It will surely ease the immediate pressure on the boss, whose position has come under speculation, as usually happens whenever any bad run takes hold of a Premier League side.
Aaron Cresswell was the match-winner, scoring the only goal three minutes into the second half.
After Felipe Anderson had switched the ball out wide, the left back checked back inside Reece James and curled a fine shot inside the far post.
Buoyed by getting their noses in front, Manuel Pellegrini’s men scented blood and twice went close to doubling their lead at corners – with Fabian Balbuena causing problems for the home defence, one header forcing Kepa Arrizabalaga into a flying save.
On 68 minutes, West Ham thought they had made it 2-0 when Snodgrass got to the byline and chipped to the far post for Michail Antonio to bundle home via the post, but a VAR call alerted ref John Moss to the use of an arm by the United striker.
It was inevitable that there would be some torrid spell to survive and the introduction of Willian, N’Golo Kante and Callum Hudson-Odoi asked questions of the Hammers’ defence. But they weathered the storm, kept their shape and broke in numbers to ensure they did not merely retreat to their own 18-yeard line.
Making his debut at 33, ex-MK Dons stopper Martin, son of Hammers legend Alvin, gave a decent account of himself and got plenty support from the away fans, who chanted his name. His dad was looking on from the press box.
As the first half drew to close he spilled a low shot from outside the area from Mateo Kovacic, but sprang up to block a follow-up attempt from Olivier Giroud. There were loud cheers when he claimed a couple of crosses, which must have settled his nerves.
West Ham kept managed to restrict Chelsea mainly to half chances, although they got lucky when Kurt Zouma glanced a close range header wide when it looked easier to score.
When James curled in a wicked cross for Giroud, Angelo Ogbonna got the slightest of touches to deny an opening and it typified a half of blocks, diligent closing down, and honest endeavour,
The signs were promising in the opening exchanges. Antonio got ahead of Fikayo Tomori to reach a cross from the left from Cresswell to almost put West Ham in front.
He could only sky over the cross bar on that occasion but the striker came closer with a powerful header which Arrizabalaga had to watch carefully to palm away – Snodgrass the provider this time.
It hinted at an afternoon of graft and defiance as a response to a dreadful run and they got their reward as they grew into the contest, getting better as the afternoon wore on. It is a result which will surely do wonders for the confidence.
Line up: Martin –Fredericks, Balbuena, Ogbonna, Cresswell – Snodgrass, Noble, Rice, Fornals (Masuaka 83) – Anderson (Yarmolenko 71) – Antonio (Haller 76). Subs not used: Jiminez, Zabaleta, Sanchez, Ajeti.