Hammers and Eagles settle for capital derby draw
West Ham United 1 Crystal Palace 1
West Ham and Crystal Palace had to settle for a capital stalemate at the London Stadium.
In a derby which often ebbed and flowed, you sense it will be a point gladly taken by both Hammers’ boss David Moyes and his counterpart Roy Hodgson. Overall, the encounter will be quite rightly remembered for the quality of the goals. Sebastien Haller cancelled out Christian Benteke’s precision header with a classic overhead kick.
West Ham finished the slightly stronger side after a patchy first half display, which was no major surprise as Palace were obliged to finish the latter stages when Benteke was sent off for a second bookable offence.
Palace, noted for their resilience this term when securing an advantage, could do nothing about Haller’s effort: a finely executed overhead kick from around eight yards in 55 minutes. The upshot is that, in league table terms, West Ham and Palace remain very comfortable.
There was plenty of scope for an open, enterprising clash, considering that neither team was rattling around the relegation zone. The Hammers, in seventh spot, were enjoying something of a feel-good factor, and were expected to be pretty fresh considering their previous outing, an impressive 2-1 victory at Leeds United, took place last Friday. Manager Moyes, interestingly, handed a start to enigmatic sorcerer, Said Benrahma, on loan from Brentford.
Palace, meanwhile, were tenth upon their arrival in east London – and showed considerable grit to gain a draw against Premier League leaders Tottenham at the weekend. Their performance was highlighted by the superb form of both keeper Vicente Guaita and Ebere Eze in particular. Could the latter weave some trademark trickery on this vast canvas? Moreover, this was a capital encounter played of course, behind closed doors, due to new Tier 3 Covid restrictions. A night when, under normal circumstances, the London Stadium would have been close to capacity.
Predictably, the opening exchanges were largely even, and it took until the 15th minute for the first real opportunity to emerge, which fell to the hosts. Pablo Fornals directed a header a yard wide from ten yards, after meeting a precise cross from Vladimir Coufal, who was hitherto a keen forager down the right hand side.
Slabs of the first half were essentially like a chess game, perhaps not entirely surprising given the two evenly matched outfits. West Ham had did have the upper hand in terms of possession, always probing and looking for exposed angles. The Eagles, well-drilled as usual from a Hodgson side, looking for some rations on the counter-attack.
And just how well it paid off in 34 minutes, when a rejuvenated Benteke broke the deadlock. The Palace forward – who scored a double in the 5-1 rout of West Bromwich Albion on 6 December - dived to head home a sublime cross from Joel Ward who cantered forward on the West Ham left. It was a poor goal to concede from the Hammers’ point of view, the assist eluding two defenders before Benteke took handsome advantage.
West Ham eventually responded with a drive via close range from Jarrod Bowen, which Guaita did well to parry before the danger was cleared. Yet, clearly boosted by their advantage, and sensing a flatness from Moyes’ men, the nifty south Londoners really should have made it 2-0 with only a few minutes to the interval. Benteke back heeled the ball into the hands of Hammers’ keeper Lukasz Fabianski, when Wilfried Zaha set up Andros Townsend, who practically walked through the penalty area to create the chance.
Moyes sent on Manuel Lanzini for Fornals at the break with West Ham needing to smooth out some rough edges.
It took them ten minutes to do so – but it was well worth it for the Hammers boss and all the supporters watching from home. Haller’s goal exemplified perfect technique, acrobatically rifling home from Coufal’s cross from the right. A real tonic for a side who really needed something special and for a player to take serious responsibility.
Still, both goalkeepers were kept busy; this was a derby which engaged, as both sides kept their patience going forward.
Then, in 70 minutes, Benteke’s eventful evening came to a rapid, if slightly harsh, conclusion. The striker rose for an aerial ball with Tomas Soucek, and with the Belgian having been booked earlier, referee David Coote proferred a red card. There appeared to be scant contact between the players and, oddly, VAR was not called upon.
West Ham took clear control of territory, pressing ten man Palace. Nevertheless, they were to be frustrated by the end. Shots from Bowen and Declan Rice went on-so-close. Ultimately the Hammers found themselves to be the latest side to face a resourceful Hodgson outfit, content to see out matters for a merited draw.
West Ham United: Fabianski, Cresswell, Ogbonna, Diop, Coufal, Soucek, Rice, Fornals (Lanzini 46), Benrahma (Snodgrass 87), Bowen (Yarmolenko 79), Haller
Crystal Palace: Guaita, Van Aanholt, Dann, Kouyate, Ward, Townsend (Schlupp 84), Milivojevic, McArthur, Eze (Ayew 75), Benteke, Zaha