Resilient Hammers too strong for battling Albion
West Ham United 2 West Bromwich Albion 1
Michail Antonio’s fifth goal of the season – and his second successive winner – was enough to see off West Bromwich Albion at the London Stadium.
The Hammers are now, it must be said, going about their business with diligence, and this represented a much desired outcome. With back-to-back wins against both Burnley and now Albion, it has certainly been a few days of quiet satisfaction for manager David Moyes.
Antonio is back in the groove and a team that, for the most part, retained their focus and dictated matters, results in a move up to seventh place for the time being. West Ham are certainly proving to be a durable and consistent outfit – and it will be interesting to see if they can maintain their tenacity. With an FA Cup fourth round tie at home to Doncaster Rovers and then a trip to south London to face Crystal Palace ahead, there is every reason for Hammers’ fans to feel good about their team’s current situation.
Although Albion arrived in east London struggling and second bottom of the Premier League table, they had, at least, an immediate boost to their overall confidence. It hardly gets much better for Baggies’ fans than a 3-2 away win at Black Country rivals Wolves, earned at the weekend. West Ham, meanwhile, were unbeaten so far in 2021. And not having conceded a goal in four consecutive games in both league and cup was certainly a decent pre-match statistic.
For Albion chief Sam Allardyce, this signified a return to his former club as the veteran attempts another one of his famous salvage operations, but ex-Hammer Robert Snodgrass missed out against the club he left earlier this month due to a gentlemen's agreement between the two sides.
The opening spells were scrappy – hardly a surprise, given Albion’s current state – and it took until the 19th minute for either of the goalkeepers to be tested. Lukasz Fabianski clutched at a header inappropriately provided by his own defender, Angelo Ogbonna, with West Ham struggling to clear an aerial ball.
The hosts lacked conviction in front of the Albion goal, though – Manuel Lanzini, for instance, really should have done much better than a tame shot straight at Sam Johnstone, following good work down the left hand side.
West Ham gradually seized the initiative in terms of possession, cajoling against a tight visitors’ rear guard in the hope of a breakthrough. The obvious lack of excitement on offer was, however, epitomised by the wayward ballooning over by Albion attacker Callum Robinson from 22 yards; the kind of effort which would have been far better executed by a more confident contemporary. At the other end, Lanzini was getting closer, admittedly, only for his speculative set piece to drift a few inches over the crossbar.
Johnstone dealt with a Said Benrahma effort quite easily shortly before the break, as yet again, United were lacking incision. Moyes’s men really needed a breakthrough, but were certainly making life a little tricky for themselves – until seconds before the half time whistle.
In a well-worked move, Benrahma hit a deep cross from the left, which was turned back across goal by Vladimir Coufal – and Bowen’s quick thinking amid a congested six yard area resulted in the midfielder chesting the ball past Johnstone. It wasn’t particularly pretty - a timely tonic the Hammers merited.
The buoyancy barely lasted five minutes after the restart, with the Baggies gaining a bounce in rather emphatic fashion. With three West Ham jerseys inexplicably standing off the lively Pereira, the Brazilian winger flashed a precise left foot shot from the edge of the 18 yard area which fairly whizzed past Fabianski into the corner of the net. A lovely strike.
Nevertheless, West Ham – and specifically, Declan Rice – responded very positively to the surprise setback. The skipper curled a shot a few inches past the post from distance before then sliding the ball underneath Johnstone via a quick Aaron Cresswell free kick, but agonisingly across the goal line, with no takers.
Patience for Moyes and his players was, however, rewarded. As has been the case so often before, the Hammers earned salvation from a familiar source in 66 minutes. Poised and lurking with intent, Antonio reacted keenly to arch his body around to sweep home after substitute Andriy Yarmolenko headed Cresswell’s cross back across the six yard goal.
Albion - to their credit and as you expect from an Allardyce side - battled hard to regain a foothold, but West Ham were tidy as a defensive unit, Cresswell and Ogbonna impressive when their duties called. Despite a late scare when Pereira volleyed wide, the points stayed in Stratford. Moyes could hardly ask for much more at the moment.
West Ham United: Fabianski, Cresswell, Coufal, Benrahma (Yarmolenko 61), Lanzini (Fornals 61), Dawson, Bowen, Ogbonna, Soucek, Antonio (Noble 83), Rice