Slovenly Hammers save the day against Seagulls
West Ham United 2 Brighton and Hove Albion 2
Just when three precious points were set to be smuggled out to Sussex by the sea, a resourceful Brighton were undone by an ongoing weakness.
West Ham’s Tomas Soucek spared the blushes by heading an equaliser with nine minutes remaining at London Stadium: a game which they scarcely deserved anything - despite twice coming from behind - such was the widespread listlessness by the home side.
Brighton had demonstrated superior athleticism, organisation and desire – but their inability to deal with set pieces cost them what would have been only their third win in the Premier League this term.
The only real consolation for David Moyes's side is that they did, somehow, dredge out a point from this, where allegedly inferior opposition should have won with a bit to spare. That four goals were exchanged, too, was something of a shock, with an extended, post-Christmas soporific spell hovering over this enclave of east London.
December was something of a mixed bag for West Ham ahead of the game, with the 3-0 defeat at Chelsea a particular disappointment plus the frustration of having to settle for a draw in another London derby against Crystal Palace in their last appearance at the London Stadium. Nevertheless, in Brighton, struggling just above the drop zone, this was an ideal opportunity to get back on a festive track.
After a very quiet start, Brighton had a half-chance which Danny Welbeck couldn’t get a full connection on, from a dangerous left sided cross from Solly March. Adam Webster then signalled another warning for the slipshod hosts in 26 minutes when, eluding three defenders from a corner, powered a header straight at West Ham keeper Lukasz Fabianski.
The Seagulls almost swooped to go ahead once more – March impressively outpacing Vladimir Coufal via a speculative clearance, but the midfielder’s drive struck the side netting.
The warning signs were blaring for West Ham, increasingly shapeless and lethargic. Of the respective sides, Graham Potter’s men were certainly the more positive – with Welbeck the lone, foraging Seagull up front - enjoying more territorial advantage as a dreary first half drew to a close. They kept going with the busy March firing a decent 20 yard effort which was well saved by Fabianski.
And the visitors from the south coast finally gained reward for their persistence, a minute from the break.
March moved forward and his supply from the left eventually made its way to Neal Maupay, lurking with intent, ten yards out. The former Brentford striker was most alert to possibility and subsequently swivelled to fire home with Hammers’ duo Angelo Ogbonna and Declan Rice appearing to get in each other’s way. That sense of hesitancy was illustrative of such a poor half by the east Londoners and, indeed, the rest of the afternoon.
Moyes opted to shake things up, making a couple of changes at half time, with Andriy Yarmolenko and Manuel Lanzini coming on for Jarrod Bowen and Mark Noble. West Ham were a team in dire need of major urgency across all departments, particularly on the flanks where they had hitherto failed to trouble Brighton.
The Seagulls looked comfortable again in the opening stages of the second half and there seemed little doubt that if they could double their lead, the points would be making their way out of London. As it turned out though, the lumbering Hammers finally eked out an equaliser in 59 minutes – a direct consequence, it must be said, of Moyes’s alterations. Ben Johnson finally had his moment in claret and blue.
From just six yards out, Lanzini tapped the ball into the full-back’s path when a collection of Brighton defenders failed to clear a Yarmolenko cross. The 20 year old calmly tucked in for his first Premier League goal.
Nevertheless, West Ham’s lead lasted a mere ten minutes. Brighton regrouped and, from a quick corner on the left, the ball was swung in and Lewis Dunk showed captain’s bravery by forcing himself into a packed six yard area. Evading Fabian Balbuena, the defender unceremoniously blasted into the roof of Fabianski’s net. It was his 20th goal for Brighton.
Then came Soucek and his timely – if rather unmerited – late arrival. With three Brighton defenders failing to clear a corner from the right, the Czech pounced to head past Brighton keeper Robert Sanchez when he really couldn’t have missed. Even on a day when West Ham struggled to hit the target, looking back, it still seems quite incongruous that they actually managed to score twice.
Thus, the winter blues continue for a weary-looking Hammers, who remain tenth in the table. More questions for Moyes to address when it comes, in particular, to games like this.
West Ham United: Fabianski, Cresswell, Balbuena, Ogbonna, Coufal, Johnson, Noble (Lanzini 46), Soucek, Rice, Bowen (Yarmolenko 46), Haller