Premier League
West Ham United 1 Crystal Palace 1

Tuesday, 15th December 2020
by Chris Wilkerson

A cagey affair at the London Stadium saw West Ham rescue a point from behind against Crystal Palace, although they may feel it should have been more.

The Hammers were second best for large parts of the game, but a second half dismissal for Christian Benteke, who had opened the scoring, gave the home side twenty minutes to attack their ten-man opponents. Instead, Palace stood strong and held on to a point they thoroughly deserved.


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David Moyes's side came into the game with the chance to jump back to fifth in the table, and the manager was forced into one change from the side that beat Leeds United on Friday night as Balbuena picked up a groin strain and was replaced by Issa Diop.

The game was slow and deliberate throughout, quite the archetype of a Moyes versus Hodgson match-up. Neither team were throwing men forward, both retreated to deep defences when their opponents had the ball. Both sides were confident on the ball, highlighted by how well Bowen, Zaha and Eze moved with possession and threatened.

But it was a battle the defenders won consistently, Vladimir Coufal in particular having a quite fantastic game up against the Crystal Palace attack.

Any openings were minor, chances to create chances rather than anything that called either goalkeeper into action. It wasn't until the 13th minute that anything of real note happened, Benteke peeling far post to tower above Diop and meet a cross, only to head harmlessly wide. It is the kind of contest the French defender rarely enjoys; Diop is more at home on the deck than battling in the air.

At the other end, Fornals came close when meeting a fantastic Coufal cross, his header wide from a difficult opportunity.

It was really as little as that to note from the opening half hour, although Aaron Cresswell nearly injuring himself by landing on the ridiculous astro-turf around the pitch will have raised the ire of many a West Ham fan who has less than kind words to offer about the London Stadium.

West Ham were playing aimlessly, the visitors controlling the majority of possession and looking the only side likely to create much of anything.


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In the end, it was the freedom to have the ball as much as anything else that created their opener. Joel Ward was allowed as much time and space as he wanted on the right side to pick out a cross into the area, a cross brilliantly met by Benteke, stooping low to power a header at goal that flew past Fabianski and gave Hodgson's side a lead. Whilst it may be kind to say they deserved it, they were definitely the side making more of the game.

West Ham were poor, flashes of energy from Bowen and Benrahma the best they could create, with Bowen forcing a good but comfortable save as the half-time break approached. Haller was easily marshalled by Dann and Kouyate, the ex-West Ham man again excelling in the centre of defence.

They were lucky to go in only the one goal behind too. Andros Townsend dribbled into the area at great speed and pulled the ball back to Benteke, whose backheel flick rolled directly to Fabianski with the striker 6 yards from goal and free to shoot.

The West Ham manager reacted in the break, replacing the quiet Fornals with Manuel Lanzini and moving the Argentine into the centre and Benrahma out to the left. Lanzini slotted into the role very well, linking with the two deep midfielders much better than Benrahma and linking attack and defence, but the Algerian's half was much quieter for being pushed wide.

A quiet second half was soon electrified by a moment of absolute magic. First credit must go to Coufal once more, the right back barrelling down the wing to create pressure. The ball was worked centrally, but eventually rolled back out to the wide right where Coufal floated a cross into the area.

The ball was behind Haller, but the big striker, so poor before this, rose into the air and acrobatically met the ball with an overhead kick that roared off his right boot and into the top corner to give Guaita no chance and West Ham an equaliser.

It was barely deserved, even if the Hammers had started to look a little more fluent with Lanzini in the middle.


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In a game of chess like this, neither side reacted with any sudden impetus. The banks of four protecting each goal were quickly returned to. It wasn't until the 70th minute that the home side were emboldened.

As he had in the first half, Benteke climbed to challenge for a long clearance and his arm went across and into Soucek's face as he did. Booked for similar in the opening 45, this time Benteke was off, a second yellow for the exact same offence. It was certainly harsh, there was clearly no intent, but each time the striker had caught the defending player in the face with his elbow.

What it did was curtail the away side's ambitions and put the onus on West Ham to go force the play. The pressure was constant as the time ticked away, but often at arm's length. 10 men they have had, but Crystal Palace had not lost in the last 27 games in which they had scored first; this is a resilient and organised side.

And those two words could be easily used to sum both sides up. Resilient and organised, they offered little else in a game no neutrals will have been sad to miss.

With that it ended 1-1, a fair reflection of the game and the balance of play, though Palace will feel aggrieved to have lost their striker.

For West Ham, it is their best 13 games to open a Premier League season, 21 points and 7th place in the table. Chelsea come next, a side on the back of two consecutive defeats and surely fired up by a manager who must be expecting more.


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Player Ratings

Lukasz Fabianski
Not a game where either goalkeeper was regularly troubled, the one real effort to react to was the one that beat him for the opening goal.


Vladimir Coufal
As good a defensive performance as you'll see this season from a Premier League full back. Zaha and Eze danced around the ball as much as they liked, Coufal just made sure to tackle them when they tried to do something with it. The assist was deserved too, a cross into the right area and not his only one. Endlessly overlaps too.


Aaron Cresswell
His radar was off with his crossing, he slowed down attacks by always taking an extra touch and the Palace goal came from the right where Ward had it far too easy. Whilst he was reasonably fine, a level of sharpness just looked to be missing.


Issa Diop
Looked uncomfortable against Benteke, no surprise considering a bit of rust and the Belgian being the exact type of striker Diop struggles with. He was otherwise fine and didn't look a man to be jettisoned.


Angelo Ogbonna
The better of the pair, Ogbonna had his usual control and assurance. Dealt with everything Palace threw at him with a level of ease.


Declan Rice
Took a lot of responsibility on the ball as well as defending in front of the defence very well, especially as he often made dispossessing Zaha look easy. Brought the ball out from defence on the run, made considerably more passes than any other West Ham player and hit a lovely long-range effort too.


Tomas Soucek
Whilst his attacking instincts were limited, he fought well in the middle and bailed out the defence, most notably down the left when Zaha looked like a real threat in the West Ham area.


Pablo Fornals
Quiet once more, yet he still had a good chance at one end whilst making the most interceptions in the team with only 45 minutes football. You will never get anything less than full effort and discipline from Pablo, but the change in team shape hasn't suited him quite so well as the 5-man defence.


Jarrod Bowen
Tailed off as the game went on, Bowen gets a lot of credit for being the only one of the attacking players who looked dangerous and full of intent when attacking the Palace defence.


Said Benrahma
Looked to be finding some nice pockets of space in the first half, but only in flashes. Nothing really came off for him and he struggled to influence the game when moved to the left.


Sebastien Haller
A vital goal and one of magic, but his play wasn't good outside of that. Palace marshalled him well and both defenders were the type to like a bit of a battle. A little less his fault this time, the pieces around him were not playing particularly well either.



Substitutes

Manuel Lanzini
(Replaced Fornals, 45) He influenced the game in a rather subtle way, just helping bridge the gaps in the side and linking play very well as he drifted back and forth, left and right. He made the side better, which is what you're looking for with a substitute coming on.


Andriy Yarmolenko
(Replaced Bowen, 80) A harsh judgement for a 10-minute cameo, but he didn't get to the pace of the game and was ineffective.


Robert Snodgrass
(Replaced Benrahma, 88) Not on long enough to influence proceedings.


Darren Randolph
Did not play.


Ryan Fredericks
Did not play.


Craig Dawson
Did not play.


Mark Noble
Did not play.



Match Facts

West Ham United: Lukasz Fabianski, Vladimir Coufal, Aaron Cresswell, Issa Diop, Angelo Ogbonna, Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek, Pablo Fornals, Jarrod Bowen, Said Benrahma, Sebastien Haller.

Goals: Sebastien Haller  55                  .

Booked: None.

Sent off: None.

Crystal Palace: Guaita, Ward, Dann, Kouyate, van Aanholt, Townsend (Schlupp 85), Milivojevic, McArthur, Eze (Ayew 76), Zaha, Benteke.

Subs not used: Butland, Mitchell, Tomkins, Riedewald, Batshuayi.

Goals: Benteke (35).

Booked: Benteke, Milivojevic.

Sent off: None.

Referee: David Coote.

Attendance: 0.

Man of the Match: Vladimir Coufal.