West Ham United 3 Southampton 0
Sunday, 23rd May 2021
by Chris Wilkerson
After 38 games of the season, West Ham United finally welcomed home fans back to the London Stadium and treated them to a comfortable 3-0 win that secured a sixth-placed finish, and a trip to Europe as David Moyes led his West Ham side into the Europa League. And to a finish above Tottenham Hotspurs and Arsenal too, finishing above both for the first time since that famous 1985/86 side.With a little tension surrounding the final day, eyes were on the result between Leicester and Spurs, but the tension was lifted by a comfortable scoreline and a quiet second half, so by the time that Declan Rice scored the third, even the most pessimistic of fans had already started to relax.
In a season that deserved maybe even more than Europa League football, the Hammers ended it only two points short of a top four finish. Rather than lament that, we can enjoy the gift this team has been for the fans this season. It was fitting that in a season where skill has been at least matched by commitment and work rate, Pablo Fornals was the star, scoring two and taking an assist for the third in a man of the match performance.
Lukasz Fabianski returned to the side after his warm-up injury away at West Brom, whilst Jarrod Bowen was again brought back in to replace Said Benrahma. The Algerian could feel frustrated to miss out after an important performance prior.
A raucous crowd welcomed the Hammers to the pitch and were treated to an open game. Southampton, so disappointing in the second half of the season, came with no intent to bore their way through one final game. Instead they played aggressive, attacking football, flooding men forward at every opportunity. It was exciting, exposed the hosts on occasion, but also left spaces for the Irons to play in. As they have shown this year, West Ham will expose sides who let that attacking players run at them freely.
That being said, the first half hour was interrupted by more Southampton chances than West Ham ones, Fabianski making good saves and being relieved to see one effort rolls just beyond his goal. That chance fell to Minamino, the on-loan winger slotted in on goal from a counter attack, chipping a diving Fabianski only to see the ball spin slowly away from goal.
It was a warning shot, and one West Ham needed to heed. If they hadn?EUR(TM)t realised it yet, they know knew that the Saints had come to play.
Whilst West Ham came close from a corner where McCarthy almost palmed into his own net, Hasenhuttl?EUR(TM)s men continued to craft chances. It was only moments later that a pass through on goal was thwarted by a Fabianski tackle. Minutes after that, Kyle Walker-Peters was played in on goal by a high diagonal. Fornals tracked him, doing enough to just unbalance the full back as Fabianski made an excellent save from close range to thwart the Saints once more.
It was concerning from a West Ham perspective to see Southampton continue to flood forward and threaten, but on 29 minutes their bubble was burst.
As some fans celebrated a Leicester goal against Tottenham, West Ham went about securing their own fate. A throw down the right wing was flicked on intelligently by Antonio, and Bowen reacted fantastically. Bursting onto the ball, the forward flicked it over one defender before bringing it down in the area and taking on the shot.
The effort wasn?EUR(TM)t struck perfectly, but the accuracy forced a fingertip save from McCarthy. Unfortunately for him, it was the Spaniard Pablo Fornals who reacted first, reaching the ball first and shooting with enough power to nullify the defender?EUR(TM)s block and rifle the ball into the back of the net. Fornals could barely look more overjoyed, running towards the crowd with the ball in his shirt and screaming with delight.
Three minutes later, he?EUR(TM)d done it again. This time Coufal recovered a cross and drove down the right side of the area before playing the ball low towards the penalty spot. Fornals reacted sharply as the ball flew at him, turning his body to pass the ball in on the turn, the ball flying in before the goalkeeper could even react.
Suddenly, any pressure left dissipated. Any Southampton threat went with it too, their momentum shot down by those two quickfire Fornals goals. One marvellous tackle from Dawson as the half came to a close was the closest the away side came to even threatening the West Ham area, the Hammers taking a 2-0 lead into the break and settling nicely into the domain of European football.
The second half fell flat in comparison, the ease of the win starting to become clear. Two very good saves from Fabianski early in the second half really was all that Southampton offered, a blatantly offside goal aside, whilst West Ham?EUR(TM)s football was neat and contained rather than particularly exciting. A lot of credit should go to Angelo Ogbonna, who celebrated his birthday by, one can only assume, taking Danny Ings home in his pocket with him.
There was time for crowd-pleasing substitutions, standing ovations for Antonio and Rice, as well as the same treatment for the oncoming Mark Noble. The captain will go into his last season at the club knowing European football awaits.
With time ticking away, it was all sewn up by a fitting goalscorer. Rice and Soucek had both missed glorious chances from a Cresswell freekick, but soon that was forgotten.
A flick down the line from Fornals fell to Rice, and as Southampton backed away, the midfielder just ran directly at goal under no pressure, the defenders running to deal with possible passing routes. The invitation was set out for the England international, so Rice duly took it, sprinting at goal and rolling it into the back of the net for his second goal of the season.
And so they finish sixth. West Ham United and David Moyes take sixth place, finish above Arsenal and Spurs, dispatch Everton and Leeds with ease and qualify directly for the group stages of the Europa League.
After some dismal years, the fans have been given a gift. And the chairmen have too, a gift horse of European football that this board should truly take advantage of.
That discussion is for another day, not a day where West Ham fans should be celebrating achievement. It feels odd, it?EUR(TM)s certainly rare, but this magnificent season has come with reward. It?EUR(TM)s not always the way. The media may sneer at the Europa League, whilst the arrogance of which the Europa Conference is dismissed is unsurprising, but this is a wonderful reward for players and fans alike.
Football is for more than money, the joy of these games should be not be taken for granted. It?EUR(TM)s nice to see a club in Europe that won?EUR(TM)t. We. Are. Massive.
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Player RatingsLukasz Fabianski
Made vital and good saves in both halves to keep the clean sheet we needed as a platform. Rushed off his line well to make interventions too, something he maybe does not always do.
It?EUR(TM)s Coufal, so it?EUR(TM)s going to be at least a seven out of ten. Another assist, more comfortable defending, more roaming full back with an unstoppable engine. No better signing has been made in the Premier League this season, and the man has arguably been the best right back in the league.
Delivery was good today and he was comfortable defending, even against the pace Southampton countered with. It has been great this season to see a dependable and oft-lamented long-term member of this club have a great season. He has weaknesses, but his strengths have been on show much more often.
That first half tackle was so good for something so simple and not mentioned again on commentary. Good to see him sign permanently, although it can only be hoped that another centre back of quality is brought in to at least challenge his place.
It was one of those games were barely really noticing Ogbonna was a good thing. He just made Danny Ings a non-entity. Not flashy, just solid and controlled defending and besting of a direct opponent.
When the game was not end-to-end, Southampton?EUR(TM)s midfield couldn?EUR(TM)t really do anything to stop Rice. Some early tackles laid the groundwork for a comfortable display, rounded off with a very well taken goal. Looks to have got his sharpness back at a good time for his summer.
As Rice went on and scored, Soucek showed again how dominant he can be as a defensive midfielder. Just stronger and smarter than the Southampton players.
Worked hard all game, naturally, and deserves a lot of credit for the improvisation on the run into the area that ended with the Fornals goal. Then adjusted later on to playing up front, hassling and harrying defenders. Still on the fringes a little, making only 10 passes in his 80 minutes on the pitch.
It doesn?EUR(TM)t always come off for Pablo, especially around goal, but today it did. Both the finishes were perfect, the power beating the defender for the first and the instinctive reaction on the second something to marvel at. Of course, the man has no ego and remained his usual selfless self, topping things off with an assist for Rice too. A joy.
A quieter one again for Jesse, and who knows whether it will be his last for the club. I hope not, all aspects of the transfer being reasonable, and he?EUR(TM)s been a joy to have regardless. A little wasteful today
Injured his foot in a second half tackle and was walking wounded until eventually coming off. The header to Bowen for the first goal was very intelligent football, and he was threatening with the ball at his feet. Not quite a goalscoring threat overall though, but he?EUR(TM)s part of this team and this team works hard however their individual performance is going.
(Replaced Antonio, 68) Never really got into a game, but it was a game that had gone completely flat as it seemed the players waited for the season to end.
(Replaced Bowen, 83) Managed to make a foul that probably should have got him booked but not actually touch the ball at all.
(Replaced Rice, 90) Introduced during injury time so that Rice may take applause from the fans for a wonderful season.
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Match FactsWest Ham United: Lukasz Fabianski, Vladimir Coufal, Aaron Cresswell, Craig Dawson, Angelo Ogbonna, Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek, Jarrod Bowen, Pablo Fornals, Jesse Lingard, Michail Antonio.
Goals: Pablo Fornals 30 Pablo Fornals 33 Declan Rice 86 .
Sent off: None.
Southampton: McCarthy, Walker-Peters (Romeu 60), Vestergaard, Bednarek, Salisu, Redmond, Ward-Prowse, Armstrong, Diallo, Minamino (Tella 62), Ings.
Subs not used: Forster, Stephens, N'Lundulu, Ferry, Djenepo, Walcott, Obafemi.
Booked: Bednarek (48), Diallo (66), Salisu (72).
Sent off: None.
Referee: Martin Atkinson.
Man of the Match: Pablo Fornals.