West Bromwich Albion 1 West Ham United 3
Wednesday, 19th May 2021
by Chris Wilkerson
It has been a very long time that fans have been forced to watch their teams away from football stadiums. It may have been just short of 6,000 Baggies in attendance at the Hawthorns, but it was enough to remind us all of what football has missed during this difficult time.And on the night they returned, for the first time this season, a tense and somewhat ugly game was in the end settled by two late goals to give West Ham a 3-1 win. The Hammers came from behind after missing a first minute penalty, but even as far from their best as they were, they deserved their three points. Goals for Soucek, Ogbonna and Antonio settled things up and all but secured West Ham European football next season.
It is worth remembering that this is Vladimir Coufal?EUR(TM)s first game in English football in front of fans, if you want some perspective for how long grounds have been stripped of their greatest asset. It led West Ham into a game where an extra variable made things all the harder to predict. A frankly awful West Brom have given Sam Allardyce his first Premier League relegation ?EUR" oh to have been the team to put that final nail in ?EUR" but with the pressure off and the return of their support, the game looked increasingly awkward.
The Hammers were buoyed by Tottenham?EUR(TM)s loss earlier in the day, giving Moyes?EUR(TM)s side the chance to open a three-point gap on their London rivals. With one game to go, a single point guarantees a sixth-placed finish. That joy was soon tempered by a warm-up injury to Fabianski, with Randolph deputising.
Still, this was a big chance for West Ham, and they started like it too, winning a penalty inside 40 seconds. A sloppy pass back to the goalkeeper from just inside the defender?EUR(TM)s half, Fornals forcing him to turn back to goal, was anticipated and intercepted by Antonio. He drove into the box, ran across the goalkeeper and was taken to ground for a clear penalty.
Up stepped the captain Declan Rice, and if only it had been the club?EUR(TM)s captain instead. The shot wasn?EUR(TM)t bad, hit well, but bounced off the base of the post and wide to give West Brom an early reprieve. It gave them energy, a little momentum, whilst at the very least Rice was a little out of sorts afterwards.
The standard of the match was poor for the first half and full of open spaces and misplaced passes. Whilst West Brom seemed comfortable fighting in defence, West Ham looked quite the opposite. Their game was littered with silly mistakes that have not appeared often throughout this campaign.
You could argue the return of fans had transported this side back the form of relegation battlers, the position they were in the last time us average folk got to watch them close up. A lovely Benrahma shot and a good move involving Lingard and Coufal were all West Ham really had to show for the 45 minutes between Rice?EUR(TM)s miss and stoppage time of the first half.
That does forget the fact Craig Dawson tried to score with an overhead kick. Some things need to be pointed out and enjoyed. Other than that, West Ham had little to enjoy. They were poor, just not quite right, and eventually were punished in bizarre circumstances.
West Brom?EUR(TM)s opener was a freak, no doubt about that. Pereira curled a corner at goal, right at the goal, and right at Randolph. The goalkeeper elected to punch, however the big Czech midfielder in front of him was up first and up just enough to flick it on, flick it over Randolph?EUR(TM)s swinging hand and into his own net.
Soon Randolph was redeemed, making a sharp reaction save after a deflected shot in the box, and he performed well across the game. The rest of the half was open, with West Brom edging it, but it?EUR(TM)s unsurprising in the season they?EUR(TM)ve had that they just could not see things out to half time.
As stoppage time ticked away, a Fornals cross from the left bent round and dropped to the toes of Benrahma. Near the byline, the Algerian was composed enough to drive it across goal in the 4 yard gap between defence and goalkeeper. It evaded everyone except for that big Czech midfielder once more, tapping into an empty net to give his side parity. VAR checked, but the midfielder was always behind the ball.
Half-time and level terms set the game for a big second half. West Brom were, to their credit, giving it a go and looking for more than just to protect a point. The fact they lost will surely fuel Allardyce?EUR(TM)s defensive mantra further ?EUR" although his announced resignation at the end of the game was exactly fitting with his character.
It was the home side who came out looking up for the fight again, and West Ham just trying to live with it. European football may be there for them, but this side still show in games like this, regularly too, that there are weaknesses that could see one good season followed by a bad one.
Randolph stood up to the test, the big early chance falling to West Brom. A long throw seemed to bounce off Antonio?EUR(TM)s head and to the ground with players confused. Randolph wasn?EUR(TM)t, and his alert goalkeeping kept the side level when it so easily could have been different.
There were signs of life, Soucek heading across goal from a corner and seeing Antonio inches away from a touch that would have given his side the lead. At the other end, West Brom were nearly allowed to score as West Ham made a mess of clearing the ball in their own area again and again, under little pressure too.
Cresswell barely cleared with his right foot, and then soon showed how good that left peg can be. 30 yards from goal, everyone in the box ready for a cross, the full back instead smashed one at the near post and caught the goalkeeper stranded. Unfortunately for the left back, it was directly at that post and bounced wide to safety.
Things were flat. Lingard was poor, Rice was only showing glimpses of his ability, Cresswell was being targeted at the back. Eventually the manager went to his bench, replacing the effective and effervescent Benrahma with 20 minutes to go, Bowen coming on. It seemed a little harsh, but the manager clearly has ideas of what he needs, and as much as Lingard drifted, he was responsible defensively.
It was a worry that a team this flat would still force little movement off the bench; these options cannot be trusted and a few will surely be sold.
The energy of the substitute who did come on was a difference maker. Quiet in his first ten minutes, Bowen?EUR(TM)s running sparked the late revival. A run and pass through to Fornals nearly saw West Ham take the lead. The run across from right into the centre dragged defenders with him and Fornals from central to left to meet the pass. It was just a little too far in front of him and the Spaniard?EUR(TM)s stretch was only enough to force a shot right at the legs of Johnstone in the Albion goal.
It soon mattered little. Cresswell, whose corners had been poor all night, delivered a fast one to the back post and Angelo Ogbonna was free to run at it inside the six yard box and head into an empty net. The relief was palpable, the worries of 2015/16 fading away.
There was no fight left in the hosts and soon they were 3-1 down. This time it was a counter attack, led by that irrepressible Spaniard. He a 50/50 on the edge of his area, won the ball once more and ran forward. Into the West Brom half, he rolled it in front of Lingard and then made the perfect wide run to drag a defender with him. That left Lingard on the ball and Antonio making a run with only one defender ahead of them.
The striker pointed where he wanted it, made his run and Lingard rolled it to him perfectly for Antonio to just smash into the goal and confirm the three points. He also became only the fifth West Ham player to score 10+ goals in consecutive seasons and drew level on Premier League goals with Mark Noble, the pair now one short of Paolo Di Canio?EUR(TM)s record of 47.
It was an end that ended up slightly flattering the flat Hammers, but the victory was theirs to take and they did so with aplomb in the end.
And so, with one game to go, with West Ham fans returning to the ground at the weekend, a single point is enough to confirm a finish above Tottenham and Everton to take sixth. Seventh would be likely even with defeat, Everton with an eight-goal deficit to overcome and a match against Manchester City.
Regardless, and with that mild but expected disappointment of not making the top four behind us, whatever happens on Sunday cannot change a fantastic season. The fans, the players and the manager deserve to finish with a bang, deserve Europa League football and deserve the warmth and joy of thousands of West Ham fans celebrating a crazy year together on Sunday.
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Player RatingsDarren Randolph
Called to in an emergency again ?EUR" and Fabianski?EUR(TM)s injuries are starting to tot up ?EUR" he may have done better on the goal. The deflection is annoying and unfortunate, and Soucek is really tall, but there are goalkeepers that would have cleared out any player in his way to stop that. Still, he recovered to make two good and vital saves.
Rinse and repeat from Mr Coufal. His first taste of English fans and up against the player who caused him most problems in the reverse in Pereira. He was his usual self, robust but with finesse, energetic and up and down the flank all game. Contributed well at both ends.
Defensively suspect at times, he made up for it with the corner that set up Ogbonna. It was a beautifully hit corner, and he was also desperately unlucky not to score with that freekick. Was got at a few times defending, but also showed good habits of a no-fuss defender by doing the sly things like blocking runs and using his body to impede people as fairly as he could.
Give Craig Dawson a game against Hal Robson-Kanu and he is going to swagger through the game. A big lump of a forward won?EUR(TM)t have fun with Dawson, who is as old-fashioned a centre back as there is in the league, short of a broken nose.
Sloppier on the ball than he has been for a long time, a couple of silly and misplaced passes, he was otherwise in good control and then the icing on the cake was a goal. A little rusty but notably helps the whole defence settle.
Dec made some good runs in the second half, but he looks a little unfit. These games are ideal for him in terms of the summer, but he isn?EUR(TM)t his sharpest yet. The penalty was a little unlucky, but then it?EUR(TM)s a penalty, it?EUR(TM)s a big target from not far out.
The goal was exactly the kind he scores. Well, one of two. He?EUR(TM)s either dominating in the air or somewhere in the box where defenders have lost him. This was the latter, pulling away to the far post as everyone else watched to see what might happen. He was rewarded for that, and his aerial presence at the back was vital. Won eight headers, double that of Ogbonna, and fought in the middle too. Passing wasn?EUR(TM)t always sharp and was tackled a couple times in the middle when he could have done better, but he?EUR(TM)s proving himself to be more like an inelegant Vieira than any sort of Fellaini clone.
Faded a touch in the second half but buzzed with energy and ingenuity in a way few others did. The pass for the equaliser was exquisite for so many reasons. A fine margin of error, the vision to do it and the composure to take that ball down and pick the right pass. His two big moments in the last two games will go a long way to confirming European football when his teammates had shown their fatigue.
For long stretches, it was another game where Jesse couldn?EUR(TM)t quite take control and seemed to be short of where he needed to be. It is interesting that he came alive a little when Benrahma came off, as if the defensive work rate and discipline of Bowen allowed him to step forward. The composure and run for the third was excellent and the sign of his quality.
He is rarely as neat as Lingard or as skilful as Benrahma, but he works harder than both, makes tackles and interceptions and just defends all over the pitch, whilst having the intelligence to quickly know his next pass when he wins it back. The third goal doesn?EUR(TM)t happen without his hard work and smart pass. The second came from a shot he forced the goalkeeper to save for the corner. The first came from his cross that fell to Benrahma. Should be one of the names in the picture for player of the season, but will be overlooked by those who just don?EUR(TM)t seem to get him.
For large parts of the game, Antonio was frustrating and frustrated. Whether through his fault or others, his first minute winning of the penalty was about all he could look at proudly for a long time. But he did consistently run channels and lead counter attacks, tried to work back when others had gone ahead of him, and took his goal perfectly. Considering he really should have had an assist to go with his goal, so perfectly did he win that penalty, his performance should maybe be looked at more positively.
(Replaced Benrahma, 72) Slow start but burst into life to give Fornals that big chance and was disciplined as ever chasing back to defend.
(Replaced Fornals, 71) Introduced in order to waste a few, precious seconds.
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Match FactsWest Ham United: Darren Randolph, Vladimir Coufal, Aaron Cresswell, Craig Dawson, Angelo Ogbonna, Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek, Said Benrahma, Jesse Lingard, Pablo Fornals, Michail Antonio.
Goals: Tomas Soucek 45 Angelo Ogbonna 82 Michail Antonio 88 .
Booked: Angelo Ogbonna 34 Craig Dawson 87 .
Sent off: None.
West Bromwich Albion: Johnstone, Furlong, Bartley, Ajayi, Townsend, Gallagher, Yokuslu (Grant 85), Maitland-Niles (Diangana 69), Pereira, Robson-Kanu (Diagne 89), Phillips.
Subs not used: Button, Peltier, O'Shea, Gardner-Hickman, King, Robinson.
Goals: Pereira (27).
Booked: Johnstone (2), Yokusu (41).
Sent off: None.
Referee: Michael Oliver.
Man of the Match: Pablo Fornals.