Premier League
West Ham United 1 Brighton & Hove Albion 1

Wednesday, 1st December 2021
by Chris Wilkerson

It’s six draws in a row with Brighton after a meek performance at the London Stadium saw the Hammers throw away a lead late on to see the game end 1-1.

It?EUR(TM)s also nine games without victory against The Seagulls, and if bogey sides exist, this is no better example. They even equalised with only ten men on the pitch, thanks to a late injury after all substitutions were made.

It mattered not, leaving West Ham three games without a win.


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Coufal came into the side for Cresswell, moving Johnson to left back, whilst Bowen also returned as Masuaku dropped to the bench.

Brighton should have scored early on, Maupay missing a presentable chance to underline just how profligate he and his side can be in front of goal.

Moments later, it was well and truly consigned to history as West Ham won a corner and the most delicate of flicks by Soucek added another to the set-piece highlight reel.

The cross was bent to the front post by Fornals, right in at goal and would have been on target itself had the midfielder not flicked it in. The goalkeeper flew to cover the path of the Fornals delivery, and had no time to adjust with Soucek?EUR(TM)s touch only a couple yards from goal.

It was a game where Brighton kept possession and the Hammers looked like they were willing to accept it, holding them at arm?EUR(TM)s length whilst looking to punish turnovers with sharp counters.

They could have done so a couple of times, but it was not an enjoyable watch as a West Ham fan. What you must wonder is how much control the side really had when allowing possession, and whilst the first half was not a bad example of allowing the opponent the ball in safe areas, the second half looked an example of how it can put unnecessary pressure on your defence.

With that better first half performance came chances, and had they been taken then the plan may well have looked a masterstroke.

Again Bowen was wasteful when presented with a difficult and sharp opportunity, but an opportunity all the same. A Coufal shot from the edge of the area was parried to Bowen, but the winger could not get his feet together to react to it. The criticism is harsh, but his catalogue of wasted chances is starting to stack up.

He and Fornals also tried shots from around the halfway line, with Sanchez 20-30 yards off his line. It seems likely that was not coincidence, more likely an instruction from coaches looking at minor details in the week.


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At the other end, familiar problems were showing up again, as Zouma and Dawson failed to handle the pressing of Brighton. The use of possession at the back has been a notable issue since Ogbonna's injury, with Zouma looking less comfortable on the ball having shifted to the left of a central defensive pairing and Dawson far from Beckenbauer. With Cresswell also out, the side's main passer from the back, the defence lacked the ability to play out.

Where they were helped was by the return of Coufal. In the debate about who should start at right back, Johnson has been favoured due to form and his strength as a one-to-one defender. Coufal is far from lacking there and showed in this game why he should probably claim back his place. It is experience, as much as anything, from a man who knows his game and has the confidence in his forward runs. His crossing is also superior, and he set up multiple opportunities with great delivery from the right.

But Brighton couldn't really find a way to do anything with it, whilst West Ham did look the better side when they did break out and attack. Fornals was unlucky a fantastic volley couldn't find the back of the net, his powerful effort smashing the crossbar and bouncing down to safety after a beautiful West Ham move started by Rice. Coufal's cross was headed perfectly to the Spaniard by Antonio, but fortune was hiding from the midfielder.

The half ended with chances for the away side, a huge one for Brighton too. A two-on-one situation saw Maupay with the ball in the area, and he passed wonderfully to cut out the defenders who had got back to cover and give Moder a one-on-one with Fabianski. It was more luck than judgement for the goalkeeper as the Brighton man smashed it right at him, with it hitting him on the underside and bouncing up off the ground and wide. They were then lucky that Dunk could only head wide having won the ball from the corner.

If the first half had been a little too welcoming of Brighton's style, the second half felt like the red carpet treatment.

West Ham could just not lay a glove on their visitors for the majority of it, and only really gained control just before and then after Brighton's late equaliser.

There was a single moment where it looked like set-pieces were going to drag the side through again. It was a mess of a goal, one eventually correctly ruled out by a lengthy VAR process. Another corner was swung in at Sanchez, and the goalkeeper punched the ball directly at Dawson. It bounced down, rolled onto Duffy and then was bundled back into the goal as the defender stumbled towards it.

The Brighton players all called for a foul, but initial replays showed no handball, no infringement on the goalkeeper and Lallana trying to block Dawson off and being knocked over trying to impede him.

Keener eyes then saw the problem. With Sanchez off his line to punch, Antonio was now stood in an offside position. The ball was knocked ever so slightly onto him by Duffy, but as it was a deflection and not a deliberate, the bounce at goal by Dawson was still technically a pass to Antonio, which meant he was offside.


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They were very lucky, having made a mess of the corner, but the right decision had been made.

For Brighton, the ball became their property. There will be those who defend the West Ham performance and criticise Brighton's inability to create as many chances as it is perceived should come from that type of possession.

But their ability to control the ball forced the home side back and with it being seemingly allowed to them, you are giving them more and more opportunity to find that incisive pass or get that bit of luck.

Bowen had a chance on a counter, Fornals winning possession on the edge of his own area and feeding Benrahma, who ran forward with it and created a good opportunity for Bowen. The forward ran into the area but his effort across goal went wide.

Rice was purring in the middle, winning possession, carrying it forward like a man possessed and showing off flicks and tricks too. There was not a player on either side who appeared close to the midfielder's level. Unfortunately for him, it became clear a few on his own team were only getting further and further away from it.

Benrahma was only there in flashes, although he should get credit for leading some counters on the run. Bowen drifted in and out of it, winning some good freekicks but then disappearing, as well as lacking any ruthless streak in front of goal. Antonio had even less and the influence he had on games during a hot start to the season has waned dramatically.

They were lucky Brighton continue to be a team who waste big chances. This time it was Adam Lallana, who was found by a cutback to the edge of the box. West Ham continue to defend their area so deep that this space is nearly always free, but it baffles the mind where Craig Dawson was running as he went in the opposite direction of the free man and made him even more space and a great shooting channel for goal. Luckily, his first-time effort went harmlessly wide.

With 15 minutes remaining, on came Lanzini and Masuaku, replacing the frustrating Benrahma and also, more surprisingly, the hard work and guile of Fornals. The Spaniard was playing well, having started centrally behind Antonio and then gone out wide to protect Johnson, and doing so effectively. Masuaku replaced him down that side not long after Lamptey had arrived for Brighton, the right back arguably their most dynamic attacking weapon.

As it came to the last ten minutes, West Ham finally found some attacking threat and control of the ball. As is often the case, it was Declan Rice who pushed the side forward. His dribbling was quite sensational as the game got into the latter stages, and he nearly scored after pressing on the front foot. Having won the ball back as Brighton played short, he then received it back from Antonio and tried a disguised shot from the edge of the area, shaping to go far corner but going to the near instead. Sanchez did well to save.


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Moments later, the goalkeeper was excellent again. Lanzini led a fantastic counter attack, keeping the ball under immense pressure on three occasions inside his own half. It finally went wide right to Coufal, who delivered dangerously. Antonio's header at goal was good, but Sanchez was equal to it. The brilliance was in holding it, no mean feat yet a hugely important one as Bowen was sniffing for the rebound.

Lallana was then forced off, and with all substitutions used Brighton went down to ten men.

It mattered not. With seconds left of the 90, Lamptey got down the right hand side and had the beating of Masuaku. His cross was behind Maupay, but the defender easily moved Dawson back and gave himself the space to volley in an acrobatic overhead kick that sailed into the far corner.

Coufal threw himself at the striker to stop him, but he was the only one showing the fight to make it difficult. For a player like Dawson, he will be lucky that the attention will be on Masuaku; the central defender was weak and should have done so much better.

There was still time for chances. West Ham now attacked with urgency, and Rice carved the Brighton midfield open with a darting run and then did the same to the defence but with a wonderful pass. It cut them apart and fed Bowen into the area inside the box, but the shot with his right was abysmal.

The corner that came from it found Zouma's head, but his effort was blocked on the line by Cucurella. Late pressure was then wasted by the poor touch of Antonio and the final whistle went, ending a third poor performance in a row.

As with the last game, the defensive structure was far from poor, but allowing so much pressure to be heaped on you only increases the chances of conceding. It was somewhat acceptable against Manchester City, but the last three games have looked a little like a team clinging on to sparse points in a relegation fight.

Clearly something is missing, with the run of Europa League games surely contributing to heavy legs as we approach the daunting December fixture period.

With Chelsea next, and performances at a low, it would look likely to be four games without a win, and it will be a huge task against a team fighting for the title if it is not to became three losses in four games.


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Player Ratings

Lukasz Fabianski
One clutch save, even with luck, was about all he was really challenged by. Should also get credit for an incredible kick out that was a fired pass to launch a counter attack.


Vladimir Coufal
Not a triumphant result, but a triumphant return in that his performance reminded anyone watching what a good player he is. Maybe the rest will have some long-term benefit for him, whilst his return made Bowen a better player and helped the passing on the right side of the pitch. His crossing was an added weapon too. It's harsh on Johnson, but he hasn't got that part of his game yet and Coufal does.


Ben Johnson
Will be frustrated the goal came down his side, but he had been good defensively for the other 89 minutes and wasn't the man easily beaten by Lamptey. Needs to improve in possession and it is that that will cost him his place. Looked more confident getting forward today, but then had to slow attacks to use his right.


Craig Dawson
Not good today. That goal was poor defending, the defence was poor on corners and Brighton had chances to win that game.


Kurt Zouma
Shaky on the press, and it is evident he is lesser when playing on the left. Didn't have the important error of Dawson but wasn't good either.


Declan Rice
He is at another level. Deserved a goal, deserved an assist, deserved to win that game. Arguably the best in attack, midfield and defence today. Just phenomenal.


Tomas Soucek
I suspect now he's scored, people will think he's great again, but he has been consistently good defending the backline and a shaky defence would be a mess without him protecting them. The goal was smart because he could have put so much on that but tried to be deft, which worked and got the goal. Active as the shield that stopped Brighton making too many inroads with all that possession.


Said Benrahma
Nowhere near good enough in possession today. 56% pass accuracy, but he did dribble out well on a few occasions to start counters. It's so frustrating, and he is arguably suffering because the attack looks slightly worse in all areas. He doesn't deserve to remain the scapegoat, but Lanzini deserves a chance.


Pablo Fornals
A return to form, with an excellent corner and coming so close with a wonderful volley. Started counter attacks with good tackling and smart passing, would have defended Lamptey better than Masuaku did too.


Jarrod Bowen
A better performance if you ignore the Brighton penalty area. Looked improved for Coufal's running, the overlaps and just the presence of Coufal a big help. Carried the ball well, but he has missed big chances again and has to be more ruthless. His defensive contribution gets him a 6 when his poor finishing nearly got him a 5.


Michail Antonio
His energy levels look depleted, his touch is notably poor too. He did well to get on some of Coufal's crosses and it's possible that delivery will bring him back to life. He also got a little more involved in the early counters and was more accurate with his passing. But he is also not anywhere near the threat he is at his best and the team is being dragged down by the lack of alternative to him, both because it means he cannot function with full energy and because he can't really be replaced.



Substitutes

Manuel Lanzini
(Replaced Benrahma, 76) Just confidently keeping possession ticking over and looks to have regained the strength and speed to dribble away and keep possession. Not enough pace to be the counter threat of Benrahma, but the ability to keep the ball when he is caught and then use it more effectively than his counterparts on current form.


Arthur Masuaku
(Replaced Fornals, 76) Didn't offer an attacking threat and failed at his defensive job.


Alphonse Areola
Did not play.


Issa Diop
Did not play.


Mark Noble
Did not play.


Alex Kral
Did not play.


Andriy Yarmolenko
Did not play.



Match Facts

West Ham United: Lukasz Fabianski, Vladimir Coufal, Ben Johnson, Craig Dawson, Kurt Zouma, Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek, Said Benrahma, Pablo Fornals, Jarrod Bowen, Michail Antonio.

Goals: Tomas Soucek 5                  .

Booked: Michail Antonio 90          .

Sent off: None.

Brighton & Hove Albion: Sanchez, Veltman (Lamptey 70), Webster (Duffy 36), Dunk, Cucurella, Moder, Bissouma, Lallana, Sarmiento (March 13), Trossard, Maupay.

Subs not used: Steele, Burn, Mwepu, Gross, Mac Allister, Locadia.

Goals: Maupay (89).

Booked: .

Sent off: None.

Referee: Chris Kavanagh.

Attendance: 59,626.

Man of the Match: Declan Rice.