West Ham United 2 Southampton 3
Sunday, 26th December 2021
by Chris Wilkerson
West Ham's troubling December continued this Boxing Day, losing 3-2 at home to Southampton and falling below Tottenham into 6th after a poor performance and error after error cost them defeat at the London Stadium.It was a result and ninety minutes that proved the disparity between the first-choice players in this squad and their replacements, with Issa Diop again culpable in defence for the second game running.
The Hammers conceded an early goal far too easily and, despite drawing level twice, could not cut out the mistakes at the back, falling to defeat and giving the visiting Southampton their first win in seven games.
With games coming thick and fast, the side has too many players in poor form for one reason or another and too few options to replace them, the makeshift back four that has done so well in cup competitions being exposed in tougher tests over the last few weeks.
Coufal returned to the defence and Moyes reverted to a back four for the Christmas fixture, with Benrahma, Fornals and Vlasic playing behind Jarrod Bowen in attack.
The early stages were bossed by Southampton, a team who never really looked in great form themselves throughout the game but were gifted opportunities by a home side who looked a shell of the side that started the season.
After nine minutes of heavy possession for Ralph Hasenh? 1/4 ttl's side, they carved West Ham open with the most basic of moves. A long kick into midfield by Forster was flicked on easily and suddenly the Southampton attack had run at the defence. When Walker-Peters got the ball down the left, the right-footed full back was allowed to cut onto his favoured foot on the edge of the area and roll the ball across the line to Elyounoussi. Neither Rice nor Soucek could get to the winger as he drilled it low into the bottom corner and gave his side a very much deserved lead.
It took until nearly the 20-minute mark for West Ham to settle into anything close to a rhythm, but even then it was a first half with little idea or patterns to play.
Fornals struggled, as bad as he has for some time, his passing close to abysmal. The manager has favoured others recently, and the only point the Spaniard proved in his performance was the manager's. His poor showing was not an isolated one, with Rice, Benrahma and Soucek nowhere near their best. Vlasic and Bowen were a little better, but neither had the influence required to grapple a way back into the game. Frustration boiled over for the captain, Rice making a silly challenge from behind in the Southampton half to earn himself a booking and a suspension for the trip to Watford in two days' time.
His first half display was full of incredulous cries and flailing arms of frustration, but it only gave the impression of a player whose faults could never be his own. The captaincy demands more, as does the ethic required to make a cohesive team. In the spotlight as he now is, he must do better.
The only glimmer of hope came from sloppy play from Southampton, who for all their fast start and the 1-0 lead looked far removed from a good team themselves. Vlasic pounced on a loose ball on the halfway line to suddenly spring a counter that gave West Ham a 3v2 at the back. From the middle of the park to the edge of the area, the Croat looked controlled, but chose to turn and shoot himself when a simple pass to Benrahma would have had the Algerian through on goal in a much better position. His shot was saved by Forster and a chance wasted when chances were at a minimum.
The attack toiled without success and even corners failed West Ham, all bending in on goal and finding that, at 6 foot 7, the goalkeeper was well-equipped to deal with any crosses close to him.
Half-time came as a relief, in that it finished the torture of the opening 45 minutes and allowed the manager a chance to change a side that looked nowhere near the required quality.
As the match restarted, Vlasic and Fornals were replaced by Antonio and Lanzini, with the striker able to give a focal point and allow Bowen a chance to wreak havoc down the flank. Lanzini, assured in possession even when all else fails, played one short of double Fornals' passes in his 45 minutes, and whereas the Spaniard completed 59%, the Argentine protected the ball and completed 94% of his.
The two subs combined almost instantly in the Southampton area to give Antonio half an opening, and whilst his shot was weak, it gave a glimpse of a threat they could carry onto the field.
In the end, it was Antonio who got West Ham back into the game just five minutes after the restart. A deep corner to the back post was headed towards goal by Craig Dawson, dropping to where Antonio had stayed standing still whilst all others moved around him. His reactions were sharp and his instincts were true, turning to head the ball in from close range and into the back of the net to equalise. VAR checked, but the boot of the defender was just behind the body of the striker. It was Antonio's first goal in nine games, and the first time in as many that he had looked sharp inside the opponent's box.
West Ham dominated the ball from here and looked set to take the game to Southampton and banish the first half with a second half comeback. Prying and prodding at the Saints' defence, there was always the chance the counter could cost them.
When it did, it was a goal full of needless decisions and ridiculous error.
Around half way, Broja received a ball with his back to Diop. The Frenchman, as is his inclination, refused to just stand and force the striker to play, instead barrelling in to try regain possession. Broja turned him with ease and drove off towards the West Ham area.
It brought Dawson across, but the defender was already a step behind in a footrace he was never likely to win. He got close enough to go shoulder-to-shoulder with the striker, but misfortune only followed. Both started to tumble, but Dawson, struggling to stay with him, fell across the path of Southampton man just as they bundled into the area. The referee did not give a penalty, but a VAR check followed quickly. He was sent to the screen, saw the incident clearly and rightly agreed that the defender took down his opponent in the box.
Ward-Prowse stepped up and smashed the penalty into the bottom corner to restore his side's lead.
The side didn't deserve to go behind based on the balance of play, but they set themselves up to rely on Diop and Dawson defending any breaks, and Diop has proven time and again just how inconsistent his decision-making is. As with Tottenham in the week, his error was as unnecessary as it was costly.
Rather than falter, West Ham carried on as they had before, dominating the ball and territory as they went searching for the two goals they needed now to win the game.
It was only four minutes later that they had one, an equaliser coming from Benrahma.
The attention will go to Bowen, but the pass out to him from Soucek was equally impressive, perfect in weight and precision to get Bowen running into the box at the Southampton defence. Bowen played his part phenomenally, setting up his man to go down the line then cutting back onto his left and passing it across goal to near the penalty spot. As the ball was played, it was Benrahma running into the centre from the left with no defender close as he passed it into the net and wheeled away in celebration.
It looked like West Ham would have 25 minutes to chase a winner and enthusiasm rose again.
The problem was, the home side could not stop shooting themselves in the foot. A soft freekick given against Soucek in the middle of his own half gave set-piece specialist the chance to test the Santa Clause of defences. The gift was given, Ward-Prowse finding the head of Bednarek in the box and the centre back flicking the ball on and into the bottom corner, the big defender getting in between Dawson and Soucek, his header leaving Fabianski planted with little chance.
There was 20 minutes left and this time West Ham could not climb the comeback mountain another time. Benrahma was guilty of awful decision making again and again around the Southampton box, and it was a relief when he was replaced by Yarmolenko. With a chasm of wasted opportunities there to be filled, Masuaku spent the last few minutes of stoppage time turning promising positions into pointless exercise
The side certainly improved in the second half, at least going forward, but sloppy defending and disjointed attacking again cost them dearly. You cannot afford to make simple but huge errors on a consistent basis, it will undermine anything good you do.
What this was, earnestly, was a reminder that West Ham do not have the squad that can compete for depth with the money-sides in the Premier League. A tight schedule that has left them with little rest has not helped, especially as Southampton had had two Premier League postponements in a row, 11 days of rest, whilst the Hammers had played twice.
January will be needed, once again, to add an injection of quality and impetus into a side that is stuttering right now. Whilst kneejerk reactions have talked of sides "sussing out" Moyes's approach, the drop from Ogbonna, Zouma and Cresswell to Diop, Dawson and Masuaku is a chasm that cannot be underestimated. The former fights for European football, the latter would fight to stay in the division.
Either way, the manager has the task now to refresh this side as in two days' time they face yet another rested opponent in Watford who haven't played since the tenth of December - West Ham have played four games in that time.
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Player RatingsLukasz Fabianski
Beaten three times, but not given much chance by his defence in front of him.
Lost a little something going forward, but probably isn't helped when the option in front of him keeps changing.
In dangerous positions, he turned promise into absolutely nothing on multiple occasions. He is not good enough in attack to make up for how bad he can be in defence. Will be lucky to start again.
His presence in the box and skill in the air hands Antonio a much-needed goal on a plate, but will be disappointed with how he dealt with Broja on the penalty. Maybe give Ward-Prowse credit for the third goal, his delivery is as good as there is and landed perfectly.
Another performance where pretty much any run of the mill centre back in this league would have been a huge improvement and arguably meant the points aren't lost. Shambolic decision making, but the most frustrating part is he has not progressed or learned. These decisions were there before Moyes, and he clearly has not fixed his game under coaching from the boss.
Worst performance of the season by some way. If there is an arrogance creeping into his game - and some of his first half gesticulations suggested a petulance he must curb - then it has cost him today with a performance not befitting of captaincy. The booking was foolish and he had no strong influence on the game defensively or going forward.
Unlucky to give away the foul on the third goal, he appeared to be punished because he was bigger than the man he was up against. The pass to Bowen was delightful, and he was efficient in defence.
Looked the best of the front four until he blew the biggest chance of the first half. He did more than Benrahma and Fornals, but the manager will not forgive someone being too selfish to waste a chance for the team and was likely replaced for that.
Nothing worked, and he was a big reason as to why the first half was so bad. Even in times where he could not get into games, he was usually smart with the ball. Today, Fornals was sloppy in an inexcusable way.
That's a 5/10 even though he scored. His use of the ball around the penalty area was criminal all game. He took the goal exceptionally well, but a rewatch of that game will show a man who found excellent positions with time and space, but chose the wrong option and displayed awful execution.
Comes out with some credit. Not used to the physical side of the lone forward but was sharp and ready for quick counters and pouncing on mistakes. In the second half, down the right, he was creative and made the goal for Benrahma.
(Replaced Vlasic, 46) Good goal, mostly because it was taken sharply and in a way he has not looked capable of in recent times. Didn't have a huge impact from there, but at least gave a physical presence and disrupted the Southampton defence.
(Replaced Fornals, 46) The basics of keeping possession and moving it on forward should not be such a revelation, but were so much better from him than anyone had showed in the first half.
(Replaced Benrahma, 81) Too slow and made poor decisions in dangerous positions a couple times.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Match FactsWest Ham United: Lukasz Fabianski, Vladimir Coufal, Arthur Masuaku, Craig Dawson, Issa Diop, Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek, Nikola Vlasic, Pablo Fornals, Said Benrahma, Jarrod Bowen.
Goals: Michail Antonio 49 Said Benrahma 65 .
Sent off: None.
Southampton: Forster, Livramento, Salisu, Bednarek, Walker-Peters, Elyounoussi, Romeu (Diallo 90+3). Ward-Prowse, Redmond, Walcott (S. Armstrong 89), Broja (Adams 81).
Subs not used: Caballero, Long, A. Armstrong, Perraud, Simeu, Valery.
Goals: Elyounoussi (8), Ward-Prowse (pen 61), Bednarek (70).
Booked: Bednarek, Broja, Walker-Peters.
Sent off: None.
Referee: Kevin Friend.
Man of the Match: Jarrod Bowen.