Brentford 0 West Ham United 1
Saturday, 7th January 2023
by Chris Wilkerson
It wasn’t much of a spectacle, but in the unrelenting rain, West Ham made it through the third round of the FA Cup with a 1-0 victory at Brentford.In a game that will not live long in the memory, a late rifle from range by Benrahma was enough to win the tie, the 79th-minute strike West Ham's first shot on target.
The game was awful, with each team producing one shot on target and the level of attacking play beyond dreadful. Brentford will blame rotation - their side was significantly different from their Premier League XIs - whilst West Ham won't care in the slightest. So difficult has it been to get results that two games without defeat, a first domestic win since October 24th will be grasped like the miracle it felt.
David Moyes made four changes to the starting XI from Wednesday's 2-2 Premier League draw at Leeds United. Emerson, Angelo Ogbonna, Michail Antonio and Ben Johnson came in, with Thilo Kehrer, Pablo Fornals, Gianluca Scamacca and Vladim?-r Coufal missing out, the latter two with injuries the boss seemed unconcerned by in post-match comments.
This meant a return to wing backs, a system the manager clearly feels is a necessity to match up to Brentford, although how true that was once he saw their team, one can only guess. He was not moved to change the defensive areas throughout the game, and he will feel justified watching his side keep a rare clean sheet.
But Brentford were shorn of their leading names, and whilst Mbuemo and Toney have combined to torture West Ham in the past, the Bees lacked a sting without them. Wissa tried, but threatened little, whilst Lewis-Potter showed nothing to suggest The Hammers will regret missing out on his signature in the summer. The winger's decision-making was poor, and he lacked a threatening edge to ever really turn the defenders. Considering two of the three centre backs struggle to actually turn around at all, Ogbonna and Dawson really should have been tested more.
It was Wissa who had the solitary chance of the opening 45 minutes. A cross from the right found that lovely space between defence and goalkeeper, falling perfectly into the path of Wissa. But the forward was closed down by Fabianski, who rushed off his line to ensure the Brentford man had no time or space to operate in. In the end, the ball was poked wide as Wissa struggled to make a decision on shooting or going around the goalkeeper.
And that, in terms of incident, was that for the first half. When things are bad, the football genuinely suffers, and whatever is causing the doom above West Ham heads, it is not shifting easily. As much as anything, forcing their way through this war of attrition and coming out the other end with a victory may well be a collective weight off struggling West Ham shoulders, which is the kind of silver lining you grasp at when there is nothing else to enjoy.
Trite as that sounds, it could be crucial. All West Ham fans would have expected a sucker punch, all the players know that the tight margins have rarely fallen in their favour this season. Luck has deserted them, it may be that going home after this without feeling like the world is cheating them is just the tonic they need, a glimmer of hope that hard work can be rewarded.
And this was hard work, at least to watch. One player who deserves enormous credit for his effort was Lucas Paqueta. This is the second time in a short space of time that this reporter has had to listen to Matthew Upson proclaim the Brazilian to be playing out of position, with his sole justification appearing to be that Paqueta is Brazilian.
It's all the more confusing considering that Paqueta showed again how willing he is to get stuck in and do the hard yards in order to earn his right to play. Passing from deep, Paqueta is different to his teammates in that he appears to see the ball as a force for change, rather than a burden. Whilst others passed to keep the ball, Paqueta did so to progress it. The key to success this season is enabling him to do this, and that means movement ahead of him.
It is not often that effort and endeavour are enough to make a match report, let alone two paragraphs within one. But if you want a sign of just how little happened, that's one.
The sides went in at half-time level on both goals and how incredibly boring they were. You may not, however, be shocked to find there were no changes in the break.
The Hammers should have been ahead within about a minute of the restart. Emerson darted down the line on what was a rare overlap, and Paqueta found him, guiding a ball over the defence and right into the path of the wing back. The cross wasn't great, but the defending was worse and the ball, which should have been cleared, ended up falling to Soucek, but the midfielder could only guide a weak shot on his left foot wide. In the centre of the goal, around 10 yards out, he should have done better.
It was also a little worrying to see him so comfortably the furthest man forward, and questions about Antonio's impact are very valid.
The striker has looked more cumbersome lately, missing a burst to his acceleration. Without it, his poor touches are more easily exposed, and he will need a big second half of the season to prove that he isn't quickly becoming past his best. Bowen was not a million miles better, but whilst he felt anonymous, Antonio was getting in the way.
Twenty or more minutes after that Soucek chance, even David Moyes was so bored that he looked to his bench. On came Benrahma, whose name was sung by the Brentford fans. For some, Benrahma is considered one of Brentford's greatest ever players.
For West Ham, the Algerian splits opinion, and whilst he has the ability to dazzle, his inconsistent end product frustrates.
But it was a game that needed a spark, a one-paced game that was made for a maverick like Benrahma. With take-ons limited, West Ham devoid of space and the 22 players on the pitch sleepwalking to a replay that nobody wanted, it was a stage set for Benrahma, a man who is always different, whether you like it or not.
The big build-up was worth it. It was Benrahma who broke the deadlock and won the game. A lot of credit should go to the captain Declan Rice, who won the ball back inside the Brentford half and flicked it forward to Benrahma to turn and run at a retreating defence.
As they backed off, they laid a platform for Benrahma, who looked up, fancied his chances and slapped a shot straight at goal, rocketing towards the goalkeeper. It flew into the back of the net, sending the travelling West Ham fans into jubilant celebrations as the man himself stood refusing to celebrate against his old club.
It looked a superb effort, yet replays show just how bad the goalkeeping was, allowing the ball to sail past him even though it was well within arm's reach, barely a yard to his left. Not to diminish Benrahma's effort, the Algerian has been unlucky on occasions to beat goalkeepers to only hit the woodwork, so deserves his slice of luck, even more so considering just how few shots had been taken on. There's a saying about raffles that comes to mind.
There was still time for West Ham's most frustrating player to ruin a counter attack by refusing an easy pass to Bowen through on goal, instead dancing around in a circle before wasting the opening, but it didn't matter.
Brentford were offering nothing, could mount no comeback and didn't look particularly bothered to be going out of the FA Cup, a real indictment on a team sitting in 9th of the Premier League table, a clear 11 points above West Ham and the relegation places.
This was a good FA Cup Third Round day for West Ham, picking up their first win since the post-World Cup restart, their first win of 2023 and passage safely into the fourth round, whilst at least eight other Premier League clubs will be out by kick off of the next round.
And that's all that matters in the cup, and whilst it was no fluent display of football, a rare win may be a catalyst that this side needs. Forget it quickly, if you can even remember it. We'd have lost that at nearly any other point this season.
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Player RatingsLukasz Fabianski
Just for closing Wissa down, closing off that chance and turning a dangerous situation into a forgettable moment.
Solid, defended well and showed he can defend high up the pitch, but so rarely made the runs needed for effective wing-back play. He showed glimpses of what he is capable of, but again looked like he wasn't confident.
When we saw him move forward, you can see the signs of why he was signed. That composure that Aguerd has, Emerson has in possession. He lacks guile, and makes sloppy defensive errors, some of which mean very little, but are bad habits to have. But the overlap at pace that brought about the Soucek chance was something unseen from a West Ham full back in far too long.
Hard to know what to say, really. There was an issue with pace on the break and also his use of the ball as that spare wide centre-back, but it's hard to know whether the defensive weaknesses were to be fully exploited because the attacking play was so bad.
Much the same as above, although not a worry as the middle man of three. It's hard to know how Ogbonna is doing and what impact he can have as part of this team when he is tested only in Conference League games and matches against Brentford.
There is a very clear level of composure about him on the ball that makes him stand out in a West Ham team that lacks them in far too many areas of the pitch. Adds some classic centre back action into it, winning big headers and sliding tackles. A modern-Moyes defender.
There have been some uncharacteristic errors in Rice's game since the restart, and there are little challenges in important areas that we've come to expect Rice to make, and he isn't at the moment. The disciplined role is helping the team, and then he makes such a good tackle to set up the Benrahma goal.
Possibly a body extra in that team, with three at the back and three central midfielders. He works ahead of the pack well, it is suiting him more to maraud forward and defend on the front foot, but it is not required in all games, and this was one. The guile from Fornals in there, but with good work rate defensively that the Spaniard brings, would have made this a much better game.
He's given an extra point for giving this reporter something to watch in a game so incredibly boring to sit through. Endeavour to create, to set a tempo, to find space and find clever passes is just so refreshing in a team that lacks imagination once it's out of form. Sure, it didn't always come off, but it's no surprise the best attacking move of the game came from his passing.
What makes Bowen's performance a 6 and Antonio's a 5 is the passing. Bowen kept possession, even if not looking too dangerous. Antonio didn't.
It feels a touch harsh to single out the frontmen when we have discussed the midfield being pedestrian and too many defensive players on the pitch. But Antonio made things look difficult up there and could have played for another day and not scored.
(Replaced Soucek 68) In a better game, those two moments where he killed attacks late on might have nudged that to a 7. But it was the quality moment of the game and the decisive one, that made all the difference. He does seem to thrive in sub appearances.
(Replaced Antonio 86) N/A
(Replaced Paqueta 86) N/A
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Match FactsWest Ham United: Lukasz Fabianski, Ben Johnson, Emerson, Craig Dawson, Angelo Ogbonna, Nayef Aguerd, Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek, Lucas Paqueta, Jarrod Bowen, Michail Antonio.
Goals: Said Benrahma 79 .
Booked: Craig Dawson 72 .
Sent off: None.
Brentford: Strakosha, Sorensen, Ajer (Henry 80), Mee (Trevitt 90), Roerslev, Dasilva (Janelt 69), Jensen, Damsgaard (Canos), Ghoddos, Lewis-Potter (Schade 69), Wissa.
Subs not used: Cox, Henry, Canos, Jorgensen, Stevens, Yarmoliuk.
Sent off: None.
Referee: Andre Marriner.
Man of the Match: Lucas Paqueta.