West Ham United 3-2 Nottingham Forest
Sunday, 12th November 2023
by Chris Wilkerson
West Ham got back to winning ways in the Premier League this Sunday afternoon, an open and back-and-forth game ending with a dramatic late Tomas Soucek winner and a 3-2 victory for David Moyes's side.After a downturn in form had seen The Hammers win only one of their last seven league games, losing all of the last three, and a home defeat to Nottingham Forest would have put a lot of pressure on the manager going into the international break.
There were three changes from West Ham's crucial midweek victory over Olympiacos, with Areola, Soucek and a fit-again Kurt Zouma restored to the starting 11 in favour of Fabianski, Benrahma and Mavropanos, which put Paqueta back onto the left wing, and meant a continuation up front for Jarrod Bowen.
The Hammers have yet to win a game following their midweek European excursions, but they were gifted a fast start thanks to some slack play from their visitors, and the gifts of their own Brazilian talisman.
West Ham had controlled the ball for the opening couple of minutes, but neat possession had gained them nothing. It was from losing it that they profited, Dominguez dropping back deep from midfield and trying to spray a pass across from the left to the Forest right.
Unfortunately for him, he hit his own man a couple yards away from him, and the ball bobbled free to Lucas Paqueta, who had drifted into a central area.
About 25 yards from goal, the midfielder pushed forward to the edge of the Forest box before smashing it low past a defender and into the bottom left-hand corner of the Forest goal, leaving the goalkeeper with absolutely no chance and West Ham with a 1-0 lead inside three minutes.
Nottingham Forest's owner must have been feeling dread, especially after his other side, Olympiacos, had lost on the same ground only three days earlier.
What he saw in the first half was a similar performance to that he'd seen Thursday night, with West Ham comfortable in possession and also keeping Forest at bay, but the added quality in Steve Cooper's side meant they could threaten in moments, even as The Hammers kept a good grip of the play.
It is ever the problem with West Ham's approach that their comfort in allowing possession to the opposition does give visiting teams a chance to create chances.
They were indebted to their goalkeeper just after 10 minutes had been played when Areola pulled out a quite phenomenal save to thwart striker Taiwo Awoniyi.
Forest created space on the left for Toffolo to step forward into, and he played a first time cross after the ball was rolled wide to him.
Awoniyi dropped in between Zouma and Aguerd, and whilst the Frenchman was beaten by the flight, Aguerd seemed to make no attempt to challenge his man. It left Awoniyi leaping alone, and he met the ball with power from around eight yards out. His header was good, not completely in the corner, but at the maximum of Areola's reach.
It seemed destined for the net, but the Frenchman was off his feet and at full stretch to his left, clawing a ball away that looked to have gone past him, a strong hand managing to push it back out of goal and maintain his side's lead.
From the resulting corner, West Ham launched a counter, and often in the first half they showed themselves coiled and ready to pounce when their visitors sent men forward. This time, Kudus and Ward-Prowse flew out first, and their pressure forced the Forest defence to lose the ball.
Ward-Prowse won it, but after coming out to Kudus wide left, his pass to Paqueta was a little behind the rushing Brazilian, slowing him up and giving Murillo the chance to make a challenge. Paqueta let him bounce off him, but it was enough to destabilise him, which was likely why his shot was weak and right at the goalkeeper Vlachodimos.
West Ham were playing well within their frameworks, not dominating possession, but not allowing Cooper's side to really do much to threaten with the ball either, welcoming them forward and looking to fly at them on the transition.
It does ask the defenders to do more, and Elanga made that harder for Coufal by attacking him directly at pace. One quick move of the ball as Coufal rushed in saw the full back booked after he clattered into the former-Manchester United man. It lifted the winger and his side, and they looked to feed Elanga so he could run at Coufal. After an initial period where the right back looked worried, he settled back into his game and performed well.
The game was entertaining without incident for much of that period, with the odd moment of skill soon halted by a lack of composure or technique when the final pass was needed, but it looked like West Ham would go into the break with their lead.
That was until Kudus and Soucek bundled together in midfield and bungled possession between them, losing the ball to the sharp Sangare, who quickly fired a pass wide to Gibbs-White.
The midfielder, playing on the right, moved forward into the space Emerson had left as he pushed forward with his team in possession. He was quickly into the box, and not under great pressure as he shot across Areola to the far corner. The goalkeeper got down well to save, but he didn't do enough with it, paddling it straight to Awoniyi, who could do nothing but tap it into the empty net and get his side back on level terms right on the cusp of half-time.
It was the same old trap that West Ham have fell into often, not pushing on with and extending a lead, allowing their opposition to get back into the game.
If the first half had been interesting, if cagey, the second half started breathlessly. Within a minute, Bowen had drifted to the right, beat two men by dancing between them, and then squared a ball in the box towards Emerson, six yards out, but the left back didn't force his position, only flicking a toe at the ball, and he was easily blocked.
West Ham had the corner, but it was quickly in the hands of Vlachodimos, and just as quickly fired forward off his boot to Awoniyi. Coufal backed off him, not wanting to challenge up against the big forward as the last man, which left him to comfortably flick it wide to Elanga first-time as it fell from the sky.
They exchanged passes once more, and then Elanga was in the West Ham box, down the Forest left, and squared it for one last pass to Awoniyi.
Unfortunately for him, Awoniyi let it get caught a little in his feet, which led to the striker digging a shot out rather than cleanly striking, and it rolled harmlessly wide from a very good position.
West Ham went instantly up the other end from their goal kick, Emerson bursting through a few in the middle and driving a low shot just wide from 20 yards out. Neither side looked happy to let this game drift like the first half had.
It remained open, although with little to show for it after that initial burst of incident in the first five minutes. Worryingly for West Ham, Jarrod Bowen had really only shown life once, and that when drifting back to his right wing position. Tomas Soucek had struggled, too, his only highlights on the ball being bad passes and losses of possession, although he defended gamely and worked hard to press high with Bowen.
Kudus had drifted out of the game, whilst Areola caused consternation when coming out right to the edge of his box to claim a high freekick, only to drop the ball at his toes. Luckily, it was cleared.
All the action had had little quality, but the intent from both sides meant chances would come. When they did, it was Forest who profited.
Sangare again showed why many fans had wanted him in claret and blue, playing a nice pass out wide after regaining possession as Ola Aina flew forward down the right.
The full back took it in his stride and drove forward at Emerson, who backed off and chose not to challenge or pressure his man.
Aina fired a low ball into the box, fizzing towards Elanga, 12 yards from goal. Coming in off the Forest left, Elanga stepped onto it and hit first time, smashing it low back across goal and into the far corner with too much power for Areola to really react to. With just under half an hour to play, it was Forest with the lead.
West Ham needed a reaction, and whilst the manager hurried for something to spark, his team went back to basics.
Where do this side turn when the pressure is on? Well, you don't sign James Ward-Prowse if you're not going to attack set pieces.
With a corner to curl at goal, Ward-Prowse got whip and bend on the ball, darting it right onto the six-yard line. A fired-up Bowen, still smarting from a foul he hadn't been given by the referee, timed his run perfectly, flying through the air and meeting the ball beautifully to glance it on into the far corner and get his side level less than two minutes after Forest had taken the lead.
It's a quick response like this that can completely turn a game. Now, it was all West Ham, the momentum all with the home side, the crowd roaring them on as Moyes's men went looking for a winner.
It should have come a few minutes after the equaliser after Aina headed an aimless forward ball back into his own box without seeing Soucek in position to capitalise. The header fell between Soucek and the goalkeeper, with Vlachodimos holding his ground rather than overcommit. Soucek hesitated half a second before stepping forward and prodding his foot at the ball, at full stretch.
He connected well, almost too well, smashing it at goal, but seeing it hammer the bar and bounce back to the goalkeeper.
The Hammers couldn't capitalise in the chaos that followed the goal, and Moyes rolled the dice. Antonio was sent on, Alvarez taken off as the manager chose to go without his holding midfielder for the final 10 minutes.
He also appeared to shift Kudus up front with Antonio, going back to the 4-4-2 from the week before.
They went searching for the winning goal, Forest now hanging on.
It looked to have come with five minutes to go, Ward-Prowse delivering beautifully again, curling a freekick from the left into the area, whipping it at goal. Six yards out, it was Soucek again throwing himself at it, this time a diving header. From close range, he will have expected to score, but could only send it right at the goalkeeper once more.
West Ham were knocking at the door. Moments later, Bowen could have played Antonio in on goal, but couldn't find the striker when a square pass would have got him through.
It all looked to be escaping West Ham, time running out, and frustration building. But that route to go remained, and a set-piece with two minutes to go spelt danger.
Ward-Prowse stepped up, swinging a ball away from goal. He hit a little deeper, getting to the far post, where Soucek had stepped away from the pack.
Eight yards from goal, Soucek rose and powered a header down into the bottom corner, goalkeeper rooted, West Ham in the lead, Forest beaten.
There was one moment of worry, Origi stinging Areola's palms from the edge of the box, but Forest were done. The Hammers should have extended their lead, Paqueta guilty of wasting chances for two counters. It didn't matter, West Ham held on, arrested the slide and pushed themselves back into the top half of the table.
Of course, the problems of recent weeks were not washed away, and this game so easily could have joined them in defeat. But Moyes's side fought through, got back on top and deserved their win.
David Moyes 6/10: Does Moyes get credit for keeping Soucek on, seeing as he popped up with the winner, or criticism for leaving on a player who had played so badly for so much of the game? He deserves credit for his side pushing on and eventually winning, but the match could have easily got away from his team. Having been handed the first goal, it is a worry that the chances seemed to be almost exclusively from set pieces.
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Player RatingsAlphonse Areola
One fantastic save, two errors. The Awoniyi goal and the dropped freekick. Has to do better with Gibbs-White's shot, palming it right to Awoniyi. But the save from the striker in the first half was quite incredible.
Elanga looked to have him beat and the early yellow made it tough. But Coufal adapted, and engaged in different positions so that his team could recover if the winger did beat him.
Exposed on both goals, although it's possibly harsh to criticise him for committing to the attack on the first. But you could argue he should have read the situation better, whilst he really offers very little resistance to Aina on the second goal.
The defence was less organised and disciplined than it should have been, with both goals feeling too easy and Awoniyi's headed chance far too easy for him.
Aguerd seemed to just let Awoniyi head at goal in that big first-half chance, and could have been over a little to cover the pass to Gibbs-White on the first goal, reacting to Emerson's move forward. His passing was very good, though, and opened up the pitch, getting Coufal flying forward and really helping West Ham play from defence to attack with speed.
He does bring more balance to the side, of that there can be little doubt. His presence creates a calmer, more secure West Ham when in possession in their own half, the Mexican working hard in smaller spaces to ensure he's making a pass option or covering the movement of others.
Even without his corners, Ward-Prowse had played well on the ball and showed good awareness when dropping in to help Alvarez play out, or cover the Mexican when he pressed higher. But his set-pieces were the real highlight, creating multiple big chances and ending with two assists. The Hammers had failed to create much from open play, so his delivery was vital.
A really bad performance for the most part, Soucek was anonymous until he got in trouble on halfway and saw Forest turnover and then score. Missed two very big chances, both that had some difficulty to them, but both should have been taken. But then he comes up with a perfect header for the winner, and you see why Moyes persevered in a game where chances were not coming freely outside of set-pieces. A performance that only continues the debate around him, with ammo for both sides.
Fits and starts but nothing consistent from Kudus. Couldn't really create or find space and struggled to make a telling impact, but kept working hard and doesn't shirk his defensive duties.
Took his goal brilliantly and roamed once more from that left wing position to influence the game. Probably could have finished it a couple times late on, one way or another, but the Brazilian left his mark on the game and fought for the points.
Quiet for much of it, Bowen came alive when he was really needed. His last half hour of the game was much better, a little frustration firing him up and seeing him threaten with and without the ball. Excellent header, timed the run and jump perfectly and the header was gloriously taken.
(Replaced Alvarez 79) Couldn't make much impact, but his presence added another threat and West Ham needed it.
(Replaced Kudus 90+5) No comments.
(Replaced Paqueta 90+9) No comments.
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Match FactsWest Ham United: Alphonse Areola, Vladimir Coufal, Emerson Palmieri, Kurt Zouma, Nayef Aguerd, Edson Alvarez, James Ward-Prowse, Tomas Soucek, Mohammed Kudus, Lucas Paqueta, Jarrod Bowen.
Goals: Lucas Paqueta 3 Jarrod Bowen 65 Tomas Soucek 88 .
Booked: Vladimir Coufal 0 Mohammed Kudus 0 .
Sent off: None.
Nottingham Forest: Vlachodimos, Aina (Aurier 76), Niakhate, Murillo (Boly 76), Toffolo, Sangare (Origi 90), Mangala, Domínguez (Danilo 46), Gibbs-White, Awoniyi (Wood 76), Elanga.
Subs not used: Turner, Williams, Ayew, Yates .
Goals: Awoniyi (44), Elanga (63).
Booked: Niakhate, Elanga.
Sent off: None.
Referee: Michael Salisbury.
Man of the Match: James Ward-Prowse.