Those fans coming away from the match on Saturday at the London Stadium in which West Ham hosted Southampton, could hardly be blamed for harbouring a sense of bewilderment after witnessing such a display from the reps of the claret and blue. It was less a justification of doubting Thomas’s but rather a vindication of reality that much of the fans have come to terms with over the last couple of seasons.
The sense of urgency was spiralling out of control prior to the game, whilst a contingent persisted with their quest to protest before the faith-filled congregation arrived for their weekly mass. This was no church service and the priest was nowhere to be found, but fans courted footballing religion and how they needed the preacher to exorcise the club’s demons!
“It’s funny. All you have to do is say something nobody understands and they’ll do practically anything you want them to.” – J. D. Salinger.
Moyes had already ruffled feathers earlier in the week when hinting that worldly or international players would hesitate before signing for West Ham in the future because of disrupting and disreputable fans and he further confounded popular opinion by hosting Hart in goal instead of Adrian for he, once again, blamed fans at the Burnley game for Hart’s third goal fumble…hence the justification for another shot at the title of number one between the sticks.
Whilst this is not an Allardyce-esque defining moment, it certainly doesn’t endear him to a fanbase already teetering on the edge of sanity. When the team was announced prior to the game, many heads were scratched and many expletives were expressed by many an onlooker. Chicharito had succumbed to some form of illness, of as yet undetermined origin, whilst Collins still remained on the injury table and Lanzini still remained unfit for duty.
Perhaps most West Ham fans would expect another defensive posture from Moyes with a lack of enthusiasm to probe the Southampton defences or exterminate any oncoming threats, however, the first half was huge in terms of a turnaround in fortunes but also desire, application and clinical effectiveness. The team looked solid defensively but played on the front foot, with Kouyate leading the charge and putting his body into situations in which he had shied away from for most of the season.
The crowd rose to the occasion and offered unbridled support for the second wind warriors, who in turn delivered a performance and ostentatious display of bravado not witnessed at the London Stadium for such a long time, in fact, many would feel challenged to remember if there was ever such a time.
However, there are testing times ahead with four huge battles that are likely to be lost or at best the players may be challenged to hold their own. Now sitting precariously in 14th position, a loss in the next game and wins for those teams beneath…and West Ham would sink to 17th again, so tight are the standings. This is a time to rejoice and hold heads high but also take stock of realities and set to task for focus is required in the next match away to Chelsea.
Under Moyes, the team have received dividends from invested displays against the better teams but have largely failed to match those in similar league positions. Most fans agreed that the season would be considered a triumph or failure, not because of heroics against Spurs, Arsenal or Chelsea earlier in the season, but with hard-fought displays against the rest.
In this mini-season at the end of a long-troubled journey, the team have started well especially after a three-week‘ vacay’. Perhaps the Miami trip was the best course of action, indeed it appeared to have galvanised the team as they fought for every ball and were more than a match for any of the Southampton players. However, did the team really need this? Isn’t there enough to inspire togetherness at Rush Green, or digging ditches by the side of a road or breaking rocks in a quarry? Perhaps not…but the team performed and that is all the justification one needs for the moment.
To add to the misplaced visions, anyone would be pressed to find fault with any player today, whether their involvement was for the full 90 minutes or as a bit part appearance, such as Cullen who came on for Kouyate in the closing minutes but also showed some tenacity and guile with some decent touches. Confidence was running high from start to finish and not one player gave up the challenge to impress the fans or the manager. This could hardly be said of much of the last two seasons where performances have been wanting, individuals have bowed their heads in defeat and largely given up any fight that was expected of them.
It would be convenient to ignore the cobbled roads ahead and it would be insane to forget past failures where success was the goal. When West Ham beat Huddersfield Town 1-4 earlier in the season, many thought the troubles were behind them, but how quickly fate can change face and be cruel to desperate souls. The team are in similar circumstances now…a fabulous win but a cautious tale is yet to be told!
Arnautovic scored a brace but must continue to drive with passion and determination, whilst Masuaku must deliver early crosses with greater regularity, Mario will have to toughen up and be stronger on the ball when up against the more resolute…and Kouyate will have to remember that he can indeed play football when he sets his mind to task.
Each and every one of the players on Saturday played a heroic 90mins whether physically or mentally and may indeed have saved this season for themselves, the club and the fans, however, this last saviour’s temptation may be to disregard the predicament the team still finds itself in and these performances remain a ball of confusion.
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