Well cover me in jam and send in the bees, for that was one hell of a challenge on Sunday against Chelsea at Stamford bridge. West Ham had arrived with renewed confidence after the 3-0 drubbing over Southampton the week before whilst Chelsea were feeling sore after their loss to Tottenham in their previous encounter…however all heads were bowed as fans from both camps paid their respects to Ray ‘Butch’ Wilkins who sadly passed away during the week.
“That though the radiance which was once so bright be now forever taken from my sight. Though nothing can bring back the hour of splendor in the grass, glory in the flower. We will grieve not, rather find strength in what remains behind.” – William Wordsworth
The game was set to be a fitting tribute to the gentleman of football, with great skill and passing moves from both sides with ball retention being the name of the game…certainly for Chelsea…and what West Ham could only hope to achieve but have largely struggled with all season long and so did for most of the game too.
The Hammers were set up in conventional ‘Moyesish’ guise, defensive but to hit on the counter attack, whilst Arnautovic and Masuaku would be the most cause for concern for a weary Chelsea defence, however the blues would be looking to exploit the sluggish old legs of Zabaleta on the right hand side.
Before the match, most West Ham fans would readily admit that a win was rather unlikely however a draw was well within reach, especially as most would wager that Moyes would set up with a strong defensive presence and keeping it tight in midfield too. The question whirling around fan’s minds would be which players would make the starting line up given the impressive performance against Southampton…surely changes to a winning side would be suicidal?
Antonio had already been confirmed as out for the rest of the season…his bullish runs would be missed. Lanzini would not be fit to return but in any case, should he step over Joao Mario who gave an equally impressive performance in his previous outing too, not to mention bagging his first goal for the Hammers this season since his arrival in January from Inter Milan? Should Fernandes retain his position or should a space be made for Hernandez…who must surely be wondering what does he have to do to get a game these days?
As the referee blew his whistle at kick off…everyone was primed for a tough day at the office, but regardless of the bloodied encounter, there was hope for the team to come away with any number of points that would help secure survival in the league. Although Chelsea were still fighting to make the top four…the Hammers may have had more on the line and perhaps would be willing to battle the hardest on enemy turf.
For the first twenty minutes West Ham got into the game and largely gave as good as they got, but it was clear that Chelsea were on a mission and the quality of their play and ball retention was a level above that produced by West Ham…Mr Wilkins would certainly have approved!
Many fans had bemoaned the inclusion of Hart in the starting line up however, Moyes had trusted his preferred keeper in this game and was proven correct as he pulled off a string of strong saves that really kept the Hammers in the game, richly deserving the West Ham man of match award too.
As the first half passed by, Chelsea started to get a stranglehold on the game and after Hart pulled off a classy save from a clean through Willian, the resultant corner led to a feebly conceded goal with Cresswell and Arnautovic failing to clear within the penalty area and Azpilicueta stabbing past Hart who could only stand and watch.
West Ham began to look ragged and were failing to keep possession with any degree of success, with Kouyate, Fernandes and Mario not as effective as they had been in the previous match, however Nobel, Rice and Ogbonna were still performing at a constant high and showing class when it needed along with a never say die attitude. But Chelsea kept probing with Willian and especially Hazard particularly impressive…and were unlucky…well for them at least…not to score more.
However their frustration was soon to become West Ham’s strength, and when Moyes decided to eventually bring on Hernandez, it would only be a matter of time before he would find the net. Arnautovic seemed slightly off key and would regularly grimace and pull up as if injured, but within a couple of minutes would burst into life and create more opportunities. It was from such a ball that Arnautovic was able to cut a blind pass back to Hernandez just inside the edge of the area who skilfully scored with a passing shot just inside the right hand post…which sent the West Ham fans wild with delight and temporarily silenced the Chelsea fans and stunned the players.
The remainder of the match was relatively an end to end affair, with Chelsea having more shooting opportunities but Arnautovic had a decent claim for a penalty but closer inspection would confirm the ball may have been contacted first…a fair decision that could have gone either way. As the clock ran down, many fans would have few nails left but were joyed by an impressive West Ham recovery, albeit somewhat fortuitous overall.
A hard fought point was well deserved and Hernandez keeps asking the questions of the manager for him to occupy the starting line up. However West Ham must play a lot higher up the field and make successful penetration into the box where he would be most successful.
Chelsea were obviously a class act when compared to Southampton’s display the previous week which afforded an inspired West Ham performance. However it was clear that the Hammers would still struggle to hit the right tune against the better opponents, albeit the desire and determination was still evident although the quality in midfield did have a significant dip especially from Kouyate and Mario. However, Fernandes also struggled, who many would question whether he merited a starting place over Hernandez only after a single return match…and so it was proven to be a questionable decision from Moyes but hindsight is always with benefit of clarity.
At the final whistle, few would argue that it was a convincing performance, however it was a well earned point which is so vital. The pleasing aspect of the whole affair is that the passion was on display for all to see even if some of the players were not able to repeat their performances from the week earlier…however Hart, Rice and Ogbonna were fabulous, whilst there is a concern for Cresswell who had to be replaced in the second half with an injury.
This performance will give the players and manager some confidence going into the Stoke City match next Monday, however they should not be complacent for the next opponents are also fighting for their survival too and it will be another stiff test for the Hammers…but overall a job well done for Moyes and a brilliant day at the office for Hart…so time for celebration…bring on the dancing girls and shake those pom-poms!