Written by Rhys Paul
As 1-0’s go, West Ham’s victory over Crystal Palace wasn’t half bad. There was a well-worked goal, a missed penalty, a red card (more said on that later) and a decent amount of attacking action. Notice that a fatal defensive mistake is missing from that list and you already have an insight into why it was the Hammers who took home the three points from Selhurst Park. The fans were divided; there were those who were surprisingly confident of the victory and those who should be forgiven for being more sceptical. Injuries in defence hardly inspired further confidence and it forced Slaven Bilic to set the team up in an unfamiliar 3-4-2-1 formation. That proved to benefit the team with everyone defending and attacking as a team for the first time since last season. The link-up play between Dimitri Payet and the returning Aaron Cresswell showed no signs of rust with the Englishman’s inch-perfect low cross setting up Manuel Lanzini’s (19′) neat finish.
There were a few heart-in-mouth moments, notably the soft penalty decision on the stroke of half-time. Fortunately, Christian Benteke’s effort sailed wide leaving both the helpless Adrian and the supporters breathing a huge sigh of relief. The back-three of Winston Reid, Cheikhou Kouyate and Angelo Ogbonna really nullified the aerial threat of the in-form Benteke with the Belgian striker almost being suffocated out of the game. It wasn’t pleasant viewing at times, but it got the job done and, in general, this type of defensive performance was exactly what was needed.
Palace contributed to their own struggles with the final ball often being poor and they rarely threatened – barring the penalty decision, which was justifiably missed – before the diabolical decision to send-off Cresswell with a second yellow just forty-eight seconds after his first booking. The first was not a dive as he was clearly caught, but the second was even worse. Not only did Wilfried Zaha (as always) connive the situation (he was doing that stupid leaning/falling dribble that always seems to draw a foul), it was extremely harsh to brandish a second yellow for something that wasn’t even a foul so soon after the first unnecessary decision. It made the last fifteen minutes of the game a lot tougher than they needed to be for the away side.
Luckily, West Ham managed to hold on to register only their second win of the season and to lift them up to 15th. It was a much improved performance – a continuation from Middlesbrough – and the team finally look as if they could still reach the level of performances from last season, although it will still clearly take time. Sunderland, in that respect, are the perfect opposition for the Hammers next week. Onto the player ratings with nearly everybody receiving a better rating from last time out.
credit Ungry Young Man
Adrian – 7
Some fans will still campaign for Darren Randolph to start ahead of Adrian, but the Spaniard put in his best performance of the season. His reaction stops have always been one of the strongest parts of his game and they ensured West Ham took home all the points in stoppage time. He is reckless – that is one of the reasons why he is loved so much – and his eagerness to try and catch the ball from corners almost cost the team as he more often than not missed out.
Winston Reid – 8
I have criticised Reid in the past, but that is because he has promised so much only to have his consistency let him down. He has been fantastic the last few games and he superbly lead the back-three to a clean sheet. He marshalled Benteke out of the game and inspired the rest of the team to a whole-hearted, committed defensive display.
Cheikhou Kouyate – 8
Every time Kouyate has had to slip back into defence he has done a good job. This was arguably the pick of the bunch. He was messy and he wasn’t exactly smooth in the air, but that didn’t matter because he got his job done. When he mistimed jumps, he put off Benteke and that was central to his performance: his relentless man-marking of Benteke. He’s serially under-performed so far, but Bilic’s decision to give him a specific responsibility paid dividends.
Angelo Ogbonna – 7
His partnership with Reid has the potential to grow stronger the longer the two player together. He helped Kouyate in his hurrying of Benteke and looked much more composed than he has done in recent weeks. Strong in the air, he still has me holding my breath when he has the ball at his feet.
Michail Antonio – 7
Similarly to Cresswell, Antonio was used as right-wing back being required to do his defensive duties when the team were without the ball. In that light, it was a strong showing from the club’s top goalscorer. His pace allowed him to get back quickly and he made several clean challenges to win possession back for his side. He wasn’t as much of a threat going forward as he can be, but he still had moments when he caused Joel Ward a few problems, notably when a flawless first touch allowed him to skip away inside.
Pedro Obiang – 8
Man-of-the-match against Middlesbrough, Obiang once again put in a quiet-but-effective performance. Sometimes it is the simple things that make the difference and that is especially true when it comes to Obiang’s impact since being drafted into the team two weeks ago. His awareness of the game is superb and it is something that Kouyate lacks. Smart passing into pockets of space are a further sign of his vision with his reading of the game crucial in shutting down Palace. A partnership in the middle of the park with Noble looks like the best the club has to offer.
Mark Noble – 7
The club’s slow recovery is embodied by the skipper. He is ‘Mr. West Ham’ and the criticism he has received (albeit deserved) shows the short-term memories that some supporters have when they have called for his head. His passing wasn’t great, he was outshone by Obiang for the second consecutive game and he is inching closer to a suspension. Yet he is slowly rediscovering his form and he was fully-committed to getting the club the win on Saturday. Fearless fifty-fifty challenges were evidence of that. The rating is not based on the technical aspects of his game, but rather his determination to drive the team to victory
Aaron Cresswell – 8
What a return. Cresswell’s comeback from injury seemed to ignite the team with the left-back at the heart of some of the team’s best attacks against Palace. An assist for the winning goal was the product of his link-up play with Payet and I would go as far as saying that the Cresswell-Payet combination on the left side is the best in the league. He took the freedom of playing higher up the pitch in his stride. He kept Zaha relatively quiet, so it was perhaps unsurprising that the Palace winger continuously looked to get him booked. His sending-off was a joke, so that has no impact on his rating.
Manuel Lanzini – 8 (MOTM)
Another player who put in his best performance of the season so far. The ‘Jewel’ certainly lives up to his nickname on his day. He was quick, sharp and untouchable at times. He was in irresistible form against Palace and he deserved his goal. Clever movement and quick feet meant he was a handful for the 88 minutes he was on the pitch.
Dimitri Payet – 7.5
On this occasion, it was Payet who was overshadowed by Lanzini. He was quiet, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing as the rest of the team rose to the challenge. He drew the Palace defence away from Cresswell with his footwork and that ultimately lead to the only goal of the contest. There were a few heavy touches, but nothing necessarily to worry about.
Simone Zaza – 7
On the one hand, this was easily Zaza’s best performance since joining the club. On the other hand, some fans are looking at his performance with rose-tinted glasses. Yes, he worked hard and he defended from the front to pressure the home side into mistakes. He actually managed to win aerial battles and he did sometimes link-up effectively with his teammates. However, the Italian never looked like scoring (Tomkins handled him comfortably). Heavy touches and poor positioning disrupted attacks more than they benefited them. He was still the worst West Ham player on the pitch, but there was at least some indication that things could improve for him.
Edimilson Fernandes (78′ for Payet) – 6
I thought it was a strange one to take Payet off, especially following Cresswell’s dismissal. Saying that, Fernandes brought fresh legs to the game and did not put a foot wrong.
Jonathan Calleri (86′ for Zaza) – N/A
There was little time for Calleri to do anything. He did draw a foul from Damien Delaney, so it was still arguably his most productive and memorable cameo from the bench.
Havard Nordtveit (88′ for Lanzini) – N/A
Another who had no time to make an impact. His introduction was just a safety measure to shore up the midfield as the final whistle approached.
West Ham fans, do you agree with the ratings given? Let us know in the comments below!