In a game both teams would have viewed as winnable, the points were typically shared. West Ham's 1-1 draw with Middlesbrough ended a run of four straight defeats, but did little to lift the spirits of either team. It began as expected with the home side struggling to find any sort of rhythm and looking very nervy on the ball. That in turn allowed Boro to dominate possession, although they were unable to turn that into anything particularly threatening. That was until Christian Stuani's (51') opener just after the break. The Uruguayan headed home a corner to give the visitors something of a surprising lead, albeit one that did not last long. The Hammers responded superbly - demonstrating a fighting spirit for the first time this season - and they deservedly pulled things level six minutes later. Dimitri Payet (57') collected the ball out wide on the left, proceeded to turn Antonio Barragan on his way to skipping past four helpless Boro defenders and slotted home to cap off a wonderful solo goal. It was a moment of brilliance and relief. West Ham looked the likeliest to win the three points after that, but neither side really looked like they were going to win the contest in all honesty.
It was a much improved performance from West Ham, yet they still remain far off their best form. I had identified this as a must-win game already and I stick to that. It's clear that it will take time for the team to recover to the levels of the last season, but they really need to start putting teams like Middlesbrough away. Two out of nineteen shots were on target and, whilst the defence looked the most composed it has all season, on that evidence this season still looks like it will be something of a struggle - especially when the team comes up against the better teams in the division. On a more positive note, it stopped the rot and I did identify somebody as deserving of the man-of-the-match title for the first time in weeks. I was impressed with a couple of others, although some still flatter to deceive.
Adrian - 6
Another week without a clean sheet, Adrian's form since his call-up to the Spain squad remains worrying. He looked like a player short on confidence. His punches were weak and it was summed up when he lost out in an aerial battle with Jordan Rhodes to almost gift Boro a half-time lead. A couple of good reaction stops save some face for the Spaniard, but he hardly inspires confidence at the minute.
Sam Byram - 6
His afternoon was cut short by something of a freak injury less than 10 minutes into the contest. He bravely went in for a header and it looked as if a high boot had caused a head injury. Apparently Byram was seen clutching his hamstring, but either way it looks a rather serious injury to add to an increasing list of full-backs in the treatment room.
Winston Reid - 7
Another impressive performance from Reid. He made several crucial interceptions and comfortably dealt with Jordan Rhodes, even if he continues to go to ground too quickly. It's hard to judge whether this was a very good defensive performance or just a competent one as it's been a while since supporters have witnessed either.
James Collins - 5
It was surprising to see Collins recalled, but injuries forced Slaven Bilic's hand. He didn't look comfortable and fortunately had an in-form Reid partnering him in the centre of defence. No fatal mistakes on this occasion, but he was one of a few players whose negativity frustrated fans.
Angelo Ogbonna - 5
Moved over to left-back, Ogbonna did at least beef up the defence. Going forwards, he constantly looked as if he didn't want the ball and that resulted in two yard passes forward to Payet or passes back to the centre backs. He once again demonstrated traits of a Sunday League football with two foul throws - no professional footballer should be penalised for letting their foot leave the ground for a throw-in.
Pedro Obiang - 8 (MOTM)
It didn't take long for Obiang to show what the club have been missing. Playing just in front of the back-four, he immediately added extra steel to the defensive line and the club looked a stronger unit for it. He crucially broke up play, pressured the Boro midfield and his distribution was impeccable. They were the kind of incentive passes the team have been missing and they brought the likes of Payet into the game. Why has it taken so long for him to be given a chance?
Gokhan Tore - 2
Embarrassing excuse of a footballer. He is either horribly unsuited to English football, or a fraudster. A serial offender for killing the host's momentum in the first-half, he lost the ball every time he touched it. Amazingly, that wasn't even the worst part of his game - his Row Z shots were. It was a mystery as to why he even started - Bilic appears to have seriously misjudged his talents - and he was rightfully hauled off at the break.
Mark Noble - 6
An improved performance from the skipper, but he remains some way off his best form. He held the ball better and had the best chance to give West Ham the lead in the first half. His passing is still not up to his usual standard, but he was one of many who look as if they're slowly beginning to rediscover form.
Cheikhou Kouyate - 5
Fans have been quick to call for Noble's head, but why aren't people campaigning for Kouyate to be dropped? He was a liability in the middle as he frequently gave away free-kicks (admittedly the officials were very quick to give them) and he was another player who seems unable to pass the ball forward with any real meaning. In fact, I'm sure he can only move the ball in the right direction when he is driving forward with it himself. His positioning is awful with another gaping hole in the midfield reappearing at times against Boro.
Dimitri Payet - 8
A wonderful solo goal capped off a fine performance for the Frenchman. It was the first real moment since the move that really got all the fans on their feet. It goes to show that he is much more effective when used as a team player rather than being over-relied upon. Barragan struggled to deal with him all afternoon and the rest of the Boro team struggled to contain him on the left as he frequently skipped inside and into dangerous positions. A fantastic response to last week.
Michail Antonio - 5
A frustrating afternoon for the winger-turned-striker. He looked out of place as the lone striker and he often drifted out to his natural position out wide. It didn't help that he was impeded on nearly every occasion by the Boro defence, but even then he struggled to hold onto the ball. A few ambitious efforts sailed horribly over the bar to essentially sum up his afternoon.
Alvaero Arbeloa - 6 (7' for Byram)
He settled quickly following an early introduction. That was crucial as such an early injury could have had a potentially negative impact on the side. He did struggle with Stewart Downing's pace at times.