Written by Rhys Paul.
After a frustrating week for West Ham, things finally came good for the team on the pitch. Arguably, for the first time this season, it was a result and performance that sent fans home feeling good about the club. A forgettable first half was followed by a determined second half which truly got off the ground with just over twenty minutes left to play. The numerous subplots – James Tomkins’ first return to East London, the return of the divisive Sam Allardyce and a team searching for their first win under their new manager to name a few – were overshadowed by the refusal of one man to take to the field. Dimitri Payet’s betrayal of the fans, the manager and his teammates is unavoidable, but it proved to be the catalyst for the team’s most feel good performance at the London Stadium. The first half was much of the same, but – in what must have been a rousing team talk from Slaven Bilic – the team put on a united front in a second half where each and every individual played for each other. The change in formation from a 5-4-1 to a 4-4-2 played a huge part in the Hammers’ success after the break and, on the whole, Bilic’s tactics were finally spot on. It honestly felt like the players were performing with a huge weight off their shoulder and even Bilic looked re-vitalised on the touchline.
Things could have turned out very differently had the returning Tomkins used the inside of his foot rather than the outside to convert a chance that seemed easier to score. Yohan Cabaye could have punished the hosts after being given the time to take on a spectacular volley, but it was fortunately struck straight at the mostly unused Darren Randolph. In truth, Palace rarely threatened. Wayne Hennessey will be thinking twice the next time he contemplates leaving his line. The Welsh keeper first found himself rounded by the irrepressible Michail Antonio who put the ball on the plate for the impressive Sofiane Feghouli (68′). Palace responded, but any fears that the team would collapse as they have done numerous times this season were dispelled just over ten minutes later when more good work from Antonio on the left culminated in Andy Carroll (79′) scoring the best goal the London Stadium has seen so far with a spectacular overhead kick. Antonio again turned provider as he released the equally brilliant Manuel Lanzini (86′) who proceeded to punish Hennessey with the slightest of chips to put the cherry on top of a deserved win. His celebration embodied the jubilation and passion, something we have rarely seen with Payet in the team this season. Let’s not focus anymore on ‘Le Sulk’ as this game is hopefully the beginning of better things at West Ham.
Darren Randolph – 6
Very little for Randolph to do, but he dealt with everything that came his way. Probably a nice change for him to be kept so quiet.
Michail Antonio – 9
Whilst Carroll was great, I still felt that there were two players on the pitch who deserved MOTM more and Antonio was one of them. He did a fairly good job for the most part at right-back, although I have no idea why he was tasked with marking Tomkins at set pieces. Moved up alongside Carroll in attack, he thrived. Palace just could not handle his pace and power. Three assists in one game and all three were fantastic. Remarkable to think that he was a doubt before the game because of the flu.
James Collins – 6
A solid defensive performance from Collins. After all the defensive mistakes this season, it was a welcome sight to just see somebody clear the ball up the field. A standard centre-back who just sticks to the basics which can be both forgettable and important.
Winston Reid – 7.5
Continues to be the front-runner for HOTY. I honestly forgot Christian Benteke was on the pitch at one point and Reid deserves credit for man-marking the Belgian out of the game. A good headed clearance set the counter attack in motion for the third goal. Unsurprisingly, Tomkins’ aerial threat was minimised when Reid took over marking him at set pieces, something which both seemed to relish.
Angelo Ogbonna – 5
Again proves to be more of a liability than anything. Poor headers and passes could have been damaging and it was a welcomed surprise when he was withdrawn at half time in favour of a more positive approach.
Aaron Cresswell – 6
Overall, it was a better performance from Cresswell, but only barely. He was helped in his battle with Andros Townsend. He looked much happier with Lanzini on the left and he also improved defensively after the break.
Sofiane Feghouli – 7.5
In contrast to Obiang, Feghouli is not quite as smooth. His feet are too quick for his brain. That sometimes backfires, but against Palace everything seemed to work out for him. It’s also good to see a West Ham player relish one-on-one battles. His last two league performances have proven that he, unlike many of his fellow summer signings, has a future at West Ham.
Pedro Obiang – 8
Another masterclass in how to be an effective midfield. From box-to-box, he was terrific. Defensively, he was everywhere – acting as support for his teammates in their doubling up efforts. Offensively, his distribution was second-to-none and his understanding of the game allowed him to constantly carry the ball into pockets of space. It is a joy to watch somebody with such a footballing brain.
Mark Noble – 6
Yet again looked a step too slow. Weak passes and late tackles, it was a typical 2016/17 Mark Noble performance. He looked much better as the team pulled away from Palace in the last twenty minutes and provided a lovely pass over the top for Antonio in the build-up to the opening goal.
Manuel Lanzini – 9.5 (MOTM)
The best player on the pitch. The ‘Jewel’ is now primed to become the centerpiece of this West Ham line-up. The ball sticks to his feet and he frequently managed to skip away from two/three Palace players. Again demonstrated how easily he can glide past the opposition and deservedly made it 4 in 4 against Palace. A fantastic celebration for a player who relished his newfound positional freedom. Ain’t nobody like Lanzini.
Andy Carroll – 9
Before kick-off, I had said that Palace would struggle to contain a player who also seems to be injured when the two teams meet. A few good chances flew over the bar, but the most memorable in the first half was a ridiculously late challenge on Joel Ward. Excelled with Antonio in attack and his hunger for the ball made life difficult for the Palace defence. Perfect contact on the overhead kick provided fans with one of their first truly memorable moments at their new home.
Sam Byram (45′ for Ogbonna) – 7
A confident return to action after a lengthy spell on the sidelines. The whole team looked much better when he replaced Ogbonna. He just needs to find some consistency to his game now.
Edimilson Fernandes (87′ for Lanzini) – N/A
One of two late changes who had little time to make an impact. Replacing Lanzini, it allowed the Argentinian to receive a deserved standing ovation immediately after finishing off the scoring.
Ashley Fletcher (89′ for Antonio) – N/A
Same as above, just replace Lanzini with Antonio.
Is West Ham’s 3-0 win against Crystal Palace the start of better things? Who was your man of the match? Let us know in the comments below!
Featured Image by joshjdss