Newcastle are good and don’t really need a lot of help to beat West Ham, but West Ham generously gave it to them anyway.
“I’m really pleased about the result. We did what we had to do. We have played better than that and not won this season, but today was all about the result.
“Look, I’m in a results business, I have to get results.”
The words there of David Moyes. Not tonight, obviously. But on Sunday, arguing as he had to that the ends of a 1-0 win over Southampton justified the grimly dull and uninspired means.
The problem for Moyes with that was that watching that performance it was impossible to imagine it being too long before another result came along that would bring his own words cascading down around him.
Admittedly, not even we thought it would be quite as bad as this truly horiffic night against a very good but not unstoppable Newcastle side. The general standard of defending in the Premier League this season has been poor, which makes it all the more remarkable that the Hammers managed to produce a performance whose ineptitude still really stands out. The first four goals are just a horrible collection of carelessness, incompetence, slapstick and above all else terrible, terrible timing.
We’re just going to run through them all, because we need to process it ourselves as much as anything.
West Ham actually started this game really rather well. For five whole minutes. For five intoxicating, beguiling and entirely deceptive minutes they were everything they hadn’t been in that stressful pressure-cooker of the weekend’s six-pointer. They ran at Newcastle, they got the slower members of that backline troubled. They nearly took the lead through an own goal. They dominated possession and territory. They identified a pace mismatch between Jarrod Bowen and Dan Burn, one they would spend the rest of the game inexplicably failing to capitalise on. Then they just gave away a dismal goal.
First Thilo Kehrer needlessly concedes a corner. Then that corner is half-cleared. Allan Saint-Maximin picks it up, twists a defender’s blood for a laugh and then clips in a cross where – and this is all happening moments after a corner in a packed penalty area, remember – Newcastle’s No. 9 is stood entirely unmarked to head home.
And it got worse minutes later when a crooked and flat-footed West Ham defence were caught out by the simplest of balls from defence and a Joelinton run so basic that even he assumed that the freedom he’d been granted in having almost half the London Stadium pitch to himself meant he must logically have been offside. When the VAR lines were drawn, it wasn’t even close, raising the philosophical question of whether Joelinton, a former failed striker turned strikingly good midfielder, would have taken the chance with quite so very much aplomb if he’d known it was actually going to count. We’ll never know.
Even then, West Ham managed to get themselves back in the game before half-time when Kurt Zouma pounced on a rare Nick Pope error to head home from a corner.
Great time to score and all that. Start the second half well, and this is game on.
Twenty-two seconds into the second half, with the bubbles still floating around in the spring downpour, it was 3-1 after Nayef Aguerd dawdled on the ball in his own penalty area, made the worst attempt at a drag-back in the history of professional football, and allowed Jacob Murphy to tee up Callum Wilson for the easiest of his great many goals against West Ham.
And somehow the fourth goal was worse. Wilson had by this point made way for Alexander Isak, who chased another humdrum long-ball and found to his gleeful astonishment that Lukasz Fabianski had come charging from his goal and presented the ball straight to him to loft into the empty net.
Few were still around to see the fifth goal, which was a second for Joelinton and which Fabianski might think he could have done better with. The good news for West Ham, though, is that this fifth goal was by far the least terrible they conceded. Every cloud…
We’d fully expected to be writing about Newcastle after this game and their top-four chances on a night when Manchester United also edged past Brentford. And Newcastle were good, as they have been for the last few weeks after a fairly major wobble. Tonight’s results, coupled with Spurs’ latest self-inflicted misery at Everton on Monday, mean the top four should now be squared away. Newcastle and Manchester United now both have three-point and one-game advantages over a Spurs side that no longer looks capable of threatening. Indeed, if Spurs make a mess of the weekend’s encounter with Brighton, it will be the Seagulls who end the season as the incumbents’ primary threat.
So yes, congratulations to Newcastle. They now absolutely should finish in the top four, which is a remarkable thing no matter what external advantages have been bestowed upon them. Nothing about this squad – with the possible exception of the currently unusual presence of not one but two extremely decent strikers – screams Champions League contenders. Across the season they deserve to be where they are and deserve credit for it.
But tonight it’s almost impossible to really know how much credit to give them, so generous were their hosts.
And West Ham really are in very deep sh*t. If they survive, it will be because of the even greater incompetence of others because they look every inch a relegation team. Their away form has been dismal all season, with six points all they have to show for 13 games, and the four remaining games they have to save themselves at home are against Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool and Leeds. Right now, their best hope is that the Leeds game on May 20 actually matters.
It’s easy to feel some sympathy for David Moyes, because there’s not a huge amount he can do about the sort of calamitous individual errors that studded tonight’s performance. But the scale of the defeat means that questions about his own future are back. It is very close to being untenable, very close to anything being better than this. The only other side in the bottom half not to part with a manager this season is Nottingham Forest, who renewed their stance on that today. But the situation there feels very different.
West Ham have a huge decision to make. And they’ll need to make better choices than their defenders.
Leave a Reply