Fan blogger Joe Difford looks back at Saturday’s game against Sunderland…
On Saturday afternoon, West Ham fans were shown a side of Slaven Bilic’s men we haven’t seen before. In past games this season when we’ve struggled, we’ve left empty handed, but despite the underwhelming performance all three points were picked up.
It was a slow start, as has been the case on a number of occasions this season, but it was largely due to the fact that Sam Allardyce’s men were set up to go for a point, hardly surprising considering their league position and the fact that they were away from home.
Shots on goal were few and far between for the opening half an hour, aside from Jermain Defoe seeing an effort saved, but he was offside anyway. Mark Noble did come agonisingly close however, seeing his long-range effort tipped onto the crossbar expertly, lifting the fans off their seats for the first time in the game.
Sunderland’s most recent signing Wahbi Khazri came close, looping a free kick onto the top of the crossbar, but his excellence was cancelled out in the final few minutes, as he opted to try a rabona cross, missed the ball entirely and saw it go for a goal kick.
It was a combination of luck and brilliance for the first and only goal of the game, as Patrick van Aanholt gave away possession before Michail Antonio picked up the loose ball, cut inside and fired into the far corner with his weak foot.
The Homer Simpson-inspired celebration that followed was the icing on the cake, and it is surely only a matter of time now before Antonio gets the England call-up he deserves. It’s three goals in three games at Upton Park for the powerful winger, and he is fast becoming one of the best players in our side.
Sunderland came close on a number of occasions, with Jack Rodwell coming off the bench and almost making an instant impact, seeing his shot from eight yards out saved by the leg of Adrian, with the rebound hitting his arm.
Dimitri Payet had a good case for a penalty turned down, as he was pushed off the ball by the defender’s arms, pushing the boundaries of what can be classed as strength.
The performance wasn’t particularly convincing, but at the end of the day all three points were picked up and we are back to sixth in the league, still in with a shot of European qualification.
It is fantastic that in our final season at the Boleyn Ground our fans are being treated to the longest home unbeaten run in our Premier League history, and the ground is now the fortress we have wanted for years.
We now have 43 points, our highest total after 27 games in the top flight, making a statement of intent. Other sides and neutral fans are taking notice of Bilic’s claret and blue army, and rightly so.
West Ham have played some beautiful football at times this season, but being able to win an ugly game shows character and adaptability from Mark Noble and Co.
Next up is a mouth-watering tie with Spurs on Wednesday, and we will certainly have to improve from Saturday’s outing. But if we perform as well as we know we can, then it could be a memorable final game against our London rivals under the lights at the Boleyn Ground.
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The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of West Ham United