Bilic praises ten-man Hammers for Southampton spirit
Slaven Bilic focused on praising his players instead of criticising the match official after ten-man West Ham United came within a whisker of a courageous draw at Southampton.
The Hammers fell a goal down to Manolo Gabbiadini’s early finish before losing Marko Arnautovic to a red card after the Austrian was adjudged to have elbowed Jack Stephens by referee Lee Mason.
Mr Mason then awarded a penalty for Jose Fonte’s foul on Steven Davis before two Chicharito goals either side of half-time hauled the visitors level at St Mary’s Stadium.
West Ham, who had seen their own penalty claims turned down when Stephens appeared to handle Andre Ayew’s header, then conceded a second spot-kick in added time, when Pablo Zabaleta was penalised for a nudge on Maya Yoshida, enabling substitute Charlie Austin to break Claret and Blue hearts.
“We showed character and we showed quality and we showed that we could cope with ten men and we could score two goals and stop them from scoring,” Bilic observed, when asked to sum up his team’s performance.
“To be fair, we started off so good, we had two or three chances to take the lead and we didn’t, so we were very disappointed to lose in the end.”
One player who had every right to feel disappointed was Chicharito, who scored two typically predatory goals – his first for the Club following his summer move from Bayer Leverkusen – to drag his short-handed team level.
“He is a goalscorer but if we’re also talking about him we must also talk about the second half, when we asked him to play on the wing because we needed to use his legs,” he observed.
“We had to have two banks of four and sometimes defend with six when they attacked with their full-backs, so we have to praise him not only for his goals but also for his great attitude and great defensive work.”
I only want to say that I’m very proud of my team and they showed everything I said – commitment, quality, character, team spirit and we never gave up
While he was proud of his players’ performance, the manager simply would not be drawn on whether the major decisions had gone against his side on the south coast.
“I don’t want to talk about the penalty decisions, because there is no point talking about it. I only want to say that I’m very proud of my team and they showed everything I said – commitment, quality, character, team spirit and we never gave up.
“I don’t want to talk about the red card, either. I am the manager and I want to talk about the game and the decisions are going to lead to someone else talking about it. Of course the player is disappointed, but I am going to talk about the quality of the game and not about the decisions.
“It’s very hard to play with ten men, especially as we were already one goal down. We then conceded a second goal and it was difficult to come back. On paper it was very difficult to keep it to 2-0, but we showed character and commitment and that we are fit enough to do it for each other.
“As soon as we equalised, we defended how you are meant to defend, very deep, and we waited for our chances and we got them. It was our gameplan at half-time and unfortunately we conceded a third one late on.”