Manuel Pellegrini admitted his players have to improve their levels of concentration after failing to convert another winning position into points in their 2-1 Boxing Day defeat at Crystal Palace.
Just as they did in the reverse fixture at London Stadium in October, and for the fifth time this season, West Ham United scored the opening goal in a Premier League fixture but failed to go on to win the game.
At Selhurst Park, Robert Snodgrass curled the Hammers in front just before the hour-mark, only for former Iron Cheikhou Kouyate to level ten minutes later and Jordan Ayew to secure all three points for the Eagles with an individual run and finish in added time.
So why, Pellegrini was asked, has his team found it so difficult to manage and close out games after taking the lead?
Playing away, winning 1-0, I think we deserved a better result, but you must be concentrated in your defending until the last minute
“When you are winning 1-0, of course you are disappointed after you lose the game 2-1,” he began. “It was similar to the game we played with Crystal Palace at home, when we had the lead and they didn’t create any chances and finally by the end they scored from two set pieces.
“Now, they scored in the last minute of the game. I think that maybe we dropped a little bit too much inside our own box after we scored because we were dominating the game and I don’t remember any saves made by Roberto, but finally we lost.
“We always try to be consistent team, but one or two balls decided this game. We played well against Southampton and we played well against Chelsea and I don’t think we played a bad game today, but you need to have a good performance and have results.
“Playing away, winning 1-0, I think we deserved a better result, but you must be concentrated in your defending until the last minute. We must be more concentrated in defending, especially for their second goal.
“I don’t know if it is mentality or a lack of concentration. When you are playing well, maybe you don’t need to change, but many times we have had the lead in the score, but we were not able to keep it.”
One player who could not be blamed for West Ham’s failure to build on their lead was goalkeeper Roberto, who returned to the starting XI in the absence of the injured Lukasz Fabianski and David Martin.
The Spaniard had little chance with Palace’s goals and made a vital second-half save to deny Connor Wickham – albeit the substitute’s strike would likely have been ruled out for offside if VAR had reviewed it.
“I trust in Roberto because he has a career behind him,” Pellegrini explained, when asked if he had had any reservations about recalling the 33-year-old. “If you review this game, he didn’t have any important saves, but he was solid and had a good game.
“The save he did make [from Connor Wickham] was definitely offside, but he made a good save and I’m happy for him, but the best way to be happy when he returned after so many had criticised him was to win this game.”
West Ham return to action on Saturday afternoon, when they host Leicester City at London Stadium, by which time the Hammers will be in the bottom three if Aston Villa avoid defeat at Watford.
Pellegrini knows his team need to start winning again on a consistent basis if they are to steer clear of the relegation zone.
“We need to recover in 48 hours and we must try to win our home games because in the last games we played there, we have not collected the amount of points that we need,” he concluded.