Substitutions can change football matches – and that was certainly the case when West Ham United recovered from two goals down to draw with Brighton & Hove Albion on Wednesday.
The Hammers looked to be heading to an unwelcome Premier League defeat when Dale Stephens and Shane Duffy scored in the space of 125 seconds at London Stadium.
Manager Manuel Pellegrini responded by sending on Mark Noble and Michail Antonio, with dramatic results.
Within five minutes, both replacements had provided assists for Marko Arnautovic, whose two goals dragged the Hammers level and secured a valuable point
Aside from Arnautovic himself, Noble and Antonio were the Irons’ standout performers.
Noble attempted 31 passes in just 28 minutes on the pitch, with 29 of them reaching his teammates for a 93.6% completion rate, including his perfectly-placed through ball for the Austrian’s first goal. That assist was one of seven accurate long balls the No16 played out of eight he attempted.
Noble’s contribution was also defensive as he made two tackles and an interception to help slow the Seagulls.
Antonio was also influential, playing in a more advanced right wing role.
The No30 used his pace and power to get to the byline before cutting the ball back in the nick of time for Arnautovic, who controlled and calmly lifted the ball into the net via the underside of the crossbar.
Antonio also had two shots himself, firing one left-foot shot high and wide before seeing a late right-foot shot charged down and easily saved by Brighton goalkeeper David Button in the closing stages.
While Noble and Antonio undoubtedly helped change the course of Wednesday’s game, it was two-goal Arnautovic who was the undoubted star of the Claret and Blue show.
The No7 looked back to his best as he led the line with customary determination.
In the first half, he tested Button with a low shot and could have earned his team a penalty when he was seemingly bundled over by Lewis Dunk seven minutes before the break.
And after the interval, the Austrian teed up Robert Snodgrass for West Ham’s first chance of the half, then led the charge once the Irons had fallen two goals behind.
First, Arnautovic tested Button with a rasping 25-yard shot, then found the net by holding off Duffy and calmly steering a shot under the Brighton stopper.
He doubled his tally two minutes later with another composed and accurate finish, further illustrating his huge value to the team.
Even then, it was the Hammer of the Year’s run which created a late opportunity for Declan Rice, whose rising shot flew just inches the wrong side of the post.
His performance, along with those of substitutes Noble and Antonio, undoubtedly played a central role in West Ham earning a point that looked unlikely with 25 minutes to go.