Five things we loved about West Ham United's win at Sheffield United
1. A welcome top-flight win at Bramall Lane
After 52 years of waiting, West Ham United finally secured another top-flight win at Sheffield United.
Prior to Sunday’s 1-0 victory, the Hammers had not scored a top-tier win at Bramall Lane since 27 September 1968, when Geoff Hurst scored both goals in a 2-1 First Division success.
West Ham’s team that day included a cast of Claret and Blue legends, including 1966 FIFA World Cup winners Hurst, Bobby Moore and Martin Peters, 1964 FA Cup final matchwinner Ronnie Boyce, fellow Wembley goalscorer John Sissons and future two-time FA Cup winners Billy Bonds, Trevor Brooking and Frank Lampard.
More than five decades on, the Irons belatedly ended a run of eight top-flight games without a win at Bramall Lane by cutting down the Blades through Sebastien Haller’s unstoppable second-half winner.
2. West Ham’s best start in six years
West Ham United’s 1-0 win at Sheffield United means the Hammers have now made their best Premier League start since the 2015/16 season.
Back then, the Irons collected 17 points and were in fourth place after their opening nine matches, with a +8 goal difference, on their way to a seventh-place finish.
This time around, despite losing their opening two top-flight games, West Ham have collected 14 points, have a +5 goal difference and sit eighth, two points outside the top six.
It is early days, but there is growing optimism and confidence among the coaching staff and the squad that, should they maintain their determination and willingness to improve on a daily basis, the Hammers can enjoy a positive Premier League campaign.
3. An Elephant on the march
Sebastien Haller admits himself that 2020 has not been the best year of his career, but his winning goal at Sheffield United suggests it may yet end on a real high.
Fresh from scoring the winner on his debut for Ivory Coast – nicknamed The Elephants – in a vital Africa Cup of Nations victory over Madagascar, the 26-year-old returned to West Ham United duty with visibly boosted confidence.
His teammates raved about his performances in training in the lead-up to Sunday’s game, and Haller maintained that level at Bramall Lane, scoring a sensational goal, having already provided a superb headed pass from which Tomas Soucek could have put the Hammers in front.
In all, the No22 had four goal attempts, two of them on target, provided three key passes and won 12 aerial battles – easily more than anyone else on the pitch.
Haller has played 574 minutes of football for the Irons this season and scored six goals – that’s one every 96 minutes – and Sunday’s display suggests there could be many more to come.
4. Fabulous Fabianski
Lukasz Fabianski was at his unbeatable best at Bramall Lane.
Sheffield United’s direct, physical, high-energy style and ability to overload and create openings down their right flank opened up the West Ham United defence on a number of occasions, creating a succession of shooting chances.
But the reliable 35-year-old made five saves – four of them in the first half – to blunt the Blades, denying George Baldock, Oli McBurnie (twice), John Fleck and David McGoldrick.
Fabianski’s reward was back-to-back clean sheets for the second time this season, following the 1-0 home win over Fulham last time out and the earlier victories over Wolverhampton Wanderers and Leicester City.
The Poland star now has four clean sheets in nine Premier League appearances this season, just two fewer than he kept in 25 top-flight appearances last term.
5. Balbuena shows no signs of jetlag
International football demands players travel all over the world to represent their countries, putting strain on their bodies and minds.
For Fabian Balbuena, it meant flying 6,400 miles home to Paraguay for two South American FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
He then boarded another flight to Buenos Aires, where he helped La Rioja hold Lionel Messi and Argentina to a 1-1 draw, before heading back to Asuncion, where he started the 2-2 draw with Bolivia.
From there, it was another 6,400 miles home, including a long delay after his flight back to London was cancelled, meaning the defender did not arrive home until Thursday evening.
Despite those challenges, Balbuena put in another strong performance at Sheffield United, keeping his fourth clean sheet in seven Premier League appearances this season.