West Ham United captain Mark Noble could have no complaints about his team’s drive – right through to the final whistle – against Manchester United.
Both sides went into Sunday’s encounter at Old Trafford off the back of some fine defensive form, having each recorded three clean sheets in their previous five Premier League outings.
It came as no surprise, therefore, that defences emerged on top in the first half, with a combination of stout defending and a high collective work rate helping the Hammers keep the league’s second-placed side at bay.
When the decisive goal did arrive in the second half, it was a fortuitous one for Manchester United, Bruno Fernandes’ whipped delivery cannoning off the head of the unsighted Craig Dawson.
Despite the setback, West Ham responded positively and carved out some promising moves of their own, without – in the end – being able to fashion the requisite end product.
Nevertheless, Noble saw fit to praise his side's commitment and determination – two characteristics which have endured this season so far, and qualities which the captain his side retain in the weeks to come.
The 33-year-old said: “We kept pushing. We knew it was going to be a tough game.
“After we played our last away game against Manchester City, we played really well in that game, and then we came to Old Trafford and had to defend really well. You have to when you go to Manchester United.
“We got better in the second half and tried to pass the ball a bit more. We broke away in the first half and kept giving the ball away. We were rushing and we didn’t settle really on the ball, and in the second half we got a lot better and created a few opportunities.
“We’re a little bit disappointed, but you come away to Manchester United and know it’s going to be a really hard game – and we stayed in it right til the end.
“We’re still fighting. The results this week went for us. We play Arsenal at home next week which should be another tough game, but our home form’s good and we look forward to it."
Noble’s first Premier League start of 2021 came at the end of a week in which the long-serving Club captain announced the following campaign would be his last for West Ham United.
Having graduated from an apprenticeship at the Academy of Football, Noble has since gone on to make more than 500 first-team appearances in Claret and Blue, winning two Hammer of the Year awards and captaining his boyhood Club for the past five seasons.
It therefore comes as little surprise that Noble and his teammates are focused on capping a hitherto memorable 2020/21 season with winning the right to play European football in his final campaign next year.
Even after Sunday’s loss, the Hammers remain in a strong position to do so, sitting in fifth, just three points behind next-best-placed Chelsea - and with a game in hand on the Blues.
A testing upcoming fixture list – beginning with the visit of Arsenal to London Stadium on Sunday – will surely examine those credentials.
Noble explained: “The last week’s been pretty emotional. Talking to my family and the Club and everyone has helped me out.
“When you know it’s that close…. to be honest, it’s a weight off my shoulders now. I’ve made my decision and I’m really looking forward to next year.
“This season’s actually been really enjoyable. The boys have been playing really well. We’re challenging for a top-four place, which is fantastic.
“We need to keep pushing. I’ve been here for 18 years now, and to be involved in a European push is fantastic. Hopefully we’ll get those points and for my last season I can play in Europe.
“For us we know the last three or four games have been tough, and then the next four or five are tough as well. We need to just nick a couple of wins and keep pushing for that European spot.”