Declan Rice believes this West Ham United team still have positive targets in their sights following Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Brighton & Hove Albion.
The 22-year-old midfielder made his return to manager David Moyes’ starting eleven at the Amex Stadium, having been out of action since mid-March through injury.
His energy proved a valuable addition to the Irons’ cause in a lively encounter on the south coast, with both teams having their opportunities to take the lead, but spurning them prior the closing stages.
When goals did eventually arrive, however, they did so in quickfire fashion, Danny Welbeck racing clear to dink Brighton in front with just over five minutes remaining, before West Ham responded moments later with an exquisite finish by second-half substitute Said Benrahma.
We’ve still got two more games and we can finish on a high
The Algeria international’s curling effort – his first goal for West Ham since his arrival from Brentford in the summer – kept the Irons on course, with two games remaining, to surpass the Club’s record Premier League points total, which currently stands at 62 (set in 2015/16).
Such an achievement may yet prove enough to secure the Hammers European football next season, although Saturday’s draw realistically ends their Champions League aspirations.
“If you want to be competing for the Champions League, you need to win the games that we’ve lost, but we’re still going to be upbeat," Rice told Sky Sports.
“It’s a point. We thought we dominated the game, to be honest. They had a good couple of passages of play, but we’ve missed so many chances. I think us scoring was probably a fair result.
“We’re still going to be upbeat. If you compare our last two seasons – last year to this year – the turnaround’s been phenomenal. The season’s been a pleasure to be a part of, with the manager and the players.
“We’re on 59 points now and we can finish on 65 points if we win our last two games. That would mean West Ham’s best-ever Premier League season, and hopefully still some form of European football. There are still plenty of positives to look forward to.”
Rice’s first appearance since the 3-3 draw at home to Arsenal on 21 March was a solid one, with the No41 once again sporting the captain’s armband.
Having been an ever-present up to that point in the Irons’ previous two top-flight campaigns, the England international was pleased to be back out on the grass.
Rice said: “It was great to be back. Obviously the injury was a shock. After playing so many games, you kind of feel like you’re going to be invincible and never pick up an injury.
“I just had to stay positive, attack it and give everything in the gym to get myself back. To get 90 minutes tonight, I didn’t think I’d be able to do it but it just shows that hard work pays off.”
Rice also paid tribute to Benrahma, whose late intervention secured an important point at Amex Stadium.
“He deserves it,” Rice explained. “I think he’s had a mixed time since he’s been here.
“I see him in training every day – the skills he’s got – and the talent is there. It’s just he needed that goal, and hopefully now he can kick on and be a top player for us, because he is.”
Saturday’s draw means that West Ham have won just one of their last five Premier League games, but remain in sixth place in the table, three points ahead of Tottenham Hotspur having played a game more.
Such a finish would see the Irons qualify directly for the Europa League group stages, a strong outcome from the campaign.
“This season’s been outstanding,” Rice admitted. “We’ve given everything.
“From the day pre-season started the manager was on us, and we as players have taken it on board and given it everything. We’ve learned to win ugly this year and we’ve won games where we’ve dominated too. It’s been a rollercoaster.
“We’ve still got two more games and we can finish on a high. I think every West Ham fan around the world is watching now, and everyone I speak to is buzzing with how this year’s gone – and so am I to be honest with you.
“We go to West Brom on Wednesday and then we finish off in front of 10,000 supporters on the last day against Southampton – there’s plenty of exciting times to look forward to.”