Ben Johnson felt every member of his team played a significant part in West Ham United’s return to winning ways against Wolverhampton Wanderers.
The Irons had been frustrated in their previous two games, being held to draws against Leicester City and Newcastle United, and came up against a Wolves team who started the day just two points behind them in the league table.
The 22-year-old, returning to a Premier League starting XI for the first time since New Year’s Day, therefore knew that each member of the West Ham team would have to perform well if they were to overcome Bruno Lage’s in-form side at London Stadium.
And perform well they did, Johnson told West Ham TV.
... we probably played better than we have in recent weeks, so it’s something we’re looking to build upon
“I’m relieved!” he laughed, reflecting on a 1-0 victory secured via Tomáš Souček’s close-range finish in the second half.
“It was a huge game – a game we had to win. From all parties - the fans, the Club, us players… we knew it was such an important game.
“We’ve worked all week to improve our press, and we did that, and we enjoyed the first half a lot. The second half was a bit different, but we probably played better than we have in recent weeks, so it’s something we’re looking to build upon.
“Wolves have been brilliant this season. You could see they were threatening with their one-twos, and the positions their front three were picking up.
“They’re a really good side. They’re tough to play against and don’t concede many goals, but they don’t score as many as they have done in past seasons.
“It was a great performance, with [Aaron] Cressy slotting back into centre-half with Kurt [Zouma] and Daws [Craig Dawson] so strong at the back today – they made some important blocks.
“Łukasz [Fabiański] behind them made some good saves, and came out and was confident from corners and set-pieces. Pablo [Fornals] put in a fantastic shift today and it was overall just a great performance from all the boys – Jarrod [Bowen], Mich [Antonio], Manu [Lanzini] and, of course, Dec [Rice] and Tom.
"It was a great team performance.”
As Johnson alluded to, manager David Moyes set his side out in a novel shape for the visit of Wolves to east London, with the reigning young Hammer of the Year fulfilling the role of right wing-back opposite Fornals on the left flank, allowing Cresswell to tuck into a back three.
With the Hammers dominant in the first half before needing to close up gaps and see out the win in the second, Johnson – a naturally athletic and attacking full-back – particularly enjoyed the licence to get forward which the role afforded him.
“I definitely enjoyed it,” he smiled. “It’s good to be back in the side. I wanted to go out there and play out of my skin for the Club.
“The first half I did enjoy it and I tried to run my socks off and press. The second half was a bit different – I was negated a bit – but overall it was just an overall great team performance.”
To complete the celebrations, Souček’s match-winning goal topped off not only the Czech midfielder’s 27th birthday – but substitute goalkeeper Alphonse Areola’s 29th to boot!
“Two birthdays today!” Johnson smiled. “Tomáš popping up on his birthday must be great for him – and he’s a great player, so there’s not much more I can say!”
Sunday’s game kicked off a run of seven games in the space of 22 days across three different competitions for the Hammers, who next up face FA Cup commitments on Wednesday evening, ahead of Premier and Europa League fixtures in March.
“We’ve just played the first of six or seven games in a short space of time,” Johnson explained. “We’ve got Southampton now on Wednesday.
“We’ve got to rest well and recover well. It’s going to be another tough test. All of the games are going to be extremely tough from now until the end of the season, and we want to go far in all competitions that we’re in.
“Hopefully we’ll go out there and put in a good performance.”
Johnson concluded by reiterating the collective show of support West Ham displayed for Andriy Yarmolenko, granted compassionate leave, and the people of Ukraine, after their home country was invaded by Russia earlier in the week.
We’re just sending our prayers to Yarmo, wishing him well and wanting him back soon
The full-back was part of the squad's show of solidarity for the No7 at London Stadium, with every player wearing shirts bearing his number in the warm-up before captain Rice carried Yarmolenko's name and number out ahead of kick-off.
“You see the whole of the Premier League doing their bit for Ukraine,” Johnson noted.
“Of course, our thoughts and prayers go out to Yarmo and his family, and the other Ukrainian players who play in the Premier League and throughout the world.
“It’s a difficult time for them all and it puts football into perspective, and how quickly it can be taken away.
“We’re just sending our prayers to Yarmo, wishing him well and wanting him back soon.”