Late drama brought what seemed set to be a bore nil-nil draw to life as West Ham edged a 1-0 win against Fulham at the London Stadium this evening.
The two teams went into the game in 15th and 17th place respectively in the Premier League table and their lack of cutting edge in attack tonight certainly highlighted why.
However, the introduction of Said Benrahma in the 71st minute for only his second-ever West Ham appearance made them look much more dangerous.
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It proved to be an inspired substitution as the Algerian set up Tomas Soucek to score with a composed finish at the start of injury time and put the Hammers a goal ahead.
The chaos did not end there as a long VAR check led to a 97th-minute penalty for Fulham due to Benrahma making slight contact with Thomas Cairney in the box.
Ademola Lookman stepped up to take it and embarrassingly scuffed a panenka attempt straight into Lukasz Fabianski's hands, thus wasting a valuable chance to equalise for Fulham and sealing the win for West Ham.
Before then, the key chances had all fallen to West Ham early on in each half. Sebastien Haller’s powerful header ricocheted off the bar in the 7th minute after a flurry of key saves from Fulham 'keeper Alphonse Areola moments before and the home side could not believe their luck when Aaron Cresswell struck the bar with a curling free-kick after half-time.
Aleksandr Mitrovic had the best opportunities for Fulham to score but the Serb looked shot of confidence. When he bizarrely flicked the ball over the ‘keeper and wide of the goal in search of Decordova-Reid after being put through one-on-one in the 36th minute his blushes were saved by the linesman’s flag.
After the international break West Ham will travel to Sheffield United on November 22nd, while Fulham will square up against Everton the day before.
TALKING POINT - IS MOYES TOO CAUTIOUS?
West Ham lined up in an unchanged 5-4-1 formation this evening and even though they eventually came away with the win, their lack of success in scoring from open play highlighted the system's limitations and lack of suitability for this West Ham team. They have had a tough run of fixtures in recent weeks, playing Tottenham, Man City and Liverpool one after another so perhaps it was an understandable way for David Moyes to set up his team for those games. But this evening they were playing a Fulham side that have so far looked completely out of their depth in the Premier League this season and only recorded their first win at the start of this week, so a defensively-minded formation makes much less sense in this circumstance.
The likes of Pablo Fornals, Jarrod Bowen, Manuel Lanzini and Said Benrahma are all highly skilful, creative and dynamic individuals who surely need a less rigid system to flourish. With the two central midfielders being the defensively minded Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek, Sebastien Haller was regularly left isolated up front and West Ham became reliant on crosses from deep wide positions or corner-kicks to create opportunities. Rice and Soucek were completely overrun in the centre of the pitch by the industrious Fulham duo of Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa and Harrison Reed, with the West Ham central midfield duo being more preoccupied by Thomas Cairney who was playing in an attacking midfield role. That gave Reed and Anguissa plenty of time on the ball and more freedom, while Fornals and Bowen were left craving more space to run into and freedom to roam. Benhrama bailed the Hammers out late on by creating numerous chances before assisting Soucek's goal but his performance seemed to be in spite of the system rather than because of it. Although Moyes is admittedly missing a key player in Michail Antonio due to injury, he needs to make his team more fluid and cohesive so that they do not have to be dependent on individual moments of magic.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Aaron Cresswell (West Ham) - He is perhaps one of the only West Ham players to have directly benefited from the 5-4-1 formation, with Arthur Masuaku being preferred in his usual role of left-back. Cresswell looked very comfortable in centre-back, successfully managing to nullify multiple attacks from Fulham and even at times ventured forward to support his own team's attack. He constantly threatened with his crossing both in open play and from corners, while he was very unfortunate to not have scored from his wonderful free-kick that hit the crossbar in the 48th minute.
West Ham: Fabianski 8, Ogbonna 6, Balbuena 7, Cresswell 8, Coufal 6, Rice 6, Soucek 7, Masuaku 7, Bowen 6, Fornals 6, Haller 7...Subs: Diop 6, Lanzini 6, Benrahma 8
Fulham: Areola 8, Adarabioyo 6, Andersen 6, Robinson 6, Aina 6, Reed 7, Anguissa 8, Cairney 8, Lookman 5, Decordova-Reid 6, Mitrovic 5...Subs: Loftus-Cheek 5, Cavaleiro N/A
39' - CLOSE!! Lookman threads the ball through to Mitrovic, who's one-on-one with Fabianski albeit from an awkward angle. He opts against the shot and decides to flick it over the 'keeper in search of Decordova-Reid at the back post but there's too much on it. The linesman eventually raises his flag for offside but it's not clear which of the players was offside, especially given the pass from Lookman to Mitrovic possibly took a deflection. That could be why they waited to call it.
48' - OFF THE BAR!! The Hammers hit the crossbar for the second time this evening as Creswell curls a beautiful effort from a free-kick. Lovely technique and he's unfortunate not to score!
90+1' - GOOOAALLLLLL!!! Have West Ham just clinched the win?! Benrahma picks up a poor Fulham clearance, plays it across to Soucek and the Czech midfielder nets injury time! Absolute scenes.
90+5' - ABSOLUTE CHAOS!! Fulham take a corner and Cairney goes down in the box after appearing to make some contact with Benrahma. The Fulham players are appealing passionately for a penalty and this one will go to VAR...
90+7' - WOW! IT'S GIVEN! Rob Jones goes to the pitchside monitor and proceeds to declare that Benrahma has made contact with Cairney and it will be a penalty! There really was not much in it at all and Moyes is fuming on the touchline.
90+8' - OHHH NOOO!!! What is Lookman doing there?! It's the last minute of the game and he has the perfect opportunity to secure a valuable point for Fulham and he decides to go for an audacious panenka attempt. They always look slick if you score, but they are mightily embarrassing if you miss and Lookman simply dinks it straight into the hands of Fabianski. He's thrown it away there.