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Danny Welbeck scores in the 84th minute to break the deadlock
Said Benrahma equalises three minutes with his first goal for the away side
It is still possible. Just. Consult the table and the mathematics is not beyond them. But failing to take three points from this encounter with Brighton has effectively ended West Ham’s most unlikely of Champions League pursuits. The dream is rapidly coming to an end. Indeed, after this draw the urgency has changed. In their last two games, David Moyes’s side now anxiously need to secure sufficient points to avoid being placed in next season’s Europa Conference League.
For Brighton, the opportunity stands to collect more points than in any of their previous seasons in the Premier League. It meant both sides here had plenty to play for. And the scrap was there from the start.
As has been the case since he arrived on loan from Manchester United in January, at the heart of the visitors’ endeavours was Jesse Lingard, the Premier League Player of the Month for April. His first pass was an accidental nutmeg of Leandro Trossard, his second a superb ball over the top of the Brighton defence for Pablo Fornals to run on to and cross. Disappointingly for an animated David Moyes on the touchline, there was no one there to meet it.
Lingard may have cut an odd sartorial figure with one leg of his shorts pulled up high on his thigh, the other worn long to his knee, but he was always on the move, always making himself available, always looking for the smart pass. And how his colleagues responded to his prompting.
“Jesse has played really well for us in all the games,” said Moyes. “Sometimes you need someone to connect right when you make the chance.”
There was an exemplar of his problem within the first 10 minutes. Following superb interplay between Mikael Antonio and Fornals on the wing, the ball was played inside to Lingard, he floated over a cross which Antonio nodded back into the middle of the area. Again, there was no one there.
Fornals had the best opportunity of the first half, ghosting into the box, playing the ball through Adam Webster's legs, only to stab a shot tamely at Robert Sanchez. Lingard then passed wide to Aaron Cresswell, who crossed to Fornals, but his shot was charged down by Ben White. Then, Tomas Soucek, had a rasping long-range effort punched away by Sanchez.
It was relentless one-way traffic. But there is a reason Brighton have maintained a clean sheet in six of their past nine Premier League games at the Amex. And his name is Yves Bissouma. Constantly vigilant, he offered real protection to his back four. And when necessary, he would apply a touch of spite. As when he was rightly booked by Andre Marriner for nibbling at Lingard’s heels as he threatened to conjure up yet another attack. It was his eighth yellow card of the season. You suspect he believes every one is worth it.
West Ham had their own midfield protector in Declan Rice. Smooth, easy, efficient, he is also prepared to discomfort himself for the team’s benefit. As when he made a superb block of Steven Alzate’s fierce shot on the edge of the area as the second half got underway. Brighton had clearly been chivvied in the interval by Graham Potter and came out firing. Alireza Jahanbakhsh forced a save from Lukasz Fabianski, an exchange which will have excited Scrabble fans everywhere. Then the Brighton man went even closer, chasing down a long pass from Webster and drawing the keeper. He reached the ball first and pulled a shot back across the goal. It just missed the far post.
The game was opening up. Rice and Lingard worked some room on the edge of the Brighton area, exchanging half a dozen passes in a passage of keep ball, before Lingard fired over.
Moyes, in the attempt to find a way through, sent on Said Benrahma. With time running out, Fornals was beautifully played in by Lingard and tried to chip beyond Sanchez, but the keeper was simply too big to bypass. Then Benrahma sent over an invitation of a cross, which Craig Dawson headed wide.
But, just as the game appeared to be drifting into inconsequence, disaster struck for West Ham. The young Brighton substitute Percy Tau picked up the ball in the centre circle and shrewdly passed forward to Danny Welbeck, who ran beyond the Hammers’ back line, before flicking the ball past Fabianski. Moyes on the touchline was a picture of disconsolation.
“We can’t keep giving the opposition a goal,” he said. “If we had the clinical finishing, it wouldn’t matter.”
But his team did not despair. Showing significant character and determination, they poured towards the Brighton goal. After a scramble in the defence, during which Bissouma’s attempted clearance cannoned off the back of his own player, the ball broke to Benrahma.
His shot was laser driven beyond Sanchez. As the players celebrated, Moyes came on the pitch, issuing desperate instruction to get on with it. He knew one point would bring the dream to a rapid end. But in the end, it was all they got.
Full time, Brighton 1 West Ham 1
While they'll be happy to have salvaged a draw, West Ham know that their hopes of Champions League football are all but over.
They are now five points behind fourth-placed Chelsea with two games left to play. With a significantly inferior goal difference, it would take a near-miracle for them to nick a top-four spot.
Bissouma has a crack from distance, but it goes well wide.
Lingard gets in behind and sees a shot blocked by Webster. He appeals for handball but, after a brief VAR check, play continues.
GOAL! Brighton 1 West Ham 1
What an end to the game this is.
White gets a defensive clearance as far as Benrahma and, with nobody closing him down, he has time to shape and shoot. He almost rips the net off the goalframe.
GOAL! Brighton 1 West Ham 0
Moments after West Ham almost score, Brighton go one better.
Tau picks up the ball in midfield and runs at the Hammers' defence before finding Welbeck with a beautiful through ball. Welbeck dinks over the onrushing Fabianski and into the back of the net.
West Ham could have won it there.
Benrahma gets down the right completely unchallenged and pings a cross to Dawson, who guides a header inches wide of the far post. Brighton make another substitution, Trossard coming off for Andi Zeqiri
After a frantic 25 minutes or so, it's all got a bit cagey again at the Amex.
Fornals and Soucek exchange passes in Brighton's final third and the latter ferries the ball to Cresswell, whose cross is easily cleared.
Potter makes another change
Percy Tau comes on for Jahanbakhsh, who's been everywhere in the second half.
Bissouma and Jahanbakhsh do their best to thread through Trossard, but West Ham's defenders are alert to the danger.
Alzate off, Lallana on
Moyes makes his first substitution
Jahanbakhsh plays in Gross and, for a moment, it looks like he might score, but he fluffs the finish and, regardless, the flag is raised.
The game is much, much more open than it was in the first half, with both sides making inroads.
Declan Rice plays a one-two with Lingard on the edge of the area before the Manchester United loanee lashes over.
Lingard crosses from deep and almost finds Bowen, but it's just slightly overhit and bounces out of play.
Brighton have made the stronger start to the second half, Jahanbakhsh forcing Fabianski to parry a shot into the danger area.
West Ham clear their lines, but find themselves under sustained pressure. Jahanbakhsh gets in behind again soon afterwards and, with Fabianski stranded, he curls one past the far post.
Jahanbakhsh speeds through West Ham's back line and forces Fabianski into a low save from a tight angle.
The Hammers go straight up the other end, with Soucek climbing above Dan Burn to head over the crossbar.
Antonio does well to accelerate past Webster only to blast a shot into the stands.
Bowen then gets in behind and whips a cross in, which Webster almost turns into his own net. Luckily for him, Sanchez intervenes.
Teams are back out
... and the second half is about to kick off.
Can either side break the deadlock? We're about to find out.
Half time, Brighton 0 West Ham 0
The first 40 minutes may have been fairly pedestrian, but the game came alive just before the break.
West Ham upped the tempo and very nearly opened the scoring through Fornals and Soucek. Let's hope both sides play with the same sense of urgency in the second half.
All of a sudden, West Ham are well on top.
Bowen gets down the right and finds Fornals, whose shot is blocked at close range by White. Tomas Soucek then lets rip from long range, forcing Robert Sanchez into a panicked save.
Vladimir Coufal cuts in from the right and gets a cross-come-shot into the box but, again, it's blocked.
Great chance for West Ham!
Cresswell gets down the left and thumps a cross to Fornals, who thrashes a shot towards the bottom corner. It's blocked, as is Lingard's follow-up. Lingard appeals for handball but there's nothing doing.
Bissouma picks out Gross with a lovely diagonal ball, but his cross is too close to Lukasz Fabianski.
Fornals produces a fantastic bit of skill to flick the ball round Adam Webster and go through on goal, but the Brighton man recovers and gets back to stop him from getting a shot away.
West Ham go close!
Antonio latches onto a long ball into the box and heads back across goal, but it floats wide of the far post.
We still haven't had a shot on target here, though Trossard sees a speculative effort blocked.
Both sides are struggling to find space between the lines, which has forced most of the play to the flanks.
Lingard goes down in the box after being hemmed in on all sides by blue shirts, but referee Andre Marriner sees nothing to justify giving a penalty and play continues.
Cresswell whips in a cross from the left and Michail Antonio almost nips in at the near post, but he can't steer the ball towards goal.
A nice passing move from Brighton ends with Welbeck teeing up Jahanbakhsh on the edge of the area, but his shot is blocked.
The Hammers win a corner and Aaron Cresswell finds Dawson, but he can only glance a header well wide.
Yves Bissouma is booked for raking the back of Lingard's ankle, only a few minutes after catching him with a crunching tackle which went unpunished.
Bowen wins a corner for West Ham, but Brighton clear easily.
We've had zero shots so far at the Amex, even if there have been a lot of menacing crosses.
Gross drives a dangerous ball across the goalmouth but, again, there's nobody there to stab home.
Danny Welbeck almost gets in behind after a dink over the top from Alireza Jahanbakhsh, but Craig Dawson does well to get back and dispossess him.
Both sides are prowling and probing out wide at the moment but, as yet, there's been very little play through the middle.
Pascal Gross ends up in acres of space on the right and tries to pick out Leandro Trossard, but his cross is poor.
Jesse Lingard finds Pablo Fornals on the left and he lashes a cross into the box, but nobody gets on the end of it.
Players out on the pitch
... which means we're almost underway at the Amex. Foooootball!
Potter wants tangible improvement
Asked what he hopes to achieve between now and the end of the season given that Brighton are already safe from relegation, Potter says: "Every game in the Premier League is a chance for us to develop and find out more about ourselves.
"If you look at the history of the club we haven't had so many years in the Premier League, so every game is important for us. We want to try to get as many points as we can and keep improving."
Moyes says European football would be 'great achievement'
Speaking to Sky ahead of kick off, Moyes admits that he still hasn't given up on Champions League qualification. "Of course, we still want to make European football," he says. "It would be a great achievement for us [compared] to where we were last season.
"For a month or two there, we thought that Champions League was possible. It's still not impossible. But you can only win your next game, tonight it's against Brighton and we've got to win this game first."
Two changes for Brighton
In the absence of Dunk and Maupay, Jakub Moder and Steven Alzate come into Brighton's starting line-up.
Moyes has made three changes to the side which lost to Everton, with Angelo Ogbonna, Declan Rice and Jarrod Bowen swapping in for Issa Diop, Manuel Lanzini and Said Benrahma respectively.
West Ham team news
Brighton team news
Brighton chasing elusive final win
Leading thanks to Lewis Dunk's early header, they swarmed all over Wolves up until the half-time whistle. Then, eight minutes into the second half, Dunk saw red for dragging down Fabio Silva and, all of a sudden, Adama Traore had cancelled out their lead and Morgan Gibbs-White had scored a last-minute winner.
Dunk is now suspended for the visit of West Ham this evening, which is a worry for Graham Potter. Neal Maupay will also miss out, having been sent off for dissent after the final whistle.
Asked whether he was concerned about their enforced absence earlier this week, Potter said: "Well, yes. I think you have to be concerned... for every player you lose, you have to find a solution and adjust the team.
"It is part of the game and in an ideal world we don't want it to happen but, when you lose a player, whether it is through injury or suspension, the team has to readjust and that is where you can lose a little bit of performance.
"We have managed to navigate it pretty well but still, we can improve in that area."
Brighton come into this game 17th in the table, three points off the once-sacrosanct 40-point mark. Given that they face Manchester City and Arsenal in their last two fixtures, they may find that final win elusive.
Despite their setback against Everton last Sunday, West Ham are still fighting for a European spot and will make for extremely tough opponents.
Asked to assess Brighton's threat in his pre-match press conference, David Moyes said: "I've found the games against Brighton have always been tough.
"They've done a great job there at Brighton, they've got a really good recruitment set-up, they've got a good group of players, their style is very good and I think everyone is well aware of that.
"I think Brighton will cause us problems, as they have done with all teams. I think they're a good side to watch as well.
"I don't think we ever really get too down because we've not really been in a position to do so. In most of the season we've not lost too many games back-to-back, we've kept it going and come back from games we've lost so we're hoping to do the same."