Champions League contenders? West Ham dominate Crystal Palace to move into top four

John Aizlewood
·3-min read
West Ham United's Craig Dawson (right) celebrates scoring their side's third goal of the game with Angelo Ogbonna during the Premier League - PA
West Ham United's Craig Dawson (right) celebrates scoring their side's third goal of the game with Angelo Ogbonna during the Premier League - PA

Pinch yourself West Ham fans. David Moyes’s team are fourth in the Premier League after a sixth successive victory, and the side whose place they have taken – Liverpool – just happen to be the visitors at the London Stadium on Sunday.

The scoreline suggested a close game, but West Ham’s margin of victory could have been greater. The seven fringe players elevated to the starting XI for the FA Cup cruise past Doncaster Rovers last weekend were all demoted as Moyes put out a strong side, and it paid off handsomely. “We’re only scratching the surface,” said Moyes. “This team have so much more to give and we’ll try to deliver.”

Crystal Palace have won just once since their 5-1 triumph at West Bromwich Albion in the first week of December. Visa troubles quashed Mainz loanee Jean-Philippe Mateta’s hopes of a first appearance in England. Yet, defenestrated from the FA Cup in round three and therefore rested over the weekend, their manager, Roy Hodgson, restored Wilfried Zaha and shuffled Jordan Ayew and James McCarthy from their starting berths.

“We lost to the better team. Our performance was nowhere near as good as we expected to be,” lamented Hodgson, the Palace manager, who was without his assistant Ray Lewington, who tested positive for Covid-19.

In a first half so gung-ho it could have been produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, these teams flung themselves at each other with abandon and by the time 10 minutes had passed, both had scored. First, Luka Milivojevic’s cunning through-ball allowed Christian Benteke to outsmart Angelo Ogbonna and play a whiplash one-two with Zaha, curiously neglected by Declan Rice. In space on the edge of the penalty area, Zaha skidded his first goal of 2021 past Lucasz Fabianski as Aaron Cresswell turned his back. Palace would never look likely again.

West Ham United manager David Moyes (right) and Mark Noble celebrate after the final whistle  - PA
West Ham United manager David Moyes (right) and Mark Noble celebrate after the final whistle - PA

With Said Benrahma – whose loan from Brentford will be made permanent, Moyes confirmed – often unplayable, Michail Antonio a constant threat and Ogbonna a colossus in defence, West Ham woke up and won the game. Pablo Fornals scampered down the left and found Antonio, who clipped it over for Tomas Soucek to head home.

They were not satisfied with parity and when their former player Cheikhou Kouyate gave away a cheap free-kick, they were ahead. Cresswell slung it to the back post where Soucek took one touch to cushion the ball and another to poke it past Vicente Guaita.

It could have been worse for Palace, when Antonio fired against a post. He would rattle the same post before half-time. Soon, though, normal service was resumed. Palace struggled to cope and only a wonder save from Guaita thwarted the irresistible Antonio after sterling work from Benrahma and then Jarrod Bowen. Luck tends to run out and Palace’s did when Bowen lobbed in a corner from the right. Craig Dawson soared into space as Gary Cahill remained earthbound to seal the deal.

There was one late twist when Michy Batshuayi’s last-kick goal – his first of this loan spell with Palace – after a splendid Andre Ayew backheel, gave the scoreline a gloss Palace scarcely warranted.