Defensive cracks begin to emerge as West Ham run off the rails

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 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Going into December, David Moyes knew it would be a difficult month, but this may have been beyond his expectations.

After a dizzying defeat to Southampton, who had won just once away from home all season, the Hammers have now dropped to sixth place in the table having started the month with a victory here over Chelsea.

The last home match of 2021 ended with Moyes’ side booed off at half-time and full-time, hardly reflective of the year they’ve had but a reality of the new expectations in these parts.

It has become a frustration in recent weeks that this group have become so accustomed to taking scalps against the bigger sides but continue to stumble against those below them. Southampton had not won in their last eight against the Hammers and can be added to the list of teams West Ham have failed to beat alongside Brentford, Burnley and Crystal Palace.

The biggest problem over this slump has been slow and stodgy attacking performances, but that was - eventually - not the issue here as a shaky show at the back sapped confidence from the Hammers.

Moyes is still without Angelo Ogbonna, Kurt Zouma and Aaron Cresswell at the back, key figures in the rise at West Ham over the past two years who are sorely missed.

After a flat first half in which Southampton took the lead through Mohamed Elyounoussi as those in claret and blue stood off the Norwegian and Kyle Walker-Peters, who set up the goal, Moyes moved quickly to inject some life.

Michail Antonio, back after missing Tottenham following a positive coronavirus test, was sent on from the bench alongside Manuel Lanzini and the Hammers clicked quickly. Antonio and Said Benrahma had efforts saved by Fraser Forster before, four minutes after the restart, the West Ham striker was on hand to head home his first goal since September, converting after Craig Dawson had met Jarrod Bowen’s corner.

Southampton have a habit for throwing away leads but claimed another to hold onto when James Ward-Prowse converted his third goal of the season from the penalty spot, the decision given after Kevin Friend consulted the monitor which showed clearly that Dawson had wiped out Armando Broja from behind, the crux of a sorry day for West Ham’s defenders.

Broja had been a nuisance throughout but outmuscled and powered past both Dawson and Issa Diop far too easily to win the spot kick.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The back line had been sluggish for the opener and at sea for Southampton’s second. The visiting defence were on a similar level minutes later as Bowen was allowed the time to cut back and find Benrahma all alone in the box. The Algerian, who had wasted possession far too often before now, rattled a first time effort into the far corner for his first goal since September.

There was still time for one more see-saw, though. Tomas Soucek conceded a free-kick from which Ward-Prowse delivered once more, finding the head of Jan Bednarek to head home and seal just a fourth Premier League win of the season for Southampton.

West Ham are far from out of a battle for Europe. That they are sixth remains a marvel considering their resources compared to those around them, but December has proved damaging to hopes of a top four finish and the foundation they have built everything on, a solid defence, is really starting to crack.

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