When David Moyes laid out the best part of £80million to sign Gianluca Scamacca and Lucas Paqueta in the summer, it was with a view to delivering the firepower that could take West Ham to the next level, following back-to-back top-seven finishes.
The pair were hailed as statement signings and significant displays of faith in Moyes: Italy’s No9, the marquee centre-forward addition that West Ham had been searching 18 months for, and Brazil’s playmaker, a club-record fee paid for a player the Hammers thought was out of reach and destined for bigger things until late in the transfer window.
Certainly, they were not signed with a relegation scrap in mind, but with Moyes’s job seemingly hanging by a thread after Wilfried Gnonto’s opener for Leeds at Elland Road last night, the Scot’s most expensive investments rode to his rescue.
Both were on the scoresheet as West Ham came from a goal down to lead, before Rodrigo’s equaliser earned the home side a deserved share of the points in an entertaining encounter.
That Scamacca’s goal was his first in eight Premier League games and Paqueta his first since joining went some way to explaining the predicament the Hammers find themselves in, having collectively scored just 13 times in 17 League matches before last night.
Moyes has pointed out in recent weeks that the likes of Jarrod Bowen and Michail Antonio are underperforming statistically, too, but the spotlight has naturally fallen on the newcomers.
Paqueta’s underwhelming displays of late have been made all the more frustrating by the class shown both in his early appearances in claret and blue and in the yellow of Brazil at the World Cup. Here, he looked on it from the outset, with several sharp flicks and nicely weighted passes to create openings behind Leeds’ full-backs.
His goal came from the penalty spot just before the break, after VAR spotted Robin Koch’s foul on Bowen. Paqueta stuttered in his run-up and stared down Illan Meslier, before lifting the ball high above the goalkeeper.
Moyes was reluctant to go overboard in the significance of the 25-year-old finally opening his account — “[it’s] a penalty kick, so I don’t know if you can count that as an out-and-out goal,” he said — a curious sentiment, given the Hammers’ well-documented spot-kick troubles throughout his tenure.
Moyes did, however, laud Scamacca’s brilliant first-time finish, the former Sassuolo forward holding off Marc Roca outside the box, before curling Brendan Aaronson’s misplaced pass in off the post just moments after the restart.
“Gianluca has got that type of goal in him,” Moyes said. “I need him to start scoring ones inside the box and headers and tap-ins and things off the keeper. I’m really pleased for him and, hopefully, it can give him confidence to score more for us.”
There will be an increased responsibility on the Hammers’ forward line in their bid for a resurgence unless Moyes’s side can quickly rediscover the defensive solidity that provided at least some consolation during their pre-Christmas struggles.
No team in the bottom half of the table has leaked fewer goals, but Moyes is concerned by a sudden downturn, his side having conceded seven times in three League games since the restart, compared to just 17 in 15 before the World Cup, and seemingly developed a bizarre vulnerability from throw-ins.
“When we went a goal down, I thought, ‘here we go again’,” he added. “We’ve lost a couple of goals now from throw-ins, terrible. Two tonight from throw-ins, two against Brentford from throw-ins. It’s something we need to try and do better at.”