Ruthless Brentford push West Ham to total malfunction as pressure grows on David Moyes

Sinking: West Ham are struggling this season  (Getty Images)
Sinking: West Ham are struggling this season (Getty Images)

If the World Cup break was supposed to offer the Premier League’s teams a chance to reset, then the old on-off trick has failed to work the oracle for West Ham. On this evidence, it may even have made things worse.

For if the Irons’ television set was displaying little but the muddled fuzz of static in November, then heading into the New Year it seems now to be in a state of almost total malfunction, screen cracked, insides knackered. Mendable, sure. But by who and how?

A 2-0 defeat here to Brentford made it five in a row in the Premier League for the Hammers and saw David Moyes serenaded with chants of “sacked in the morning” by the away fans, the Scot now surely under genuine pressure with his side still only one point above the relegation zone but vulnerable to slipping into it by the time the ball drops tomorrow night.

The Boxing Day reverse at leaders Arsenal was excusable, but this was slated as the night when hopes of a post-Qatar relaunch would come to fruition, against a Brentford side who had won just once on the road this season, albeit at champions Manchester City.

Brentford, brilliantly coached by Thomas Frank and now ninth in the division, are an excellent team but here needed only to be a ruthless one. They turned two chances into a two-goal lead at the break, Ivan Toney reacting fastest to poke in from close range, then Josh Dasilva rinsing Aaron Cresswell with alarming ease to go clean through and add the second.

Toney now has 12 League goals this season, only one fewer than West Ham, but was stretchered off in stoppage time with what looked a serious injury in a major downer on an otherwise excellent night for the visitors.

The record will show that Moyes, in an apparently conservative move, switched to a back-five for something approaching a must-win game at home, but in reality the result was not a product of system or selection: matching up with the Bees’ wing-back formation made a degree of sense and the decision to drop the out-of-form Tomas Soucek and deploy Lucas Paqueta in a deeper midfield role, where he has excelled for Brazil, was a positive one. Application, rather, was the issue, with both goals coming from laughably weak defending of throw-ins.

First, Mathias Jensen’s long hurl was allowed to be flicked on by Zanka, then hooked goalwards by Christian Norgaard before Toney got between two leaden-footed defenders to be first to Lukasz Fabianski’s parry.

Then, Cresswell gave several yards to the recalled Dasilva, saw them eaten up, was outmuscled and gave up the chase, all within a couple of seconds, before the midfielder slotted home the second. The contrast between Cresswell and Brentford’s outstanding left-back, Rico Henry, could barely have been more stark.

Either side of and in between the two goals, West Ham had, believe it or not, shown signs of life in the opening 45 minutes, Paqueta noticeably more involved, Said Benrahma a threat against his former side and Declan Rice playing on the front-foot after curling onto the post with a brilliant effort from range in the early minutes.

Having led against the run of play at half-time at Arsenal, only to be blown away after the break, the Irons needed to summon a similar response themselves but only in the brief moments between Jarrod Bowen being awarded a penalty and VAR ruling Ben Mee’s foul had taken place outside the box did you sense a route back into the game.

Big blow: Ivan Toney looked to have suffered a serious injury against West Ham (Getty Images)
Big blow: Ivan Toney looked to have suffered a serious injury against West Ham (Getty Images)

Instead, things might easily have gotten worse. Bryan Mbeumo ought to have delayed his cross to an unmarked Toney in the middle but wasted the opening with an early ball, before Fabianski made a fine save to tip substitute Samman Ghoddos’ strike round the post.

Moyes, by now, had sent on Michail Antonio and switched to a 4-4-2 but to little effect, the closest his side game to pulling one back coming from a Craig Dawson header tipped over by David Raya.

These sides meet again in little more than a week in the Third Round of the FA Cup in west London, and Frank, fresh from signing a new long-term contract, would be right to have designs on a lengthy run to add his burgeoning legacy, having built a team that looks in little danger of being dragged into a relegation scrap this term, though replacing Toney’s goals may now be a January must if the forward’s injury proves as severe as first feared.

Moyes, meanwhile, cannot afford to look any further ahead than Wednesday’s trip to Leeds, where anything less than a positive result will only add to doubts over his future.