If nothing else, Sheffield United silenced the London Stadium for all of a soporific second half. Sadly for them, by then West Ham United were already home and hosed. Two goals ahead, the hosts had sashayed into cruise control against toothless, guile-free opponents.
For Sheffield United, the scoreline was an improvement on Sunday’s 8-0 trouncing by Newcastle United, but the result remained the same. They have taken just one Premier League point this season and with Luton Town winning, they now find themselves 20th out of 20 and looking desperately short of top level quality in what is already turning out to be a grim slog of a season. The performance offered little cause for hope. Supposedly no game in the Premier League is easy. This one was.
Intriguingly, visiting manager Paul Heckingbottom kept his nerve after Sunday, swapping Oliver Norwood for the formerly suspended Oli McBurnie, but otherwise keeping the same starting XI. Alas, the lemon-shirted northerners were not rejuvenated by their unlikely vote of confidence.
“We’ll see whether we have Premier League quality,” sighed Heckingbottom. “But I believe we have. We’ve not lost because other teams have been far better than us, we’ve lost because of little key moments. We could have taken points and there’s evidence to say we can. There are two choices: feel sorry for ourselves or battle. I know there are points to be won and so do the players.”
With Michail Antonio in one of his more productive moods, West Ham briefly swept forwards with the gayest of abandon, as if another eight was possible. Soon Wes Foderingham was saving Jarrod Bowen’s point blank header. Nayef Aguerd headed the loose ball towards goal and Luke Thomas headed off the line.
Nature finally took its course halfway through the first half when Tomas Soucek set Vladimir Coufal free on the right. The Czech crossed low and, untroubled by any defender, Bowen guided his fifth goal of the season past Foderingham. “Gareth Southgate’s a good judge of a player,” said David Moyes, the West Ham manager, “but Jarrod is as close as he’s ever been to the England team. He’s quick and he’s getting goals in big games, as you have to do for England. Not that I want to pick the England team…”
The game-settling second came soon enough. Gustavo Hamer’s woefully sloppy clearance fell to Emerson, who threaded the ball through. Antonio deftly helped it on and Soucek’s finish was straight-forwards. From there, West Ham clocked off and the game slumped into somnambulant torpor
Unlike Newcastle when faced with the same opponents, West Ham picked and probed without great impetus. Indeed, there was even restlessness in the stands when Bowen set up Antonio, who shot straight at Foderingham. Moyes introduced Said Benrahma and Mohammed Kudus, seeking to regain that lost impetus, but while Kudus did embark upon one electrifying run, the lethargy proved infectious and more and more territory was ceded to the visitors, who lacked the nous to utilise it.