Had Tomas Soucek known of the scoring streak he was about to embark upon when concocting his trademark celebration, he might have come up with something less naff. Certainly, should his penchant for late goals seep earlier into matches, he might want to consider something less dizzying.
In five straight games for club and country, the Czech has found himself on the scoresheet and off twirling towards the corner flag in salute of another one for a growing tally.
Of the three of those to come in West Ham claret, all have been winners and none scored earlier than the 88th-minute, to down first Nottingham Forest and then Burnley in the Premier League, before last night’s edition of the late show finally broke Serbian minnows Backa Topola and snatched the 1-0 victory which keeps David Moyes’s side in charge of their Europa League group.
“Tomas is in great form,” said Moyes, whose men now need only a point at home to Freiburg on the final day to clinch top spot and thus avoid an extra play-off round in the New Year. “His first season for us he scored 10 goals. He’s up to seven now, so he has a chance of reaching that. I’m pleased for him.”
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It was that double-figure tally in 2020-21 that marked Soucek out as one of Moyes’s shrewdest buys, but the midfielder’s goal threat evaporated in the two campaigns that followed, when he scored nine times in 101 games.
This season, though, the 28-year-old has been reborn and his goals have been no product of fluke, Opta stats showing that by just about every relevant metric — shots, expected goals, touches in the opposition box — Soucek is back as an attacking force.
The departure of one of Europe’s best defensive midfielders in Declan Rice has allowed his long-time partner off the leash, but the rebalancing of West Ham’s engine room has given Soucek more licence.
Edson Alvarez is a more positionally cautious player than Rice, and in deploying James Ward-Prowse in a deeper role alongside the Mexican, Soucek has often been used as a non-traditional fulcrum at No10. It helps, too, that Ward-Prowse’s set-pieces seem to keep landing on his head.
That combination brought the Hammers’ only clear first-half chance last night, Soucek failing to adjust to steer on target. With Alvarez left in London, he was back at the base of the pivot, but with the game goalless and Freiburg on the cusp of going two points clear at the top, Soucek pressed forth, meeting Maxwel Cornet’s cross on the volley.
Crystal Palace come to London Stadium on Sunday, little more than a year since they settled the derby with their own last-gasp strike. With Soucek on this kind of run, they do so with fair warning.