Michail Antonio is not used to relying on quirks of fate for his opportunities. So regularly, relentlessly even, has he been pressed into service for West Ham over the past 18 months that the word “opportunity” does not quite do justice to what at times has been a thankless task.
But having lost his place in David Moyes’s Premier League side for Sunday’s win over Aston Villa, summer signing Gianluca Scamacca’s illness saw the Jamaican handed it straight back for last night’s London derby draw with Tottenham — and he responded with a display that offered a reminder of what, when not flogged to near-exhaustion, he does so well for this team.
Goalscoring does not fall in the category anywhere near consistently enough, but he was denied a first in the Premier League this term only by the woodwork, after beating Hugo Lloris all ends up with a fine curling effort at the end of West Ham’s best move of the match, started by Thilo Kehrer’s brave pass through the lines while under pressure from Harry Kane.
It was then Antonio’s excellent touch, hold-up and flick on that put Tomas Soucek in for the leveller, while his trademark graft often forced Spurs’ centre-halves into turning and playing the ball back to Lloris.
Tottenham’s goalkeeper and captain did not appear to want anything to do with it, and cheaply surrendered the throw-in that led to the equaliser with an errant pass out of play. Late on, Antonio might even have won it, one of two in claret and blue hurling themselves desperately at Jarrod Bowen’s hook across the face of goal to no avail.
It is true that Antonio may well have been given the nod to start even had Scamacca been available here, with Moyes easing his £30.5million summer signing into action, though it would have been a strange move to make too many unnecessary alterations to the side that had earned a first League win of the season at Villa Park, off the back of three defeats.
Either way, with West Ham in action twice a week between now and the Qatar World Cup, the pair — neither of whom will go to the tournament — seem destined to operate in rotation.
The positive impact of Scamacca’s arrival on Antonio already looks to be two-fold. The 32-year-old relishes a tussle on the pitch and seems revved up by the presence of genuine competition in the dressing room for the first time since Sebastian Haller was sold to Ajax in January 2021.
But having dovetailed with Scamacca in starting three matches apiece prior to last night, Antonio also looks re-energised, simply by not being asked to expend quite so much of it.