West Ham relief clear as rampant spell from David Moyes’ side finally breathes life into dour season
Seventy-three minutes gone, and David Moyes is on the pitch. Declan Rice is near enough in the first row of seats. And the London Stadium is not so much breathing a sigh, as letting out a cry, of collective relief.
By the corner flag, the rest of West Ham’s players are engulfing Danny Ings, who has just bundled home the second of two goals in three second-half minutes that might, in time, prove the most important of the Hammers’ season.
By the end of a giddy quarter-of-an-hour, Declan Rice and Michail Antonio would add the third and fourth in a 4-0 rout, the winning margin twice as large as anything Moyes’ side have managed in the League all season.
The 250th Premier League win of the 59-year-old’s managerial career lifts the Hammers out of the bottom-three and the manner of it could yet do so much more.
This was only Nottingham Forest, the division’s poorest travellers who showed little ambition and will likely be kept in it instead by their excellent form at the City Ground, where West Ham lost at the start of their slide back in August.
But, unlike in beating Everton here in a similarly vital fixture last month, the hosts were not a side who merely capitalised on desperate opposition and rather bumbled their way to win. This was an afternoon on which West Ham, believe it or not, actually played well.
It was ahead of that Everton game that Moyes dipped into his emergency fund and made what he called the “off-piste” January signing of Ings from Aston Villa. With the Hammers careering downhill towards the Championship, the Scot finally handed the 30-year-old a first League start after four substitute cameos and he began repaying a modest £12million transfer fee almost immediately.
Ings started the move for his own opener, spraying across the field for Jarrod Bowen before getting on the end of the winger’s low cross, stretching to finish smartly as the ball was delivered a fraction behind him. His second - which would have come even sooner after the first had it not been for a VAR delay to check for offside - was scrambled over the line after fine work from Said Benrahma.
Rice’s curler was a joyful finish, the kind of goal that somehow feels even better sealing a win than earning one but the scoring was not done there. Antonio, having just seen Ings equal his League tally in the space of 180 seconds, rose at the back-post to nod home fellow substitute Pablo Fornals’ cross, a crowning goal of strong Emile-Heskey-in-Munich vibes.
On Friday, Moyes had conceded there was “an element of truth” in the accusations of over-caution that followed last weekend’s dull showing in defeat at Tottenham. A markedly more adventurous lineup here seemed further acknowledgement, with Lucas Paqueta a surprise returnee following a shoulder injury to start in a 4-3-3.
The difference was notable during an opening spell of 25 minutes in which the Hammers enjoyed the kind of sustained pressure that has been all too rare in their fixtures. Angelo Ogbonna leathering a half-volley out of play for a throw-in was not what many had in mind when calling for the shackles to be thrown off, but for the most part West Ham’s play was pleasingly watchable, no small compliment considering Moyes himself admitted this week he has found his side’s attacking struggles tough viewing.
Ings and Bowen both worked openings in the early exchanges before the former headed badly wide from Vladimir Coufal’s cross having seemingly been put off by Tomas Soucek’s leap. In between, Paqueta’s deflected strike hit Forest centre-half Felipe and kissed the outside of the post.
That opening came after Keylor Navas had flapped at a corner and it seemed a deliberate ploy to target the Costa Rican as set-piece after set-piece was curled in under his crossbar, but the plan did not bear fruit. At the other end, the only brief hairy moment came when Brennan Johnson flung himself to the ground under clumsy but minimal contact from namesake Ben.
Given West Ham’s predicament, though, the half-time terrace talk would not have been of encouraging improvement but of superiority squandered. When Bowen hit the post early in the second-half, the suspicion that a cruel twist might be coming only grew.
The shock, as it turned out, would be one that might oh so belatedly jolt the Irons’ season into life.