The rogue whistler in the London Stadium crowd who briefly fooled West Ham and Aston Villa’s players into thinking full-time had come prematurely might have been more welcome had he been blowing time early on the Hammers’ Premier League campaign.
The domestic season has been a grind for David Moyes’s side virtually from the outset, and with the Hammers this morning outside the relegation zone only on goal difference after Sunday’s 1-1 draw, most, you sense, would shake hands now on slender survival.
In another world, this match might have marked a moment of peak excitement, the first time all season that Moyes has been able to name all eight of his summer signings in the same match-day squad. Instead, that novelty — and the fact that it has taken until March to occur — served only to highlight the extent to which last summer’s spree has failed to produce a coherent, cohesive team.
When Gianluca Scamacca and Lucas Paqueta were brought in as the summer’s two marquee attacking signings to the tune of £80million, it was not with a relegation scrap in mind and, perhaps, it was therefore fitting that neither was anywhere to be seen at the business end of this flat contest, as the hosts sought the three points that would have opened up a little breathing space between themselves and the drop-zone.
Paqueta, who had won the soft penalty converted by Said Benrahma to cancel out Ollie Watkins’s header, had been replaced with a quarter-of-an-hour to go and stormed straight down the tunnel, clearly fuming, before returning a little sheepishly to the bench.
“He wanted to stay on,” Moyes said afterwards. “But I’ve told him and I explained to him. It was getting to the stage of the game where maybe fresh legs could help. That was the thinking behind it.”
The midfielder, clearly, has quality, even if the only time he has managed to display it on a consistent basis since joining from Lyon was in the yellow shirt of Brazil at this winter’s World Cup. You sense that, presuming West Ham stay up and Paqueta stays put, English football will see a much-improved player next term.
Scamacca’s plight, though, is more troubling. The 24-year-old has endured a difficult few months, struggling with injury, being dropped by his agency over a lack of “trust” and now finding no route into a team that is hardly uprooting trees.
Danny Ings’s January signing has crowded what was previously a two-way battle with Michail Antonio to lead the line, but in searching for a winner late on here, Moyes sent winger Maxwel Cornet on in a central role ahead of the Italian.
“We know that his physical data has got to be much better than it is,” Moyes explained. “Gianluca has got to get himself back. No manager wants to put out a bad team, you want to put out the players who you think are going to win for you, so you are always looking to put your best team out.”
Seven months into the season, Moyes is closer than ever to finally being able to select his, but there is still no guarantee it will be good enough.