West Ham's attacking problems go well beyond injury woes

While presenting an award at Sunday night’s BAFTAs ceremony in London, the actor Hugh Grant, briefly reprising his role as an Oompa Loompa from last year’s Wonka prequel, made a gag about the trend towards interminable run times in modern cinema.

“Oompa Loompa doompety-dong,” he sighed. "Most of these films were frankly too long.” It was funny, mainly because the people responsible for making them so were also the ones doing the laughing.

Heaven knows, though, what Grant or anyone else who shares his grievance would make of Search For A Goal, the latest flick out of Rush Green Studios, directed by David Moyes and starring some top names, including Jarrod Bowen, Mohammed Kudus and, in a belated cameo, Michail Antonio.

Following Saturday’s 2-0 defeat to Nottingham Forest, it is now more than seven hours since West Ham scored from open play and five since they found the net at all.

Instinct is to point to disruption to that forward line as cause for the drop-off that has seen Moyes’s side go from averaging 1.7 goals per game in the first half of the league season to 0.5 since the midway stage.

Kudus was absent for a spell during the Africa Cup of Nations and is yet to hit his pre-tournament form since, while Bowen has not scored in seven league matches either side of an ankle injury, having begun the season with a prolific burst of 11 in 17. Antonio, meanwhile, returned for the first time since November at the City Ground and blew his side’s best chance without so much as getting a shot away.

Lucas Paqueta has been missing throughout the dry spell and all manner of hope is now pinned on the Brazilian’s imminent comeback both rebalancing and revitalising what only a couple of months ago looked among the most potent attacks in the league.

As big a boost as Paqueta’s return will be, though, West Ham’s failings are more collective than that theory lets on, and not only because it is difficult to put the fact they have conceded 11 times in three matches at the other end down to the absence their No10.

Blunted: West Ham’s attacking enterprise has stalled of late (Getty Images)
Blunted: West Ham’s attacking enterprise has stalled of late (Getty Images)

While Paqueta, Bowen and Kudus did account for the majority of the Hammers’s output at their pre-Christmas best, they were certainly not alone.

Czech pair Tomas Soucek and Vladimir Coufal had been reborn as attacking forces, the latter at one stage setting up goals in four consecutive league matches in the autumn and Soucek scoring eight times across competitions by the turn of the year, including a flurry of late winners.

Coufal’s form, though, has dipped once more, his involvement at the top end of the pitch almost non-existent in recent weeks, and the full-back now looks under pressure from Ben Johnson for his place.

Soucek’s own downturn has already seen his surrendered to Kalvin Phillips, though that player’s sending off at Forest means he will almost certainly get it back when Brentford visit on Monday night.

Then there is the case of James Ward-Prowse, who has scored twice from the penalty spot in 2024 but for whom the set-piece assists - such a key part of West Ham’s early season success - have dried up.

The blame for that lies as much with the players attacking his deliveries as the man taking them. Given West Ham’s historic reputation as a strong set-piece outfit and Ward-Prowse’s as the best exponent in division, his summer signing looked a no-brainer. After a bright start to the marriage, though, it is hard not to feel neither party is currently making best use of the other.