Alphonse Areola defiant as West Ham frustrate Brighton in stalemate

Both teams look tired in a game that lacked energy

West Ham United 0 Brighton and Hove Albion 0

This was a game that made it hard not to wonder if there is such a thing as too much football. West Ham and Brighton were two tired, injury-hit teams trying their best and giving their all without ever really suggesting they had the wit or energy to give a sleepy crowd a goal.

At the end the biggest takeaway was it will be tough for both to remain above richer rivals as the season wears on. While West Ham ended 2023 with fine wins over Arsenal and Manchester United, the limitations of their squad were exposed by the absence of Lucas Paquetá and Mohammed Kudus. They remain sixth, three points above Brighton after a dogged defensive display, but David Moyes may reflect that he needs reinforcements this month.

Brighton, who resembled the walking wounded at times, dealt better with their injuries and created the better chances on a night when Roberto De Zerbi’s forwards were thwarted by several fine saves from Alphonse Areola.


The question both of these clubs have to answer is whether they have enough depth to sustain their challenges for European football. Both are in the Europa League and weariness is an issue. Whereas bigger clubs are more accustomed to handling the load and tend to have more room for manoeuvre when they rotate, there inevitably comes a point when teams of the size of West Ham and Brighton find it harder to defy English football’s financial reality.

It certainly felt that way during the early stages of an encounter that was all the poorer for the absence of a host of exciting forward players. West Ham, who were dealing with a sickness bug again, were never going to be as dangerous without Kudus and Paquetá in attack. Pablo Fornals and Saïd Benrahma made rare starts but both were poor. It was easy to see why West Ham are looking to sell Benrahma this month.

Still, while Moyes had seven out, that was nothing compared to Brighton’s nine. No wonder De Zerbi looked so glum in the away dugout. The visitors arranged themselves in a 3-4-3 system but they lacked a spark with Kaoru Mitoma, Simon Adingra and Ansu Fati unavailable on the flanks.

Opportunities were rare during the first half. West Ham sat back, granting Brighton possession, but there were times when they imposed themselves. Their best chance came when Benrahma’s deflected cross fell to James Ward-Prowse, whose volley was turned away by Jason Steele.

Konstantinos Mavropanos and Edson Álvarez would also kick themselves for failing to convert after a Ward-Prowse free-kick caused panic in the Brighton defence just before half-time. It would be pushing it, though, to suggest that West Ham deserved to lead. Jarrod Bowen was isolated against Jan Paul van Hecke and Adam Webster, starting for the first time since scoring an own-goal against Sheffield United in November.

Brighton impressed at the end of the opening period. Areola denied Jack Hinshelwood after West Ham fell asleep at a set piece. Pascal Gross should have scored after James Milner cut inside from left wing-back and delivered a teasing cross, only for Areola to save the midfielder’s header.

The slicker football came from Brighton. Areola came to the rescue again when Danny Welbeck shot powerfully from 15 yards. João Pedro burst into life, dribbling inside from the left and past several West Ham defenders, a stunning solo goal on the cards until the Brazilian ruined it all by shooting straight at Areola.

West Ham, who filled their bench with youngsters, needed to respond. Benrahma, too timid and indecisive for the most part, finally took some responsibility on the left. The Algerian’s cross deflected to Tomas Soucek, but Pervis Estupiñán did enough to force the midfielder to shoot wide from close range.

De Zerbi decided it was time to present West Ham’s centre-backs, Mavropanos and Angelo Ogbonna, with a different challenge by replacing Welbeck with Evan Ferguson. The young striker almost made an instant impact, brilliantly turning Álvarez, but his shot fizzed wide.

It became a real test of West Ham’s defensive steel and ability to cope without possession. Realising that a lack of pace was holding back his team’s attempts to counterattack, Moyes made a positive move, replacing the ponderous Benrahma with Divin Mubama.

Brighton, who saw Webster limp off yet again, went close again when Jakub Moder, on as a substitute, missed a glorious chance. Ben Johnson, West Ham’s right-back, went down with cramp. Areola saved from Adam Lallana, another substitute. The final whistle was welcome. - Guardian

  • Sign up for push alerts and have the best news, analysis and comment delivered directly to your phone
  • Find The Irish Times on WhatsApp and stay up to date
  • Our In The News podcast is now published daily – Find the latest episode here