Southampton prey on West Ham’s weak defence as Hammers slump continues

Absence of Kurt Zouma and Angelo Ogbonna ruthlessly exposed by visitors

West Ham 2 Southampton 3

West Ham’s challenge for a place in the top four is in danger of falling apart. After defying expectations for so long, David Moyes’s side can barely do anything right at the moment.

They have become too easy to play against and their need for defensive reinforcements to arrive in January could scarcely have been more glaring during this shoddy defeat to Southampton, who ruthlessly exposed their weaknesses without Kurt Zouma and Angelo Ogbonna holding everything together at the back.

Those injuries to Zouma and Ogbonna have taken a heavy toll. The harsh reality is that a central defensive pairing of Issa Diop and Craig Dawson will not be enough for West Ham to qualify for the Champions League. The balance of the team has disappeared and although Moyes's side twice dragged themselves level in the second half here, they could have no complaints when Jan Bednarek headed Southampton into the lead for the third and final time with 20 minutes left.

There was no way back once Bednarek had made it 3-2. Southampton, who had only won once on the road, held firm despite some late pressure and deservedly rose nine points above the bottom three.

West Ham, who have won one of their last seven league games, were ragged from start to finish. Travel chaos meant that the crowd was well below capacity and the mood in the stands was not helped by the inertia on the pitch. West Ham were slow to everything during the early stages and Southampton were quick to take advantage, hounding the hosts into errors before taking a deserved lead when Mohamed Elyounoussi fired a fine shot past Lukasz Fabianski from 20 yards.

Nobody was surprised when Southampton went ahead after eight minutes of total dominance. Their control of midfield was key. Ralph Hasenhüttl's decision to ditch his usual 4-2-2-2 system for a 4-3-3 left Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek chasing shadows in the middle.

And although Southampton’s opener was far too easy from Moyes’s perspective, there was much to admire about the way Elyounoussi moved through the middle before exchanging passes with Kyle Walker-Peters and drilling a low, hard effort into the bottom-left corner.

West Ham retreated further into their shell after falling behind to Elyounoussi's first league goal since August. There was no cutting edge, with Michail Antonio only ready for a place on the bench after returning from a period in self-isolation.

Jarrod Bowen was struggling to assert himself against Southampton's quick and strong centre- back, Mohammed Salisu, and there was little evidence of any understanding between West Ham's creative players, with Nikola Vlasic, Saïd Benrahma and Pablo Fornals all ineffective in the final third.

It was too predictable from West Ham, who were fortunate not to go two down when Elyounoussi shot straight at Fabianski. They looked reliant on set-pieces and barely threatened before the break, aside from the moment when an error from Bednarek allowed Vlasic to test Fraser Forster.

Moyes had seen enough. Antonio and Manuel Lanzini came on for Fornals and Vlasic at half-time and the improvement in West Ham was instant. Lanzini began to link the play and the equaliser soon arrived. Bowen delivered a corner from the right, Dawson rose above James Ward-Prowse at the far post and the ummarked Antonio nodded past Forster from close range.

Suddenly, with Bowen on the right and Antonio up front, West Ham looked more like themselves. They almost led when Rice, who will miss Tuesday’s game at Watford after picking up his fifth booking of the season, swept a shot inches wide from 25 yards.

Southampton were undeterred though. They knew that West Ham have not been as solid at the back after losing Aaron Cresswell, Ogbonna and Zouma. The visitors had identified Arthur Masuaku as a weak link at left back and they went in front again when Diop was turned by the impressive Armando Broja, a deceptively powerful runner who looked to have a strong case for a penalty after falling over Dawson's clumsy challenge as he rumbled through on goal.

For a brief moment it seemed that Dawson had got away with it, but Kevin Friend had no doubt after being sent to the pitchside monitor for a second look. Dawson was all over Broja, who was a nuisance throughout, and Ward-Prowse beat Fabianski from the spot to put Southampton back in front.

Now it was a proper contest. West Ham equalised again when Soucek started a flowing counterattack in the 64th minute. Bowen burst down the right and his cross found Benrahma, who provided his one useful contribution of the afternoon by volleying past Forster.

Unfortunately for Moyes, West Ham were still too open at the back. Southampton kept pushing and there was no way back for West Ham when Ward-Prowse’s free-kick from the left was glanced in by Bednarek. – Guardian