West Ham battle hard for a point with Palace but cracks remain
David Moyes will be heartened by performance of injury-hit squad
West Ham’s Javier Hernandez shoots at goal during the Premier League game against Crystal Palace at London Stadium. Photograph: David Klein/Reuters
West Ham 1 Crystal Palace 1
Although it is impossible to argue with the assertion that West Ham United are crying out for reinforcements before the transfer window closes on Wednesday night, at least this gritty performance provided more evidence that David Moyes is capable of inspiring them to battle against adversity.
A point was a decent reward bearing in mind that West Ham were deprived of almost an entire starting 11 and it was encouraging for Moyes to see his weary, battle-hardened players roll up their sleeves in trying circumstances.
They displayed character to fight back from a goal down against Crystal Palace, cancelling out Christian Benteke’s early header with a penalty from Mark Noble, and they displayed enough endeavour to suggest they will win their fight against relegation.
Yet they cannot be complacent. The next 24 hours could be critical. West Ham are only four points above the bottom three – Palace are a point worse off – and Moyes needs support from his owners.
With his squad stretched to breaking point, it was tempting to wonder if Moyes had spent the day searching for a few ringers to fill his team. Barely a week goes by without another victim joining West Ham’s enormous injury list, a sapping pattern that exposes their lack of direction in the transfer market, and the sight of five callow academy players on the bench was a damning indictment of the hierarchy’s indecisiveness. They lined up without nine senior players and the fear for Moyes was that his team’s momentum would stall after an encouraging set of results.
It was certainly tricky to work out how West Ham intended to score. Joao Mario made his full debut in the No 10 role after joining on loan from Inter Milan, but Michail Antonio, Marko Arnautovic, Andre Ayew, Andy Carroll and Manuel Lanzini were missing, Diafra Sakho has joined Rennes and a £15 million deal for FC Krasnodar’s Fyodor Smolov looks doubtful.
In the event, however, West Ham made an energetic start and they threatened twice in the first 10 minutes. Mario wasted a shooting opportunity after linking with Javier Hernandez, who was denied by a last-ditch tackle from James Tomkins a few minutes later.
West Ham’s early intensity was invigorating, startling Palace, but they lost their way after Cheikhou Kouyate received treatment for a blow to his head. The visitors began to assert themselves, hinting at their threat in the wide areas when Wilfried Zaha’s bamboozling trickery lured Sam Byram into an ugly foul, and they broke the deadlock in the 24th minute.
Moyes had improvised by using Pablo Zabaleta as an auxiliary holding midfielder, but Palace found too much space on the break. Andros Townsend ran at Declan Rice before showing the young defender a clean pair of heels with an electric surge to the right and the winger’s cross was perfectly flighted, enabling the unmarked Benteke to head past Adrian for his second goal of the season.
Yet West Ham responded with heart, dragging themselves level in the 43rd minute. Mario’s impressive persistence forced the ball to Hernandez and this time Tomkins did his former team a favour, bringing the Mexican striker down. Noble easily converted the penalty.
It had been an entertaining half and Palace finished it strongly, with Townsend and Luka Milivojevic going close from long range.
Milivojevic’s fierce effort flew just over Adrian’s goal, drawing gasps from the crowd, and there was a sense that Palace would grow stronger as the match wore on. Moyes, after all, did not have much in reserve. Yet his players were working hard to restrict Zaha’s space, with Zabaleta warming to his new position, and West Ham created the first opening after the restart.
Mario was starting to relish his new surroundings and when he fed Byram, the wing-back’s delivery ought to have been finished off, only for Hernandez to plant his header too close to Wayne Hennessey. It was a fine reaction save from the Palace goalkeeper, but Hernandez lives for those kind of chances and it was a surprise not to see him make the net bulge.
As the hour approached, the game was becoming broken and a bit more to Palace’s liking. While they had enjoyed a lot of possession, their final ball was often disappointing, epitomised by a cross that Timothy Fosu-Mensah sliced straight out for a goal-kick. It seemed that Roy Hodgson’s men were waiting for an opportunity to pounce on the counterattack, utilising the pace of Townsend and Zaha.
Yet their quest for a winner was summed up by Townsend’s booking for diving.
– Guardian service