Did we have hope, going into the London Stadium, that we’d pick up three points from this fixture? Maybe a glimmer, given West Ham’s recent form. But that was it. During a pre-match Diet Coke (give me a break, I had to do a long run the next day), the squad was named. No Longstaffs (one suspended), Shelvey and Hayden in midfield, and the usual top three, plus last week’s addition of Federico Fernandez. None of that was particularly surprising. I think we hold our breath a bit when Shelvey is named in the starting eleven, as he’s not a consistent player, but what other real options did we have?
Our lack of goal threat has been a talking point this season so far. We don’t create chances, we don’t get the ball up the pitch, there’s no service to Joelinton. It’s fair to say we weren’t expecting a dramatic scoreline from Saturday’s game. Newcastle came out the blocks ready to take on Pellegrini’s West Ham side, who seemed absolutely caught out by the pace offered by St Maximin and Almirón. Ciaran Clark headed in Newcastle’s first goal after just sixteen minutes – and it’s worth noting here that a foul on Almirón facilitated the free kick that lead to that.
Newcastle kept the pressure on, repeatedly winning the ball and speeding through West Ham’s defence; the first half was easily the best forty five minutes we’ve played all season. The confidence of some of our squad was really obvious against a – let’s be honest – pretty terrible West Ham side. Another goal came quite quickly with another header, this time from Federico Fernandez in the 22nd minute. The away end was absolutely beside themselves. Remember – this is more goals than we’ve scored in a game all season..!
After a very happy half time break we resumed position. West Ham had made a couple of changes, presumably to try and deal with our pace. They were certainly crowding St Maximin a lot more than they had been in the first half (though that wouldn’t have been difficult) but they still seemed to be struggling for cohesion. An absolutely amazing free kick from Shelvey outside the box in the 51st minute left us 3-0 up, and the tops were off in the away supporters end as he ran the length of the pitch to celebrate with the travelling fans. My top was on, just FYI. It’s November and I’m soft.
It was around the sixty minute mark that the Hammers started to fight back a bit. They managed to keep play a lot closer to our goal, testing our defence a lot more than they had been. A special mention here has to go to Lascelles, who cleared a good few of their chances, and Jetro Willems who, despite looking absolutely knackered by the end of the game, was really important in this win. West Ham’s Balbuena scored their first goal in the 73rd minute, with a little more time for a comeback available to them than I would have liked. Our players were looking tired and we’re nothing if not capable of throwing away a lead. Another goal from Snodgrass in the ninetieth minute wouldn’t have been cause for nerves had the fourth official not announced five additional minutes of stoppage time. The Hammers continued to press as I aged ten years for every minute played, but ultimately couldn’t get that equaliser and the three points went to the better side. Thank God for that, eh?