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NICK SZCZEPANIK’S PRESS VERDICT: WEST HAM

3 January 2019

Paul Hazlewood

When a player scores twice to rescue a point for his team, he is almost always going to dominate the morning match reports, especially if he plays for a London club. And it was understandable that Marko Arnautovic was the man making headlines after Albion’s 2-2 draw away to West Ham rather than anyone on the Brighton team.

But the media recognise Chris Hughton’s men as a growing Premier League force and most of the former Fleet Street’s finest on duty at the London Stadium on Wednesday evening found some good things to say about the boys in gold.

Andy Dillon of The Sun focused on Albion’s excellent record against the Hammers and credited Iron boss Manuel Pellegrini with their first Premier League point against us.

“Manuel Pellegrini’s stunning double substitution brought West Ham back against bogey side Brighton,” he wrote. “Two goals in two minutes from Dale Stephens and Shane Duffy seemed to have Albion on the road to a fourth successive win over their favourite opposition. But canny Pellegrini turned to captain Mark Noble and bulldozer Michail Antonio on the hour for the fightback which saved them a point and embarrassment in front of 60,000 fans.”

But he also praised the way that Dale Stephens and Shane Duffy took their goals. 

“Albion had surged into a shock two-goal lead with their own double blast inside two minutes only to see it all unravel just as quickly. Dale Stephens fired home his first goal since January last year when Hammers keeper Lukasz Fabianski’s punched clearance from a corner fell to him unmarked on the edge of the box and he whipped in a clinical half volley.

“Duffy doubled it in the 59th minute when Fabianski and the entire West Ham defence failed to clear another corner and the ball fell for Brighton’s ungainly centre half to hook the ball into the net like an accomplished striker.

“The biggest relief for West Ham fans was seeing Glenn Murray subbed with eight minutes to go as the veteran striker has scored four goals in those last three successive Brighton wins over their team.”

Jack Pitt-Brooke on the Independent website had a very individual take on the contrasting entertainment levels in the first and second halves of the match. He wrote: “If the point of the festive fixture binge is to provide as much unpredictable football as possible, then this match was a thumping vindication of it.

“West Ham United and Brighton both looked exhausted here at the London Stadium, and after staggering their way through a dismal first half they then each scored two goals in two minutes to make the score 2-2.

“If these teams had been better rested, and this had not been their fourth game in 12 days, then it might not have been as exciting a contest. West Ham could have been better switched on at set pieces, and not conceded those two goals. Brighton in turn could have been better able to cope with the energy of Mark Noble and Michail Antonio off the bench, the two substitutes who made Mark Arnautovic’s double, and they could have held onto their lead.

“Tiredness is a leveller, an element of chaos, and without it this game might well have stuck been stuck at the 0-0 deadlock for the whole 90 minutes. But we have to ask, as these players prepare for their FA Cup third round games in three days’ time, whether the exhausting schedule is fair on the players, or whether it is ultimately detracting from the product itself.

“Because our national desire for festive football is so voracious that it creates games like this, two tired teams swinging empty punches at each other, hoping for a lucky connection.”

Many other reports concentrated, naturally, on West Ham’s two-goal hero. “For over an hour, Marko Arnautovic experienced one of those exasperating outings he occasionally endures,” Adam Crafton of the Daily Mail wrote.

“The days he flaps his hands at team-mates, nothing quite comes off and he operates on the fringes of the game. As West Ham fell 2-0 down early in the second half at home to Brighton, this seemed to be another. And then, with all his magnificent power and talent, Arnautovic came to life.”

But another Hammers striker, Andy Carroll, continues to pile up more column inches than minutes played, although Crafton admitted that the England striker made little headway against the Albion central defenders. “Pitted against Brighton's authoritative defensive pair of Duffy and Lewis Dunk, the conditions did not appear ideal for a swashbuckling Carroll display and the first-half saw the Brighton defence nullify the striker's threat.”

Alistair Magowan on the BBC website offered a strange sort of consolation for the Albion party making their way back from Stratford. “Chris Hughton's side can temper the disappointment of losing their lead with the fact that, until their quick-fire double when Stephens scored a first Premier League goal, they did not create a great deal,” he said. 

But, in a more positive tone, he added: “They also continued their unbeaten run against West Ham over the last two seasons and have gained five points over the festive period after losing their previous three Premier League games.

"The fact that both goals came from corners underlined the diligence and organisation that runs through this Hughton team, which looks more than capable of remaining in the top flight for a second successive season.

“The first was fortunate given that neither Perez or Robert Snodgrass chose to pick up Stephens as he scored from the edge of the area with a well-taken strike. But the second goal, when Duffy found space, looked like it was straight off the training ground as Brighton sent their travelling supporters wild.

“Although Hughton will rue a chance to chalk up a third away win of the season, he will also be wise to the fact that West Ham had won five of their previous seven games prior to this contest.”


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