As the sun set majestically in East London, so did Chelsea’s hopes of silverware in this increasingly important competition, as West Ham United ran out comfortable winners at the London Stadium.
Due to unwarranted media attention, the fixture needed no introduction and there was a palpable buzz around the stadium, as the nigh on capacity crowd descended upon Stratford. There was vociferous singing and some volatile chanting preceding the match and well into the first half. On the whole, despite the typical goading and schadenfreude, little between the vast majority of supporters seemed amiss.
Chelsea’s continuity most certainly was mind you, as a revitalised West Ham took full advantage of a lacklustre Chelsea display, typified by the woefully off-key Jon Terry.
West Ham continued with their 3-5-2 formation that has brought them some success over the past few weeks and more importantly, seven points. This time it was the in-form Michail Antonio’s turn to start up front and his pace and aggression caused the Chelsea stalwart a mountain of issues at the back.
A bright start from the Hammers was rewarded when Mark Noble’s pinpoint cross was met by Cheikhou Kouyate’s head who directed a sharp header, past the outstretched Asmir Begovic, for nothing less than the hosts deserved, an early one-nil lead.
Chelsea, despite making seven changes, fielded a very strong team and in particular Nathaniel Chalobah looked quick and dangerous on the break. Batshuayi however, was not so clinical in front of goal, as the few attempts the visitors had, landed safely in the welcoming arms of Darren Randolph.
Mark Noble as usual, summed up the ferocity and desire in the West Ham camp and put in some thumping, yet legal tackles in the middle of the park, which certainly helped to keep the likes of N’Golo Kante and Ola Aina quiet for a large part of the first half.
As the half drew to a close, West Ham were the ones clinging on a little for dear life, as the legs tired. Chelsea continued to attack but found a stubborn defensive resistance and a competent goal keeping performance from the Irons number 1 in number, if not in name.
Anxious West Ham spirits were lifted once more, early in the second half, as Edmilson Fernandes wonder strike from the edge of the area sent the stadium into further rapture. It was the perfect time to score and West Ham seemed home and dry.
However, Chelsea were not ready to roll over and with half an hour left, Antonio Conte rang the changes. Pedro, Costa and Hazard were all introduced and had an immediate impact as the West Londoners came ever closer to finding the back of the net.
In one particularly fluent move in the 83rd minute, Costa seemed to have chipped Randolph to find the back of the net, only to watch the ball dribble agonizingly wide of the upright and out for a goal kick.
West Ham defended stoutly but fell afoul of the proverbial kitchen sink as in the 94th minute Gary Cahill bundled in a questionable goal. However, it was too late and the referee’s final whistle blew much to the relief and dare I say it, shock of the Upton Park faithful.
Let’s face it, West Ham have had a stuttering start to the season, while Chelsea’s display on Sunday against Mourinho’s United was nothing short of sublime. Yet, West Ham looked like they had slipped it into fourth gear and are beginning to get back to the heady heights that were reached last season. There is still no out and out striker of any real quality fully fit, which makes the victory even sweeter.
With that in mind and players coming back, there is no reason not to feel confident as the mighty Irons travel to Old Trafford in the next round of the EFL Cup. Next up though, is a visit to Everton FC this Sunday in the Premier League. Surely some sort of result here will signal crisis over for Bilic and his happy Hammers?
With regards to the ‘trouble,’ let me just say that this has been quite ferociously over-egged by all and sundry in the media. Yes, there was the usual arm-waving and ‘my flymo’s bigger than your flymo’ type of banter, but in the grand scheme of things, this was largely just kids on their half term wanting to relive their wet dreams over Football Factory and being part of the mob. The ICF and Headhunters are most certainly not back, that is for sure. To put it another way, if you saw the Skysports coverage, that was the extent of it. As a spectator, I felt mildly miffed and worried about my train, in the case of being further delayed out of the ground. I wasn’t phoning the Samaritans this morning in need of a friendly voice, like the feeding frenzy might suggest.
The most unsavoury events that occurred for me were two-fold. Firstly, being handed a piece of paper near entry from a West Ham ‘fan’ encouraging us to sing homophobic chants about Costa and Terry. This is to the tune of Dimitri Payet (the fan spelt his name wrong too). Thankfully, I think most fans threw down the paper in disgust, like I, rather than get involved and the Payet song rang harmoniously around the ground throughout the game, with no amended lyrics.
Secondly, some of the ‘banter’ for want of a better word around me was quite frankly, vile. I have alluded to this earlier, but much to my disappointment, I feel it needs further mention. We’ve all been there, getting involved one too many bevvies or poison of your choice, yet the personal nature of some of the chanting was just not what I’ve heard before at West Ham.
Behind us, in block 113 stood a group of wannabe TOWIE twonks, in their cheap Primarni suits, thinking they could do and say what they want. They could be no more than 18 or 19 and when they weren’t telling one portly Chelsea fan, minding his own business that his ‘wife should be ashamed of him,’ they were informing another young away supporter that his girlfriend next to her ‘had chlamydia and was going to suck them off.’
It was all a bit puerile and not very West Ham for me. We all like giving John Terry the gears, but none of us pay the money to support our team to get goaded by slick-haired oiks, fuelled by warm carling and synthetic cocaine, who would run a mile when faced with the people they choose to chastise.
Anyway, the new stadium brings a lot of positives but also its negatives. Football-wise West Ham were outstanding and not a million miles from their best tonight. Long may it continue.