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Dave Evans, West Ham Correspondent
Monday, October 22, 2012
Hammers loan signing Yossi Benayoun showed what he could do on his first start of the season as he chipped in with an assist in Saturday’s 4-1 thrashing of Southampton
It has been over five years since Yossi Benayoun made a £5 million move from West Ham to Liverpool, but the Israel international midfielder confessed that Saturday’s first start in claret and blue “felt like home”.
The 32-year-old has had a topsy-turvy time since his final game for the Hammers which was the dramatic ‘Great Escape’ victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford.
His move to Anfield was met with mixed success, while his consequent transfer to Chelsea has frustratingly yielded just three starts.
Last year was spent on loan at Arsenal, where he started just 10 games and it looked like he may be biding his time on the bench at Upton Park too.
“It was really nice to be back,” he said after Saturday’s 4-1 thumping of Southampton. “It’s difficult for a player to come to the team without doing the pre-season with them.
“You have to be patient. I came here after an international break, so I have had maybe only four weeks with the team and they’ve been playing well.
“They’ve been winning games so it’s been difficult to get into the team, but I’ve got my chance now and I’m happy I took it. It was an important win for us.”
Benayoun was an integral part of Alan Pardew’s West Ham team that marched to the FA Cup final in 2006, where he was the Hammers man-of-the-match in many people’s eyes.
On Saturday against the Saints he certainly looked ring rusty and at times a little lightweight, but when his big chance came, Benayoun showed his class.
Three minutes into the second half and after West Ham had just grabbed the lead, the Israeli beat Maya Yoshida to the ball and sprinted towards the area.
Many would have blasted a shot goalwards but the midfielder calmly played a slide-rule pass across the face of goal, where Kevin Nolan was there to tuck it away for number two.
“Physically I feel good,” said Benayoun. “The last two weeks I’ve worked hard in training. I’ve had some hard sessions and tried to push myself as much as possible to be ready if I was picked to play.”
It must be have been a tight decision for manager Sam Allardyce to chose who would replace the injured Ricardo Vaz Te. In the end, it was probably the calf injury of Matt Taylor that finally earned him the nod.
“By the end I was a bit tired,” confessed Benayoun, whose last full match came for Arsenal at West Brom on May 13.
“It’s my first 90 minutes for a long time, but I felt quite good considering it was my first full game.”
It is Benayoun’s flair and intelligence as a footballer that could be vital to West Ham this season and he knows the importance of winning against teams like Southampton.
“When you play against clubs like Arsenal, Chelsea or Manchester United, any points you can earn are a bonus, but Southampton at home? You must win,” he insisted.
“The first half we didn’t play well enough, but in the second, from the first minute, it was much better, we pressed more, we were more together and that is why we won the game.”
Benayoun has played in some excellent teams, so how does this West Ham squad compare?
“It’s a great start for the club, 14 points after eight games,” he said. “I think we are a very good team, very strong with a good balance between defence and attack.
“The most important thing is to win games at home and we have to continue like this.”
With the likes of James Collins and Mark Noble surviving from the West Ham squad he left and with Vaz Te’s injury giving him a chance to show what he can do, Benayoun is enjoying his time back at Upton Park.
“I felt great from the first day I came here,” he admitted the midfielder. “I know a lot of people here so it feels like home.
“At the moment the loan is until January with an option so I want to enjoy it as much as possible and when I get the chance I try to prove myself.”
With a couple more games under his belt, we may well see the old Benayoun who dazzled us first time round.