Happy birthday to Bilic as West Ham grab vital win over Huddersfield
PUBLISHED: 22:07 11 September 2017 | UPDATED: 22:07 11 September 2017
PA Wire/PA Images
The Hammers had a huge slice of luck but deserved to grab their first Premier League win of the season
West Ham United 2 Huddersfield Town 0
Crisis? What crisis? That was the question the Hammers fans were asking themselves as they departed into the East End night having just seen their dominant side finally notch a richly-deserved first league win of the season.
Pedro Obiang’s deflected 72nd-minute shot and a close range conversion from substitute André Ayew, shortly afterwards, lifted the claret and blue gloom and doom as beleaguered Slaven Bilić celebrated his 49th birthday with three well-earned points that gave the newly-promoted Terriers a top-flight reality check.
Deflated West Ham United had found themselves on the road to nowhere during a barren 1250-mile round-trip that had seen them endure miserable away-days at Manchester United, Southampton and Newcastle United.
But with the IAAF World Athletics circus having now left town, Bilić’s boys finally returned to the familiar surroundings of London Stadium as they finally looked to emerge from the starting blocks four games into the campaign.
Defeat at St James’s Park before the international break had left the point-less Hammers rock-bottom and, 16 days on, they made five changes as Andy Carroll, Cheikhou Kouyaté, José Fonte, Pedro Obiang and Winston Reid each came in for substitutes Ayew, Angelo Ogbonna and Declan Rice plus injured duo Mark Noble and Edimilson Fernandes.
And Carroll wasted no time, whatsoever, in making up for his delayed start to the campaign with a low, first-minute ball across the face of goal that, agonisingly, only needed a stud from the sliding Kouyaté and, shortly afterwards, the Big Man also volleyed high over from 20 yards.
Certainly, there could be no question-marks hanging over the Hammers commitment to the cause as the stooping James Collins took a full boot in the face from Tom Ince, while Pablo Zabaleta’s persistence forced an early corner, too.
On 12 minutes, the rain-lashed Michail Antonio proved equally determined as he waded through the Stratford storms to send a low right-wing cross into the path of Javier Hernandez, who rocked the bar with a rising 12-yarder.
Written-off before a Premier League ball had even been kicked, at the other end of the spectrum, Huddersfield could not have come into this encounter in more buoyant mood.
Surprisingly sitting in sixth-spot, with two wins and a draw, the Terriers had netted four times without reply and, following his side’s goalless stalemate with Southampton last time out, David Wagner unsurprisingly named an unchanged starting XI.
The opportunistic Yorkshiremen clearly had a game-plan to soak-up the pressure and break whenever possible but with Obiang and Kouyaté forming the perfect foil in front of Reid, Fonte and Collins, the Hammers were more terrier-like than the Terriers and Steve Mounié constantly found himself ambushed by the claret and blue.
Midway through the half, Carroll scuffed one to Jonas Lössl and, shortly afterwards, another Antonio acceleration – this time on the left - saw Zanka send the flying winger flying across the greasy grass at the expense of a booking and, when Aaron Cresswell floated over the consequent free-kick, the Huddersfield ‘keeper gratefully clutched Collins downward header on the goal-line.
Carroll also sent a header inches over, before Fonte drilled wildly into the visiting fans, who were seeing their team coming under increasing pressure.
Ten minutes before the break, Carroll saw another 30-yarder deflected wide before Antonio was also denied from slightly closer range as the hosts camped in the visiting half and, as the Hammers did everything except score in a one-sided opening half, Kouyaté also wastefully bundled wide, while Cresswell curled over to keep it goalless at the break.
Referee Kevin Friend had booked Philip Billing for a high boot on Zabaleta just before the interval and, moments after the restart, the Argentinian found his name taken, too, for scything through Rajiv van La Parra.
On 54 minutes, Joe Hart – looking for his first clean sheet in 23 Premier League outings - was finally called upon to make his first save of the evening, when Billing sent a low 20-yarder skidding towards the base of the England ‘keeper’s left-hand upright and, on the hour, Huddersfield also forced their first corner of the night but the no-nonsense Collins ensured that the Terriers were not in the Hammers area for long.
Scott Malone replaced Chris Löwe before Bilić curiously replaced Hernandez with Ayew as Antonio pushed forward with Carroll and, with the home crowd still questioning that switch, the Hammers bagged two quick-fire goals.
On 72 minutes, Kouyaté cut-back to substitute Ayew, who invited Obiang to let fly from 18-yards and, with the airborne Zanka desperately trying to block, the Danish defender could only look on in horror as the ball looped off his back and over the stranded Lössl.
With the East Enders in the crowd of 56,977 finally having something to cheer, just five minutes later, the Hammers doubled their lead, when Cresswell’s corner fell to Fonte and, although Mounié blocked, that man Ayew pounced to stab the loose ball over the line.
In reply, Mounié’s low 18-yarder was pushed aside by Hart at the expense of a corner before Ince splintered the bar with a 15-yard thunderbolt but, by now, nothing was going to stop West Ham United from claiming that much-needed first victory of the campaign.
HAMMERS: Hart, Zabaleta, Cresswell, Fonte, Collins, Reid, Obiang (Rice 90+2), Kouyaté, Antonio, Hernandez (Ayew 64), Carroll (Sakho 81). Unused subs: Adrián, Ogbonna, Byram, Masuaku.
TERRIERS: Lössl, Smith, Zanka, Schindler, Löwe (Malone 63), Mooy, Billing (Depoitre 83), Kachunga (Sabiri 75), Ince, van La Parra, Mounié. Unused subs: Coleman, Williams, Hadergjonaj, Hefele.
Booked: Zanka (25), Billing (45), Zabaleta (49)
Referee: Kevin Friend