Today a severely short-handed West Ham side defeated Southampton 2-1 at the Boleyn Ground. 35,000 fans were on hand to watch their injured squad face a red-hot Southampton team looking to climb the table and capitalize on the Hammer’s patchwork lineup.
The first half was a frustrating test of the Hammer’s defense. Southampton, coming off a 4-0 walloping of Arsenal on Boxing Day, hoped to keep the momentum going. Ronald Koeman’s attack seemed to find plenty of open spaces to move through in a back four without Aaron Cresswell and Winston Reid. James Collins and Carl Jenkinson started in their absence, along with Angelo Ogbonna and a bruised and beaten James Tomkins.
Southhampton’s Shane Long, who entered the day with five goals through five games crossed to Dusan Tadic, which Carl Jenkinson turned in for the opening goal. (13’) The Saints spent much of the first half looking for their second goal. Southampton had three first half shots on target to West Ham’s nil.
While the first half time of possession was almost even, it seemed as if the West Ham midfielders couldn’t maintain any meaningful attack in the middle of the field. Antonio, Zarate, and Valencia were unable to generate much excitement for the home crowd.
It might be said that Slaven Bilic’s halftime adjustments not only turned this match around, but possibly this season. In the second half Bilic brought Carroll and Lanzini on for Zarate and Alex Song. He also flipped Jenkinson from left to right back with Tomkins. With those changes, the feel of the game changed as well. West Ham went on the attack.
In the 69th minute, Michail Antonio drove the ball into the Saint’s penalty area. Trying to draw the foul he fell, and when the Southampton defenders cleared the ball, it bounced off of Antonio’s head, and into the goal. This was, by far, the ugliest West Ham goal of the entire season. Antonio had all the grace of an octopus falling out of a tree, but there could be no more important goal this month; possibly since the season opener at Arsenal, or maybe Carroll’s header against Chelsea.
Once Antonio drew West Ham even, the Hammers quickly sought more. A minute later Lanzini fired a shot barely outside the far post; the bubbles hadn’t even cleared out of the stadium from the previous goal. A minute after that, Valencia struck the ball and Saint’s keeper, Maarten Stekelenburg, unable to gather it, was saved by a defender clearing it. In the 72nd Andy Carroll was in prime position on the back side of the penalty area to head it in when he was called for a questionable foul.
Finally, in the 79th minute, Andy Carroll scored on a slow header off of a rebound of an Antonio shot which hit the crossbar. This goal turned out to be the game winner for West Ham, marking their first victory since late October.
In a season where each match is marked by a new injury, this match did feature Collins turning his ankle in the 53rd minute. He soldiered on and finished the match. Late in the game (86’), Valencia hurt his knee. He was replaced by Pedro Obiang, who helped preserve the Claret victory in the final minutes. Hopefully, those injuries will not prevent those players from participating this weekend, as West Ham hosts Liverpool in the early Saturday match.
While rumors of a Dimitri Payet return abound, today the play of Lanzini and Carroll were just enough to bring the spark West Ham needed to collect three points. Possibly finishing the year 2015 while sitting at #7 in table, is a surprising gift to the West Ham faithful who have endured a dreadful two-month spell of injuries. As Bilic’s scoring threats heal up and return to the pitch, 2016 might turn out to be the Upton Park farewell season that West Ham fans long dreamed of.