Saturday, 1st October 2016
If ever there was a moment of individual skill and brilliance that was categorically "worth the entrance fee alone", then Dimitri Payet's sizzling solo effort in the second half of this afternoon's Premier League meeting with Middlesbrough was it.
The French international spent the summer wowing fans across the world at Euro 16 but scored what may prove to be the goal for which he becomes best known in years to come - just as Paolo DI Canio is always associated with THAT goal against Wimbledon.
Having collected the ball wide on the left, with the Hammers trailing 1-0, Payet turned one opponent inside out before heading into the penalty box. From there, he twisted and turned, leaving four more 'Boro players in his wake before passing the ball beyond 'keeper Valdés.
And although the Hammers were unable to capitalise on Payet's moment of brilliance, fans were heartened by a far better team (and far more defensively-minded) performance than in recent weeks.
Key to West Ham's more effective performance was the introduction of Pedro Obiang, who screened the back four superbly. On the odd occasion that 'Boro managed to break through James Collins and Winston Reid were back to somewhere near their best.
That Payet goal is pure George Best— Oliver Holt (@OllieHolt22) October 1, 2016
At the other end Michail Antonio was a surprise selection as a lone forward in a hybrid 451/False 9-style formation, which allowed the re-introduction of Gokhan Tore wide on the right. Neither excelled; indeed Tore was so poor that he was replaced ay half time by (the equally ineffective) Simone Zaza.
Whilst the team still appeared disjointed at times, with little of last season's free-flowing attacking football in evidence (due largely to a lack of movement furthest up the field) the Hammers still managed to create 19 efforts at goal.
That only two were on target however illustrates how badly Slaven Bilic is missing an effective target man - a role that Diafra Sakho has performed admirably in the past, although the Senegal striker's return appears to be no closer than before.
That West Ham found themselves behind and needing a moment of Payet's magic to salvage something from the game came as a result of 'Boro's goal scored just six minutes before the Frenchman struck.
A fairly standard corner was nodded home at the near post by Cristhian Stuani, connecting strongly enough with Viktor Fischer's corner to force it over the line - so much so that even West Ham's players failed to wait for video evidence.
ALthough there were no goals before the break, Mark Noble was millimetres away from giving West Ham the lead when his curling shot clipped the corner of the post and crossbar.
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Rarely called into action but more than capable when asked to do so. A nice easy start to the season for one of the RoI's Euro 16 heroes.
Looked accomplished at full back tonight, as he had very little defending to do. Sterner tests will follow for Antonio, as will the inevitable qeustions regarding his suitability for the role.
Sam endured a torried time in the first leg so it was pleasing to see him put in a solid performance tonight in an unfamiliar position.
Calm, assured and willing to put the boot in when required - just what you want from a centre half.
Another youngster to shine on the big night. The Ox was an able partner to the more experienced Reid but also capable of turning defence into attack with some delightful flighted dellveries.
Another player making his debut, the Norwegian had a fairly quiet first half but came alive in the second. He also showed some lovely footwork as the game reached its closing stages; another impressive start.
A classy performance from a very important player. Payet and Noble drew the plaudits last season but it was Kouyate that kept the midfield ticking over. Tonight he takes the acclaim for two goals that steered West Ham into the next round of the competition.
Solid and combative as per usual, his most notable contribution was the superb delivery for Feghouli's goal. Should be a shoo-in for Allarduce's next squad, at this rate.
The big man put himself about well and played an important role in both of Kouyate's goals. He still seems a little of the pace, thought that's not unusual at this stage of the season.
An impressive start for the winger, who may well have taken the Man of the Match award were it not for Kouyate's two-goal haul. He ran at Domzale's defence all night and was finally rewarded with a goal that sealed the win.
Whilst you can certainly question the ability, there can be no doubt that Valencia gave 100 per cent for West Ham tonight - the sort of attitude his former striker partner would do well to take note of.
Long linked with a move away from the club but given a positive reception upon his introduction by the crowd. Another who seems determined to work through his difficulties.
A nice little two-minute caneo to introduce him to the West Ham family.
See above, just for half the time...
Adrian San Miguel Del Castillo
Referee: Mark Clattenburg.
Man of the Match: Cheikhou Kouyate.
West Ham United
Darren Randolph, Michail Antonio, Sam Byram, Winston Reid, Reece Oxford, Havard Nordtveit, Cheikhou Kouyate, Mark Noble, Andy Carroll, Sofiane Feghouli, Enner Valencia.
Goals: Cheikhou Kouyate 8 Cheikhou Kouyate 22 Sofiane Feghouli 81 .
Booked: Michail Antonio Sofiane Feghouli Enner Valencia .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Marava, Brachi, Dobrovoljc, Horic, Balkovec, Morel, Horvat, Majer, Crnic, Alvir, Mance.
Substitutes: Husmani (Horvat 62), Juninho (Majer 77), Brantanovic (Mance 68).
Subs not used: Milic, Vetrih, Repas, Blazic.
Booked: Crnic, Balkovec, Horic.
Sent Off: None sent off..