It wasn’t a pretty game of footy, but Cheikhou Kouyate’s first league goal of the season gave West Ham a priceless win on captain Mark Noble’s 400th appearance. The win was the Hammers’ first in eight games and put them eight points above the relegation zone with six to play.
Andy Carroll had scored five times in six games against Swansea in the lead up to this game, but Slaven Bilic opted to leave the lanky forward on the bench, with Andre Ayew, a former Swans player, chosen to lead the line and the trio of Lanzini, Antonio and Snodgrass picked to support the Ghanaian international.
Both teams, aware that a loss could drag them into the relegation dogfight, started off cautiously, with one of the commentators so frustrated with the quality on display at one point of time that he felt it was being played like a “testimonial” match. The three best chances of the first half did go to West Ham- the first a free kick from Manuel Lanzini, the second a header from Robert Snodgrass that was kept out by Lukasz Fabianski, and the third a shot from Ayew that was saved again by the Polish keeper after Alfie Mawson had carelessly given the ball away to Mark Noble.
In the 38th minute, Antonio pulled up with a hamstring injury and seconds later, Noble produced an unnecessary challenge on Leroy Fer that saw him earn a booking and a two game suspension (he just needed to avoid being booked in this game to avoid the ban- 9 April was the “amnesty” date)
Given West Ham’s season till date, most fans probably expected Gylfi Sigurdsson to score from the resulting free kick and compound their misery, but fortunately for them, the Icelandic international had one of his quieter days, and failed to make them pay.
With Antonio off, it was expected that either Carroll or Sakho would come on, but Bilic opted to bring Jonathan Calleri on.
Close to half time, West Ham drew first blood. Noble and Snodgrass set up Kouyate, whose fantastic strike beat Fabianski. It was his first league goal of the season, and it was a goal worthy of winning any game. And given the Swans’ poor record after going behind in the league (17 lost out of 19 when conceding first), it was a priceless goal for Slaven Bilic’s men.
Kouyate nets West Ham’s opening goal (Video)
Kouyate’s strike forced Paul Clement into a double switch at half time, forcing the gaffer to bring on Fernando Llorente and Luciano Narsingh at the interval to give the Swans some attacking impetus.
When Jack Cork went off injured after the hour mark, Clement didn’t replace him with Ki, but instead chose Jefferson Montero, whose only previous league appearance came against West Ham on Boxing Day.
Swansea offered little in terms of attack, registering only a single shot on target throughout the game. West Ham had more chances, with Ayew being denied by Fabianski twice in the space of two minutes before being replaced by Edimilson Fernandes.
The final score was 1-0 in favour of West Ham, and it condemned Swansea to their fifth straight away defeat- the first time they’ve lost five league games in a row on the road in their time in the top flight.
Here are Mark Noble’s comments after the game.
That’s our biggest win in a few years. The run we’ve had, we haven’t been good enough but we haven’t had the rub of the green either.
I thought we played well under pressure. Swansea were only a few points behind us. It was so important and it’s a fantastic win for the club.
It was not pretty but the only thing that matters was the three points. There’s no point in us playing like Real Madrid and losing 2-0