West Ham just about deliver when it matters to give Moyes a reprieve



est Ham have not picked up too many good habits this season, and have plenty of bad ones that still need kicking if they are to remain a Premier League side into next term.

But if there is one common thread to be admired among a bundle of frayed, knotty ones it is the way in which the Hammers have delivered in the games of greatest peril, those like meetings with Nottingham Forest and Everton here since Christmas, when defeat might well have signalled the end of the road for David Moyes.

The manager said on Friday that victories in those matches were proof that his players are still playing for him and called on his side to stand up and be counted once more as rock-bottom Southampton visited for another six-pointer.

It was hardly an emphatic response, but a 1-0 win, earned by Nayef Aguerd’s first-half header, lifts the Hammers to 14th, their loftiest position since a slow start turned into a full-blown relegation battle back in the autumn.

A spectacle, this was not. A game between two sides that started the day as the worst in the division lived up that billing in terms of quality, but lacked the intensity that ought to come from the level of jeopardy involved at this time of year.

In the early exchanges, the London Stadium crowd sounded ripe for turning, getting onto the backs of players who seemed habitually hesitant, every ball played without conviction, every first touch a negative one, pointed back in the direction of the home goal.

In fact, West Ham were playing like a rugby team, passing only sideways or backwards, one or other of the centre-backs occasionally hoofing long for territory or straight into touch. As such, it was little surprise that when the opener did come, it was through little craft.

Jarrod Bowen was clattered, not for the last time, by the bumbling frame of Duje Caleta-Car as both men missed the ball. Thilo Kehrer swung in a high free-kick from an unpromising deep position and Aguerd got free to guide a fine header home.

The flag belatedly went up an interminably long review was, for some reason, deemed necessary to establish the Moroccan was not one of four in claret and blue to have strayed offside. Eventually, though, the overrule prompted a second celebration of relief.

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Southampton had looked well-organised to that point, in midfield in particular as James Ward-Prowse and Romeo Lavia formed what must be one of the better partnerships in the wrong half of the table.

But teams do not end up bottom of it without a soft underbelly and Ruben Selles’ side had only the crossbar to thank for reaching half-time still in contention as Bowen’s curler came within inches of doubling the lead.

Bowen was West Ham’s best player on the day, bringing impetus to a game otherwise notably devoid of it. Danny Ings again looked a worryingly peripheral figure, deprived of penalty box service. Typically, when Bowen did eventually pull a clever ball across the face of goal, the kind screaming out to be met by a poacher’s run and finish, Ings was watching from the bench, having just been replaced by Michail Antonio.

At the other end, Moyes had shown no hesitancy in bringing Lukasz Fabianski straight back in after injury, despite Alphonse Areola doing little wrong as deputy, and the Pole was needed to make a couple of sharp saves, trickier ones than on first viewing having come through a forest of legs. He was helpless, though, as the giant Paul Onuachu headed Ward-Prowse’s cross at goal late on, but the woodwork was West Ham’s saviour.

Once again, they had done just about enough.