West Ham battle to priceless win at Southampton
PUBLISHED: 19:51 14 December 2019 | UPDATED: 19:51 14 December 2019
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The Hammers cling on under severe late pressure to save Pellegrini's job for now
Southampton 0 West Ham United 1
Sebastién Haller's winner gave Manuel Pellegrini some welcome breathing space with this valuable victory that sent the Hammers marching up into 15th-spot in the table.
The Hammers recalled, relieved, record-signing netted his first goal since October 5, when he struck just before the interval and that proved enough to secure the three points that surely make his manager's job safe going into the festive period.
West Ham had arrived on the South Coast having lost seven of their last nine Premier League games, but despite Monday night's incomprehensible capitulation against Arsenal, Pellegrini bravely made just one enforced change as Haller came in for an unwell Felipe Anderson, who had been sent home from training on the eve of this crucial encounter.
With just two minutes on the clock, the Chilean must have thought that his luck was starting to turn, when Declan Rice nodded in from Aaron Cresswell's left-wing free-kick but the Hammers boss saw fortune favour Southampton instead, when an offside flag was quickly raised against the England midfielder.
And as West Ham cut all the dangerous early shapes, Man-of-the-Match, Michail Antonio - playing in a front two with Haller - picked out Pablo Fornals, whose angled shot was agonisingly deflected just an inch or so beyond the far post.
Unchanged following last weekend's defeat at Newcastle United, the Saints had kicked off in 18th spot - two places and a solitary point behind the Hammers - and it took a dozen minutes for them to launch their first serious threat, but David Martin comfortably held Shane Long's looping header.
'We've got a chance, Martin's in goal,' chanted the Claret & Blue army packed behind the visiting keeper, while at the other end, the all-running, all attacking Antonio and strike-partner Haller saw their vociferous cries for a penalty denied by VAR following a goalmouth bundle.
Indeed, Antonio then forced another corner that Alex McCarthy punched off Fabián Balbuena's scalp after Robert Snodgrass had fired over an awkward flag-kick and - mirroring Monday's first-half against the guileless Gunners - the Hammers were now firmly in control.
And, sure enough, eight minutes before the break, Pellegrini's side took the lead, when Pierre-Emile Højbjerg's careless control saw him booked for wrestling the in-rushing Haller to the floor in a crude attempt to rescue the situation.
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The Saints skipper then paid a further penalty, when the Hammers quickly worked the consequent free-kick out to the right-flank, where Snodgrass sent the bulldozing Antonio to the by-line.
Collecting the No.30's cut-back, the Scotsman delivered the return ball to the far post, where Fornals cleverly headed across goal for Haller to send a low 12-yarder in-off the base of McCarthy's left-hand upright to claim a long-awaited fourth goal of the campaign and a richly-deserved interval lead for the Hammers.
Oriol Romeu replaced Nathan Redmond for the restart and the Saints substitute was a mere bystander when Fornals let fly with a rising 18-yarder that the flying McCarthy acrobatically tipped over for a corner just moments into the second period.
On 52 minutes, Antonio again steam-rolled his way through the Saints defence before rifling the ball into the home net, but his overwhelming delight at having seemingly doubled the Hammers lead was soon extinguished by another VAR call that cancelled out the strike for handball during that charge into the heart of that Southampton rear-guard.
With Snodgrass having collected his fifth booking of the season for a foul on Redmond just before the interval, Ryan Fredericks then followed his team-mate into the book for tripping Moussa Djenepo.
Now with sheets of icy rain blowing in from the Solent, it really was time for the Hammers to dig deep as Southampton forced a trio of corners, while Højbjerg and Djenepo tried their luck from range before Danny Ings rocked the bar from eight yards, ahead of Long ripping the rebound into the side-netting.
Andriy Yarmolenko replaced Snodgrass for the final 20 minutes and soon saw Haller's snapshot saved by McCarthy, who also tipped away another glancing header from the Frenchman.
In reply, Ings thought he had levelled with an unstoppable 20-yard curler after Yarmolenko had been robbed in possession but referee ruled the effort out for Djenepo's earlier nudge on Fredericks in the build-up.
Seeking to shore-up his defence, Pellegrini sacrificed Haller for Carlos Sánchez as Antonio was asked to go it alone up front and back in the Hammers area, Jack Stephens' 12-yarder skewed away for a throw-in to the dismay of the home supporters, who were becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of a leveller.
Højbjerg then slid wide and, with Pellegrini frantically pacing up and down his technical area, James Ward-Prowse forced Martin - who would also be booked for time-wasting - into an assured late save but having repelled that late Saints flurry, the Hammers held out to claim three valuable points for both the club and its relieved manager.
SAINTS: McCarthy, Soares (Adams 88), Bertrand, Bednarek, Stephens, Højbjerg, Ward-Prowse, Redmond (Romeu h/t), Djenepo, Long (Armstrong 84), Ings. Unused subs: Gunn, Yoshida, Vestergaard, Obafemi.
HAMMERS: Martin, Fredericks, Cresswell, Ogbonna, Balbuena, Noble (Diop 89), Rice, Snodgrass, (Yarmolenko 72), Fornals, Antonio, Haller (Sánchez 79). Unused subs: Roberto, Zabaleta, Masuaku, Ajeti.
Booked: Højbjerg (37), Snodgrass (45+1), Fredericks (57), Martin (90+2).
Referee: Martin Atkinson