Saints preserve Pellegrini for now as West Ham find formula and luck to win three precious points
PUBLISHED: 14:30 16 December 2019
PA Wire/PA Images
Hammers thrive with Antonio and Haller proving two heads are better than one
In the end it was a bit frantic and a little bit lucky, but who cares? West Ham's win at Southampton on Saturday night was priceless and deserved.
Many were touting this game as Manuel Pellegrini's last in the Hammers hot-seat and though he is not out of the woods yet, this win will surely buy him some time.
It wasn't rocket science for the boss to actually restore Sebastien Haller to the starting line-up and give him some support and some service up front.
His resistance to playing two up front all season has been one of Pellegrini's major faults, but he went for it on Saturday in the absence of Felipe Anderson and it paid huge dividends.
Haller thrived. He looked dangerous all evening and scored the vital goal that were to give West Ham the points.
But as good as Haller was, he was still overshadowed by Michail Antonio.
The lightning fast strong as an ox striker was an absolute revelation. The Saints could not handle him and he deserved his goal, only to see it harshly denied by VAR (again!).
Another star on the day was Pablo Fornals. He certainly took time to adapt to the Premier League, but he now has three assists in his last four games and he was denied a deserved first goal by a brilliant save by Alex McCarthy.
The manager looked a relieved man after the 1-0 win.
"It was a game that we needed to win and we did it well," he said. "First of all, we won a game again and got three points more.
"We kept a clean sheet and with this kind of game the players recover the trust that they can do it."
It was far from easy in the end as the Saints came marching towards them in the closing stages.
They hit the underside of the bar after Danny Ings beat David Martin; they hit the post, although it was offside and then had the ball in the net, only for referee Martin Atkinson to blow for a foul after Andriy Yarmolenko had ridiculously given the ball away.
"Against Arsenal we did it for 60 minutes, but you need to play for 95 minutes to be a consistent team and we did that against Southampton," said the boss.
"We've played three of our last five games away, so I think six points from those games is okay.
"We are missing the points we lost at home against Crystal Palace, against Sheffield United, against Newcastle - that's the difference between a good season and not."
To a point, but it is also the absence of Lukasz Fabianski and Antonio for much of this campaign that has hamstrung the team.
And also the tactics of continuing to play a lone striker that clearly wasn't working as well as persevering with Anderson, who was doing nothing.
Antonio ran himself into the ground on Saturday and that is the time when he picks up injuries. Martin injured himself taking a goal kick to give fans the nightmare prospect of a return for Roberto in goal.
Fortuntaely there is no game this weekend. The Hammers are spared the prospect of losing all their confidence with a game against runaway leaders Liverpool.
They can rest, recharge and prepare for a trip to Crystal Palace on Boxing Day and fingers crossed they will have Antonio, Martin or even Fabianski in that starting line-up.