For those living outside of the bubble, the day was like any other…dull, damp and downright deplorably committed to retail therapy commissioned by the ladies of the lamp, however for those inside…it was a whirlwind of mixed and turbulent emotions, a struggle with impersonal sanity and the journey through hellish nightmares until the first ball was kicked.
The West Ham masses had been feeling increasingly uncomfortable all week, waiting for when Saturday comes to unload pent-up frustrations and evoke gladiatorial code amongst fighting men on the field of play. The Twitterati had travelled to Plutonian worlds in search of cosmic answers that would satisfy intrigue and deliver solutions to homegrown conflicts but returned devoid and incomplete. Whilst the ruling elite would take their positions on self-imposed thrones, that would laugh in the face of rebellious tones and warring foes, the stadium stood silently in anticipation of the demonstratives clash with the thin line between chaos and order.
“I’m interested in anything about revolt, disorder, chaos, especially activity that appears to have no meaning. It seems to me to be the road toward freedom.” – Jim Morrison.
As the hour drew nearer, the shuffling of feet became lodged into fixed positions and supporters gained voices to spur on the willing and push the unruly to fight as one. Since the Burnley game, fans had been urged to sing as one voice…from all quarters came the unifying cry and whilst stewards lined the perimeter of the pitch in full battle dress of high visibility and camouflaged with football boots, they were also issued with protective goggles against any foreign objects that would damage, whilst the owners and patrons of the director’s box remained secure behind their barricades. This is the West Ham family club now, battle lines drawn in the sand, affix bayonets and violins ready to duel with the devil.
Much of the fanbase were soon lifted into ecstasy as the West Ham knights of this oval table, set out with one purpose…to take a stranglehold of the game and suffocate the will out of a team that had wished it had remained on the south coast. Every player arose to take personal responsibility and to fight as one cohesive unit…Mario with a stunning opener, then a lovely pair from fans’ new favourite son; Arnautovic secured the vital three points at the stroke of halftime.
Each team was in unmitigated need of victory, of three points and of a dazzling performance, but only West Ham bothered to show purpose and determination. Moyes had set out with another diminished squad due to absentees; Hernandez, Lanzini and Collins, however committed his charges to move forward and play long reaching diagonal balls that confounded a wilting Southampton defence as it focussed on neat interchange from the Hammers’ midfielders at other times.
The team maintained focus throughout the whole game, even early on when Antonio succumbed to injury, his replacement; Fernandes leapt into the fray without so much of a hesitation and ruled the centre grounds alongside a magnificent Noble and surprisingly inspired Kouyate performance too.
The defence was largely untested, however all three rear guard stood tall and performed tremendously. Ogbonna and Cresswell were gladiators, whilst Declan Rice was arguably the best player on the pitch, so assured, so composed and astute for one so young. Many would lament at the inclusion of Hart, however whilst his services were mainly not required in the first half, in the second he performed well enough to be stable and secure..which is all anyone can ask for when the final verdicts are handed down.
Southampton probed more so in the second half as West Ham turned down the flame but were mostly minnows in a sea of sharks. West Ham wanted it more, worked harder, were more resilient and were simply better organised and confident. The players formed a hardened shell that was rather formidable and difficult to pierce…so much so that the Saints gave up trying.
Moyes seemed more interested in player reserves that entertaining the fans in the second half and adopted the usual defensive and containment posture that showed class and composure when most fans would have liked to have seen the killer instinct and the scoreline to turn into a romp.
One of the major criticisms of West Ham and Moyes this season, along with the long list of other deficiencies, has been the failure to capitalise on better days and way, to not build momentum in ensuing games and this may be another example. The next game against Chelsea will be a torrid and sordid affair, so whilst a 3-0 scoreline would surely be confidence boosting…a 5 or 6-0 drubbing would make the confidence soar like eagles searching for their next prey. This is a mindset that seems to be escaping Moyes and possibly is the true reflection of a manager with lesser ambitions and narrowing foresight.
“The devil went down to Georgia” penned by Charlie Daniels, is a duel for the prize of souls and the Moyes may not be the devil ready to meet Conte at the crossroads, but he’s no crafty fiddle player either. He had an opportunity to let his players go for a cricket score over an infantile Southampton, but he chose to stay conservative and this may be where fortunes are lost and spirits disappear for the season.
The manager and players, together applied themselves and delivered the goods for all to see. The fans cheered, shouted and sang for the duration of the game and temporarily forgot all the vile ills of the last two years. They were strong when they needed to be and were adventurous when it really mattered, however the question remains whether they can be so against Chelsea next week. Will they be the armadillos, can they bluff their way past devilish talents and can they be the red-hot poker stars that would claim the pot and leave the opponents penniless and spent?