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Monday evening’s 2-0 victory over Huddersfield Town was far from vintage West Ham, or vintage anybody for that matter, but it was a vital three points for the Hammers that puts an end to their run of three successive league defeats.
The victory was characterised by the performance of one Andy Carroll, with the returning centre-forward central to everything that was good about Slaven Bilic’s team’s display.
A deflection took the ball past Jonas Lossl in the 71st minute to hand the hosts the lead and this was undeniably fortunate, yet it would be disingenuous to suggest West Ham didn’t deserve to be ahead before then.
Carroll and Hernandez: a blossoming partnership?
One of the shining aspects to take away from the encounter was the first real glimpse of the Carroll and Hernandez partnership.
The Mexican is not the quickest sprinter, but for the first time in his short career in East London he wasn’t totally isolated. Carroll’s presence alongside him represented somebody who could hold the ball up or give clever knock-downs and in turn this brought Michail Antonio and Aaron Cresswell into play.
For the first occasion this season West Ham United weren’t static, they had runners being brought into play by the former Newcastle striker and it put Huddersfield’s defence under constant pressure.
It was a total contrast to how the Irons had approached their previous fixtures and illustrates a way the team can move forward and develop throughout the campaign.
As Sam Allardyce pointed out on Monday Night Football, people don’t give Carroll as much credit as he deserves for his overall standard of play. For a team battling in the second half of the Premier League table, he is an absolute game-changer.
We saw this on Monday evening and the fact that a partnership between himself and Chicharito is still to be developed, in addition to the impending returns of Marko Arnautovic and Manuel Lanzini, there is a lot to be positive about at the London Stadium.
The key is keeping Carroll fit, with his injury record since he arrived at Upton Park being simply awful.
His absence makes game preparation so much simpler for opposing teams and you really do worry for West Ham if they ever have to play the Mexican up front on his own again for an extended period of matches.
For the Croatian coach, Monday’s victory lifts some of the pressure. It provides the first points of the campaign and it lifts the Hammers above both Bournemouth and Crystal Palace.
The Premier League is a bit like a mountain covered predominantly with ice, once you stumble a little bit and start to slide, it is incredibly difficult to arrest such a downward turn.
Points take the pressure off coaches; Bilic now has a little breathing room after what has been a somewhat unfortunate start to the campaign.
Not being able to play a home game until September 11th has hardly been a help but Saturday’s trip to The Hawthorns will be yet another huge test.
Carroll’s presence does somewhat negate the physical nature of the Baggies’ defensive line though and he will have to be marked. This takes one defender away from Hernandez and you wouldn’t be surprised if he then duly found pockets of space in and around the penalty area.
It seems rather bizarre to say, given his own physique and reputation for being a long-ball manager’s dream, but Carroll’s introduction actually massively boosts the speed at which West Ham attack. They can be direct to him through midfield and there are suitable support players around him once he receives the ball.
Substance over style
For all the talk at the moment of team’s attempting to change style, West Ham need to focus on what they are good at and build a run of results that distances them from a serious relegation battle.
Style means nothing if you’re in the Championship.
What will be disappointing, given how much better the London club looked on Monday, is how the William Carvalho deal didn’t quite get over the line.
The Portuguese midfielder has his faults, make no mistake about that, but he is incredibly gifted at taking the ball from a defender, or even the goalkeeper, and making a simple pass up towards a forward player.
You can be a direct team without being considered boring and this is what Bilic needs to focus on this season.
The missing piece
The promise of Lanzini and Arnautovic supporting attacking moves is vast and the key to unlocking that potential is actually the 28-year-old English striker.
By no means are West Ham out of the woods yet but what is encouraging is how Monday’s display showed exactly what they are good at and just how difficult it is for opposing teams to counteract it.
Bilic now needs to keep playing in this manner and it wouldn’t be at all surprising if his team started shooting up the Premier League table.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @cmwinterburn
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