Hammers sides of the past have always been rather adept at folding after impressing results against big sides.
After defying the odds in their opening run of games this season – pulling off free-scoring wins over Wolves and Leicester before taking a point from each of Manchester City and Tottenham – Hammers fans were ready to come crashing down to earth against Fulham and Sheffield United. Two games either side of the international break that any West Ham side could bottle in order to undermine their showings against the big boys.
Moyes has spoken of wanting to shun the “flaky” tag often attributed to the Hammers and slowly but surely they’re edging towards consistency.
The east Londoners cut it fine against Fulham before the break, but were far more controlled and dominant here.
Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek were dominant in midfield, providing the platform for Jarrod Bowen, Pablo Fornals and Haller to thrive ahead of him, causing untold problems before the second half winner.
In truth, they could and should have had more. Bowen dallied over a chance not long after Soucek had fired wide from close range while Rice headed onto the bar.
A couple more would have given Moyes a far more comfortable afternoon, but the sharp end of the pitch is not the one he has been working so hard to overhaul. Aside from one moment when Ollie McBurnie managed to slip through and strike the bar with the hosts chasing the game, West Ham looked confident and controlled at the back, marshalled by the unwavering Angelo Ogbonna with Fabian Balbuena and Aaron Cresswell excelling either side of the Italian.
Clean sheets had been few and far between last term, they kept just two during Moyes’s tenure last season, but have begun to pile up this time – managing a fourth in nine games at Bramall Lane.
The run against the big boys to start the season caught the attention and suggested things might be changing under Moyes at the London Stadium, results like this are the proof of that theory.
Haller makes mark in Antonio absence
The big question for West Ham fans settling down to watch their return after the international break was whether Michail Antonio was ready to come back and lead the line following his hamstring injury.
After hinting that he could well return to the fold after training this week, Moyes elected to leave his talisman in London ahead of what is a jam packed schedule in the coming weeks.
Haller, the club’s record signing, has struggled to replicate the impact Antonio has on this side, managing just one Premier League goal all season before today – the final goal in a 4-0 win over Wolves.
It was not all down to him. Often those around Haller do not play to his strengths and leave him having to go wandering for the ball. On the one occasion he was found in the middle in the first half, Soucek wasted a wonderful cushioned header to only fire wide.
But after a switch in tactics at the break, the forward remained more central and soon reaped the rewards. He was quickly involved in exchanges with Bowen and Rice which came to nothing, before moments later making his mark on the game.
After a fine driving run from Bowen the winger fed Fornals, whose effort was blocked but not cleared. Finally in the right place at the right time, Haller was on hand to thunder home from the edge of the area and scoring a first ever league goal from outside the box in 190 appearances across Eredivisie, the Bundesliga and the Premier League. A long wait but some strike.
Coufal continues to impress
Vladimir Coufal looks another shrewd addition from Moyes during his second spell at the club.
To have added the Czech right-back and Soucek (both signed from Slavia Prague since Moyes’s return) for around £20million is superb business.
When Coufal arrived his international teammate promised a lot of running and hard work, but few expected the 28-year-old to hit the ground running quite like he has.
The full-back looks like a seasoned Premier League professional and, while keeping things tight at the back, he’s also posing quite the threat in the final third and could well have had his first goal for the Hammers here at Bramall Lane.
Right-back had been somewhat of a problem position for Moyes last term and Coufal has more than solved that.
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