fter a season of unforgettable highs, a blunt edge is threatening a disappointing end to West Ham‘s campaign.
A place in the Europa League is no longer in West Ham’s hands. Should both they and Spurs win their remaining games sixth spot will come down to goal difference alone, with the north Londoners currently 10 goals ahead on that metric.
Missing out on the Champions League brings no shame for West Ham – to even be mathematically in with a shot at this stage of the season is a remarkable feat. Missing out on Europe altogether would feel like a hammer blow after such a stellar campaign for David Moyes, despite the progression made since last season’s relegation fight.
The Scot was able to welcome back Declan Rice to good effect at The Amex, but six weeks without the England international and other key figures have robbed West Ham of their momentum.
After scoring 11 goals in four games, the Hammers have managed just three in four since and their attacking play was not pretty on the south coast.
Chances were not in short supply against Brighton – and Said Benrahma’s first goal for the club, in reply to what looked a late winner from Danny Welbeck, after 30 appearances without could eventually prove decisive – but the quality was lacking in the final third.
Pablo Fornals showed great creativity to work his way in behind with a fine turn but could not apply the finishing touch before he and Tomas Soucek both saw powerful shots blocked and saved.
Michail Antonio, who returned from his own injury lay-off with a brace at Burnley last month, got into good positions but proved erratic while two fine Benrahma crosses were wasted by Fornals and Craig Dawson with the game still goalless.
“I think our decision-making too often wasn’t the right choice,” said Moyes. “We did not show enough quality in the pass which we had to make so quite often it was the decision making I felt.
“We’re trying to get a place in European football if we can. We’re still in a good place for that. It’s a great thing to say we’re in a good shout with two games to go.”
With games against West Brom and Southampton remaining, West Ham are still more than capable of finishing in those Europa League places and avoiding a seventh-placed finish and a season in the Europa Conference League, which even Moyes would admit they would be better off without next term.
Spirit has been high within the club throughout this campaign and maintaining that for the final week of a draining season is now the key. The concern will be that, after one win in five, lifting crestfallen players could prove too great a task.