Crystal Palace F.C
Wilfried Zaha (3)
West Ham United F.C
Tomas Soucek (9, 25)
Craig Dawson (65)
West Ham move up to fourth with victory at Crystal Palace
- Credit: PA
Returning to the Premier League for the second-half of term, West Ham United again got top marks as they extended their unbeaten run to eight matches with this wonderful win at Selhurst Park.
Although Wilfried Zaha gave Crystal Palace a third-minute lead, the hungry Hammers dished out a lesson in incisive counter-attacking and dogged-defending to make it six of the best as they recorded half-a-dozen straight victories in all competitions, thanks to Tomáš Souček’s first-half double and Craig Dawson’s header midway through the second period.
And although substitute Michy Batshuayi added a bit more respectability to the scoreline with a 96th-minute goal, it had all come far too late to prevent West Ham from climbing into the heady heights of fourth place at the final whistle.
Job also done in the FA Cup on Saturday afternoon, David Moyes had turned his mind back to the league where his squad arrived in south London in seventh spot – nine points and six places ahead of Palace.
Three days on from the fourth round, 4-0 victory over Doncaster Rovers, the Scot made seven changes as Dawson, Vladimír Coufal, Aaron Cresswell, Angelo Ogbonna, Declan Rice, Jarrod Bowen and Michail Antonio all returned to his starting XI.
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But having cruised past League One opponents at the weekend, West Ham quickly felt a huge jolt upon their return to top-flight football, when fit-again Zaha played a one-two with Christian Benteké on the edge of the visitors’ penalty area before drilling a low 18-yarder into the bottom left corner, beyond Ogbonna’s desperate lunge and the despairing dive of Łukasz Fabiański.
Zaha’s opener – his ninth goal of the season – had come inside three minutes and, with icy Selhurst sleet falling from the dark south London skies, Moyes boys had certainly been caught cold.
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Having crashed out of the FA Cup at the first hurdle against Wolverhampton Wanderers, Palace had enjoyed an eight -day break and, following their four-goal defeat at Manchester City last time out, Roy Hodgson made a trio of changes.
Ex-Hammer Cheikhou Kouyaté came in for another West Ham old-boy James Tomkins, while substitutes James McCarthy and Jordan Ayew were replaced by Zaha and Benteké, who had bizarrely both scored and been dismissed in the 1-1 draw between these two sides at London Stadium, last month.
Despite getting off to that flying start, though, the hosts’ lead did not last long.
Indeed, just five minutes after seeing his side fall behind, Pablo Fornals’ clever left-wing chip sent Antonio racing to the by-line and he hooked back into the six-yard box, where Souček out-muscled Tyrick Mitchell to nod West Ham level.
And on 24 minutes, the 29-times capped Czech international then doubled his tally, when Cresswell’s deep, 30-yard free-kick eluded everyone in the danger-zone before arriving at the far post, where Souček cleverly controlled on his left-thigh before firing an unstoppable, tightly-angled right-footer beyond Vicente Guaita.
After surviving a VAR check for offside, the Hammers almost struck again straight from the restart, when Antonio pounced on Kouyaté’s defensive sloppiness, but his low 20-yard shot struck the base of the left-hand upright and bounced to safety.
Having now turned the game on its head with his seventh goal of the campaign, Souček then went in search of a first-half match-ball but Guaita saved his low 20-yarder, before also denying Fornals from similar range.
Saïd Benrahma then drew gasps of exasperation from the Hammers bench for attempting an ambitiously wayward long-range effort before almost redeeming himself with a trademark mazy run towards the right byline.
But when the Algerian international cut back towards the penalty spot, Fornals cleverly stepped over the ball, allowing Cresswell to let fly with a low 18-yarder that the frustrated Antonio again diverted onto the base of that left-hand post to leave the now dominant Hammers still with just their one-goal advantage at the break.
Seconds after the restart, the escaping Zaha forced the helplessly-exposed Fabiański into a double stop and, after play was halted for a painful clash of heads between Kouyaté and Gary Cahill, Guaita also pulled off a point-blank stop to thwart Antonio after another barnstorming Benrahma run.
Midway through the half, though, the Palace ‘keeper was powerless to prevent West Ham from scoring an almost inevitable third, when Bowen sent an inswinging corner to the edge of the six-yard box, where Dawson simply bulldozed through former England defender Cahill to send a thumping header ripping into the net – his second goal in Claret and Blue.
By now, even Coufal fancied his chances and his low 20-yarder looked to be skidding wide but despite managing to get on the end of the wayward effort, the luckless Antonio diverted his own, angled shot beyond the far post.
In a bid to salvage something, Hodgson had introduced Jairo Riedewald alongside Ayew, who back-heeled for fellow substitute Batshuayi to slot home from eight yards with virtually the last kick of the game but it came far too late and now all eyes will now be on London Stadium on Sunday afternoon, when the high-flying Hammers entertain champions, Liverpool.
Crystal Palace: Guaita, Ward, Mitchell, Kouyaté, Cahill, McArthur, Milivojevic (Riedewald 73), Townsend (Batshuayi 65), Eze, Benteké (Ayew 73), Zaha.
Unused subs: Butland, van Aanholt, Dann, Clyne, McCarthy, Kelly.
West Ham United: Fabiański, Coufal, Cresswell, Ogbonna, Dawson, Rice, Souček, Bowen (Fredericks 81), Fornals, Benrahma (Noble 87), Antonio (Yarmolenko 83).
Unused subs: Martin, Balbuena, Lanzini, Diop, Johnson, Odubeko.
Referee: Stuart Attwell