The Irons narrowly scraped to a victory against Hull, courtesy of a Mark Noble penalty after a foul on Michail Antonio. It wasn't truly deserved victory, but when you're trapped at the low end of the Premier League table, any win is acceptable.
That said, as far as victories go, this was probably the worst way to do it. Against a Hull side heavy on former Tottenham players but light on much quality, West Ham was outworked and outplayed. The midfield looked slow and disorganized, and attacking play was confused and ineffective. A half time switch to 4-4-2 provided a few moments of inspiration from Payet and Antonio, but it couldn’t mask the dull play of the side.
Slaven Bilic set the side out in a lopsided 3-4-3, with Angelo Ogbonna on the left, Winston Reid central, and Cheikhou Kouyate on the right. The wingbacks, Antonio and Cresswell, were setup to allow our best attacking threat to get forward.
As Antonio moved about in what sometimes approached a free role, Kouyate would slide over to right back, and Cresswell would drop back to left back. In attack, Payet and Lanzini were given loosely defined roles behind the returning Andy Carroll, with the expectation being that the two would play off each other, combining, and quickly breaking past Hull’s line and at the goal.
The game started slowly, with Carroll bizarrely dropping back behind Payet and Lanzini, and midfielders blindly punting the ball into the space Carroll should have been. It was the first signs of what would become a frustrating trend of Carroll dropping deep, culminating spectacularly in him finishing the game as a wing back.
Any attacking drive the hammers had coming into the game with quickly fell away as the defence and midfield slipped into the trap of passing backwards. Winston Reid was especially guilty, with almost every pass he received going back out to Ogbonna or Kouyate.
It was, incredibly, backward passing that eventually presented Hull with their best chance, as Aaron Cresswell played a stunning, defence splitting pass to the wrong team. Dermerici Mbokani could hardly believe his luck and the Congolese international raced into the ball before curling a shot that narrowly bounced off the post and out.
It was at this point that West Ham collapsed tactically. During long spells without the ball, the midfield press was incoherent, with Noble and Obiang unsure of their roles. Antonio couldn’t get into the game, and began drifting further and further into the middle.
Cresswell was even more disappointing, rarely even touching the ball. Payet seemed the only player willing to take players on, and most tellingly, no one was even trying to send in a cross to Andy Carroll, which may have been just as well considering Carroll spent most of the match dropped 4 to 5 yards behind his midfield.
The disinterested, dead play of the first half was, in the second half, replaced by a modicum of attacking coherence in exchange for defensive incompetence.
Bilic switched to a 4-4-2 formation, bring Antonio up top alongside Carroll, with Payet and Ayew on the flanks. Edmilson Fernandes replaced Obiang, and Noble continued as a box to box midfielder. In defence, Reid and Ogbonna stayed centeral, with Kouyate and Cresswell wide.
It was Hull who looked to have benefited most from the tactical change, with Kouyate hard working but confused on the right. The tigers created a string of great chances, with first a Noble clearance, and then a drive from Andrew Robertson hitting the post. West Ham finally had an attack on 65 minutes, when Ayew headed a Payet corner on target only for Robertson to clear.
Still, Hull are only Hull, and one way or another they were going to find a way to shoot themselves in the foot. The opportunity presented itself nicely during a Payet free kick on 73 minutes, with David Marshall landing a weak punch to clear.
The ball fell to Antonio, who held off Huddlestone well, before being ‘dragged’ to the ground. It was enough for the referee Lee Mason to point to the spot, and Mark Noble duly slotted away.
From this point, Hull’s confidence seemed to drain away, and despite a few scares, West Ham were able to see the remainder of the game out.
It’s a vital 3 points for West Ham, who move up to 13th, but the performance will raise alarm bells for Slaven Bilic who will need to quickly find a better working strategy for the irons next match against fellow strugglers Swansea.
Still, it’s 7 points from three games, and with two very winnable matches coming up against the swans on the 26th, and a Leicester City on New Year's eve, before a clash with on form Manchester United on January second.
Bilic will have some positives to take from the game; Antonio and Carroll up top showed flashes of promise, and as Carroll’s fitness improves a decent partnership might form. Edmilson Fernandes played well enough to earn a start in his next match, and a clean sheet, even one as flimsy as this, will be welcome. It’s a victory that will hopefully set the hammers on a winning run, but it’s a performance that, against most teams, would have equalled defeat.