When Manuel Lanzini jumped into the crowd at the London Stadium after his 86th minute goal, it wasn’t the first celebration of the match for West Ham. Sofiane Feghouli had opened the scoring in the 68th minute, and Andy Carroll’s spectacular overhead kick 10 minutes later sealed the victory for the Hammers.
But Lanzini jumping into the crowd was the most important, and most telling, celebration of the day.
His goal wasn’t needed per se. The victory was already sealed as a two-goal lead late over Crystal Palace wasn’t going to be lost. West Ham earned three points without Dimitri Payet anywhere near the pitch. That’s why the third goal, and subsequent celebration, was a statement that West Ham will keep fighting this season, no matter what.
The loss of Payet does not mean the loss of the season, as the second half of this match clearly showed.
The Hammers proved against Crystal Palace that you can lose a great player like Payet, yet gain a team. That team did not just include the eleven players on the pitch, but included Slaven Bilic and the more than 50,000 fans in the stadium. It was the most united the club has felt all season, as first team coach Edin Terzic astutely wrote in a tweet after the match.
The return of Sam Byram was welcome and the switch to a 4-4-2 formation proved to be successful, bringing three goals in 30 minutes of play. Having a natural right back on the pitch helped the defense and attack. Byram was ready to overlap or was there to have the ball laid off to whenever Feghouli needed to find him.
Michail Antonio showed the commitment needed from players at any club, but the showing was all the more meaningful after the week the Hammers have been through with Payet refusing to play for the club.
Antonio was ill with the flu on Thursday and Friday, and it was doubtful if he could play on Saturday. Play he did, adding all three assists for West Ham. Creating chances was an area of worry with Payet out. The French international dwarfs the creative statistics from other Hammers, even while giving half the effort. Antonio led West Ham with eight goals, but had no assists yet this season.
On Saturday, Antonio stepped up to fill the void Payet left, finding Feghouli for an open-net tap in, Carroll for a spectacular bicycle kick, and Lanzini on the counter attack.
Carroll, perhaps, surprised the most of any player today with his mid-air theatrics. But his third goal of the season was crucial in his ninth appearance. Perhaps, if the 28-year-old can stay healthy, he can prove to be the center forward capable to lead the line week-in and week-out.
“The Jewel”, Lanzini, deservedly scored his fourth goal in four appearances against Crystal Palace. The chip over Wayne Hennessey capped off an exciting day, and he proved his ability to play as a left midfielder in a 4-4-2.
West Ham rose a spot in the standings, to 12th, after the victory. The Hammers are only two points off of 9th place Stoke City, with Middlesbrough, Manchester City and Southampton due next.
Still, a 3-0 score line in a single match against a relegation struggler doesn’t fix everything at the club. West Ham still need to sign a right back, either as a backup for Byram or as a starter to tutor the 23-year-old Englishman.
Despite Carroll’s wondrous goal, he was still out of position at times in the first half, too far back in the midfield instead of giving another option to West Ham’s wingers in the box. Also, while Antonio played well as a striker besides Carroll, it could benefit the club to sign a natural striker and let Antonio play his natural position on the wing. Brentford’s Scott Hogan and Chelsea’s Michy Batshuayi are the most talked about options for West Ham to sign.
On top of that, the Board and Bilic still claim to not want to sell Payet. Keeping him with the team would be silly, especially after the positive response the players, and fans, showed after he was dropped from the side. Cashing in on Payet, and putting those funds towards a new winger, right back and striker would be good business, and set the Hammers up for a respectable finish to the season.
There will always be gripes surrounding the club. The stands at the Olympic Stadium could be moved closer to the pitch, and transfers could be completed, rather than just talked about. But Saturday’s performance and atmosphere proves that West Ham United can be, well, united.