Tuesday 11 December 2018

Fright night for Hammers as pressure mounts on Bilic

West Ham Utd 0 Brighton 3

Glenn Murray of Brighton and Hove Albion (L) celebrates as he scores their first goal with Shane Duffy. Photo: Getty Images
Glenn Murray of Brighton and Hove Albion (L) celebrates as he scores their first goal with Shane Duffy. Photo: Getty Images

Jason Burt

Slaven Bilic wants to change the colour of the perimeter around the London Stadium pitch from green to claret - but there will have been blood on the carpets after this one.

This was as shocking as it gets for West Ham and for their manager as they slumped to a horrific defeat to an organised, resilient Brighton. It is the kind of performance and loss that can be defining, and Bilic got the customary "sacked in the morning" chant from the Brighton supporters.

Brighton & Hove Albion's Glenn Murray scores his side's third goal. Photo: PA
Brighton & Hove Albion's Glenn Murray scores his side's third goal. Photo: PA

Goalkeeper Joe Hart was poor but he was not alone. He needs to worry about his own position - for club and country - and so will Bilic about his. West Ham could come out of this weekend's round of fixture back in the bottom three, while Brighton were lifted into the top 10 with their first top-flight victory in 34 matches away from home since March 1983. It was richly deserved.

Bilic's idea in changing the colour is to try and make the pitch appear more distinct for the players, and not so vast, but they shrunk here. In fact they went missing, not least record signing Marko Arnautovic who was jeered when he was substituted while fans angrily streamed for the exits after Brighton's third goal.

It felt like one of those pivotal games. The calm before the potential for a storm, Bilic called it, knowing the debate over his future would rise again if West Ham lost - and the stirrings began on 10 minutes. Brighton scored. They had already threatened to do so, with Jose Izquierdo shooting wildly over the cross-bar after the ball was pulled back to the winger from a corner for which he was left unmarked, and that defensive laxness was soon punished.

It was from another set-piece, with Pascal Gross flighting in a free-kick which was met by Glenn Murray who simply guided his header past Hart, who had no chance. For some reason neither Pedro Obiang - who really was to blame - nor Michail Antonio, the two closest West Ham players, had tracked the striker and the visitors were in front.

Jose Izquierdo (R) and Gaetan Bong of Brighton and Hove Albion celebrate victory. Photo: Getty Images
Jose Izquierdo (R) and Gaetan Bong of Brighton and Hove Albion celebrate victory. Photo: Getty Images

It was Gross' fifth assist, to add to his two goals, so far at Brighton which is some return for the £3m summer signing from German club Ingolstadt - he has been involved in every league goal they have scored this season.

Brighton were buoyed. They dominated possession, and were far the more fluent side with the murmurings of discontent growing from the home fans although, finally, West Ham began to gain some momentum through a series of corners and went close when, from one, the ball was not cleared and Pablo Zabaleta angled a lofted pass to Manuel Lanzini, who chested it down only for his goal-bound shot to be deflected over.

The problem for West Ham was just how well-drilled the Brighton defence are, with Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy, who produced a trademark block at full stretch to deny Javier Hernandez, at the heart of it. They also threatened on the break.

After Hernandez dragged a low shot narrowly wide, Brighton broke, with Hart superbly clawing away Murray's shot.

But just as Hart was being lauded, he erred. This time Izquierdo, Brighton's record signing, cut in from the left, easily beating Obiang and although Hart got a hand to his powerful shot back across him he could not keep it out and it dropped into the net. West Ham were booed off at half-time.

The goal was again one conceded by Hart to his left and it just was not good enough from him.

Bilic reacted by bringing on another attacker, he had to, with Andre Ayew replacing the ineffective Cheikhou Kouyate. But they remained flat, devoid of impetus with Brighton impressively comfortable.

The boos started again, understandably so, but Lanzini finally forced Mathew Ryan into a save, with the goalkeeper turning away his free-kick.

It was Brighton who threatened - with Hart denying Murray from close-range - and then it was Brighton who scored with Murray adding his second from the penalty spot.

It followed a foolish challenge by Zabaleta, catching the striker, after Murray had collected Bruno's cross.

The spot-kick was drilled down the centre of the goal and the exodus of home fans began. West Ham had nothing. Nothing at all. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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