After the unlikeliest of pursuits for Champions League qualification all but stuttered to a halt at Brighton, David Moyes was anxious to point out that things were not over for his West Ham United team.
“They have been so good, their football has improved no end, but we don’t stop here,” he said.
“They know the message, they’ve had it drummed into them, they know what we want to achieve.”
Whether his side now defy mathematics and make it into the top four, settle for the Europa League or sink into the flimsiest of consolations, the Europa Conference, this has been some turnaround Moyes has engineered.
Last summer, West Ham seemed destined for nothing more than a relegation scrap. The club was riven with dispute, with fans voicing disdain for the owners and captain Mark Noble tweeting his dismay at the sale of Grady Diangana to West Bromwich Albion.
Against that recipe for calamity, Moyes has instead had them punching above their weight. And now the prospect of European football is close to a reality. When fans return next season, there will be an edge of optimism wholly absent for years.
The question for the manager is: how does he progress things from here? Now that his own position has become inarguable, Moyes wants his team to build and grow. Against Brighton, two things were evident.
First, he needs a goalscorer. Three points would have been taken away from the Amex had dominance been translated into goals.
Said Benrahma’s magnificent late, late equaliser was indicative of his issues. As a goal it was critical, but it was the Winger’s first since signing from Brentford in August. “We’ve been waiting a while,” the manager pointed out with a rueful smile.
The other thing Moyes needs to do is perhaps even more critical – keep Jesse Lingard and Declan Rice. Without them, the chances created for any striker will be at a minimum. Against Brighton, their vision and execution were exemplary. And they are on each other’s wavelength. Rice’s absence in the past month or so has applied a brake to momentum at precisely the wrong moment.
“We’ve missed him,” Moyes said of Rice, before adding the bitter addendum: “He got injured playing for England, not for us.”
Telegraph Media Group Limited