Saturday 23 February 2019

Noble earns point for Hammers

West Ham 1-1 Crystal Palace

West Ham United's Mark Noble celebrates with Cheikhou Kouyate after scoring the penalty. Photo: Reuters
West Ham United's Mark Noble celebrates with Cheikhou Kouyate after scoring the penalty. Photo: Reuters

Sam Dean

The suspicion, in recent weeks, has been that West Ham and Crystal Palace are both too good to go down, but not quite good enough to ever feel truly safe. There are plenty of teams worse in the Premier League, but David Moyes and Roy Hodgson both possess sides that have as many weaknesses as strengths.

That was certainly the overriding feeling during a closely-fought and occasionally open encounter, where a draw felt like a fair result and each side would have left feeling satisfied.

For Palace there was a welcome return to goalscoring form of Christian Benteke, while a threadbare West Ham showed resolve, if not much class, in fighting back to secure a draw through Mark Noble's penalty.

With a squad ravaged by injury and suspension, Moyes could barely piece together a starting XI that did not include any of the untried youngsters in the club's academy. There was a start for new signing Joao Mario, while midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate was pushed into an unfamiliar attacking role behind Javier Hernandez.

West Ham United's Javier Hernandez and James Collins stretch to reach the ball. Photo: Reuters
West Ham United's Javier Hernandez and James Collins stretch to reach the ball. Photo: Reuters

The lack of options, added to their FA Cup humbling at the hands of Wigan Athletic, had created a swirling cloud of unease around West Ham ahead of this crucial fixture. It was therefore easy to forget they had not been beaten in the league since before Christmas, five games ago, and they justifiably began the night in a confident mood.

Mario scuffed a good opportunity wide after three minutes, while Hernandez was only denied the simplest of goals by a phenomenal sliding tackle by Palace defender James Tomkins.

But in a patchy first half that boasted little rhythm or quality, the visitors grew ever more comfortable and were rewarded when Benteke nodded home only his second goal of the season after 24 minutes.

An injury to Bakary Sako, who had been chewed up by a crunching Pablo Zabaleta challenge, then sapped Palace of some of their momentum, and galvanised the home side. Just before the break, Noble then equalised from the spot after Tomkins had scythed down Hernandez in the box.

Crystal Palace's Christian Benteke scores their goal. Photo: Reuters
Crystal Palace's Christian Benteke scores their goal. Photo: Reuters

Zabaleta led the West Ham backs-to-the-wall approach in the second period which, at one point this season may have been unacceptable to the home crowd. The fight, in difficult circumstances to gain a point, however, suggests that they may have turned the corner.

Telegraph.co.uk

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