Monday 20 November 2017

Sakho comes in from cold to rescue Bilic

West Ham 1 Swansea 0

Diafra Sakho scores the winning goal past Lukasz Fabianski. Photo: Getty Images
Diafra Sakho scores the winning goal past Lukasz Fabianski. Photo: Getty Images

Jacob Steinberg

Diafra Sakho, the man who tried to engineer a move to Rennes on the final day of the transfer window, lifted the pressure on Slaven Bilic when he settled a dreadful game in West Ham's favour in the 90th minute.

Bilic limps on, safe from the sack for now. He faced mutiny from the fans at times, not least when he chose to replace Javier Hernández with Sakho with 12 minutes to go, but the change was justified when Sakho converted a cross from another substitute, Arthur Masuaku, to lift West Ham to 15th.

Sakho celebrates scoring with his team mates. Photo: Getty Images
Sakho celebrates scoring with his team mates. Photo: Getty Images

Swansea had been stubborn opponents, but this defeat leaves them in the bottom three. On an afternoon when West Ham needed to draw energy from the crowd, this strange, lopsided muddle of a stadium felt even quieter than usual for much of a soporific first half.

Bilic picked an attacking team, ditching the cautious 3-4-3 system he has used recently for a more straightforward 4-4-2, with Andy Carroll and Hernández forming a classic little and large partnership up front. It was possible to appreciate the intent: despite showing all the mobility of the ArcelorMittal Orbit structure outside the ground during his wretched cameo against Tottenham last week, Carroll has terrorised Swansea in the past and West Ham tried to make a fast, physical start, maintaining good width and almost taking an early lead when Michail Antonio met Aaron Cresswell's cross with a bouncing volley that Lukasz Fabianski pushed out.

West Ham's threat soon subsided, however. Urgency disappeared and they were looking painfully bereft of confidence and cohesion. Disciplined and organised, Swansea started to exert control. They outnumbered their hosts in midfield, with the 35-year-old Leon Britton bringing composure on his return to the side and Renato Sanches offering tantalising hints of his talent with some adroit touches. They monopolised possession.

Swansea's stylish passing was catching the eye, but it was largely restricted to unthreatening areas. They were crying out for a moment of class in the final third, substance to go with the midfield craft. Toothlessness undermined them, and they were short of ideas. They could take heart from hearing the locals greet the half-time whistle with loud boos. There was more chuntering in the stands after the break, with West Ham weighed down by anxiety and uncertainty.

West Ham United's Mexican striker Javier Hernandez wins a header from Swansea City's Argentinian defender Federico Fernandez. Photo: Getty Images
West Ham United's Mexican striker Javier Hernandez wins a header from Swansea City's Argentinian defender Federico Fernandez. Photo: Getty Images

There were more jeers when Bilic replaced Hernández with Sakho. The Mexican angrily shook his head as he sat on the bench, baffled that he had made way instead of Carroll. But perhaps Bilic knew what he was doing. Masuaku started to make an impact with driving sorties down the left and Carroll hooked a shot against the bar from one delivery.

West Ham were getting the ball to Masuaku at every opportunity. The ploy worked. Another run ended with him slamming a low cross to the far post, where Sakho slid in to crash the ball high past Fabianski.

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