David Moyes is attempting something unprecedented in West Ham’s history, to deliver a third consecutive top-seven league finish. Neither Ron Greenwood’s trio of 1966 World Cup winners nor John Lyall’s 1980s entertainers managed that.
The signs so far, after three matches, are unpromising, particularly after a defeat that continued a goalless start to the season and left West Ham bottom of the table. Brighton extended their unbeaten Premier League hex on them to 11 matches as deserved winners, with Leandro Trossard, as scorer of the second goal and instrumental in the first, the outstanding player. Graham Potter’s team attacked and defended as a unit where West Ham were disjointed and lacking in zest.
Thilo Kehrer, signed from Paris Saint-Germain and starting in central defence, made a problematic debut, rashly conceding the penalty from which Alexis Mac Allister scored the opener. Moyes later said picking the German had been a decision he had needed to sleep on: “I don’t think he was ready to start. The last couple of games we hadn’t gone so well so I put in a recognised central defender.”
Making one, ill-fated change from last week’s loss at Nottingham Forest, Moyes had left further new signings in Gianluca Scamacca, Flynn Downes and Maxwel Cornet on the bench. He is not a manager given to sweeping changes, but it might soon be time to start considering them. “We’re having to bed people in,” said Moyes. “And I’m not sure we are ready yet. The season started three weeks ago, we have to be ready, I take responsibility for that.”
Moyes’s group of players are bearing the scars of two previous seasons where a small squad was stretched thinly, and he appears not to trust his new recruits. For Potter, a careful, progressive approach is bearing fruit in early season, further adding to his reputation. He had stuck to the same XI that beat Manchester United on the opening weekend and drawn at Newcastle. The loss of Yves Bissouma and Marc Cucurella has so far proved no impediment to progress. “We have had to deal with key players leaving us,” Potter said. “We are humble and respectful of our opponents but we also have ambition.”
With days left of the transfer window, Brighton still lack a prolific striker but, in Danny Welbeck, they have a player expert in leading the line. The former England man showed off his key attributes of pace and positioning in winning the penalty, surging past Kehrer after Kurt Zouma’s charge forward, and loss of the ball, had left his new partner exposed. “He made the wrong decision to go to ground,” said Moyes of Kehrer. “If he had stayed on his feet he would have seen it out.”
Trossard’s acute, angled pass sent Welbeck away and though there was a VAR delay to confirm Kehrer had tripped Welbeck in the area for a delayed fall, there was nothing controversial in the decision by Anthony Taylor, the referee. Mac Allister, from a short run-up, sent Lukasz Fabianski the wrong way.
Brighton looked far likelier to score as the first half went on, with Moisés Caicedo having the better of the midfield battle with opposite number Declan Rice. The visitors were unhurried, comfortable in possession. Loud half-time boos were predictable and West Ham did begin the second period with far greater urgency. Jarrod Bowen on the right flank was their most reliable outlet, setting up a Rice shot, deflected wide. From the corner, Aaron Cresswell, the crowd expectant as the ball dropped, could only clatter the ball into Joël Veltman.
At last, Pablo Fornals and Saïd Benrahma saw more of the ball, and Robert Sánchez in Brighton’s goal was asked to save a skidding drive from Fornals, the Spaniard’s last action before he was withdrawn in the 62nd minute for Scamacca. The Italian, who Moyes pointed out had played no football in pre-season, then failed to add anything to West Ham’s attack.
By contrast, within seconds of the arrival of the Ecuadorian debutant, Pervis Estupiñán, in place of Adam Lallana, Brighton doubled their lead with a level of incision way beyond West Ham.
Mac Allister strode forward, and Pascal Gross, falling as he did so, flicked Trossard through on goal. The Belgian won a battle of wits with Fabianski with a low finish, his run untracked down the left of the defence that Kehrer and Cresswell had left vacant. “He was at a strong level last year and he’s playing a role that has a lot of responsibility,” Potter said of Trossard. “To assist and to score is important for him.”
With Sánchez tipping over two late headers from Tomas Soucek, West Ham’s search for a goal continues, let alone points. For Moyes to succeed where legendary forebears could not already resembles a tall order. Brighton seem far better set for a top-seven place.