West Ham’s victory over Chelsea at the London Stadium is a massive result for the club, make no mistake about it.
After being denied by VAR (again), the Hammers fought back from a goal down – something they’ve failed to do all season – to pick up a huge three points, taking advantage of further defeats for relegation rivals Watford, Bournemouth and Aston Villa.
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But despite the euphoria of doing the double over Frank Lampard, a figure who is universally disliked among the club’s fanbase despite his father’s legendary standing, it’s important that West Ham remain grounded in their pursuit of survival and realise that the hard work is still to come.
That’s because victories have been extremely hard to come by.
This success was just David Moyes’ third since his return to the club in late December, despite a number of promising pre-lockdown performances. The Hammers have been unlucky with technology at times, but profligacy in front of goal is what’s hurt the Scot most.
Very winnable games, on paper at least, lay ahead after a tough run of fixtures, but those who have followed West Ham for long enough know not to take anything for granted. A win like the one over Chelsea is often followed up an uninspiring, limp display – undoing any good work that has been put in during the preceding 90 minutes.
That really can’t happen this time round. Not again.
Newcastle, Burnley, Norwich, Watford – these are the four games that the club must build their survival hopes around, yet they are four games that are also the most dangerous kind of fixture for the Hammers.
That might sound like a funny thing to say but, for some reason, West Ham tend to perform better against sides who they’re not expected to do well against. It could be nerves, it could be a lack of confidence, it could be anything – but most will tell you that the Hammers, traditionally, don’t perform well under pressure.
Ironically, one advantage – that no other club around the country can lean on – that the Hammers will take forward into the next month or so is the absence of their supporters, particularly when they take on Burnley and Watford at home.
Yes, you read that right – the absence of their supporters.
One can only imagine what the atmosphere inside the London Stadium may have been like after West Ham had Tomáš Souček’s goal chalked off against Chelsea by VAR, let alone when Issa Diop chopped down Christian Pulisic in the penalty area moments later. Toxic wouldn’t even scratch the sides.
This way, the club’s supporters can’t get on the players backs when things start to go wrong or when there is a lull in play, potentially allowing for improved concentration levels. Coming back to win against Chelsea probably wouldn’t have happened had 60,000 fans been in attendance, and there’s no disputing that a major factor in being able to do so was the reduction in tension and negativity.
Playing with this added freedom is something West Ham must look to take advantage of, particularly when every team around them in the table is – seemingly – losing at every opportunity. The pressure will still be on, of course, but that nagging of feeling disconnect simmering in the background is an unwelcome distraction that won’t be missed.
Three points separate the Hammers from the drop zone, with a superior goal difference effectively making that four. What Moyes must impress upon his group of players is that defeating Chelsea was just one small spoke on a mammoth relegation wheel, with the upcoming games against teams in a similar boat arguably bigger fixtures on the club’s calendar.
West Ham’s spirit, resilience, determination and, honestly, balls have been called into question far too many times, and it’s about time that was put to bed with a series of positive performances. Anything less than that, and this win over Chelsea will have been for nothing – while Moyes will have proved that he’s not a winner after all.