If you will reach the top levels of any league, chances are you will have to pick up a number of victories against the teams vying for a place at the top of the table next to you.
West Ham have pretty much ruined that theory.
Prior to their clash with Newcastle in Saturday’s early kick-off, David Moyes’ side had not beaten any of the other five sides in the Premier League’s top six apart from Leicester, with their brilliant campaign based on victories against sides at the bottom of the table.
David Moyes got a lot to think about after his team’s loss to Newcastle | David Rogers / Getty Images
Since their opening day defeat against Saturday’s opponent Newcastle, Hammarna had not suffered defeat against any side lower than ninth in the table – yet their trip to St. James’ Park be a rude awakening.
Moyes’ men never really looked at it from the first whistle and their lukewarm screen would probably have been punished early on if they did not play against a side that seems determined to keep eight players in their own half all the time.
Eventually, the Magpies made the breakthrough just ten minutes before half-time, but still the amount of defensive mistakes that West Ham made in building the game’s initial goal would have needed an abacus to be total.
What a disaster for West Ham! It’s a double blow for Hammarna …
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After looking so solid for much of the season, it did not really make sense, with the entire backline caught ruthlessly out of position, Craig Dawson thundered in – and missed – a challenge with Joelinton, Mark Noble who looked like he had stumbled out of the pub at 11pm and tried to stop Allan Saint-Maximin and Issa Diop who collided with Lukasz Fabianski before inadvertently bundling the ball into his own net.
Were you able to keep track?
Dawson then received his second yellow card for his build-up challenge, after picking up a very similar booking earlier in the game, and five minutes later they were on again when Fabianski released a seemingly comfortable catch to let Joelinton knock home.
Again, it simply made no sense.
We will not overlook the fact that the Hammers were missing a number of key players for the trip to the North East, with Michail Antonio, Declan Rice and Aaron Cresswell all injured, but two of the aforementioned trio were also missing when they beat the Champions League and chased Leicester last time.
Craig Dawson was dismissed by Kevin Friend during the first half of Stu Forster / Getty Images
Given West Ham’s erroneous clean character that day, it’s hard not to conclude that an element of complacency had set in against Steve Bruce’s men. These were not just minor mistakes or cases of being beaten by the better team, they were mixtures of scary decision-making and completely taking your eyes off the ball.
Dawson does not know how to steam into the challenges of the opposition half when he is on a yellow card and Fabianski can catch crosses that he lost on Saturday in his sleep. But in a strange way, mistakes and subsequent defeats can prove to be a blessed blessing.
Much has been made of Hammer’s favorable rise with clashes against four of the league’s seven lower teams coming before the end of the season.
On paper, you would really like Moyes to lead his side to a place in the Champions League given their remaining play – even though we all know that football is not played on paper. Saturday’s defeat in Newcastle hit a page that had forgotten its tag of “happy underdogs who mixed it with the best in the league” and instead had begun to believe in their own hype.
There were two very contrasting moods on the Pool / Getty Images page
Satisfaction cost West Ham the game at St. James’ Park when Bruce’s men lost 3-2 winners, and it may well turn out to be the shot in the arm needed to remind the Hammers that they are still the happy underdogs.
Meeting teams fighting for form is all well and good, but if you approach the game with the attitude “it’s already in the bag” – especially when the majority of side teams are fighting for their Premier League lives – it will just end with heartbreaking and Saturday was a reminder of that.
When Noble leads their side out at London Stadium next season to face Barcelona in the Champions League, we can strangely only look back on this game as a huge factor in their top four.
After all, it’s better to happen now than three weeks further down the line when there’s no time left to fix things.