Away team scorers Andy Carroll 14 Pedro Obiang 44 Mark Noble 52
West Ham United asserted their physical advantage and continued their post-Payet rejuvenation with an away victory over a Southampton side that look to be suffering an identity crisis of their own.
Goals from Andy Carroll and Mark Noble as well as Pedro Obiang, who became the first Hammer to both score and assist in a match this season, cancelled out a debut goal from Manolo Gabbiadini. But in a clash of styles between direct and intricate, strong and skilful, there was only one winner.
It was one of those cruel pranks played by the fixture computer that José Fonte should have to return so quickly to the club he left acrimoniously in January. But in the opening exchanges of the match the most striking feature was how little hostility the home crowd exhibited towards the Portuguese defender, an acknowledgement of all he did for the club in his seven years on the south coast.
Fonte played his part in the opening goal of the match, sadly for him, it was scored by his former side. Oriol Romeu started the move in the 12th minute, picking up the ball in defence and advancing to half way where he met a retreating Jay Rodriguez, part of Claude Puel’s fluid front three. As Rodriguez dropped deep, the West Ham defensive line pushed up and were caught out when the forward turned back towards goal and lifted the ball into space for Gabbiadini to run on to. The £14m signing from Napoli found himself in acres of room but at a tight angle to the left of the goal. As Fonte chased back, the Italian took a touch, thought the situation not overly demanding, and smashed a left-foot shot off the crossbar and into the net.
Gabbiadini, who had managed only five goals this season before his January move, was elated and tore off in a wild celebration that ended on his knees. But two minutes later West Ham were level.
Obiang was the architect, with Saints as accommodating to the midfielder as their fans had been to Fonte. Allowed to advance from his own half to within 25 yards of goal, Southampton backed off and backed off but were spread out across the pitch. Obiang slid a pass through the midfield and between both centre-halves. Carroll meanwhile had spun young Jack Stephens as if he wasn’t there. Carroll, who looks truly fit and in form, calmly took a touch and finished low under Fraser Forster to equalise.
The scoreline was even, but there was a definite sense that West Ham had the hosts’ measure. Playing physically wherever possible and looking to hit crosses at the young Stephens and uncertain Maya Yoshida, their game-plan was clear but Saints were hard pressed to counter it. What is more, with Robert Snodgrass on set pieces, it was fair to say the Hammers had quality in delivery to match the departed Dimitri Payet.
It was a Snodgrass corner that led to West Ham’s second goal on the verge of half-time. The ball was swung onto the penalty spot where Gabbiadini met it and, to give him credit, cleared out of the area. It fell, however, to an unmarked Obiang who drove the ball back first time from whence it came. The shot bounced awkwardly and took a deflection but still Forster might have stopped it from heading into the corner. He did not.
Puel brought on Nathan Redmond for Rodriguez at half time and the hosts immediately set about restoring parity with renewed vigour. A sneaky free-kick from James Ward-Prowse was turned one-handed round the post by the impressive Darren Randolph. Then Redmond’s cross should have been put in by Gabbiadini only for him to fail to make any connection at all. The Italian then saw his shot closed down after a good combination between Redmond and Ryan Bertrand.
A goal looked inevitable and it was, but it came for West Ham. A free-kick was awarded on the right hand side of the Saints half and Noble stepped up to take it. The Hammers captain had looked back to his best and duly smacked the set piece at pace. It swung behind the Saints defensive line and Steven Davis swung a leg at it, turning it beyond his keeper. With the original strike having been on target, it remained Noble’s goal.
More Southampton pressure followed but a combination of a resolute Randolph and a deteriorating Gabbiadini meant the scores stayed as they were. The Hammers fans, celebrating a second consecutive away win, were in no mood to match the civility shown by Saints fans earlier. As well as blowing bubbles and bidding good riddance to Payet, they stole a song from the Saints and enjoyed a lustful rendition of “José Fonte, baby”.