It had already been a bad week for West Ham United, featuring yet another disappointing end to a transfer window and the dismissal of their head of player recruitment following his remarks about African footballers, and it was difficult to think of any positives once it was all over for this deeply unhappy club.
Any hopes they had of ending a sapping period on an invigorating high were ripped apart on an afternoon when the holes in their weary squad were exposed by a vibrant performance from Brighton & Hove Albion and their supporters turned up the volume of their protests against the people who make the decisions at West Ham.
For David Sullivan and David Gold, West Ham’s unpopular owners, the temptation to stick their fingers in their ears must have been overwhelming long before the final whistle. Karren Brady, the club’s vice-chairman, was also the target of angry chants and the second half played out to a soundtrack of demands for the board to sell the club.
“RIP WHU” was the message on one banner in the away end, where they seethed and grumbled and indulged in gallows humour as a robust Brighton won for the first time since 23 December to move three points clear of the bottom three and below West Ham on goals scored.
David Moyes wore a grim expression on the touchline. With West Ham’s messy deadline-day efforts still fresh in the memory, it did not take long for the travelling supporters to bellow the first of many mutinous chants and their anger deepened when Brighton scored after eight minutes. The home team had made a pulsating start, winning the second balls and setting a high tempo, and it was a slick counterattack that culminated in Glenn Murray beating a shoddy offside trap for a battle of wits with goalkeeper Adrian.
The move developed at impressive speed after a ponderous West Ham attack fizzled out and Brighton were grateful to Roger East, the referee, for playing on when Aaron Cresswell brought down Anthony Knockaert. Unfortunately for Cresswell, the ball was already nestling in West Ham’s net by the time he was shown a yellow card. Pascal Gross released Murray, who was played onside by Declan Rice, and the striker slipped the ball underneath the advancing Adrian.
As Murray wheeled away to celebrate his fifth goal since the turn of the year, not to mention his third of the season against West Ham, Brighton did not look like a team who had failed to score in nine of their previous 13 matches in the league. They were rampant for a while and Moyes could be seen wincing at his team’s shoddy play.
Yet while Brighton had a penalty appeal waved away when Angelo Ogbonna diverted Knockaert’s shot with an outstretched arm, West Ham were creeping into the game. Sam Byram ought to have equalised when Cresswell’s deflected cross from the left reached him in the 25th minute, only for Shane Duffy to block the wing-back’s weak header, and they were level five minutes later, with Javier Hernández at the heart of a crisp attack.
The Mexican forward energetically dropped deep to retrieve possession, Mark Noble fizzed a pass into João Mário and the Portuguese midfielder’s deft flick found Hernández, who brilliantly sidestepped Lewis Dunk and Gaetan Bong before lifting his shot beyond Mathew Ryan’s reach. Hernandez’s fifth goal of a difficult season was a reminder of his lethal touch.
Brighton regained their grip on the game after the break, pushing West Ham back, and were rewarded for their pressure when José Izquierdo stunned the visitors in the 59th minute. West Ham failed to clear a corner properly and Izquierdo, who scored his first Brighton goal in their win over these opponents in October, took a touch before whipping a magnificent effort towards the far corner from the left of the area, manufacturing enough bend and pace to leave Adrian grasping at thin air.
The Colombian winger’s celebrations were wild and he was booked for ripping off his shirt. But Brighton didn’t mind. Despite introducing Michail Antonio, who was dropped for last Tuesday’s draw with Crystal Palace for arriving late to a team meeting, West Ham lacked guile without Marko Arnautovic and Manuel Lanzini.
With 15 minutes left, Moyes was preparing to give Jordan Hugill his debut. But when the striker started to jog up the touchline, he merely got a better view of Gross thumping a superb shot past Adrian from 18 yards.
“Where’s the money gone?‚“ the West Ham fans chanted. It was a good question.