Last week in the fourth edition of our weekly 2016/2017 Season Review we looked at torrid November 2016, but this week we look at a stunning recovery in December.
As the dreadful month of November drew to a close, many Hammers fans were dreading the Festive period, but a fantastic and key part of the season was to follow.
Despite our run of three victories in a row in December, the month would start the way the previous one finished when Arsene Wengers’s Gunners came to The London Stadium for our first League game in the month. There was a real sense of occasion for the tie, but that was quickly quashed by Mesut Ozil who gave the visitors the lead with a tap in on 23 minutes. A tame West Ham were opened up again on 72 minutes by Alexis Sanchez and then again eight minutes later for 0-3. The returning Andy Carroll added a constellation goal just moments later when he capitalised on the rebound of a Dimitri Payet free-kick. However, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain rubbed salt in our wounds before Sanchez completed his hat-trick to round off a rampant victory. Embarrassment at home was soon becoming a regular fixture and the defeat saw us drop to 17th place, a daunting trip to Anfield would lay ahead eight days later.
A packed out newly-re-developed Anfield watched the Super Sunday encounter and a sense of “here we go again” was felt very early on by the Hammers faithful. Exquisite team football from the Red’s midfield allowed Adam Lallana a shooting opportunity on two minutes. The England international made no mistake in finishing low into the corner. However, it wouldn’t be long before we found a leveller on Merseyside through a superb Payet free-kick that dipped under Loris Karius and into the host’s net. As the half-time mark dawned, we exposed Liverpool’s defensive frailties again when Michail Antonio finished wonderfully past Karius after being put through by a Dejan Lovren deflection just before the break. Darren Randolph started the thriller in controversial circumstances after less than impressive performances at White Hart Lane and against Arsenal, two weeks before those Adrian had been dropped for an equally poor performance and mistake against Stoke City. However, the Irishman had looked reliable up until the 48th minute when Divok Origi was able to benefit from a spill at the hands of Randolph to bring Jurgen Klopp’s men level. The game would finish locked at 2-2 and even though the performance had been better, we were still just one place off the Relegation Zone heading into the vital home clash against Burnley.
The Clarets under Sean Dyche had enjoyed a fantastic start to their first season back in the top flight and proved tough opposition in the mid-week fixture. The only goal of the game would come on the stroke of half-time, with skipper Mark Noble getting his first Premier League goal of the season in rather fortunate circumstances, after netting the rebound of his penalty that was saved by Tom Heaton. The atmosphere was flat in the second period and so was the football, as we held out for a vital victory under the lights. The win would lift us up to 15th place and signify the start of a three-game winning streak.
Just three days after overcoming Burnley, a struggling opposition in Hull City awaited in another must-win encounter at The London Stadium. An extremely disappointing performance coincided with a very underserved three-points against Mike Phelan’s men. The visitors started the game in brighter fashion and Dieumerci Mbokani missed the chance of the game after latching onto an Aaron Cresswell back-pass, but he could only strike the inside of the post. Hull continued to press and hit the woodwork for a second time in the game when Mark Noble’s header hit his own crossbar and came out to safety. Unbelievable, the North-East club would go onto hit the frame of the goal for the third time in the form of an Andy Robertson effort that somehow did not find the back of the net. However, we rode our luck and eventually were awarded a penalty, again in fortuitous circumstances on 76 minutes. This time, Noble made no mistake in beating David Marshall, giving us our second consecutive crucial win. Even though our second victory in the space of three days went down as one of the luckiest wins of the season, it gave us the energy for arguably our best performance of the Premier League campaign on Boxing Day in Wales.
The usual entourage of Santa Hat wearing Hammers made the trip to Swansea and it would not be wasted. Former Swan Andre Ayew gave us an early lead on 13 minutes after Lukasz Fabianski spilled a cross, leaving the Ghana international with an easy tap in from close-range. The home side failed to pose any major early threat to Randolph and it was two just after the break when Winston Reid powerfully headed home from a Payet corner. We were soon in dreamland after Michail Antonio reacted quickly to turn in a Havard Nordtveit shot and celebrated in style in front of the away end. There would be a late constellation for the hosts in the form of a smart finish from Fernando Llorente in the 89th minute, but Andy Carroll soon rounded off the victory. Fantastic work from substitute Sofiane Feghouli down the right flank allowed him to fashion a high deliver to Carroll at the far post, with the former England man firing a tricky volley past Fabianski for his second of the season. The fabulous performance made it three in a row and saw us rise to 11th place ahead of the New Year’s Eve trip to The King Power Stadium.
A gritty affair was played out in bitter conditions against the reigning Champions, but ultimately the home side came out on top. A cluster of missed superb opportunities for the likes of Antonio and Ayew were punished by Islam Slimani on 20 minutes, who headed home powerfully from a Marc Albrighton delivery. An Antonio volley would strike the bar and a Dimitri Payet free-kick saved by Kasper Schmeichel before the break. An end to end second period would follow, but neither side were able to find a goal. The defeat would bring our winning run to an end and root us to 13th place to end the year.
The year of 2016 was a rollercoaster for West Ham United with a dramatic Boleyn Ground farewell and a move to Stratford, with another up and down start to 2017 to follow.