West Ham United’s Mark Noble admitted with rare post-match candour that they were fortunate to escape with a 3-0 defeat by Southampton at the London Stadium on Sunday – their fourth successive reverse in the Premier League.
“To be honest, it could have been six,” said Noble, the club captain and veteran of 12 years. “It was laughable. We probably could have played until tonight and still not scored.”
The same sentiments were probably shared by the fans who booed the team off the pitch at halftime and at the end along with the thousands who walked out long before the final whistle.
The former Olympic Stadium is not a happy new home for West Ham, who may well still be smarting from the recent remarks of club great Billy Bonds after he described it as “not a football ground”.
The east London club’s problems go much deeper than location, however. The previous week they shipped goals in a 4-2 defeat at West Bromwich Albion, hardly prolific scorers, and have now conceded 14 in their last four league defeats.
Manager Slaven Bilic looked shell-shocked after the match, answering questions with soft, measured tones.
“It is the same players and manager who were doing good things last season (when they finished seventh). Eighty percent of the team is like that. But we were not happy with how we played in the last third of the pitch,” he said.
That was probably a reference to West Ham’s on loan Italian striker Simone Zaza, who looked a poor imitation of his opposite number, Charlie Austin, in every respect.
Southampton’s impressive forward held the ball well, brought others into play, including Dusan Tadic for the second goal, and executed his one chance superbly for the opener.
Zaza, on the other hand, looked lost up front, and was only noticeable when he threw himself to the ground in search of a penalty. Zsa Zsa Gabor could not have been more theatrical.
Bilic will point to the injuries which have severely disrupted his team’s season, but West Ham must must look beyond excuses. They are third from bottom of the table with three points from six games and have a long hard season of them.
No one is better placed than Southampton to warn the London club about the possible aftermath of moving home.
Within four years of leaving the Dell, an old-style stadium that resembled West Ham’s old Upton Park ground, for St Mary’s, they had changed managers four times and been relegated to the Championship, on their way to English football’s third tier.
It is too soon to predict similar doom for West Ham but Noble, who saw them relegated in 2011, knows how to tell a few home truths, which do not involve blaming the new stadium for their plight.
“I’ve been in this position before at the club,” he said. “At the moment we’re just not good enough.” (Reporting by Neil Robinson; editing by Ken Ferris)