Working from home has become the norm for many this year but for Ralph Hasenhüttl, an animated character in the most straightforward of games, this will have proved a trying exercise. Taking charge of Southampton remotely after a member of his household tested positive for coronavirus, the Saints manager presumably spent much of this game kicking his heels and banging the armrest in frustration after his side crept to a point against West Ham. By the end Hasenhüttl said he was close to vaulting himself towards his television in irritation.
A dull stalemate was not how either side wished to cap 2020 but a testing year has harvested largely positive results for Southampton, who have won more points in that period than every Premier League side barring Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea. That may be a meaningless feat but it does underline the progress under their manager.
“Getting 56 points in 2020 is amazing for us. It’s much more than we expected,” Hasenhüttl said. “I’m happy and proud of the work the team has done this year. We are much more stabilised now. From where we were coming to now, it is a big step forward. But what I think is missing at the moment is the final punch. It’s not so easy for us to score at the moment.”
A superb left-handed save from McCarthy prevented West Ham from smuggling victory six minutes from time. One substitute, Jarrod Bowen, worked the ball to another, Said Benrahma, via a deflection off Ryan Bertrand but McCarthy stood tall when West Ham sensed blood.
Benrahma feasted on a poor clearance by Jack Stephens and jabbed the ball goalwards but could not beat McCarthy from close range.
Both Southampton and West Ham had hoped to erase any gnawing self-doubt but both are now four games without victory. Southampton shaded a bitty first half in which West Ham’s quartet of attacking players, including Manuel Lanzini and Andriy Yarmolenko – two of five players promoted to the starting lineup – had to dig in to do the dirty work.
David Moyes conceded his side failed to give Brighton enough to think about during the first half on Sunday and, while they again struggled to fashion clearcut openings, Lanzini was presented with an opening just before the interval after Aaron Cresswell freed Pablo Fornals, only for the Argentinian to drive over while off balance. Ryan Fredericks, too, should have done better when heading straight at McCarthy from close range.
On the touchline in Hasenhüttl’s absence was Richard Kitzbichler, his right-hand man. Hasenhuttl stayed in contact with his staff via video link and communicated with his players before the game and at half-time.
Southampton kept West Ham at arm’s length and with shots on goal hard to come by, Theo Walcott took aim from distance on the hour mark but his dipping effort failed to trouble Lukasz Fabianski. Southampton turned to Shane Long for a spark but a stubborn West Ham backline refused to surrender any ground.
A stop-start first half was bogged down by offside calls and cheap fouls, one of which handed Southampton a golden chance when Craig Dawson, making his first Premier League start for West Ham since joining on loan from Watford in October, upended Che Adams. James Ward-Prowse stood on the edge of the D with the ball sandwiched under his armpit and West Ham feared the worst, but his free-kick sailed over. The returning Danny Ings put the ball in the net after six minutes but Adams had strayed offside.
“This is much better, well done, keep it up,” said Declan Rice, the West Ham captain, rallying the troops a few minutes into the second half but little, in truth, had really changed. Moyes introduced Benrahma and then came Bowen and Michail Antonio, for his first outing since November following a hamstring injury. “We’ve missed him,” Moyes said. “We’ve been muddling through a little bit and trying to find goals from other sources.
It’s a big boost to have him back.”
With 20 minutes to play Tomas Soucek squandered an inviting opportunity, failing to test McCarthy after meeting a deep free-kick. At the other end, Kyle Walker-Peters had a tame effort saved by Fabianski after Walcott turned on the afterburners. But neither team turned up the heat often enough.
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