When the fixture list for the 2022/23 season was released, February looked a daunting month but to be fair to them, West Ham United haven’t made a bad start, as they came away from St James’ Park having picked up a valuable point in a 1-1 draw in Saturday’s late kick-off.
David Moyes made five changes from the FA Cup victory at Derby County five days earlier, as Łukasz Fabiański, Vladimír Coufal, Saïd Benrahma, Lucas Paquetá and Declan Rice came into the starting line up in place of Alphonse Areola, Ben Johnson, Flynn Downes, Pablo Fornals and Tomáš Souček who all dropped to the bench.
Thilo Kehrer and Emerson Palmieri retained their places from the triumph at Pride Park. Areola missed out on being involved in the matchday squad, due to a slight hamstring injury so the Hammers’ boss named two goalkeepers amongst the nine substitutes, as Joseph Anang and Krisztián Hegyi were used as extra cover.
There was no quick meeting with his former club for youngster Harrison Ashby, who swapped the Irons in favour of the Magpies on Deadline Day.
The Magpies went into the game on a high after they had booked their place in the Carabao Cup Final on Tuesday night and made a quick start in this game too, as Joe Willock thumped the ball past Fabiański within seconds of the action getting underway. However, the Hammers were given a reprieve, as VAR confirmed that the ball had gone out of play.
The relief didn’t last too long though, as Newcastle scored again in the third minute with Callum Wilson beating the Pole and this time it did count.
There were echoes of the atmosphere after Tuesday night’s match against Southampton as soon as the goal went in and Eddie Howe’s men were in the mood to find another.
Shocked by that explosive beginning to the encounter, the Irons weren’t going to let the home side through as easy again and their defence stood firm, blocking everything that Howe’s men were throwing at them and instead, it was West Ham who went in search of an equaliser.
From then on, the visitors started to orchestrate matters. Michail Antonio was first to try his luck, only to see his effort blocked by Sven Botman.
Paquetá then sent in his own attempt but he too failed to get past the Swiss defender, before the move finally came to a disappointing end when Benrahma fired over Nick Pope’s crossbar.
Fabian Schär was close to extending the hosts’ advantage but fortunately for those who made the long journey from the East End, the ball went narrowly wide of the target.
Paquetá had another go, as the visitors were really piling on the pressure by this point and it almost paid off however a deflection took the ball out for a corner.
Rice sent the set piece over and it dropped invitingly into the path of the Brazilian midfielder, who claimed his second goal for the club with a neat finish past Pope and loud cheers could be heard from the away fans.
The visitors currently have a solitary win to show on their travels this season, yet, by now, were definitely in the ascendancy on Tyneside and could have even been ahead going into half-time but somehow Nayef Aguerd missed with a header after meeting Coufal’s free-kick.
Referee Peter Bankes blew the whistle for the break and while the home side were looking to regain the lead, the visitors were thinking that they were in with a chance of three vital points.
During the interval, Moyes was forced into his first change, as Kehrer had picked up a hamstring injury, meaning Johnson replaced him.
West Ham continued to set the pace as they were looking to build on their equaliser. The Irons could have got their revenge for the home sides’ rapid start when Aguerd was in the right place to reach Benrahma’s in-swinging corner but could only send the chance wide.
The Hammers were looking to become the first team to leave St James’ Park with all three points this season but the Magpies obviously had other ideas. Allan Saint-Maximin attempted a volley but thankfully for the visitors, Coufal saw the danger and blocked the Frenchman’s route to goal, before Joelinton thought he should have been awarded a penalty but the only intervention that Bankes made was to book the striker for diving in the area.
Moyes made two further changes on seventy four minutes, as both Fornals and Souček entered the fray for Paquetá and Benrahma.
The home side had brought on new signing Anthony Gordon earlier in the encounter and he set his new side going again when he played in Wilson, who obviously was trying to build on the goal he had scored and might well have done but for an outstanding challenge from Aguerd.
He was given another chance just minutes later but the former Coventry City and AFC Bournemouth striker headed straight at Fabiański.
With ten minutes of normal time to play, Moyes decided that it was time for another change and took off Antonio and introduced Danny Ings who had recovered from the knee injury he picked up in the last Premier League game at home to Everton on January 21.
If there was no chance of winning this match then the visitors were desperate to hold on to what they had but they somehow had to quell the relentless pressure that they were coming under. Jarrod Bowen got in the way of Gordon’s shot, before Botman was off target with a header from the resulting corner.
There were further chances at either end to take all three points but, as the game went on, it looked increasingly like both sides would have to settle for a draw.
Three minutes of stoppage time were signalled at the end of the ninety and Moyes made use of all of his five substitutions for the first time since the rule had been implemented. The final change he made was to bring on Downes in place of Coufal.
Moyes will hope his side can build more momentum to follow this outstanding performance when they host Chelsea in the early kick-off on Saturday.