West Ham 2 Huddersfield 0: Goals from Pedro Obiang and Andre Ayew gave the hosts a vital win and brought Huddersfield back down to earth with a bump
With 18 minutes left here, some fans were starting to turn on Slaven Bilic. They had booed his decision to replace Javier Hernandez with Andre Ayew, as West Ham struggled for a goal in a game they had to win.
Had this stayed at 0-0, or got worse than that, it is hard to see how Bilic could have survived much longer in a job when he has already lost so much of the confidence of David Sullivan.
Then the game turned with a goal of ludicrously good fortune for West Ham, a deflection that beat Jonas Lossl better than any genuine effort could have done. Five minutes later Ayew stabbed in a second and all of a sudden Bilic was gloriously vindicated. West Ham fans started to wish him happy birthday – he turned 49 this evening – and it all must have felt like a very gratefully received gift.
West Ham saw out the win, their first of the season, after three dismal defeats. It is hard to see how Bilic could have survived had they not won, but they did, and now their manager lives on to fight another day. He will take the team to West Bromwich Albion on Saturday and, if they can scrape another result then, he could even host Tottenham Hotspur here the following weekend.
It was a 1-0 win here against Spurs, remember, at the very end of last season that stopped Sullivan from sacking Bilic in May. Now Bilic has done it again.
But was this enough, from Bilic’s West Ham, to justify him staying in the job? There was a mutinous mood at the London Stadium but it was directed more at the owners than at Bilic himself.
Some West Ham fans brought in a big pink obscene inflatable and plenty sang ‘Dildo Brothers, you know what you are’, just as Sporting CP’s mischievous president Bruno Carvalho had urged them to do.
On the pitch, though, West Ham began with a plan, an idea of how to score a goal, for the first time this season. And that plan was Andy Carroll. This was his first start in five months and he gave the team a reference, even if it meant pushing Hernandez out onto the left wing.
Carroll nearly set one up for Cheikhou Kouyate, and blasted a few shots of his own wide, often winning his own knockdowns against Huddersfield’s powerless centre-backs. Aaron Cresswell’s delivery was precise and Hernandez should have done better than hitting the bar when one fell to him.
But in the second half when Carroll tired, his effectiveness started to wear off. West Ham could not go from back to front as effectively and Huddersfield started to grow into the game. When Bilic hauled off the unpopular Hernandez for Ayew, he looked like a manager who had run out of ideas.
Just when it looked like West Ham had missed their moment they finally found their way through, with a goal no-one could have planned for. Ayew fed Obiang, 30 yards out, and his left-footed shot hit Zanka on the back, deflecting away from Lossl and flying into the top corner. It was a suitably bad goal for this bad game, but then West Ham were never going to score a good one.
But now they had the taste and they added a second five minutes later. Cresswell whipped in a corner, Fonte tried to bundle it in at the near post but Ayew was there to stab the ball in.
Just like that, Bilic’s fortune, and his short-term job security, were transformed. Now he just needs it to keep happening, next weekend and the weekend after that.