Bournemouth’s O’Neil fumes as Zouma and Benrahma strike for West Ham | Premier League

If West Ham are gradually improving then Bournemouth may be regressing to the mean. The greater Premier League experience and squad depth told in an encounter that will linger in nobody’s memory once the VAR controversy has died down over Kurt Zouma’s opening goal, what looked a plum but not given red card for Bournemouth’s Jefferson Lerma and a handball by Jordan Zemura that set up Saïd Benrahma’s late penalty.

David Moyes’s team has a useful habit of digging out victory when pressure is coming down. Gary O’Neil’s fledgling managerial career is meanwhile undergoing its first slump, and defeat at the London Stadium, the second in succession, came at the cost of what looked troublesome injuries for his key striker and first-choice goalkeeper. The Premier League’s smallest, perhaps least distinguished squad, have three matches to see out until their well-earned World Cup break.

West Ham kicked off in 17th place. Weekend wins for Leicester and Aston Villa had been unhelpful for a team 12 points worse off than they were at this stage last season. Though Moyes said he had “never thought of the word” and still has his eye on a challenge for European places, a relegation battle has been looming since the opening matches of the season.

O’Neil’s tenure as Bournemouth interim manager had taken in seven previous matches (losing just the last of them to Southampton), three British prime ministers and two serving monarchs. While his current club’s ongoing takeover delays the decision over being awarded the job on a permanent basis, he was taking on the club he played for with understated distinction for two years under Avram Grant and Sam Allardyce.

After impressing in last week’s narrow loss against Liverpool and during Europa Conference League engagements, Flynn Downes, a ball-playing midfielder in the West Ham tradition, was partnering Declan Rice, a player he is touted to one day replace. Downes is just six days younger than Rice but has taken a circuitous route – via Ipswich and Swansea – to the club he supports.

Benrahma for Pablo Fornals was Moyes’s sole change while O’Neil made no alterations. West Ham soon took the attacking initiative, Bournemouth sitting deep and in numbers, as might be expected of an outfit whose average of 7.8 shots per game represented an all-time low since such Premier League records began in the 1997-98 season.

Thilo Kehrer appears to handle the ball in the buildup to Kurt Zouma’s goal
Thilo Kehrer appears to handle the ball in the buildup to Kurt Zouma’s goal. Photograph: David Klein/Reuters

Yet Lukasz Fabianski was the first goalkeeper called into action, asked to smother a poked effort from Dominic Solanke after a counter from the dangerous Marcus Tavernier at left wing-back. Still, neither team looked especially potent; West Ham had scored two previous first-half goals in the league all season.

Downes’s aggression and runs from deep in support of Gianluca Scamacca at centre-forward were a feature. His chance to score a first West Ham goal came when Ben Johnson’s cross came to him on the edge of the box but his shot was blocked. Aaron Cresswell could not keep the rebound down.

A lengthy delay followed Bournemouth keeper Neto pulling up with a muscle injury though the Brazilian eventually soldiered on until the break. The visitors’ best chance came after Tomas Soucek, having failed to look up, played in Solanke to take a long run and shot at Fabianski. The striker ended up being clattered by Thilo Kehrer as he shot, then failed to complete the half.

On came the gigantic Kieffer Moore just before West Ham got the ball in the net. Following a corner, Zouma nodded in and while Kehrer’s volleyball-like layup looked clear and obvious, VAR allowed the goal to stand.

Bournemouth’s players left the field at the break cursing officialdom, the explanation given for the goal standing that Kehrer’s intervention had been neither deliberate nor directly preceded the goal. The ball had come off a Bournemouth head to Zouma. They kicked off for the second half with the Republic of Ireland’s Mark Travers replacing Neto in goal and with West Ham continuing to dominate play.

Benrahma drifted a ball to the back post that Soucek narrowly failed to reach, then smashed just over from distance after Jarrod Bowen’s incisive run. The officials then favoured Bournemouth when Lerma’s tackle on Scamacca looked almost knee-high. It was deemed yellow rather than red. Lucky boy.

O’Neil introduced Jaidon Anthony and Zemura for Ryan Christie and Ryan Fredericks in search of impetus but West Ham continued to look likelier, with Travers saving a dipping shot from Rice.

Moyes brought on Michail Antonio’s bustle to further occupy Bournemouth’s defence as Scamacca left the field but the loud contingent of away fans began to sense a way back with the score still at 1-0 and West Ham attempting to lock it down. Philip Billing and Moore’s aerial power was at the fore of the attempted comeback but then officialdom intervened once more as Zemura, sliding off the touchline, unwittingly handed West Ham the three points.

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