David Moyes takes West Ham from flaky rollovers to resilient fighters – The Guardian

West Ham United

Manager has changed club’s identity and in a stunning Europa League win at Lyon they showed a new defiance and graft

There was a knowing grin from David Moyes and a delighted chuckle from Pablo Fornals when the door to the press room swung open and the noise from outside floated through the air. “That’s why I’m in here,” Moyes said, sounding like a weary father apologising for his unruly kids disturbing the other passengers on a packed train. “Everyone is screaming and jumping,” Fornals said as the midfielder listened to the chants of “West Ham are massive” from his jubilant teammates. “The emotions are high. It’s a really lovely moment.”

It had been one of those evenings. As Rednex’s Cotton Eye Joe blared around the away dressing room at the Groupama Stadium, Mark Noble sat by his locker and wept tears of joy after West Ham’s stunning 3-0 win over Lyon had taken them into their first European semi-final since 1976. “I don’t know where I am right now,” said Fornals. “The feeling is unbelievable. If we are together we have a big chance against every team.”

There had been a similar message from Moyes when the manager addressed his players immediately after their win in the last eight of the Europa League. The Scot reminded his side how far they have come and he could also be forgiven for a moment of personal reflection. This was big for Moyes, who was written off after spells with Manchester United, Real Sociedad and Sunderland. A tactical dinosaur? Moyes had just reached his first European semi-final and, having taken so much flak down the years, it meant a lot that victory over Lyon was achieved with his brother Kenny and his father, David Sr, watching from the stands.


Moyes’s family had witnessed something special. West Ham were slight outsiders after drawing the first leg 1-1. They had travelled to France without three key defenders, the absence of Angelo Ogbonna, Kurt Zouma and Aaron Cresswell forcing Moyes to alter his back four, and the concern was that they would not be solid enough to cope with Lyon’s attack.

There were troubling questions for Moyes to ponder before the game. Would a centre-back pairing of Craig Dawson and Issa Diop be too much of a drop from Zouma and Ogbonna? Would Vladimir Coufal raise his level at right-back after a difficult campaign? How would the inexperienced Ben Johnson fare in place of the suspended Cresswell at left-back?

The early signs were ominous. It was set up for Lyon to attack and they ripped into West Ham at first. Karl Toko Ekambi struck the woodwork. Moussa Dembélé offered slippery movement up front. Diop, who has had a shaky season, picked up an early booking for dragging the striker after losing him on the right flank.

“For 25 minutes we couldn’t get hold of the game,” Noble said, and in previous years that would have been the cue for a collapse. The pressure would have been too much. Lyon would have broken through and the tie would have been lost.

Declan Rice celebrates with teammate Vladimir Coufal. Photograph: Adam Davy/PA

West Ham are different now. They weather storms and force their way into games. They were flaky before bringing Moyes back to the London Stadium two years ago; now they refuse to roll over and always stick together.


That resilience was evident when West Ham held firm after losing Cresswell to a controversial red card during the first leg. Every time you doubt them, every time you think it is about to fall apart, they come up with a surprise. They dig deep. They do not worry about their lack of depth, or listen when outsiders talk about fatigue. They keep going and stick together.

West Ham defy expectations. When they faced Sevilla in the previous round they battled back after losing the first leg 1-0 in Spain and won the tie in extra time thanks to an emotional winner from their Ukrainian winger, Andriy Yarmolenko.

That triumph was typical of West Ham, who were similarly defiant against Lyon on Thursday night. Dawson, a cheap signing from Watford at the start of last season, stood firm and opened the scoring with a thumping header from a Fornals corner. Diop made interceptions and won his headers. Manuel Lanzini, who has battled to return to his best since a serious knee injury in 2018, offered craft in midfield. Fornals never stopped running and finished the night with two assists. “That is my proudest thing,” Noble said. “This group of players work and run and fight for each other. That is why we are where we are.”

West Ham have finally realised that talent alone is not enough. Previous teams were not willing to graft, but Moyes has changed the club’s identity. He can count on Declan Rice to lead by example in midfield. He knows that Jarrod Bowen will track back on the right and that Antonio can occupy an entire defence on his own.


Then the quality comes into play. Rice can dominate midfield, while Antonio and Bowen are huge threats on the break. West Ham, who face Eintracht Frankfurt next, have become a proper team and are not in the last four by chance. Glory is within their grasp.

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