Zaha’s last-gasp Palace leveller sends West Ham into a rage
Slaven Bilic held his head in his hands and shook it helplessly, as his West Ham United team conceded in the seventh minute of added time to bottomplaced Crystal Palace.
While that happened, his men lost theirs, with West Ham captain Mark Noble having to be restrained as angry words were exchanged between the two sets of players at full-time, with Crystal Palace revelling in a gutsy fightback. Earlier, Michail Antonio had also lost his head, gifting Palace the opportunity to score their late leveller.
It was a painful blow for West Ham, piling pressure back on their manager, who faces a battle to show he is still the man for the job, after his side threw away a 2-0 half-time lead. For normally reserved Roy Hodgson, waving his fists joyfully, it was a release of strain as they gave a commendable show of character, with dangerous Wilfried Zaha producing the decisive late blow to the visitors’ hopes of holding on.
The circumstances of the result led to those contrasting emotions, rather than the draw itself. It was all the more hurtful for West Ham as they were tantalisingly close to the feat of back-toback wins in challenging circumstances, having defeated Tottenham Hotspur in the Carabao Cup in midweek.
The strain, though, had been building at the end of this game and West Ham finally cracked, as Antonio was brutally punished. Both managers claimed they had not seen the scenes at the end, centring on Noble, but the illfeeling was very visible.
Bilic himself showed how hurt he was in his press conference. It took the Croatian a few seconds to start speaking after the first question was asked to him. Antonio, eventually, was not spared Bilic’s criticism.
“That was just a bad decision and shouldn’t happen at this level of football,” the West Ham manager said. “Nobody can say they did not deserve it. Conceding like that is a killer.
“In the last few minutes, we made wrong decisions. In the last second, what you have to do is keep it and we didn’t. That makes it very frustrating.
“Of course we [Bilic and Antonio] spoke. He’s the one who knows he can keep the ball.”
West Ham, though, could count themselves fortunate to be 2-0 ahead at the break, having sat back for much of the half. They were also indebted to an outstanding performance from goalkeeper Joe Hart, which kept them in the game.
Discussing the result, Hodgson said: “It showed me that this team has got more character than they have sometimes been credited with. It would have been easy at half-time to feel sorry for themselves. But you don’t always get what you deserve. I thought it was a strong performance in the second half.”
Palace had gone on the front foot in the early stages but struggled to make inroads – and they were not helped by the scrappy, stop-start nature of the contest. On a rare venture forward, West Ham snatched the lead. Aaron Cresswell’s square pass teed up Javier Hernandez, who tucked in from 10 yards.
Hodgson’s men stung again as Andre Ayew took possession at the halfway line, before letting fly with a 20-yard strike.
There was a better start to the second half for Palace, though. Andros Townsend was brought down by Angelo Ogbonna, leading to a penalty, which Luka Milivojevic successfully struck home. That breakthrough enlivened Palace and they almost rapidly found an equaliser as Yohan Cabaye’s fierce hit from 20 yards hit a post.
Palace’s last chance looked to have gone when Tomkins’ header struck the bar then Bakery Sako hoisted the ball over, but Antonio could not hold his nerve, allowing Zaha to deliver with a low shot. Antonio looked embarrassed. For Bilic, though, it would have felt even worse.
Frustration: Slaven Bilic looks to the heavens as his struggling side throw away a two-goal lead