Originally written 16th of December
West Ham United 1 – 1 Crystal PalaceEmbed from Getty Images
Whilst comparatively not akin to Charles Dickens novel about London and Paris, this encounter between two strikers not considered to have lived up to their potential was dramatic, nonetheless.
With Christian Benteke and Sebastian Haller leading the front line for West Ham United and Crystal Palace respectively, both men caught everyone’s attention, with one earning the title of hero and the other the villain of this pantomime.
Neither player has hit the ground running since their moves to their clubs, but both names were on the scoresheet come the final whistle. However, it will only be Haller whose photo will be plastered on every back page tomorrow, with his acrobatic finish being worthy of such an achievement.
When right-back Vladimir Coufal crossed the ball deep into the heavily occupied box in the 55th minute it seemed unlikely anyone would get to the ball other than one of the central defenders. But Haller rose high above them all and in the most outrageous fashion scored a bicycle kick to see his side equalise.
Since signing for £45million from Bundesliga side Frankfurt in the summer of 2019, Haller has struggled to recreate his form from Germany. In his debut season for the East London side, he scored just seven league goals in 32 appearances, less than half of his Bundesliga tally the season prior.Embed from Getty Images
Coming into his second season at The London Stadium it was clear for everyone to see that he would be second fiddle to manager David Moyes star man Michail Antonio. But injuries to the English forward left the door of opportunity open for Haller to step through and prove his worth.
Since he has stepped into the starting role, he has only scored one goal, coming against bottom club Sheffield United, and what a goal that was. But he has failed to make a real impact to the team or resonated with the fans. That was until the Irons hosted Palace on Wednesday evening.
Haller’s time at the Hammers is comparable to Benteke’s duration at Palace, with the Belgium also failing to make a serious impact on the team. In 2016 Benteke left Merseyside to sign for Palace in a deal worth £32million, another high fee for a striker who has only scored 24 goals since.
Coming into the game both Moyes and Roy Hodgson were anticipating how their strikers would combine with their support men. With Hammers wingers Jarrod Bowen and Said Benrahma both still adjusting to life in the Premier League, much like summer signing Eberechi Eze is for the Eagles.
Moyes’s men started the first half off extremely cagey and weren’t playing their free-flowing football that he has developed, still clearly taking time to adapt to their new four at the back formation. The Ivorian international failed to create any sort of impact in the first half, unlike his counterpart Benteke, who headed home a Joel Ward cross in the 34th minute to see his side 1-0 with just their first shot on target in the game.Embed from Getty Images
The goal was crucial for Benteke, visibly giving him a lethal injection of much needed confidence. Just minutes later he had the chance to double the lead, after a tremendous solo run from Andros Townsend, all Benteke had to do was finish it, but instead the ball trickled into the gloves of goalkeeper Lukas Fabianski.
With the Stratford side heading to the dressing room at half time a goal down it was clear that manager Moyes needed to change things up in order to start getting the best out of his striker. So off came Spanish international Pablo Fornals and on came Manuel Lanzini, a hero amongst fans for his famous equaliser earlier on in the season against rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
The substitution immediately changed things for West Ham, as they started to create more and distribution to Haller became more frequent. With the service to the Ivorian occurring more and more, it seemed only a matter of time before he would get that one chance he needed to get the all-important equaliser.
But their frustration would turn into elation when their summer signing Coufal swung in a perfect cross into the box and Haller would earn himself hero status with one of the best finishes all season. The number 22 showed off his acrobatic abilities with an inch perfect finish that no goalkeeper would have a chance at saving.
The goal demonstrated Haller’s incredible goal scoring ability, something that West Ham fans have been longing to see over the last 18 months. The way the Ivorian rose above former West Ham midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate to thump his shot into the top left-hand corner of the net past goalkeeper Vicente Guaita showed just what he has in his locker.Embed from Getty Images
The game was poised for a big finish from one of the two strikers, with both men finding the form they needed to push on and grab the winner and all three points for their team. But one hero would turn into the story’s villain, as Benteke rose high in the 70th minute to challenge Tomas Soucek, but viciously led with his elbow. Striking the Czech international in the face as he won the ball, just 20 minutes after doing the same to Angelo Ogbonna, receiving a yellow card for the earlier challenge.
Official David Coote was forced to show him a second yellow card for the elbow, ending the Belguim’s time on the pitch, meaning Palace would have to hold on for the last 20 minutes with just ten men. With Palace sitting back and defending for the remainder of the game and West Ham incapable of finding a way to break the dead lock, the game finished with both teams sharing the points.
The two strikers at the spearhead of their team’s attacks were the vocal points of the game, with one being remembered for his heroic acrobatic goal, and the other for his reckless challenge and red card. Both managers would’ve hoped that this game could’ve been the moment their two out of form forwards kicked on and lived up to their names, but with Benteke now serving a ban is the door finally open for Haller to prove himself in the Premier League like he did in Germany and earn his place in the hearts of West Ham fans?