A 1-1 draw against Manchester City should have been cause for jubilation in the London Stadium's home dressing room last month. Since West Ham made it their new home in 2016 - and since Pep Guardiola arrived in the Premier League - the ground has seen drubbing after drubbing inflicted on its hosts.
Not only was this the first point West Ham have collected at home to Manchester City in nearly five years, but it was the first game between these two teams at the London Stadium where the Hammers had not conceded four or more. And yet there was no celebration in the air after a hard fought match where Phil Foden had cancelled out Michail Antonio's first half opener for the hosts.
First team coach Paul Nevin tells CBS Sports: "The result reflects where the culture shift has come because we've come in having drawn 1-1 with Manchester City, the quality that they display, and the changing room was like we lost. It was a great disappointment. The players were really down.
"To have a 1-1 draw and be well in the game with the opportunity to win it, you know, it speaks volumes that the players are not happy and the coaching staff are a little bit disappointed . It was a very flat changing room and environment after. A little bit of you thinks 'Okay, it was Man City.' But when you reflect and the dust settles that shows the mentality shift. We are there to compete now."
"It's no good being consistent and having good performances against the top teams only then a few weeks later to falter against other teams in and around this or below us. That inconsistency cannot happen anymore at this football club and that's generally what we're striving to stop to give this club a boost in performances."
It may have been just one result but that performance is representative of a sea change in David Moyes' second spell as manager. Where once this was a club defined by turbulence and unpredictability there is a notable sense of stability to this current West Ham side.
Overcoming a tough schedule
That has been reflected on the pitch. After eight games of the season West Ham are 12th, par for the course on paper but dig a little deeper and there is the sense that they merit a far higher position. After all, the fixture computer handed them a brute of an early season schedule, facing six of last season's top eight in the opening seven games.
They were competitive in all of them. Both defeats, 2-1 at Arsenal and Liverpool, may well have gone the Hammers way had they taken early chances. Against Leicester City and Wolverhampton Wanderers, West Ham ran riot, putting on a counter-attacking display in dominant 3-0 and 4-0 victories. Those might have been the highlights of the season were it not for the magical eight minutes in which Fabian Balbuena, an own goal from Davinson Sanchez and Manuel Lanzini turned a 3-0 defeat to Tottenham into a point stolen from the home of their great rivals.
West Ham's underlying metrics are also impressive, especially for a team who began the season against such difficult opposition. Their goal difference of plus-four is the fifth best in the league and their expected goals (xG) per 90 minutes, a measure of the quality of chances a team creates, places them eighth, ahead of the two Manchester clubs and Arsenal.
Factor in the xG of their opponents and West Ham have the seventh best xG difference in the league, an early statistical indication of their strong start to the season. In many ways the side's 2020-21 campaign so far has been a continuation of their return to Premier League action in Project Restart, an eight game sprint where Moyes' side lost only twice while beating Chelsea and drawing with Manchester United.
West Ham's start to the Premier League season
|Date||Match||Result||West Ham Scorers|
Newcastle United (h)
Wolverhampton Wanderers (h)
Bowen 17' 57', Jimenez (og) 66', Haller 90'
Leicester City (a)
Antonio 14', Fornals 34', Bowen 83'
Tottenham Hotspur (a)
Balbuena 82', Sanchez (og) 85', Lanzini 90'
Manchester City (h)
It was during that period that Jarrod Bowen grew into his new shirt. A January addition from Championship side Hull City, he arrived with an impressive record for direct contributions having scored 16 and provided six assists in 29 second tier games last season. Though he only scored one in his first campaign with the Hammers there was a string of notable performances post-Restart, particularly his assists for Tomas Soucek and Antonio in the 3-2 win over Chelsea. And Bowen last year, much like West Ham this year had strong underlying numbers, with 0.22 xG per 90 and 0.26 xG assisted per 90.
Given those numbers, it's no surprise that come this campaign the goals have been coming rather more frequently for Bowen. The young winger has taken 16 shots, four of them on target, and has scored three times. That's a total that's not all that far ahead of what his 2.37 xG might predict. Those three goals have largely been familiar to those who know the 23-year-old from his time at Hull, and watched him develop his "speciality" move of cutting onto his left foot and drilling low past the goalkeeper. That he has been able to translate that Championship form into the top flight is in no small part down to the repetition with which Moyes and his staff drill him and every other West Ham player.
"You want to keep mastering the art of different techniques," he says. "When I signed the gaffer said 'I know you can score goals, I don't need to teach you that.' It's just about different runs, different finishes, all these kinds of things that I listen to now that I've come up to this level. I need to listen to people who have got greater experience than me, I trust their word and feel like it's working a lot for me since I've joined."
That has not stopped Bowen from working to expand his repertoire, he jokes that all he needs is a few fluky goals to go in off his right foot and he can become even more of a menace on his left against defenders who don't know what to expect from him.
"The work I've been doing going onto my right foot which can be a nightmare for defenders, if I can go down both ways then it asks them questions about which way they want to show me. If I have a bit of success on my right foot then they might show me in on my left and that's what I really want."
Certainly he is not one to rest on his laurels and when his impressive goal return from early in the season is put to him Bowen's first response is to highlight the fact that he does not have an assist so far this season (a result supported by the advanced numbers, his xG assisted has in fact dropped down to .07 per 90 this season).
Transfers done right
Bowen's focus on the weak points of his game is perhaps indicative of a crucial change in West Ham's recent recruitment: they are buying players for their character, not just their talent. There has not been a shortage of financial investment under owners David Gold and David Sullivan with £285million net expenditure since the 2016 move to the London Stadium but it has not always been effectively invested in big money signings such as Felipe Anderson and Javier Hernandez.
Bowen and the Czech duo of Soucek and Vladimir Coufal have addressed clear areas of need in the starting XI effectively and at a reasonable price. The same may yet be true of Said Benrahma, the best player in the Championship with Brentford last season but still easing himself into his new surroundings in east London. Meanwhile Darren Randolph and Craig Dawson add experience and reliability to the squad. As Nevin says, "What we're starting to get now is a real core group, a real core culture, in which individual characters start to flourish and shine.
"The likes of Jarrod are a great example of those characteristics and having that talent and ability, being a team player, being able to take on information and just being generally good people. I think it helps in any walk of life, if you've got talent, industry, good work rate about you and you're a good person as a whole. It gives you a great chance to achieve your goals."
For Bowen and Nevin, West Ham's success is basically all they've known. They both joined within the space of a week in late January to early February, and it made for a curious start to life at West Ham to head into lockdown a month after starting their new jobs . The former saw a new side to the club and through birthday calls and video messages was able to build bonds with supporters who had only seen him play a handful of times.
Nevin, one of the Premier League's leading black coaches at a club determined to reflect the diversity of London, was able to build bonds with the new players under his tutelage in a different, perhaps more swift, way. "On a personal note, what I think lockdown did for me was...sometimes it's overwhelming when you come into a new environment. It's lots of people you have to get to know and everything's happening amongst the games. I think it gave me time to kind of step back, there were no games, there was no pressure."
That pressure was soon weighing on Moyes' staff after their boss, center back Issa Diop and midfielder Josh Cullen were diagnosed with COVID-19 moments before the EFL Cup tie with Hull City. Assistant manager Alan Irvine was forced to take the helm as Moyes observed from isolation.
"We knew that Big Brother was looking from home with all the cameras around the pitch!" says Nevin, a glint in his eye and a broad smile across his face as he joked that the simplest solution was for the coaching staff to switch their mobile phones off.
"We've all been managers at different levels and all over the world," Nevin adds, reflecting on a coaching staff that also includes former Premier League players Stuart Pearce and Kevin Nolan. "I think there's an understanding that he's the voice who makes all the big decisions, but he has no qualms about asking us for our advice and opinions, which can be different.
"That's a sign of a good leader that can have people in the building that have differences of opinion and strong stances yet know that's to benefit the whole environment. So he brought us all in with that experience. And I think he feels secure in asking us to do and contribute in all sorts of facets of what we do."
Some much needed stability
On and off the pitch something has clicked with Moyes and his employers. He is in consistent communication with vice chairman Karren Brady and equally regular dialogue with the owners. Meanwhile Brady herself held weekly Zoom conferences with players and the rest of the staff at the London Stadium during lockdown, building a cohesion across a club that has seen no redundancies, furloughs, nor pay cuts for anyone but senior executives. The players also agreed a wage deferral whilst David Gold and David Sullivan put £30million into the club in April to ease the financial pressures.
On the pitch as well, Moyes' players are always acutely aware of what the plan is. West Ham are prepared to cede possession to their opponents - only Sheffield United and Crystal Palace have seen less of the ball per game than the Hammers 39.9% - and spring onto the counter attack through Bowen, Fornals and Antonio. Debate whether this is the nebulous 'West Ham way' all you want, there is something undeniably thrilling and irresistible about that trio in full flow, as Leicester and Wolves can attest.
Nevin is keen to note that formations, be they the five at the back Moyes deploys or a 4-3-3 are only as positive or negative as the team that enacts them, and Bowen can succinctly explain his side's game plan in a sentence. "First and foremost the gaffer is big on being hard to break down and hard to beat without the ball and then when we win the ball back we know we can counter with Michail's pace up front, me and Pablo out on the wings and the two wing-backs."
He can also expand upon those basics. "With the five at the back there's a lot of counter-attacking opportunities and I think that really suits us, to play more on the counter as opposed to when we've got all the ball all game and teams sit off us. The Leicester and the Wolves games were massive examples of the game plan working perfectly but first and foremost it comes from the gaffer's belief in what he wants from us off the ball that helps us create the chances with the ball."
There are still challenges West Ham have yet to convincingly overcome, particularly when it comes to overcoming those sides who do not want the ball against them. Even though it was hardly their best performance of the season there was perhaps as much delight at the win over Fulham, one where the Hammers were forced to be the game's protagonists. Still it was scarcely a vintage performance and would have seen them pick up only one point had Ademola Lookman not miscued his attempted Panenka penalty in the dying seconds of the game.
Against such opposition West Ham will need to be more expansive, an aspect of the game which has never come quite as naturally to Moyes as drilling his team into shape. Still with the twinkle-toed Benrahma, a revitalized Fornals and Bowen there are the raw ingredients of a more possession-oriented side.
Most importantly of all Moyes is in an environment where he does not need to rush ahead of himself. His contract may expire at the end of the season but CBS Sports understands West Ham have an option to extend by a further 12 months. Club and manager are prepared to take their time before committing to a longer relationship whilst the coaching staff understand that, as Nevin puts it, "the only way that we get a long term is to deliver week in, week out by having processes and procedures that give continuity to the football club."
But after so much turbulence for both parties in recent years it seems that Moyes and West Ham have found comfort and stability in each other. That is not something either side would want to lose in a hurry.