To establish Nottingham Forest as a Premier League club – and keep Steve Cooper, a manager beloved among its fans in situ – an improvement in away form is desperately required. A game lost from a winning position, albeit one held for just 43 seconds of play, was a severe blow to both objectives.
Even though they knew precisely what was coming, Forest’s failure to deal with James Ward-Prowse’s expert delivery from corners and Tomas Soucek’s aerial prowess cost them the point to which they had been clinging since Jarrod Bowen’s headed equaliser. That, too, arrived via Ward-Prowse’s boot. One win from seven, just four points away from the City Ground, and 15th place with Bournemouth improving fast, spells imminent danger.
“We’ve not done our jobs and been punished for it,” said Cooper, for whom Ward-Prowse’s “fantastic” delivery offered no excuses. “If you are not willing to stay with your man and head the ball then you are at the risk of conceding goals. I am really disappointed that we have not won, and it’s all our own fault.”
Even on those days when the passing is off and the chances are few and far between, there will always be the delivery of James Ward-Prowse.
West Ham United were distinctly mediocre here for the best part of an hour and trailed a spirited Nottingham Forest 2-1 before Ward-Prowse intervened, whipping two beauties into the box, one headed home by Jarrod Bowen and the other nodded in by Tomas Soucek in the 88th minute.
By then a dreary contest had exploded into life in the second half, after Forest came from behind, Taiwo Awoniyi and Anthony Elanga giving the visitors a rare lead away from home after an early mistake from Nicolás Domínguez had gifted West Ham’s Lucas Paquetá the opener.
A draw might have been a fair reflection but the difference was West Ham’s threat from set pieces, instigated by their deadly deliverer, and Forest’s inability to defend them. Forest have now lost five out of seven games on the road this season after winning only one away all of last term.
Even into the ninth minute of the seven added on, David Moyes continued to rock from side to side, bellowing instructions. Like a spinning instructor at a trendy west London gym, his screams were aimed at no-one and everyone all at once.
Finally, proceedings ended and Moyes cut through the air with his fist. Onto the pitch he strode with purpose – Moyes does nothing without it – embracing each of his players warmly. Another hard-earned victory, achieved in a thrilling clash with Nottingham Forest. Another win as much about industry as it was desire. Another crisis averted. Ahead, behind, and, finally, ahead again. Phew.
The Moyes-West Ham supporter dynamic is intriguing. For almost four years, he has brought relative success to the London Stadium. A pair of top seven finishes. The Europa Conference League title. What can more reasonably be expected?
And yet Moyes is only ever a defeat or two from a “must win” fixture. Winless in four Premier League games, that hum had returned for the umpteenth time. The half-time jeers (it was 1-1 at that point) suggested a support base ready to froth.
They led, they trailed, they led again and then the music stopped on a bizarre win that West Ham needed. If Nottingham Forest can figure out how it happened, they ought to share it with the rest of the class.
By the end of this match, Steve Cooper looked and sounded utterly baffled by the manner in which his side had been spun through all three possible outcomes in the space of 25 mad minutes. He wasn’t alone.
The short answer there would be the set-piece deliveries of James Ward-Prowse, which took this game from 2-1 Forest to 3-2 West Ham with headed goals for Jarrod Bowen and Tomas Soucek.
But that would also be an awfully boring distillation of the errors and chaos that went into David Moyes recording his first Premier League victory in five games.
In truth, West Ham probably deserved it for the superior volume of their chances, but it was an undulating ride, built on a lovely opening goal from Lucas Paqueta and the plot twists of retaliations by Taiwo Awoniyi and Anthony Elanga.