Having gone into the break goalless during Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Brighton, Michail Antonio came on in the second half to bring some much-needed life back into West Ham’s dour football.
He didn’t score. He didn’t even assist. What the 29-year-old did do though – perhaps even more importantly so – was added an injection of pace, passion, and energy to help Manuel Pellegrini’s side regain some dignity after an embarrassing first-half display.
In that first half, each of the Seagulls’ three big center-backs (Shane Duffy, Lewis Dunk, and Dan Burn) had more time on the ball than they realistically could have hoped for, as West Ham’s casual approach made the trio look like they held a force field around them, where no opposition player could embark on a journey to even approach them.
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It was reported after the 5-0 drubbing against Manchester City that Antonio got substituted off at half time for his lack of work rate, both offensively and defensively. But, this time, no such accusations could be held against him as he came on at Amex Stadium and took the game to Brighton, as he matched their physical prowess, while at times almost single-handedly gaining yards up the pitch with his lung-busting runs, with and without the ball.
Whether you are a fan of him or not, nobody can deny that Antonio adds a different dimension to West Ham’s play, providing all the aforementioned physical attributes that some of the more nimble, flair players may lack.
The former Hammer of the Year could have even snatched the victory for the Irons in stoppage time as he latched onto a loose ball in the Albion six-yard box, but could only guide his header into Mathew Ryan’s arms.
That begs the question: Did Antonio do enough to warrant a recall to the starting XI in next weekend’s clash away at Watford? Both Sébastien Haller and Felipe Anderson, who was missing through injuries at Brighton, are likely to return, so spaces may be limited.
While every West Ham fan would love to see possession-based intricate passing for a full 90 minutes, sometimes that is just not possible, and Antonio provides a plan B even when on the pitch, that often proves a handful for opposition defenses.
He can be frustrating at times, with his potshots from outside the box that often end up floating down the River Thames, but by this point in his career, I think every West Ham fan needs to take the rough with the smooth regarding Michail Antonio. For every 100 of those hit and hopes into row Z, there will be a moment like his winner against Tottenham Hotspur last season, where his thrusting silhouette will forever be shadowing their shiny, new stadium.