s Alexander Isak lifted Newcastle’s fourth goal into an empty net, Lukasz Fabianski stood next to him, 30 yards from the goal he should have been defending, hands on hips, wearing the bemused face of a man just awoken at the last stop on a train line: ‘How on earth did I get here?’
It has seldom been easy to feel too much sympathy for David Moyes’s predicament this season, given most managers would kill for either the financial backing he received last summer, or that he has had from the West Ham board. But as he, too, watched in disbelief from his technical area, you could not begrudge him wondering the same thing.
Because, quite frankly, who would be a manager? Moyes must ultimately wear the blame for the grim decline of his team and probably ought to have been ousted at the start of the World Cup break but, more than any other in a campaign littered with them, this was a debacle for which his players bore responsibility.
Individual errors are often the symptom, not the cause, of a collective failure orchestrated, inevitably, by the man in charge, but, seriously, what chance have you got when your defenders are reeling them off like this?
Must you remind your German international full-back, signed from Paris Saint-Germain no less, that corners are not clever things to needlessly give away?
How, at half-time, do you legislate for your £28million centre-half, arguably your player of the season despite missing half of it, succumbing to paralysis on the edge of his own box?
And how often can you be expected to check that a 37-year-old goalkeeper with almost 350 Premier League appearances under his belt is still au fait with the parameters of his penalty area, which remain unchanged from week to week?
There was little wrong in the team Moyes sent out, the one change from Sunday’s win over Southampton seeing Michail Antonio come into the attack. The forward’s directness hurt Newcastle and led what was, bizarrely, the Hammers’ most promising offensive display in months. Defensively, though, they cooked up something for the ages.
Thilo Kehrer’s spooking by some harrying apparition, otherwise unseen by 60,000-odd inside the ground, was the start of a tragedy of errors, the defender flicking behind under no pressure. West Ham cleared the first ball into the box, but simply watched the second, from Allan Saint-Maximin, float onto Callum Wilson’s free head.
Neither Nayef Aguerd nor Kurt Zouma had thought about keeping an eye on the striker, who by full-time would have 12 goals in 13 games against the Hammers, and having seemingly clocked off early for the Bank Holiday weekend, neither got near to intercepting Fabian Schar’s deep ball to Joelinton for the second either, Emerson keen to join the fun by ensuring the Brazilian was played onside.
“We gave away terrible first and second goals, but not as bad as the third and fourth,” said Moyes. That’s right folks — the best, the worst was yet to come. Zouma’s header had West Ham deservedly back in contention by half-time, only for Aguerd to re-emerge in the guise of a foosball figurine, stiffening as the ball got stuck under his feet one moment, then poked out of reach the next as Jacob Murphy squared for Wilson’s tap-in.
Moyes has blamed previous errors from the Moroccan on his adaptation to English football, but this would have been no good in Ligue 1, Ligue 2 or Ligue 534. “Not acceptable,” was the manager’s polite assessment.
Fabianski was once renowned as having a penchant for such tomfoolery, but has long since swapped that reputation for one as a reliable pair of hands. So, what a night this was to choose to roll back the years, the Pole tearing beyond his 18-yard-line to intercept a ball in behind, without a moment’s thought to which body part he might use to clear it once he got there. Isak could hardly believe his luck.
Only Joelinton’s fifth was almost disappointingly mundane.