West Ham clambered up to fifth in the Premier League table while sending Newcastle down to dead last with a 2-0 win at Upton Park on Monday night.
The Hammers, tipped to be one of the surprise teams of the season on the basis of their talent, finally won their first home league game of the season thanks to the irrepressible Dimitri Payet, who scored both goals in the match. West Ham came into the game off a big win over Liverpool at Anfield -- their first such victory since 1963.
Newcastle, on the other hand, have been dreadful, and were edged by Arsenal 1-0 in what probably counts as their best showing of the season to date. To say things have not gone to plan up North is an understatement, and there is also a comedic edge to Newcastle's travails. In a somewhat bizarre prematch incident, their team were forced to walk the last mile to the Boleyn Ground after their bus was caught in East London's notorious traffic. That may have had an impact on the Toon: They started extremely slowly while the Hammers leapt out to an early lead.
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Payet, who has been one of the signings of the early season, got West Ham on the board after only nine minutes, finishing a lovely move with Mark Noble playing the creator. As soon as Diafra Sakho collected the ball deep on the left side of Newcastle's penalty area, you got the sense a goal was coming. Collecting Sakho's layoff Noble smartly went left to right, dragging the defense with him and opening the space for Payet to shoot into. Nobel then knocked the ball down onto Payet's right boot, and the former Marseille star stroked the ball to the near top corner, where Tim Krul simply could not reach it.
It was a superb bit of intelligent football, and the kind of stuff that has been so lacking at home for the Hammers this season. Deadly on the road, West Ham have leaked goals at the Boleyn Ground and rarely played with sort of possession and self-awareness that their current roster indicates they should be capable of. That may have ended on Monday.
Newcastle's woes are deeper. Only Daryl Janmaat seemed to have any life about him on a Newcastle squad that has continued to sink. He forced Darren Randolph into a decent save in the 19th minute after Georgino Wijnaldum saw a shot deflect back off his shins into the defender's path. Yet he was the only man in a striped shirt to earn any notice in a half that was simply forgettable for Newcastle. Papiss Cisse had no space in which to operate, Wijnaldum might have well not been on the field for all he was seen, and someone might want to check on Jack Colback after this match. Payet ran a backheel around him with such aplomb at the half hour mark that the midfielder looked as if he might be dead.
Late in the half, Payet's vision surfaced again in the wake of a failed Newcastle attack. Blazing forward on the counter, Payet collected the ball at midfield, and then held up the attack to allow Victor Moses to come up in support. With an inch perfect pass, Payet sent Moses one on one on Krul, but on-loan Chelsea winger shanked his shot badly.
But right after the break, Moses and Payet combined to pin Newcastle back, seemingly for good. Moses was sent streaking down the field after Florian Thauvin coughed the ball up, and with Massadio Haidara on the turf after being turned, ripped the ball through Krul -- but off the underside of the crossbar. Payet was johnny on the spot to bury the rebound and take more out of a Newcastle side that looked very ragged. In fact, moments later, Coloccini nearly handed Payet a third when he turned the ball over deep in his own half, but Newcastle were relieved to see his shot blocked away at the near post.
Newcastle tried to clamber back into the game with Janmaat forcing a smart stop from Randolph in the 66th minute, but too often the Toon were busier shooting themselves in the feet. Ayoze Perez entered the game on the hour and his first bit of action was to foul Noble on the edge of the area, giving Aaron Cresswell a free kick that just missed the near post.
And Payet? He just kept going. Newcastle looked terrified every time he got on the ball, and by the end of the match, they look thoroughly fed up with watching him run right past him. Opponents might want to get used to that.