With an exceptional solo goal, Dimitri Payet briefly put the smiles back on West Ham fans’ faces. But only briefly.
Payet’s nutmegs and stepovers, bamboozling Middlesbrough’s defense before scoring West Ham’s equalizer, provided only a flicker of hope. It was good as it got for the London club on Saturday on another tricky day at its new home.
With a 1-1 draw against the newly-promoted side, West Ham did halt a run of four successive Premier League losses. But in West Ham’s worst-ever start to a top-flight campaign, it was the first point for Slaven Bilic’s side since the opening-day win in August.
This isn’t the bright new era the club envisaged when it swapped its crumbling home of more than a century in the summer for a new gleaming stadium further east.
The danger is West Ham is heading in another direction _ south _ and the team could be hosting second-tier football in the Olympic Stadium next season.
Whereas Upton Park provided a formidable atmosphere, fans are separated from the pitch by the running track in their expansive new home. It is only being rented from the company in charge of securing the legacy of venues from the 2012 Olympics and some fans wish they could leave already.
“We should have stayed at the Boleyn,” they chanted during the first half, using an alternative name for Upton Park, which is going to be demolished.
Another pocket of supporters chimed up with “Stratford’s a (expletive), I want to go home.”
The West Ham players are doing little to endear themselves to fans at the moment either. Some were pictured partying late into the night earlier this week despite the poor run of results.
Bilic, captain Mark Noble and co-chairman David Sullivan all used their columns in the match-day program to justify what they characterized as a team-bonding session. Bilic, into his second season as manager, said he sanctioned a team meal.
It looked like they would have to drown their sorrows again when Cristhian Stuani put Middlesbrough in front early in the second half with a header that Noble failed to clear off the line.
But then came Payet’s moment of magic in the 57th minute.
The France international dropped a shoulder to turn past Antonio Barragan on the left touchline, jinked around Marten de Roon and then skipped past Calum Chambers and Ben Gibson. After cutting through the defense with ease, Payet was composed enough for the finish.
He’s only the second West Ham player to score a league goal in the stadium. But he won’t want to stick around unless the results start improving.