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West Ham make Cardiff pay the penalty

GOOD TIMES: Lucas Perez is mobbed by team mates after a goal against Cardiff

THE OLES rang out after the hour mark as West Ham circulated the ball, the result already beyond doubt. For all that, Cardiff has reason to rue their shortcomings in a 3-1 defeat on December 4.

The visitors had weathered the early West Ham storm and were well placed to take the lead when Marko Arnautovic shoved Junior Hoilett to the ground inside his own 18-yard box. Instead, the resultant penalty, struck by Joe Ralls, was well saved by Fabianski.

If Arnautovic breathed a sigh of relief he was soon wincing in pain and clutching his hamstring as he departed the field. There was little sign of what was to come when his replacement, Lucas Perez, was introduced to a muted reception.

Hitherto, Manuel Pellegrini’s side had failed to take the lead their approach play probably merited and Cardiff were beginning to fashion chances of their own.

The teams entered the interval at 0-0 but little was the stadium to know that Perez was about to have the best five minutes of his Premier League career, bagging a brace for his first goals in this competition since January 2017. Coincidentally, that month was also the last time West Ham won back to back Premier League matches.

Cardiff had made a hash of clearing their lines and Robert Snodgrass was able to clip a pass into the path of Perez, who drilled his first effort beyond Neil Etheridge.There were a further five minutes before the Spaniard latched on to Arthur Masuaku’s pass and finished through Etheridge’s legs for his second.

It was a harsh but familiar lesson for Neil Warnock’s side, whose woes were then compounded by Michail Antonio heading home his first goal of the season. Little over an hour played, three goals down, and it was game over despite Josh Murphy claiming a late consolation.

West Ham have shown signs of promise in recent outings and six points and six goals in their past two matches underlines their ongoing development, but their enterprise is often compromised by moments of vulnerability that will see them tested more rigorously by better sides than Cardiff.

The east Londoners’ cause was hampered by Pablo Zabaleta, Ryan Fredericks and the previously ever-present Fabio Balbuena all being ruled out before the start due to injury. It saw Antonio pressed into action at right-back, a position where he has never looked comfortable operating.

Pellegrini is likely to chop and change throughout the hectic December schedule but, during that time, his side face a continuing run of winnable fixtures that the Chilean will hope allows West Ham to put daylight between themselves and the likes of Cardiff.

That sort of mid-table security is a pipe dream for Warnock’s newly-promoted side, who look short at this level, particularly in attack, but their survival hopes stem from their own battling qualities and the fact they are far from alone in those shortcomings at the bottom of the league.

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