West Ham United’s draw over the weekend against Chelsea provided a welcome break from the restless and relentless criticisms labelled at the club since the start of the season.
Starting the Premier League campaign at Anfield was never going to be the easiest of starts but lack of consistency and self-belief have plagued the Hammers.
A lack of intensity, ability to close teams down and failure to hunt in packs created a scenario where a trip to Merseyside and then a visit to the Emirates became a chore rather than a competitive battle, the Hammers conceding seven goals in the pair of games.
Disbelieving defeats to Bournemouth and Wolverhampton Wanderers deepened the wounds, pouring oil on the already lit flames that told a tale of the severity of pressure on Manuel Pellegrini.
When West Ham and the Chilean agreed on a deal back in May it quickly emerged that the 64-year-old would become the third highest paid manager in the Premier League, after the big two- Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho.
A price tag like that demanded immediate expectation, regardless of the ferocity of the opening fixtures.
Especially when you look at the summer transfer window expenditure. Over the summer months, the Hammers’ spending of £98.7m on transfers rocketed them up the list of the league’s biggest spenders into fifth place, behind Fulham and Leicester City albeit but ahead of both Manchester giants.
So to achieve the first win of the season, away to an AFC Wimbledon side who had to play for ten men for 72 minutes, wasn’t the ideal route to success.
After the opening four league games of the season, the stats simply didn’t paint a pretty picture. West Ham faced more shots than any other club bar one, had the second worst shot conversion rate in the division at a staggeringly low 4.8% and even worse were categorised as third worst for distance ran as a team in a game.
To point out the first two stats spoke volumes about the scale of the problem in regards to technique and tactics.
The third though highlighted a much worse issue. Ask any supporter of a sports team, whether that be played on a field, court or track and they’ll immediately question the ethos of the club if whoever is participating doesn’t give 100%.
Now, of course, it’s easy to say that four games were just 10.5% of the number that the east end club will play this season, but if there is a stat that emphasises a lack of dedication and motivation it would be that.
Yet there needs to be a degree of self-reflection. Since the international break, West Ham don’t just look rejuvenated but a side that has installed some iron-like identity into its mindset on the field. A convincing and well deserved 3-1 display was a shock, to say the least, but the fact that Chelsea failed to pick up points yet again at the London Stadium yesterday wasn’t.
Resilient, enterprising and rugged wouldn’t have just been three adjectives to describe the performance but also the spirit. And that says a lot.
Declan Rice can be classed as an inspiring metaphor for what the club stands for. Yes, the U18 side might have just lost 9-0 at home to Tottenham Hotspur last week but there is an abiding faith within the youth set-up that any gems in the pack will be nurtured to the full.
Ironically rice started out his youth career at Chelsea but it perhaps says a lot that he was the standout player against them at the weekend.
It’s why West Ham will survive relegation at the very least this season. Not because of the myriad of money spent on exorbitant transfers over the summer, although of course, that helps, but because of players who will follow instructions and set a template that fans in the stands recognise.
Arguments and protests from owners are not long gone and forgotten but simply back-logged right now. The poisonous atmosphere, out of frustration mind, that created those scenes of Sir Trevor Brooking sitting alone in a chair nearly in tears lives long in the memory, but it looks like that will be just a memory.
Look at the league and it’s divided in two. The top six and the best of the rest.
The reason why West Ham have created such echoes at the beginning of this campaign wasn’t just because they rooted the table after four games but that the claret and blue were hoping to emulate a certain other side in that colour this season.
Burnley’s Europa League adventures, the first in just over 50 years, excited a fan base not used to dreams on the continent.
You see, it’s that battle of expectation against reality. So should West Ham be criticised for finishing tenth? Probably not. Yet they probably will.
And that says a lot about the future plans ahead.