If David Moyes had had his way, Kalvin Phillips and Dominic Solanke might have been combining for goals at the London Stadium long before now. Presumably, in that vision, though, both were wearing in claret and blue.
Making a long-forecast West Ham debut, fully two years after Moyes first tried to sign him from Leeds, Phillips got his Irons career off to a nightmarish start as his backpass handed Bournemouth’s third-minute opener to Solanke, the scorer himself the subject of a hefty Hammers bid last summer.
Not for the first time this season, though, Moyes found himself thankful for the business that did get done, Mohammed Kudus back from the Africa Cup of Nations and winning a second-half penalty, converted by James Ward-Prowse to salvage the 1-1 draw that spared Phillips’s blushes.
The 28-year-old’s arrival on loan from Manchester City and the return to fitness of Edson Alvarez left Moyes a dilemma as to who to leave out of his regular midfield. The answer he plumped for was no one, Ward-Prowse and Tomas Soucek also keeping their places with the latter deployed in a more advanced role at the tip of a rough diamond.
The unfamiliar shape never worked, but before its failings had even been established, the visitors led through Phillips’s gift. In truth, the newcomer was sold short by his captain, Kurt Zouma’s pass under-hit and unwelcome, but his own tame nudge back towards his goalkeeper was worse. Briefly, the linesman’s flag offered reprieve, Solanke offside if the pressing Ryan Christie had managed even a slight touch. Alas, VAR revealed he had not.
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How much of the blunder could be put down to ring-rust is a guess, but that this was Phillips’s first Premier League start of the season can be no coincidence, his exposure across competitions under Pep Guardiola totalling little more than 300 minutes this term. The need to play ahead of the summer’s European Championship fuelled his desire to quit the Etihad, and while he recovered some poise in a 69-minute outing watched by Gareth Southgate’s assistant, Steve Holland, this was hardly an ideal start.
In contrast to the home side, lost in their novel system, Bournemouth looked slick and would have doubled their lead approaching half-time if not for a superb one-handed stop from Alphonse Areola to deny Antoine Semenyo.
The save sparked a rare period of home pressure, Jarrod Bowen failing to get enough on Ward-Prowse’s cross to beat Neto, then Tomas Soucek heading over with an awkward chance from Kudus’s cross. Still, it was not enough to stop Moyes’s men being booed off at half-time.
With Said Benrahma and Pablo Fornals bound for the deadline day door, Moyes’s options were limited but a change of some sort was surely required. A token switch between Ward-Prowse and Soucek in the centre of the park was not the one many had in mind.
And so the pattern seemed destined to continue, West Ham enjoying more of the ball but their two best players - Bowen and Kudus - too far apart to combine and the midfield quartet in behind too similar, stepping on each others’ toes.
Approaching the hour, though, Kudus brought a shift of gear, the Ghanaian skinning Lloyd Kelly and then going down under the full-back’s clumsy challenge, somehow missed by referee Tim Robinson in real-time. Ward-Prowse, now seemingly cemented as spot-kick taker, converted from 12 yards for the second match in a row.
The draw extends keeps David Moyes’s side inside the top-six, unbeaten in half-a-dozen league matches stretching back the best part of two months. The division’s top five, though, have now pulled clear and ahead of Sunday’s trip to Old Trafford, the race for the minor European places is well and truly on among a crowded field.
A signing of Phillips’s pedigree, Moyes hopes, will take his team over the line. To do that, the Englishman must ensure a false-start proves nothing more than that.