Jesse Lingard has cost his West Ham captain Mark Noble a fortune as he leads the Hammers’ charge towards a Champions League miracle.
Long-serving Noble promised Lingard he would foot the bill for a nocturnal exploration of London, and an overnight stay at the five-star Corinthia hotel in Westminster – where rooms start around £450-a-night – if he contributed eight goals towards the Irons’ march on Europe.
The England forward, surplus to requirements at Manchester United but already East end royalty like the Queen Mother herself – Gawd bless ‘er – reached Noble’s target with two goals in Sunday’s 3-2 win against Leicester.
Now West Ham are seven games from landing the big prize: A top-four finish nobody thought was possible after last season’s close shave with relegation.
Since 2005, when Everton – managed by David Moyes – gatecrashed the top four, only Leicester’s 5,000-1 title long shots have kept the so-called Big Six clubs’ snouts out of the Champions League trough.
It would be astonishing if Moyes could repeat the feat 16 years later after his inspired swoop for Lingard at the end of January.
Since his winner for United in the FA Cup final five years ago, Lingard’s star had been waning at Old Trafford – just 26 goals in 170 appearances, half of them off the bench, spread across four seasons.
But since he announced himself with two goals on debut in the 3-1 win at Aston Villa two months ago, the Hammers have taken 20 points from 10 games.
The home date on April 24 against Chelsea, who spent £230 million last summer, could be decisive in the race for a top-four finish.
Noble, already counting the cost of Moyes’ masterstroke, laughed: “As much as Jesse’s goals were fantastic, I had a bet with him when he first came to the club that if he scored eight goals, I’d pay for a night out for him – and a stay in the Corinthia Hotel.
“So he’s going to cost me a few quid – but he’s been fantastic for us hasn’t he?”
Whether or not the Hammers dine out at the top table in Europe next season, Lingard’s stunning impact has evoked comparisons with Eric Cantona’s shock move from Leeds 29 years ago proving the catalyst for Sir Alex Ferguson landing 13 titles in 20 years at Old Trafford.
But Czech midfielder Tomas Soucek admits West Ham need to kick their bizarre habit of blowing 3-0 leads if they are to seal West Ham’s first Champions League ticket.
The Hammers have raced three goals ahead in their last three matches, but were pegged back to 3-3 by Arsenal and were clinging on at 3-2 in the last two against Wolves and Leicester.
Soucek said: “The Champions League seems nice but it is too far from now. We cannot count how many games are left and how many points we need.
“We need to prepare for the next game not thinking about this position.”