How to damage a dream in five crazy, self-sabotaging, nightmare minutes.
Champions League qualification might have to wait if this is how West Ham react to thoughts of tackling Barcelona and Real Madrid next season.
They have become the new Entertainers – their last four games producing 21 goals. They showed their quality and character.
And also their chaotic streak.
But for a series of mistakes, they would have cruised to a comfortable win at St James’ Park.
When David Moyes gathered his West Ham players and staff on Friday to urge one last remarkable push for the top four – and instructed them to enjoy the pressure of the moment – this wasn’t part of the plan.
First a trio of head spinning errors from the visitors. Game, apparently, gone.
Then a stirring two goal second half comeback, battering lethargic, jelly-legged Newcastle to claim what might have been a valuable point.
But ultimately a 3-2- defeat – after winning their last two games by that scoreline.
It was a five goal thriller, riddled with mistakes, tactical and possessional superiority going to Moyes, but ruined by a first half disaster, and late Toon winner from Joe Willock.
Firstly there was Craig Dawson’s lunging reckless tackle on Brazilian striker Joelinton, after miss controlling the ball five yards in the wrong direction.
It was a first touch that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Sunday League. A right foot spasm, couldn’t trap a bag of cement stuff, causing a wild scything lunge.
Worst still for Dawson, his foul didn’t kill Newcastle’s momentum, ref Kevin Friend playing advantage, allowing Allan Saint-Maximin to sprint on goal, and sliding a shot at Fabianski that led to cock-up No2.
There was Issa Diop getting his feet into a tangle, as Fabianski saved, and conjuring a lovely own-goal finish with his right foot as his swivelled off balance.
Newcastle one up, Dawson sent off as they celebrated.
Then, even worse came next.
Lukas Fabianski effectively throwing a corner kick into his own goal… well dropping a corner at the feet of Joelinton at least, who was ruthless from a yard to put Newcastle two up and, er, cruising.
Friday morning: West Ham rally call in training to claim third place with a win.
Saturday lunchtime: a Hackney Marshes sort of five minutes that made their brilliant, second half comeback, ultimately pointless.
Moyes will take huge encouragement from what transpired after the break. It looked like Newcastle had ten men, not the other way round.
He employed an adventurous four man press on the Toon defensive line that they couldn’t pass through. Diop made up for his earlier error by heading home Jarrod Bowen’s cross.
Then Ciaran Clark Clark handled, Friend awarding the spot kick after reviewing a pitch-side monitor, and Jesse Lingard converted. Two all. Only one winner, West Ham, as Bruce and his side were condemned as a shambles on social media?
Wrong. Arsenal loanee Joe Willock came off the bench to rescue a win for Bruce, powering a header home from Matt Ritchie’s cross.
A crazy, chaotic game.
The plea from Moyes will be for the Hammers to dust themselves down and capitalise on a decent run in, including Burnley, Brighton and West Brom. All is not lost yet.
But the fear is more experienced campaigners like Chelsea when back in League action, will turn the screw.
For Steve Bruce, consecutive wins, and surely now a place in the Premier League sealed for next season. They end the day nine points ahead of the drop zone. Mind the gap, Fulham.
The United boss is coming through his “most difficult” season in management with a winning flurry. They really are a different proposition with star man Allan Saint Maximin fit. He was subbed off when at 2-0 up.
He’s now been involved in six goals in his last seven appearances – two goals and four assists.
Will the Geordies be able to keep him in the summer? He’s a genuine game changer.
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