West Ham United’s staff queued up to embrace Sébastien Haller at the final whistle and every hug, high five and pat on the back spoke volumes. The French centre-forward has his critics but, for once, he had succeeded in silencing them thanks to the most eye-catching of winning goals which left Sheffield United still seeking their first Premier League win of the season and having collected only one point since September.
At kick off, the sky above Bramall Lane was blue and the sun bright but, on a late November day demanding winter gloves, boots and scarves, it carried precious little warmth. Indeed, Lukasz Fabianski was probably grateful for the early call to arms which necessitated him saving George Baldock’s third-minute half-volley with an outstretched foot after David Moyes’s defence – and Arthur Masuaku in particular – had been deceived by John Egan’s superb long ball.
West Ham arrived without a win here in 52 years and their cause hampered by Moyes’s assessment that Michail Antonio was not sufficiently fit for even a place on the bench. In the absence of their attacking talisman, they started shakily with Masuaku looking a definite weak link.
As the minutes passed, though, the left-wing-back pulled himself together and began, incrementally, fathoming out how to handle Baldock a little better. Meanwhile his teammates’ passing improved but, unfortunately for Moyes, things tended to fall apart in the penalty area where Haller, Antonio’s understudy, initially proved deceptively ineffective against Egan and friends.
Although Aaron Ramsdale remained largely under-occupied, Sheffield United’s goalkeeper was required to dive low to divert Vladimir Coufal’s shot. Yet despite Tomas Soucek subsequently getting his feet in a tangle and miscueing with Ramsdale surely beaten and Jarrod Bowen’s goalbound shot being deflected by Egan, Wilder’s players could easily have been ahead at half time.
More specifically, the width of a post came between David McGoldrick and a goal after he nodded against that upright after Oli McBurnie had flicked on a corner won in the wake of Fabianski somehow keeping out another McBurnie header.
Neither side looked in control when, early in the second half, Haller vindicated his manager’s faith by scoring a stunning goal. It all started with Coufal’s interception of a long clearance from Ramsdale and involved some pleasing interplay between Pablo Fornals and Bowen before the former was tackled as he shaped to shoot on the edge of the area and the ball rebounded for Haller to lash, unerringly, home.
In an instant a French forward who had seemed half a yard off the pace proved to have had the sharpest, and most technically assured, of reactions as Haller registered his first goal scored from outside the penalty area in almost 200 matches across the Eridivisie, Bundesliga and Premier League.
Less positively, that goal meant that Sheffield United have still not kept a clean sheet all season and Wilder’s mood can hardly have improved as first Declan Rice headed against the crossbar and then McBurnie narrowly failed to equalise after his left-foot shot rebounded off the underside of the bar following a clever ball from susbstitute Rhian Brewster.
It coincided with the advent of an icy rain shower sweeping in off the Pennines and soaking everyone in its path. On a day to have dampened Sheffield United’s already fairly forlorn hopes of avoiding relegation it seemed strangely emblematic.