For a player who was once rejected by AFC Wimbledon over a £7 registration fee, Michail Antonio has definitely proved his worth to West Ham. Absent since the end of November with a groin injury, it took him less than 10 minutes to find the net against Burnley on his 400th professional appearance to secure a battling victory.
Antonio was signed as a winger in 2015 and even played as a full-back under Manuel Pellegrini but it is as a lone striker that he is excelling under Moyes. Inspired by their returning talisman in attack, West Ham should really have put this game beyond doubt in the first half and were forced to dig deep to hold off a spirited late onslaught from the visitors.
But a victory that lifts them into contention for the top six thanks to Antonio’s 40th Premier League goal – seven behind Paolo Di Canio’s West Ham record – and a fourth successive clean sheet was a fair reward.
Despite the 30-year-old’s prolonged absence, West Ham have managed to maintain their promising start to the season and have now lost twice in their past 12 Premier League fixtures. David Moyes has made no secret of his desire to add more firepower after the cut-price sale of £45m record-signing Sébastien Haller to Ajax, with Brentford’s Ivan Toney the latest striker to be linked to provide backup to Antonio.
“We’ve already made big enquiries and offers for players, which have not been accepted,” said Moyes. “But if Mick can regain his real form then that would be the biggest thing for us.”
Mipo Odubeko was named as one of the substitutes after the former Manchester United youth team forward made his debut in the FA Cup win over Stockport, while Lucasz Fabianski returned in goal.
A clash of heads between Josh Brownhill and Declan Rice inside the first 20 seconds seemed it might force Sean Dyche into an early change to the same side that started the defeat to United in midweek but the Burnley midfielder was allowed back on the pitch after a brief medical check.
Having missed the first part of the season due to injury, Ben Mee’s return has been vital to Burnley’s recent revival. But it was a moment Dyche described as a miscommunication between the captain and James Tarkowski – West Ham’s £30m bid for him was rejected in the summer – that allowed Antonio to sneak in to finish off an excellent cross from Pablo Fornals. He celebrated by pretending to do the backstroke as a forfeit for losing to Rice at a computer game.
“It worked as a decent celebration,” he said. “I liked it. I’ve seen it back.”
Saïd Benrahma and Jarrod Bowen had also been heavily involved in the buildup and they have made impressive starts to their West Ham careers. This was the first time they had started a league match alongside Antonio, although having run Burnley ragged during the opening half-hour, it probably will not be the last.
Burnley are nothing if not resilient, however, and having weathered most of the storm, only an offside flag against Chris Wood in the buildup denied them an equaliser through Aaron Cresswell’s own goal.
An Angelo Ogbonna header that thudded back off the post under pressure from Mee soon afterwards was an indication of West Ham’s urgency to extend their lead.
Wood’s effort following good work from Robbie Brady that whistled just wide of Fabianski’s post offered a timely reminder of the danger posed by Burnley.
Dwight McNeil was summoned from the bench for the second half as Dyche went on the offensive. But it was West Ham who looked the most dangerous and Mee had to be alert to clear Antonio’s header off the line.
The striker’s next effort, which sailed out for a throw-in after he set himself up for a volley, was a reminder of his days at non-league side Tooting & Mitcham, while Bowen came much closer to sealing the points just after Benrahma had been withdrawn.
At the other end, Mee headed just wide from one of several set-piece opportunities Burnley’s pressure created late on before McNeil’s cross skimmed the crossbar following a brilliant run down the left touchline.
Substitute Jay Rodriguez also spurned a golden chance late on but it was to be Antonio’s day.