AS January signings go, you will have to go a long way to beat the impact Tomas Soucek has had at West Ham.
Manchester United will throw up Bruno Fernandes, but at £67million you are entitled to expect a game changer.
Just £18m for an unknown Czech from Sparta Prague is bargain basement business- yet Soucek is helping East End boys West Ham mount an unlikely Champions League push this season.
The 25-year-old scored twice to help David Moyes’ side come from behind to secure a fourth straight Premier League win which lifted them above Liverpool into fourth.
That’s right, fourth – and the visit of the champions to the London Stadium on Sunday is now a game of huge importance in the fight for Europe in this most bizarre of seasons.
It is ten goals in 34 appearances in a year at the club now for the midfielder, seven of them this season. Value for money and then some.
Soucek stole the limelight with his two goal display, but right across the pitch Moyes has all his players performing.
If anything they should have hit Palace for six or seven – and all despite suffering the worst possible start.
Knowing the bragging rights of such a lofty position was within reach, the Hammers would have been eager to make a strong opening.
But Palace were having none of it – and within two minutes they had stolen into a brilliant early lead through Wilfried Zaha.
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The forward flicked a ball into the path of Christian Benteke who returned the favour, and Zaha then steadied himself before shooting low into the bottom corner from the edge of the box.
We’ve all seen West Ham sides in the past who flattered to deceive, but there is no soft under-belly to this group Moyes has assembled.
For instead of wilting they put together one of the most impressive 45 minute performances under the Scot’s second reign in charge – and should have had the game buried by the break.
They wasted little time in equalising, Pablo Fornals clipping a ball into the area where Michail Antonio hooked a cross back for Soucek to power a header home.
Playing with the kind of confidence five straight wins gives you. West Ham pushed on and midway through the half they had turned a deficit into a lead.
This time Aaron Cresswell was the architect with a dangerous 25th minute free-kick whipped in from the left and Soucek arrived at the far post to control with his thigh then volley home.
From the restart the game should have been out of sight as Cheikou Kouyate played the ball straight to Antonio who drove forward before beating Vicente Guaita only to see his shot cannon back off the inside of the post.
It was relentless from the Hammers, and Soucek was only denied a first-half hat-trick by a sharp save from Guaita after trying his luck from just outside the area.
Fornals was then denied by the Palace keeper as Hodgson’s men struggled to contain their visitors – and just before the break the post again came to their rescue.
Once again Antonio was frustrated, this time as he reacted sharply to Cresswell’s low drive into the area only for the ball to strike the upright with Guaita beaten.
It was such a commanding display, West Ham’s only concern was whether they would be punished for missing chances – and within two minutes of the restart their worst fears were almost confirmed.
Eberechi Eze stole possession just inside the Hammers half and fed Zaha clean through on goal, but the striker was denied his second goal by Lukasz Fabianski blocking his effort.
With their big chance spurned, Palace were again pushed onto the back foot, and had it not been for another reflex save from Guaita to deny Antonio, the game would have been over.
But on 65 minutes the Spanish keeper’s resistance was finally broken as Craig Dawson climbed to send a bullet header into the net from Jarrod Bowen’s corner.
Even West Ham fans protested when Moyes took Dawson on loan from Watford, but the 30-year-old has been peerless since coming into the side for the draw at Southampton – winning five straight games since then.
Somehow Antonio was contriving to end the night without making it three goals from three games, this time turning another shot just wide of target after the Hammers opened Palace up again.
Then in the final minute of stoppage time the Eagles claimed some respectability from the game with a second, this time through sub Michy Batshuayi.
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