West Ham United’s reaction to Aaron Cresswell’s dismissal against Lyon was the latest reminder that this team rarely loses their heads in moments of adversity.
David Moyes’ side could have reacted negatively when the left-back was shown a red card for an arm-pull on Moussa Dembele — who winked at the bench after giving his side the numerical advantage — on the stroke of half-time in the Europa League quarter-final first leg at the London Stadium.
First-team coach Kevin Nolan and captain Mark Noble consoled the full-back as he headed towards the tunnel. Moyes patiently waited for referee Felix Zwayer at half-time. But the Scotsman was shown a yellow card for voicing his frustrations.
There was a sense of injustice among supporters, who duly abandoned plans to head towards the concourse so they could boo the officials. But although a number of close calls went against West Ham during the 1-1 draw, they showed their mental toughness.
“It was a setback but the lads worked ever so hard,” said Craig Dawson. “It was difficult but the fight was there. It was good to see from the lads. We’ll take the next game. He (Cresswell) was obviously disappointed like we all were. Sometimes, unfortunately, these things happen, but the group here is special. You could see the togetherness tonight. It’s a great set of lads. Everyone’s together and right behind each other. It comes from the manager with his experience. He gives us all the belief we can do it. ”
Whenever Moyes’ side have their backs against the wall they come out fighting. Whether it was Cresswell’s sending off, Jarrod Bowen’s yellow card for minimal contact on Emerson, or Malo Gusto being allowed to retake a foul throw, it only helped fuel West Ham’s determination. After all, this resilience has enabled the club to transition from mid-card contenders to main event attractions.
Despite the numerical disadvantage, they produced an inspired second-half performance. You could feel the sense of relief in the ground when Bowen scored the opener shortly after the break. Despite the red card, West Ham’s tenacity allowed the hosts to establish a breakthrough.
“The manager said at half-time to keep our heads because we weren’t happy with the decision,” said Bowen. “It was a case of staying in the game. We did, went 1-0 up and it was then just about defending the lead. It was always going to be difficult. It is still all to play for.
“I thought it (the red card) was cheap, if I’m really honest. I only saw it in real time — I haven’t seen it back. It looked like he (Dembele) was going away from goal and it is a tiny touch on the arm. The referee has made his decision and we had to think quickly with ten men.”
Moyes refused to discuss the referee’s performance. It was a wise decision when you consider Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jude Bellingham was fined €40,000 when he questioned the appointment of Zwayer — who served a six-month ban for match-fixing in 2005 — after Dortmund’s league defeat against Bayern Munich in December.
But the manager was critical of the decision to send off his first-choice full-back. It is the first time Cresswell has been sent off since November 2013, and it is likely Ben Johnson will deputise in the second-leg next week Thursday.
“Firstly, you need to look at the foul on Bowen in the build-up (to the red card),” said Moyes. “I hoped VAR would look at that as it is in the same phase of play. I’m certainly not going to comment about the referee. I will answer other questions but I am not going to bother with the referee tonight.
“We were really resilient in the second half. We came in at the break knowing with 10 men it was a difficult job. We stuck at it and had one or two opportunities ourselves. Overall it was more of a backs-to-the-wall performance in the second half, but we are still in with a good shout.”
The two pitch invaders disrupting the club’s momentum also proved hugely frustrating. But Moyes’ side will feel better prepared for the return leg against Lyon. Manuel Lanzini will be available having served his one-match suspension. There is also relief that Declan Rice avoided a booking, which would have ruled him out of the second leg.
But West Ham’s refusal to lose their heads and the ability to remain calm should serve them well for any challenge that comes their way in the coming weeks.