West Ham United's Jack Wilshere and Andriy Yarmolenko celebrate after the match, as play resumes behind closed doors following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), July 1, 2020. Picture: JULIAN FINNEY/REUTERS
West Ham United's Jack Wilshere and Andriy Yarmolenko celebrate after the match, as play resumes behind closed doors following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), July 1, 2020. Picture: JULIAN FINNEY/REUTERS

London — Until West Ham United’s 3-2 home win over Chelsea on Wednesday, the restart had certainly not amounted to a fresh start for the clubs at the wrong end of the Premier League.

In fact, it was almost disingenuous to label it a “battle” for survival, so meek were the performances of Norwich City, Aston Villa, Bournemouth, Watford and West Ham.

Until West Ham finally displayed the necessary resolve required in attempting to beat the dreaded drop, the grand total of points accrued in the 15 games played by the bottom five since the resumption of the season was three.

Bottom club Norwich have lost all three, scoring none and conceding eight. Bournemouth, now 19th, have lost all three, scoring once and conceding seven. Aston Villa, in 18th, picked up two points from their four games and Watford, the only team to beat Liverpool this season, appear to have fallen back to their early-season form, also picking up one point from nine.

Shortly before West Ham kicked off against Chelsea, Norwich were hammered 4-0 at Arsenal and, more shockingly, Bournemouth were demolished 4-1 at home by Newcastle, a result that suggests Eddie Howe’s south coasters are sinking fast.

Which is why substitute Andriy Yarmolenko’s 89th-minute breakaway winner for West Ham felt so huge. The roars of joy inside the empty London Stadium from West Ham’s players, coaching crew and assorted security staff could have been heard right up their Thames Estuary heartland.

In the context of a relegation “battle” more akin to lemmings headings for the cliff edge, West Ham’s win felt like nine points rather than three. It moved them up to 16th with 30 points, three above Villa.

Manager David Moyes was quick to point out that one win was not enough, though his suggestion that his side might need three more victories might be overly cautious. They go to mid-table Newcastle on Sunday with a chance to establish a safety cushion.

While Norwich’s home game against sixth-from-bottom Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday offers perhaps a last chance to kick-start a late escape bid, the fixtures look grim for the others.

Villa are at record-seeking Liverpool, Bournemouth are at Manchester United and Watford, one point above the trapdoor, go to a chastened Chelsea.

This is the first Premier League survival scrap played out in empty stadiums, perhaps a mitigating factor in the lack of spark displayed by those near the bottom. Vociferous home support when the stakes are high can make a difference.

“It’s easy from the outside to think [the players are not giving all], especially with the manner of the games at the moment. With the lack of a crowd impacting perceived efforts, I think,” Howe said after defeat by Newcastle. “I can see close at hand what it means to the players, how much they are hurting.”

The suffering shows no sign of easing though with Bournemouth’s last six games including clashes with Tottenham Hotspur, Leicester City, Manchester City and Everton.

Reuters

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