West Ham’s disappointment at failing to go fifth had limits. In the cold light of day this uneven performance might lead to a more realistic assessment of their prospects. Outplayed for long spells by Crystal Palace, they had to be satisfied with a point, secured when Sébastien Haller answered Christian Benteke’s third goal in as many games with a splendid bicycle kick.
The positive for David Moyes came from his side’s resilience. West Ham have become a tougher proposition under his watch and deserved their reward for working out how to counteract Palace’s threat after a tricky first half.
All the same Moyes will know West Ham remain a work in progress and would probably benefit from attacking reinforcements in January, even though Haller earned the plaudits. Palace contained them for much of the contest, even after losing Benteke to a red card, and could argue they created the clearer chances.
Confident after holding Tottenham last Sunday, Palace were the more assertive side from the start. Varied in their approach, as though wanting to show they have more in their armoury than a threat on the break, they seemed to surprise West Ham by pushing high and dominating possession.
The early threat came from Eberechi Eze, an enjoyably languid presence on the left. The winger flashed one dangerous ball across the face of goal and Palace should have led when Benteke nodded wide.
With West Ham distracted by Eze’s movement, the breakthrough arrived in the 35th minute. Arriving in space from right-back, Joel Ward had time to look up and cross. The delivery was spot on and the forward play was resounding as Benteke darted clear of Issa Diop, hardly distinguishing himself in central defence on his first start since 19 September, to pound a header past Lukasz Fabianski.
Flat without the hamstrung Michail Antonio leading their attack, West Ham were struggling. Tomas Soucek and Declan Rice were off the pace in midfield, while Said Benrahma was frustrating in the No 10 role, dribbling into trouble on too many occasions.
Benrahma, making his second start at this level, will need time to adjust after joining from Brentford. The Algerian’s ineffectiveness dimmed West Ham’s threat and although the hosts had their moments – Pablo Fornals heading wide and Jarrod Bowen testing Vicente Guaita – Palace should have pulled clear before half‑time. Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend sliced West Ham open, but Benteke finished tamely.
Palace regretted their profligacy. Moyes had to act and a half-time change brought a stunning reward. On for Fornals, Manuel Lanzini offered the clarity missing from Benrahma’s play. After 55 minutes Lanzini injected urgency into a West Ham attack, dropping a shoulder and feinting to shoot before slipping a pass to Vladimir Coufal. The right-back crossed and Haller, so timid during the first half, crashed an overhead kick past Guaita.
“I wasn’t that surprised,” Moyes said. “Seb’s got an ability to get his foot up really high. It’s the tap-ins I want him to score as well.”
It was a timely reminder of why Haller, who has not always convinced in place of Antonio, cost £45m. Yet Palace gathered themselves, almost regaining the lead when Fabianski denied Patrick van Aanholt.
Then the mood changed. Booked for catching Angelo Ogbonna with a stray arm in the first half, Benteke left the action early after flooring Soucek in the 70th minute, and Palace had to retreat. “A ludicrous decision,” Roy Hodgson, Palace’s manager, said. “He’s only trying to use his arm for leverage. I honestly believe decisions like that are ruining the game of football.” West Ham, however, could not deepen Hodgson’s anger.