West Ham’s final season before decamping to the Olympic Stadium is clearly going to be one of ups and downs. This one sat somewhere in the middle, thanks to Cheikhou Kouyaté’s equaliser in added time when a third home defeat in four matches was looming.
So after an extraordinary trio of away wins at Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City, an afternoon that began with talk about the combination of results that would have put them top of the table left Slaven Bilic’s side grateful for a point at home to Norwich to keep them in third place.
Not that any disrespect is meant to the East Anglians, who have made a far better impression back in the Premier League than many expected. They have yet to keep a clean sheet and have only one goal from a striker all season, yet scored two smartly taken ones here from midfielders Robbie Brady and Nathan Redmond.
For the home side Dimitri Payet, creator of both goals, was outstanding again and is emerging as one of the summer’s best value signings at £10m from Marseilles. Diafra Sakho was lively in attack, but there was far less conviction at the other end of the pitch, which the visitors threatened to exploit to even greater effect in a dominant first 25 minutes.
West Ham were relieved to concede only once in that period, a goal stemming from a howler by newly appointed captain Mark Noble. A Hammer through and through, he will have been mortified to commit the fundamental error of playing a square pass deep in his own half, over-hit and easily intercepted by Brady, who ran on confidently to beat Adrian. There were other chances, above all to Cameron Jerome, before Sakho laid the ball out to Payet and hared forward to tap in the Frenchman’s perfect cross.
Substitute Redmond had Norwich back in front with seven minutes to play, but after two fine saves their goalkeeper John Ruddy failed to grasp Payet’s late free-kick and Kouyaté salvaged a deserved point.
“I would like to congratulate both teams for a good dramatic game of football,” Bilic said.
“It was a quality, typically English game, but one where we would both have been happy with some things and not with some other things with spells in the match.
“In the end, it was fair result, but we are never happy when we don’t win at home. We are trying to win every home game.
“My players have showed their character and their quality.”
His opposite number, Alex Neil, also praised his own side’s performance, despite them conceding the late goal.
“When you concede with a minute to go, it is always disappointing,” Neil said. “But we will take encouragement from how well we played.”