The chant broke out in the far corner of the away end, when they knew the game was won. It only happened once — and certainly did not meet with universal approval — but the timing and subject were significant.
‘Are you watching Declan Rice?’ West Ham’s fans bellowed, as they realised they would end the day top of the Premier League. ‘Are you watching Declan Rice?’
Things move quickly in football. It had only been 90 days since Rice’s last game for West Ham had ended with him hoisting aloft the club’s first piece of silverware for 43 years, but now he was the butt of a crowing chant, undoubtedly fuelled by Arsenal’s late slip against Fulham.
Many wondered how life would look for West Ham after selling Rice, such a totem, for £105million. Patience, too, had been stretched among those same supporters when the new season approached and the bounty they had received remained unspent.
But then you looked at them at the Amex Stadium, as they stood tall and played with ferocious desire to supplement a superb win against Chelsea with an equally eye-catching result against such a progressive Brighton team.
West Ham continued to impress with a 3-1 win over Brighton on Saturday afternoon
Hammers boss David Moyes has got his side playing emphatic football at the start of the new season
Michail Antonio was on target for a second successive game for West Ham as he scored their third goal
This success, be certain, was achieved thanks to Rice’s replacements. In the engine room, scrapping, tackling and passing, the axis of James Ward-Prowse and Edson Alvarez laid the foundations for everything that would become possible during a blistering second period when they landed so many meaty blows.
BRIGHTON (4-2-3-1): Verbruggen 5; Gross 6, Dunk 6, Webster 4, Estupinan 5; Milner 6 (Adringa 72mins, 5), Gilmour 6 (Lallana 60mins 6); March 5 (Veltman 62, 5), Welbeck 6 (Joao Pedro 60, 5), Mitoma 5; Ferguson 5.
Scorer: Gross 81. Booked: Mitoma.
Manager: Roberto De Zerbi 5.
WEST HAM (4-3-3): Areola 8; Coufal 7, Zouma 7, Ogbonna 7, Emerson 7; Soucek 6 (Benrahma 39mins, 7), Alvarez 8 (Fornals 84), Ward-Prowse 8; BOWEN 8.5, Antonio 8 (Kehrer 79), Paqueta 7 (Ings 85).
Scorers: Ward-Prowse 19, Bowen 58, Antonio 63.
Booked: Ward-Prowse, Alvarez, Kehrer. Manager: David Moyes 8.
Referee: Anthony Taylor 6. Attendance: 31,508.
Ward-Prowse — a man whose character, desire and professionalism will make him a firm favourite with manager David Moyes — showed why, after his double-assist debut against Chelsea, the £30m investment in him will be money well spent.
He set the ball rolling by opening the scoring in the 19th minute, but the parts of his game that took your eye were the discipline, the work rate and the refusal to settle for second best, one robust challenge in the first half to charge down a Billy Gilmour shot being a case in point.
‘I just wish we had got him in here a month earlier,’ said Moyes. ‘He’s had a great start. It’s having these players who know what it takes to try and win these tough games. We are delighted with him and he’s only going to get better.’
Sentiments, certainly, that also apply to Alvarez, a little more expensive than his new sidekick at £35.4m. Moyes only spends money when he is sure it will reap dividends and the decision to bring in the Mexican, who played 33 times in the Champions League for Ajax, will raise standards.
Alvarez got the final nine minutes against Chelsea but this was a true indication of what he will offer, with two interceptions, seven clearances and the desire to tackle anything and everything making him an immediate hit in the dressing room.
‘Edson is more defensive but he is an animal, he works a lot and works hard,’ said left back Emerson. ‘Sometimes when you just watch the game you can’t see him every time with the ball, but without the ball he is unbelievable. He runs for everyone.’
An animal? It was quite the description. ‘Even in the rondo before training or in the warm-up, for him it’s 100 per cent and he wants to win,’ Emerson replied. ‘When one guy wants to fight and run for everyone, you see this and want to do it as well. When we see Alvarez do these things we go with him.
‘Declan helped us a lot with quality we can’t describe. Now with the those guys, not just Alvarez and Ward-Prowse, but Tomas Soucek and Lucas Paqueta, everyone in the middle works a lot for the team. We are happy with Alvarez and Ward-Prowse, they have quality and experience, so let’s work.’
Ward-Prowse has been West Ham’s magician after completing his move from Southampton
Hammers newboy Edson Alvarez has been labelled as an ‘animal’ by his team-mates
That will be music to his manager’s ears. He was a little curmudgeonly afterwards, making it clear there were still things to improve, and he was right to make a point that Alphonse Areola, his goalkeeper, was a key figure in the win.
But, equally, he knows there is strength in his ranks, strength that will be augmented when Mohammed Kudus, at £38m, joins the party from Ajax. Moyes, who was thrilled with the goals of Jarrod Bowen and Michail Antonio, hopes there will be another addition too.
Alvarez, Ward-Prowse and Kudus come in at a combined £103m, leaving a little bit of change from the money they received from Arsenal for Rice It looks a prime example of how to make the market work for you.
Brighton have also seen some big transfers, but boss Roberto De Zerbi made it clear that for all the Alexis Mac Allister, Robert Sanchez and Moises Caicedo finance, their squad is weaker. West Ham will be thrilled they cannot say the same.