London (AFP) – Dimitri Payet produced an early contender for goal of the season as the West Ham star’s sublime strike salvaged a 1-1 draw against Middlesbrough on Saturday.
Slaven Bilic’s struggling side were in danger of a fifth successive Premier League defeat after Cristhian Stuani put Middlesbrough ahead early in the second half at the London Stadium.
But Payet finally showed a glimpse of last season’s fine form to drag West Ham level with a superb individual effort that brought the France playmaker his first league goal this term.
Even Payet’s heroics couldn’t completely lift the gloom over the east London club, who remain in the relegation zone with only one win from their first seven league games.
Middlesbrough, with only one victory since winning promotion last season, are two points and two places above the Hammers after ending a three-match losing streak.
After leaking 16 goals already this season, West Ham had the worst defence in the top-flight going into the weekend’s fixtures.
And Bilic’s beleaguered rearguard suffered another blow when right-back Sam Byram was carried off in visible discomfort after suffering a hamstring injury just minutes after kick-off.
Middlesbrough had only two wins in their 22 previous trips to London but they came close to the opener through striker Jordan Rhodes, who nearly marked his first Premier League start with a goal when he headed just wide.
West Ham’s build up to such a significant game wasn’t helped by claims Andy Carroll and Darren Randolph got drunk after Bilic told captain Mark Noble to take the squad for a morale-boosting night out on Monday.
No blame was attached to Noble, but the midfielder could have felt the fates were conspiring against him when he unleashed a powerful curling effort just before half-time, only to see it hit the crossbar and rebound to safety.
Middlesbrough took advantage of that escape to open the scoring in the 51st minute when Viktor Fischer’s corner reached Stuani and he rose highest to head goalwards.
Noble almost cleared before the ball crossed the line, but referee Neil Swarbrick signalled it had gone in after consulting the goal decision system.
West Ham fans responded by chanting their displeasure at the club’s decision to leave Upton Park for their new home at the former Olympic Stadium, a venue which has been marred by problems on and off the field since they took residency.
But their singing had a more celebratory tone in the 57th minute thanks to Payet’s brilliant equaliser.
After a sluggish start to the season, Payet was back to his mesmerising best as he span away from Antonio Barragan, cut across the edge of the penalty area past three more defenders before angling a low shot beyond goalkeeper Victor Valdes.
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