West Ham suffered a fresh setback in what was supposed to be a season without struggle as they lost 1-0 at Brighton to fall to 15th.
Four fixtures without defeat – and last week’s 3-1 victory over Manchester United – had encouraged an optimism that their £100million investment in new signings could yet inspire them into the top half of the Premier League.
They instead again resembled an unsettled side struggling for an identity as Glenn Murray’s 99th goal for Brighton took the hosts above them and up to 12th place, and left them at risk of ending the weekend as low as 17th.
The quality occasionally demonstrated by Felipe Anderson and Marko Arnautovic will regardless be cause for encouragement for West Ham’s manager, Manuel Pellegrini, but of greater concern will be the ease with which they were outplayed throughout the first half.
Brighton had already threatened when, in the 25th minute, they deservedly took the lead. The visitors’ Andriy Yarmolenko was guilty of losing concentration and then possession to Beram Kayal near the half-way line, and from there the Brighton midfielder seamlessly created their opening goal.
After playing a swift one-two with Solly March, Kayal ran unchallenged down the left wing and had time to look up and cross to Murray, who from immediately in front of goal had an inexplicable amount of space to routinely finish beyond goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski.
Anderson’s delivery ensured the visitors had a promising chance of their own shortly afterwards, but when Arnautovic struggled to connect, Pedro Obiang volleyed into the ground and over.
With Pellegrini’s team struggling to retain possession, it took until shortly after the hour mark – and a more encouraging and energetic start to the second half – for them to again look capable of scoring.
On this occasion, from a 25-yard free-kick Anderson took instead of Yarmolenko and when set-pieces already represented their greatest chance of equalising, the Brazilian curled harmlessly over the crossbar.
Murray then almost scored his 100th goal for Brighton, when March weaved his way from the right wing into the penalty area and chipped a cross into his path, but the striker this time headed narrowly over.
With five minutes remaining West Ham won another free-kick, the in-form Arnautovic this time took responsibility but curled just beyond the crossbar.
Brighton substitute Jurgen Locadia was then unfortunate when his finish, from a close-range rebound, was ruled out for the most marginal of offside calls.
Yet when Arnautovic missed another late chance and they finally secured their first clean sheet of the season, it not only again highlighted West Ham’s struggles, but those of Manchester United.