Stylish Hammers guided by maestro Payet

LONDON - These are momentous, historic times for West Ham United.

They are saying an emotional farewell to their old Boleyn Ground, moving to the magnificent Olympic Stadium and saluting a favourite son in Mark Noble with a testimonial.

They are also playing some wonderful passing football under manager Slaven Bilic, a club icon who understands the academy ethos, and have now reached the FA Cup quarter-finals with the sumptuous skills of Dimitri Payet to the fore.


Dimitri Payet and manager Slaven Bilic celebrating his goal which put West Ham 2-1 up against Blackburn. They won 5-1. PHOTO: REUTERS

"We've got Payet," sang the 7,185 travelling fans partying in the Darwen End at the final whistle, after they routed Blackburn Rovers 5-1 on Sunday.

Their voices almost betrayed a touch of astonishment that their club could land such a fine player, whom they added is "Super Slav's man; he's better than Zidane."

Payet's brilliant performance against Blackburn was not the only eye-catching display in claret and blue. James Collins was largely imperious at the back and full-back Michail Antonio was a dynamo down the right.

As well as scoring twice on his first start, Emmanuel Emenike's pace forced Blackburn to defend deeper, opening even more space for Payet to exploit.

Still, the eyes kept coming back to Payet, who was so good that it has led Bilic to compare the playmaker to Real Madrid's Luka Modric, whom he coached while he was in charge of Croatia.

"I need some poetry lessons to describe (Payet's) importance to us. It is not just what he is doing with the ball. He is doing the dirty work too," Bilic told British media.

"Every week I want the questions about him to continue but it is hard to describe him. On the ball he is up there with Luka Modric from the players I have trained so far."

Given Payet's prolific nature, with nine goals and seven assists this season, Bilic will not have to worry about learning blank verse.

At 1.75m, the attacking midfielder is certainly no tall fellow, but he was certainly a riddle that Blackburn never looked like solving.

The Frenchman made so many good runs, right, left and central. His goals showcased the depth of his technical class.

His first was an unstoppable free kick, while his second was a virtuoso strike, a 50-metre run and finish. Even some Blackburn fans joined in the applause.

A fifth goal from Victor Moses overwhelmed Blackburn, who had jolted their Premier League opponents into life by taking a 20th-minute lead, when Ben Marshall's pin-point shot crept inside goalkeeper Darren Randolph's left-hand post.

West Ham recorded 23 attempts at goal, 14 of them on target and having 66 per cent of possession.

Blackburn were disappointing and seemed to have their thoughts elsewhere - with the team 19th in the Championship (albeit having played two games fewer than those beneath them).

The only sour note for West Ham was Cheikhou Kouyate's controversial dismissal in the closing stages after he was shown a straight red for tripping Adam Henley.

Bilic, who confirmed that his side will appeal against the sending-off, was angered by referee Jonathan Moss' decision, as Kouyate did not appear to be in full control of the ball.

"I didn't see the replay but from my position, and I am not happy," the manager said.

"I know the ball went through to Darren Randolph, our goalkeeper, so it is definitely not a scoring opportunity. Foul, okay, but not a red card."

THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2016, with the headline 'Stylish Hammers guided by maestro Payet'. Print Edition | Subscribe