West Ham needed Cheikhou Kouyate's magic to beat Swansea, says Slaven Bilic
By Richard Morgan
Last Updated: 08/04/17 8:07pm
West Ham needed the type of brilliance that Cheikhou Kouyate provided against Swansea at the London Stadium on Saturday afternoon, according to manager Slaven Bilic.
The Senegal international thumped a long-range effort past Lukasz Fabianski in the final minute of the first half to send the Hammers on their way to three crucial points in their bid to beat the drop, while also ending a run of five Premier League defeats in a row.
However, while claiming West Ham deserved to win, Bilic also admitted after the game that his side were in need of a moment of magic as the match approached half-time still goalless.
"I congratulate the players, fans, everybody that was in the stadium and we deserved to win today, that is my opinion," he said. "We could have killed the game earlier to make it easier for us, we had enough chances, but we did not.
"But it is ideal to win 1-0 against the opponent who is below us, five points and now it is eight.
"And then to keep a clean sheet and to do it with proper togetherness and energetic performance from the whole team. Very mature, all the time together and that makes me really, really pleased.
"We created a couple of chances before that you might have expected us to score. Then they had a good spell by slowing our rhythm with throw ins around our box and a couple of corners and free kicks.
"And then we needed that type of magic and touch of class and quality and Cheikhou scored a brilliant goal. It was a good time of course to go in at half-time with a good result and a good plan for the second half. So it was crucial.
"Then in the second half we did not drop - OK there is a bit of nervousness, they are throwing bodies up, strikers, wingers.
"But then we knew they were going to have their moments around our box, but we knew we had to defend with numbers and use that space behind that they were leaving open. And we were using that really good, apart from the final ball from the shot of the final touch.
"So we could have scored the second one to make it easier for us, but we did not, but still it is a really good day for us."
Bilic opted to leave Andy Carroll and Diafra Sakho on the substitutes' bench for this massive relegation six pointer due to fitness concerns over both strikers.
In the end, though, the Croat did not need to call upon either man as the 11 players on the field saw the match out.
"Diafra was out for three and a half months and his recovery is going really good," said Bilic. "But for him to be part of two games in three days is…
"Although it was not a whole game, we have to be very careful with him after three and a half months of absence, he means a lot to us and we do not want to lose him again.
"Andy was a gamble, nothing serious with his groin to be honest, but serious enough that he should not be in the squad today.
"But I asked him: 'Andy can you at least be there for 10-15 minutes maximum if we need you?' Because it did not get worse after the Arsenal game. And of course he is always going to say 'yes'.
"And he said 'yes,' so we kept him there in case and if it was 1-1 or 0-0, he would have come on probably or definitely, but we did not have to put him on.
"And all three players who came from the bench did really good, they stabilised us, or even improved our performance."