Craig Dawson silences doubters with solid West Ham debut

Toby Cudworth
Dec 30, 2020, 12:00 PM GMT
Craig Dawson's selection caused quite the stir on social media
Craig Dawson's selection caused quite the stir on social media | Naomi Baker/Getty Images

We all know by now that football twitter has a good side, a bad side and an ugly side.

The good normally hinges around something funny, which no matter who your allegiance may lie with brings a smirk to your face, while the bad and ugly usually transcend around the performances, decisions or comments of players and managers.

But in the case of Craig Dawson, he's had a pretty rough time of it just for being a West Ham player.

Dawson was relegated with Watford at the end of the 2019/20 season
Dawson was relegated with Watford at the end of the 2019/20 season | Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Signed at the end of the transfer window, his arrival from Watford was met with derision from large portions of the club's fanbase, with many suggesting that a player who had just been relegated to the Championship didn't fit the profile of someone West Ham should be targeting.

On the surface, that's fair enough. West Ham have ambitions of becoming a regular fixture in the Premier League's top ten, with an eventual aim of bringing Europa League football to the east end of London - the owners have said as much.

Dawson's background and career to date, meanwhile, is largely associated with West Brom, who for many years were ticking along as a mid-table Premier League side, interspersed with a number of battles against relegation. Once the Baggies lost their top-flight status he quickly moved on to Vicarage Road, but suffered a similar fate at the end of the 2019/20 season.

So it did come as a bit of a surprise when Dawson emerged as an option late on in the summer transfer window, but a loan move was pushed through nevertheless - one that was followed by a rather comical announcement tweet and video from the club's in desperate need of modernising training ground.

Moyes copped a lot of flak on social media for his team selection
Moyes copped a lot of flak on social media for his team selection | Robin Jones/Getty Images

Since then, Dawson has been on the sidelines with a watching brief, despite various reports suggesting he'd been impressing in training. The Hammers' backline has been fairly settled this season after a string of consistent displays from Fabian Balbuena, Angelo Ogbonna and Aaron Cresswell, while Issa Diop has been the man to step in when required. In essence, he hasn't been needed.

But against Southampton, who have impressed for the vast majority of 2020 under pressing machine Ralph Hasenhuttl, changes were in the offing, as West Ham manager David Moyes looked to balance a hefty festive workload that often sees an increase in fatigue and muscular injuries.

Out of the side went Balbuena and in came Dawson, not Diop - to the surprise of many. Upon the confirmation of his starting place, social media was awash with criticism for Moyes. The Scot was lambasted for picking a back four that included Dawson and Ryan Fredericks, and many concluded that the game was lost before it had even begun.

It was your pretty standard case of fan negativity, and although Diop's fall from grace - he was linked with a £50m+ move to Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham last year, don't forget - is hard to understand, there was obvious method to Moyes' supposed madness.

Dawson may not be the quickest, nor is he the tallest, but one thing he was always known for at West Brom in particular was being exceptionally good in the air, a vocal communicator and for his sound defensive positioning. Against Danny Ings and Che Adams, West Ham needed someone who is well organised, disciplined and unlikely to do anything rash, also capable of ensuring Fredericks was not exposed.

Diop is good - very good in fact - but he's more of a luxury defender who has shown on occasion that he can switch off and make a mistake. As it turned out, Dawson not only didn't put a foot wrong, he - alongside Ogbonna - completely nullified any threat offered by Southampton's lauded front duo, while he also subdued the full of beans Shane Long after he came on to run the channels after an hour.

His display helped West Ham enjoy a relatively comfortable night, as barring a couple of smart saves from Lukasz Fabianski, Southampton rarely threatened to break the stalemate.

To top things off, Dawson also channeled his inner John Hartson, sensationally clouting Adams around the head with a clumsy kick of serious velocity. Fortunately, the former Birmingham wasn't concussed or hurt in any way, so there is no feeling guilty for remembering the time the former Welsh striker almost decapitated Eyal Berkovic in training.

Ultimately, what Dawson's display should tell us is that the majority of opinions and critique should come after the final whistle, not before a ball has been kicked. Moyes was condemned for getting it wrong, yet West Ham were arguably the team who should have gone to win the game - all it takes is a little bit of belief, something that a great number of fans will now have in the 30-year-old after that display.

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