Kalvin Phillips looks more lost than ever as West Ham nightmare goes from bad to worse

Phillips gave a penalty away as West Ham collapsed (Action Images via Reuters)
Phillips gave a penalty away as West Ham collapsed (Action Images via Reuters)

In the opening game of the Premier League run-in, this was the division at its all-action, high-octane best. Bad news, then, for Kalvin Phillips.

Two months into his time at West Ham, the midfielder still has not shaken the cobwebs with which he arrived after so long warming Manchester City’s bench and here the slapstick nature of his loan spell plunged to parodic depths.

Sent on in the 69th-minute with his side leading 3-1, Phillips’s brief was to help the Hammers see out the victory that would have given David Moyes’s side a cushion in seventh-place and left them breathing down the neck of Manchester United and the top-six.

Newcastle, by that stage, were on the brink of collapse, ravaged by a freakish and swelling number of injuries and in defensive disarray from the moment captain Jamaal Lascelles limped off early on. Phillips introduction, though, would prove the turning point, kickstarting an extraordinary Toon comeback to claim a thrilling 4-3 win.

The game swung on the award of the home side’s second penalty of the afternoon. Phillips felt hard done by, unaware of the presence of Anthony Gordon as he swung to clear the ball and struck through the winger’s leg. He probably had a case, particularly as Gordon failed to play the ball when planting his foot in the firing line. Phillips’s true crime, though, was in his dawdling, the 28-year-old sluggish and wanting too much time in what, for most of the 90 minutes it seemed, had been a chaotic, crowded box.

Alexander Isak made no mistake, sending substitute goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski the wrong way just as he had Alphonse Areola at the top of the affair, and suddenly St. James’s Park believed. Two goals from Harvey Barnes had the turnaround complete, the brilliant winner coming, inevitably, after he had slipped past Phillips as if he wasn’t there.

Barnes fouled Anthony Gordon before Newcastle’s comeback (AFP via Getty Images)
Barnes fouled Anthony Gordon before Newcastle’s comeback (AFP via Getty Images)

Moyes looked in disbelief, his side somehow beaten having launched their own comeback from one-down to lead by two entering the final fray.

All three Hammers goals had been terrific in their simplicity and ruthless execution. For the opener, Newcastle committed the cardinal sin of pairing a high line with no pressure on the ball, leaving the magnificent Lucas Paquetá to lift over the top for Michail Antonio. The Jamaican international does not always inspire confidence when bearing down on goal but dispatched in fine style.

Paqueta was the sharp-minded creator of the second, too, deep into stoppage time in a first-half that lasted the best part of an hour. With Fabian Schar down clutching his face having been caught by the fingernails of Mohammed Kudus when fouling the Ghanaian, Paqueta smelt an opening. Catching Jarrod Bowen’s eye, he stroked in behind as the Toon slept, the Englishman then looking to dip inside and seeing his heavy touch turn into the perfect lay-off for Kudus, whose strike had too much power for Martin Dubravaka in the home goal.

Bowen, to that point, had been strangely subdued, outshone for much of the opening period by Anthony Gordon, a likely rival for a place on England’s plane to Germany this summer.

Minutes after the interval, however, he advanced his case, sent clear by Kudus’s brilliance and firing low beyond Dubravka for his 15th Premier League goal of the season.

Coming into this contest it seemed the England door might not yet be completely closed to Phillips either, the Three Lions’ defensive vulnerability against Brazil and Belgium showing just why Gareth Southgate has always wanted the prime version of the former Leeds man shielding in midfield. Far from rediscovering himself in east London, though, Phillips looks more lost than ever before.