There were a few West Ham United players who entered Tuesday’s game against Cardiff City with something to prove, and Michail Antonio was chief amongst them.
Angelo Ogbonna, Arthur Masuaku and Lucas Perez will all have felt the need to perform well, but for Antonio it has appeared that his Hammers career has been steadily slipping away from him in recent months.
In the summer Sky Sports reported that the club were willing to listen to offers for the former Nottingham Forest man, and his performances so far this season had done nothing to change their stance.
That’s why Tuesday’s 3-1 victory over the Bluebirds was so important for the 28-year-old. Antonio’s goal-scoring display reminded everyone of what he could do, while his switch to right back showed that his tactical intelligence and versatility is worth having.
With Ryan Fredericks out injured and Pablo Zabaleta a 33-year-old who can no longer play every single game, Pellegrini needed somebody to step up and cover for the fatigued Argentinian on the right hand side of defence.
Antonio did the job to perfection. Not only was he never in trouble defensively, he gave the Hammers attack a whole new dimension with his vibrant runs down the right flank.
He got what he deserved with a second half goal which killed the game off, too. You could see how much the strike meant to him in his celebrations, suggesting that he also knew that his West Ham career was very much on the ropes.
That likely remains the case, of course, One good performance won’t change that. However, with the busy Christmas period approaching and Fredericks expected to be out until the New Year, Antonio has a huge chance to prove his worth to manager Manuel Pellegrini in the right back position.
If he can perform well in defence over the next month it will prove to the former Manchester City boss that he has enough quality and versatility to remain an asset for the club.
This is very much make or break time for Antonio and his ailing Hammers career, but he certainly gave his West Ham experience a vital shot in the arm against Cardiff.