Michail Antonio’s form is the most worrying part of West Ham’s slump

The excitement in the middle of the summer transfer window, when West Ham United signed Javier Hernandez, Marko Arnautovic, Joe Hart and Pablo Zabaleta, looks a long time ago right now.

Things had started to go wrong even before the window had ended, when it was rumoured that William Carvalho would join the club from Sporting Portugal, but that never materialised – something that seemed to create a rift between the manager and the board.

It soon got much worse after a diabolical start to the season saw Slaven Bilic look under severe pressure, and although an improvement has been forthcoming, performances haven’t been totally convincing.

But then Friday night plunged everything back into misery at the London Stadium. And away from the goalkeeping and defensive errors, the seeming lack of a plan B, and general doom and gloom, there was one performance in particular which should give cause for the most concern.

This time last year, when the Hammers were in a similarly difficult position, Michail Antonio was the saving grace of the season. Despite everything, he was the one positive, scoring goals and making an even greater name for himself and earning an England call-up last March, even if injury prevented him from getting a cap.

He now looks a shadow of that player right now. And Friday night proved it.

Despite seeing plenty of touches of the ball, and indeed attempting plenty of dribbles, nothing went right for Antonio at the London Stadium. It was, to deploy a cliche, one of those nights. His passes went astray at a shocking rate, and he simply couldn’t beat his man.

For an attacking player in an abject 3-0 defeat, he saw lots of the ball. He made himself available and you could see he was trying. No one on the pitch attempted more dribbles.

But the end product, quite obviously, is missing. Like that kid in class who always puts his hand up to answer questions, but who never gets an answer right, Antonio tried and failed time after time.

This, however, shouldn’t be an opportunity to highlight Antonio’s numbers to make sure that he shoulders some of the blame. There’s plenty of that to go around. Instead, this should be an opportunity to ask why a player of Antonio’s quality could get into positions time after time and be so wasteful.

Presumably this is a confidence issue, or perhaps there’s something wrong with the way the team is set up. Either way, that should reflect worse on Slaven Bilic than on anyone, whose main quality as a manager is his ability to motivate and give confidence to his players.

On the Antonio evidence, it appears that the manager is losing even that ability.