There was a time when a Premier League team delving into the Championship as part of their summer recruitment was viewed with contempt.
However, times have changed, and West Ham’s victory over Aston Villa on Monday night was proof of that.
No fewer than seven players recruited directly from the Championship to the Premier League took the field at the London Stadium – a fixture between two teams in the top half of the table come the final whistle before you scoff – and undoubtedly the shining light of the Championship alumni was Jarrod Bowen.
The 23-year-old enjoyed a sensational spell in the second tier with Hull City, notching 52 goals in his 124 league games for the club before a move worth up to £25m to West Ham in January.
Bowen struggled somewhat in his first half-season at the London Stadium – though one goal and four assists in his 13 Premier League appearances was a far from shocking return in a struggling Hammers side – however, a step up in class wasn’t the only factor to take into consideration.
At Hull he was the star man, the player his teammates would look to for inspiration as he was given a free role in the team, yet he would be afforded no such royalties in David Moyes’ side.
Playing on the right of a front three, Bowen has been tasked with providing the first line of defence in a rigid Hammers system, with Michail Antonio’s work rate and drive typifying what Moyes looks for in his forwards.
Of course, the step up in divisions has aided in curtailing Bowen’s free-scoring form, but the drastic change in his manager’s philosophy can’t be underestimated.
In his first season at West Ham, the forward clearly struggled to adapt to the change in mentality which had been drilled into him, so much so that much of his attacking endeavour and threat was blunted.
He would regularly find himself shackled on the right side of the front three, unwilling to deviate from Moyes’ rigid system. But given half a season to bed into the role, Bowen is beginning to flourish as he combines his defensive duties with the spark which saw him become so prolific in the Championship.
His winning goal in the victory over Villa was a perfect example of that. Having been tasked with leading the Hammers line but occasionally drifting to his natural wide position, Bowen came infield as Said Benrahma cut onto his right to deliver a cross, with the former Hull man eluding the Villa backline before producing a deft header to glance the ball into the bottom corner.
Perhaps the Bowen of last season wouldn’t have displayed such nous and intelligent movement as he looked to adapt to his newfound defensive responsibilities on the West Ham right.
His performance in the win over Villa was everything we’d come to expect of Bowen in the Championship; direct, menacing and full of guile. Yet it was also a display full of energy, tempo and pressing, something which we didn’t see in his time in the second tier.
After clearly struggling to find the balance required to make it as a Premier League forward, Bowen’s return of four goals and one assist in his ten league games this season is proof that he’s adapted to the change, and if he can continue progressing he could prove to be a huge player for West Ham this season.