West Ham recorded a much needed win at the expense of Sunderland at the Stadium of Light to stop a terrible run of results stemming back to the end of September.
A poor Sunderland side were shocked to see Valon Behrami bundle in a deflected shot in the 20th minute against the run of play and a continued sense of resistance saw West Ham cling on however many times the Black Cats bombarded the Hammers’ defence.
Going into the match it was obvious that a win today was crucial, having picked up a measly two points from seven games and facing Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea and then Aston Villa in the four fixtures after the match.
From the start of the match the hosts looked most likely to score, Djibril Cisse missing a header from close range after Andy Reid had crossed the ball in was perhaps a sign to come as West Ham looked nervy on the ball and afraid to attack.
A superb James Collins blocked a shot towards goal by Kenwyne Jones shortly afterwards as the Hammers struggled to leave their half until one of the first attacks of the game resulted in a free kick for the visitors. Julien Faubert whipped the ball into the box for Nyron Nosworthy to clear as far as Behrami, who powered the shot into the net thanks to a considerable deflection from Jones.
This would lift Gianfranco Zola’s team, having been low in confidence before, but not until Reid smashed a shot against Robert Green’s crossbar for Sunderland and threaten to level the scores.
Mike Dean denied Sunderland two possible penalties, both involving James Collins, the first would have looked a fairly harsh decision when Collins appeared to pull down Jones in the box but the second should have at least been a free kick for the Black Cats or a sending off for Collins. The incident occurred on the edge of the penalty area, when Cisse was running away from Collins, to be pulled down and be denied a goal scoring opportunity.
The Hammers responded well to the pressure though, Behrami somehow denied himself a brace by leaning back five yards out to shoot a cross against the crossbar of an open goal. Craig Bellamy skinned former West Ham colleague Anton Ferdinand on the half way line and shear pace left Bellamy one on one with keeper Martin Fulop. Bellamy should have done better, panicked and in this time Ferdinand had come back to defend his goal. Bellamy, now at the post, squared the ball and Behrami somehow missed, throwing away the chance to seal the match early on.
Come the second half and Sunderland continued a series of attacks that were dealt with efficiently by the centre back pairing of Collins and England goal scorer Matthew Upson. Both men consistently cleared any threat of goal and Upson would definitely deserve a man of the match accolade for his efforts.
Cisse squandered another handful of chances, Phil Bardsley missed a long range effort and Green was only really tested once in the second half when a scrambled Sunderland effort saw the keeper collect the ball comfortably.
Hanging on until the final whistle, West Ham defended their way to a superb win and overtake Sunderland in the league standings, leaving Roy Keane’s side 16th and the Hammers now 13th on 17 points.
The Hammers will do well to take anything out of the next four games. I will be impressed should we come away with any points at all, hopefully Zola and the team can take heart of a good performance today and give Liverpool a run for their money at Anfield next Monday.
Gianfranco Zola on recent results:
Fulop, Bardsley, Nosworthy, Ferdinand, Collins, Malbranque (Edwards 66), Whitehead, Reid (Murphy 66), Richardson, Jones (Diouf 81), Cisse.
Subs Not Used: Colgan, Tainio, Colback, Henderson.
Green, Neill, Collins, Upson, Ilunga, Faubert (Boa Morte 76), Parker, Bowyer (Mullins 61), Behrami, Bellamy (Di Michele 87), Cole.
Subs Not Used: Lastuvka, Davenport, Collison, Sears.
Gianfranco Zola on recent results:
‘It’s been very difficult.
‘You walk into the dressing room after your team has played well and you have to try to cheer them up. But they have character and they proved it today.
‘The defence was unbelievable, particularly Matt Upson and James Collins who were outstanding.’