Hammers grab first league win since September but remain bottom
West Ham United took a crucial three points at Upton Park for only the second time this season against relegation rivals Wigan Athletic, with Robert Green saving a penalty as they eased the pressure on Avram Grant.
The visitors were on top in the early exchanges of what was billed by some as a ‘relegation dogfight’ already, with a creative midfield of Jordi Gomez, Charles N’Zogbia and Tom Cleverly, on loan from Manchester United.
West Ham had a penalty appeal early on, after the ball appeared to hit Ronnie Stam on the arm, but in truth it would have been an extremely harsh award.
The next minute, however, Stam had run the length of the field to fizz in a dangerous cross along the six yard box which somehow evaded every player.
West Ham were gradually getting a foothold in the game the longer it went on though, and in the 34th minute, they grabbed a goal that helped to settle the home fans’ nerves.
It wasn’t the prettiest of efforts, but it was highly effective. A long ball into the box from right-back Lars Jacobsen was nodded down by Frederic Piquionne, and after some static defending from the Latics, Valon Behrami stole in to poke it past Ali Al Habsi.
The goal truly galvanised West Ham, forcing the Wigan goalkeeper to make two fantastic saves in the space of a minute.
The first was from Junior Stanislas’ effort, a stinging drive from the edge of the area that Al Habsi acrobatically turned over the bar.
From the resulting corner, he then made a brilliant reflex save, pushing away Piquionne’s header as West Ham continued to pile on the pressure.
The Hammers finished the half with their slender advantage intact, and they were playing with a confidence rarely seen from the home team this season at Upton Park.
After a nervy opening half hour, the goal pushed them on and raised both the level of play from West Ham and the noise levels from the fans.
And in the first five minutes of the second half, Piquionne should have made it two for West Ham.
A looped ball into the area missed every Wigan defender, and Piquionne found himself onside and completely free in the box, but rather than take a touch he hit the ball first time, on the volley, and placed the ball wide, leading to collective gasps and groans from the Upton Park faithful.
Five minutes later, however, Victor Obinna made it 2-0 with a stunning finish. A long ball from Rob Green was headed into the path of Piquionne, who led a charge towards the West Ham goal.
He then laid the ball off for Obinna on the edge of the box, and the 23-year-old from Nigeria took the ball down the left side of the penalty area before slamming his shot along the ground and into the opposite corner, leaving Al Habsi with no chance.
In the 63rd minute, however, it seemed that West Ham’s luck was about to change as Cleverly went down under Danny Gabbidon’s challenge, and the referee rightly pointed to the spot.
Substitute Mauro Boselli had been on the pitch for a matter of minutes before he stepped up, and got his penalty all wrong.
The Argentine placed his tame shot along the floor, and not particularly near the corner, and with Rob Green going in the right direction, it was an easy save for the 'keeper.
West Ham then had a penalty appeal of their own turned down only minutes later as Piquionne went down under a challenge from Steve Gohuri, but referee Mark Halsey told him to get up and carry on.
Scott Parker had been influential throughout, and in the 75th minute, he made the match safe with a third goal.
Parker stole possession in the middle of the pitch and broke quickly with the ever-present Piquionne.
He then played the ball to Piquionne in the channel, who put it on a plate for Parker with a return ball across the six yard line, and the midfielder gleefully bundled the ball into the net, sparking scenes of celebration from Paulo Di Canio in the crowd.
Both players were later substituted, and they each received a standing ovation from a crowd who were clearly relieved to see West Ham move off the bottom of the table and catch up Wigan in a true six-pointer of a match.
Tom Cleverly later added a consolation for Wigan, a reward for their best player of the match. Gohuri then had a stoppage time goal wrongly chalked off for offside, but in reality it wouldn't have made any difference.
Indeed although West Ham remain bottom of the table, if Wigan continue to play like this against their rivals they will struggle to stay in the division.
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