Hammers back on the bottom despite spirited show at Chelsea
West Ham crashed to a harsh 3-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge as Fernando Torres scores his first goal for Chelsea.
Chelsea 3 West Ham United 0
Chelsea 3 West Ham United 0
THE THREAT of relegation looms even larger for bottom-placed West Ham United, who were left with that sinking feeling at rain-soaked Stamford Bridge writes STEVE BLOWERS.
Former Hammer Frank Lampard put Avram Grant’s men on the back foot just before the break and, although the East Enders had their chances on a waterlogged surface, late goals by �50million-man Fernando Torres and Florent Malouda finally ended the visitors’ resistance.
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That means West Ham have now endured 13 luckless games without a victory over Chelsea – a run stretching back to May 2003, when Paolo Di Canio’s strike gave caretaker boss Trevor Brooking a win that was still not enough to prevent the dreaded drop.
And how the Hammers could do with the likes of those claret and blue icons as they now enter into their final four games of the season two points adrift of safety.
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With Scott Parker – the Football Writer’s Association newly-elected Footballer of the Year– still crucially missing, the visitors were always going to find the going tough way out West, where former Blues’ boss Grant made four changes from the side that had so disappointingly slumped to that dismal defeat against Aston Villa, last Saturday.
Danny Gabbidon, Jonathon Spector, Freddie Sears and Demba Ba each came in for Matthew Upson (chest infection) and Gary O’Neil (ankle) plus substitutes Victor Obinna and Robbie Keane in a 4-5-1 formation that saw ex-Chelsea striker Carlton Cole go it alone up front.
Second-placed Chelsea, kicking off nine points behind leaders Manchester United made just one change from the side that beat Birmingham City as Branislav Ivanovic replaced the benched Paulo Ferreira.
With the Easter heatwave forcing the Stamford Bridge groundsman to heavily hose the pitch beforehand, the teams had, ironically, arrived to a heavy, ill-timed rain-shower and, after Wayne Bridge had, once again, refused to shake hands with former Chelsea and England team-mate John Terry, right on cue, a clap of thunder marked the start of a contest that was largely played out in the Hammers half.
Indeed, with just two minutes on the clock Malouda got behind Manuel Da Costa before seeing skipper Robert Green rush out to block with his chest and then Didier Drogba let fly with a low 20-yarder that skidded across the greasy grass, into the clutches of the keeper.
Malouda also dragged a low shot wide, while the alert Green also raced from his line to pluck the ball off the studs of Salomon Kalou.
On 24 minutes, though, the deeper, left-flank lying Demba Ba let fly with a 25-yarder that Petr Cech steered over his own crossbar for the first corner of the game and, shortly afterwards, a breaking Sears crossed to the supporting Spector, who saw the Chelsea keeper push his diving header around the far post.
With West Ham now enjoying their best spell, Ivanovic was booked for barging Ba, before a clever piece of improvisation saw Sears meet another Mark Noble corner with a deft back-heel that Ashley Cole blocked on the line only for Cech to then smother the loose ball.
Growing in confidence, West Ham were counter-attacking with pace and purpose, while also doggedly defending their lines to the frustration of a Chelsea side that was reduced to seeing Drogba fire wildly into the upper tier of the Shed End and the equally erratic Ivanovic scuff across the face of goal.
Ba also headed wide before Cech was forced to take out both David Luiz and Carlton Cole in order to thwart another threatening break but just as West Ham looked to be heading into the interval safely all-square, Chelsea cruelly broke the deadlock.
On 43 minutes, Drogba played Ashley Cole in behind Lars Jacobsen and the England defender cut back from the byline for the arriving Lampard to lash the ball high into the net from eight yards and claim his 11th goal of the campaign.
With the capital’s skies still saturating the Stamford Bridge pitch during the break, passing was becoming more and more problematical but, on 52 minutes, Da Costa met Noble’s well-flighted corner with a downward header that John Obi Mikel hacked to safety.
Certainly, the slippery surface was not helping anyone and both sides were forced to make changes after Michael Essien hobbled away and Noble was stretchered off, to be replaced by ex-Hammer Yossi Benayoun and Robbie Keane, respectively.
Just after the hour-mark, Lampard should have ended the contest but his connection in the six-yard box was too weak and, after the England midfielder tested Green with a better effort, Malouda then ripped an angled screamer into the side-netting.
Luiz then tickled the top of the crossbar with an audacious 20-yard chip but Ba responded from similar range to show that the visitors were still in this keenly fought derby. Cech steered that one skywards before holding Keane’s aqua-planing 12-yarder and then poor Carlton Cole found himself thwarted by both the puddles and a pack of Blue defenders.
With a quarter-hour remaining, the unmarked Keane somehow clipped wide from 15 yards and, after Nicolas Anelka and Torres had replaced Kalou and Drogba, Grant went for broke himself with the introductions of Frederic Piquionne for Cole and Obinna for Sears.
But after Gabbidon had headed off the line from Anelka and Ba was cautioned for sliding through Luiz, it was those Carlo Ancelotti changes that were destined to seal the Hammers fate.
With just six minutes remaining, Anelka played in Torres and, as Bridge, Gabbidon and Da Costa slid all over place, the Spaniard somehow kept his traction to joyously turn home his first goal in 14 Chelsea outings since that hugely expensive move south from Liverpool.
And then in stoppage time, Torres turned provider, when he squared to Malouda, who smashed his 14th goal of the campaign into the net from 18 yards, to leave Chelsea six points behind United and the Hammers rooted to the bottom of the table.
CHELSEA: Cech, Ivanovic, Cole, Terry, Luiz, Essien (Benayoun 56), Mikel, Lampard, Malouda, Kalou (Anelka 70), Drogba (Torres 76). Unused: Turnbull, Torres, Zhirkov, Ferreira, Bertrand.
HAMMERS: Green, Jacobsen, Bridge, Da Costa, Gabbidon, Sears (Obinna 81), Ba, Spector, Noble (Keane 60), Hitzlsperger, Cole (Piquionne 77). Unused: Boffin, Tomkins, Boa Morte, Kovac.
Referee: Phil Dowd. Attendance: 41,656.