Hammers grab vital three points
West Ham grabbed only their second league victory of the season with a battling victory over Wigan at Upton Park.
West Ham United 3 Wigan Athletic 1
THERE is still much to do if the Hammers are to save their season but this welcome win over woeful Wigan Athletic should at least restore some hope down West Ham way writes STEVE BLOWERS.
Valon Behrami lit up a forlorn first-half to give Avram Grant’s side an interval lead, before strikes by Victor Obinna and the sensational Scott Parker secured a second win of the season that moves the east enders to within just three points of safety.
Tom Cleverley might have grabbed a late consolation for the Latics, after Robert Green had earlier saved Mauro Boselli’s poor penalty but, for once, this was to be the under pressure Israeli’s afternoon.
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We may still only be in November but following last week’s awful Anfield showing, up on the bridge, the joint-owners had already sent out a ‘Save Our Season’ distress call in a desperate bid to stop the bottom-placed Hammers from being cast adrift, yet further.
And below decks, that dismal defeat at Liverpool had seen Grant respond by making five changes to his starting crew as Behrami, Parker, James Tomkins, Pablo Barrera and Junior Stanislas came in for the injured Mark Noble (hip), Herita Ilunga plus substitutes Carlton Cole, Luis Boa Morte and Radoslav Kovac.
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Despite that re-shuffle, the Hammers endured an frustrating opening to the afternoons’s exchanges as a trio of offside flags stopped them in their tracks, while referee Mark Halsey inadvertently blocked Parker’s 20-yarder with the back of his head before waving away Obinna’s confident cries for a penalty after Ronnie Stam had clearly flicked a bouncing ball with his hand.
Following their defeat at Manchester United last Saturday, 18th-placed Wigan made two enforced changes as Cleverley and Franco Di Santo came in for joint top-scorer Hugo Rodallega and Antolin Alcaraz, who were both suspended as a result of their reckless, Red Devils red cards.
In a lacklustre first half-hour, Cleverley forced the only save of the opening 30 minutes, when he drilled a low 18-yarder into the hands of the grounded Green and then Stam’s awkward cross into the six-yard box was diverted to safety by the alert Tomkins.
Certainly, with both teams playing like bottom-three sides, the 34,178 shivering supporters were seeing nothing to warm-up a nippy November afternoon.
But ten minutes before the break, the Hammers somehow broke the deadlock, when Lars Jacobsen’s cross was nodded forward by Piquionne and the breaking Behrami got between Steve Gohouri and Steven Caldwell to bundle West Ham ahead from eight yards.
The watching Paolo Di Canio would have been proud of the goal-bound 20-yarder that Stanislas then unleashed towards the right-hand angle but Ali Al-Habsi showed just why former England stopper Chris Kirkland has had to go on-loan to Leicester City in search of first-team football, when he steered the shot over the bar.
And when Stanislas sent over the consequent corner, the Wigan ‘keeper somehow beat away Piquionne’s point-blank header to restrict the Hammers’ lead to just the single goal at the break.
Five minutes after the restart, Winston Reid replaced the hobbling Jacobsen and as the Kiwi took his place at right-back, a bullish Barrera ignored Stanlisas before screwing an ambitious shot wide.
Moments later, Obinna drilled a low 18-yarder beyond the base of the right-hand post to make it a forlorn 40 shots without scoring in the Premier League.
On 56 minutes, however, the overlapping, on-loan Inter Milan striker finally lost his unwanted place at the top of that particular chart, when he strode on to Piquionne’s patient pass and side-stepped Hendry Thomas before sending shot number 41 beyond Al-Habsi from ten yards.
Roberto Martinez responded by making a double-substitution that saw Jordi Gomez and Thomas replaced by Boselli and Victor Moses for the final half-hour.
And when Danny Gabbidon slid through the charging Cleverley just moments later, Boselli’s first job of the afternoon was to put the ball on the spot but Green guessed correctly, when he dived to his left to save the Argentinan’s penalty with his knees.
By now, Wigan knew that it was not going to be their day.
Sure enough, with 15 minutes remaining, Parker typically won possession on the halfway line and, after feeding Piquionne, the mercurial midfielder arrived at the near post, where he got in front of Caldwell to slide home the Frenchman’s return pass and claim a sixth strike of the campaign that took him to the top of the Hammers goal charts.
All that West Ham needed now was a clean sheet, but with just four minutes remaining, the bulldozing Charles N’Zogbia invited Cleverley to steer home a clever 18-yarder to spoil new defensive coach Wally Downes’ first day at the office but with a vital victory in the bag, there would have been few complaints up on that Boleyn Ground bridge.
West Ham United: Green, Jacobsen (Reid 51), Gabbidon, Tomkins, Upson, Barrera, Parker (Kovac 83), Behrami, Stanislas, Piquionne (Cole 77), Obinna. Unused Subs: Boffin, Boa Morte, McCarthy, Hines.
Wigan Athletic: Al-Habsi, Gohouri, Stam, Caldwell, Figueroa, Thomas (Watson 67), Cleverley, N’Zogbia, Gomez (Moses 61), Diame, Di Santo (Boselli 61). Unused Subs: Pollitt, McArthur, McManaman, Mustoe
Referee: Mark Halsey. Attendance: 34,178