Super Sears seals West Ham victory
The Hammers made it a superb festive period with victory over relegation rivals Wolves at Upton Park.
West Ham United 2 Wolverhampton Wanderers 0
ALONG WITH a New Year and a new decade comes new hope for the Hammers after this workmanlike win over Wolves, writes STEVE BLOWERS.
Bottom on Christmas Day, Avram Grant’s men walked off at full time in the heady heights of 15th-spot after Ronald Zubar’s own goal and a Freddie Sears strike secured three priceless points for West Ham United in this basement battle.
Wednesday’s welcome win at Liverpool had seen Wolves leapfrog the Hammers into 19th-spot, one place, one point and one goal better off than Grant’s side, who themselves were unbeaten in three matches.
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Predictably unchanged, Wanderers kicked off with one game in hand on West Ham, too, and inside the opening 20 minutes, Frederic Piquionne was forced to head Stephen Hunt’s incisive, inswinging corner off his own line, before Carlton Cole thwarted Christophe Berra inside the six-yard box.
Stephen Ward also sent a low 18-yarder towards Robert Green, while another Hunt corner saw the keeper gather Sylvan Ebanks-Blake’s close-range header after the ball bobbled precariously in the Hammers goalmouth.
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Following Tuesday night’s draw with Everton, Grant had made a quartet of changes as Tal Ben Haim, Danny Gabbidon, Junior Stanislas and Cole came in for Julien Faubert and Herita Ilunga plus substitutes Luis Boa Morte and Victor Obinna.
And in reply, Piquionne and Gabbidon fired over from the edge of the area before Sears finally forced Wayne Hennessey into his first save of the game with a low, angled 15-yard effort, midway through the first half.
With the rain falling from the East End skies, there was little to savour from this scrappy offering but, on the half-hour mark, Scott Parker picked out Cole with a delicious pass behind the Wolves’ defence, however the Hammers striker could only divert his shot beyond both Hennessey and the far post to the frustration of the subdued and saturated, claret and blue fans.
Just before the break, a rare West Ham raid climaxed with Richard Stearman brilliantly blocking Sears’ goalbound shot on the line and, as the drenched young Hammer looked helplessly to the heavens, Stanislas followed up with a stinging shot that the diving Hennessey held to keep it goalless at the break.
The Hammers might have ended the first period with flourish but it was Green, who was forced to work overtime after the restart as Nenad Milijas, Berra and Ward each forced the athletic keeper to make the kind of sensational saves that earned him his England gloves.
But after starting the second half like an express train, Wolves bizarrely hit the buffers on 51 minutes, when Ben Haim invited Piquionne to race down the right flank and although an embarrassed Cole somehow missed his kick from six-yards, the shocked Zubar saw the ball ricochet off his knee, beyond Hennessey to give the Hammers a fortuitous lead.
That Zubar own-goal certainly spared the red-faced Cole, who then forced Hennessey to save his low, skidding 18-yarder at full stretch.
The visitors’ frustration was visibly bubbling and Stearman soon earned a yellow card for a bone-shaking barge on the pole-axed Parker that saw Grant march onto the pitch to remonstrate with referee Lee Probert, whose leniency towards the uncompromising American defender probably had something to do with the fact that he had got a toe to the ball a split-second before taking out his man.
Typically, the indestructible Parker picked himself and, shortly afterwards, delivered an inch-perfect corner onto the head of Matthew Upson, who saw his header tipped onto the crossbar by Hennessey.
With 20 minutes remaining, the fit-again Mark Noble stepped from the bench to replace Stanislas, while Mick McCarthy responded with a double-switch of his own as Hunt and George Elokobi made way for Steven Fletcher and David Edwards.
Having re-shuffled his pack, the Wolves boss almost got an instant payback but, thankfully, Ebanks-Blake saw his header crash skywards off the crossbar.
Then, on 78 minutes, all hopes of a Wanderers return diminished, when Ben Haim hurried down the right-wing and cut back to the supporting Sears, who slotted a ten-yarder beyond Hennessey to secure the win that lifts the Hammers out of the bottom three, ahead of Wednesday night’s trip to Alan Pardew’s Newcastle United.
HAMMERS: Green, Ben Haim, Gabbidon, Tomkins, Upson, Sears, Parker, Kovac, Stanislas (Noble 69), Cole, Piquionne. Unused Subs: Boffin, Reid, Barrera, Boa Morte, Hines, Obinna
WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS: Hennessey, Zubar, Elokobi (Fletcher 75), Foley, Stearman, Berra, Jarvis, Ward, Milijas (Bent 86), Hunt (Edwards 75), Ebanks-Blake. Unused Subs: Hahnemann, Jones, Mujangi-Bia, Batth
Referee: Lee Probert