West Ham relegated following Wigan defeat

Wigan Athletic 3 West Ham United 2

AFTER HOVERING over the relegation trap-door for so long this season, West Ham United were finally condemned to the dreaded drop as Wigan Athletic came back from the dead with three second-half strikes, writes STEVE BLOWERS.

Although the Hammers came into this game 100/1 on to go down, by the interval Demba Ba’s double had given them hope that maybe, just maybe, they could overcome those massive odds.

But Charles N’Zogbia and substitute Conor Sammon pulled the Latics level after the break, before the Frenchman sent Avram Grant’s side tumbling into the Championship with a second goal of the afternoon, in stoppage time.

Last November’s home clash between these two struggling sides had been branded the ‘Save our Season’ game by the Hammers board but this return encounter at the DW Stadium came with an even more desperate ‘SOS’ call from the Boleyn bridge.

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Rock-bottom and six points adrift of safety, West Ham knew that only victory could help to save them.

And even then Grant’s side needed Birmingham City to falter in their remaining two matches against Fulham and Tottenham Hotspur, while overcoming a five-goal deficit, too.

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Taking his seat in the last chance saloon, the Israeli had gone for a desperate last throw of the dice, making five sweeping - and somewhat surprising - switches from the side that had drawn so dismally with Blackburn Rovers, last Saturday.

Full debutant Jordan Spence, Jack Collison ,James Tomkins, Zavon Hines and Frederic Piquionne each came in for Lars Jacobsen, Luis Boa Morte plus substitutes Manuel Da Costa, Freddie Sears and Carlton Cole.

At least the talismanic Scott Parker was back on the bench, while the 30-odd coachloads of rainswept Hammers fans, who had travelled to the north-west with neither hope nor expectation, certainly proved that they were in the mood to muster one defiant last rallying cry.

And buoyed by the early news that Fulham had taken the lead at St Andrew’s, on 11 minutes, things got even better for those travelling East Enders.

Thomas Hitzlsperger forced a goalmouth scramble with his first corner of the match and, when Collison’s shot finally ricocheted back out to the German international on the left-flank, he delivered another inch-perfect cross to the edge of the six-yard box, where the unmarked Ba sent a looping header beyond the stranded Ali Al Habsi.

Kicking off in an equally desperate 19th-place, Wigan had made just one change from the side that had drawn at Aston Villa last weekend, as Mohamed Diame replaced the benched Victor Moses.

And although both Tom Cleverley and Diame had wasted no time launching awkward efforts across the greasy, green grass, Ba’s sixth goal of the season certainly hammered a massive dent in the confidence of the Latics and their frantic fans.

In reply, N’Zogbia went close and Antolin Alcaraz sent a 30-yarder steaming through the Lancastrian drizzle into Robert Green’s gloves before Ba put the dampeners on any hope of a swift Wigan reply, with his seventh goal of the season.

Once again, more precision German engineering saw Hitzlsperger float a 26th-minute free-kick to the far post, where Tomkins headed back across goal, leaving the Senegal striker to get in front of skipper Gary Caldwell and nod the ball over the line.

West Ham could have wrapped it all up on the half-hour mark, however Ben Watson managed to hook Piquionne’s angled shot off the line.

But as the half drew to a close, the Hammers had Green to thank for their two-goal interval lead as Hugo Rodallega saw his overhead kick parried by the England ‘keeper, who also denied the Latics’ top-scorer from point-blank range, after having earlier thwarted Diame with his outstretched legs.

Roberto Martinez responded by making a telling double-switch for the restart as Conor Sammon and Moses replaced James McCarthy and Cleverley but it was another double that was to have a more immediate impact, when news of Brede Hangeland’s match-winning second goal for Fulham filtered through to the vociferous visiting fans.

Packed behind Green’s goal, they were soon joyously fielding Watson’s curling effort that just cleared the crossbar, too, but on 56 minutes their mood would change, when a Tomkins’ nudge sent N’Zogbia aqua-planing across the edge of the penalty area.

After drying himself down, the Frenchman coolly curled the consequent 20-yard free-kick over the Hammers wall and under the right-hand angle of the groping Green, to give Wigan a glimmer of hope with his ninth goal of the season.

Jonathon Spector then limped away to be replaced by Parker but after Ba saw Al Habsi deny him his hat-trick, it was to be one of those Wigan substitutes, who would break Hammers hearts.

On 68 minutes, Watson threaded the ball through to the escaping Sammon, who kept his nerve to curl a low, ten-yard equaliser between the retreating Danny Gabbidon and Tomkins and beyond the outstretched left palm of Green.

All-square the Hammers were now starkly staring relegation in the face and with Cole and Robbie Keane joining the action, they simply had to score but twice Hines found himself denied from close range by the retreating Rodallega and then Caldwell.

By now, though, the clock on the Hammers Premier League lives was quickly ticking down and on a day of high drama, there was still time for a light aeroplane to surreally circle overhead trailing a banner – ‘Avram Grant – Millwall Legend’.

Still this roller-coaster afternoon was not over and after Watson hit the post, N’Zogbia sealed the Hammers’ fate in stoppage time, when he cut in from the right touchline and unleashed a low angled shot that flew through the clutches of Green to send West Ham plummeting out of the top-flight and give Wigan the chance to still secure safety at Stoke City, next Sunday.

WIGAN ATHLETIC: Al Habsi, Boyce, Figueroa, Caldwell G, Alcaraz, Diame, McCarthy (Sammon h/t), Watson, Cleverley (Moses h/t), N’Zogbia, Rodallega (McArthur 90+4) Unused: Kirkland, Gohouri, Di Santo, Gomez,

HAMMERS: Green, Spence, Bridge, Tomkins, Gabbidon, Hines, Collison (Keane 83), Spector (Parker 61), Hitzlsperger, Ba, Piquionne (Cole 75). Unused: Boffin, Upson, Sears, Da Costa, Keane.

Referee: M. Dean (Merseyside).

Attendance: 22,043.

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