West Ham cling on to sink Big Sam’s Sunderland
PUBLISHED: 15:02 27 February 2016 | UPDATED: 15:02 27 February 2016
PA/Press Association Images
Hammers winger Michail Antonio struck the only goal as Sam Allardyce’s first return to Upton Park proved a fruitless one
West Ham United 1 Sunderland 0
It proved to be an unhappy return to the Boleyn Ground for Sam Allardyce, whose sorry Sunderland side were left trapped in the bottom three, while his old club consolidated their claims for a top-six finish.
This lunchtime encounter was all about grit and graft rather than thrills and spills and it was left to Michail Antonio to sink Big Sam with his fifth goal for West Ham United, on the half-hour mark.
While the Hammers FA Cup dream lives on thanks to last Sunday’s fabulous 5-1 victory at Blackburn Rovers, it had been back to the business end of the Premier League for the seventh-placed Hammers, who made a trio of changes following that wonderful win at Ewood Park.
Cup-tied Sam Byram returned alongside Adrian and Manuel Lanzini as Darren Randolph, Pedro Obiang and Victor Moses each stepped down to the bench.
In a disjointed start to this freezing February fixture, the Hammers had the best of the early chances to break the deadlock, when Lanzini teased and tormented the Sunderland defence before squaring to Mark Noble, whose rising 20-yarder was finger-tipped on to the crossbar by Vito Mannone, who just recovered in time to foil Emmanuel Emenike’s follow-up header.
Having fallen at the first hurdle in the FA Cup, 19th-placed Sunderland arrived in the East End well rested and confident from their draw at Liverpool, which had been followed up by a victory over Manchester United, last time out.
Those back-to-back results had brought the Black Cats to within a single point of safety and roared on by the travelling fans - who had each been given a free green away shirt by their club for their dedication in venturing to the capital - Allardyce’s unchanged side had started confidently.
Indeed, the visitors forced a trio of early corners and, after almost embarrassing the juggling Adrian, Wahbi Khazri then curled a 20-yard free-kick onto the top of the Spaniard’s cross bar midway through the opening period.
But on the half-hour, it was West Ham who took the lead, when Byram sent an overhit ball forward, which saw Antonio make Patrick van Aanholt pay for his sloppiness out on the left-wing. After robbing the Sunderland defender, the flying Hammer carved his way into the area, where he rode Jan Kirchhoff’s fruitless slide, before passing a low, angled 15-yarder across both John O’Shea and Mannone, into the far corner.
It was a pure and precise finish from the West Ham wide boy and, in response, ex-Hammer, Jermain Defoe tried to add to his 13-goal tally for the season with a speculative shot straight from the kick-off, but his wayward effort from halfway drifted wide.
At the other end, Antonio went much closer with a low 20-yard shot that Mannone bundled around the base of his left-hand post to leave the Black Cats trailing by only a single goal at the break.
Just after the restart, the breaking Defoe fired wide of both the helplessly exposed Adrian and the right-hand post and, seconds later, the red-faced former Hammer again scuffed behind, but this time his blushes were spared by an offside flag.
Yann M’Vila then curled wide from 20 yards before fit-again Andy Carroll stepped from the bench, on the hour, to replace Emenike, before Moses came on for Lanzini and Jack Rodwell was switched with Lee Cattermole.
Midway through the half, the strangely subdued Dimitri Payet fired over, before Moses cut into the area and let fly with a low shot that Mannone smothered.
At the other end, Byram picked up an expensive booking and a two-match ban for tripping the escaping Defoe and, after Rodwell’s pinpoint-effort was blocked by the outstretched legs of Adrian, Carroll was equally guilty of missing a gilt-edged chance, when he somehow volleyed on to the bar from just six yards.
With the clock ticking down, Sunderland continued to press and, once again, Rodwell fluffed his lines, as he hooked wide to leave the Hammers fans in the sold-out crowd of 34,946 looking anxiously at their watches but, in the end, Antonio’s strike proved enough to see Slaven Bilić’s collect all three points.
HAMMERS: Adrian, Byram, Cresswell, Collins, Ogbonna, Kouyaté, Noble (Obiang 82), Lanzini (Moses 65), Antonio, Payet, Emenike (Carroll 60). Unused subs: Randolph, Song, Henry, Oxford.
BLACK CATS: Mannone, Yedlin, Van Aanholt, Kone, O’Shea, N’Doye, Khazri, Cattermole (Rodwell 65), M’Vila, Kirchhoff, Defoe. Unused subs: Pickford, Jones, Larsson, Borini, Kaboul, Toivonen.
Bookings: Byram (71)
Referee: Mike Dean (Merseyside)