West Ham 1 Sunderland 0
Author: Matthew Kirk. Published: 27 February 2016 at 7:06pm
Sam Allardyce made his return to Upton Park today as West Ham defeated relegation-threatened Sunderland 1-0 in a sometimes sloppy, sometimes spirited match. Supporters came to the ground for the early afternoon kick-off with a chill in the air and swirling winds but great optimism coming off the year’s most impressive win last week at Blackburn, and with Manuel Lanzini appearing in the starting XI for the first time since his return from injury. Sunderland came to London with a recent victory over Manchester United giving Allardyce’s side inspiration, and only needing a single point to pull out of the bottom three.
The early moments of the match weren’t any example of beautiful football. Between the wind and the pitch conditions, neither team showed impressive form. At the 19 minute mark West Ham’s captain, Mark Noble was able to unleash at 25 yard strike that Vito Mannone masterfully tipped to the underside of the cross bar. Emmanuel Emenike’s rebound missed the goal completely.
The usual heady Adrian almost invited disaster moments later when his lack of urgency with the ball at his feet almost allowed Wahbi Khazri to take the lead. Moments later Kharzi hit the crossbar on another attempt during a free kick. But the fortunes for the home side changed as Michail Antonio stepped past Van Aanholt and unloaded a distance shot that found the inside wall of the net. With 30 minutes played West Ham was in business 1-0 and hoped to find a bit more breathing room.
After the break the Black Cats returned with a better bit of urgency. Former Hammer, Jermain Defoe almost brought his visiting side even early in the second half when he took a pass from Lee Cattermole that James Collins was unable to intercept with his header. DeFoe’s shot went wide.
Probably in the second half Sunderland were the better side. However their shots just didn’t find the goal. Jack Rodwell was substituted in and had multiple attempts to give his side the 1-1 draw, but either Adrian’s saves or errant wide shots kept West Ham with the clean sheet.
Adrian also had a well-played save with ten minutes remaining in regulation, when he gathered Dame N’Doye’s low shot. From an attacking standpoint, West Ham didn’t really look that sharp in the final moments of play. Passes were intercepted and many incursions into the Sunderland final third were sent clear before any real threat could develop. Securing three points on this day was probably a greater feat than any match report would show; not because of Sunderland’s great play, but because West Ham didn’t seem very crisp.
In addition to Lanzini’s return, Andy Carroll was subbed in late in the match. He played well, returning from injury, and had a pretty close volley across the crossbar that might have given his team a larger margin. Probably the worst news for West Ham was that Sam Byram did receive a yellow card and now faces a two game suspension due to his frequent bookings this season.
Now West Ham finds themselves hosting Spurs in a mid-week match at Upton Park. Tottenham handed the Hammers their most embarrassing defeat this season, and seem to be playing in the best form in the league. This next match says a lot about whether Slaven Bilic’s side is deserving of European football. The March 2nd evening fixture could be the most important match of the season. Who is recovered from injury, and how Bilic manages his back four with Byram sitting in the stands will be very important questions. The 2015-16 season has been a great pleasure as West Ham supporters say farewell to Upton Park. Defeating a very dangerous Spurs side at home would certainly be almost a capstone on a great year. After back-to-back matches with bottom-three clubs, it is certainly more fun to be in the “top five” discussion than the relegation discussion.