Thursday 26 April 2018

Parker's touch of magic hauls Hammers clear of drop zone

Graham Chase



WEST HAM'S PA announcer may have jumped the gun, incorrectly celebrating their Premier League survival after Scott Parker's spectacular winning goal, but it would take a disastrous turn of events to see them relegated now.

Victory over Roberto Martinez's Wigan, combined with Hull's defeat by Sunderland, means that West Ham can only be relegated if they lose their final two games and either Hull win theirs and make up a goal differential of 23, or Burnley win their final three games, starting with Liverpool today.

The permutations, which also saw Wigan in danger of being overtaken by Burnley, meant that neither manager was able to bask in the satisfaction of seeing their side ensure survival. But at least Zola could celebrate the victory that takes his side to within touching distance of safety, while Martinez was content that his team turned in another bright display. Indeed their sharp, neat passing and swift, purposeful attacking served only to illustrate how Upton Park's class of 2010 is so very far behind.

For most of the game it was Wigan playing the football and looking like a real team, despite 23 different nationalities in his squad. West Ham by contrast, looked leaden and shapeless for much of the game, hardly surprising after the start they made, when Jonathan Spector headed a Ben Watson corner into his own net in the fourth minute.

But the game turned on two incidents around the half-hour mark, when James McCarthy's thunderbolt was tipped on to the bar by West Ham goalkeeper Rob Green, and the Hammers promptly turned defence into attack to equalise. The ball was swept upfield, Carlton Cole twisted and turned into the penalty area, and drove in a low cross that Ilan turned into Wigan's goal from close range.

Radoslav Kovac put West Ham ahead in first-half stoppage time, Hugo Rodallega equalised for Wigan early in the second half, but Parker, returning from suspension, struck the decisive goal with a beautiful long-range strike from in the 76th minute to seal three points for the Hammers.

"It was a great finish, and a great result," said Zola. "Scott Parker is an important player and makes a difference when he is on the pitch." He acknowledged that it could have been different but for Green's save in the 30th minute. "That was the key moment, when the game changed. Going 2-0 down would have been a difficult situation."

In the ninth minute, Cole had a great chance to equalise when a blocked clearance from Wigan's defence gave him a clear run on goal. Cole took the ball round Chris Kirkland but his shot on goal lacked pace and allowed Gary Caldwell to clear.

Cole caught Kirkland in the face as he went past, leaving the keeper needing extensive treatment for a cut face, and it was in the four minute of stoppage time that West Ham went ahead. Mark Noble fired in a fierce free-kick from 25 yards, and although Kirkland did well to save, he pushed the ball across goal for Kovac to head in from close range.

Wigan equalised seven minutes into the second half from another Watson corner, which was flicked on by Mario Melchiot for Hugo Rodallega to bundle the ball home. West Ham appealed for handball, but replays showed the ball struck his body.

But there was no doubting the veracity -- or ferocity -- of Parker's goal in the 76th minute. Manual da Costa pumped the ball forward, Guillermo Franco headed it down to Parker, who advanced on goal before hitting a screamer from 25 yards that swerved away from Kirkland.

"It was frustrating not to get anything from the game because our performance deserved more," said Martinez.

"If you look at the stats we were the better side, but take nothing away from Scot Parker -- that strike was a real touch of magic."

Sunday Independent

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