LONDON // Everton finally ended their wretched run of form after condemning West Ham to defeat at Upton Park. Louis Saha's first-half strike and Dan Gosling's close-range finish gave Everton all three points against a Hammers side who find themselves entrenched in the relegation zone once again. Despite managing to give themselves a lifeline thanks to Tony Hibbert's own goal, the hosts were unable to muster an equaliser.
Without a win in seven games, Everton look unlikely to emulate their fifth place finish of last season. The departure of Joleon Lescott to Manchester City and injuries to the key duo of Mikel Arteta and Phil Jagielka has left manager David Moyes struggling to field a side capable of challenging the heavyweights. Yet with the club having still to agree a deal on a new stadium and chairman Bill Kenwright unable to give Moyes the finance he needs to challenge the big spenders of the Premier League, Everton continue to punch above their weight.
For West Ham, this was an opportunity to move further clear of the relegation zone and build on their dramatic victory over Aston Villa on Wednesday. Having waited 81 days for a league win, the home side looked thirsty for more and their frantic start had Everton wobbling early on. With Carlton Cole missing through injury, manager Gianfranco Zola gave youth its chance to shine once again with Zavon Hines entrusted with piercing the Everton backline.
At 20, the Jamaica-born striker remains a raw talent, but his speed and guile gave the experienced defensive duo of Sylvain Distin and Joseph Yobo a torrid time in fren-etic opening 20 minutes. That he failed to make the most of the chances afforded to him was to prove costly as Louis Saha produced a moment of magic to give the visitors a shock lead. Having been almost anonymous as an attacking force, the visitors swept forward and when the ball broke to Saha on the edge of the penalty area, the Frenchman drilled an exquisite left-footed effort into the bottom corner.
But Saha, who has only recently returned from a calf problem, soon limped out of the action after suffering a recurrence of the problem early in the second half. West Ham made substitutions of their own with the dynamic Italian striker, Alessandro Diamanti introduced in place of the ineffective Luis Jimenez, while Junior Stanislas replaced Jack Collison; It was Stanislas who came closest to levelling for the home side as his rasping 25-yard drive flew just inches wide of Howard's right-hand post.
And having come so close to restoring parity, Zola's side were hit with a sucker punch as Gosling fired home from close-range at the second attempt after taking Tim Cahill's pass in his stride. But just seconds later the Londoners were back in the game as Stanislas ran clean through to lift the ball over Howard, with Hibbert's efforts in clearing the ball only resulting in a rather embarrassing own goal.
With the wind in their sails, the home side continued to pile on the pressure and they should have levelled with 15 minutes to go. Scott Parker played a sumptuous pass through the heart of the Everton backline, but Hines somehow managed to slide his effort the wide with Howard stranded. The Everton keeper was called into action just minutes later to prevent Diamanti's free-kick from nestling inside a post as the home side turned the screw.
And, despite Zola's men throwing everyone forward in the final stages, Everton held on. firstname.lastname@example.org