x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Behrami gives Zola a maiden victory

Valon Behrami handed Gianfranco Zola a first Barclays Premier League victory in eight attempts.

Valon Behrami clenches his fist after scoring against Sunderland.
Valon Behrami clenches his fist after scoring against Sunderland.

Valon Behrami handed Gianfranco Zola a first Barclays Premier League victory in eight attempts as Sunderland suffered a third successive home defeat. The Switzerland international fired his side ahead on 20 minutes and could have made what followed far more comfortable had he not hit the crossbar from just six yards out on the stroke of half-time. But in the end, his contribution proved enough to win a game which the home side dominated for long periods, but failed to make the most of the chances they created. The Black Cats manager Roy Keane has admitted in the past that the relative lack of goals his side scores often makes life difficult for them, and that shortcoming was painfully evident once again. Djibril Cisse in particular had a series of chances, but the Wearsiders did not work the goalkeeper Robert Green anywhere near often enough and ultimately paid the price. The Hammers had to defend for long periods, but in Matthew Upson and James Collins, had willing workhorses, while the former Newcastle striker Craig Bellamy was at his irritating best. Keane has seen and done most things in football, and little surprises him any longer. However, he headed for the dressing room at half-time having seen his side create more than enough chances to win the game, but lucky still to be in it. With the recalled midfielder Andy Reid tormenting the Hammers down the left to provide a series of inviting cross for Cisse, it seemed only a matter of time before the home side took the lead. Cisse sent one header just over and another narrowly wide, and then drilled a right-foot shot into the side-netting. Reid landed a curling shot on top of Green's crossbar and Danny Collins forced a good save from the keeper four minutes before the break, and there was fury inside the Stadium of Light went Cisse went down on the edge of the box under James Collins' challenge and referee Mike Dean waved away his penalty appeals. But in the meantime, Zola's men had taken the lead against the run of play. Reid was penalised for a foul on Lucas Neill wide on the right, and although Nyron Nosworthy cleared Julien Faubert's free-kick, Behrami picked up the rebound and drilled a low shot past Marton Fulop with the help of a deflection off Kenwyne Jones. Chances were few for the Londoners, but they should really have been 2-0 up after the former Hammer Anton Ferdinand was left red-faced. The defender attempted to control a high ball on halfway when he should really have headed it and succeeded only in giving it to Bellamy. The Welsh international striker sprinted into the box and although he was forced wide as he attempted to round Fulop, he managed to square for Behrami on the edge of the six-yard box, only for the midfielder to fire against the bar. Keane's side returned determined to make the most of their escape, and they were appealing for a penalty again within two minutes when Cisse smashed the ball against Upson's arm from point-blank range but the referee turned them down again. The Frenchman was finding space with ease and headed wide once again from Phil Bardsley's 49th-minute cross, and Green was relieved not to be punished for losing out in an aerial battle with Jones five minutes later. Having spent 10 minutes pinned back inside their own half, the Hammers eventually fought their way into enemy territory and went close to a second goal with 56 minutes gone when Lee Bowyer headed just over. The former Magpie was in on goal again on the hour when he ran on to Behrami's pass, but Fulop smothered his cross with the blue shirts gathering. Cisse was unable to capitalise on James Collins' misjudgement when he allowed Reid's 65th-minute cross to reach the Frenchman, who totally miscued his header. Keane's withdrew Steed Malbranque and Reid and sent on Daryl Murphy and Carlos Edwards, the latter having been recalled from his loan spell at Wolves. Dean Whitehead forced a smart save from Green with a glancing 84th-minute header, but Sunderland's fightback simply dwindled away to nothing. *PA Sport