x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

West Ham's respite is over

Defeat at Sunderland returns Avram Grant's side to the foot of the Premier League.

Sunderland’s Jordan Henderson celebrates his winning goal at the Stadium of Light.
Sunderland’s Jordan Henderson celebrates his winning goal at the Stadium of Light.

SUNDERLAND // This poses a challenge for West Ham United's marketing department. Last Saturday's match against Wigan Athletic was branded as "Save Our Season" day at Upton Park, an attempt at a rallying cry that doubled up as an acceptance of the scale of their plight. What, then, can they call next weekend's game against Manchester City?

Because defeat at Sunderland returned Avram Grant's side to the foot of the Premier League. Before then, 24 hours of respite were granted not by the Hammers' own exploits, but when Wolves' goal difference worsened in defeat at Blackburn Rovers.

West Ham's subsequent setback served to prove that back-to-back wins over Wigan and Manchester United did not equate to salvation. They still require rescuing and it will take more than a well-meaning slogan.

Winning away from home would be a start, but it is 16 months since they could last savour three points anywhere other than Upton Park.

"It's fair to say we need to improve this and I'm sure we will improve this," Grant said.

While this was not as embarrassing as the capitulations at Villa Park, Old Trafford and Liverpool, the scoreline was nevertheless a fair reflection on the game.

The outcome was also an indication of Sunderland's progress. Along with Manchester United, they boast the division's only unbeaten home record and became the third occupants of seventh place within the space of a few hours. "We hope we can stay where we are," Steve Bruce said.

Their season has given him an enviable dilemma, one that the Sunderland manager attempted to resolve by naming his three prolific forwards, Darren Bent, Asamoah Gyan and Danny Welbeck, in the same side for the first time in the league.

With a perverse inevitability, therefore, their winner came from Jordan Henderson, a man without a goal for the best part of a year. Gyan, however, was a major contributor.

Nedum Onuoha bent a pass over the advancing West Ham defence. Although it was perilously close, the Ghanaian sprung the offside trap before laying the ball back into the path of Henderson.

With enviable assurance, the 20-year-old stroked his shot into the far corner of the goal. Resting the England international, whose form had dipped of late, was something Bruce had pondered publicly, but he was glad he didn't.

"He's a wonderful young talent," his manager added. "We all know he's got a goal in him. Hopefully there's a lot more to come."

Whether Bruce's boldness becomes a weekly routine remains to be seen but a second goal for his side, and a fifth in four games for Welbeck, would have followed but for a goal-saving block from James Tomkins after Rob Green spilled a ball under pressure from Kieran Richardson.

"I always thought we were a threat," Bruce said. "For me we've thoroughly deserved the three points."

Grant disagreed, but he conceded his side's finishing was too wayward.

"This is the main disappointment," he said after they mustered a solitary shot on target.

Fortunate not to have Luis Boa Morte dismissed early on, they threatened most in the minutes either side of the interval.

Providing reminders of his unexpectedly dynamic display in Tuesday's Carling Cup triumph against Manchester United, Jonathan Spector embarked upon a driving run before poking a shot wide. Carlton Cole, who also scored twice that night, came similarly close to adding to his tally.

With 10 minutes remaining, Victor Obinna clipped the outside of the post. But a clean sheet for a Sunderland side lacking its first-choice central defenders heartened Bruce while a failure to score was all too typical of West Ham's fortunes on the road. The search for that saviour continues.