Ilan strikes it lucky
By Tom Dowsett
Sunday 11 Apr 2010 12:52:00
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A solitary Ilan goal in the second half proved enough to provide West Ham a crucial victory as they look to avoid relegation from the Premier League.

What helped the Hammers cause even more was fellow strugglers Burnley crushing Hull City at the KC Stadium as Gianfranco Zola's side moved four points clear of the drop zone, and started to drag the likes of Wigan Athletic back into the mix.

The Hammers manager made two changes from the impressive draw at Goodison Park last week, with a fit-again Behrami replacing the suspended influential midfielder Scott Parker and Ilan, fresh from his brilliant equaliser at Everton, in for Mido, who was suffering from a virus.Sunderland started the brighter in a low-key opening quarter of an hour, but it was the midfield drive of Mark Noble and Behrami which particularly impressed the Upton Park faithful.

The vistors had the first opportunity of the game as a low-driven Steed Malbranque corner evaded both Jordan Henderson and Fraizer Campbell, as the danger was avoided with the ball fizzing out for a goal kick.

That seemed to spark West Ham into life, and the impressive Behrami came close forcing Sunderland keeper Craig Gordon into a fine save at full stretch, following a delightful one-two with Ilan. Shortly after, Carlton Cole created excitement as a Gordon clearance hit the England striker's back and looped towards goal, but unfortunately it didn't find the back of the net.

It was becoming a ding-dong battle in a very tense affair, and Sunderland showed no signs of treating the game like a typical end of season affair. Darren Bent, who had already bagged 23 goals this term, forced Robert Green into his first save of the afternoon as the visitors sought the opening goal.

A moment of controversy arrived after 33 minutes as Gordon, enduring a shaky start, handled the ball outside of his area and received just a yellow card when many in East London expected to see red. Minutes later Gordon was the centre of attention again as he rugby tackled Cole in the area. Many Hammers supporters expected to see the referee Mike Jones point to the spot, but were instead aghast as he gave Sunderland a free kick for an apparent foul on the keeper, even though such a decision looked debatable.

Just before the break the home side were again denied, as former Academy graduate Anton Ferdinand produced a superb last ditch tackle to deny Ilan. It had been an even first half, but the Hammers got the sense it wouldn't be long until they opened the scoring.

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 The goal, ultimately the winner, duly arrived on 51 minutes after a long, raking free-kick from Manuel Da Costa was nodded on by Cole, leaving Ilan to poke home from just six yards out. The relief lifted from Upton Park was palpable, but Steve Bruce, the Sunderland manager, would have been left frustrated by his side's inability to defend such a basic set piece.

The Black Cats would not lie down however, and produced a number of attacks as they hunted an equaliser. First, England Under-21 midfielder Lee Cattermole came close, firing just wide of the post and then substitute Kenwyne Jones made an almost instant impact as he played a slide rule pass which sent Bent away, however the in-form striker slipped at the vital moment as it looked like an almost certain equaliser.

Sunderland again came close with just 18 minutes remaining after a moment of indecision from the outstanding pair of Behrami and Noble. From the resulting free-kick, Henderson forced Green into a good save at his near post, as the fans at Upton Park grew nervous.

The nerves appeared to have lifted in the final minute as Franco controlled a fantastic cross and lifted the ball over the onrushing Gordon, however the Mexican international was deemed to have handled in the build-up and the goal was chalked off, even though it took the Hammers players and supporters a while to realise!

West Ham held on for a crucial victory, coupled with Burnley's 4-1 win at Hull, and now go to Liverpool a week on Monday hoping to secure one more win which would surely secure their Premier League status.

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