West Ham United recorded a comfortable 3-1 win against West Bromwich Albion at Upton Park to all but allay any lingering fears of being dragged into a Premier League relegation battle.
Andy Carroll gave the hosts the lead with a thunderous header with a little over quarter of an hour gone before Gary O’Neil doubled their advantage with a sumptuous effort on 28 minutes.
The Baggies came back into the contest after the interval but some stout defending ensured that the hosts retained their two goal advantage before Carroll added a third with a smart volley on 80 minutes.
Graham Dorrans reduced the arrears with 88 minutes gone from the penalty spot after the Hammers were forced to play the last five minutes with ten men after substitute George McCartney had to go off injured.
The visitors failed to force any real pressure on Sam Allardyce’s men though and their frustrations boiled over when Youssouf Mulumbu was sent off in bizarre circumstances in the dying minutes for picking up and kicking the ball at O’Neil.
Sitting just six points above the bottom three and with an April fixture list that contains Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United beckoning, the visit of West Brom to Upton Park had taken on increased sense of significance.
Lose and the boardroom celebrations that met the Hammers' acquisition of a new home could soon become muted by the realities of a battle for survival, but manager Allardyce was once again able to call on the midfield assurance of Kevin Nolan, who had recovered from a broken toe but the guile of Joe Cole was missed.
The Baggies, who are on course to eclipse last season's best-ever Premier League finish of tenth, started with a front two of Romelu Lukaku and Shane Long with Peter Odemwingie a substitute.
Roused by a particularly boisterous home faithful, the Hammers immediately set about their visitors from the Black Country with a mix of neat, intricate passing in the middle of midfield and more direct balls from back-to-front dragging Steve Clarke’s 4-4-2 formation out of shape.
Despite their superiority, the hosts were indebted to the reflexes of keeper Jussi Jaaskelainen with 14 minutes gone, as he quickly shifted his weight to get down to a deflected Lukaku free-kick to tip it on to the post to ensure the teams remained at parity.
Within two minutes of that Jaaskelainen stop, Carroll had risen highest at a corner to head a O’Neil centre past Ben Foster to give the Hammers the lead their fine display had merited.
With their front two isolated, West Brom offered a threat with shots from distance as Dorrans twice accepted the invitation of a reticent West Ham defence to sting the palms of the Finnish stopper – but the hosts were in control.
Jarvis fired a gilt-edged effort over the bar from deep inside the box before O’Neil scored a sumptuous second following a quick-fire break led by Ricardo Vaz Te and ably assisted by Mohammed Diame.
Having received a return pass from Vaz Te, the former Portsmouth man curled a whipped effort over a stranded Foster to double his side’s advantage, and, with that advantage, Allardyce’s men played the remaining 15 or so minutes out with a degree of authority with the best opportunity coming in the shape of a Jarvis cross-come-shot with 39 minutes gone.
West Brom began the second period in the ascendancy and, while West Ham’s dogged defensive line limited the visitors space in the final third, it also served to isolate Carroll with the gap between a five-man midfield proving tough to bridge, but an increase in intensity soon saw the hosts wrestle back the initiative.
However, the visitors could have pegged the Hammers back with 68 minutes on the clock but referee Andre Marriner elected not to point to the spot despite James Collins’ over-zealous challenge, in which his hand went into the back of the Baggies midfielder Mulumbu.
Despite that close call, the hosts were dominant in midfield and Carroll passed up a chance to double his personal tally having been found by Nolan in space.
The introduction of Odemwingie – to howls of derision from the travelling support – gave the Baggies renewed vigour but it was soon lost after he attempted two overly-optimistic shots from distance before Carroll added his side’s third.
The on-loan forward watched a lofted Collins’ free-kick over his shoulder before controlling a beautiful volley past Foster with 80 minutes gone to put the game beyond Clarke’s men.
Having lost McCartney to injury, West Ham suffered another blow soon after when Matt Taylor was adjudged to have fouled Lukaku in the box – Dorrans took the responsibility to reduce the arrears but, when Mulumbu lost composure in the dying minutes and was sent off, the chances of a miraculous comeback were dashed.
MAN OF THE MATCH:
Andy Carroll (West Ham): Led the line superbly and topped a fantastic performance with a brace to ensure all three points went to the home side.
West Ham: Jaaskelainen 7, Demel 6, Reid 6, Collins 6, O'Brien 5, Diame 5, Nolan 5, O'Neil 7, Jarvis 6, Vaz Te 5, Carroll 8. Subs: McCartney 4, Collison 5, Taylor 5.
West Brom: Foster 6, Jones 5, McAuley 5, Olsson 4, Ridgewell 5, Dorrans 6, Yacob 6, Mulumbu 4, Brunt 5, Lukaku 6, Long 6. Subs: Odemwingie 6, Fortune 5, Rosenberg 6.
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- Andy Carroll
- West Bromwich Albion
- West Ham United