Many West Ham followers had feared ? or perhaps secretly hoped ? that they were coming to Upton Park to witness Wigan administer the last rites to Avram Grant's regime. Instead they saw their team win for the first time in nine matches. Was this a renaissance or a stay of execution?
There was enough evidence to support either theory. Perhaps the only certainty that can be taken from this game is that Wigan, too, have cause to worry.
West Ham's board had increased the pressure on Grant by billing this as a "save our season game" and the manager sought to rise to the challenge by making five changes to the team that had lost miserably at Anfield last Saturday. But despite the changes, and high stakes, this was initially a game of distressingly low quality. For the first half-hour it was as if the sides were competing to see which deserved to be relegated more, as passes routinely went awry and the pace was pedestrian.
Wigan's Tom Cleverly mustered the first shot in the 11th minute, but Rob Green blocked his 20-yard drive with little ado. Scott Parker and Valon Behrami had returned to West Ham's midfield following injury ? and, intriguingly, Carlton Cole was demoted to the bench after castigating the manager's tactics at Anfield ? but they were struggling to exert any influence. Then suddenly, after 34 minutes of torpor, the game was transformed. Lars Jacobsen lobbed a long ball towards the Wigan penalty spot, where Frédéric Piquionne nodded down and Behrami darted between two dithering Wigan defenders to stab into the net.
West Ham have had difficulty holding on to leads this season but they seemed determined to extend this one as quickly as possible. Junior Stanislas forced a save from Ali al-Habsi moments after the goal and from the resultant corner the keeper produced an even better block, palming Piquionne's header away from point-blank range.
Wigan, the Premier League's lowest scorers, needed an equaliser and without their suspended striker Hugo Rodallega they never looked like getting one. West Ham, by contrast, were a-buzz and the surest sign of their improved fortunes came in the 56th minute when Victor Obinna doubled their lead. Before this match the Nigerian had hit more shots without scoring than any other player in the league but here he produced a fine low drive into the corner from 16 yards.
Another auspicious sign followed in the 62nd minute when Green, so often a fall guy, repelled a penalty from the Wigan substitute Mauro Boselli after Danny Gabbidon had tripped Cleverley. The result was sealed in the 75th minute when Wigan surrendered possession in midfield and the ever-dynamic Parker bounded forward and swapped passes with Obinna before netting from close range.
West Ham had scored three goals in the league for the first time this season but a clean sheet proved beyond them as Cleverley curled a shot into the top corner from the edge of the box late on after neat work by Charles N'Zogbia. It was not enough to darken Grant's mood. "We played very well, as we had done in all the games before Liverpool, it's just that this time we were efficient ? we took our chances," he said.
Roberto Martínez regretted the lack of efficiency from his team. "We only have ourselves to blame," he said. "We gave away three very cheap goals."
THE FANS' PLAYER RATINGS AND VERDICT ROGER HART, Observer reader We were probably the better of two poor teams, and at least we got some goals for a change. The turning point was their penalty miss when we were 2-0 up ? Green saved it with his legs. There were no complaints about the penalty, though. I thought the referee, Mark Halsey, was superb. Despite the importance of this game there were no bookings or sendings-off. He kept up with play brilliantly and let the game flow as much as possible. Scott Parker was brilliant for us as usual. As for being a 'save the season' game ? every game is key when you are down at the bottom end of the table.
The fan's player ratings Green 8; Jacobsen 7 (Reid 50 6), Upson 7, Tomkins 6, Gabbidon 7; Stanislas 6, Parker 9 (Kovac 83 6), Behrami 8, Barrera 6; Obinna 7, Piquionne 7 (Cole 77 5)
DAVE WHALLEY, Observer reader This game was hyped up, but we played at a really slow place. If we had played with any sort of pace we could have beaten a very, very poor West Ham side. And it could have been a completely different game if Boselli had scored the penalty when we were two down. It was poorly taken. It's baffling to me why that kick was taken by a player who has scored only once this season and struggles to get into the team. It's one of many baffling things about Martínez's management. If we are going to stay up we have to win our homes games. They are going to be absolutely crucial to us .
The fan's player ratings Al-Habsi 7; Stam 6, Gohouri 6, S Caldwell 5, Figueroa 5; Thomas 5 (Watson 68 6), Diamé 6; N'Zogbia 7; Cleverley 8, Gomez 5 (Moses 61 7); Di Santo 5 (Boselli 61 5)
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