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Steve Blowers, Recorder Reporter
Tuesday, January 1, 2013
West Ham United 2 Norwich City 1
The Hammers grabbed two first-half goals and survived some late pressure to grab a priceless three points at Upton Park.
It was certainly a Happy New Year for the Hammers at another sold-out Upton Park, where Mark Noble’s early penalty and Joey O’Brien’s 26th-minute strike saw Sam Allardyce’s side get 2013 off to a victorious start.
Having taken just a solitary point from their last four outings, West Ham United desperately needed to get back to winning ways and although Russell Martin set up a nervy finish with an 89th-minute volley, it was still not enough to stop Big Sam’s side from flying above the crest-fallen Canaries into 11th-place in the table.
Kicking off in 13th spot, two places and two points behind the visitors, the Hammers made three changes from the team that had disappointingly dive-bombed to defeat at Reading on Saturday as Guy Demel, Ricardo Vaz Te and Jack Collison came in for the suspended duo of Kevin Nolan and James Collins while substitute Gary O’Neil was joined on the bench by Development Squad teenager, Elliott Lee.
But Allardyce’s re-shuffled side quickly got into their stride and when the Canaries failed to clear Noble’s first-minute corner, Demel returned an up-and-under back into the six-yard box, where raging Ryan Bennett’s tug on Winston Reid saw referee Mark Clattenburg point to the spot, without a moment’s hesitation.
These days a Hammers penalty award is as good as a goal and, sure enough, the ever-dependable, Mr Relia-Noble despatched his third penalty of the campaign inside Mark Bunn’s right-hand post, to take his season’s tally to four.
Norwich had also lost last time out and, after Saturday’s 3-4 defeat against Manchester City, former Hammer Chris Hughton also made a trio of switches as the bamboozled Bennett, Jonny Howson and Harry Kane replaced Javier Garrido, Bradley Johnson and Steve Morison.
And having fallen behind to that early Noble spot-kick, the Canaries almost took advantage of hesitancy between James Tomkins and Reid but the alert Jussi Jaaskelainen saved the duo’s blushes by smothering the ball on the 18-yard line.
In reply, Carlton Cole saw his thumping effort saved by Bunn but on 20 minutes only Jaaskelainen’s left-hand post prevented Robert Snodgrass from levelling with a curling 25-yard free-kick, before Anthony Pilkington then lashed just an inch or so wide from the edge of the area.
But West Ham were soon back on the attack and, after Bunn pulled off a fine double stop to deny the collapsing Collison from six yards, Allardyce’s men doubled their lead on 26 minutes.
Yet again, the ever-threatening Matt Taylor and Matt Jarvis embarked on a raid down the left before an overlapping O’Brien invited Noble to weave his way to the by-line ahead of sending in a low cross towards Cole at the near post.
Although Sebastien Bassong managed to poke the ball off the striker’s toes, his prodded clearance fell into the path of O’Brien, who calmly side-footed home his second goal of the campaign from eight yards.
With that comfortable two-goal cushion, it was now just a case of whether West Ham could treble their advantage before the break, but after Matt Taylor saw his rising 20-yarder scorch Bunn’s fingertips, the red-faced Cole contrived to slide Demel’s cross over the bar from just four yards.
Having had one first-half shout for a handball against Reid waved away, City then saw another cry for a foul on Kane fall on to the deaf ears of referee Clattenburg just after the restart.
Certainly, those yellow shirted Canaries looked far more cohesive in the second period as they won a handful of corners and prodded and probed their way deeper into East End territory.
Even so, when Taylor sent over a deep, left-wing cross midway through the half, Vaz Te looked all set to end the contest but after out-jumping Martin he agonisingly saw his angled header bounce off the far post.
Hughton sent on Simeon Jackson and Elliott Bennett in place of Kane and Wes Hoolahan for the final 20 minutes, while O’Neil replaced goalscorer O’Brien and Modibo Maiga and Jordan Spence then came on for Vaz Te and Jarvis.
With just a minute of normal time remaining, Martin got in front of Tomkins to volley home a right-wing cross and although that set up a trademark, frantic finale, West Ham’s first-half endeavours proved enough to secure a valuable victory.
HAMMERS: Jaaskelainen, Demel, O’Brien (O’Neil 70), Reid, Tomkins, Vaz Te (Maiga 81), Jarvis (Spence 85), Noble, Collison, Taylor, Cole. Unused subs: Spiegel. Diarra, Lletget, Lee.
CANARIES: Bunn, Bennett R. Martin, Bassong, Turner, Snodgrass, Pilkington, Howson (Fox 83), Tettey, Hoolahan (Bennett E), Kane (Jackson 70). Unused subs: Rudd, Barnett, Tierney, Smith.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear)