Hammers surrender in second-half fiasco

Sunderland 2 West Ham United 2 WHEN you are stuck near the bottom of the table then it always seems that bad luck follows you wherever you go, writes DAVE EVANS. And when you look at the way the ball deflected over Robert Green s head for Sunderland s equ

Sunderland 2 West Ham United 2

WHEN you are stuck near the bottom of the table then it always seems that bad luck follows you wherever you go, writes DAVE EVANS.

And when you look at the way the ball deflected over Robert Green's head for Sunderland's equaliser, you could be forgiven for thinking that misfortune was at the heart of things on Saturday.

Forget it. This second-half capitulation was all West Ham's doing. They carved out a winning position with two goals in the first 36 minutes, and despite allowing Sunderland to pull one back, they were further boosted when the home side were reduced to 10 men.

It was game over. The Hammers were playing well, were in control, and it seemed only a matter of how many they could add in the second half. How wrong we were.

"It's not a matter of tactics as we were in control of the game and we had a spare man, but we couldn't find the spare man," explained West Ham boss Gianfranco Zola afterwards.

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"They were superior to us and that's why we are here crying because we should have had two more points."

Two goals in five minutes had given West Ham a huge advantage and Jack Collison was the architect of both.

First, the young midfielder beat the offside trap and latched on to Valon Behrami's defence-splitting pass. Collison sprinted in from the right hand side and squared for Mexican international Guillermo Franco to tap home his first goal in claret and blue.

On 39 minutes it was 2-0. Collison's pace got him to a loose ball in midfield and after darting forward he slipped a pass into the path of Carlton Cole's run and the striker did the rest, taking the ball from right foot to left before firing past the helpless Craig Gordon for his sixth of the season.

It had not been plain sailing for West Ham in that first half, though they were certainly aided by an excellent performance by England centre half Matthew Upson.

Darren Bent had headed wide with the goal at his mercy as early as the sixth minute, before Paulo Da Silva shot inches wide from 20 yards with Green motionless.

At the other end, Collison had set up Mark Noble for a shot that was comfortably saved, and then Franco found Behrami for a thumping effort that was well palmed away by Gordon, before the two goals soon after gave them ample reward for their efforts.

Fair play to the Black Cats, their heads didn't go down and they grabbed a lifeline on 39 minutes. Radoslav Kovac conceded a free kick on the edge of the box and was booked for his protestations, and Andy Reid calmly curled the ball over the wall and into the top corner of the net.

Once more Green stood motionless, and it was d�j� vu from similar goals he conceded last season at Bolton and Middlesbrough. Green was too far off his line and too far over to one side as if inviting Reid to shoot for the corner. He was always going to try it, and why a player wasn't put on the line has to be a serious line of inquiry.

Sunderland were back in the match, but right on half time they looked to have thrown away their opportunity. Skipper Lorik Cana had been booked on 11 minutes and twice could have added to that tally in the first half after reckless challenges, but when the red card came it was striker Kenwyne Jones who was given it.

He tangled with Herita Ilunga on the halfway line, and then inexplicably pushed the West Ham full back in the chest.

Ilunga went down as if he had been blasted by a firing squad, but it didn't matter, Jones had to go and the ref obliged.

Who knows what happened in the 15-minute half-time interval, all we know is that West Ham did not come out after the break.

Sunderland's 10 men immediately took control. Reid ran the show, Steed Malbranque buzzed around the middle of the park and Bent suddenly began to get behind Upson and threaten the West Ham goal.

It could have been so different if West Ham had made it 3-1 on 47 minutes. Mark Noble's corner picked out Franco at the near post and his glancing header was superbly saved by Gordon.

But it was Sunderland in control. Bent forced Green to tip his shot wide, and from the resulting corner the goalkeeper made an even better save from Michael Turner's header.

Bent went close again, firing high and wide after being put clean through, while Reid's corner was nodded back by Turner to Cana whose header beat Green but hit the top of the crossbar.

Cole could have made sure when he controlled superbly and turned his marker before sprinting into the box, only to fire wide with Franco waiting unmarked.

But on 76 minutes, Sunderland finally got their just reward as Kieron Richardson touched home from point blank range after Bent's cross had ballooned off Upson and over Green's head.

The goal finally seemed to wake up the Hammers. Alessandro Diamanti found Zavon Hines free in the box, only for the youngster to fire wide, while Cole was put through, but denied by Nyron Nosworthy's tackle as he prepared to pull the trigger.

West Ham were certainly not helped by referee Andre Marriner's eccentric performance. Having sent off Jones in the first half and felt the wrath of the home crowd, he did his best to even things up after the break.

He seemed influenced by the constant screams of the hostile, partisan home support and it was inevitable that he would even the sides up before the end.

Cole walked a tightrope after being booked as he constantly argued with the officials, but it was Kovac who was to draw the short straw. The Czech midfielder looked to kick the ball, found Bent in his way and when he had recovered from injury, Marriner dished out his second yellow card with relish.

Back to the proper action and Diamanti had a go himself, firing inches wide from 25 yards, while Noble came closest of all on 89 minutes, when he found room in the box and got his shot past Gordon, only for former Hammer George McCartney to clear off the line.

Sunderland could have added to their tally too, with Bent in particular, very profligate, but this was a game about the wastefulness of West Ham. They had this match in the palm of their hands and threw it away.

"For me it feels like a defeat today because if a team plays like that in the first half, then it should come out with a victory," said Zola.

"The fighting spirit that they had was remarkable, but we have to be a little more cynical when we are faced with situations like that, because in my opinion the game was finished."

It wasn't, and now it is time for West Ham to find that fighting spirit, because if they don't it is going to be a very long, hard winter.

West Ham: Green, Spector, Ilunga, Tomkins, Upson, Behrami (Diamanti 67), Kovac, Collison, Noble, Franco (Hines 72), Cole. Unused subs: Kurucz, Faubert, Jimenez, Gabbidon, Stanislas.

Att: 39,033. Referee: Andre Marriner (3).