Woeful West Ham well beaten by relegation-haunted Cardiff City
PUBLISHED: 17:09 09 March 2019 | UPDATED: 17:09 09 March 2019
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Neil Warnock's side simply wanted it more than lifeless Hammers
Cardiff City 2 West Ham United 0
West Ham endured a wretched afternoon in Wales, where relegation-threatened Cardiff turned the form-book on its head to keep their survival hopes alive.
Junior Hoilett got the battling Bluebirds off to a flyer, when he gave them a fourth-minute lead with his third strike of the season and then on-loan Victor Camarasa bagged City’s second goal five minutes after the break to condemn the helpless Hammers to a disappointing defeat, while the Welshmen’s victory still leaves them just two points adrift of Burnley and Southampton with eight games left to play.
And although Declan Rice struck a post late-on and substitute Marko Arnautović forced a sensational stop from Neil Etheridge, the Hammers were barely in this contest against a typically determined, dogged and destructive Neil Warnock side, who left the field with the Bee Gees hit ‘Staying Alive’ ringing in their ears.
Victory over Newcastle United last Saturday had elevated the Hammers into ninth place and, following that second win on three games, Manuel Pellegrini predictably named an unchanged side for this trip to the Welsh capital.
But within just four minutes former Swansea City stopper Lukasz Fabianski found himself picking the ball out of the net upon his return to Wales, when Camarasa found the overlapping Joshua Murphy whose low, right-wing cross into the near post was fired high under the angle by the unmarked Hoilett.
Having kicked off in 18th spot, Cardiff had made it a hat-trick of defeats with last week’s loss at Wolverhampton Wanderers and, following that Molineux mauling, Warnock made a quartet of changes as Hoilett, Murphy, Bruno Manga and Harry Arter came in for the injured Sol Bamba (knee) plus substitutes Joe Ralls, Kenneth Zohore and Bobby Reid.
Certainly, that shuffling of the pack got the reaction that the Bluebirds boss was looking for and, with Aron Gunnarsson having already forced an early stop out of Fabianski, the Hammers were then thankful to Issa Diop, whose last-ditch tackle prevented Oumar Niasse from doubling the home advantage with less than 10 minutes on the clock.
An unpunished Arter also took out Felipe Anderson as the Brazilian quickly discovered that this was to be no sunshine samba across the Severn Bridge and, with the out-rushing Fabianski caught stranded, Niasse then curled over an unguarded net from 25 yards.
West Ham’s sole response during that opening quarter-hour was a hopeful, angled, lob from Ryan Fredericks which sailed harmlessly over the top and, in a remarkable passage of play, Hoilett, Robert Snodgrass and Sean Morrison lay prone on the turf in each third of the field as lenient referee Graham Scott curiously allowed play to continue uninterrupted.
But as the half-hour mark approached, the official did finally produce the first yellow card of the afternoon, when Arter launched himself at Snodgrass and then Anderson cleverly curled a wonderful pass across the face of skipper Mark Noble, who was not too far away from marking his 400th league outing – excluding Play-Off appearances – with an equaliser.
In reply, Niasse almost pounced on some casual Hammers defending to stab wide from three yards, before Anderson again tried to whip the ball into Javier Hernández but the Welsh winds ensured that Etheridge got there first, once more.
Frustrated, the unsteady Mexican then found himself ghosting into the area, where his eagerness to tumble under pressure from Manga earned him a deserved booking for a deceitful dive to the deck.
With a disappointing Hammers half coming to a close, an ambitious Noble also tried his luck from 40 yards but Etheridge was untroubled by the wayward effort and, with the sliding Snodgrass also firing over late-on, Cardiff duly departed at the break with their early lead intact.
Arnautović replaced Anderson for the restart but just as the Bluebirds had soared into an early first-half lead, they quickly took off at the beginning of the second period, too.
On 51 minutes, Hoilett got the better of Fredericks in the left corner before crossing towards the penalty spot, where Murphy headed goalwards for Camarasa to slide home his fourth goal of the campaign at the base of Fabianski’s right-hand upright as the Polish ‘keeper desperately tried to gather on the line.
Shortly afterwards, Niasse burst between Diop and Angelo Ogbonna but having done the hard bit he then somehow scuffed wide and, having seen enough, Pellegrini summoned Michail Antonio and Samir Nasri from the bench in quick succession to replace Manuel Lanzini and Noble.
The new boys were still finding their feet, when Cardiff should have put the game beyond reach but Fabianski made a brilliant double-stop to deny both Niasse and Camarasa at point-blank range.
Both Joe Bennett and Camarasa then hobbled away as Leandro Bacuna and Ralls entered the fray and, with 20 minutes remaining Declan Rice – hopeful of a midweek call-up to the England squad – let fly with a low 25-yarder that agonisingly thudded back off the base of Etheridge’s right-hand post.
Arnautović’s angled screamer also demanded a defiant stop from the Cardiff ‘keeper – who then made a late stop from Antonio - but in reality those late efforts would have just papered over the cracks on a bad day at the office for the below-par Hammers, who looked far from a top-half side against a courageous Cardiff team battling for their Premier League lives.
BLUEBIRDS: Etheridge, Peltier, Bennett (Bacuna 61), Manga, Morrison, Arter (Paterson 84), Gunnarsson, Camarasa (Ralls 69), Murphy, Niasse, Hoilett. Unused subs: Smithies, Zohore, Reid, Harris.
HAMMERS: Fabianski, Fredericks, Cresswell, Diop, Ogbonna, Noble (Nasri 58), Rice, Snodgrass, Anderson (Arnautović h/t), Lanzini (Antonio 57), Hernández. Unused subs: Adrián, Balbuena, Obiang, Masuaku.
Booked: Arter (29), Hernández (36), Morrison (85).
Referee: Graham Scott.