Filed: Sunday, 24th May 2009
By: Staff Writer
Junior Stanislas' second half winner was enough to put paid to Middlesbrough's slim chances of avoiding relegation.
Stanislas struck 12 minutes into the second half to hammer the final nail in 'Boro's coffin, even though other results meant that anything less than a six goal win at the Boleyn today would have been good enough for the Teesiders.
For a side that knew anything less than a win would result in relegation Gareth Southgate's team were surprisingly lacklustre, and had to wait until the second half before registering an effort on target.
Gianfranco Zola's Hammers, in all fairness, weren't a great deal better - but managed to score twice in a game for only the second time this year with a goal either side of the break.
Man of the match Junior Stanislas gave a warning of what was to follow when his 20th minute effort cracked against the post having looped over 'keeper Brad Jones following a deflection.
'Boro failed to heed that particular warning and found themselves a goal behind 13 minutes later when Carlton Cole, making his first start since enduring a lengthy lay-off prodded home a Herita Ilunga cross following some good work on the perimeter of the 'Boro penalty box by the rejuvenated Luis Boa Morte.
The 31-year-old Portuguese winger, recently recalled to the national squad impressed yet again just four months after a move to Premier League strugglers Hull City broke down over personal terms. His influence has been notable in recent weeks, and his good form was recognised by the home faithful who rewarded his every notable contribution with generous applause.
Despite going into the break behind, 'Boro would have been heartened by scores elsewhere with their relegation rivals all behind. That improvement in mood manifested itself with a goal just four minutes after the restart. The excellent Tuncay picked up the ball on the edge of the Hammers box and refrained from shooting in favour of a lay-off to the approaching O'Neill; it proved to be a sage decision as the London-born midfielder fired across Rob Green into the far corner to make it 1-1.
That goal, combined with Man City's lead against Wigan briefly put the Hammers down to tenth place but Zola's side were to restore their lead and regain their final league position of ninth on 57 minutes through the lively Stanislas.
Another good move on the left, typical of the kind of football United fans have been fortunate enough to enjoy under Zola and Clarke this season ended up with the youngster firing home into the bottom left hand corner from the edge of the box.
With Tottenham two behind at Liverpool it would have taken another four goals for West Ham to leapfrog their local rivals, so the emphasis switched from an attacking policy to protecting the lead.
Fortunately Middlesbrough - who on another day may well have been reduced to ten men following a shocking two-footed lunge by O'Neill on substitute Diego Tristan in the closing stages - failed to threaten Rob Green's goal seriously thereafter and United breezed to a last day win.
All in all it was a decent end to a good season which promised more for a while, but also hinted at a much darker future for a brief time before Christmas.
Quite where West Ham go from here is something of a mystery due to the outstanding questions regarding the club's potential new owners - and hopefully that will be resolved soon - but Zola and Clarke have between them managed to get the best out of a squad that whilst possessing some quality players remains in severe need of strengthening over the summer.
Whether the management duo will be afforded the opportunity to do so remains to be seen - and perhaps of more immediate concern will be the future of Rob Green and Matthew Upson - but Hammers fans have, on the whole, every reason to look towards next season with a great deal of optimism.
West Ham Utd 2 Middlesbrough 1: match facts
West Ham Utd: Green, Spector, Neill, Upson, Ilunga, Noble (Dyer 54), Kovac, Collison (Di Michele 72), Boa Morte, Cole (Tristan 63), Stanislas.
Subs not used: Lastuvka, Lopez, Savio, Payne.
Goals: Cole (33), Stanislas (57).
Efforts on goal: 12 (18, 20, 27, 33*; 56, 57*, 64, 77, 79, 80, 90, 90+3)
Middlesbrough: Jones, McMahon (Bennett 46), Wheater, Huth, Hoyte, O'Neil, Bates, Arca (Walker 46), Adam Johnson, Tuncay, Emnes (Franks 81).
Subs not used: Turnbull, Shawky, Williams, Grounds.
Goals: O'Neill (49).
Efforts on goal: 9 (4, 22, 33; 47*, 53, 67, 84, 89, 90+4)
Referee: Howard Webb (7).
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