West Ham United 2-0 Middlesbrough 

Saturday, 31st March 2007
by Jacob Steinberg

So, a modicum of hope has been installed for West Ham's fight against relegation. Is it worse this way?

A month ago, following the crushing 4-0 defeat at Charlton, it looked like they had thrown in the towel. Alan Curbishley certainly had. Yet in their last game, a linesman's flag intervened to gift victory at Blackburn. That was followed up by yesterday's easy win over Middelsbrough.

With games against Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United to come, this was must-win, and the home side set about their task in the right way. Just two minutes in, and local hero Mark Noble's crunching tackle on Fabio Rochemback set the tone. The ball ran loose to Carlos Tevez, whose cross ricocheted off Boro defender's and into the path of Bobby Zamora, who made no mistake with his volley past Mark Schwarzer.

It was the quickest goal West Ham have scored all season, and effectively quashed any lingering nerves in the team. Too many times they have faced an uphill struggle in matches, but with the early cushion, they could relax.

The fans had called all season for Noble and Tevez to be involved, and both played as if they intended to justify the crowd's desires. Noble, in particular, showed maturity beyond his years. His inclusion has added two crucial ingredients to West Ham's midfield: passion and bite. Where the away side wanted time on the ball, the terrier-like midfielder was having none of it. And he can play too, directing the ball to a home shirt throughout a buzzing first half.

Always a crowd favourite this season, Tevez's quality is more established. Having scored twice in his previous two games, he was in the mood and all that was good about West Ham was thanks to the skill, vision and prompting of the Argentine. Having already set up Zamora's goal, a brilliant chipped pass nearly allowed his strike partner to double the lead, but Schwarzer blocked.

Middelsbrough were willing recipients. Out of the cups and nowhere in the league, their minds are already on next season. If any one moment could sum their day up, it was a woeful free kick by Mark Viduka which was meant for the top of the goal ended up in the top of the stand. Curbishley had wanted to bring the striker to Upton Park in January. On this evidence, perhaps it was best not.

Viduka then sent a overhead kick and a header wide, while George Boateng's tame shot was the only time Robert Green was tested in the West Ham goal. But as the end of the half approached, West Ham increased their lead.

Again, it was Boro's inability to deal with crosses which proved to be their downfall, as Andrew Taylor inadvertently knocked George McCartney's deep cross back to the feet of Tevez. From six yards out, there was really only one outcome. Two nil West Ham, Tevez's first goal from open play and, for once, Upton Park was a happy place.

Perhaps mindful of the way they let a two goal lead slip against T*tenham three weeks ago, Curbishley ordered his team to preserve their advantage in a second half which passed off mostly without incident. As the away side pressed, West Ham, marshalled by the excellent Lucas Neill, impressively kept their shape and discipline throughout.

They were troubled just once when Yakubu evaded Anton Ferdinand's slack marking, but put his header into the ground and well wide. As it was substitute Luis Boa Morte could have added a third for West Ham, only for Schwarzer to deny him. Boa Morte had come on for Tevez, who received a well-earned standing ovation from the supporters. If West Ham do achieve the impossible, he is going to have a big say in their fate.

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Player Ratings

Robert Green
Catching practice.

Lucas Neill
He had Downing - booed - in his pocket. Always encouraging and leading the defence, his signing looks invaluable.

George McCartney
He doesn't attack as well as Konchesky, but then he doesn't defend as badly as Konchesky. Solid.

Anton Ferdinand
A decent game, apart from when he lost Yakubu late on.

James Collins
A no nonsense defensive performance from a man whose full fitness could have made a difference this year.

Mark Noble
Curbishley may have feared he was too young, but he has disproved that theory. May need to curb his somewhat overly aggressive streak however.

Nigel Reo-Coker
Tried to burst forward, but was outmuscled by Boateng when he did. This was better than previous months though.

Lee Bowyer
He passed well in the first half, but lacks the ability to get up and down the right flank. An ordinary display, but one full of effort.

Matthew Etherington

Carlos Tevez
Please stay...

Bobby Zamora
Perhaps the best game Bobby Zamora has ever played for West Ham. Aside from his well taken goal, he gave an all round striker's performance. Woodgate had an uncomfortable afternoon.


Hayden Mullins
(Replaced Reo-Coker, 66) Provided defensive steel in midfield.

Kepa Blanco
(Replaced Zamora, 67) Poor.

Luis Boa Morte
(Replaced Tevez, 82) Could have scored.

Roy Carroll
Did not play.

Jonathan Spector
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Robert Green, Lucas Neill, George McCartney, Anton Ferdinand, James Collins, Mark Noble, Nigel Reo-Coker, Lee Bowyer, Matthew Etherington, Carlos Tevez, Bobby Zamora.

Goals: Bobby Zamora 2 Carlos Tevez 45                .

Booked: None booked!           .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Middlesbrough: Schwarzer, Xavier, Taylor, Pogatetz, Woodgate, Rochemback, Boateng, Parnaby, Downing, Yakubu, Viduka.

Subs not used: Jones, Lee.

Goals: .

Booked: Pogatetz (62)..

Sent off: None.

Referee: M.Halsey.

Attendance: 34,977.

Man of the Match: Mark Noble.