Premier League
West Ham United 2-0 Portsmouth 

Saturday, 26th December 2009
by Staff Writer

The Irons moved out of the relegation zone with a relatively comfortable 2-0 win over a rudderless Pompey side at the Boleyn this afternoon.

An Alessandro Diamanti penalty and a late header from Radoslav Kovac secured West Ham's fourth league win of the season against a Portsmouth side bereft of invention and ideas in front of an expectant holiday crowd of some 33,000.

Gianfranco Zola's side were good value for the win in the end, despite enduring a worrying period during the second half. The clean sheet was an added bonus, being as it was United's first since the stalemate at Blackburn on 29th August, some four months ago.

After a fairly uneventful opening quarter-of-an-hour, one not unexpected perhaps given both teams' precarious league positions, the Irons began to take control of the game and finally broke the deadlock on 23 minutes.

Luis Jimenez, on as a 16th minute substitute for the injured Mark Noble was sent tumbling in the area by a poor challenge from former Hammer Hayden Mullins, who had received a warm welcome by the home fans prior to the match. Diamanti, who went into the game with two goals from his last two games made it three out of three - despite a gallant effort from 'keeper Asmir Begovic.

With no further goals to follow United went into the break with their slender advantage intact - a lead they deserved on balance of play. But the second half was to prove a different story as Zola's side once again retreated into their collective shell to the dismay of a home crowd that felt, reasonably enough, that the Irons should be looking for a second goal rather than settling for protecting the one they already had - a policy that has too often ended in tears this season.

The visitors, bouyed by West Ham's retreat certainly made a game of it - and had they a half-decent striker on the pitch would almost certainly have punished the home side for sitting too deep. Fortunately for the Irons, main striker Frederic Piquionne, for all his bustle and effort was having a bad day, summed up best by his failure to beat Rob Green when presented with a gilt-edged opportunity ten minutes from time.

By that stage Pompey were running out of both steam and ideas, and the Hammers once again began to take control of the game - a situation greatly assisted by the welcome return of Valon Behrami as a 72nd minute substitute for a tiring Diamanti. The Swiss midfielder, back after surgery was the inspiration for the second goal and the hatful of chances that preceeded it, which included efforts by himself and Jack Collison that were both only inches away from finding their intended target.

The second, decisive goal arrived with less than 60 seconds of normal time remaining and yet again, Chilean playmaker Jimenez was involved. His inviting free kick was met by a powerful header from Radoslav Kovac, who got the goal he deserved for two excellent performances within a week.

Kovac's second goal for the club, and his first since making a loan spell permanent marked the end of the game as a contest and a most welcome victory for Zola's side, whose win against Portsmouth a year ago to the day sparked the kind of revival recent performances have suggested could well be repeated this term.

The win initially lifted the Irons four places up the Premier League to 15th, although later results saw Zola's men drop back to 17th - but most importantly, out of the relegation zone. Any result against a resurgent Tottenham at White Hart Lane on Monday will be welcome yet perhaps unexpected - whilst the FA Cup tie against Arsenal a week today will prove a welcome distraction from a difficult league campaign.

But it is then that the real work begins as Zola's side face fellow strugglers Wolves (h), Portsmouth (a), Blackburn (h), Burnley (a), Birmingham (h) and Hull (h) all before the end of February - matches that will go a long way to deciding West Ham's fate this season.

The good news for Zola is that bar Carlton Cole, he goes into those forthcoming games with a fully fit first choice XI - and Cole himself is thought to be just two or three weeks away from a welcome return. The bad news is that club owners CB Holdings appear intent on flogging at least one of the club's leading stars during the transfer window - a policy that could potentially prove disastrous.

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Player Ratings

Robert Green
Comments to follow.

Julien Faubert
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Herita Ilunga
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James Tomkins
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Matthew Upson
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Scott Parker
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Radoslav Kovac
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Mark Noble
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Jack Collison
Comments to follow.

Alessandro Diamanti
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Guillermo Franco
Comments to follow.


Luis Jimenez
(Replaced Noble, 16 minutes) Comments to follow.

Valon Behrami
(Replaced Diamanti, 72 minutes) Comments to follow.

Frank Nouble
(Replaced Franco, 90 minutes) Comments to follow.

Marek Stech
Did not play.

Jonathan Spector
Did not play.

Manuel Da Costa
Did not play.

Junior Stanislas
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Robert Green, Julien Faubert, Herita Ilunga, James Tomkins, Matthew Upson, Scott Parker, Radoslav Kovac, Mark Noble, Jack Collison, Alessandro Diamanti, Guillermo Franco.

Goals: Alessandro Diamanti 23 Radoslav Kovac 89                .

Booked: None.

Sent off: None.

Portsmouth: Begovic, Finnan, Ben-Haim, Kaboul, Belhadj (Boateng 46), Hreidarsson, Mullins, Brown (Utaka 79), O'Hara, Piquionne, Dindane (Kanu 53).

Subs not used: Ashdown, Wilson, Diop, Yebda.

Goals: None.

Booked: Dindane (19), Brown (21), O'Hara (63).

Sent off: None.

Referee: Lee Probert.

Attendance: 33,686.

Man of the Match: tbc.