This really was an inspiring win. With Scott Parker out and Carlton Cole - injured playing for England in mid-week - expected to be sidelined for six weeks, there is no doubt that the Hammers looked as if they would find goals difficult to come by and, with Sunderland desperate for points, this had the air of one of those games where the struggling side might expect to upset the more fancied hosts.
However, Zola's promise to give the kids a run-out turned out to be more than just giving them first team experience, as Junior Stanislas and the increasingly impressive James Tomkins, both scored to give the Irons a richly deserved victory.
Stanislas, playing only his second game after coming on as a sub previously, scored just before half time and defender Tomkins headed in just after, to give the Hammers a lead they never looked like conceding, and it was difficult to decide which goal gave the home fans the most pleasure. However, Stanislas' opener probably just shaded it because of the manner in which the goal came.
Cisse's smart drive - that was probably going wide anyway - had caused Robert Green to parry the ball out for a corner. The resulting kick was caught easily by the Hammer's stopper who then threw out from the edge of his own area with the Sunderland players backpedalling. After swift interplay between Di Michele and Boa Morte and only seconds from Sunderland's corner, the Portugese winger raced into the box and screwed a perfect pass for Stanislas to tap in. The Hammers fans erupted at the sight of yet another home grown talent celebrating while Stanislas dropped to his knees and took the congratulations of his team mates. It's moments like these that make supporting the Hammers worthwhile.
With just three minutes remaining on the clock, the crowd were buzzing at the break and they barely had time to take their seats for the second half before West Ham had doubled their lead. Diego Tristan's shot was tipped away for a corner and Mark Noble's kick was headed firmly in by Tomkins who stole in just before Anton Ferdinand - the ex-hammer's defender making his first return to Upton Park - who was, in truth, entirely at fault for the goal. How Anton must have wished he'd been able to stay at Upton Park and play for Zola and Clarke; they would surely have made much of his raw but sometimes erratic talent.
West Ham had further chances but Sunderland keeper Craig Gordon made three saves in less than a minute blocking Upson's header that went out for a corner, Tomkins - who again met the resulting corner - and finally Stanislas' fierce drive.
Sunderland had briefly threatened in the first half when Rob Green did well to block a through ball from Cisse to Leadbitter, but otherwise the Black Cats looked dispirited and lacking in confidence. West Ham, on the other hand, seem brimming with good humour and adaptability and the continuing injury list seems to do little to daunt the flow of squad players coming in and doing a good job.
A good example of that adaptability was seen in this match when Jonathan Spector, a fringe player at best, who'd always looked a bit lightweight in defence under Curbishley but had been playing well since covering for the injured James Collins a few matches back, went down for lengthy treatment and was eventually carried off after 73 minutes with concussion. His replacement? Collins himself who was able to slot alongsid Upson in the centre of defence as if he had never been away.
Let's hope these encouraging times continue against Spurs next week. There are quite a few bets relying on the result of this one!
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