Hammers turn form around against Hull City
Visitors livid after goalkeeper Allan McGregor sent off in the first half
Mark Noble (left) of West Ham celebrates scoring the opener against Hull City at Boleyn Ground. Photograph: Steve Bardens/Getty Images
West Ham 2 Hull City 1
West Ham remain a team prone to infuriate more often than they delight, but at least they gained some respite. The first three-game losing streak since Sam Allardyce took charge as manager ended with a critical victory over Hull City on Wednesday to ease his side out of their slump and back towards mid-table security.
West Ham showed little fluency in winning thanks to a Mark Noble penalty which the visitors rightly disputed and an own goal by the Hull defender James Chester, but this is a period of the season where pragmatism is a priority. A win at 18th-placed Sunderland on Monday would have West Ham feeling safe, 12 points clear of relegation zone.
This fixture had initially looked as awkward as it was critical for West Ham after that run of defeats, with Hull having won their last two away games, albeit both against teams below them, and apparently within sight of their own points target for safety. Steve Bruce had craved at least one more win to ease the nerves and, having seen the West Ham central defender James Collins limp off after nine minutes, his industrious front-line must have sensed their opportunity.
But the visitors’ game-plan was effectively wrecked the first time one of the home side’s runners from midfield infiltrated the City back-line, Noble’s dart in possession through the centre prompting panic to yield the opening goal and a dismissal, even if the visitors could justifiably cry foul at an offence during the build-up.
Noble’s run had stretched Hull’s back-line and his pass ricocheted from James Chester and off Tom Huddlestone before the ball reached Mohamed Diamé in front of goal. The Senegalese appeared to control it with his arm as he careered forward and poked his shot over the advancing Allan McGregor. While the attempt was scrambled from the goal-line by a covering defender, the referee Mike Dean was alerted by his assistant to the goalkeeper’s clattering of Diame on his follow-through and awarded the penalty, much to the livid frustration of the Hull players.
McGregor spent time grounded on the turf before groggily getting to his feet to be greeted by his second red card of the campaign, the first goalkeeper sent off twice in the same top flight season since Maik Taylor a decade ago. Steve Harper was summoned from the bench, Bruce sacrificing his son Alex, but was helpless as Noble converted his 13th penalty for the club, and West Ham’s urgency, summed up by earlier attempts from Stewart Downing and Matt Taylor, had been rewarded.
However, faced with depleted opponents West Ham seemed to lose fluency. Instead, as Hull resisted, they became anxious with every sideways or backward pass provoking jeers from the sidelines. Maynor Figueroa threatened an equaliser with one battered effort from distance, turned aside by Adrian.
If West Ham hoped the interval might help them restore some focus, they could not have been more wrong because within three minutes of the restart Hull were level. Huddlestone’s powerful free-kick from distance deflected off Nikica Jelavic, standing next to the defensive wall, diverting the ball beyond a static Adrián and into the net.
For a while the crowd teetered on open revolt, infuriated by West Ham’s sloppiness and aimless play, only for Hull to surrender the initiative.
The West Ham right-back Guy Demel was free to cut inside on to his left foot and send in an in-swinging centre which bypassed Kevin Nolan on the edge of the six-yard box but drew an instinctive swing of the leg from Chester, the ball cannoning off the Hull centre-half’s knee and past Harper.
That was harsh on Bruce’s rugged side, who have still not slipped below 13th place since September despite the recent distraction of their FA Cup run, which has taken them to a Wembley semi-final against Sheffield United of League one. This was an annoying defeat rather than hugely troubling and they nearly claimed a late equaliser, Adria
n doing well to tip another Huddlestone effort over as the visitors pressed. But Hull will surely have enough to maintain their distance from the bottom three.