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Andy Carroll inspired West Ham United to a win that eased fears of relegation at Upton Park. Carroll has endured a difficult time in East London since he arrived on loan from Liverpool in August, but battered West Brom Albion's defence into submission.
The towering striker brushed off his marker and thumped a header past Ben Foster to put the Hammers ahead and then sealed the points with a well-taken volley after Gary O'Neil had made it 2-0.
The former Newcastle striker had been criticised by Sam Allardyce in midweek for his lack of goals, but he took his fourth and fifth goals for the club with aplomb.
West Ham were good value for their victory, with Kevin Nolan, Mohamed Diame and O'Neil all impressing to move the Hammers on to 36 points - two short of the figure Allardyce thinks his team will need to avoid the drop. Allardyce, who this week said he will sign a new contract when he reaches that 38-point mark, watched his team dominate West Brom, with the visitors' only consolation coming through Graham Dorrans' penalty at the death.
West Brom midfielder Youssof Mulumbu saw red in the dying seconds for needlessly booting the ball at O'Neil.
A West Ham victory did not look on the cards in the early stages as West Brom came flying out of the blocks on a biting cold afternoon in East London. Dorrans raced upfield after an errant pass from Ricardo Vaz Te and aimed a dipping shot at goal, which Jussi Jaaskelainen almost spilled into his own net. West Brom had the ball in the net from the resulting corner but Gareth McAuley's header was ruled out for bundling over Jaaskelainen. The Finn then pulled off a fantastic one-handed save to deny Romelu Lukaku's deflected free-kick as West Ham's defence continued to creek.
Carroll then began to exert his influence on the game and West Ham all of a sudden looked far more threatening. He brushed his marker off the ball to set up Vaz Te, but the Portuguese fired over. The on-loan striker then broke the deadlock after 16 minutes, rising above Jonas Olsson to thump O'Neil's corner past a stunned Foster.
The 6ft 3in targetman was in the thick of the action moments later, nodding James Collins' long punt into the path of Matt Jarvis, who shot over from eight yards out. West Ham continued to pile on the pressure and their dominance paid off with O'Neil's goal just before the half-hour. Vaz Te charged at the West Brom defence before laying the ball off to O'Neil, who clipped the ball over a diving Olsson and Foster to make it 2-0.
West Brom played much better after the restart, with Lukaku, on loan from Chelsea, looking the most likely to score. The Belgian shrugged O'Neil off the ball as he cantered towards goal, but his fierce drive sailed a foot over the angle.
West Ham steadied themselves and they were soon back on the attack through Carroll. The striker took the ball down on his thigh after a good passing move involving O'Neil and Nolan, but Liam Ridgewell hooked the ball clear before Carroll could shoot.
Substitute Peter Odemwingie provided West Brom with more energy when he came on, but Carroll put the result beyond doubt with a marvellous volley dispatched past Foster after Collins' long ball.
West Brom pulled one back three minutes from the end when Dorrans beat Jaaseklainen from 12 yards out after Matt Taylor tangled with Lukaku in the box.
Mulumbu ensured West Brom's afternoon ended on a low, though, when he picked the ball up after becoming annoyed at not being awarded a foul and blasted the ball at O'Neil's back. Referee Andre Marriner had no choice but to show him red.
A late injury to George McCartney, who had just returned from a four-month lay-off, failed to dampen the spirits of the Hammers fans, who greeted the final whistle with a loud cheer.
West Ham manager Sam Allardyce: "His performances have equalled that, but he has not put the ball in the back of the net as regularly as we would have liked. Getting a brace today is fantastic for him, and today showed what he is all about.
"He's not just strong in the air, as people perceive is his only strength, it's the quality on the floor, the hold-up play and then the technique on the volley, as we saw, was outstanding. It was a world-class finish, nobody can take that away from him, it was outstanding."
"With Wigan winning and closing the gap it was a very important win for us today, it puts us back in 11th spot so we're moving back up the table. We've been hovering around there all season, so it shows the consistency.
"There's a new future ahead for West Ham [with the move to the Olympic Stadium], and it's a focus to build for that future. I only focus on the next game, get the club in a position to re-plan and organise for next season. We're not quite there yet, but we're looking very comfortable."
West Brom head coach Steve Clarke: “I’ve got no complaints about the result, West Ham deserved to win.
“We started the game quite well and could’ve gone in front when Jaaskelainen made a good save to push Romelu’s deflected free-kick onto his post.
“There are small margins in every game and instead of being 1-0 up, a couple of minutes later we found ourselves a goal down. From there, it was a difficult afternoon.”
“Our defending was probably the most disappointing thing. Normally, we defend well.
“To lose two goals in the manner we did from their set-plays, and to lose a counter-attack goal from our set-play at the other end was disappointing.
“It’s been a decent campaign for us. We need to dust ourselves down and bounce back next week against Arsenal."
|07 Apr 2013||v Liverpool (A)|
|27 Apr 2013||v Man City (A)|
|17 Apr 2013||v Man Utd (H)|
|13 Apr 2013||v Southampton (A)|
|19 May 2013||v Reading (H)|
|12 May 2013||v Everton (A)|