Goals in either half from Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing helped West Ham United see off struggling Leicester City 2-0 at the Boleyn Ground on Saturday.
Nigel Pearson's bottom club had their winless run extended to 12 matches as the hosts continued their fine season with a fourth win from their last five Barclays Premier League outings.
Carroll maintained his strong return to action from a long-term heel injury by scoring his third goal in as many matches after 24 minutes.
A short backpass from former West Ham defender Paul Konchesky presented a chance to the onrushing striker, who made no mistake with a cool dinked finish.
While the hosts' opener came about from a costly error, their second was a moment of quality from Downing, whose curled strike from long range sealed the points.
Leicester huffed and puffed in an attempt to find a way back into the match but Sam Allardyce's side saw the win out in relatively comfortable fashion and will feature in the top-flight's top four at Christmas for the first time since 1985.
With the unchanged sides on starkly contrasting runs of form recently, West Ham unsurprisingly made the brighter start with Carroll twice threatening in the air early on.
Diafra Sakho was next to go close, firing Kevin Nolan's throughball wide before Leicester grew into the match and forced a number of dangerous crosses.
Despite Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez showcasing pace and trickery, Leicester were unable to fashion clear-cut chances with Carroll spurning the first real opportunity of the game after 23 minutes.
The striker met Stewart Downing's cutback inside the area but blazed over from close range under pressure from Marcin Wasilewski.
But Carroll made amends soon after when he got on the end of Konchesky's woefully under-hit backpass to clip the opener over Ben Hamer.
Buoyed by taking the lead, West Ham continued to put Leicester under pressure although Mahrez tested Adrian from distance on a rare venture forward for the visitors just after the half-hour mark.
West Ham deservedly led at the break but Carroll will have had Allardyce worried early in the second half when he went over on an ankle when closing down Konchesky before stumbling into the photographers' section at the side of the pitch.
He was able to continue and watched on soon after as Downing curled home West Ham's second. The England midfielder took Sakho's knockdown in his stride and swept home his fourth Barclays Premier League goal of the season.
That all but ended Leicester hopes of salvaging a point or picking up a first league win since September, although Pearson will likely take some heart from his side's spirited late efforts.
Substitutes David Nugent and Leonardo Ulloa both brought smart saves from Adrian late on but a comeback failed to materialise.
West Ham manager Sam Allardyce: "Being fourth in the Premier League is a great Christmas present for everybody at West Ham. Having 31 points before Christmas is a pretty major achievement for us.
"There is no doubt we deserved to win with the quality finishes from Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing. Stewart is one of the best attacking players in the Premier League with the way he is playing, and he is getting goals on the back of that. It is a very big win for us before we have Chelsea next.
"None of Nigel Pearson's players let him down. They gave everything and when we went 2-0 up they caused us some problems. He is a very good manager and he has proved that."
Leicester City manager Nigel Pearson: "The first goal we conceded was a big blow for us, the second was a quality finish from Stewart Downing and we continue to not be able to take our chances. Their goalkeeper made three saves and our players are very disappointed, but our destiny is still in our own hands.
"I can look my players in their eyes and see they are very much up for the challenge. We have seen enough positive performances to suggest we will turn it around but we have to do it soon.
"It is not a case of shirking the responsibility or sticking my head in the sand. I'm very aware of our situation, but we are capable of changing it."
|26 Dec 2014||v Chelsea (A)|
|28 Dec 2014||v Arsenal (H)|
|01 Jan 2015||v West Brom (H)|
|10 Jan 2015||v Swansea (A)|
|18 Jan 2015||v Hull (H)|
|31 Jan 2015||v Liverpool (A)|