Cottee pumps up Upton Park bubble

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West Ham United 3

Wimbledon 0

Never mind Good Friday, this was an excellent Thursday night for West Ham who scored twice in two minutes late on to embellish a vitally needed victory which lifts them out of the dreaded bottom four to 17th, their highest placing since the first week of the new year.

A Julian Dicks penalty near the end of a frustrating, nervy first half sent the Hammers on their way and helped to confirm Leicester's relegation from the Premiership after just a single season - not that anyone had any doubt about that particular issue.

Meanwhile the fight to avoid the other two hot spots - for Ipswich's fate should also be assured by tea-time tomorrow - is picking up pace and intrigue. Above the dropping zone just two points now separate eight teams and more than a few managers must have taken their slide rules to bed last night.

The advantage is with those sides in form and currently the happy Hammers are bubbling along. They show just one defeat in seven games and when the mood takes them they can match anyone. Certainly, they were too much at Upton Park for a strangely ragged Wimbledon.

"It is going to be very close but a result like this gives us a real chance," said the West Ham manager, Harry Redknapp. "There were good performances all over the pitch but to be fair we've been playing like that for some time now."

Two earlier penalty appeals for the hosts had been waved away when, with 41 minutes gone, Tony Cottee stumbled under Andy Thorn's challenge. Another cry went up, again ignored by the referee but also by Matt Holmes, who took on Kenny Cunningham and fell over his trailing leg.

This time Mike Reed concurred with the majority view and Dicks' rasper from the spot was of the kind goalkeepers are best advised to steer clear of. Neil Sullivan managed to get his fingers to it, but such was its force that its passage into the net was scarcely interrupted.

Before then Wimbledon had hardly mustered a shot of note. Things did not improve for them afterwards even though Ludek Miklosko was displaying less than glue-like palms when called upon to deal with crosses and Vinnie Jones' trademark long throws.

In the 77th minute, utter relief enveloped the East End when Michael Hughes delivered the ball to the back post for Jeroen Boere to head home. Immediately after came a third when Tim Breacker drove his way to the byline and pulled back a cross which Tony Cottee put away with gleeful simplicity.

It was the first time in six attempts that West Ham had managed to beat Wimbledon here in the League. Sterner obstacles, Blackburn and Manchester United, lie ahead, but those famous bubbles were full of real hope and optimism last night.

West Ham United (4-4-2): Miklosko; Breacker, Potts, Rieper, Dicks; Hughes, Bishop, Allen, Holmes; Boere, Cottee. Substitutes not used: Sealey (gk), Brown, Hutchison.

Wimbledon (5-3-2): Sullivan; Barton, Cunningham, Reeves, Thorn, Elkins; Jones, Leonhardsen, Gayle (Clarke, h-t); Holdsworth, Harford. Substitutes not used: Segers (gk), Perry.

Referee: M Reed (Birmingham).