In theory, both teams had urgent objectives. The home side, seeking to escape the relegation mire, knew victory was vital; but points were equally important for visitors aspiring to a place in Europe next season.
In practice, as Wednesday's manager, David Pleat, pointed out, the motivation to survive is strongest of all: "If you tell a player it will be bread- and-butter football next year and it might be hard to get back, it has a greater effect than if you say he is playing for Europe. You want it more."
West Ham's desire to succeed was almost palpable; and personified in the bulky, ginger-haired figure of John Hartson, whose pounds 3.3m purchase along with fellow striker Paul Kitson in mid-February has brought about a dramatic upturn in fortune.
Hartson has always offered a formidable physical presence up front, but rarely can he have jumped with such athleticism and effect. His stupendous leap and nod-down created the second of his striking partner's three goals, and he added both others himself. But it was the way he carried the fight to Wednesday that set the tone of the match. At half-time, the referee warned him to temper his rumbustiousness or risk a booking. Hartson conspicuously failed to take the hint; but it was the visitors who paid for it.
"John's my baby," said Pleat, who guided Hartson's early career when both were at Luton. "I've known him since he was 15. He can intimidate players with his strength and aggression. Opponents have to cope with that, otherwise he gets confident because he knows he has an advantage.
"He won the aerial battles in the first five minutes, and almost scared us to death. After that, we played like lambs."
There was, however, no bleating from the visiting manager. "None of my players came out of today with any credit. We were whacked. But if we win our last two games we can be in Europe, which says something about how well we have done over the season."
Wednesday's chances were reduced beyond vanishing point on the hour when David Hirst was sent off for elbowing West Ham's 18-year-old defender, Rio Ferdinand, whose indignant response might have seen him off as well had Slaven Bilic not calmed him down with a little, literal, tete-a-tete.
The West Ham manager, Harry Redknapp, has said more than once that without the arrival of Kitson and Hartson, his side would certainly have gone down. Victory in tomorrow's home match against Kitson's old team, Newcastle, will make survival absolutely certain.
Arsenal's decision to release their 21-year-old Welsh international came as something of a surprise to Redknapp, but everything has gone well from that moment. "He said he would love to play for the Hammers," Redknapp recalled. "It took just 20 minutes to sign him. He's going to be a hero here. So is Kitson. We've got two men here who could do a job for the next five years."
Goals: Kitson (4) 1-0; Kitson (13) 2-0; Hartson (30) 3-0; Hartson (67) 4-0; Carbone 4-1 (82); Kitson (89) 5-1.
West Ham United (3-5-2): Miklosko; Ferdinand, Hall, Bilic (Rieper, 78); Potts, Lomas (Boylan, 89), Moncur, Porfirio, Lazaradis (Bishop, 82); Hartson, Kitson. Substitutes not used: Dowie, Sealey (gk).
Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Pressman; Atherton, Walker, Stefanovic, Nolan; Whittingham (Blinker, h-t), Pembridge, Carbone, Nicol (Oakes, h- t); Booth, Hirst. Substitutes not used: Clarke, Donaldson, Humphreys.
Referee: M Riley (Leeds).
Booking: West Ham Ferdinand. Sending-off: Sheffield Wednesday Hirst.
Man of the match: Hartson. Attendance: 24,960.Reuse content