Obinna shines as West Ham banish their away-day blues

Sunderland 1 West Ham United 2
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The Independent Football

Maybe Avram Grant should convince West Ham they're playing in the Carling Cup every week. They can't buy a victory in the Premier League but this was their second in the knock-out format in a matter of weeks, and they were good value for it.

"A win like this has been in the air for a while," Grant insisted after his side built on their encouraging point at Stoke City with a win at a venue which has proved equally as forbidding for visitors in the past year.

This was only Sunderland's second home defeat in 10 months, Manchester United being the other side to return south with a win in that timespan. Victories here are hard earned, and in no way could it be described as a stroll against a Steve Bruce second-string. The manager kept his promise to give the competition every respect, making just two changes from the weekend, while Grant weighed in with seven. It proved to be Sunderland's undoing.

Despite that number of changes, the disruption was minimal to the visitors, with Scott Parker again pulling the strings in midfield. Spurs were rarely in trouble from the moment Frédéric Piquionne broke the deadlock 10 minutes before the break with a goal that had been long coming.

Grant's view later was simple: "Sunderland played a strong side but we were the better team and deserved to win." Few neutrals would disagree with him.

After Hammers' first away win in 13 months, Grant added: "If you've seen our last few games you'd have seen we played pretty well. We're making progress and it's been frustrating when we've played well and not taken the points but we've done very well here and come away with the win."

Victory sets West Ham up nicely in their attempts to secure a first league victory of the campaign this weekend against a Tottenham side who encountered very different Carling Cup fortunes last night. "It's important psychologically to win," Grant said.

"The players showed that if you keep on doing the right things, then you get your rewards. Because of that I'm very optimistic about the future. Bottom of the table is not a place for us but we have to take the points to show that's the case."

Asamoah Gyan, on his full Sunderland debut, lost his marker to meet Jordan Henderson's near-post corner shortly before the interval to head the hosts level with a confident finish after Piquionne had latched on to an astute pass from Victor Obinna to thread a shot past Simon Mignolet, by far the busier of the two goalkeepers, from a narrow angle.

West Ham deservedly restored their lead on the hour when Pablo Barrera, who pushed Parker as the contest's most influential performer, cut in from the right to find the Nigerian with time and space to take a touch before beating Mignolet low to the keeper's right from 15 yards.

Steed Malbranque might have taken it into extra-time, but Marek Stech stood firm at his near post to deny the Frenchman and the Stadium of Light was not to witness a dramatic late goal for the third consecutive occasion.

"We were flat from the first whistle," conceded Bruce, in an admission that he might have made more changes to his starting line-up in the wake of their draining 1-1 draw with Arsenal a little over 72 hours before.

Gyan, Kieran Richardson and Anton Ferdinand are all doubts for the trip to Liverpool after succumbing to hamstring injuries, another downside to an unsatisfying night which saw the hosts booed off by sections of the home crowd at a less than half-full stadium. The manager added: "I decided to go with mainly what we did against Arsenal but we looked off the pace, it was evident to see.

"With hindsight maybe I should have made more changes but there's no excuses, we were well beaten by a better team."

If West Ham continue on their current trajectory of improvement, that is a lament we may start to hear on a more regular basis from opposing managers.

Sunderland (4-4-2): Mignolet; Bardsley, Ferdinand (Da Silva, 40), Onuoha, Richardson; Elmohamady, Henderson (Zenden, 71), Riveros, Wellbeck; Bent, Gyan (Malbranque, 61). Substitutes not used Carson, Angeleri, Reid, Colback.

West Ham United (4-4-1-1): Stech; Faubert, Ben Haim, Tomkins, De Costa; Barrera (Noble, 89), Kovac, Parker, Piquionne (Cole, 78); Boa Morte; Obinna (Dyer, 71) Substitutes not used Boffin, Spector, Brown, McCarthy

Man of the match Parker

Referee H Webb (S Yorkshire)

Attendance 21,907

Match rating 6/10