Arca's artistry lifts Sunderland to championship

West Ham United - 1 Sunderland - 2
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The Independent Online

The pre-match announcer congratulated Sunderland on their promotion and then said he hoped this would be a Premiership game next season. However, West Ham squandered their chance of bringing that dream closer last night.

The pre-match announcer congratulated Sunderland on their promotion and then said he hoped this would be a Premiership game next season. However, West Ham squandered their chance of bringing that dream closer last night.

Alan Pardew, the Hammers' manager, agreed it was no shame to lose against the side who are now champions of the Championship, but crucially they have also lost the initiative in their fight with Reading for the last play-off place as the Berkshire side can move further ahead today by beating Wolves.

Both these teams were relegated from the Premier League two years ago and sealing their Championship triumph a week after confirming promotion has put further balm on the Black Cats' wounds caused in 2003.

Unfortunately for the London side, however, those wounds remain open and only a now even less likely promotion through the play-offs will begin to end the hurt expressed most audibly by the home fans at the end of this game. Naturally, Pardew said his side were disappointed but would not give up hope yet.

His Sunderland counterpart Mick McCarthy was understandably upbeat: "This was a fantastic way to win the Championship. We didn't want to rely on others. This is my best achievement because it's my most recent. If we stay up next season that will be my best achievement. But it's wonderful for the players; they've been magnificent away from home all season and they will enjoy their weekend."

Having deservedly taken the lead through Marlon Harewood just before the break, the home side were then guilty of taking their foot off the accelerator in the second half, while McCarthy had simply instructed his players to pass the ball better.

That tactic worked and produced a superior performance after the interval from the visitors, resulting in one scrappy goal and, ultimately, the winner three minutes from time.

Denied the guile of the injured Teddy Sheringham - who was awarded the fans' Player of the Year award before kick-off, Pardew was forced to bring in Bobby Zamora, who does not possess the presence of mind of the former England international. In Sheringham's absence Harewood took responsibility for the goals and he delivered two minutes before the break. Matthew Etherington cut inside and then found his team-mate, who scuffed his shot past Ben Alnwick and in off the post.

A Sunderland equaliser had not appeared likely but it came on 52 minutes. In a confusion of bodies Tomas Repka challenged Chris Brown 10 yards out, but he could only poke the ball past goalkeeper Jimmy Walker and the effervescent Julio Arca followed up to slide it over the line.

A spirited close to the Hammers' last home game of the regular season saw them denied a penalty claim for handball against Steven Caldwell before substitute Stephen Elliott broke away for the winner to break West Ham hearts.

West Ham United (4-4-2): Walker; Repka, Ferdinand, Ward, Powell; Newton (Rebrov, 81) , Reo-Coker, Mullins, Etherington (Noble, 73); Harewood, Zamora. Substitutes not used: Bywater (gk), Fletcher, Chadwick.

Sunderland (4-4-2): Alnwick; Wright, Caldwell, Breen (Collins, 74), McCartney; Lawrence, Whitehead, Robinson, Arca; Stewart (Elliott, 75), Brown (Deane, 89). Substitutes not used: Carson (gk), Welsh.

Referee: R Beeby (Northamptonshire).

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