Freedman goal dents Hammers' ambitions

Crystal Palace 1 West Ham United 0
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The Independent Football

Bank Holiday entertainment this was, but only of the most gruelling kind, especially for West Ham's fans. If they thought what they had witnessed on Saturday in a goalless draw with Derby County could not get any worse, then sadly they were wrong.

Whether it was too many Easter eggs or simply too many Easter games, the pitchside hoarding advertising vasectomies had got it about right as the Hammers were condemned to shooting blanks. One shot on target was all they could boast.

For Alan Pardew, the West Ham manager back on the ground where he had his finest days as a player, it was an afternoon he will want to forget. It was made painful at first, after 36 minutes, by the dismissal of his striker David Connolly who picked up two yellow cards for late challenges, and then doubly so by Dougie Freedman's strike 30 minutes later.

The upshot of it is that the east Londoners' ability to reach the play-offs, with four games remaining, is in serious doubt although Pardew believes they can make it. He said: "Our situation is that we've still got a great chance but this was a damaging defeat."

The decisive goal came when Julian Gray forced a brilliant save from Pavel Srnicek, who conceded a corner. From Shaun Derry's set-piece the Czech was then helpless as Andy Johnson flicked on for the Scot who smashed his shot home from a yard out.

But Srnicek prevented this London derby becoming a rout, thanks to two saves within a minute. Johnson had time and space with 74 minutes gone but hit his shot at the goalkeeper and the forward was denied again 30 seconds later.

Meanwhile, as West Ham slip downwards and out of the play-off picture, Palace are in the ascendancy. Iain Dowie's side are still a point behind the Hammers but have a game in hand and with this six-point haul from Easter, they have the top six in their sights.

In the next 10 days the Eagles play Wigan and Sunderland, who are both above them, and Dowie said: "It's a huge week next week and if we get in there no one can say we haven't deserved it."

Crystal Palace 4-4-2: Vaesen; Granville, Popovic, Butterfield, Hudson; Routledge, Riihilahti (Derry, 63), Gray, Hughes; Johnson (Soares, 90), Freedman (Leigertwood, 84). Substitutes not used: Berthelin (gk), Black.

West Ham United 4-4-2: Srnicek; Harley (Cohen, 73), Dailly, Ferdinand, Repka; Reo-Coker, Horlock, Mullins, McAnuff (Zamora, 67); Connolly, Harewood. Substitutes not used: Forde (gk), Melville, Deane.

Sendings off: West Ham: Connolly, 36.

Referee: A Bates (Staffs).