West Ham's stop-start season took another backward step in Lancashire yesterday. Preston, who had taken a 5-0 hammering from the Championship title favourites Wigan a fortnight ago, deservedly sent Alan Pardew's inconsistent side back to London empty-handed, their prospects of a return to the Premiership still hard to talk up with any real conviction.
Having overseen a win at Sunderland and failed only by virtue of a dubious stoppage-time penalty to beat Leeds at home, Pardew believed his side's season was beginning to settle into a progressive rhythm. However, they were soon in trouble yesterday, conceding an early goal to the same player who had put Preston in front on West Ham's last visit to Deepdale.
On that occasion, the home side's United States international Eddie Lewis had needed only 90 seconds to make his mark. It took him nine minutes this time but it still satisfied Preston's desire to make a quick impact.
After Stephen Bywater had pulled off a decent save to deny Richard Cresswell, West Ham failed to clear their lines and Lewis found himself in possession outside the visitors' penalty area with time and space to take aim. It was a chance he put to spectacularly good use, beating Bywater from the best part of 30 yards.
The lead was doubled in first-half stoppage time, Brian O'Neil also scoring from long range with a low right-foot strike after Tomas Repka had wastefully given the ball away on the edge of the 18-yard box.
The half-time scoreline could have been worse but for Bywater's performance. The West Ham goalkeeper saved brilliantly when Lewis attempted to repeat his earlier success after 25 minutes. Moments before O'Neil struck, Bywater had rushed out of his area to tackle Cresswell, scrambling to his feet to ensure Paul McKenna did not profit from the loose ball.
The visitors' strike pairing of Marlon Harewood and Teddy Sheringham barely tested the Preston goalkeeper Andy Lonerghan in the first half but a change of personnel paid an immediate dividend as the home side's advantage was halvedwithin five minutes of the restart.
Pardew sent on Nigel Reo-Coker in place of right winger Luke Chadwick, giving the former Wimbledon midfielder a role just behind the forwards, and it was he who reduced the deficit, sliding into the six-yard box to convert Repka's well delivered low cross. Preston were furious with the referee Alan Kaye, who they felt had mistakenly failed to award them a corner moments before Reo-Coker's goal.
It handed a lifeline to West Ham, although they again had a debt to Bywater when his reactions stopped Preston restoring their two-goal lead, the goalkeeper pushing a fiercely hit shot from Lewis on to the bar.
But ultimately the visitors paid the price for their first-half sloppiness, to which their supporters had reacted with a chorus of boos at half-time. Sheringham and Harewood each went close but Preston were good value for their victory.Reuse content