Pardew puts the pressure on top two

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The Independent Football

Alan Pardew knows the chase is on as West Ham United closed the gap on the First Division leaders Norwich City and West Bromwich Albion to seven points with their biggest win of the season at Upton Park on Tuesday.

Alan Pardew knows the chase is on as West Ham United closed the gap on the First Division leaders Norwich City and West Bromwich Albion to seven points with their biggest win of the season at Upton Park on Tuesday.

Matthew Etherington's hat-trick and goals from Bobby Zamora and Nigel Reo-Coker handed rock bottom Wimbledon a 5-0 drubbing and propelled the Hammers into third place.

And the West Ham manager Pardew believes the top two will be feeling the pressure as the race for automatic promotion gathers pace. Pardew said: "The pressure does strange things. They will find it tough to get over the line. They've still got work to do - and all you can do below that is have the best possible form.

"When I was Reading manager we were 10 points clear in Division Two and we had eight draws because the pressure kicks in. There's no reason why that can't happen to Norwich or West Brom. We played some terrific football and we've been threatening to do that for a while. We go into the Sunderland game at the weekend buoyant and putting pressure on the top two."

Etherington was the catalyst, tearing Wimbledon apart with his pace on his return from suspension. Pardew said: "When he was sent off at Norwich I was more than peeved and you can see why. He's a fantastic player - the one thing missing is goals and he's shown tonight he can score as well.

"I'm pleased to see him with a big smile on his face and a ball in his bag - without a doubt that's the first hat-trick of his career."

The Wimbledon manager Stuart Murdoch admitted the Dons have struggled since administrators sold Reo-Coker, Jobi McAnuff and Adam Nowland to the Hammers. "I can't remember the last time we scored a goal," he said. "I think McAnuff was the last player to score for us. But to judge West Ham on tonight's performance would be difficult. You have to put it in context. They will have to play much better sides than us to get automatic promotion.

"Of course they're a good side - they've got half our players. It's difficult when you see your former players doing well against you. But we have to build for next season and we have to get back to the heady heights where this club used to be. We'll know more after the creditors meet on 18 March.

"But the manager's in a good position at the moment because no-one is running the club. I'm hoping there's nobody out there to sack me."

The gap between Wimbledon and the rest increased by another three points, thanks to a much-needed win for fellow strugglers Bradford. The Bantams, successful at Rotherham last week, won 2-0 at home to Watford who are also struggling.

Paul Evans put Bryan Robson's side on the right track in the ninth minute, and veteran forward Dean Windass doubled the advantage midway through the first half.

In the Third Division, the most notable result was a 1-0 win for the league's bottom club Carlisle against promotion-chasing Huddersfield at Brunton Park - Peter Duffield's 72nd-minute goal giving his team the three points.

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