The massed ranks of Ipswich supporters who had hoped to celebrate the new year with three points and cement their side's billing as promotion favourites were left to speculate gloomily on what 2005 might hold after West Ham ran out worthy winners at Portman Road.
Table-topping Ipswich simply did not live up to the lofty hopes after managing to go through the whole of 2004 without failing to score at home as West Ham demonstrated that they were more than mere party-poopers. The visitors were handed their opening goal - after just 56 seconds - on a plate, and only scored a second in added time at the end of the game, but they outfought Ipswich throughout and played with grit and guile.
Ipswich had no answer to West Ham's inventiveness - the London side's performance suggested that they may finally make true their now-familiar new year's resolution to "shake off inconsistency" and mount a credible push for an automatic promotion slot.
"We've shown that we can beat the best teams," said Alan Pardew, the West Ham manager. "It's consistency for us and we need to take this on now. We've had a tricky run but this is a new year now, and we must try to be the best side in the second half of the season.
"Ipswich have been the best and we need to emulate them. There is great expectation on us. We don't want to get too carried away, but we have as good a chance as anybody. We played well enough and deserved it today."
West Ham took less than a minute to score their first goal of 2005, but Ipswich's defence was at fault as a series of errors allowed Marlon Harewood to claim his 13th of the season. A breakdown in midfield forced the home side's full-back Matt Richards into a risky and underhit back pass to his goalkeeper, Kelvin Davis. As Davis advanced to the edge of the area, the Ipswich centre-half Richard Naylor blocked his way and, after Davis tried comically to rescue the situation with a shimmy, Harewood stole in to sidefoot home.
It was hard to tell whether Harewood or the Ipswich defence was more embarrassed by the goal; but Ipswich did little to suggest that the goal was an unfortunate error as, from front to back, the mistakes flowed and West Ham pushed forward.
Ipswich were lucky not to go two behind when Nigel Reo-Coker saw an apparently good goal - a neat volley from Matthew Etherington's deft free-kick - ruled out for offside. Even that reprieve could not stir Ipswich into life, and Gavin Williams should have netted minutes before the break.
Joe Royle, the Ipswich manager, showed faith in his starting line-up and decided not to make changes at half-time. But he may have been reconsidering as, just four minutes into the second half, Naylor was forced into an excellent clearance to deny Bobby Zamora.
Ipswich rallied briefly on the hour mark as Shefki Kuqi came close. West Ham, however, continued to dominate and justifiably capped their win in the final moments.
Harewood turned Richards inside out on the right and fired in a cross that was cleared to Sergei Rebrov. The Ukrainian fired in a shot that Fabian Wilnis blocked on the line, only for Etherington to prod home from close range. It was no more than West Ham deserved.
"The first goal was a complete cock-up," said Royle. "But credit to West Ham, as they were better than us from one to 11. The only crumb of comfort for me is that it was not more than two. There is no blame - but they were good and we weren't."Reuse content