Bruce's tactical switch pays dividends with Henderson strike
Sunderland 1 West Ham United 0
It remains to be seen whether West Ham United can truly save their season. Perhaps the next attraction at the Stadium of Light could enlighten Avram Grant and his side. There happens to be "An Evening of Clairvoyance" in the Banqueting Suite at Sunderland's home ground tonight, hosted by one Steve Holbrook, author of such works as "Light in the Darkness" and "Survival".
Having glimpsed a couple of chinks of light on home ground, with victories in their "Save Our Season" contest against Wigan and in their Carling Cup quarter-final against Manchester United, the Hammers suffered another one of their dark days on the road yesterday. The East Enders have not won away in the Premier League since their visit to Wolves on the opening day of last season and their barren run stretched to a 26th match after Jordan Henderson's 34th minute goal consigned them to defeat on Wearside.
The Hammers did win 2-1 at the Stadium of Light in the third round of the Carling Cup in September, but after their 4-0 midweek demolition of Manchester United in the same competition they could not summon the attacking clout to end Sunderland's unbeaten home league record – nor to salvage a point for their top-flight survival mission.
"We need to pick up points away from home," Grant lamented, after a result that took his team back to the bottom of the Premier League pile. "We have to do something about it, because we can't stay without a win away from home."
Sunderland started with Asamoah Gyan and Darren Bent up front, the first time Steve Bruce had deployed his chief goal scorers from the off in a Premier League fixture. It meant a switch out to the left flank for Danny Welbeck and in the opening quarter the Wearsiders missed the livewire central attacking influence of the in-form Manchester United loanee.
In the first 30 minutes, Bruce's side only managed to fashion a couple of half chances, long range efforts from Lee Cattermole and Bent, both comfortably saved by Robert Green. It was only when the Sunderland manager switched Gyan and Welbeck that the contest sparked to life.
Bruce had to venture to the apron of the pitch and bark at Gyan to "get wide" before the Ghanaian shifted – initially to the left. Within a couple of minutes, though, the move paid dividends. Roving out to the right, Gyan sprung West Ham's offside trap, latching on to a ball up the line from Nedum Onuoha and cutting a low pass into the middle for Henderson to beat Green with a first-time left-footed shot.
It was the midfielder's first goal for a year and it was very nearly followed by a second for Sunderland, Gyan clipping the top of the crossbar with a shot from the left edge of the penalty area. At that stage, West Ham had yet to pose a threat to Craig Gordon in the home goal, but might have been level a minute before the interval.
Jonathan Spector – retained in central midfield following his two-goal contribution against Manchester United – dribbled his way through to the left edge of the Sunderland penalty area but then scuffed his shot wide of the target. It was a close call for the Black Cats and there was another four minutes into the second-half, Carlton Cole dragging a shot across the face of the home goal.
Sunderland had their moments in the second period but the big question always was whether the Hammers could find an equaliser. After substitute Freddie Piquionne drove a low shot on to the outside of the left post, the answer was: no.
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