Grant and Hammers pass test of nerve to add to Wigan woes

West Ham United 3 Wigan Athletic 1
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The Independent Online

The West Ham board had declared this game was so important, it would "save our season". So, Avram, Scott and the rest, no pressure there then. It may be a dubious motivational tactic but the directors had a point. With the Hammers bottom of the table all season and seemingly drifting towards a date with relegation, David Gold and David Sullivan tried to instil a bit of dynamism into this fixture. With Wigan also in the relegation zone and five points ahead before kick-off, you could see what they were driving at.

Sensibly, Avram Grant, the West Ham manager, was not buying into the winner takes all mentality – "it's a marketing thing", he said afterwards. After all, imagine if they had lost. Not that that ever seemed likely. As soon as Wigan drive south, they lose their bearings entirely. After a listless performance a few weeks ago at Fulham, where they lost, they were toothless here. West Ham remain bottom, thanks to Wolves winning, but they have closed the gap on Fulham, in 17th place, to three points.

West Ham had been supine last week in losing 3-0 at Liverpool and Zelkjo Petrovic, Grant's assistant, was sacked in midweek. It didn't add up to a promising afternoon and it was a desperately nervous start by both sides before Valon Behrami broke the deadlock. Lars Jacobsen chipped a high ball to Frédéric Piquionne and he headed it down to the Swiss. Roberto Martinez, the Wigan manager, called the goal and those that followed "cheap" but blamed a general listlessness. He said: "We didn't start with our normal purpose and energy."

Two more goals could have followed quickly but Ali Al-Habsi kept Wigan in with a nominal chance of salvaging something, first by pushing Junior Stanislas's shot over the bar and then with a point-blank save from Piquionne, who was a threat throughout.

Martinez needed a win as muchas West Ham but that likelihood receded even further when the Hammers doubled their lead. Piquionne touched the ball off to Victor Obinna, who showed more accuracy than he had done previously all season by drilling his shot across Al-Habsi inside the far corner.

But West Ham were not over the line yet. No sooner had Franco di Santo come off than his replacement was handed an opportunity to get Wigan back into the game.

After 63 minutes Danny Gabbidon fouled Tom Cleverley, although the referee, Mark Halsey, awarded a penalty only after a signal from his assistant. Mauro Boselli, with his first touch, struck his spot-kick weakly and low to Rob Green's left, and the England international saved it with ease. Martinez, probably crossing his fingers and toes, claimed no regrets for letting the Argentinian try his luck.

Duly off the hook, Grant was able to smile for once in what has been an arduous season. He was even happier with 15 minutes remaining when Scott Parker started and finished the move for the Hammers' third. The captain broke forward from midfield, found Obinna, and was there to convert the Nigerian's deft return pass from eight yards. "Parker represents the classic modern midfielder," Grant beamed.

Belated comfort for the visitors came after Victor Moses dribbled into the area and touched his pass to Cleverley, who curled his shot into the top corner. But Grant, for once, was not the least bit bothered by that.

Attendance: 34,178

Referee: Mark Halsey

Man of the match: Piquionne

Match rating: 6/10

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