At half-time, with this game still goalless, the stadium announcer informed everyone that Burnley were drawing against Hull, which was greeted with enormous joy. The announcer noted how things had got to such a stage at Upton Park that there was such interest – and relief, it should be added – in such a scoreline.
The cheers were even louder by the end as Ilan Araujo's third goal of the season divided the teams and, with Burnley's unexpected win, created a four-point gap between the Hammers and the relegation zone. West Ham's first win in eight games was well-timed. Sunderland, who are safe from the drop, played like it, even if their manager, Steve Bruce, was left open-mouthed at some of the referee's decisions.
But having been fined once this season for comments about referees, he claimed he was reluctant to criticise Mike Jones too much before complaining about his refusal to let Sunderland take a quick free-kick in stoppage time, when half the West Ham players were off the field celebrating a Guillermo Franco goal that was ruled out for handball.
The spectre of the drop has hung over West Ham most of this season and as the campaign nears its day of reckoning, they appeared to have lost their nerve at home. Three consecutive defeats at Upton Park prior to this game, against Stoke, Wolverhampton and Bolton, showed Gianfranco Zola's side in the worst possible light at the worst possible time.
Yet, somehow, they conjured up this win. Sunderland only looked interested when the hosts had taken the lead. Darren Bent sensed a goal 18 yards out, after Kenwyne Jones's pass, but slipped when poised to shoot with Bruce blaming his boots, adding: "That sums up our performances – we deserve a point and get nothing."
The decisive goal came not from a brilliantly-worked move but something more direct. With 51 minutes gone Manuel Da Costa launched a long, high free-kick towards Carlton Cole. The England international knocked his header down and Ilan steered the ball past Craig Gordon with the sole of his foot.
Zola was naturally pleased with the points but said: "It's still too early to celebrate, we are very happy today. It was such a tough game for us. There was a lot of pressure on our game."
The only other time the front two combined, eight minutes before the break, Ilan's shot from six yards out was blocked by Anton Ferdinand, back on his old ground. However, Ilan, who scored the equaliser against Everton last week, showed he has a goal-poacher's knack which once earned him caps for Brazil in the 2003 Confederations Cup and which could save West Ham from the knacker's yard.
Sunderland have had their troubles this year too, with a long, winless mid-season spell that threatened to suck them into the relegation fight before they hauled themselves clear. Mistakes here from Gordon, their Scottish international goalkeeper, could have been punished by goals on another day, and hinted at one reason for their troubles.
He kicked one clearance straight at Cole's back that looped wide, then handballed needlessly outside the box, for which he received a caution, and was fortunate to stay on the pitch after he rugby-tackled Cole in the six-yard box five minutes before the break.
Luckily for him, the referee had already blown his whistle for a non-existent foul by Cole on the goalkeeper.
Referee: Mike Jones
Man of the match: Behrami
Match rating: 5/10Reuse content