West Ham were celebrating their survival in the Premier League last night after Scott Parker drove them to victory against Wigan. There is still a mathematical chance of relegation but it would take an unlikely turn of events for that to happen.
Gianfranco Zola's team twice conceded goals from corners here but battled back in each half to extend the gap between themselves and the three teams in the relegation zone. The Italian, who has seen his position questioned in a season of struggle, said: "It was very gratifying. It shows that through all the problems there has been a compactness between the players and staff.
"It was never my intention to leave this place in the situation we were in. Everyone was down, and in those moments feeling the players behind me and their fighting spirit helped."
West Ham's co-owner David Sullivan used his programme notes to say he was "mystified by the performance at Liverpool" in midweek, when Zola's men surrendered meekly. One explanation was the absence of Parker, as the midfielder was completing a two-match suspension.
Parker's return was the only change from Anfield, with Zola taking "a step back to make two forward", in his words, in his bid to steer the club towards safety. In the end Parker's contribution was the difference.
When Carlos Tevez inspired the Hammers' improbable escape three years ago, they had defeated Wigan in the final month of the season, although this time they were facing a team full of confidence following a stunning comeback against Arsenal the previous weekend.
The Latics' owner, Dave Whelan, had promised his squad a trip to the Caribbean if they avoid the drop, and within four minutes his players' thoughts were turning towards sunning themselves on the beach. After Hugo Rodallega's shot was blocked, Ben Watson swung over the free-kick from the left and caught Jonathan Spector facing his own goal with nowhere to turn. The American defender tried to chest the ball but bundled it past Robert Green.
The visitors had picked up where they left off against Arsenal, sparking a response from the hosts. After a fortunate ricochet in midfield, Carlton Cole found himself with just the goalkeeper to beat. The England forward took it around Chris Kirkland but his finish was cleared by Gary Caldwell dashing back and thrusting out a boot.
It could have become worse for the hosts when James McCarthy's long-range drive was tipped on to the crossbar by Green on the half-hour mark. "The save was a key moment," Zola said. "Going two goals down to Wigan would have been tough, but the reaction was amazing and we never let ourselves down."
Ilan took advantage of the reprieve in the next attack. Cole created the equaliser, using his strength to get between Mario Melchiot and Caldwell before crossing for his strike partner to prod home.
The match was turned on its head in stoppage time after Titus Bramble went into the back of Cole 25 yards from goal. Mark Noble's set-piece was heading towards the top corner before Kirkland stuck out a hand, with Radoslav Kovac holding off Caldwell to head into the empty net.
It should have led to Zola's men closing out the game but, unfortunately for them, the second half started in the same fashion as the first. Watson swung over another corner and this time it went in off Rodallega after Victor Moses's flick, with Hammers players demanding the strike be chalked off for handball.
Parker's moment came 13 minutes from time when Manuel da Costa's long ball was nodded down for the midfielder to unleash a 30-yard drive into the corner.
Wigan's manager, Roberto Martinez, said: "We allowed West Ham to score three goals out of very little but take nothing away from Scott Parker's goal, that was a real touch of magic."
Martinez's side are also virtually safe, but the Spaniard added: "Mathematically we're not. We have two left, one at home. We have to go to Chelsea and have a say in the title race."
Referee: Alan Wiley
Man of the match: Parker
Match rating: 7/10