The cacophony of jeers that echoed around the Stadium of Light were for the losers, Sunderland. West Ham once more won a football match (now six of their last nine) and heard the anger of supporters. None were from the 800 or so who had travelled north.
Instead, there was genuine hostility from a set of fans who have had enough of this miserable Premier League season. Monday night was the ninth time Sunderland supporters have seen their side lose at home in the league. There have been three wins. It is not an argument about style, it is of substance. Sunderland don’t have any.
They have lost six of their last seven games, the other being a goalless draw with Crystal Palace. The bottom five have all changed their manager during the season. The result, in Sunderland’s case for certain, is a fragmented football club. Gus Poyet was jeered on Monday night. His decision to play with three central defenders for an hour in a game his side had to win made no sense. Only when Adam Johnson came on, and with Andy Carroll and Mohamed Diamé having scored for West Ham, was there an injection of life into the home side. Johnson scored in the 65th minute and there was a frantic finish, but it all feels too little and too late.
What a contrast to and for Sam Allardyce, who was raising fists towards his club’s supporters. This time there was elation in victory. West Ham are as good as safe.
Carroll had struck early. For a crucial home game, the three centre-halves smacked of unnecessary caution. It also made no difference. The game was not even 10 minutes old when the excellent Mark Noble sent over a left-wing corner. Carroll brushed aside John O’Shea and powered his header home, despite goalkeeper Vita Mannone’s attempts to keep it out.
That Carroll started his career at Newcastle and is booed relentlessly by Sunderland’s supporters added to his individual joy. It was only his 15th Premier League goal since he left Tyneside for Liverpool in 2011. There was nothing unusual about the goal for the home side though. In a season of staggering ineptitude, it was the 14th they have conceded from set-pieces. West Ham should have led by more.
Matt Taylor took a Noble pass just outside the Sunderland penalty area and even at full stretch, his effort whistled narrowly wide. Mannone had to deny another Carroll header in the 37th minute. By then the home side had at least stirred, but when the ball broke to the unmarked Lee Cattermole 15 yards from the West Ham goal, he shot weakly at Adrian and then blasted the rebound over the crossbar.
Sunderland could have only one complaint during the opening 45 minutes, when Kevin Nolan clearly elbowed the ball to clear it from his own penalty area just before the break. Referee Howard Webb, however, ignored the appeals.
The second goal came within just five minutes of the restart, and again Sunderland’s inability to defend was evident. James Tomkins’ free-kick was chested down by Carroll – who this time brushed aside Wes Brown – and from there, Diamé’s shot deflected off Santiago Vergini into the bottom corner.
In the 61st minute, the game should really have been all over. Stewart Downing was sent clean through, but saw his left footed shot finger-tipped around the post. Within four minutes his former Middlesbrough team-mate Johnson, somehow unable to get a start, had replaced Cattermole and taken a clever pass from fellow substitute Craig Gardner before curling an left-footed strike past Adrian.
In those five minutes, the atmosphere of a stadium changed. There was a frantic finish. In the 92nd minute, Alonso’s left-wing cross found the third Sunderland substitute, Ignacio Scocco, who, headed over the crossbar. It was Sunderland’s last hope. There is little of that left now.
Sunderland: Mannone; Ki; Wickham; Bardsley; Vergini; O’Shea; Brown; Alonso; Cattermole; Bridcutt; Borini
West Ham: Adrian; McCartney; Reid; Tomkins; Demel; Diamé; Taylor; Noble; Downing; Nolan; Carroll
Goals. Sunderland: Johnson 65. West Ham: Carroll 9, Diamé 50
Subs: Sunderland Johnson (Cattermole, 53), Gardner ( O’Shea, 60), Scocco (Ki, 79).
West Ham Armero (McCartney, h-t), Johnson (Diamé, 79), Nocerino (Nolan, 84).
Booked: Sunderland Alonso, Wickham. West Ham Nolan, Noble, Reid, Adrian.
Match rating 5/10.
Poss: Sunderland 61% West Ham 39%.
Atts on target: Sunderland 7 West Ham 6.
Referee H Webb (S Yorks). Att 37,396