West Ham United 1 Manchester City 0: Pardew's pivotal week opens with luck on the up for West Ham

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The Independent Online

At the end of an afternoon when his side were denied the point they deserved through the reflexes of West Ham's goalkeeper Jimmy Walker and the vicissitudes of the current offside law, Manchester City's manager, Stuart Pearce, late of the Upton Park parish, reflected upon the verities of the funny old game. "In football," he said, his hands clasped in front of him, "when things are tough for you, they sometimes get tougher."

The manager-of-the-month days are a fading memory for Pearce, whose team have now lost seven of their last eight games. West Ham, meanwhile, are demonstrating the obverse truth of Pearce's dictum. Despite being overrun in the second half, they secured a win that lifted them two places into seventh position and put them in an ideal frame of mind for today's match at Middlesbrough, which serves as a rehearsal for Sunday's FA Cup semi-final. In short, they are getting the breaks.

Although Anton Ferdinand is likely to be a continuing absentee with injury at the Riverside, West Ham's manager, Alan Pardew, remains confident he will be available for the match which could turn their first season back in the Premiership from respectable into remarkable. With both the other semi-finalists, Chelsea and Liverpool, about to claim Champions' League places through their finishing positions in the League, reaching the final would guarantee the Hammers a place in next season's Uefa Cup.

That heady possibility is one Pardew is seeking both through the League and Cup, but he seemed a little taken aback on Saturday after hearing that seventh spot would not be sufficient to gain European entry.

Even so, the final nature of West Ham's season is likely to be defined by the double-header against Boro. For all that, Pardew rejects the idea that this is his toughest challenge so far at Upton Park

"I don't think this will be the biggest week I have had at the club," he said. "The play-off final last year was as big as things will ever be for me. Hopefully, we will never be in that situation again, but it will stand the players in good stead next week, because we couldn't have been under more pressure."

The pressure on West Ham to put the previous weekend's collapse at Chelsea behind them was lifted after just 15 minutes by what turned out to be the decisive goal from Shaun Newton, who was offered a clear run on goal by Bobby Zamora's smart cross from the left and made the most of it.

Although City twice had the ball in the net, through Trevor Sinclair and Darius Vassell, the linesman's flag undid them both times - something which Pearce lamented rather than lambasted.

"I'm a manager in this League and I don't understand what the offside rule is at the moment," he said. "I'm lost with it. And I'm saying that on behalf of the officials. During my time as a defender, offside was offside, and there were no grey areas about intent."

There are no grey areas, however, about West Ham's intent right now. Seventh place in the Premiership would be nice - but to realise their highest ambitions, they need a win at Villa Park on Sunday.

Goals: Newton (15) 1-0.

West Ham United (4-4-2): Walker; Scaloni, Collins, Gabbidon, Konchesky; Newton (Fletcher, 77), Mullins, Reo-Coker, Benayoun; Zamora (Harewood, 65), Ashton (Sheringham, 82). Substitutes not used: Hislop (gk), Katan.

Manchester City (4-4-2): James; Richards, Dunne, Distin, Thatcher (Sommeil, h-t); Sinclair, Reyna (Flood, 86), Musampa, Riera; Samaras (Sibierski, 66), Vassell. Substitutes not used: Weaver (gk), Wright-Phillips.

Referee: S Bennett (Kent).

Booked: Manchester City Reyna, Dunne.

Man of the match: Walker.

Attendance: 34,305.

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