West Ham Utd 2 Derby County 1: Cole vindicates Curbishley as boo birds sing

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The lynch mob were kept at bay as West Ham avoided embarrassment at the hands of doomed Derby thanks in no small part to the second-half substitution by manager Alan Curbishley, who was booed when he replaced Freddie Sears with Carlton Cole late in the day. Cole duly chipped in the winner but still the fans turned on their team as the final whistle sounded.

You would have thought, with Derby relegated and the Hammers in mid-table, that it wasn't a game to get overly excited about. West Ham just aboutdeserved the points to end a sorry sequence of results, although there was some concern for the home fans when Tyrone Mears cancelled out Bobby Zamora's first-half opener.

Curbishley had made seven changes, most of them enforced, from the team beaten 1-0 at Bolton last weekend and pleaded for patience from supporters.

"I was a bit disappointed," he said when asked about the booing and the now familiar chant of 'You don't know what you're doing'. He added: "We need a bit of realism and appreciation for what has gone on here this season in terms of injuries."

His opposite number Paul Jewell has said that he can take the "pain and humiliation" so long as Derby mount a strong promotion challenge in the Championship next season. There was an impressive number of fellow masochists in the away end, something that Jewell acknowledged keeps him going in these dark times.

This was his 21st game without a win since taking over from Billy Davies, and if Derby fail to register another victory from their remaining three games they will become only the second team to record just one triumph in a season.

"I thought we felt sorry for ourselves in the first 20 minutes," said Jewell, referring to last week's 6-0 drubbing by Aston Villa. "But in the second half I thought we played well and West Ham were probably hanging on a bit. It augurs well for next season."

West Ham started the brighter and were ahead after 20 minutes. A left-footed free-kick floated in by George McCartney caught out the flat-footed Dean Leacock and Zamora had the simple task of heading past Roy Carroll from close range. Simple, save for the fact it was the injury-plagued striker's first goal in a year.

Robbie Savage got his head to a cross by David Jones and forced a save from Robert Green but other than that Derby rarely threatened in the first period. Perhaps Jewell reminded them at half-time that West Ham had managed just two clean sheets in their previous 19 games for the visitors came out with a bit more sparkle.

Alan Stubbs, the veteran centre-half, headed wide and soon Hossam Ghaly's pass sent Mears on his way but Green saved at his feet.

Scott Parker and Mark Noble did their best to reassert West Ham's authority but it was the unlikely Ghaly-Mears combination that brought Derby level, Mears capitalising on Ljungberg being exposed before finishing powerfully. Like Zamora, it was the former West Ham player's first goal of a season which has been spent largely in the treatment room.

Curbishley antagonised the home fans by bringing on Cole for Sears but vindication came just four minutes later when Cole put West Ham ahead with a tap-in after a neat one-two between Ljungberg and Noble.

Savage missed with a later header and Curbishley was spared. Still, though, the fans vented their anger as the final whistle sounded.

Had Jewell ever heard of a team being booed off after winning? "I wish I'd had the chance," he quipped.