West Ham clambered aboard the lifeboats steering away from the relegation rapids last night as a double strike from Don Hutchison in two second- half minutes ensured they joined Coventry and Everton in belatedly securing their Premiership place.
The added bonus was that his goals came at the expense of the club who let him go last August. A £1.5m record signing, he has been subjected to frequent criticism from his manager, Harry Redknapp, but in the end, when it mattered most, his contribution was all-conquering.
So the worried frown that has been Redknapp's permanent companion this first season of pressurised Premiership management could at last give way to a relieved smile. "I was told after five games that if I could keep us up they would give me a civic reception," he joked. "Not so long ago we looked dead and buried, I think we were 4-1 on to go down. In fact I know we were - I had a tenner on myself."
Not for the first time in a run that has seen them stumble just once in 10 games those odds were made to look foolish as a hesitant start in front of an expectant gathering became an increasingly confident display. It helped that Liverpool were the opposition, the Liverpool that some time ago shut up shop for the summer. The passing was pretty, but pretty ineffective. Not until two minutes from time was Ludek Miklosko required to make a save.
The Hammers were disturbed when Julian Dicks became an early casualty, although Matt Holmes accepted the baton to force the breakthrough down the left. John Scales failed to deal with a forward pass and Holmes swept his shot low across David James.
With Ian Rush one of five absentees, the visitors were always searching for an edge. West Ham were missing both their first-choice attackers, but they had Hutchison determined to prove a point. In the 59th minute, he shot powerfully past James's right hand and two minutes later he took control of Breacker's high ball to leave the goalkeeper exposed again.
The Redknapp family have one final appointment. Harry's game for West Ham is here against Manchester United on Sunday, while Jamie's Liverpool play host to Blackburn. On this evidence you would bet on Rovers and Kenny Dalglish.
West Ham United (4-4-2): Miklosko; Breacker, Potts, Rieper, Dicks (Webster, 13); Hughes, Bishop, Moncur, Holmes; Hutchison, Morley. Substitutes not used: Allen, Sealey (gk).
Liverpool (5-3-2): James; Thomas, Scales, Harkness, Babb, Matteo (Kennedy, 61); McManaman, Redknapp, Barnes; Clough, Fowler (Walters, 71). Substitute not used: Warner (gk).
Referee: P Durkin (Dorset).Reuse content