In one of the most open races for many seasons, these two teams signed off the year assuring their fans that, barring circumstances that are hard to imagine, they will be involved in it right to the death. Not for them the ignominy of mid-table obscurity, but a relegation battle to savour.
If you had to put your money on either to go down, it would be Sunderland. Bereft of a posse of first-team players, including their influential captain Kevin Ball, Peter Reid's men took the opportunity to showcase some impressive relegation credentials: a wobbly defence, an unimaginative midfield and a non-existent attack were the basic ingredients. Toss in an eccentric French goalkeeper and yet another injury - to the striker Craig Russell - and you have a perfect recipe for disaster.
Paul Bracewell, the assistant manager who occupies the centre of midfield, resembled a schoolteacher slowly but surely losing control of his class while Reid himself seems in need of a rest. At least the fact that the manager was as disgruntled as the supporters suggests that no heads are being buried in the Wearside sand just yet.
West Ham were fortunate to be playing Sunderland because they were little better and hardly deserved all three points. Much fairer would have been two for West Ham and one to reward Sunderland for not crying off, even though they had a case on the grounds of being unable to raise a team of Premiership quality. On second thoughts, maybe there should be incentives for teams like Sunderland's on Saturday not to show up.
Harry Redknapp, the West Ham manager, saw it all coming and stayed in bed with flu, leaving Frank Lampard to answer questions about Florin Raducioiu, their Romanian striker, who has apparently expressed his dissatisfaction with not making the side. What a surprise, given that after having spent the season so far as understudy to Iain Dowie, he now finds himself being given a master class by Mike Newell.
Raducioiu is not known to be seeking any form of psychological help to get him through this, but a couple of men in white coats were seen helping him to his feet when he came on as a substitute for the last five minutes. His run from the halfway line and clinical finish in the dying seconds was more than his team deserved, if not the fans.
Goals: Bilic (34); Raducioiu (90).
West Ham United (4-4-2): Miklosko; Bowen, Bilic, Rieper, Dicks; Williamson, Moncur (Lampard, 84), Bishop, Hughes; Porfirio, Newell (Raducioiu, 86). Substitutes not used: Jones, Rowland, Sealey (gk).
Sunderland ((4-4-2): Perez; Hall, Melville, Ord, Kubicki; Kelly, Agnew, Bracewell, Smith (Aiston, 52); Rae, Russell (Bridges, 25). Substitutes not used: Preece (gk), Gray, Stewart.
Referee: R Dilkes (Mossley).
Man of the match: Williamson.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies