West Ham United 2 Coventry City 0

A goal in each half gave Hammers a comfortable 2-0 victory over Coventry City and pushed Alan Pardew's team back into the play-off zone.


Bobby Zamora's 37th minute strike was followed by David Connolly's 71st minute penalty to provide the perfect response to the disappointing Easter weekend.


Pardew made no fewer than FIVE changes following Monday's defeat at Crystal Palace, as Stephen Bywater returned from a two-match ban to replace Pavel Srnicek, the suspended Tomas Repka and Nigel Reo-Coker made way for Andy Melville and Adam Nowland, and Steve Lomas and Bobby Zamora were recalled in favour of Jon Harley and Jobi McAnuff.


The change in personnel also heralded a switch in formation, as the Hammers boss went with an attack-minded 4-3-3 formation that saw Zamora link-up with David Connolly and Marlon Harewood up front, with Lomas, Nowland and Kevin Horlock forming a central midfield trio, while Anton Ferdinand was handed an unfamiliar left-back role in an attempt to add extra solidity to the rearguard.


In a fairly laboured and scrappy opening, Hammers certainly weren't lacking in honest endeavour or determination but, with a new shape to get used to and an understandably tense and, at times, muted atmosphere inside Upton Park, they found it hard to provide much in the way of attacking creativity and quality on the ball.


It was clear that only a goal would add an inspirational lift and the relief was plain for all to see when Hammers finally made the breakthrough just eight minutes before the break. After Nowland's floated corner from the right had twice been cleared by Coventry defender Muhamed Konjic, Mullins' header back into the danger area found Zamora in acres of space on the left side of the 18-yard box.


As the Sky Blues defence appealed in vain for an offside flag, the rangy striker composed himself before slamming the ball under goalkeeper Scott Shearer and into the net for his fifth goal in 14 appearances since arriving at Upton Park in January.


The goal had a galvanising effect on both players and supporters, as Pardew's men came out for the second half full of renewed confidence and the 27,890 crowd responded with vocal appreciation of their team's efforts. The sight of Harewood, Zamora and, in particular, Connolly defending from the front and hurriedly closing down their markers drew deserved applause from the stands, and paved the way for a big improvement in the all-round performance after the break.


The lead was almost doubled in the 52nd minute, when another Nowland corner was floated to the far post and captain Christian Dailly rose highest to head the ball goalwards, but Bjarni Gudjonsson jumped to head off the line and the danger was cleared.


There was a scare for Hammers four minutes later, when McSheffrey's cross from the left was spilled by Stephen Bywater, but Julian Joachim failed to convert the loose ball and Ferdinand gratefully guided the ball away to safety.


Just after the hour, Zamora's appeals for a penalty were turned down when he skipped between two defenders in the box and went to ground, but the Hammers striker didn't have to wait long before getting the benefit of the doubt.


A measured pass from youngster Chris Cohen - on as a 63rd minute substitute for Nowland - appeared to have found the run of Zamora but a blatant tug from veteran defender Steve Staunton knocked the striker off balance as he prepared to pull the trigger 12 yards out. Amazingly, referee Webb at first signalled for a corner after somehow missing the offence but the alert assistant on the near side certainly hadn't been unsighted and flagged for the spot-kick.


Staunton, who was perhaps lucky to stay on the field after receiving an earlier booking for dissent following Zamora's opener, could have no complaints and justice was done as Connolly stepped up to confidently stroke the ball into the bottom left-hand corner to give Hammers a vital two-goal cushion.


It was the least the Irish international deserved for his tireless and energetic display in what was his final home match of the season - the striker will miss the visit of Watford on May 1 after his unfortunate sending-off at Selhurst Park five days ago.


Hammers finished the afternoon strongly, with subs Cohen and Jobi McAnuff adding pace and a youthful enthusiasm to the flanks but there were no calls from the stands for a fanfare finish - the Upton Park faithful were just grateful for the three points that keep the play-off hopes alive. With just three games remaining, it's all about results now and a trio of scrappy 1-0 wins will do just fine.


The news that play-off rivals Wigan, Sheffield United, Millwall, Crystal Palace and Reading all failed to secure maximum points from their fixtures this afternoon will have provided a further boost for Pardew and his troops, who can look forward to next Saturday's trip to Stoke City confident that the promotion push is back on track.

by Danny Francis