Luke's Big Push

MILD-mannered midfielder Luke Chadwick is not usually found at the centre of red card incidents. But the Hammers winger was in the thick of the action when Sunderland defender Stephen Caldwell was sent off in West Ham United's 2-0 victory at the Stadium of Light on Saturday.

The incident happened late in the first-half. After a foul by Sergei Rebrov on Stephen Wright, Chadwick picked up the ball. Caldwell then waded in to reclaim it, and as the pair clashed, referee Graham Sailsbury spotted an infringement and immediately dismissed Caldwell for stamping.

When he explained the incident diplomatic Chaddie admitted that it was difficult for him to comment on Caldwell's guilt, but instead pointed to an excellent Hammers performance that saw the team win for the first time in eight away games.

"Their player pushed me and I fell over," began Luke. "I had my hands on the ball and when I went to the floor he put his foot up to try and get it. It's difficult to say whether the decision to send him off was correct as I wasn't in the best position to judge his intent.

"I was unhappy with the way he went about trying to get the ball off me, but it was hard for me to judge if there was any malicious intent. In any case, the referee's decision has to be respected."

Even before the 41st minute dismissal Alan Pardew's men had looked the more dominant side, creating several good chances. And after the break, a disciplined Hammers set about dismantling Sunderland's resistance with some neat approach play.

Luke, who gave Sunderland full-back Stephen Wright a torrid afternoon, was delighted with the team's display, and a vital win against their promotion rivals.

"We played well, passed the ball well and looked very solid at the back," said Luke. "Sunderland were on a bit of a roll and hadn't lost at home all season, so to go to the Stadium of Light and out play them is a fantastic achievement.

"Maybe we took our foot off the pedal a bit after Marlon's goal and allowed Sunderland to get a bit of possession. They did well with 10 men and made it difficult for us towards the end. But Bobby Zamora and Teddy Sheringham combined to seal the win, which will give us a lot of confidence going into Friday's match against Leeds."

Back-to-back successes against Watford and Sunderland have proved the perfect response to successive defeats against Brighton and Millwall. Luke is delighted that the squad's hard-work has heralded a return to form and insisted that with some good results over Christmas the Hammers are still right in the hunt for automatic promotion.

"We've given a really good account of ourselves over the last two weeks," said the former Manchester United player. "We went through a difficult spell when people were questioning whether we had the belief to go all the way.

"But we came back strong against Watford and I think we showed against Sunderland that we have the character and quality to challenge for promotion. We worked really hard in training, trying to pull ourselves out of the slump we were in, and that has paid off.

"Now we're looking to the Christmas games with confidence and hopefully we can put together a run of strong performances that will see us really start to challenge the League leaders."